Neo-colonialism in Latin America and the Legacy of the USA

August 16, 2016


By Athithan Jayapalan


Imperialist military, political or economic interventions in Latin-America which circumvent the course of its peoples’ future by usurping their popular sovereignty has a structural history that can be traced back to the 16th century Western-European colonial-imperialist ventures against native states and communities of the Americas. The U.S. state-corporate imperialism, the successor to European colonialism in the region, is evident from the 19th century onwards. Consequently, such a structural trace of colonial interventions over the centuries has shaped the material and ideational conditions under which various peoples of Latin America have and continue to live under. Hence it has also coloured the dialectics which mould the expression of popular resistance, as movements of past and present are organized among the people against colonial imperialism of the past, and the neo-colonial and neo-liberal regime of exploitation of the present.

Both then and now, externally machinated processes of exploitation by world and regional hegemons seek to subjugate the popular sovereignty of peoples. Towards such ends, operations are designed and executed in an attempt to dictate the terms of the collective development of peoples’ material and spiritual life in order to facilitate the exploitation of their territory and subsequent water, mineral, and human resources. In this article, aspects of the modern history of U.S. interventions and consequent geo-political injustices occurring in Latin America will be examined, in order to illuminate the structural nature of U.S. state and corporate establishments’ modus operandi to secure their perennial interests in strategic locations across the globe. This article will primarily focus on the relations between the Honduran, Argentinian, and the U.S. establishments and is intended as an entry point into the larger study of U.S and imperialist interventions in Latin America.

As imperative in comprehending the macro-orientations of the USA, is also the grasping of the workings of imperialist states and corporate forces in regions through agent states and elites, and the nature of the negotiations between these varying actors which manifest in oppressive or even disastrous conditions for native peoples’ rights and sovereignty. Destabilization or annihilation is conceived as either desirable or collateral in accordance with the perennial interests of both regional and world hegemons, as well as that of agent states and their governing elites. The interaction of multi-national companies (MNCs) is aligned with such a matrix, through which easy access to profit and value extraction is best served without resistance from people who value their territory, natural resources, and sovereignty.

In recent times, indigenous environmentalist activists in Honduras have against odds been spearheading the efforts of the people of Honduras in mobilizing themselves to secure their lands, rights, and future from exploitation by the government and their external backers. The state of insecurity following the 2009 US sponsored coup has been devouring the country from within, which now maintains one of the highest homicide rates in the world outside of a war zone.

Berta Cáceres, a veteran environmental activist and a political leader of the indigenous Lenca people who has been fighting the Honduran regime, multi-national companies and US neo-colonialism, was assassinated by the Honduran military around midnight on 2nd March 2016. She had also recently in an interview poignantly illuminated Hillary Clinton’s role in destabilizing Honduras and consequently challenged her during the height of the US presidential election campaigns (1).

Several other co-leaders of Cáceres’s indigenous federation, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organization of Honduras (COPINH), who have been fighting for indigenous peoples territorial, cultural and political rights have also recently been persecuted and assassinated. Moisés Durón Sánchez, was killed in May 2015 whilst Tomás García was murdered during a protest in 2013 by a military officer. On March 15th, less than two weeks after the assassination of Càceres, Nelson Garcia, a member of COPINH was shot in the face and killed while returning home after participating in an indigenous protest against coercive evictions of Lenca people from their homeland, carried out by the Honduran authorities (2).

Amidst such forces trying to eliminate or contain indigenous peoples resistance in Honduras, Cáceres’s daughter, Olivia Zuniga Cáceres has been bravely campaigning to initiate an international investigation behind her mother’s assassination as well as continuing the struggle of her people and the COPINH (3).

Regime change and client-states: Argentine and Honduras

In 2009, the Honduran military, National Congress, and Supreme Court in coordination with the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as revealed by Wikileaks, orchestrated the military-coup which ousted the democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya (4). He was forcefully arrested and deported from the country, and an interim government installed until 2010.The National Conservative Party has since been ruling the country.

Following the coup, demonstrations were organized by Zelaya’s supporters, and subsequently the interim government initiated a crackdown which is accused of committing multiple human rights violations against social movements representing indigenous peoples, peasants, and supporters of Zelaya.

