title(“Clinton’s Triumphant Tour of Latin America”)


 

Clinton’s visit to Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina has been heralded as a new era of
progress for the hemisphere: free markets, free elections, and free trade. The president’s
stated goal in his major speech was to establish one big free market from Alaska to Tierra
del Fuego.

While Clinton praises the "magic of the marketplace" he is careful to do so
among a very select audience and under conditions of maximum security–in Caracas at a
state dinner organized by President Caldera that was by invitation only. In Brazil,
Clinton ventured out to visit a private school in a favela funded by Xerox. The news media
forgot to mention that on his way to the meeting his limousine was pelted with cow manure
and the adjoining favelas were occupied by the army and military police to prevent any
public expressions of displeasure over the suffering caused by the free market.

In Argentina, the president met with Carlos Menem who has provided Argentine military
support for U.S. intervention at the beck and call of the Clinton administration. The
president reciprocated to the dutiful president by praising the Argentine army’s role in
peace missions. Apart from his presidential encounters and side trips to a favela, Clinton
met with the usual coterie of U.S. bankers, investors, and Chamber of Commerce officials;
the major beneficiaries of free markets and free trade and the audience for his public
rhetoric.

There was good reason why President Clinton confined his meetings to a restricted
circle of governmental officials and the business elite. While Venezuela has become the
U.S.’s principal supplier of energy, 60 percent of the population is engaged in the
"informal sector" and income levels of the poorest 50 percent have declined
precipitously. The streets of Caracas are constant scenes of violent confrontations
between workers and students protesting the social cuts and privatization and the army and
police. The result–hundreds of deaths and thousands injured and jailed since the
inception of the free market policies of 1989.

Clinton’s praise of Cardoso’s democracy overlooked the murder of over 50 peasants
peacefully seeking land reform. The U.S. president looked benignly on Cardoso’s corrupt
"purchase" of Congressional votes to allow for his re-election. In private, no
doubt, Clinton and Cardosa exchanged notes on how to extract illegal campaign funds from
wealthy benefactors without getting caught. With Brazil experiencing record levels of
unemployment (official data: 16 percent unemployed in the Sao Paulo industrial belt)
Clinton’s praise was directed at Cardoso’s privatization of lucrative petroleum, mining,
and telecommunication companies. Major U.S. multi-nationals will take a substantial share
of these enterprises. It was in Buenos Aires, however, where Clinton’s praise for Menem’s
loyalty to Washington was misconstrued as a eulogy to Argentine democracy. As any
journalist and human rights advocate, labor activist, or Jewish intellectual can confirm,
Argentine’s police and military under Menem are largely run by political gangsters from
the military dictatorship.

The Union of Press Workers of Buenos Aires reports 880 incidents of intimidation and
violence against the press since Menem was elected in 1989. Almost all the incidents
involve journalists critical of Menem’s corrupt regime. Between January 1997 and
September, 116 violent incidents or threats against journalists including the murder of a
photographer, Jose Luis Cabezas have been recorded. None of the incidents have been
seriously investigated, no one has been arrested despite eye witness accounts in some
cases. The reason is clear: how can the police solve crimes when the police are the main
suspects.

To this day the Menem regime has not "solved" the terror bombings of the
Israeli Embassy or the Jewish Community Center (AMAJ) in which 80 persons were killed and
hundreds were wounded. Most knowledgeable Jewish intellectuals have identified key
personnel in the Ministry of Interior who have long-standing ties to the previous military
dictatorship which was notoriously anti-Semitic. Clinton’s love of Menem’s free market
policy exceeds his concern for Jews, at least in Argentina. Clinton said nothing about the
complicity of the Menem regime in these terrorist incidents. Nor did he take heed of the
recent violent assault on the headquarters of the human rights group–the Madres del Plaza
de Mayo. Less than one month prior to Clinton’s visit "unknown thugs" broke in
and stole the files and evidence related to the criminal activity of past and present
police and military officials. No investigation took place and of course no one was
apprehended. Under these circumstances, Argentina cannot be considered a democracy. It is
a low-intensity police state. President Menem’s inner circle of advisors has been
characterized by the former Minister of Economy Cavello, as a "Mafioso regime"
driven by corruption, drug laundering and political thuggery.

One is reminded of President Roosevelt’s remark when he was asked about the
authoritarian presidents and free marketeers of his time. "They are bastards, but
they are our bastards." Clinton prefers democratic cant over Roosevelt’s brutal
frankness.

While Clinton’s tour may be a celebration of the elites’ economic bonanza, his vision
of one big market from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego is premature and myopic. From the Rio
Grande to Patagonia, passing through the mountains of Chiapas, the jungles of Colombia,
the countryside and industrial belts of Brazil, to the industrial wasteland of Argentina’s
provinces, new revolutionary movements are gaining force: the Zapatista Indians in Mexico,
the peasant guerrillas of Colombia, the landless workers in Brazil, the urban eruptions in
Argentina. These movements are gaining strength everywhere. For example, 100,000 people
welcomed the Zapatistas in Mexico City. The influence of the Colombian guerrillas has
expanded from 100 municipalities to 600 in ten years. The land occupations in Brazil have
doubled in two years.

After the dance of the billionaires, who will pay for the broken dishes?