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Progressive Dems Visit Latin America Seeking “New Path” After Decades of U.S. Interference

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We speak to Congressmember Greg Casar of Texas, who has just returned from a congressional trip to meet with newly left-leaning governments in Brazil, Colombia and Chile ahead of the 50th anniversary of the U.S.-backed Chilean coup, which overthrew democratically elected President Salvador Allende and installed a 17-year military dictatorship led by Augusto Pinochet. Casar was joined by other progressive Latinx members of Congress, including New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and fellow Texan Joaquin Castro. During the trip, the lawmakers called for the Biden administration to declassify more documents revealing the U.S. role in the coup. It was the first time an all-Latinx American congressional delegation traveled to Latin America, Casar says, and marked a “historic” attempt by young, progressive lawmakers to break from Cold War-era American interventionism on the continent and to move toward a relationship “based on mutual respect and supporting democracy.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman in New York, with Juan González in Chicago.

Commemorations are being planned in Chile for September 11 to mark the 50th anniversary of the U.S.-backed military coup that ousted democratically elected President Salvador Allende and led to a 17-year dictatorship led by General Augusto Pinochet. A U.S. congressional delegation recently traveled to Chile ahead of the coup anniversary. During their trip, the lawmakers called for the Biden administration to declassify more documents on the U.S. role in the coup. Congressmembers taking part in the trip were New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nydia Velázquez, Florida’s Maxwell Frost, who we spoke to yesterday, and Joaquin Castro and Greg Casar, both from Texas. The delegation also traveled to Brazil and Colombia. Texas Congressmember Greg Casar joins us now from Austin, Texas.

We’re also speaking to you on the day after President Biden met with the Costa Rican president at the White House to talk about issues including migration. But we want to start where you were in Latin America, and particularly talk about what’s happening in Chile right now just ahead of that other September 11th, September 11, 1973, when the U.S.-backed Augusto Pinochet rose to power and the democratically elected president, Salvador Allende, died in the palace.

REP. GREG CASAR: Amy, Juan, thank you so much for having me on.

Just got back from this trip to Colombia, Brazil and Chile, and it was an important and historic trip. It was the first time that anyone can remember that an entirely Latino delegation of members of Congress went down. Many of the heads of state and ministers that we met with were surprised, first of all, to have almost — the meetings almost virtually entirely in Spanish, and, in Brazil, in Portuñol, which is kind of what folks call a mix of Portuguese and Spanish, like we call Spanglish here when there’s Spanish speakers and English speakers in the room.

But most importantly, I think, an entirely progressive delegation, that want to replace our old relationship with Latin America that was based on Cold War militarism and military interventionism and supporting coups and corporate extraction, to replace that old relationship with something new based on mutual respect and supporting democracy, based on admitting to the errors of our past, many of which have been horrible, and trying to kind of build a new path based on mutual survival of the climate crisis and lifting up workers in all places and addressing the root causes of migration. And so, they were powerful visits in each place, especially in Chile, given the 50th anniversary coming up of the U.S.-backed coup and the support for Pinochet, who disappeared and killed so many people.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Congressman, congratulations on the trip. But I’m wondering, in terms of the choice of countries, especially when it comes to transnational migration, Venezuela has become the main source now in South America of migrants to the United States. Was there a reason why you didn’t choose to go to Venezuela, as well?

REP. GREG CASAR: We did meet with many of the top leaders in Colombia, and our attaché in Colombia handles the issues in Venezuela. And the reason we visited these three countries, in particular, is because they had each elected new progressive and left leaders, left leaders trying to defend and build their democracies, to start to build that kind of relationship. And so we went to those three, but we spoke about the issues impacting Venezuela in each and every one of those countries, because, for example, Colombia has housed millions of the Venezuelans who have been displaced, in significant part due to U.S. policy in Venezuela. And so, in each of those countries, we talked about how U.S. sanctions in Venezuela are one of the contributing factors to what is pushing people out into those countries, and then many of them to risk their lives in the Darién Gap and then to arrive in the United States.

