Varieties of imperial decline


If people needed reminding that North American and European foreign policy, including policy on aid and trade, is based on sadism and hypocrisy, events in Palestine and Lebanon will surely have done so.  While people inside the imperial Bluebeard’s Castle come to terms with the narcissistic cynicism of leaders like Tony Blair and George Bush, outside the Castle other people are determined to realise the potential of themselves and their families and rescue as best they can the settlement embodied in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights so contemptuously trashed by the imperial leaders. As natural resources of all kinds become harder to access and control, North America and Europe become more and more a threat to the fundamental bases and recognised standards of human life everywhere. For the moment, moral leadership has passed unquestionably and decisively to those countries and movements in Latin America that openly resist the anti-humanitarian barbarism of North American and European countries and their allies.

Even within countries that have become US vassal-states like Mexico and Colombia the balance of power is no longer wholly in favour of US stooges like Vicente Fox and narco-president Alvaro Uribe. When thousands of heavily armed police assaulted demonstrators in Atenco, raping tens of women protestors, brutally dragging innocent people from their houses in order to terrorize the local population they were applying gangster norms born out of a colonial mentality long approved and practised by the racist leaders of North America and Europe. The performance was repeated in Oaxaca just a few weeks after the grotesque events in Atenco. When people wonder at the femicide scandal in Ciudad Juarez where hundreds of low-income women have been murdered with impunity, they should perhaps consider that it is not some bizarre aberration but a deliberate component of the Mexican oligarchy’s strategy of social control. Still, the current electoral stand-off offers some hope of an end to rule by Fox’s incompetent, sinister National Action Party (PAN) cronies.

Likewise in Colombia, persistent massacres and murders by the army and its narco-paramilitary allies maintain the population in a permanent state of watcfulness and fear. With its millions of displaced people and stunningly awful poverty statistics Colombia represents a miserably fine example of the achievements of neo-liberal economic policies in creating a two-tier oligarchical State. On the one hand a wealthy corrupt elite collaborates with foreign multinational corporations to enjoy the fruits of  transparent extortion and greed. On the other, the great majority struggle to meet even the minimum standards necessary to sustain a decent life for themselves and their children.  A university study published in May this year reckoned that 13% of Colombia’s children – 500,000 – suffer from chronic malnutrition. (1) Effective resistance to the Alvaro Uribe narco-terror regime has now advanced in the electoral political sphere in the form of Carlos Gaviria’s Democratic Alternative Pole (PDA). In comprehensively adverse conditions, Gaviria brilliantly achieved a separate opposition political space clearly apart from the political-military resistance successfully sustained by the FARC-EP and ELN guerrilla groups despite billions of dollars of US aid to Alvaro Uribe’s corrupt regime.

Daily reality, regional context

Visiting small towns typical of much of Latin America, one constantly comes across communities struggling to survive. Despite the wretched infrastructure and lack of resources impoverished people will set up community pre-schools, typically as part of some NGO or municipal initiative. Staff will generally work for absurd, nominal salaries , perhaps US$15 or US$20 a month, when the cost of living is ten times that or more. Children attending these centres will often arrive without breakfast, being grateful for even the most basic snack if the pre-school is lucky enough to be able to provide it. That is a daily reality for millions of families throughout Latin America. Yet still, the imperialist racket of rich country-backed corporate plunder goes on – the privatizations, the bogus “free trade”-in-your-sovereignty treaties, the deregulation of capital flows to facilitate stealing away with the loot, public sector cut-backs in health and education services allowed to wither away so as to leech public funds and thus pay interest on national debts already paid several times over.

While all this is fully documented, the fatuous propaganda of the corporate media, the brazen self-inflating flim-flam of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and the somewhat more stealthy neo-colonial-speak of their regional mutant-clone the Inter-American Development Bank, all still pretend that little is amiss in broad policy terms. They say they just have to tweak policy to do a bit more about poverty reduction. (2) This after nearly 20 years accumulated experience that shows them to be supremely incompetent in achieving their objectives. These are the people whose interventions have destroyed whole countries based on the doctrine that governments should not intervene. They form a glib, hypocritical and unaccountable neo-colonial managerial class – a kind of compulsory global travelling economic medicine show backed up by the financial, aid, trade and military muscle of their gangster chieftains in the imperial capitals of North America, Japan and Europe. The concrete experiences of Cuba, Venezuela and Argentina show them up for the intellectual frauds they are.

