On July 24, 2021 on the occasion of the 238th anniversary of the birth of South American independence hero Simón Bolivar and the 21st meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) presented a speech that was widely commented on both nationally and international. In it he discussed Mexico’s foreign policy, the history of foreign and specifically U.S. intervention in Latin America, opposition to the U.S. blockade of Cuba and the defense of the island nation, and the need for a new regional organization to replace the discredited OAS.
SPEECH BY THE PRESIDENT OF MEXICO, ANDRÉS MANUEL LÓPEZ OBRADOR, ON THE 238TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BIRTH OF SIMÓN BOLÍVAR, THE LIBERATOR
Respected foreign ministers and representatives of brotherly countries of our Americas
I am grateful for the presence here of Isabel Allende, a great Chilean writer who accompanies us in this event to pay homage to the Liberator Simón Bolívar, to recreate his project of unity among the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, and to rely on history to better face the present and the future.
Born in 1783, exactly 30 years after Miguel Hidalgo, Simón Bolívar decided at a very young age to fight for great, noble, and just causes. Like Hidalgo himself and José María Morelos y Pavón, the fathers of our homeland, the liberator Bolívar encompassed exceptional virtues.
Bolivar is a living example of how a good humanistic education can overcome the indifference or comfort of those who are born with a silver spoon in their mouths. Bolivar belonged to a well-to-do family of landowners, but from childhood on he was educated by Simon Rodriguez, an educator and social reformer who accompanied him in his education until he reached a high degree of intellectual maturity and awareness.
In 1805, when he was only 22 years old, on the Monte Sacro in Rome, Bolívar “swore in the presence of his teacher and namesake not to rest his body or soul until he had succeeded in liberating the Spanish-American world from Spanish tutelage.”
Like his father, Bolívar had a military calling, but at the same time he was an enlightened man and as they used to say, a man of the world, for he traveled extensively in Europe; he lived or visited Spain, France, Italy, England; he spoke French, knew mathematics, history and literature, but he was not only a man of thought but also of action.
He knew the art of war and was at the same time a political leader with a calling and commitment for transformation. He knew the importance of discourse; the power of ideas, the effectiveness of proclamations and was aware of the great usefulness of journalism and the printing press as an instrument for the struggle. He knew the effect caused by the enactment of laws for the benefit of the people and, above all, he valued the importance of not giving up, of perseverance, and of never losing faith in the victory of the cause for which he was fighting for the good of others.
In 1811, Bolivar joined the anti-colonialist army, under the command of Francisco de Miranda, precursor of the Independence Movement. Shortly thereafter, in response to hesitancy on the part of this military leader, Bolivar took command of the troops and in 1813 began the struggle for the liberation of Venezuela. Shortly beforehand, as Manuel Perez Vila, one of his biographers, writes, the people began to call him Liberator, “a title solemnly conferred on him, in October 1813, by the municipality and the people of Caracas, and with which he would go down in history”.
In his tireless struggle through the highways and byways of the Americas, victories and defeats are intertwined. Bolívar’s military campaign led him to take refuge in Jamaica and Haiti; from these people and their governments he received support for his campaigns on two occasions, something truly exceptional and an example of solidarity and Latin American brotherhood.
In 1819 he triumphantly entered Bogota and soon after the Fundamental Law of the Republic of Colombia was issued. This great state, the great Colombia, the creation of The liberator, included the current republics of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama.
Not everything was easy in his struggle. He lost battles, faced betrayals and, as in any transforming or revolutionary movement, internal divisions appeared, which can be even more harmful than the struggles against the real adversaries.
In the struggle to liberate the peoples of our Americas, Bolivar had the tremendous support of General Antonio José de Sucre and in 1822, he met, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, with General José de San Martín, another illustrious titan of South American independence.
At that time the “Bolivar Republic” was established, today known as Bolivia, and the independence of Peru was consummated. On the coast of this country, at the beginning of 1824, Bolivar fell ill and despite bad news, due to betrayals and defeats, it is said that from the armchair where he was sitting his famous exclamation “Triumph!” emerged. This anecdote was made into poetry by Carlos Pellicer, who intensely admired Bolívar; the verse reads as follows:
Señor don Joaquín Mosquera
from a certain town, he arrived.
