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Toni Solo: varieties of imperial decline

Varieties of imperial decline: President Gato-por-liebre

by Toni Solo

One's heart goes out to the huge numbers of sincere and concerned people in the United States who voted in good faith. That they bought a pig-in-a-poke will probably only become clear after a long, unhappy trek through frustrating anticlimax via sharp disappointment all the way to ultimate betrayal. As President, Barack Obama will work for the outcomes required by the anti-humanitarian US corporate consumer capitalist oligarchy, doing only as much as necessary to appease the wider populace.

As the President-elect makes his appointments to the new administration, the unyielding inertia of corporate oligarchic continuity will become very clear. While an Afro-American version of Tony Blair made it to the top, a spokesperson for real change, Cynthia McKinney, has been forced into exile from the US two-headed militarist plutocrat one-party system. In an interview with Amy Goodman, Manning Marable spoke this truth : "I think Cynthia McKinney has shown throughout her entire career the kind of courageous leadership and progressive vision that we desperately need in America's political system..."

But Marable then added something quite chilling :"...we shouldn't be surprised that the left of the possible within the political system that we have in this country produces a progressive liberal like Barack Obama.” Barack Obama, a progressive liberal? Someone who supports death penalty. A supporter of the Israeli genocide in Palestine. Someone committed to expanding the war in Afghanistan, perhaps into Pakistan too. An individual who justified Colombia's illegal US military-abetted aggression violating Ecuador's sovereignty. Someone who has talked about imposing sanctions on Venezuela. Someone readily contemplating war on Iran.

The intellectual and policy failures that have now destroyed the economic well-being of ordinary people in the United States also drive US foreign policy. The same bigoted, elitist frauds in Congress and government, including now-President-elect Barack Obama, who abysmally helped crash the economy, will never manage international relations in the interests of ordinary people. Hopelessly biased, woefully inaccurate, fact-resistant corporate media will continue to mislead and deceive.The US political and media establishment, wrong-by-many-a-mile on the economy, are pathetically wrong on foreign policy too.

No doubt the corporate plutocracy in the US will work with President Obama to mollify the worst effects of economic recession on ordinary people in the United States. But they and their Western Bloc allies will need to reach new accommodations with other world powers in order to restore something resembling broad-based prosperity to the US economy. Even a cursory look at what is happening in Latin America should engender utter contempt for the pitiful foreign policy analysis currently touted as consensus in both Congress and among the Foggy Bottom cuckoo-pundits chirruping falsely away in the US mass media and the plethora of self-deluded think-tanks.

China has just launched Venezuela's Venesat 2 satellite, allowing Venezuela and its regional allies now to make rapid advances in information and communications technologies.The project was made possible by Uruguay ceding to Venezuela its rights to that satellite trajectory. Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez watched the launch together with Bolivia's President Evo Morales.

In Bolivia, Evo Morales and his colleagues have defeated US government attempts to incite civil war. While legitimate questions exist as to the progressive reach of the Morales' government's economic policies, they show with great clarity how counterproductive US policy has been and continues to be. Rights to exploit the huge Mutún mineral deposits were won by India's Jindal multinational company. Jindal is committed to investing a total of US$4 billion over the next eight years. US corporations are nowhere.

While the US government seeks to exclude Bolivia from the Andean Trade Preference and Drug Eradication Act, Bolivia has expelled the US Drugs Enforcement Agency and is negotiating with its neighbours and other countries to substitute US markets. Bolivia is already in talks with China and Vietnam on bi-lateral trade deals. In October Bolivia signed a trade deal with Russia. The Real News network reported the Russian ambassador saying: "We also want to show the United States that Latin America is not their backyard, and that we are also interested (in collaborating) in various spheres, including military ones."

Ecuador is working with Venezuela on multiple energy and trade deals, including a new refinery that will more than double Ecuador's refining capacity. Ecuador already has a bilateral trade agreement with China signed in 2000. The China-Ecuador Intergovernmental Joint Commission plans to meet early in 2009.

