The Emergence of Anti-USA Policy in Latin America


Across Latin America the resurgence of anti-US rhetoric has become commonplace everywhere from dinner tables to electoral campaigns. With the rise of Chavez’s Venezuela and the growing commitment to the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, Latin America is increasingly being seen as a red continent. Yet the phenomenon of anti-Americanism within Latin America remains largely undefined, and nebulous. Too often, leftist is enough to equal anti-American in common parlance. The task of pinning down an understanding of anti-Americanism, let alone understanding its origins or outcomes has largely remained outside the purview of mainstream media.

Below, this wiki will delve into the historical origins of anti-American sentiment in Latin America and consider the new face of anti-Americanism in the region. From there we seek to understand what analysis and categorization has been offered by scholars on the issue.

It becomes quickly evident that the analysis offered by Jorge Castaneda has come to dominate the academic perspectives on this issue. His important article on “Latin America’s Left Turn” suggests that not all leftist or so-called “anti-American” governments deserve to be painted with the same brush, and not all are a threat to the rest of the globalized world. While more nuanced than past media analysis, Castaneda still suggests that all of Latin America’s non-conservative regimes can be grouped into two neat categories – one open minded and reformist, and another stridently nationalist, populist and anti- US.We seek to appreciate whether this framework is helpful in understanding emerging Latin American governments by examining the case of Daniel Ortega’s Nicaragua. Ortega has in the past been called “Washington's Enemy Number One, the ultimate bogeyman” . Has his return realized the great threat as predicted? Is Ortega’s regime really so easily pigeon holed and categorized?

In considering the factors of populism, nationalism and domestic agenda that are outlined in Castaneda’s paradigm it becomes clear that in fact Ortega’s regime is not so squarely anti-American and in many ways not fairly understood as stridently leftist. This analysis leads us to assert that anti-Americanism in Latin American is derived from deep roots, and while its resurgence is unquestionable, the regimes that display it are not all the same, nor can they be neatly grouped into Castaneda’s two sides of “right left and wrong left”. Instead our analysis helps to show that leftist or anti-american bents are circumscribed by complex and unique political situations, and undermined by the unavoidable globalized financial markets, and existing foreign obligations.

