Greg Grandin, teaches Latin American history at New York University. His book Fordlandia was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in history. He is the author of Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism. His most recent work is titled The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World.
Historian and Latin America expert Greg Grandin looks at two recent elections in Latin America with historic implications. Despite losing a contested vote in Honduras, Grandin says the LIBRE party of former President Manuel Zelaya has altered the traditional Honduran political balance with newfound gains in the country’s National Congress. Meanwhile in El Salvador, former rebel commander Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the FMLN is expected to win the presidency next month after just missing the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff vote. Sánchez Cerén is running to replace Mauricio Funes, which would mark the first time an FMLN candidate succeeds another after decades of right-wing governments.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Greg Grandin. His new book, The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World. But we want to turn to what’s—the latest that’s happening. Juan?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah. Well, Greg, late last month in Honduras, right-wing President Juan Orlando Hernández was sworn into office despite claims of election fraud by the opposition. Hernández has pushed for militarizing Honduras as part of the fight against drug cartels, raising concerns about potential human rights abuses. Thousands of people protested outside his swearing-in, including members of Parliament, while soldiers stood by in close proximity. The protest was led by former President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a coup in 2009 and whose wife, Xiomara Castro, ran against Hernández with the LIBRE party.
MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] No one can detain a people organized in resistance. All that the LIBRE party owns has been gained. Four years ago, we were repressed in the street. Today, we are a recognized institution, and we are walking forward little by little in order to overthrow the dictatorship from power in Honduras.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, that was a clip by Andrés Conteris. And I wanted ask Greg—that was former President Zelaya speaking, now in the Congress there. Your take on what’s been going on in Honduras?
GREG GRANDIN: Well, what’s interesting is that the LIBRE party, the new social movements, what’s constituted a party, have really broken and rendered asunder the old—I mean, Honduras was basically governed by rotating power between liberals and the nationalists, and they traded power back and forth. And that’s what Zelaya represented a threat to back in 2009. Even though he came out of the Liberal Party, he represented a kind of social wing, a progressive wing of the Liberal Party that was returning to some kind of agrarian roots and social democratic roots. And that split now has completely happened. So, there was, I believe, a lot of—quite a bit of fraud and manipulation and intimidation in the last round of elections. Only 51 percent of the electorate voted. So, I mean, we can talk about whether the new government has a mandate or not, but I think it’s fairly clear that the LIBRE party has driven a wedge in the old.
And what’s happening is they have a good chunk in Congress. I can’t remember the numbers, but it’s something like 39 seats. And Manuel Zelaya himself is in it. And what you’re seeing is the old Congress—I mean, Trotsky talked about a permanent revolution. I mean, they have a permanent coup going on in Honduras. They’ve issued a barrage of laws privatizing whatever there was left to privatize and passing laws that made dissent and mobilization and protest that much more difficult and punitive. So, we’re going to see, I think, a new cycle, with Zelaya now in Congress, and institutionally this opposition having power and having a voice.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, turning to El Salvador, a former rebel commander in El Salvador has finished first in the country’s presidential election, setting up a runoff vote for next month. Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the FMLN took 48.9 percent of the vote, just shy of the 50 percent needed that would have avoided a second round. He’ll square off against the right-wing candidate, Norman Quijano, who placed second with just under 39 percent. Before Sunday’s vote, Sánchez Cerén attended mass at the chapel where Archbishop Óscar Romero was assassinated by U.S.-backed death squads, March 24th, 1980. On Sunday, voters in El Salvador went to the polls. This is one of the people who was voting, Jose Mauricio Arrieta, expressing his hopes for his country.
JOSE MAURICIO ARRIETA: [translated] What I hope for is more jobs for all the young people, and an increase in salaries. I want everything to change.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what’s happening in El Salvador right now and the significance?
GREG GRANDIN: Well, the most remarkable thing is that it’s a transfer of power from the FMLN to the FMLN. Funes was a FMLN candidate, but he didn’t really come out of the rank and file of the FMLN, where Salvador Sánchez does. He is of the FMLN. It’s a remarkable victory. But in some ways, the same thing is going on. Politics happens on a certain level, and it shows the endurance of the left and a certain social democratic vision of politics in Latin America and Central America. But then there’s what goes on institutionally. And Congress, with enormous U.S. pressure, is passing a number of law—pushing privatization, what they call public-private partnership, P3. And again, it’s just more of the neoliberal Washington Consensus being institutionalized. So, how much room Sánchez will have to maneuver will be—might even be even less than Funes had in the last four years.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And your sense of, after all this research that you’ve done on your book, the lessons for today in Latin America of this terrible history of slavery and its involvement in terms of creating the conditions that exist today?
GREG GRANDIN: Yeah, what I like to do is contrast this social democratic culture in Latin America, this notion that democracy entails some form of economic justice, which is deep and can’t be rooted out and can’t be expunged, no matter how much Washington and local elites have tried in Latin America, and what is a much more narrower vision of democracy, a kind of cult of individual supremacy that still reigns supreme in the United States. And I think it’s related to the different forms—we don’t have time to go into it, but the different forms slavery took in the U.S. and in Latin America, and the ways that it ended. I think Melville had his pulse on something in his portrayal of Amasa Delano. He represented a new kind of Republican racism that was rooted in chattel slavery but outlived chattel slavery. It wasn’t justified by philosophy or religion, but almost in the psychic need to reaffirm one’s absolute freedom in relationship to another’s slavishness. And this cult of supremacy that galvanizes the right has its roots in slavery.
AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds, but The Empire of Necessity, the reason for the title?
GREG GRANDIN: It’s a Melville quote: “Seeking to conquer a larger liberty, man but extends the empire of necessity.” It’s an epigram from a Melville short story that people think Melville wrote himself, that I think is this denial of the obligations that people have to one another, the dependencies that, just as being human, they have—this, again, going back to this fetish of individualism that is the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, Greg, for being with us. Greg Grandin’s book, The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World.