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Toni Solo: Fear and Loathing in Port of Spain

Varieties of imperial decline : fear and loathing in Port of Spain

By Toni Solo

With only a few days before the next Summit of the Americas, the absence of Cuba from the meeting looms ever larger both as anti-imperialist motif and as an index of US decline. The over-riding issue at the Summit of the Americas is going to be how far participating countries are prepared to assert their sovereignty against the neo-colonial powers, represented in at the summit by the United States and Canada. Already the US State Department representative with responsibility for the summit, Jeffrey Davidow, has tried to suggest that a draft of the final declaration for the summit has already been agreed by all countries. The Nicaraguan government swiftly issued a statement contradicting Davidow.

Bearing that in mind and with the summit coming shortly after Easter it is worth noting some remarks by the Irish columnist Tom McGurk on the anti-imperialist significance of the Easter Rising in 1916. McGurk wrote in his article "The Easter Rising : the shots that changed the world forever" that the insurrection and its aftermath were "about revealing the true nature of the colonial relationship to the Irish people and thereby creating the imaginative context whereby sovereignty could at last be imagined and then asserted."

That insight points to the nature of the anti-imperialist motif that will find voice in Port of Spain via the scheduled intervention of Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega speaking on behalf of Central America as pro tempore president of the Central American Integration System (SICA). US policy in Latin America, ever since hijacking Cuba's independence before the 20th Century had even begun, has been one of strangling Latin American countries' sovereignty. The constant media war against Cuba, against Nicaragua in the 1980s, now against Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales and Daniel Ortega, is the imperialist countries' attempt to define and impose an imaginative context where sovereignty cannot even be imagined, let alone asserted.

That attempt will certainly be subverted and confounded in Port of Spain this weekend where the main contentious issue will be US relations with Cuba. At the recent SICA summit in Managua all the Central American countries agreed a common position on Cuba. Davidow and his team, in cahoots with the Organization of American States, was trying to pre-empt any decisive moment that might focus attention embarrassingly on the utter failure of US policy not just towards Cuba but toward all of Latin America.

That failure is part of a seamless web of US economic and political failure that stretches over, trapping and constricting, almost every aspect of US public life. The current crisis in the United States constitutes an almost unprecedented historic betrayal of the people of the United States. US foreign policy and economic failure have fed off each other to create, too, a political crisis. That political crisis consists of the US plutocrat elite holding the vast majority of US citizens to ransom to make good the elite's corporate insolvency and sustain their insanely counter-productive policy of global militarism.

One of the purposes of the G-20 summit in London earlier in April was to lend the political crisis in the United States a gloss of solidarity and togetherness, in the various contemporary senses of that word. The G-20 meeting ended with a completely fake commitment by the US and Britain to police adequately the tax havens they control for their illicit covert action and corporate money-laundering purposes. The other main decision was to resuscitate the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as imperialist enforcer, funding it with hundreds of billions in funny-money made up ad hoc by rich country central banks. The meeting in Port of Spain is unlikely to be as cosy and downright deceitful as the one in London.

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa expressed the feeling of many when he said recently,"It seems to me a very serious error they are commiting, trying to revive the IMF, using it supposedly to solve the crisis, help emerging economies, when it is one of the bodies primarily responsible for the crisis and the backwardness of those emerging economies." (, April 14th 2009). Correa is one of the prime movers of economic integration in South America and of more radical international financial reform. Even Brazil's social democrat President Ignacio da Silva seems to support calls from Russia and China for a new international reserve currency to replace the US dollar.

But in any case, while China and Russia may have smiled and made nicey-nice with their G-7 counterparts in London, they continue, as they have done for a long time, to work out alternative strategies to cooperation with the imperialist Western Bloc countries. In Latin America they continue to promote trade and investment links that constitute a different track to their more conventional international economic relationships with European and North American trade and finance partners. China has recently made significant deals with trading partners like Indonesia and Argentina using swap arrangements that permit those countries to pay for Chinese goods in their own currency and vice versa.