And if we want to address, as you’ve written about so extensively, Juan, the root causes of migration — the harvest of our empire — then we need to talk about how we’re going to provide stability and hope and food to people in Latin America, rather than toppling governments and rather than starving everyday people. You know, there’s this myth that our sanctions are only targeted at certain leaders, at certain elites. But, in fact, it’s proven that so many of our sanctions are ultimately starving people in their home countries and causing forced migration. We should have a system of legal migration where people who want to seek opportunity have the opportunity in a safe and orderly way to migrate to the United States. But we know so many people are being pushed out of their homes that never wanted to leave in the first place.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And how do you hope that the Biden administration will change its policy in the region? What were you hearing from some of the leaders in those countries about what they would hope the United States would do, especially now we’re in the 200th anniversary of the Monroe Doctrine?

REP. GREG CASAR: Yeah, I think Chile is a perfect example of this. Fifty years ago, the United States supported a coup of democratically elected leader President Salvador Allende in Chile. And the coup led to 17 years of dictatorship under Pinochet. And many of those documents about how the United States supported this coup, and then supported the dictatorship afterwards, remain classified. And we went to the Museum of Memory in Santiago, Chile, to call on all of these documents to be declassified. And here, just a few days ago, the Biden administration declassified some of those documents.

And the question is: Why is that so important? And in talking with everyday people in Chile, movement leaders in Chile and elected officials, for them, the day of that coup is probably the most important marker in their history that pretty much anybody can remember. Just in the way we talk about where were you the day that JFK was assassinated, or, in my generation, where were you on September 11th, 2001, for them, it really is what happened that day of that coup, when so many people were exiled, so many people killed, and many of those bodies from that historical event still not found.

And so, beginning to stand in Chile and say that we have done enormous wrong and contributed to that wrong, and we want to establish a new relationship, we want full transparency for what happened, we want to provide documents that can help family members find the bodies of their lost family members who, quote-unquote, were “disappeared” but we knew were killed, is an important start, so that, then, instead, we could start having a new relationship based on how do we lift workers up in the clean energy economy.

Chile has some of the greatest lithium reserves in the world. How do we protect Indigenous communities there, while making sure Chile’s workers can be unionized and can have a decent wage, providing lithium to a new clean energy battery economy in places like the United States, where we are now trying to onshore manufacturing and make sure we create union jobs? So, how do we lift up workers, reduce forced migration, and survive the climate crisis together? That’s, I think, the relationship we want to have. But you can’t just move on, when you have supported, for example, a military dictatorship and a coup. We need to reconcile for the past, try to heal, and then work together to survive the climate crisis that will impact all of us.

AMY GOODMAN: And when it comes to Cuba, though you didn’t visit Cuba, are you calling for the lifting of sanctions against Cuba that has gone on for some, what, 60 years, 50 years?

REP. GREG CASAR: Yes, we did visit — we did visit about sanctions in both Cuba and in Venezuela. Again, we went and met with many of the new young movement leaders, who are in their thirties just like me, from a new progressive movement of people who care both about defending democracy and supporting working people. And we know that there has been enormous migration not just from Venezuela, but some of the biggest waves of migration we’ve seen in decades from Cuba.

And the United States’ embargo and sanctions against everyday Cuban people have not resulted in the policy outcomes that were sold to governments decades ago. Instead, what it means is that United States farmers, in places like Texas, that grow rice, cannot sell their rice to people in Cuba who are starving. And ultimately, many folks in Cuba end up having to buy their food from places like Europe. It makes no sense, because we should, again, be making sure our foreign policy is based on feeding people, on supporting stability, rather than, what Juan mentioned, the Monroe Doctrine or Cold War militarism, that are based on trying to dominate other countries in the hemisphere. That has not worked. And again, this isn’t just based on charity or humanitarianism. Those things, of course, are core values and very important, but they don’t help people in the United States, either.

And I think that’s a lot of what the conversation has been about, is that many of us were born after the wall fell. Many of us were born in 1989 or afterwards, not just the new electeds in the United States, but also in Latin America. And so, this opens up a door for us to say those policies don’t make sense. We don’t want to relive or restart another Cold War. Instead, what if we do something that’s not based on corporate profits or the military-industrial complex, and more based on lifting up the working people in each of our districts, here in the United States and back in their homes in Latin America?

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