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“Todos somos americanos”: An Overview of the Latin American Response to the Death of Osama bin Laden

May 3, 2011

When I arrived in Chile in January 2007, one of the first things they taught our study abroad group was that the correct terminology for U.S. citizens is estadounidense (root: Estados Unidos, or United States), rather than americano. In fact, many Latin Americans take offense to the fact that we refer to ourselves simply as “Americans.” Whether the sentiments were sincere or simply political, President Obama seemed to agree during his recent visit to Latin America.

It’s been interesting to watch the responses of various americanos to the death of Osama bin Laden. Here’s a brief overview of Latin American sentiments.

My Twitter feed exploded with retweets by the US Embassy in Colombia. Dozens of colombianos expressed their support for the US. Many colombianos have been personally affected by their own homegrown terrorist organizations, the FARC and the ELN. Many of the tweets stated that this was not just a triumph for the US, but for the world, noting that 18 colombianos were killed on 9/11. Most expressed a sentiment of solidarity, congratulating the US on a great victory in our shared efforts to combat terrorism. Also, President Juan Manuel Santos, whose loyalty to the United States seems questionable at best, issued a statement noting that the death of bin Laden was “an important and powerful blow against global terrorism.”

Similarly, the statement issued by Mexico’s Secretariat of Foreign Relations pointed out that 9/11 was not just an attack on the U.S., since people from many other countries were also killed that day. It went on to say that the death of bin Laden was “an event of great transcendence in the efforts to free to world of the curse of terrorism.”

I’ve been anxiously awaiting the responses of Ollanta Humala and Keiko Fujimori, the two candidates for the June 5th presidential elections in Peru. I haven’t seen anything yet. However, the current president, Alan García, has suggested that this could be Pope John Paul II’s first miracle. Humala and Keiko were both very supportive of the late Pope’s beatification on Sunday, a matter of hours before President Obama’s announcement.

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina has made it very clear that they condemn all forms of violence in the name of religion. The Foreign Ministry added that the actions of bin Laden “are rejected by everybody and every country.”

Everbody and every country ther than President Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, of course. It really comes as no surprise that Chávez is rather displeased. He has found a kindred spirit in Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Their friendship has been forged by shared anti-American sentiments, strengthened by their partnership through OPEC. They will stick together on this one–and every other opportunity they have to knock the U.S. and its perceived imperialism, for that matter.

Some countries have been somewhat disinterested, seeing the death of bin Laden as an interesting bit of foreign news, rather than something that really affects them. In Brazil, for instance, bin Laden was a blip on the newsstand radar, with a local soccer match taking the headlines. The Brazilian government was slightly preoccupied on Sunday with the hospitalization of President Dilma Rousseff, who was diagnosed with pneumonia. The government did, however, express grave concerns of retaliation.

Meanwhile, Southern Pulse reported on May 2nd that border authorities in Honduras are still searching for two al Qaeda operatives. The U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa issued an alert on April 1st.

Other nations seem to be remaining silent for now, most notably Bolivia and Costa Rica. The lack of response from Costa Rica is not terribly surprising, given that in 1949, this champion of soft power passed a series of progressive social reforms, to include a constituational mandate to permanently dismantle the military. But Bolivia’s President Evo Morales marches to the beat of the same drum as Hugo Chávez, and he, too, seems to be strengthening foreign relations with Iran. It seems odd that Morales would pass up an opportunity like this to denounce the United States of… well, anything, really. Cuba, too, has been uncharacteristically silent.

It’s interesting to note the dynamics of the responses of individual Latin American countries. The people of Latin America are redefining their role in relation to the U.S., in this “Post-American Hemisphere.” The combination of Hugo Chávez’s bold condemnation of the “assassination” and the general sentiment in Colombia and Mexico that we’re all in this together indicates that they see themselves as being on equal footing with the United States, instead of the passive, helpless recipients of U.S. foreign aid.

Many Latin American countries will still be dependent on U.S. foreign aid for many years, but the U.S. is no longer calling the shots within the region–unless our neighbors to the South truly agree.

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