Along with the conventional economic pillage of victim countries so as to enrich tiny elites and spur inequitable misleading “growth” that invariably leaves the poor majority worse off than before, the World Bank, the IMF and the IADB have consciously sought to destroy traditional patterns of rural settlement and rural economic activity so as to force grossly under-resourced urbanization and create a pool of unskilled labour desperate for work at any price. This rural depopulation and destruction of traditional attachments to the land is now being exploited to drive through infrastructure projects such as those contemplated in the IADB driven Plan Puebla Panama and accompanied by corporate exploitation of depopulated areas for extraction of natural resources of all kinds, timber, water, oil, minerals, genetic resources. As Silvia Ribeiro (3) puts it in the context of biodiversity:

“Within the Global Environmental  Fund’s Biodiversity policy for example one finds the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor and other examples of the legitimization of the industrial use of biodiversity, justification of biopiracy and displacement in the name of “conservation” of rural working families and indigenous peoples from their ancestral territories and likewise the sale of communal forestry management systems, so they become part of the “environmental services market.” The promotion and justification of genetically modified organisms via misnamed biosecurity projects fits inevitably into this context.” Or  as researcher Miguel Pickard of Mexico’s CIEPAC (4) says “the PPP does not spring from a strategy to eliminate endemic poverty as the Fox government asserts, but as an ingenious conspiracy to channel enormous sums of public money into infrastructure projects that, it is hoped, will induce private investment.”

That point is the perhaps the most outrageous element of these endless vassal government-development bank-multinational corporation scams. The programs and projects are designed by the development banks around corporate needs with no involvement of the affected populations except through whatever imperial puppet government happens to have deceived its way into office on promises of prosperity for all. The schemes are then implemented with loans that have to be repaid with tax revenue bled out of the already over-burdened and desperate impoverished majority. The sell is that these infrastructure projects will lead to increased foreign investment. But as Orlando Caputo has observed in the case of Chile, “One is dealing with a new moment, which changes the picture. The multinationals are getting profits they never imagined, nor did the State when it gave them exemptions and privileges. For reasons of equity, solutions must be sought, which might be a renegotiation of the legal and tax regime the multinationals enjoy and a royalty that  secures the profit that really belongs to the country. There are precedents, even in North American legislation, by which special taxes have been applied to windfall profits that distort the terms of contracts.”

The fruits of US-style “democracy”

It is in this context that the massive election fraud in Mexico should be seen, Vicente Fox’s sadistic, anti-humanitarian government  takes its lead from the State terror regime in Washington. Enormous sums of money are at stake in the great Plan Puebla Panama multinational tombola. With Colombia’s proposed entry (cf note 4) as a Plan Puebla Panama player, ruthless regional narco-trafficking elements who bankrolled much of Alvaro Uribe’s re-election campaign, under US government patronage, will stake out their claim to the regional “free trade”-in-your-sovereignty-Plan Puebla Panama pie. The looming panorama is so grotesque as to take one’s breath away.

So it is a clarion call for every oppressed and downtrodden person and community in the world, when Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador declares of the Mexican fascist oligarchical elite (6):

“It has been precisely the dominance of this group, of this rapacious minority, that has brought our country to ruin and made it into an ocean of inequalities with more economic and social differences than when Morelos (7) proclaimed that both opulence and indigence should be reduced.

It is they who truly conspire against democracy because they oppose real change. It is they who defend the ruling anti-people, sell-out economic policy that has only served to bring the country to economic standstill, unemployment and the emigration of millions of Mexicans who, out of need, have had to leave the country and their families in order to seek work on the other side of the frontier.

It is they who have been left with the nation’s enterprises and goods. They who are planning to privatize the oil and electricity industries. They are the ones who have turned the government into a committee at the service of a small handful. They who now want to impose as President an inconditional flunkey, a stuffed dummy to ensure they can pepetuate their corruption, who will guarantee them their corruption, influence trafficking and impunity.

Naturally, this group sees its interests threatened when we propose and defend an alternative project for the country, capable of creating a necessary new legality that our country urgently needs, a new economy, a new more worthy way of doing politics, a new social settlement with less inequality and more justice.”

From the Zocalo to Cordoba

That impassioned call for democracy, equality and justice in Mexico has had its answering echo over the last few days at Cordoba in Argentina at the latest summit of the Mercosur countries (8). With Venezuela now a full Mercosur member much of the discussion turned on the terms in which further regional integration might proceed. The final declarations (there were two) included an affirmation of support from the Mercosur countries for Venezuela’s membership of the UN Security Council – something the US government is fiercely resisting. Among a plethora of proposals approved, from migratory issues to financial and communications integration matters, energy integration seemed to take precedence. The final declarations expressed support “for all those initiatives that seek to consolidate the South-South gas pipeline network that will serve as a platform for the poltical, social and energy integration of the region’s people’s.”

