The Biden administration last week rewarded the two dictatorial regimes in Latin America most rabidly opposed to American values, Cuba and Venezuela, and punished one of the last regional governments that espouses support for the United States, Guatemala.
The last part came as no surprise to the two of us. As we both heard from the president of Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei, at his presidential palace late last month, the Biden administration has been trying to destabilize his elected government for months. Still, the dramatic moves in Latin America this week were unexpected.
In the space of 24 hours, the Biden administration announced that it was easing economic sanctions on the Marxist dictatorship in Venezuela, increasing consular services with and effectively allowing tourism and increased remittances to communist-run Cuba, but had also decided to bar the new attorney general of Guatemala from visiting the U.S. Biden’s rough treatment of Guatemala’s government, and its coddling of the region’s pro-China and pro-Russia Marxist dictatorships, fly in the face of reason. Giammattei’s government is pro-Taiwan, the last country in Central America to spurn communist China, and it is also pro-Israel. Most importantly, it is pro-American.
Yet at the palace on April 26, Giammattei accused the American ambassador to Guatemala, William Popp, "of meeting with indigenous leaders" to plan to overthrow him. "They want to topple my government," he told the two of us in Spanish, using the unambiguous verb "derrocar." Giammattei told us that the Biden administration was trying to introduce in Guatemala a version of the multiculturalism that the administration and its domestic allies push in the U.S.
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That is what is known as "indigenism," a nationalism that prioritizes the tribe over the nation-state the way critical race theory exults the racial category in the U.S. Giammattei told us he has already decided to ask the U.S. Agency for International Development to leave Guatemala because of its promotion of indigenism. A review of USAID programs confirms that the agency is heavily orienting itself to working with indigenous groups and other leftist activist groups and nongovernmental organizations that, business leaders also tell us, do little to promote, if not outright interfere with, growth and foreign direct investment in Guatemala.
While strengthening civil society should be a critical pillar of USAID’s work, the agency should not be in the business of funding an activist agenda. USAID says it wants to "redefine its relationship with the government of Guatemala" by pursuing "substantive partnerships" with stakeholders outside the central government. "They want to do here what they have done in Chile," Giammattei told us, in a clear reference to the current attempt by the Chilean Left to change Chile’s Constitution and turn the country into a "plurinational state."
As many critics of the indigenist movement point out, collective rights are deeply anti-democratic. The Chilean political analyst Ricardo Israel warns that Chile’s proposed constitution would be the "first postmodern constitutions, since it is identity rather than citizenship that will define rights."
In Guatemala’s case, it would be far more destabilizing. The pluri-nationalists in Chile have taken pains to carve out 11 "nationalities," even though Chile really has few indigenous tribes. Guatemala has 23 bona fide groups, each with its own language. Giammattei said the reason the zealously pro-abortion Biden administration despises his government is that it is unequivocally pro-life. Giammattei also finished removing the highly politicized U.N.-backed "anti-corruption" commission. "I have closed all spaces to the Left. That’s why they don’t like me." Allegations of corruption are denied by the president.
Giammattei said, for example, that Popp had warned him not to reappoint Consuelo Porras as attorney general. Giammattei ignored the warnings, however, and did so on May 16. The State Department responded the same day by saying that Porras had "repeatedly obstructed and undermined anti-corruption investigations in Guatemala." Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted late Monday that "Attorney General Porras’s corrupt acts undermine democracy in Guatemala."
If even half of what Giammattei told us is true, however, it is hard to see how it isn’t the Biden administration that is undermining Guatemalan democracy. Giammattei complains of being harassed by the White House, the State Department, and Vice President Kamala Harris. While concerns over corruption in Latin America are real and important to routing transnational organized crime and to strengthening the rule of law, the double standard demonstrated by the Biden administration is baffling.
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On the same day it sanctioned Guatemala’s attorney general, the administration lifted sanctions on the nephew of Nicolas Maduro, a former high-ranking regime crony. In other words, the Biden administration appears perfectly willing to attack a democratically elected government and critical U.S. partner on immigration and security issues under the banner of anti-corruption while giving a financial lifeline to criminals tied to the dictator in Caracas.
For all of Giammattei’s drawbacks, his government can serve American interests better than those of leftist-controlled neighbors such as Honduras and Nicaragua. Congress should start asking questions, specifically why the attorney general and her husband are being sanctioned. It should also block future funding of USAID programs that undermine the stability of our allies.
Indeed, oversight was one of the last things Giammattei mentioned: "I want to come to Washington to tell the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about what is happening here."
This piece originally appeared in the Washington Examiner