The developing dynamic of events in Latin America through 2007 and into 2008 is very different from 2006, a year noteworthy for its dramatic presidential elections. But the underlying issues driving the dynamic remain unchanged. In its 2007 report on the Millenium Development Goals (1), the UN comments, "the report shows that the decline in poverty levels in Latin America and the Caribbean has been only marginal from 10% in 1990 to 9% in 2004. At the same time income inequality continues to be the greatest among all developing countries and the poorest fifth of the population account for just 3% of national consumption."
That averaged-out poverty estimate there is grossly misleading. In Central America or Bolivia over half the population live in poverty. In Mexico, thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement, poverty is actually increasing (2). The report confirms what everyone knew already. After over 20 years of structural adjustment programmes and reckless advocacy of "free trade" imposed under the Washington Consensus, levels of poverty and inequality in Latin America are at least as bad as they ever were and in many countries are probably worse.
The illusion of good intentions cultivated and promoted by US governments and their European and Pacific allies has always veiled their determination to maintain the crushing economic advantage accumulated through centuries of genocide, slavery and colonial domination. Aid programmes of the European Union, the U.S, and Pacific countries like Japan or Australia have thus always been a key element of the rich-country-welfare debt-plus-aid model of economic domination. With the resurgence in Latin America of political movements determined to secure a decent life for the impoverished majority, those aid programmes are now more and more needed for a different kind of leverage.
Previously, rich country debt-plus-aid rackets had two main functions. The debt element effectively locked less developed countries into grossly unjust dependency and the aid element camouflaged the injustice under a humanitarian gloss. The model was foisted on the region's peoples via corrupt anti-democratic, anti-humanitarian right-wing or centrist governments, graven in the image of their patrons, the governments of the US and the European Union. Since the 2006 electoral round, the debt-plus-aid model has being shown up by the ALBA (Alternativa Bolivariana de las Americas) countries - Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and some Caribbean island nations - for the international gangsterism it always was. So now the aid programmes are taking on an aspect of stake-building to counter-balance ALBA's cooperation and trade model based on social justice, originally worked out by Venezuela and Cuba.
Modulating the white noise
It has taken a while for the US to work out an effective strategy to counteract ALBA. With Condoleezza Rica and John Negroponte distracted by events elsewhere, the role of enforcer has fallen to Thomas Shannon, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Shannon has undertaken to modulate the diplomatic white noise emanating from the State Department and beamed at Latin America. ALBA seems to have forced the US to abandon its blatant "do want we want or else..." diplomacy for an ostensibly more agreeable, willing-to-negotate stance. But no one should be fooled. The change is scarcely press-release deep. Beneath skulks constantly the permanent menace of covert action, destabilization plans and military coercion. Shannon is carefully re-configuring the psychological component of US fourth generation warfare in Latin America.
He gave an an excellent example of this style in recent remarks on Nicaragua. Under the coalition government led by Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua is now formally a member of ALBA . Shannon said, " We want to make clear to Nicaraguans that we have a commitment to Nicaragua, to its people and to democracy and on that basis we're going to draw closer to Nicaragua rather than distance ourselves.....With regard to Nicaragua's relations with other countries we think that is a sovereign decision of Nicaragua.... So long as this decision respects our hemispheric mission to defend democracy, protect human rights and recognise United Nations Security Council resolutions in the case of Iran, these closer relations will not have a negative impact on our bilateral relations." (3)
Consider that statement's credibility in the light of the crimes of the Bush regime and its allies against the peoples of Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq and their threats against Iran. Clearly, for Latin America, Shannon is offering a genetically modified latter-day variant of traditional Americanism. One recalls what Malcolm X said during a speech in Ghana in May 1964, " I just try to face the fact as it actually is and come to this meeting as one of the victims of America, one of the victims of Americanism, one of the victims of democracy, one of the victims of a very hypocritical system that is going all over this earth today representing itself as being qualified to tell other people how to run their country when they can't get the dirty things that are going on in their own country straightened out." (4)
His words are more relevant today than ever, when the proponents of Americanism and their allies have definitively abandoned even the pretence of upholding long-standing international humanitarian and human rights norms. Now undisguised, their hypocrisy and sadism is obvious to everyone living outside the cosy bubble of consumer capitalism. European Union and US governments are accomplices in the genocide of the Palestinian people. They jointly deny Iran its fundamental rights as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Together they collude in the massacre of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan and ignore massacres perpetrated by their UN mercenary proxies in Haiti. In Europe, they threaten Russia with their aggressive plans for anti-missile systems.