The group of Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) countries led by Venezuela and Cuba have invited Russia to take on observer status - joining Ecuador, Uruguay and Haiti. ALBA has also experimented with barter trade arrangements which its member countries may well extend to their trading with Russia and China. Russia is currently negotiating major purchases of sea-food products and beef from Nicaragua, allowing that country to help those important sectors of its economy recover from lost exports to North America. Brazil continues to develop its aerospace industry via relations with both Russia and China.

Perhaps the recent diplomatic and trade visits by President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela mark the most emphatic shift towards developing dynamic South-South trade relations. In April this year, President Chavez visited Doha for a summit meeting of South American and Arab governments. He subsequently visited Iran, Japan and China signing major agreements with all those countries's governments. Iran and Venezuela have set up a joint Iranian-Venezuelan Bank. In Japan, the Japanese government undertook commitments to develop energy projects in Venezuela over the next few years worth over US$30 billion. In Beijing, President Chavez and his team reviewed progress on joint projects with China in Venezuela worth US$26 billion.

Also going on at the same time as all this global trade activity, the ALBA countries - Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Honduras, Nicaragua and Dominica - are pushing ahead with their proposal not just to develop their ALBA bank, essentially their own development bank, but also with a common currency. This currency, called the Sistema Unico de Compensación Regional (Sucre), would be a unit of account and of value similar to the forerunner of the Euro, the European Currency Unit. At their summit this week immediately prior to the Port of Spain summit, the ALBA countries are likely to deepen and extend their commitments vis-a-vis both the ALBA bank and the Sucre

The fundamental economic backdrop to all these developments is the illegitimate US domination of global trade via its fiat global currency, the dollar. As Henry C.K.Liu puts it "when buyers are located in different countries from sellers and trade is denominated in the buyer's fiat currency due to currency hegemony, trade is predatory in favor of the buyer even if the balance of payments is in favor of the seller." Liu also points out later on in that essay that developing countries are by this point totally exasperated at the fake claim that corporate consumer capitalism is in any way capable of poverty reduction because poverty reduction contradicts so-called "market efficiency". The vast rich country aid and development cooperation shambles is deliberately exploited to camouflage that basic truth.

Countries that are no longer prepared to tolerate those deep contradictions in the global corporate capitalist system are not going to wait for Europe and the North America to reinflate their financial sectors with bloated fake asset prices again. The systemic fraud on which corporate finance driven capitalism is operated will necessarily again destabilize global markets causing food and energy prices to spike again as they did so grotesquely through the end of 2007 until mid-2008. The failure of the G-20 summit in London to address the crisis effectively may well be another point of contention in Port of Spain. The more progressive governments - the ALBA countries, Ecuador and perhaps some Caribbean nations - will probably note that developing countries did not cause the debacle in the rich country economies and yet are likely to suffer disproportionately as a result.

When all the guff and froth from Port of Spain has drifted away, plenty will remain for Latin American countries to sort out. Will Venezuela and Ecuador continue dithering, hoping Brazil will finally get its finger out and promote the Bank of the South in a decisive serious way? Or will Ecuador finally decide to throw in its lot with the ALBA countries and build up the ALBA Bank?

What will the ALBA bank be - a development bank or a regional lender of last resort as well? Will ALBA create the first currency region beyond the reach of the major international financial institutions? How long will the underlying common cause between the ALBA countries and Brazil - the defence of Latin American sovereignty - last, before conflicting agendas provoke a rift? The effectively stymied Bank of the South shows the problems regional differences, especially Brazil's ambitions, can provoke. Will a post-Ignacio da Silva government signal an active US-Brazilian axis rather than the divided-self-interest that has characterised Brazil's foreign policy recently?

In Central America, one interesting barometer of pressure for radical change will be the policy decisions taken by El Salvador's president-elect Mauricio Funes, an openly enthusiastic admirer of da Silva. Elsewhere, while there is unlikely to be much change in US policy towards Cuba, events in Mexico and Colombia and to a lesser extent in Peru will also tell a great deal about how Latin America's shifting centres of gravity are likely to settle in the short while before the next round of elections in the region. Looked at from Americas, Barack Obama's electoral slogans "change" and "yes we can" are well worn clichés. South of the Rio Grande, most people have had their fill of trite promises of "Cambio" and "Sí, se puede..."


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