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The Rope


[Translated by Francisco González]


¿Do we really stir so much emotion in others? President Bush felt moved by the predicaments of Uruguay, even though there is no indication that he would be able find our country on a map. Could it be that he was touched by the abnegation of our own President–this good man ever so ready to stand in the forefront of attacks against Cuba and Argentina, or do whatever else he is told? Who knows. The fact is that Bush said: “We’ve got to lend them a hand”. Whereupon the international lending organizations proceeded to repeat the exact same words, thus fulfilling the noble role of the parrot on the pirate’s shoulder.


So then our legislators went into a meeting, in a race against the clock. And in no time at all they decided by majority (a majority impervious to any discussion) to enact the law that gives the coup de grace to state banking. The basis for this law was solid: either you enact it, or you don’t get the money.


And necks bent upward in search of the plane coming from the sky. The dollars did not come by airplane, but they arrived. The U.S. ambassador to Uruguay, who does not speak a word of Spanish, described them as “one and a half billion pains [dolores]” His mistake revealed the truth.


***


When the Latin American countries acquired their independence, they were already mortgaged by British banks.


Two centuries later I hear the following comment by a Montevideo taxi driver: “They say ‘the Lord will provide.’ They believe that God manages the IMF”.


In the course of time, our creditors changed. And now we owe a lot more. The more we pay, the more we owe, and the more we owe, the less power we have to decide what to do. Seized by foreign creditors, we can no longer breathe without permission. We Latin Americans live in order to pay so-called “debt service,” in the service of a debt that multiplies like a colony of rabbits. The debt grows by four dollars for every new dollar we get, and yet we celebrate each new dollar as a godsend, as if the rope that is meant to tighten around our neck could ever be used to raise us from the bottom of the pit.


***


For several years now, Uruguay has been trying to stop being a country in order to become a bank with beaches. And the United States, through its ambassador, has just confirmed that this is indeed our function and our destiny.


No wonder we find ourselves in this situation. Are we trying to be a service country–or rather a country that gives up being a country in order to enter the globalized world through the servants’ door? That’s a fine way of integrating ourselves into the market, which integrates us by disintegrating us. And the government, being governed, pretends to govern. Closed factories, empty fields: we produce beggars and policemen. Crowds line up in the street, in the middle of the winter, trying to get a passport. The young leave and go to Spain, to Italy–anywhere–making again their grandparents’ journey in the opposite direction.


***


Bankers make their fortunes by seizing savings. This movie house has been showing continuously the same film for the last few years: banks cleaned out by their owners; non-collectable liabilities that are dumped on society as a whole. Protected by banking secrecy laws, the financial wizards make money disappear the way the military dictatorship used to “disappear” people. Their accomplishments leave great numbers of people swindled of their savings, and a public debt that makes everyone pay for the fraud of a few.


Private banking, which has required so many millionaire rescue operations, lends money to those who already have it, and not to those who need it, and is increasingly removed from production and employment–or rather from the scant production and employment that we have left. But this extraterrestrial financial site has just been rewarded with the new law that delivers a fatal blow to state banking.


If we go on like this, it will be only a matter of time before our public companies become the only available currency for us to make payments on our unpayable foreign debt. It will be a kind of execution of the state by a firing squad of creditors. And then it won’t matter much that 70% of voters expressed themselves against privatizations in a referendum 10 years ago.


***


More government? Less government? Almost no government? A government reduced to its functions of surveillance and punishment? Punishment of whom?


The international financial dictatorship imposes the dismantling of the State, but only the neglect of public controls can account for the scandalous impunity with which some Uruguayan banks have been plundered. “Controllers are not foretellers,” justified a pro-government deputy. The last person among those responsible for this unfulfilled task is a cousin of the President. His services to the nation were rewarded with another high post in public office.


More eloquent still is the domino fall of a few giant corporations in the United States. After all, this is happening in the country that imposes the so-called “deregulation” upon others, in other words, the obligation to turn a blind eye when confronted with the skulduggery of the business world. The largest bankruptcies in history have just taken place there, confirming that this “deregulation” gives a free hand to deceit and theft at an extraordinary scale. Enron, WorldCom and other corporations were able to carry out huge swindling operations with complete ease, registering losses as earnings and making little accounting mistakes in the billion-dollar range.


It seems to me the measures that have now been announced by President Bush against deceptive executives and their accomplices are dangerous ones. If he were to really enforce them retroactively, he and most of his cabinet might end up in prison.


***


Until when will Latin American countries continue to accept the orders of the market as if they were the misfortunes of fate? Until when do we intend to go on pleading for alms while elbowing each other in the beggars’ line? Until when will each country continue to function under the “every man for himself” kind of mode? When will we finally convince ourselves that selling one’s dignity does not pay? Why don’t we make a common front to defend our prices, since we know full well that we are being divided in order to be ruled upon? Why don’t we make a common front against this usurious debt? What power would the noose have if it could not find a neck?

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