History of United States-Latin American Relations
Much of the tensions that exists between Latin American countries and the United States stems from events in the 1960s. During this time, at the height of the Cold War, the island nation of Cuba became a main point of contention for the United States and American foreign policy. In 1959 American fears had been realized and a communist state had emerged within the American sphere of influence, following Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution; a development that was not the least bit tolerable to the United States. The United States then began placing heavy trade restrictions on Cuba, and in 1961 the CIA attempted to overthrow the Cuban government in the infamous Bay of Pigs Invasion, which, however, failed miserably and only increased tensions between the United States and Latin America. In addition, as Cuba began to build increasingly stronger bonds with the Soviet Union, the United States attempted to cut off all ties with Castro’s Cuba, with specific intent to cripple Cuba economically. Then, in 1962, tensions increased dramatically when nuclear missiles were placed in Cuba, causing panic within the U
Fidel Castro led early resistence and opposition to American intervention in Latin America.
nited States. The Kennedy administration responded with a complete naval blockade of Cuba, however, the Cuban Missile Crisis came to a swift end after the realization of mutually assured destruction in the event that nuclear war did occur. This, however, was not the only Latin American country that the United States broke off relations with. John F. Kennedy’s administration also broke ties with the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Ecuador, Peru, and Argentina. It was also during this time that the United States founded the School of the Americas with the intent of training Latin American militaries in countering the violence of rebels, particularly rebels of a communist nature. In addition, during the 1960s, the United States also supported a coup in Brazil in defiance of the left-wing government, and deployed troops to the Dominican Republic in order to prevent the spread of communism to the island nation. Thus, it could be said that United States-Latin American relations in the 1960s was highly focussed around Cold War politics, especially because the Americans went to great lengths in attempting to prevent the spread of left-wing ideologies in the region.
The 1970s could be characterized much differently than the 1960s in that the ‘70s was a decade dominated by the emergence of juntas in Latin America. Most notably perhaps was Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship in Chile, which, in effect, began the trend of juntas. Following a series of military coups, much of Latin America was controlled by juntas by the late ‘70s, including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. It was also during this time that the United States began to justify intervention in Latin America as ensuring American national security, as well as increased diplomatic opposition to these military dictatorships, particularly that of Pinochet’s regime.
The 1980s and 1990s in United States-Latin American relations began with the emergence of neo-liberal policies, which can be attributed particularly to American President Ronald Reagan. This new American stance led to some support by the United States of right-wing governments, and, despite fears of a renewal of Cold War politics upon Mikhail Gorbachev’s rise to power in the Soviet Union, democratization seemed to be an ever-growing trend. However, this time period was not entirely peaceful, particularly because of the Falklands War. Conflict erupted between the Argentine junta and the United Kingdom, led by neo-liberal Margaret Thatcher, in 1982. The Reagan administration of course supported Thatcher in their claims to the Falkland Islands, however, this created great tensions between the United States and Argentina, and is claimed by many Latin American countries to this day to be the root of weakened relations between them and the United States. In addition, in the 1980s Latin America was hit hard by the debt crisis, which was spurred by Mexico’s refusal to pay its own debts, stemming from an oil crisis in the ‘70s. The crisis, however, brought about a new trend in Latin America towards import substitution and export led industrialization, and increasingly open doors to globalization. The Washington Consensus was also an important aspect of this time period, in which reforms along the lines of stabilization, privatization, and liberalization took a strong foothold in the region. Furthermore, the North American Free Trade Agreement dominated the mid-‘90s when it was signed, especially because of the greatly varying opinions on it, perhaps best exemplified by the Zapatistas, a revolutionary group from southern Mexico who were highly opposed to NAFTA. Also, it is to be noted that during this time period the Soviet Union had collapsed thus bringing Cold War politics to a swift end, but this did not, however, extinguish the appeal of left-wing ideologies, particularly socialism, in this region.

The Rise of a New Anti-Americanism
Hugo Chávez best exemplifies anti-Americanism in Latin America.

The rise of anti-Americanism can be traced back to the days in which the United States began intervening in Latin America, however, in recent decades a new anti-Americanism has begun to emerge and it can largely be attributed to the election of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. In 1998, Chávez began his re-emergence in the Venezuelan political scene, after the failed coup of ’92, and began to alter his agenda to focus on Bolivarianism. Chavez’s guiding ideology of Bolivarianism is very left-wing, extremely anti-imperialistic, highly patriotic, and advocates economic self-sufficiency, and is also one of the strongest forms of democratic socialism in Latin America. Taking his new platform to the campaign trail, Chávez was able to use his enthusiastic speaking style to dramatically increase his public support from initial lows to eventually win the majority and become president in the December 1998 election. Following his election in 1998, Chávez held a referendum and subsequently drafted a new constitution, in which it declared that there was to be another election in 2000, in which Chávez won and even increased his popularity by roughly 10%. Then in the 2006 election, Chávez again won the presidency and also increased his popularity. It was after his 2006 election that Chávez promised an even more radical turn to socialism. Chávez remains the Venezuelan President to this day, after a successful 2009 referendum that eliminated term limits for the presidency, and continues to implement increasingly socialist policies. He also tends to advocate policies that are evermore anti-imperialistic, with the United States being the imperial power in his eyes, and is highly opposed to American intervention in Latin America, which can be exemplified in the fact that he has acted strongly against the neo-liberal Washington Consensus.
In addition to Chávez’s rise to power there have been public opinion polls in recent years showing that favourable attitudes towards the United States in Latin America are becoming increasingly rare. These slides in the polls can likely be attributed to Americans’ history of intervention in the region, as well as the vilification of American foreign policy by influential leftist leaders such as Hugo Chávez. However, he is not the only such leader to have emerged in Latin America in recent years; one can look around the continent and find that leftist leaders are achieving victory in country after country. For example, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil, the Kirchners in Argentina, Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, and Bolivian President Evo Morales, most of whom are highly anti-American. It is thus incontrovertible that left-leaning anti-American movements are gaining prominence in Latin America and are becoming increasingly influential on the world stage. In addition, it is to be noted that the consequences of such a political transformation are and will be very dramatic, especially for reasons such as that left-leaning Latin American countries are collaborating to achieve collective goals and are looking for alternatives to all things American, which could greatly reduce the influence of the United States on the world stage.