In Latin America and elsewhere, countries determined to leave poverty and injustice behind recognise the cynical, inhuman reprise of US and European governments' historical role as mass-murdering colonisers. When a sweet-talking US State Department salesperson like Thomas Shannon refers glibly to "a battle of ideas" (5) he clearly flatters himself that he represents something other than two centuries of genocidal mayhem. But the cruelty and suffering are what tens of millions of people in Latin America, its victims, remember. Only the perpetrators pretend to forget.
Just from the last fifty years, people recall the thousands murdered and tortured by the US supported Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, the 30,000 disappeared by the US supported Argentinian military junta, US and European support for dictators like Papa Doc Duvalier, Anastasio Somoza, Hugo Banzer, Alfredo Stroessner, the CIA overthrow of the Arbenz government in Guatemala and subsequent support for genocidal ideologues like Rios Montt, John Negroponte's encouragement of Alvarez Martinez in his dirty war in Honduras, Ronald Reagan's terrorist Contra war against Nicaragua, the invasion of Panama, the invasion of the Dominican Republic, the CIA assassinations of Omar Torrijos and Jaime Roldos, the thousands killed during the IMF-provoked Caracazo in Venezuela, the coup against Joao Goulart in Brazil, support for the overthrow of Villeda Morales in Honduras, the training and funding of mass murdering militaries in El Salvador and in Colombia, the thousands of Colombian Union Patriotica members killed there by US supported murderers, fifty years of genocidal blockade and terror against the people of Cuba.
That off-the-cuff list is very far from being complete. So Shannon is right when he talks about a struggle of ideas. His idea is a deepening of savage corporate capitalism, concentrating ever more wealth and power for the benefit of US and allied multinational corporations. His mission is to re-sell the failed debt-plus-aid model despite US and European colonial and neo-colonial history and its various contemporary re-enactments. While he prioritises dictatorship via the UN Security Council, his ALBA antagonists, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales and Daniel Ortega resolutely defend their countries' self-determination and the defence of their peoples' social, economic and cultural rights equally with civil and political rights.
Coping with ALBA
Bush regime strategy to cope with that reality includes several tactical lines of attack. One is to consolidate the rich-country debt-plus-aid stake in more vulnerable ALBA countries like Nicaragua and Bolivia. Another is the unrelenting war of attrition by rich-country mainstream corporate media and their local counterparts not just against ALBA country governments but also against countries likely to sign up to ALBA, like Ecuador. Economic and political destabilization measures against ALBA and allied governments are also constant. Regionally, US military preparations continue far beyond any legitimate need for self-defence or cooperation in anti-narcotics operations.
The corporate media war's main fronts are to discredit the integrity of ALBA's proponents and to distract local opinion with mendacious fear-mongering. The RCTV case in Venezuela was part of this campaign. In Nicaragua, the Sandinista-led government is constantly under attack while its poverty reduction and income redistribution programmes go unreported. Nicaraguan opposition parties are trying to get a measure voted through the National Assembly restoring tax breaks for corporate media companies removed by the new government. The rationale for this corporate welfare is to promote "freedom of expression", exploiting the hypocritical fear-mongering furore over the non-closure of RCTV in Venezuela. By contrast, total silence has greeted the Mexican government's advertising boycott of the prestigious independent 33-year old "Monitor" radio news programme which has forced it off the airwaves.
Destabilisation is the fundamental principle of US government strategy against ALBA and is unlikely to vary whoever succeeds George Bush as President in 2009. Apart from the relentless corporate media onslaught, the US government and its allies actively or passively foster political moves aimed at promoting crisis around issues of governance. That is why so much of USAID's cooperation budget is devoted to "strengthening democracy", to justify various modalities of intervention through non-governmental organizations, non-representative, self-appointed representatives of "civil society". US government proxies like the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute channel US government funding into diverse kinds of electoral intervention. European Union outfits also contribute in this area. Germany for example manages this kind of intervention through the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. (6)
The new intervention - same as the old one
While the governments of Venezuela and Cuba are relatively well placed to resist these kinds of interventions, countries like Nicaragua and Bolivia are much less so. In Nicaragua, apart from the constant corporate media assault and opposition political machinations, the government is also facing outright economic sabotage by foreign energy multinationals like Spain's Union Fenosa and the Coastal Power subsidiary of the US El Paso Corporation. Local media in Nicaragua argue that Coastal Power has effectively shut down 100 megawatts of generating capacity leaving Nicaragua's obsolete, under-capitalised generating system in chaos, with regular power cuts of 8 hours or more at a stretch. Union Fenosa is widely perceived as in effect blackmailing the Nicaraguan authorities into concessionary measures with the threat of a US$200m international arbitration lawsuit if they rescind the Spanish multinational's distribution monopoly.