In the aftermath of his election as president, the liberal Zelaya, tilted towards left-wing orientations of the ALBA (Bolivarian Alliances for the Peoples of our America) and joined the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez’s alternative initiative of inter-state cooperation for the region. The 2009 coup reversed the above mentioned as the Honduran government left the inter-governmental organization, and relations ‘normalized’ with the U.S.

Furthermore, the incumbent Hernandez administration in Honduras has been facilitating drastic austerity measures demanded by the U.S. dominated International Monetary Fund (IMF) and multi-national corporations. Such conditions are part of structural adjustment programmes serving foreign investments, an extraction economy, and the capital-business elites of the country, while effectuating further descent into inequality, insecurity, and impoverishment for the people at large.

A report prepared by the Congressional Research Service dated May 20th, 2015 and issued for legislative debate in the U.S. Congress, while diluting the chaos following the coup and presenting the incumbent U.S. friendly administration as achieving improvements, relays some of the economic policies which have been schemed, discernibly with U.S. influence.

The U.S. corporate-imperialist interests which manoeuvre for geo-political and economic hegemony in the region through enforcement of favourable free trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) signed by Mexico in 1994, furthered such efforts in the 2000s. Consequently, the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) was signed in 2006 by Honduras.

Successive regimes of the Honduran establishment have despite Zelaya’s efforts, historically been aligned with U.S. operations in Central and South American regions since the 1970s. The Honduran state facilitated the regional base of COIN operations orchestrated by U.S. intelligence establishments and executed by the Argentinian military dictatorship directed against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the UNRG in Guatemala, and the FMLN in El-Salvador. The USA has in fact from the early decades of the 20th century onwards sanctioned COIN operations of local client-states and contributed with military, financial, and political support to US- friendly right wing and military dictatorships throughout Latin America enhancing their efforts and military capacities in annihilating leftists and nationalist anti-imperialist movements.

The Argentinian state, alongside Chile contains within its border the Southern Cone, the long and narrow, hence strategic coastal region to the south of the continent, where the Pacific, Atlantic and Antarctic oceans meet. Argentina and Chile are hence littoral states, controlling crucial strategic locations for world trade routes, as transport from the Atlantic to Pacific Ocean is optimal due the narrow formation of land between these oceans. Argentina is also the second largest country of Latin America, the largest Spanish speaking country, and has had historical development of a strong industrial economic base.

Hence, both historically and contemporarily, it has been crucial to exert influence over the Argentinian state in order to secure external interests and imperialist hegemony in the region. Equally important for such exploitative interests, is to ensure that no counter-hegemonic force might rule or threaten such a state.

The Argentinian military and elite establishments captured state power following a military coup in 1955, toppling the popular nationalist president Juan Peron and forcing him into exile. In 1973, when elections were held, left-wing Peronist Hector Camposa, became president. His radical policies brought friction between the right-wing Peronists and the left-wing factions which supported Camposa as he among other measures sought to align the Argentinian state with Fidel Castro’s Cuba and Salvador Allende’s Chile, and against U.S. imperialist ambitions.

Not long after, the CIA succeeded in orchestrating a military coup against President of Chile Salvador Allende, killing him and toppling his leftist regime while bringing the Chilean military and ruling classes to state power under General Pinochet. The Pinochet regime subsequently began a process of repression and annihilation of Allende supporters, social movements of workers, peasants, and other oppressed classes and the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR). Meanwhile in Argentina, in order to avoid destabilizing the country following Peron’s decision to return to power, Camposa resigned to facilitate for the former’s third presidential term. Upon his death in 1974, Peron appointed his wife Isabella Peron as his successor who was in turn toppled on March 24th, 1976 in a coup carried out by the Argentinian military in cohort with the USA.

The military junta which was installed in power in Argentina brazenly aligned itself with U.S. interests in the region. The junta pioneered in organizing international linkages between Washington, Buenos Aires, and other agent states and dictatorial regimes in the region to further stabilize the power basis of exploitative right-wing ruling classes and oligarchies, facilitate U.S. geo-political and economic interests, and crush opposition and resistance movements to neo-colonialism.