Literature Review
Scholars have endeavored to understand the nature of anti-US regimes across Latin America, to categorize them, and to assess the consequence of their existence. Popular chronicles like The Economist have speculated about the threatening militarization of Venezuela
1 while other researchers like Shixue,2 Kozloff,3 and Moreno4 seek to categorize regimes according to characteristics like their policy choices, national rhetoric, or openness to trade. Interestingly, dominating the literature is the penchant for assuming that politically leftist governments are synonymous with anti-us governments. As Midge Quandt explains, “ In the past decade, left-of-center governments critical of neoliberalism have appeared all over Latin America… The Bush administration branded the latter, particularly Venezuela, "radical populist," while the U.S. press has been similarly alarmist, variously describing the offending governments as demagogic, anti-American, and even sponsors of terrorism”.5

Adding the next level of nuance has been the analysis provided by Jorge Castenada, former Mexican secretary of Foreign Affairs. In the pivotal article, “Latin America’s Two Lefts”, Castaneda described his belief that not all of Latin America’s left-of-center governments are rightly understood as “anti-us”, and that instead there are in fact two distinct groups. Castaneda suggests that “ one has radical roots but is now open-minded and modern; the other is close-minded and stridently populist. Rather than fretting over the left's rise in general, the rest of the world should focus on fostering the former rather than the latter -- because it is exactly what Latin America needs”.

The "good" left comprises market-friendly social democrats like Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay. The “anti-US” left, on the other hand, refers to those supposedly in Latin America's strongman tradition--Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Nestor Kirchner of Argentina (and perhaps his successor and wife, Cristina Fernández), Evo Morales of Bolivia, and Rafael Correa of Ecuador. Since its publication in 2006, the Castaneda article has become the pre-eminent analysis of Latin America’s so called “anti-us regimes”. While this framework paints a more complex picture than the broad brushstrokes of the US media, the question remains- can countries as diverse as Brazil, Venezuela, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay, Argentina, Nicaragua, and Bolivia be painted with just two colours?

Nicaragua: Up for Debate
Among the countries Castaneda categorized, Nicaragua
was up for debate. Still under the helm of President Enrique Bolanos, Castaneda could only muse about the direction that former Sandinista rebel leader Daniel Ortega would take the country. Nonetheless, he decisively aligned Ortega with Chavez’s group. Known for his virulently anti-American past, the Sandinista leader fed into the expectations of Castaneda’s “wrong left” when he declared his government would represent "the second stage of the Sandinista Revolution" upon his re-election as Nicaragua’s President in 2007.7As one of only four members of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas trade block (known as ALBA in Spanish), the new Nicaraguan President placed himself in the conspicuous company of Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia, confirming for many what kind of regime he sought to lead. Now three years into Ortega’s presidency, the question remains: does Ortega’s Nicaragua conform to Castaneda’s expectations of the “wrong left”? Below, Frost interviews the new President.

This thesis will be tested by examining the characteristics that Castaneda associates with these kinds of “wrong left” regimes- “the populist left -- an approach to power that depends on giving away money, a deep attachment to the nationalist fervor of another era, and no real domestic agenda”.

Defined as a “political program or movement that champions the common person, usually by favourable contrast with an elite”,9 the rule of populism is a very grey area for Ortega’s Nicaragua. Early in his government he announced a series of policies and programs that seemed to hark back to the Sandinistas populist past. Educational matriculation fees were abolished, an illiteracy program was launched with Cuban assistance, and the Zero Hunger program was established. Financed from the public budget and with Venezuelan aid, the program distributed one cow, one pig, 10 hens, and a rooster, along with seeds, to 15,000 families during the first year.10

Conversely, the Dissident Sandinistas claim fervently that “Ortega has not attempted to revamp social and educational priorities” and can point to the fact that salaries for government workers remain frozen and those of teachers and health workers are the lowest in Central America. According to the Central Bank of Nicaragua, the average salary has dropped the last two years, retrogressing to 2001 levels.