One highlight of the summit was the presence of Cuba’s President Fidel Castro. In a key event that may significantly ease the US blockade against Cuba, which is supported de facto by the European Union and other US allies, President Castro signed a wide ranging trade agreement with Mercosur embracing all the member countries. President Castro observed, “This integration has centuries old enemies and they won’t be happy when they hear news of this meeting.” Both Chile and Bolivia took part in the summit as associate member states of Mercosur. Bolivia may well join Mercosur as a full member in the next year or two. At this point, it may not be unreasonable to expect Mercosur to finally start working with a strong social component in defence of basic living standards for the region’s peoples. In any case, the summit is one more demonstration of the patent falsehood of US claims that Venezuela’s government under President Hugo Chavez is a destabilising menace to the region.

For the United States government the Latin American panorama now looks something like this. An autonomous bloc of countries including the most important South American economies, Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela, is developing its own model of integration that already has strong links with the Caribbean countries via Venezuela and Cuba. Bolivia is a relatively free agent for the moment, able to take advantage of close relations with Venezuela and, despite the disagreements over gas pricing, with both Brazil and Argentina as well as its relations with Peru, Ecuador and Colombia in the Community of Andean Nations. This makes it problematic for the US government to cut off trade concessions to Bolivia and the other Andean coutnries when the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act expires at the end of this year. Refusal to renew would drive Bolivia ever deeper into the embrace of Mercosur and other alternative trade and cooperation treaties like ALBA.

US strategy seems to be to exploit differences within Mercosur by putting stress on existing fault lines like those between Paraguay, Uruguay and the bloc’s other members and to consolidate its “free trade” treaty relations with  the group of Pacific Rim countries including Chile, Peru, Colombia, the Central American CAFTA bloc and Mexico.  Within that policy the problematic election its PAN stooges have tried to steal may yet to prove a setback for US plans. Likewise a victory for the FSLN in Nicaragua in the presidential election of November this year would considerably complicate its efforts to lock Central America into permanent economic subjugation. In the Andes, Ecuador’s new government after the elections scheduled for October this year may well lean toward more friendly relations with Venezuela than the current government, which at this stage seems to be merely minding the shop until a new government takes office. A further complication for US diplomacy is the increasing influence in South America of China and Russia which increase the region’s trade options far beyond its traditional links with the US and Europe.

With the blockade against Cuba breached by the island’s agreement with Mercosur,  the Bush regime’s grand scheme for a Free Trade Area of the Americas shot to pieces and its Mexican ally’s electoral fraud on trial,  what currently passes for US diplomacy in Latin America is at a low ebb. If Venezuela and Cuba can work their ALBA solidarity magic into Mercosur’s agenda, education and health care should become priorities on an even bigger scale than the hugely successful  “Yo Si Puedo” literacy program and the iconic “Mision Milagro” program, that has restored tens of thousands of people’s sight. People in the region compare those achievements with the US and EU governments’ imperial recipe of misery, death and destruction and nearly twenty years of regional economic failure. One disturbing sequel to this continent wide imperial failure may be renewed US efforts to provoke regional conflict and crisis as they did in Venezuela in 2002 and 2004, one of the few things for which the US State Department under Condoleezza Rice has any talent.

toni solo is an activist based in Central America – contact via www.tonisolo.net

Notes
1. “Más de 500.000 niños colombianos sufren desnutrición crónica”, Universidad de los Andes de Colombia, Argenpress, published in Rebelion 02-05-2006
2. “Reducir la pobreza es un gran negocio”, by Guillermo Perry (World Bank, Chief Economist Latin America and the Caribbean and Axel van Trotsenburg (World Bank Director for Argentina, Chile, Paraguay y Uruguay) bitacora.com.uy, published in Rebelion 11-07-2006
3. “El Banco Mundial contra la bioseguridad”, Silvia Ribeiro (GRUPO ETC)  Argenpress 20/07/2006
4. Quote from “Implicaciones del ingreso de Colombia al Plan Puebla Panamá” Fernando Arellano Ortiz (ALAI) Argenpress 21/07/2006
5. “El saqueo de Chile” Orlando Caputo interviewed by Hernán Soto, Punto Final, published in Rebelion 08-07-2006
6.  “We have enough strength to make democracy prevail”, Speech to a crowd of 200,000 in the Zocalo, Mexico City,
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, published in  Rebelión, 10-07-2006
7.Jose Maria Morelos Pavon, 1765-1815, a hero of the independence struggle against Spain. Benito Juarez decreed the establishment of the State of Morelos in his honour in 1869.
8. “Se robustece el Mercosur y desafía a Estados Unidos” Bolpress 23-07-200

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