Over more than a decade, the rise of the left in Latin American governance has led to remarkable advances in poverty alleviation, regional integration, and a reassertion of sovereignty and independence. The United States has been antagonistic toward the new left governments, and has concurrently pursued a bellicose foreign policy, in many cases blithely dismissive of international law.
Jose M. Vivanco at Senate hearing in 2004. Photo by Jeremy Bigwood.So why has Human Rights Watch (HRW)—despite proclaiming itself “one of the world’s leading independent organizations” on human rights—so consistently paralleled U.S. positions and policies? This affinity for the U.S. government agenda is not limited to Latin America. In the summer of 2013, for example, when the prospect of a unilateral U.S. missile strike on Syria—a clear violation of the UN Charter—loomed large, HRW’s executive director Kenneth Roth speculated as to whether a simply “symbolic” bombing would be sufficient. “If Obama decides to strike Syria, will he settle for symbolism or do something that will help protect civilians?” he asked on Twitter. Executive director of MIT’s Center for International Studies John Tirman swiftly denounced the tweet as “possibly the most ignorant and irresponsible statement ever by a major human-rights advocate.”1