Critics further intone that one need only look at the many concessions Ortega made to get in to office to see that his government no longer champions the needs of the common person. Important among the base of the Sandinista movement had been women, and with Ortega’s support for the end of therapeutic abortion in 2006 an entire contingent of his peoples army has felt abandoned, becoming staunchly anti-Ortega. Using anti-imperialist rhetoric, Ortega denounced abortion as part of the western imperialist agenda. Pandering to the elite members of the former para military Contras, Ortega would also move a member of his elitist enemies into the role of his vice president. His movements have thus important equivocated on the question of whose interests he serves.

Zoe Williams of Global Sisterhood talks about Ortega's formerly loyal women

Zoe Williams speaks more about the betrayal of Sandinista women by Ortega in this blog:

Global Sisterhood Blog

The above trend continues when Ortega’s regime is analyzed for “stridently nationalist” bents.12 Understood as “the actions that the members of a nation take when seeking to achieve (or sustain) self-determination,” 13 nationalism in Latin America is often defined in opposition to US hegemony. Ortega certainly puts on a strong face in this arena. New members of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, and a strong ally of Venezuela Nicaragua talks a big game in terms of anti-us rhtetoric, and occasionally appears to walk the walk. Interestingly though, Nicaragua “differs from other [anti-us] governments in that there has been no questioning of free trade with the United States”. As Chamorro points out, Nicaragua distinguishes itself from Venezuela, Ecuador or Bolivia by partaking in economic programs with the IMF, collaboration with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the Millennium Challenge Cooperation and with the Pentagon in the form of Nicaraguan army training in the old School of the Americas.14

Pointing to the fact that Ortega’s government has signed new accords with the International Monetary Fund that do not modify the neoliberal paradigm, Burbach asserts that “Ortega's fiscal and economic policies are, in fact, continuous with those of the previous governments, despite his anti-imperialist rhetoric and denunciations of Neoliberalism”. 15 Thus, though Ortega’s rhetoric understandably lead Castaneda to paint Nicaragua with the same brush as the rest of the “wrong left”, Ortega’s actions once in power betray his nationalist speechifying and do not align Ortega’s Nicaragua with Castaneda’s vision.

Absence of Domestic Agenda
In describing the regimes of the “wrong left” Castaneda asserts that populist leaders will spend more time vilifying their enemies and consolidating their power, and thus frequently lack a cohesive vision for a new domestic agenda. As just one example of how an analysis of this criteria can play out this study offers the following case. Early on in Ortega’s term, he pronounced a grandiose vision for his nation’s domestic agenda that would suggest he did not fit the criteria laid out. Proclaiming a re-founding of the nation, Ortega proposed changing the political system from the ground up. In Ortega’s words the change would entail giving “all the power to the people” through a “parliamentary” system of “direct democracy.”He would seek to accomplish this through the founding of the Citizens Power Councils (CPCs).

Citizens Power Councils are grassroots citizen organizations responsible for identifying the recipients of government welfare initiatives at a local level. Much like the bottom up representation that the Sandinistas had advocated for during their revolutionary reign, these CPCs appeared to hold the potential to empower participatory governance in a real way. This is an initiative that is often held up by supporters of Nicaragua’s President, but his detractors have a very different perspective.
Seen as a way to shore up power by peopling CPCs with Sandinista supporters the councils are often accused of being an avenue to usurp the “legitimization” function of Nicaragua’s legislative assembly. The assembly took issue with their powers being decentralized and dispersed and attempted to pass a law undermining the CPCs ability to access state resources independently. Ortega’s response was to veto the law, furthering the belief that the CPCs have always represented a bid to undermine the checks and balances on Ortega’s power. If this analysis holds true then Ortega’s lust for power would certainly bring him in closer alignment with the Chavezs of the region.