U.S. Geo-politics: Stabilization or destabilization of state and peoples movements

The joint programmes coordinated from 1968 till the late 1980s between the intelligence and military establishments of the USA and right-wing oligarchies and military juntas in Latin America were known as Operation CONDOR. This programme of U.S. sponsored military coups, dictatorial regimes, and state terrorism in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay, and Bolivia resulted in the reported deaths of tens of thousands of political opponents and civilians throughout these countries.

During the military dictatorship of Argentina following the 1976 coup until 1983, the junta announced the ‘national reorganization process’ to purge its opponents and the people’s movements in the country. Within a few years, massive systemic persecution, unlawful detention, enforced disappearances, and extra-judicial executions commenced, during which over 30 000 people were reported to have been killed by the state. Behind the curtains, the U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had callously endorsed the junta’s structural repression against political opponents.

Leaked documents reveals that in October 1976, during a meeting with the Argentinian military government’s foreign minister Admiral Cesar Augusto Guzzetti, Kissinger had urged the junta to finish off the ‘terrorist issue’ before the US congress concluded that year. This request was made due to financial and internal political considerations of the U.S. government regarding U.S. official support to the military regime in Buenos Aires at a time when international discourse pertaining to the human rights violations committed by the Argentinian state was growing.

Accordingly Kissinger said to the Admiral Guzetti:

“Look, our basic attitude is that we would like you to succeed. I have an old-fashioned view that friends ought to be supported. What is not understood in the United States is that you have a civil war. We read about human rights problems but not the context. The quicker you succeed the better… The human rights problem is a growing one. Your Ambassador can apprise you. We want a stable situation. We won’t cause you unnecessary difficulties. If you can finish before Congress gets back, the better. Whatever freedoms you could restore would help.” (5)

The nature of U.S. geo-political calculations and strategic interests, elucidate how selective liberalization and limited easing of structural oppression by an aligned state in the face of increasing human rights pressure is predetermined in accordance to complete ongoing COIN objectives and the agendas of both the U.S. and its client state.

It appears that the U.S. establishment’s geo-political and strategic policies aim at stabilizing the power bases of the military and ruling social and economic elites in Latin American countries which are structurally aligned with their neo-liberal interests. However in cases where counter-hegemonic forces captured state-power, the U.S. tacitly devised regime change policies by operating subversive right-wing guerrillas in order to destabilize the state. Whether the orientation was regime change, destabilization through anti-state war, or solidifying a given state against left wing and people’s resistance, the U.S. accordingly devised various schemes to consolidate the power structures and military possibilities of the exploitative ruling elites in the respective countries.

Following the Sandinista victory in Nicaragua, the USA alongside the Argentinian military junta supported the oligarchies and right-wing forces, and organized them into a proxy-guerrilla known as CONTRA which was trained in and operated from Honduras. The failure of the Sandinista government to address the grievances and territorial rights of the indigenous Miskito people of the north alienated the natives, of which a section were manipulated by the USA alongside elements of alienated small land holding peasants in Nicaragua, into joining the CONTRA.

With massive external backing, the CONTRA engaged the Sandinista state in an insurgency from 1979 till 1990 and destabilized the country (6). USA also engineered economic embargo on the Sandinista state, which further enhanced hardships for the people of Nicaragua. The CIA backed other CONTRA inspired programmes in the 1970s and 1980s in order to destabilize or annihilate left-wing militant movements. Such COIN campaigns were directed at those organizations or movements of people who had either seized or were in the process of capturing state power throughout Latin America which jeopardized US strategic interests as well as reversed USA’s economic hegemony in the region through implementation of nationalization programmes.

In El-Salvador during the civil war from the late 1970s to the 1990s, the U.S. aided the then incumbent military government against the federation of left-wing guerrillas known as the FMLN and their popular support bases. Consequently, the U.S. trained several death squads in COIN, including the ‘White Hand’, many which became notorious for human right abuses against opponents of the dictatorial regime and U.S. friendly export and foreign investment policies. The Atalacatl battalion, a counter-insurgency unit of the El-Salvadorian military responsible for several mass killings of civilians such as the ‘El Mozote’ massacre in 1981, was trained in COIN at the School of Americas in Panama, by US military and intelligence operatives.

