Imperialism is a term often associated with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is less frequently used in the context of Latin America, where the roles of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank are more often considered features of “globalisation” or “neo-colonialism”.
It is wrong to draw such a distinction. Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin defined Imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism. In other words, it is inseparable from the capitalist system.
Imperialism refers to the economic and political as well as military policies of the world’s most powerful states.
In Latin America, US imperialism is harder to see than in the Middle East. Human rights abuses and poverty tend to be attributed to the problems of local governments.
The recent coup in Honduras is a case in point. The media almost exclusively treated it as a coup against the elected, left-leaning President Manuel Zelaya by the Honduran military.
This isn’t entirely incorrect, but it doesn’t do justice to the truth.
The US government funded and trained the military forces that overthrew Zelayo. Honduras is a proxy US state. It depends on the US for trade and military aid.
The US was the best positioned political force to condemn the coup and have Zelaya reinstated. Instead, more than one month later, Roberto Micheletti remains in power.
Opponents of the coup are increasingly critical of delaying tactics on the part of the US. The memory of the defeat of the Sandinistas and other left wing rebel groups through wars of attrition is all too familiar in Central America.
The legacy of colonialism is the creation of indigenous ruling classes whose interests in defending capitalism keep them aligned with the ex-colonial powers.
The necessary inter-state competition that emerged following independence led to the emergence of sub-imperialist powers, such as Brazil and Mexico. They dominate the region yet remain under the influence of US and EU imperialism.
When a local ruling class feels threatened, and the threat has the potential to undermine a greater imperialist power, the local rulers can rely on the support of the latter.
This is what happened in Honduras.
Zelaya is by no means a socialist, but he had increased the minimum wage by over 50 percent in country where 77 percent live in poverty. He was also becoming increasingly aligned with leftist Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.
Inequality and poverty have increased under neoliberalism. Between 1980 and 2000 the number of people in Latin America living below the poverty line grew from 136 million to 221 million.
This has pushed the masses onto the street in protest.
A succession of left wing governments have come to power in Latin America on anti-imperialist platforms.
The attempt by some of the more radical leaders to nationalise natural resources and create a Latin American trade alliance, Mercosur, poses a direct challenge to US imperialist power.
Zelaya’s “mistake” was to propose a referendum on whether to set up a constituent assembly—the outcome of which would undoubtedly have been yes, leading to greater democratisation similar to that seen in Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela.
But the important point is that this move threatened both the ruling classes in Honduras and the US.
In the same vein, the victory of the resistance in Honduras would be not only in the interest of Honduran workers but in the interests of workers throughout the world.