Ultimately, it seems nearly impossible to argue that Ortega has no domestic agenda, just as it would be for any head of state who affects domestic policy every day. That being said, the intent of domestic actions is open to those who frame the issue. In Nicaragua the determination of Ortega’s domestic agenda is clearly in the eye of the beholder.

Understanding the Nicaraguan Findings
Chavez and Ortega: Two Peas in a Pod? Not quite...

According to Castaneda Nicaragua should join a group of nations and leaders for whom “economic performance, democratic values, programmatic achievements, and good relations with the United States are not imperatives but bothersome constraints that miss the real point. They are more intent on maintaining popularity at any cost, picking as many fights as possible with Washington, and getting as much control as they can over sources of revenue, including oil, gas, and suspended foreign-debt payments”.
In considering the stance of Ortega’s government on the issues of populism, nationalism, and domestic agenda, we see that Nicaragua does not fit neatly within Castaneda’s framework. Despite both populist and nationalist rhetoric he has maintained a steady diet of neoliberal policies, and prioritized obligations to Nicaragua’s creditors before the amelioration of many common people. Though Ortega has been known to rely on Venezuelan assistance for financing social programs, and has joined his country into the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas, he has nonetheless been surprisingly open to US involvement in his nation’s affairs on both economic and political levels. Finally, his attempts to develop “participatory democratic” structures may constitute a heavy domestic agenda, or could be simply a stealthy grab for power.

Helping to account for these discrepancies is the divide that currently exists among Nicaragua’s population. Winning with just 38% of the national vote, Ortega distinguishes himself from his populist compatriots by riding to victory
not on a tide of common people. Ultimately, Ortega’s victory was not given to him by populist mandate as the majority of poor voters in Nicaragua—six out of every ten—voted against Ortega.16

“Ortega’s electoral mandate reflects the Nicaraguan population’s dual desires: on the one hand, a desire to fight poverty and fortify social policies, and on the other, demands for institutional transformations”.
17 Because Ortega’s government is in a minority position, fulfilling both objectives will require constant negotiation, between both political opponents and civil society, in order to create enough consensus to drive the necessary political and economic changes.

Ultimately, Nicaragua’s current regime is a product of a very specific and very complex history and political culture. Thus, though anti-american leftist regimes appear to be popping up all over Latin America, what the case of Nicaragua shows is how little broad brush strokes like those painted by the American media or even Castaneda tell us about what a regime is actually up to, and from where it draws its motivations.


In summary, it is thus incontrovertibly evident that anti-Americanism has, is, and will continue to be an important part of Latin American politics and culture. Through the careful analysis of past events and current developments it can be said with confidence that anti-Americanism is important in Latin America and will continue to be for decades to come. For example, it is clear that anti-Americanism can trace its roots back to the 1960s and the Cold War politics of that era; an era in which the United States began intervening in Latin America in trying to maintain control over its sphere of influence and prevent the spread of left-wing ideology at almost all costs.
However, once the United States gained a foothold in the region it was reluctant to back away, and began pushing neo-liberal policies upon Latin American countries. It was this intervention that spurred the emergence of Hugo Chávez as a prominent leader in resisting American influence in the region. Furthermore, in understanding the complexities of these developments it is helpful to look at this rise of anti-Americanism from the viewpoint of scholars.

Some scholars have attempted to categorize such regimes by their different characteristics, such as policy choices, national rhetoric, and openness to trade. It is also worth noting that a prominent idea among scholars in the analysis of these developments is that often leftist governments are considered to be synonymous with anti-American governments. Jorge Casteñada has, however, dominated scholarly debate about the emergence of anti-Americanism and leftist governments in Latin America, and has concluded that there are two distinct lefts in the region. He claims that there is basically a friendly left and an unfriendly left in Latin American politics. In addition, it can be said that his framework allows us some degree of better understanding of these developments; however, it could also be argued that such a black-and-white view may not be sufficient in understanding the true complexities of these greatly different countries.