In terms of Mesoamerica, Honduras had served as a long standing base for U.S. efforts in purging the region of anti-U.S. movements which fought for their people’s sovereignty. When the government of Manuel Zelaya de-linked the Honduran state from U.S. alignment, a regime change was machinated to realign the state power to a friendlier coalition of ruling elites.

In the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), the unitary Sri Lankan state has since its foundation in 1833 by the British colonial regime, served as the preferred administrative vehicle through which first the U.K. and later USA sought to secure their geo-political, strategic, and economic interests in the region and beyond. The island of Sri Lanka is located at the heart of the Indian Ocean trade routes and the underwater lines of communication. Its strategic location has since ancient times ensured the island’s position in world trade and equally attracted various imperialist powers during the colonial period. The Portuguese were followed by the Dutch, who conquered the coastal belts for mercantile purposes and in order to control trade across the Indian Ocean.

The British colonial regime cultivated and subsequently aligned a Sinhala ruling elite brandishing Sinhala Buddhist supremacist ideology as the inheriting neo-colonial masters of the state, ensuring a regime of rule through which the Sinhala ruling elites would serve their own national comprador interests as well as the neo-colonial interests of their external backers. Hence with internationally approved legitimacy of monopoly over violence and governance, the various constituencies of the Sinhala elites reigned hegemonic over the strategic coast and locations which constitute the island of Sri Lanka. A challenge to such a dynamic of power arises formidably with the development of the Eelam Tamil national political mobilization and subsequently the revolutionary Tamil liberation war.

A counter-hegemonic force evolved with the LTTE, as they challenged the monopoly of violence and the enforced undemocratic sovereignty of a colonial state over the Tamil homeland, which contains two thirds of the strategic coastal regions of the island. This proved a destabilizing factor to U.S. geo-political and strategic interests and projection of power in the region. Similarly, the principle of the LTTE to ground their revolutionary politics and liberation war on the sovereignty and self-reliance of their people also led the movement to decry imperialist ambitions in the Indian Ocean whether US, Chinese or Indian in source.

Rather than recognising the Tamil national question, India and China seemed to adopt the same imperial and anti-peoples logic of their rivals and mimicked the modus operandi of the U.S.A. All opted to compete with each other in fortifying the unitary state’s capacities to pursue a military solution to the Tamil national question and liberation war. Hegemons prefer compradors and state apparatuses aligned or dependent on external interests for survival rather than for instance to risk the reconfiguration of the Sri Lankan state which would be necessitated if accommodating Tamil national sovereignty, aspirations and grievances.

Whilst China and India undoubtedly played their roles as regional hegemons in the geo-political games of the Indian Ocean region which enhanced the capacities of Colombo to perpetuate genocide, it was the structural ties with the USA and U.K. which bore the decisive role in enhancing Sri Lanka’s COIN, political, and economic capacities. It is to be noted that such empowering of the unitary state proved decisive in annihilating the Tamil national military-politico power and in executing and perpetuating a genocidal solution to the Tamil national question.

Resembling the logic of Kissinger elucidated above, the U.S. and U.K. axis diplomats and officials urged the Sri Lankan state to quickly destroy the LTTE and sanctioned the genocidal massacres at the shores of Mulluvaykal. The massacres were ignored by the world and international corporate media, as the U.S. decided to maintain political and diplomatic spaces open on behalf of Colombo to ward off internationalized HR pressure. Once the war concluded on May 18 2009, there was an evident shift in U.S. geo-politics towards hijacking the HR discourses at the U.N.

This shift was associated with the strategic necessity of isolating the genocidal crimes committed against the Tamils within the contours of Mahinda Rajapakse’s regime and due to the latter’s tilt towards China. Washington and its allies authorised a sustained HR pressure at Geneva against Sri Lanka until the toppling of Rajapaksa’s regime and the successful instalment of another cosmetically assembled government of their preference (7).

