The Biden plan for Central America: Militarised neoliberal hell

The policies a Biden administration will pursue are unlikely to bring prosperity and security to Central Americans.

Honduran army soldiers chase supporters of former President Manuel Zelaya after violence broke out following a military coup in Tegucigalpa, Honduras on June 29, 2009 [File AP/Eduardo Verdugo]

On November 1, just prior to the elections in the United States, US President Donald Trump tweeted with regard to his Democrat rival: “[Joe] Biden is a proven Castro puppet! Vote TRUMP.”

The tweet did not specify any Castro in particular, but it is likely the reference was to late iconic Cuban leader Fidel, a staunch critic of US imperial aggression in Latin America and capitalism in general – a system he accurately saw as perpetuating poverty.

Considering now-President-elect Biden’s Latin American track record, however, it appears the deceased Castro is a rather terrible puppet master.

For eight years, Biden served as vice president to US “Deporter-in-Chief” Barack Obama, who assumed power in 2009. That same year, the democratically-elected president of Honduras was overthrown in a right-wing coup d’état, the success of which was ultimately ensured by the Obama-Biden administration.

The coup plunged Honduras into a seemingly irreversibly violent neoliberal hell, with skyrocketing homicides and widespread impunity for murders, rapes, and other abuses committed by Honduran security forces – and all with the help of increased US military and police aid.

A principal excuse for such aid to Honduras and other trigger-happy states like Mexico was, of course, the “war on drugs” – the gift that keeps on giving in terms of legitimating post-Cold War US imperialism and continuing militarisation of Latin America.

During a 2012 excursion to the region to reiterate US satisfaction with the panorama of right-wing, corporate-friendly brutality, Biden affirmed that there was no possibility for drug legalisation in the eyes of him and his boss, despite the horrific levels of violence generated by the drug war itself.

The perils of existence in Honduras have only been compounded by the post-coup privatisation binge, mega “development” projects entailing land grabs and environmental despoliation, and other US-backed neoliberal experiments in mass impoverishment and communal displacement. Given this reality, it is only logical that a whole lot of Hondurans – as well as other Latin Americans in a similar boat – would attempt to migrate in the direction of potential physical and economic safety.

And yet when a surplus of unaccompanied minors, most of them from Honduras, turned up on the US frontier in 2014 to seek asylum, Biden saw it as a “dangerous surge in migration”. This opinion was espoused in his 2015 New York Times article, “A Plan for Central America”, in which the vice president outlined his strategy for ameliorating violence and poverty in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, and thereby stemming the migrant surge.

Biden’s plan, also known as the “Alliance for Prosperity”, was based on the notion that “security makes everything else possible”. The plan prescribed collaboration between the US, the three aforementioned governments, and “international financial institutions and the private sector”. Never mind that, in all three locations, the current lack of security has pretty much everything to do with decades of US interference and furtherance of the interests of – what else – international financial institutions and private sector.

In a 2019 interview with CNN, Biden recalled with paternalistic delight the “deal” he had struck with the Central American leaders, instructing them: “You do the following things to make your country better so people don’t leave, and we will help you do that. Just like we did in Colombia.”

Biden went on to boast of having been “one of the architects of Plan Colombia”, the massive US aid package to the South American nation that was implemented in 2000, when Biden was a senator.

In the Colombian context, “mak[ing] your country better” apparently includes stuff like compensating members of the US-backed Colombian military with bonus pay, holiday time, and other perks for possibly murdering as many as 10,000 civilians between 2002 and 2010 and passing the corpses off as enemy combatants. This transpired for no other reason than to give the illusion that the right-wing Colombian government was winning its “war on drugs and terror” and therefore deserving of yet more US aid to continue its homicidal campaign.

If we are to take Biden’s cheery word for it, other signs of national improvement in the case of Colombia might be the saturation of the Colombian landscape with toxic chemicals (anything to hurt the narcotics trade!), the displacement of millions of people, and the ongoing killing spree against human rights defenders and social activists.

As John Washington wrote in the Intercept, Plan Colombia also “helped speed along privatisation and other neoliberal reforms”, setting the stage for the free trade agreement between the US and Colombia and allowing transnational corporations and mining companies to wreak lucrative havoc at the expense of Indigenous and other communities. A success story, indeed.

Expanding on his first round of Central American “prosperity”, Biden unleashed – as part of his campaign platform – “The Biden Plan to Build Security and Prosperity in Partnership with the People of Central America”. According to the plan, “renewed US leadership” in the region is “desperately needed”, although the families of Salvadorans extrajudicially executed by the US-funded police would presumably beg to differ.

The new-and-improved Biden Plan promises a “comprehensive four-year, $4bn regional strategy to address factors driving migration from Central America”, by, inter alia, “mobilising private investment”. The strategy also “puts combating corruption at the heart of US policy”.

Of course, do not expect that heart to stop throwing money at the lovably corrupt “narco-dictatorship” in Honduras, presided over by far-right Juan Orlando Hernández. Nor does Biden’s professed commitment to a strategy that “recognises the central role of women as a powerful force for development” inspire much confidence in light of the post-coup surge in femicides in Honduras – not to mention the 2016 assassination of prominent Honduran Indigenous leader Berta Cáceres, one of many environmental activists lethally targeted for opposing US models of “development” and “prosperity”.

Biden has condemned Trump’s “draconian immigration policies that seek to undo our asylum and refugee laws”, while also lambasting the president for his family separation habit. After it was revealed in October that the US government could not locate the parents of more than 500 migrant children that had been separated from their families at the US border, Biden preached that the situation “makes us a laughingstock and violates every notion of who we are as a nation”.

To be sure, grotesque hypocrisy is par for the US political discourse. And as tradition would have it, Biden himself is every bit as guilty of violating alleged US ideals, including by helping to pave the way for the Trumpian brand of acute xenophobia. In addition to ramping up US migrant detention infrastructure, the Obama-Biden team also forced the increased militarisation of Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, rendering northward migration even deadlier for Central Americans.

Natascha Elena Uhlmann, a Mexican American activist and author of Abolish ICE, wrote in an email to me that Biden has “refused to reckon with his complicity in family separation; from the deportation of over three million immigrants under the Obama-Biden administration to his vote for the Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 which laid the fundamental groundwork for Trump’s mass deportation machinery”.

In his 2015 New York Times dispatch, Biden asserted that confronting Central America’s challenges “requires nothing less than systemic change”.

And while systemic change is indeed what is urgently needed in Central America as well as the US itself, Biden is certainly not the one to bring it.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.