Living a world away, one can't be blamed for sometimes losing track of what's going on in that other America, somewhere below the Panama Canal, the twelve independent nations that make up what I know as South America. The Spanish weren't the first to try to impose their way of life on others, and the US won't be the last, but both have definitely had a profound impact on the politics of these countries.
"We found those realms in such good order that there was not a thief or a vicious man, nor an adulteress, nor were they an immoral people, being content and honest in their labour...
We have destroyed by our evil behaviour such a government as was enjoyed by these natives... Owing to the bad example we have set them in all things, that these natives from doing no evil have turned into people who can do no good...
There is no more I can do to alleviate these injustices than by my words ... in which I beg God to pardon me..."
Masio Serra de Leguizamon
Last of the Conquistadors
Cuzco, 18 September 1589
With the election of Fernando Lugo, leader of the Patriotic Alliance for Change, as president of Paraguay, the political transformation of South America can now be called nothing short of revolutionary. Every country short of Colombia now has a president that can be called left-leaning at the very least. This is a situation that could never have happened in the 20th century as the US control ranged from subtle influence to outright coup d'etats to place those they wished to have in power in the presidential offices across most of the continent.
Even before the conquistadors arrived in the 16th century, South America had a long history of contact between their civilizations, sometimes peaceful and of course often violent. However, the arrival of the Spanish brought this destruction to a whole new level. Their destructive path first through the West Indies, then into Central America and finally South America is well documented, but it's still hard to grasp the scale of death caused by their search for new wealth. Germ warfare (smallpox), cultural genocide (the Catholic church) and of course good old-fashioned war, decimated a once thriving culture and finally completely wiped out the indigenous cultures in less than 200 years. Eventually European colonial infighting, Simon Bolivar and finally the US brought about the end of Spanish rule in the Americas, leaving just one power to chart the destiny of an entire hemisphere opening the door to Manifest Destiny.
The Monroe Doctrine of 1823 was brought into existence to protect the new nations of the Americas from the evil European powers, but in typical world power ageing process, benevolent protection turned to aggression through the right of intervention to help "stabilize" a country through amendments to the doctrine such as the Roosevelt Corollary of 1904. 1898 saw a double victory for the US; they put an end to Spanish influence defeating them in the Spanish-American war and then as a bonus Britain gave up their rights to build a canal across the Central American isthmus and thus handed control of the entire hemisphere to the US. This also marked the beginning of American imperialism in South America as Colombia, which was then in control of Panama, refused to sell the rights to the canal for a mere ten million dollars (reportedly they wanted twenty-five million). America's answer, as became their modus operandi when governments refused to give them what they want, support for a Panamanian revolt, which emerged victorious and then gave America the right to build the canal as a gesture of gratitude.
The long history of direct and indirect involvement ranges the entire spectrum from friendly advice to CIA operations, troop deployment and nuclear threat (in Uruguay!) and is far too long a list to get into here. However, the new millennium and the post 9/11 world has brought with it a new threat. With the US bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan in a search for the world's most elusive man, resources may be stretched too tight, or perhaps they are just too distracted to notice what is occurring to the political landscape of South America(a little out of date). OK, not all of the new leaders are as anti-American as Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, but it's not hard to see a theme developing on the continent. From Lula's unionist roots in Brazil to Tabare Vasquez' first measure as president of Uruguay, the restoration of diplomatic ties with Cuba, a huge shift has occurred. I for one am excited to see what this vast continent does with it's new found freedom. Will Chavez really become the next Simon Bolivar? Will China or India replace the US as the main influence in the region. One way or another it seems as though were witnessing another stone in the wall of American hegemony being removed.