Obama’s pro-coup politics must be condemned

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This column was contributed by Henry Gales ’13

On Feb. 29, 2004, U.S. military personnel put Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide onto a plane and flew him to the Central African Republic. After being reelected in 2000, Aristide had continued to make enemies of powerful governments by refusing to privatize Haiti’s utility companies (a demand pushed by George W. Bush and Bill Clinton) and demanding that France return the reparations it took from Haiti in 1825 (approximately 13 billion dollars in today’s money).

Aristide returned to Haiti on March 18, 2011, despite President Obama’s phone calls to the South African president demanding that Aristide be prevented from leaving his exile in South Africa. Elections were currently underway in which Aristide and the Fanmi Lavalas political party were deliberately excluded to secure a right-wing, pro-business victory, and Obama was concerned that Aristide’s presence might destabilize this process.

Many who identify as liberal or left-of-center wash away all hesitations for supporting Obama by saying that we only have two choices, and that Obama is clearly the better one. This is a dangerously slippery slope, made much worse by the profound silence that began the minute Bush stepped down in 2009.

As the presidential elections kick into full gear, I become more nostalgic for the Bush years, when one could walk through liberal America and see people mocking the Republican calls for a border wall, critically examining the idea of “bringing democracy” to Iraq and Afghanistan and lamenting the totalitarian measures that put unchecked power in the hands of the president.

Nowadays, in spite of the fact that these things have either worsened or stayed the same, harsh criticism of the White House’s foreign policy is difficult to come by and often met with Obama apologism: The state of affairs is far from perfect, but it’s getting better.

However, evidence of betterment is much harder to find in the foreign policy realm than it is at home. Obama has laid the legal ground for an unchecked growth of extrajudicial executions, pulled out the big guns on the U.S.-Mexico border and arguably screwed Haiti much harder than his predecessor through harsh economic reforms, including the eviction of farmers in Caracol, Haiti to build a massive sweatshop complex.

Like it or not, the coup-plotting, violence and economic impositions continue. This is especially true in Latin America, which has seen the rise of many anti-imperialist presidents since the ’90s and two U.S.-supported coups under Obama: Honduras in 2009 and Paraguay in 2012.

I don’t prescribe specific solutions to the centuries of poverty that Haiti, Paraguay, Honduras and other nations have suffered, and I do not intend to extend unconditional support for Aristide and other presidents. But I know that solutions will never be possible if the fomentation of coups and political instability continues; these goals can only be achieved through democracy and cooperation. And I know that Democratic and Republican presidents alike will continue with their coups as long as they can depend on our ideological and electoral support.

Before casting your vote this November for the lesser of two evils, I would encourage you to take a long, hard look at Obama’s foreign policy (the hyperlinks in this article will help get you started). Remember, the “two choices” paradigm was not ordained by God, nor is it evident anywhere on the ballot or in the voter’s guide. The idea that we must choose between two parties that plot coups, orchestrate sham elections and put up sweatshops is an idea that was created and is sustained by a collective refusal to think outside the two-party system.

It’s time to stop blaming our electoral choices on the powers that be, and it’s time to start looking at our own refusal to condemn each and every president with the vehemence warranted by their imperialist politics. If you ask me, that condemnation starts with verbal denouncement and casting your vote for a candidate (whichever one that may be) who is definitively anti-coup.

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