Monday, April 20, 2009

Obama and Forgiveness

During the Summit of the Americas, President Obama made the following statement: "I am very grateful that President Ortega — (applause) — I’m grateful that President Ortega did not blame me for things that happened when I was three months old. (Laughter.) Too often, an opportunity to build a fresh partnership of the Americas has been undermined by stale debates."

This was in response to the speech by the Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who denounced a century of US terrorism in Central America.

Obama's comment is one of the most offensive things I have heard for a while.

Juan Carlos, the King of Spain, found it necessary to express his regret for the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. Not only did he not participate personally in the expulsion, he is not even a descendant of the kings who ordered it. Nevertheless, 500 years later the King asked the Jews to return to Spain, promising that "never again will hate and intolerance provoke desolation and exile."

Pope John Paul II publicly apologized to the Jewish people for the persecutions by the Catholics. He also apologized for the Holocaust and left a note pleading for forgiveness in the Western Wall. Nobody suspects the Pope of personally participating in the persecutions of the Jews. He did, however, offer a personal apology.

Unlike these leaders, the US President can't find it in himself to recognize the horror that his country has inflicted on Latin America over the last century. He is looking for a "fresh partnership" where the trauma is still very recent. As a representative of his country, he cannot seriously take the position "I didn't participate in the genocide personally, so don't address your grievances to me. "

There can be no fresh start until the US recognize the harm they have done to Latin America. Offering an apology would show to the people of Latin America that the current administration does not support the genocidal policies the US have been supporting in their region. These are not "stale debates." This is not the way to address people victimized by your country's violence.

Here is the text of the entire speech:


Anonymous said...

That's quite an interesting subject, the issue of collective responsibility of states, churches, etc.
There seem to be two approaches to it. Germans are known to accept the collective responsibility and guilt for the crimes of the nazis. The Spanish and the Catholic church (from your examples) seem to be accepting some collective responsibility. Some European governments have apologized to their former colonies, some did not...
Taking into account that throughout the course of history most counties and nations have had some shameful experiences of oppressing somebody, and most have not apologized for it, I would say Obama/US position is in no way unique... Mongolians have not apologized for Ginghiz-Khan either...

Clarissa said...

How can Obama honestly hope to establish a new kind of relationship with Latin America without accepting the US responsibility for some very recent crimes against these people?

Anonymous said...

Playing Devil's advocate, and very cynical one at that: does Obama NEED to establish a new kind of relationship with Latin America?
The last time I checked, there were no Nicaraguan tanks on Times Square or on The Mall, and US administration was not on trial somewhere in Caracas for crimes against humanity... Neither was the US in monetary debt to Latin America.

From personal experience: most of the Americans have no idea about US involvement in Latin America. In 2002-2003, before the Iraqi invasion, while talking to my US acquaintances I mentioned couple of times that some US-supported (for being "anti-communist") Latin American dictators were as bloody as Saddam - and they were genuinely surprised...
And I always forgot to ask - how the invasion into Mexico was justified?

Anonymous said...

According to Obama, establishing a new kind of relationship was the goal of his entire speech at the summit. If he isn't interested, then why waste time on going to the summit and talking so much about the new relationship?

Anonymous said...

Obama is the president of the US, it is his job to go to various summits and to say something sounding good, but not very well-defined.
Obama is the president of the US, the whole US, not just the president of "us, left-leaning liberals", he can't just do political U-turns because he wants to. And I do not want him to get killed by some right-wing crazies. Thus, if "new relationship" means "we will not attempt to overthrow your government even if we do not like you" - this would be good already.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Hugo Chávez, Obama now has Eduardo Galeano's classic essay The open veins of Latin America in his library. If there is one good thing is this summit is that Galeano's book is now #6 in sales on Amazon. Maybe I am optimistic, but this editorial success may lead to a better awareness in the US of the impact of imperialism in Latin America.

I bet more professors will now use Galeano's book in their classrooms.

Clarissa said...

I just want to remind that while Obama (and every other Democrat) goes out of his way to demonstrate that he "is the president of the US, the whole US, not just the president of "us, left-leaning liberals", Bush and Co were never afraid to support their conservative issues 100%.

This policy of trying to sit on two chairs at once has never brought the Dems anything good.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. More than 70% of the American people disagree with the embargo policy towards Cuba, so why not lifting the embargo?