This argument that Casteñada’s understanding is insufficient can be supported through the analysis of Ortega’s Nicaragua, in which President Ortega has abandoned a number of the social policies that he rode to the polls with. In addition, Nicaragua can be distinguished from other ALBA countries in that it is not evident that Nicaragua is in opposition to free trade with the United States and has taken part in IMF economic programs, a move that other ALBA nations would frown upon. It is clear that Ortega has been aligning with Venezuela and other ALBA nations and receiving aid from them, but has all the while been making concessions to right wing pro-life conservatives despite the feminist history in the Sandinista. In addition, it is evident that Ortega’s Nicaragua has indeed been following in line with populist and nationalist rhetoric, but has, on the other hand, maintained strong neo-liberal policies. Furthermore, it is obvious that Ortega’s Nicaragua does not fit neatly into either the “wrong left” or the “right left,” thus clearly illustrating that Casteñada’s two colour view of Latin American leftist governments is insufficient in understanding the region’s complexities. It can therefore be said, that in analyzing Latin America’s leftist governments, that the foundations are different, the expressions are different, and the outcomes are different from country to country.


[1] Venezuela politics: From Russia with love." Economist Intelligence Unit: Country ViewsWire 15 Sept. 2009. Academic OneFile. Web. 24 Mar. 2010.
[2] Jian S., “Americas at Odds”
Beijing Review 40 (2008).
[3] Nikolas Kozloff,
Revolution!: South America and the Rise of the New Left,(Palgrave McMillan, 2008).
[4] Felipe Moreno, “Latin America’s True Colours”
Contemporary Review 288(2006).
[5] Midge Quandt, “Beyond Latin America’s ‘Two Lefts’”
NACLA Report on the Americas 42(2009).
[6] Jorge Castaneda, “Latin America’s Left Turn”
Foreign Affairs 85 (2006) 28.
[7] Roger Burbach, “Et tu, daniel? the sandinista revolution betrayed”,
NACLA Report on the Americas 42, (2009): 33.
[8] Castaneda, 32.
[9] Encyclopedia Britannica,
[10] Burbach, 31.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Castaneda, 31.
[13] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
Nationalism, 2010.
[14] Carlos F. Chamorro, Edmundo Jarquín and Alejandro Bendaña, “Understanding Populism and Political Participation: The Case of Nicaragua”
Woodrow Wilson Center Update on the Americas, 2009.
[15] Burbach, 35.
[16] Chamorro.
[17] Ibid.

Selected Bibliography:

Ballvé, Marcelo. "A new wave of anti-americanism." NACLA Report on the Americas 38 (2005): 37.Link

Carranza, Mario E. "The north-south divide and security in the western hemisphere: United states-south american relations after september 11 and the iraq war." International Politics 46 (2009): 276. Link
Castaneda, Jorge . "Latin america's two left wings; don't confuse those leaders who spring from a communist or socialist past with those who trace their roots to old-fashioned populism." Newsweek : 2006. Link

Castenada, Jorge. "Latin America's Left Turn: A Tale of Two Lefts."
Foreign Affairs (2006) Link

Chasteen, John Charles. 2001. Born in Blood and Fire: A Concise History of Latin America. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Gott, Richard. " Ch
ávez Leads the Way." The Guardian Weekly (2005) Link

Fraser, Cleveland. 2005. “International Relations.” In ed. Richard S. Hillman ed. Understanding Contemporary Latin America, 3rd Edition. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc.

Moreno, Felipe. "Latin America's True Colours." Contemporary Review
288 (2006): 409.Link
Mychalejko, Cyril. "Dirty business, dirty wars: U.S.-latin american relations in the 21st century."
New Politics12(2009): 80.Link

Quandt, Midge. "Beyond latin america's 'two lefts."
NACLA Report on the Americas 42 (2009): 44. Link

Reed Lindsay in La Paz, Bolivia. "Anti-US indigenous groups pressure bolivian president; it is the latest nation to suffer unrest over free-trade policies." South China Morning Post,2005.Link//