Latin America In Revolt: Continent Defies The USA
Latin America In Revolt: Continent Defies USA
By Stuart Munckton
Green Left Weekly
For over two decades the US has forced neoliberalism — and its accompanying poverty and despair — down Third World throats in order to make the world better for US business. To many, the spreading US economic empire, backed by the point of a gun and a loan, has seemed unassailable. But now, unable to defeat a rag-tag bunch of Iraqi militias, and rapidly losing allies in Latin America, the empire is not looking so strong. As yet another neoliberal, pro-US government falls in Latin America, Resistance’s Stuart Munckton looks at the continent that might defeat Uncle Sam.
January 1, 2005 was a significant date — not for what happened, but for what didn't. On that day, the Free Trade Area of the Americas was supposed to be signed. The FTAA was one of Washington’s pet projects — it was a major step in removing barriers against US corporate plunder in Latin America. But by late 2004, the FTAA negotiations had been suspended, with governments in Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Uruguay refusing to negotiate their people’s future away.
The failure of the FTAA negotiations was just another indication of how on the nose Washington is in the continent. A more dramatic indication came on April 21, as embattled Ecuadorian President Luis Gutierrez was forced from office by a Congress faced with mass protests demanding widespread political change. Although elected on an anti-neoliberal platform, Gutierrez abandoned his promises in an attempt to keep Washington happy.
Gutierrez is the latest on a long list of neoliberal Latin American politicians thrown out of office — in elections, or by popular revolt. In the last five years, uprisings have overthrown governments in Ecuador, Peru, Argentina and Bolivia. In Brazil, Chile, Venezuela, Ecuador and Uruguay, governments have been elected on anti-neoliberal platforms in the last seven years. Left-wing forces are considered a serious chance in upcoming presidential elections in Mexico and Nicaragua.
In Bolivia, even if President Carlos Mesa, himself first brought to power in an upsurge of protest, manages to avoid being overthrown before elections are due in 2007, he looks to be defeated by radical Movement for Socialism leader Evo Morales.
In Colombia, the US-backed government has been unable to destroy a left-wing insurgency, despite staggering amounts of military aid from Washington.
Behind this revolt is a continent that no longer buys the myth of a neoliberal-led drive out of poverty and inequality. Since the 1980s, Washington, and its tame international financial institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, pushed “free trade”, privatisations and redirecting funds to debt repayment from basic services as a way to prosperity. By opening up their economies to “competition” and the “efficiency” of market forces, Latin American countries were promised significant economic growth that would reduce poverty. In fact, what happened was a significant increase in the hold over the economies of Latin America by multinationals, especially US corporations.
Between 1990 and 2002 multinational corporations acquired 4000 banks, telecommunications, transport, petrol and mining interests in Latin America. William I. Robinson, in an article entitled “Storm clouds over Latin America” published in the December 2002 Focus on Trade, wrote that, after a decade of neoliberalism in Argentina, which culminated in an economic collapse in December 2001, the number of people living in poverty increased from one to 14 million.
In a statement to the US Congress House Armed Service Committee on March 5, General Bantz Craddock, explaining the reason for Latin America’s widespread “political instability”, said: “The free market reforms and privatisation of the 1990s have not delivered on the promise of prosperity for Latin America… The richest one tenth of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean earn 48% of the total income, while the poorest tenth earn only 1.6% ... Uruguay has the least economic disparity of Latin American and Caribbean countries, but its unequal income distribution is still far worse than the most unequal country in Eastern Europe and the industrialized countries.”
This increased poverty has brought with it a deep discrediting of the whole neoliberal project. And anger against those who keep implementing the pain has led to huge mobilisations, street protests, factory occupations and militant movements, which in turn have forced many governments to retreat on neoliberal policy in order to maintain control.
In Argentina, Nestor Kirchner was elected president in 2003, after more than a year of crisis, during which the country went through four presidents in less than a week. Kirchner was elected with just over 20% in 2003, in a situation where old-style politics was too discredited to keep control, but the popular movements were not strong enough to take power.
Kirchner, despite emerging from one of the traditional parties of government, has stood up to the international financial institutions, he has managed to renegotiate Argentina's crippling foreign debt down. In a statement on April 5, the Council for Hemispheric Affairs, a Washington-based think-tank, pointed out that both the US and the IMF have not applied their usual pressure on Argentina to adhere to strict debt repayments — no doubt recognising that any government that attempted to continue with the same policies as before the 2001 uprising would not last very long.