He got off his mule
and sought out the Liberator.
Old ramrod saddle
Leaning on the wall
of a miserable house;
The sad body
of Bolivar rested on it.
Don Joaquin embraced him
with very courteous words.
The hero of the New World
After Señor Mosquera
had enumerated the sorrows,
he asked Don Simon:
“And now, what are you going to do?”
“Triumph!” The Liberator
replied with mad faith.
And it was a solid silence
of admiration and horror…
After that fateful moment, the Liberator lived through many others of equal misfortune. The final leg of his existence was marked by the constant divisions in the liberal ranks, which even led Venezuela to proclaim itself a state independent of Grand Colombia on the eve of his death. On December 17, 1830, the great liberator Simón Bolívar closed his eyes and never woke up.
● ● ●
The struggle for the integrity of the peoples of our Americas continues to be a beautiful ideal. It has not been easy to turn that beautiful goal into reality. Its main obstacles have been the conservative movement in nations of the Americas, the divisions in the ranks of the liberal movement, and the predominance of the United States in the hemisphere. Let’s not forget that almost at the same time that our countries were gaining independence from Spain and other European nations, the new metropolis of hegemonic domination was emerging in this hemisphere.
During the difficult period of the wars of independence, which generally began around 1810, the rulers of the United States followed events with discreet interest and an entirely pragmatic approach. The United States maneuvered at different times in accordance with a unilateral game plan. Extreme caution at the beginning, so as not to irritate Spain, Great Britain, the Holy Alliance, without hindering decolonization, which at times looked doubtful. However, around 1822, Washington began the rapid recognition of the independence achieved in order to close the door to interventionism from abroad, and in 1823, at last, a defined policy emerged.
In October, Jefferson, who inspired the Declaration of Independence and who was by then a sort of oracle, responded by letter to a query on the issue from President James Monroe. In a significant paragraph, Jefferson says: “Our first and fundamental maxim should be, never to entangle ourselves in the broils of Europe; our second, never to allow Europe to meddle in affairs on this side of the Atlantic.” In December, Monroe delivered the famous speech in which the doctrine that bears his name was outlined.
The slogan of “America for the Americans” ended up disintegrating the peoples of our continent and destroying what Bolivar had built. Throughout almost the entire 19th century we experienced constant occupations, invasions, annexations and it cost us the loss of half of our territory, with the great blow of 1848.
This territorial and violent expansion of the United States was consecrated when Cuba, Spain’s last bastion in the Americas, fell in 1898, with the suspicious sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana. This gave rise to the Platt Amendment and the occupation of Guantanamo. In other words, by then the United States had finished defining its vital-physical space throughout the Americas.
Since that time, Washington has never ceased carrying out overt or covert operations against the independent countries south of the Rio Grande. The influence of U.S. foreign policy is overwhelming in the Americas. There is only one special exception, that of Cuba, the country that for more than half a century has asserted its independence by politically confronting the United States. We may or may not agree with the Cuban Revolution and its government, but to have resisted 62 years without being subjugated, is quite a feat. My words may provoke anger in some or many, but as the song by René Pérez Joglar of Calle 13 goes, “I always say what I think”.
Therefore, I believe that, for its struggle in defense of its country’s sovereignty, the people of Cuba deserve the prize of dignity and this island should be considered the new Numantia for its example of resistance, and I think that for that very reason it should be declared a world heritage site.
But I also maintain that now is the time for a new coexistence among all the countries of the Americas, because the model imposed more than two centuries ago is exhausted, has no future, and no way out and no longer benefits anyone. We must put aside the dilemma of either integrating with the United States or opposing it defensively.
It is time to explore another option, that of having a dialogue with U.S. leaders and convincing and persuading them that a new relationship between the countries of the Americas is possible.
I believe that at present there are excellent conditions to achieve this goal of respecting each other and going forward together without anyone being left behind.
With this in mind, our experience of economic integration with respect for our sovereignty, which we have been carrying out in the conception and implementation of the economic and trade agreement with the United States and Canada, may be helpful.