Russia and Brazil are talking about increasing cooperation and trade beyond the existing agricultural components into space technology, nuclear power and oil and gas development. Russia is also pushing its GLONASS global positioning system. Cuba, Russia and Venezuela are negotiating collaboration on the already planned submarine fibre optic cable connecting Venezuela and Cuba by 2010.

China recently joined the Inter-American Development Bank as a donor and has produced its first Latin America policy document. On October 20th-21st, 800 Latin American and Chinese representatives were in the Chinese city of Harbin to participate in the Second China-Latin America Business Summit. Trade between China and Latin America reached US$110 billion in 2007 making China Latin America's second most important trade partner after the United States.

China's President Hu Jintao will visit Costa Rica, Cuba and Peru in late November for trade and cooperation talks. Hu Jintao will sign a bilateral trade deal with Peru. Neighbouring Chile has had a bilateral free trade treaty with China since 2006. In Costa Rica the Chinese President and his team will discuss a similar trade treaty with the government in San José. Costa Rica dropped its recognition of Taiwan recently so as to open up trade relations with China.

Costa Rica took a further step this month, weakening its traditional alignment with the US government and its allies, by formally requesting to join Petrocaribe. Petrocaribe is the litle sister of the regional Alternativa Bolviariana para las Americas (ALBA) comprising Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Almost every country in Central America and the Caribbean is now a member of Petrocaribe. The main exceptions are Panama, El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago. Via Petrocaribe, the Venezuelan government provides fuel and credit on concessionary terms to support energy security and food security to all Petrocaribe's member countries.

Despite that fact, the discredited frauds at the US State Department continue to accuse the Venezuelan government of destabilizing the region. Despite the drop in the oil price from US$147 last July to around US$62 now, ALBA itself continues to consolidate via both economic and social and cultural programmes. ALBA's Misión Milagro has treated well over one million patients from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean for eye problems they could not afford to get treated in their own coutnries. Using Cuban methodology and Venezuelan funded inputs, millions of adults in the region are learning to read and write for the first time.

In Nicaragua and Honduras, Venezuelan credits significantly supplement and may even surpass credit available for cash-starved sectors in the local national economies. The credits are aimed at the agricultural and micro-business sectors that have had minimal access to credit over the last twenty years from financial systems hidebound by neo-liberal faith-based orthodoxy. In Nicaragua, a joint Venezuelan-Nicaraguan company has begun work on another huge refinery, similar to the one under construction in Ecuador.

Venezuela's relations with Russia will be highlighted this month by naval manoeuvres with elements of Russia's northern fleet, including a guided missile cruiser and an anti-submarine warfare vessel. This event signifies that the menace of the recently reactivated US Fourth Fleet to the region is not entirely unchallenged. On November 6th, in Caracas, the Fifth High-level Russia-Venezuela Inter-governmental Commission began work reviewing and strengthening a total of 46 joint projects covering finance, industry, infrastructure, telecommunications, science and technology, education, sports and culture and environmental initiatives.

Venezuela has now had 20 successive quarters of dynamic economic growth. Out-to-lunch Bush regime ideologues like Condoleezza Rice have accused the Venezuelan President of destroying his country. Maybe President-elect Obama should try that level of destruction on the US itself. 20 successive quarters of growth sounds a lot better than the loss of a million unemployed in just twelve months, which is King Juan Carlos W. Bush's latest headline achievement.

Individuals like Rice and State Department sidekicks like John Negroponte or Thomas Shannon persistently describe Venezuela as a destabilizing influence in the region or even a threat or a menace. For a truer view of Venezuela's role in the region try this remark made just last September in Brussels by Costa Rican President and stalwart US ally Oscar Arias. Arias said, "The cooperation Venezuela is giving to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean is at least four or five times greater than what the United States gives." Presumably that is why Costa Rica has now formally applied to join Petrocaribe. Costa Rica could contribute a great deal within the more ambitious ALBA framework too.

