Secretary of State John Kerry testified this April at a Senate budget hearing concerning his Department. Presiding Senator Bob Menendez worried that a focus on the Middle East could create "a vacuum in our own hemisphere" Â meaning a declining hegemony in Latin America Â that would be "filled by people like past president Hugo Chavez ÂVenezuelaÂ, Evo Morales, and a whole host of individuals…."
Sec. Kerry replied: "I don’t disagree with you with the need to change the dynamic of the Western Hemisphere. It has too often been viewed as a second thought. It shouldn’t be, it’s our backyard, neighborhood, as you say…"
The Secretary and the Senator thus agreed that the US needs to change the dynamic of the Western Hemisphere. They did not consult the peoples of the hemisphere, who mostly have chosen governments that represent that dynamic. President Rafael Correa of Ecuador leads in this regard: he recently received a 90% approval rating from his fellow citizens.
Hugo Chavez Â for the period prior to his death Â received an approval rating of 84%. They are examples of what the US wants to change, irrespective of public opinion. There is common agreement in Washington that it is entitled to do so. President Obama, by the way, had a 48% favorable rating in the poll.
The postulate underlying the assumed entitlement is summed up in two words: "our backyard." That claim was first made concerning the Caribbean and Central America, but now it extends to the entire Western Hemisphere except Canada.
In 1954, the CIA coup against the elected government of Guatemala was accompanied by frenzied media denunciations of a Communist threat. In reality, the USSR leadership did not even know before that year that there was a Communist Party in Guatemala.
Then-Speaker of the House John McCormack compared the danger to "an atom bomb planted in the rear of our backyard." - Following the failed invasion of Cuba in 1961, Richard Nixon deplored that "In Cuba we have goofed an invasion, paid tribute to Castro for the prisoners, then given the Soviets squatters’ rights in our backyard." Squatters’ rights might have been appropriate for some other people.
In 1984, in order to justify the ignoring of elections in Nicaragua, which Henry Kissinger described as worse than Nazi Germany, George Shultz awkwardly called the Sandinistas "a cancer in our backyard." That diagnosis was never made of the three successive Somozas.Â
In 1994, when President Clinton was planning to intervene in Haiti, he reminded the citizens that Haiti was "in our backyard." Â
In 2004, former Senator Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) went a step further, as cited in the Congressional Record of March 1 of that year: "Haiti is in our backyard. It will always be in our backyard." In 2010, a task force of Marines landed in Guatemala to put things in order.
Its commander, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Charles D. Michel, unaware of the region’s history or unwilling to recognize it, said of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador that "thousands of their citizens are being murdered." He added that "Government officials are being corrupted. Institutions are being rotted from the inside out. Portions of their territory are no longer effectively under their control." The US concern was clear, as he saw it: "That is instability, and that is a national security threat, right in our backyard."
In 2013, Sec. Kerry and Sen. Menendez have revived the phrase. Why are backyards not reciprocal? The distance between nations is the same no matter in what direction it is measured. Is it a question of sheer size? The US borders on only two countries: Canada and Mexico. Brazil, on the other hand, shares borders Â ten in all Â with every nation and one colony in South America except for Ecuador and Chile.
Should Brazil claim that those ten, or all twelve, are in its backyard, and therefore not in the US backyard? Argentina is far larger than its neighbor Uruguay.
Mexico is much larger than Guatemala, which in turn is bigger than El Salvador. Cuba is several times larger than Jamaica. None of these countries claims a right of intervention-by-backyard in the others. Cuba, of course, is part of the dynamic that the US seeks to change, and a prime candidate for renewed backyard status.
What can the people of Cuba Â of all of Latin America and the Caribbean Â think of Sec. Kerry’s recent statement?