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ALBA and the imperial protection racket

ALBA and the imperial protection racket


by Toni Solo


leaders of the ALBA countries at the summit in Caracas in November
Photo: Jairo Cajina

For years it has been more than clear the course US and European Union policy would take towards the progressive governments of Latin America. Even in December 2006 it was possible to write "One can only hope Latin America's Spring endures longer than the one in then Czechoslovakia and is not frozen stiff by the United States and its European and Pacific allies manipulating global "free markets" so as to manage economic downturn as a variation on Clausewitz's "politics by other means"." A vain hope as it turns out, as recent events in Nicaragua and other Latin American countries have demonstrated.

The impressive success of the FSLN governments policies in Nicaragua since January 2007 has been based on two main policies. Firstly, the government has acted decisively to promote regional integration processes, especially teh Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) led by Cuba and Venezuela. Secondly, it has done this in parallel with a policy of continuing traditional conventional cooperation and investment ties with the Western Bloc countries of North America, Europe and their Pacific allies.

One can say much the same about the governments of countries like Bolivia and Ecuador. In the measure that this mutually complementary policy model has been consolidated, the influence of the Western Bloc countries has diminished. So it has been a question of when, not if, those countries were going to react to slow the decline of their influence in Latin America.

Those rich countries have two key objectives in the Central American and Caribbean region for 2009. First they will seek to stop El Salvador joining ALBA. El Salvador has presidential elections in March 2009. Secondly, they will try and ensure the next Honduran government is less enthusiastic about its membership of ALBA than current President, Manuel Zelaya. Honduras has presidential elections in November 2009.

One cannot make sense of events in the region without tracing these elements of the geopolitical context. At stake is the well being and the right to self-determination of tens of millions of impoverished people in the Central American countries and in much of the Caribbean. One has only to look at Haiti to see how deeply down into chaos and misery the Western Bloc countries will drive a country that fails to do what they say.

The recent decision of the Bush regime to cut Bolivia out of the Andean Trade Preference and Drug Eradication Act is just one sign of what is now taking place. At the other extreme is the criminal blockade against Cuba. In the middle of that reactionary policy spectrum are the threats against Ecuador over its review of what it regards as illegitimate external debt. On another part of the spectrum of the imperialist country offensive in Latin America is the constant low intensity war against the government of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela.

In Nicaragua, the imperialist offensive has taken the form of opportunist destabilization following the humiliating debacle of the US backed opposition in the country's municipal elections held on November 9th. The US and its European allies have blatantly sided with the opposition parties in Nicaragua, arguing the recent elections were fraudulent, a claim they are unable to back up with any plausible evidence. Even so, the US has used that pretext to suspend one of its aid programmes. European governments may do likewise despite the Sandinista's much superior use of aid resources compared to the previous corrupt government of President Enrique Bolaños, which European governments propped up without question.

In fact that behaviour by the US and European governments replicates their behaviour toward the Hamas government of Palestine, When Hamas won internationally approved Palestinian Authority elections under the Israeli occupation, the US and Europe moved quickly to strip away support because they refused to accept the Palestinian people's democratic will. Those same governments have been frustrated by similarly recalcitrant peoples in Latin America and the Caribbean, for example in the cases of Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela.

But an impoverished, vulnerable country like Nicaragua presents many more opportunities for destabilization. The US government had already destroyed Nicaragua's economy and society through its terrorist war of the 1980s. Subsequently, the Western Bloc countries kept the Nicaraguan people under economic siege by means of corrupt, neoliberal governments, supinely submissive to the Washington Consensus. Now, the Sandinista government, under Daniel Ortega's second presidency, seeks to free Nicaragua from that dead-end dependency.

It is an impressive example for other countries in Central America and the Caribbean, just as it was back in the 1980s. The US, Canada and their European allies cannot permit that example to prosper without kissing goodbye to their traditional dominance in the region, their access to its natural resources, the political compliance of regional governments, and a free rein economically for foreign capital. In that respect, the recent visits to the region by Chinese and Russian leaders, representing global rivals to the US and Europe is very relevant.

Chinese President Hu Jintao signed agreements with the governments of Costa Rica and Peru. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev signed agreements with Cuba and Venezuela. Those agreements increase Chinese and Russian competition in Latin America to the traditional colonial and neo-colonial powers that have previously dominated there. The progressive governments of the ALBA countries and Ecuador are natural allies for the new giants of the world economy, because such an alliance multiplies options and opens up room for manoeuvre, both for the region's countries and for Russia and China.

To close down that room to manoeuvre and to squash those options, the United States clearly feels it needs to act now, while it still has a good chance of forcing vulnerable countries like Nicaragua back into penal dependency. The Nicaraguan political opposition also know they are up against the clock. If they fail to act now it will then be difficult in 2011 to defeat the FSLN in that year's presidential elections. Their political project is now to sabotage the country's progress before the FSLN can consolidate wider support.

For both sides, for the imperialist powers and for the ALBA countries, it is a race against time in the run up to the next round of regional elections starting next year and running through to 2011. The imperialist countries need to increase the pressure and weaken the Sandinista government as much as possible so as to force it once more to seek alms from the International Monetary Fund and accept again the old onerous conditionalities of economic serfdom under which the Nicaraguan people lived from 1990 to 2007. For the Sandinista government and its ALBA allies and sympathetic governments like that of Rafael Correa in Ecuador or Christina Kirchner in Argentina and perhaps to a lesser degree, that of President Ignacio da Silva in Brazil, for all of them too, the challenge of the imperialist menace is very real. Either they resist the imperialist gangster countries ("do what we want, or else...") coherently and successfully or they will find themselves the special invited guests to their own political demise.

In Nicaragua what all this means in terms of the mediocre tomfoolery of the political opposition is a spike in their war on the country's impoverished majority and an even more shameless anti-patriotic sellout to the rich gangster countries they shill for. That sell out may lead to increased capital flight, encouraging investors to head for the safety of US Treasury bonds. That possibility shows the importance for the FSLN government of sustaining policies that offer a better return on investments in Nicaragua than the attractions of US Treasury paper.

That should not be difficult. Short and medium-term US government bonds pay next to nothing right now, a detail which shows how times have changed since the 1980s. A well coordinated response from the ALBA coutnries, in line with their recent decision to harmonise currencies and trade transactions may well show up the relative decline of the Western Bloc powers.

That is without taking into account the probability that China and, or, Russia are well able, and politically disposed, to unload a small fraction of their massive dollar reserves in support of the ALBA countries. Russia has even talked about becoming an associate member of the ALBA trade and cooperation agreement. Perhaps a relevant question is "Where is global investment going to go in a recession?"

Will it go to the most highly indebted country in the world, currently trying to money-print its way out of recession, about to start buying its own Treasury bonds, which, by the way, pay less than the rate of inflation? Or will some global investment decide to go to a highly profitable, still growing region, like the ALBA group of countries and their strategic allies like Ecuador and Argentina? That may well be another part of the explanation for the imperialist powers' intervention in Latin America, provoking chaos in Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador, Venezuela and now in Nicaragua too.

*************

toni writes for tortillaconsal.com

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