When asked recently about the relevance of ALBA and in particular the proposed ALBA bank, economist Mark Weisbrot of the Centre for Economic Policy Research had this to say, "It will be important in the short run for the ALBA countries, with others as much as possible, to co-ordinate their responses to the current financial crisis and economic downturn. Over the longer run they will need to build and extend institutions to foster regional integration and development. Some agreement on the sharing of reserves could be very important in the near future. In terms of co-ordinating their response to the current situation, there may be a potential for organizing their own collective effort to borrow from the surplus countries (e.g. the oil producers and China) who have excess reserves, creating an alternative to the current effort by the United States and UK to channel any
such funds through the IMF. They may also be able to use the existing FLAR (Latin American Reserve Fund)."

Important local players confirm Weisbrot's view about the potential importance of financial coordination and integration. In a recent interview the President of the Nicaraguan Central Bank remarked, "We have been working a lot on the ALBA bank.... we are waiting for the ratification of the agreement to found the Bank. And we have pending a meeting of the people responsible for the bank. We had envisaged it being on September 21st, but for numerous reasons the finance ministers ..... could not agree on a date to make the meeting happen. But it is more than an interesting alternative, it is important, necessary, vital to guarantee the development of our peoples."

President-elect Obama will almost certainly name individuals to deal with Latin America and the Caribbean who will repeat the well-worn, self-serving nonsense to which people in the region have long stopped paying serious attention. That view was confirmed in Managua on the night of Obama's election triumph by Robert J Callahan, US ambassador to Nicaragua. When asked by the right wing Canal 2 TV channel what changes Obama might bring to US government policy on Latin America, Callahan, a lifelong State Department professional diplomat, dismissed the idea.

He said, "US policy towards Latin America has been really very consistent over the last 40 years. Certainly for 35 years, since the presidency of Jimmy Carter. Back then the US decided that the most appropriate US policy for Latin America would be one promoting human rights, democracy and economic development." Callahan pointed out what many commentators have also noted, "I have not heard or read any difference between the policy of McCain or Obama on Cuba..."

The two obvious touchstones that will give a clue about whether any real change can be expected on Latin America policy from an Obama presidency are Colombia and Mexico. These are the two countries currently destabilizing the region. Colombia destabilizes its neighbours through its civil war and its death-squad paramilitary-run narcotics industry. Mexico destabilizes the region via its accelerating collapse into a failed narco-State, incapable of meeting its people's basic needs.

No military solution is possible to Colombia's civil war. Nor will it end without a corresponding end to US government tolerance of the Alvaro Uribe régime's narco-terror political base. Unless an Obama administration acts for peace on those principles, Colombia will continue to destabilize the whole region. Likewise, Mexico's narcotics industry has grown out of the persistent espousal by Mexican elites of neo-liberal economic policies concentrating wealth and resources in favour of a tiny elite, condemning the impoverished majority to hopelessness.

The crisis levels in both countries will only begin to diminish with genuinely redistributive policies of economic justice and, in Mexico, an end to the murderous corruption of the caudillo-system that sustains odious individuals like Ulises Ruiz, the gangster-governor of Oaxaca. The crises in both Colombia and Mexico are crises of political and economic justice. But all one hears from the US government is the need to militarize those conflicts even more than they are already. If an Obama administration follows that doomed prescription those conflicts will become more and more problematic for the whole region.

Unfortunately, all the signs from the US and its European allies point to a determination to continue the failed nostrums of the past. They have become deliberate, written-in-stone policy strands in accordance with the fundamental Western Bloc twin-track strategy of globalization and terror. Much waffle has been spouted about Obama and Franklin Roosevelt.

Plenty of people in Latin America remember FDR for his support of murderous Central American dictators like Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua. If Obama follows King Juan Carlos W. Bush in supporting gangsters like Alvaro Uribe in Colombia, corrupt US partners in Mexico, the racist separatists in Bolivia and the anti-democratic opposition in Venezuela, then we will know Robert J Callahan was right: from President Gato-por-liebre, no change.


toni solo is an activist based in Central America - see

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