However, the most significant breakthrough for the poor majority searching for an alternative to corporate domination has come in Venezuela. Since the 1998 election of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the government has challenged US imperialism and its local allies. Domestically, Venezuela's extensive oil wealth is being used to fund ambitious social programs to improve the lives of the majority who live in poverty. One of the most significant gains has been the mass literacy program, which has succeeded in eradicating illiteracy according to United Nations standards.
An attempted 2002 coup against Chavez, backed by the US, was defeated by mass mobilisation, a part of the organisation of working people that characterises the country’s Bolivarian revolution.
One of the biggest reasons Chavez’s Bolivarian revolution is a threat to the US is because he is seeking to unite Latin American countries, economically and politically, enabling a continent-wide fight back against US economic tyranny.
Chavez has been the most outspoken critic of the FTAA, and his government has worked overtime to promote an alternative — the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), based on economic cooperation and integration amongst Latin American nations. Venezuela has prioritised trade agreements with other Latin American nations with the aim of creating an alternative bloc to that promoted by the US. This includes two significant projects — Petrosur and Telesur.
Petrosur is a proposed Latin America-wide petroleum company, which would unite the state-run oil industries of different governments to create an economic weapon that can challenge US hegemony. Telesur is the Venezuelan-promoted Latin America-wide TV channel that aims to provide news from the perspective of the Latin American people. The only continent-wide TV channel at the moment is CNN In Spanish, which reflects the biases and interests of the US. Argentina, Brazil and the newly elected government in Uruguay are backing both projects.
Chavez has also refused to sign any fresh agreements with the IMF, denouncing them as the “road to hell”. This willingness to stand up to Washington has put enormous pressure on other nations not to meekly submit to whatever Washington insists, or else stand exposed in front of their own people.
This has naturally put Venezuela in Washington's target sights. The US is especially upset with the political and economic ties Venezuela maintains with socialist Cuba.
Since the 1959 Cuban revolution, the US has sought to overthrow — at various times by invasion, assassination, propaganda bombardment and economic terrorism — the Cuban government led by Fidel Castro. The US understands that Cuba is a key threat: not because it has oil or weapons, but because its free education and health care, its world class science and research and development — all are living proof that it is possible for Third World people to live in less than desperate poverty, and to live with dignity. Perhaps more importantly, Cuba provides an example of people taking their destiny into their own hands, and not waiting on politicians.
Cuba is a beacon of hope for the masses of Latin America. Venezuela’s staunch support of revolutionary Cuba is helping ease Cuba's isolation. And, like Cuba, Venezuela is increasingly seen as proof that there is an alternative to neoliberal misery. The resulting popularity of the Bolivarian revolution throughout Latin America has helped protect Chavez from Washington’s wrath.
Despite numerous attempts, Washington has been unable to either overthrow or isolate the Chavez government. The internal opposition to Chavez is now discredited, and the US, which imports 15% of its oil from Venezuela, cannot cut economic ties.
Washington has moved this year instead to try to pressure other nations in the region to diplomatically isolate Venezuela. This campaign has failed dismally — not one country has joined the public condemnations. In recent months, Venezuela has signed far-reaching economic agreements with Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. The Brazilian agreement includes selling Venezuela military equipment, at the same time as Washington is attacking what it calls Venezuela’s “arms race”.
In December, in a plot almost certainly involving the US, Colombia kidnapped, from within Venezuela, a leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which has been waging a decades-long guerrilla war against the right-wing Colombian regime, from within Venezuela. Outraged by the attack on its sovereignty, Venezuela recalled its ambassador and suspended economic ties. Washington promptly backed Colombia, and demanded other American nations “diplomatically isolate” Venezuela. Not only did no other country respond, but Colombia, shaken by the potential loss of lucrative business deals with Venezuela, successfully asked the Cuban government to mediate talks to resolve the crisis.
Then, on April 11, the Organisation of American States, which includes all countries in the hemisphere except Cuba, split down the middle with a tied vote in the election for a new OAS secretary general. The US proved unable to pressure enough nations to win outright support for the candidate it is backing, Mexican foreign minister Luis Ernesto Derbez.
The US is far from out for the count in Latin America. While movements in several countries are threatening to blockade, rally or occupy until there is change, their strength and development varies. However, the concessions forced from the Latin American people, the increased pressure on Latin American governments to take at least some independent stands from Washington, and the support enjoyed by the developing Venezuelan revolution are all signs that the US can no longer force its will on Latin America.
And every time people organise to get rid of a US collaborator, or beat back neoliberal policy — you know that others on the continent are watching and learning.
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