Obviously, it is no minor thing to have a nation like the United States as a neighbor. Our proximity forces us to seek agreements and it would be a serious mistake to physically confront Samson, but at the same time we have powerful reasons to assert our sovereignty and demonstrate with arguments and without idle chatter, that we are not a protectorate, a colony or their backyard. Furthermore, with the passage of time, a factor favorable to our country has gradually been accepted: China’s disproportionate growth has strengthened the opinion in the United States that we should be seen as allies and not as distant neighbors.
The integration process has been taking place since 1994, when the first trade agreement was signed, which, although incomplete because it did not address the issue of labor rights, as is the case today, allowed for the installation of auto parts plants and factories in other branches and the creation of production chains that make us mutually indispensable. It can be said that even the U.S. military industry depends on auto parts manufactured in Mexico. I say this not out of pride, but to underscore the interdependence that exists. But speaking of this question, as I said to President Joseph Biden, we prefer an economic integration with sovereignty with the United States and Canada, in order to recover what we have lost in terms of production and trade with China, rather than continuing to weaken ourselves as a region and having a scenario in the Pacific plagued by war clouds. In other words, it is in our interest for the United States to be strong economically and not only militarily. Achieving this balance and not the hegemony of any country is the most responsible and advisable way to maintain peace for the good of future generations and humanity.
To start with, we must be realistic and accept, as I stated in my speech at the White House in July of last year, that while China dominates 12.2 percent of the global export and services market, the United States controls only 9.5 percent. This disparity dates back just 30 years, since in 1990, China’s share was 1.3 percent and the United States’ was 12.4 percent. Imagine if this trend of the last three decades were to continue, and there is nothing that can legally or legitimately be done to prevent it, in another 30 years, by 2051, China would dominate 64.8 percent of the world market and the United States between 4 and 10 percent; which, I insist, in addition to being an unacceptable disproportionate division on an economic level, would keep alive the temptation to wager on resolving this disparity with the use of force, which would endanger us all.
It could be simplistically assumed that it is up to each nation to take on its responsibility, but in the case of such a delicate and close to our hearts matter, with respect for the rights of others and the independence of each country, we think that the best thing to do would be to strengthen ourselves economically and commercially in North America and throughout the hemisphere. Besides, I do not see any other way out; we cannot close our economies or wager on the application of tariffs on exporting countries of the world and much less should we declare a trade war on anyone. I think the best thing to do is to be efficient, creative, strengthen our regional market, and compete with any country or region in the world.
Of course, this involves jointly planning our development; nothing on the order of live and let live. We must jointly define very precise goals; for example, to stop rejecting migrants, mostly young people, when in order to grow we need a labor force that, in reality, is not sufficiently available in the United States or Canada. Why not study the demand for labor and open the migratory flow in an orderly manner? And within the framework of this new joint development plan, we should consider policies on investment, labor, environmental protection and other issues of mutual interest to our nations.
It is obvious that this must involve cooperation for the development and welfare of all the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean. The policy of the last two centuries, characterized by invasions to put in place or remove governments at the whim of the superpower, is no longer acceptable; let’s bid farewell to impositions, interference, sanctions, exclusions, and blockades.
Let’s instead apply the principles of non-intervention, self-determination of peoples, and peaceful settlement of disputes. Let’s initiate a relationship in our hemisphere based on the premise of George Washington, according to which “nations should not take advantage of the misfortune of other peoples”.
I am aware that this is a complex issue that requires a new political and economic outlook. The proposal is no more and no less than to build something similar to the European Union, but in accordance with our history, our reality, and our identities. In this spirit, the replacement of the OAS by a truly autonomous organization, not a lackey of anyone, but a mediator at the request and acceptance of the parties in conflict, in matters of human rights and democracy, should not be ruled out. It is a great task for good diplomats and political leaders such as those who, fortunately, exist in all the countries of our hemisphere.
What is proposed here may seem utopian. However, it should be considered that without the horizon of ideals we will get nowhere and, consequently, it is worth trying. Let’s keep Bolivar’s dream alive.
Thank you very much.
Chapultepec Castle, Mexico City, Mexico, July 24, 2021