From that point onwards, the West and corporate-media has garlanded the new regime in Colombo as a ‘democratic wonder’, while opting at every venue to silence the Tamil national question in their strive to project and promote the neo-liberal paradigm of good governance and development as a substitute for a political resolution.


Since the coup in Honduras, the Latin American country of 8.5 million located strategically in a region which connects the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean, as well the south and north of the continent has descended into chaos and violence. Its location between Colombia and Mexico, and as a strategic transition point for the flow of narcotics from the south of the continent into Mexico and the USA has attracted drug cartels from both countries and fuelled street gang culture.

It is opined that the recent surge in drug cartel and street gangs in the region stems directly from the capital financing, political leverage, and military training and hardware which was given to right-wing and criminal elements to create proxy or extra-state forces which target regimes, social movements, peasants and left-wing insurgents perceived as being against the corporate-imperialist interests of USA in the region.

The geo-economics and geo-politics driven by the U.S. establishment has a notorious history of perpetuating injustice either through destabilizing peoples regimes or destroying peoples liberation movements resisting U.S. backed states and neo-liberal capitalist policies in Latin America and elsewhere.

In corporate-media narratives, Honduras is presented as the ‘murder country’ of the world, with a frightening number of citizens killed every week. As in many places and regions where neo-colonial injustices are levied against people fuelled by geo-political and geo-economic interests of corporate-imperialist powers, the processes creating such a situation or the factors which bring about such conditions, in this case the 2009 coup and the subsequent chaos, is conveniently obscured by corporate media.

However, the indigenous peoples of the region as well as other grass-root social forces have despite the odds taken up the struggle against the rule of comprador regimes and their external backers. A similar situation is also brimming in Colombia, with over 100 000 people representing the peasants, the rural poor, indigenous and Afro-communities organizing street demonstrations, blockade of roads and ports through multiple localities around the country. They are protesting the rampant rural poverty, neo-liberal economic dictates, privatization schemes as well as state-supported violence against the people. Colombia is perhaps the nation in modern Latin America in which most violence against the peasants, indigenous peoples, and those of African descendent communities has taken place at the hands of U.S. and MNC supported Colombian state and extra-state forces.

For the peoples of the Indian Ocean Region in general and South-Asia in particular it is important to study the nexus between COIN operations and structural oppression carried out by Latin American agent-states and para-military organizations, and the corporate-imperialist geo-politics of powers. The operations in Latin-America are arguably a proto-model in which corporate imperialism employs the services of agent states and their military apparatuses. In Colombia, for instances, there is an interrelation between the massive atrocities carried by paramilitaries against peasants in order to uproot them, the subsequent state and military appropriation of their lands, and the consequent utilization of such occupied land in the service of foreign capital and multinational companies.

In other words, the history of Latin America discerns how world and regional hegemons align their interests with international corporate forces to further the cycles of capital accumulation by bolstering and enhancing agent states and their structures of oppression embroiled in subjugating the dispossessed native masses, whether the popular classes or the oppressed nations.





4)For more on Hillary Clintons emails, see:

5)“The Contras, Cocaine, and Covert Operations” in National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 2, The George Washington University

6)Department of State, Memorandum of conversation, 1976, October 7 Subject: Secretary’s Meeting with Argentine Foreign Minister Guzetti. Available at:

7)For more on the Geo-political games behind the regime shift in Sri Lanka, see:

8)On the integral links between western imperialist geo-politics and the Sri Lankan unitary state, see:

1 Comment »

One Response to “Neo-colonialism in Latin America and the Legacy of the USA”

  1. Sivasegaram Says:
    May 4th, 2018 at 23:34

    To explain the failure of the LTTE in terms of external players is a futile exercise.
    There were only two active foreign players in the civil war: the US and India.
    The LTTE was playing ball with the US for long, even to the very end. It messed up its situation vbis-a-vis India especially after 1989. India is an expansionist power and the LTTE lost its advantage in Tamilnadu by its reckless deeds.
    The LTTE was no anti-imperialist force. It never expressed support for any just struggle be it Palestine or Cuba. I was silent on Indian oppression in Kashmir, Manipur etc.
    Internally it was a most undemocratic outfit, although it enjoyed support as the only fighting force.

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