Both cases stem from the Sandinista-led government's efforts to get a better deal for the country's electricity consumers. In the case of Union Fenosa, the Spanish government is providing political backing for its energy multinational. In the case of Coastal Power, the Nicaraguan government wants a review of the irregular bargain-basement terms of the company's acquisition of privatized State generating capacity. The US government will certainly back El Paso Corporation in any dispute resulting from the crisis, just as Spain's government has backed UniÃ³n Fenosa. The instability provoked by the energy crisis is compounded by employment volatility. Maquila companies in Nicaragua shed 6000 jobs recently. But a report by Nicaragua's Ministry of Development, Industry and Commerce reckons the Central American Free Trade Agreement has so far resulted in a 0.1% net decline in Nicaragua's exports to the United States while tax exempt maquila exports increased 16%. (7)
In Bolivia, local US proxies are hard at work trying to destabilise the country through demands for autonomy from the country's wealthier provinces, principally Santa Cruz. At the end of June Bush regime supporters in the US Congress helped contribute to uncertainty for Bolivia's economy by refusing to extend the Andean Trade Preference and Drug Eradication Agreement for more than eight months. That move also causes uncertainty for Ecuador but is double-edged for the US since denying preferential trade to Ecuador and Bolivia may jeopardise US military access to those countries. Ecuador's President Rafael Correa has already announced that the lease on the US military base at Manta will not be renewed when it expires in 2009. Very likely for that reason the US is building up its military presence in Colombia where it now has three bases at Tres Esquinas and Florencia in the CaquetÃ¡ department and at Villavicencio in the department of Meta. (8)
ALBA goes inter-continental
For their part, the ALBA countries are making a diplomatic fight of it. At a recent summit of Central American countries, Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega won regional recognition from his neighbours for ALBA. The summit's final declaration announced, "a recognition by the Central American countries of those countries and cooperants who offer permanent support. Likewise, we have been infomed of the help Nicaragua is receiving from member countries of ALBA, like Cuba and Venezuela, in the field of energy and trade and in other areas of human development based on the principle of equitable trade and taking into account current inequalities, thus opening up opportunities for the process of regional integration." (9)
This declaration paves the way for other Central American countries to participate in ALBA. The international importance of this is manifold. Just a week after that declaration Vladimir Putin visited Guatemala and confirmed Russia's intentions of developing Russia's links with Latin America. He and Guatamalan President Oscar Berger put concrete shape to the rhetoric by announcing dozens of university scholarships for Guatemalans to study in Russia and plans to increase that cooperation in future. (10) The Russian connection points up ALBA's importance for US global geopolitical objectives.
Both Daniel Ortega and Hugo Chavez have visited Iran in the last month or so. President Chavez also visited Russia. It is inconceivable their discussions with Presidents Putin and Ahmadinejad did not touch on possible coordination of tactics in the UN in support of Iran against the assault on its rights to nuclear power by the US government and the European Union, apparently at the behest of nuclear rogue-State, Israel. Coincidentally, President Da Silva of Brazil has just re-launched decades-old plans for a third nucler power plant and for the construction of a nuclear submarine. (11)
In that conext, Thomas Shannon's remarks insisting that Nicaragua respect UN Security Council resolutions takes on a much wider dimension than Nicaragua's bilateral relations with Iran. Latin America in general and the ALBA countries in particular are developing their diplomacy in ways that mark a decisive abandonement of traditional patterns of US dominated Latin American foreign relations. Venezuela recently concluded agreements with Iran for US$4 billion of joint investment projects. (12) Daniel Ortega has sought help from Iran for investments to resolve Nicaragua's desperate energy crisis and its hopelessly under-capitalised generating system. Those various relations are bound to have their effect on UN manoevres around sanctions against Iran.
ALBA has long been more than a limited regional exchange between Venezuela and Cuba. Its framework offers unrivalled opportunities to regional governments extremely concerned at high oil prices and resultant energy concerns. Its social and cultural components make the standard rich-country debt-plus-aid model look incorrigibly mean and self-serving. Its inter-continental reach multiplies many times the diplomatic punch of its individual member countries. Last week the Bush regime's Trade Promotion Authority to fast-track bilateral trade agreements expired. That probably sinks chances of the US Congress ratifying the much-heralded trade deal with Colombia. Although Americanism still dominates mainstream analysis of Latin American affairs, Thomas Shannon has his work cut out to prevent further loss of US influence in the region.
toni solo is an activist based in Central America - see toni.tortillaconsal.com
1. Objetivos de Desarrollo del Milenio, Informe de 2007, Departamento de InformaciÃ³n PÃºblica de Naciones Unidas - DPI/2464 F, 2 de julio de 2007
2. "Con el TLC ha aumentado la pobreza en MÃ©xico", MarÃa Eugenia Trejos, Bilaterals, June 24th 2006 - http://www.bilaterals.org/article.php3?id_article=2154
and "Se disparÃ³ la pobreza rural durante el gobierno de Vicente Fox", INFODEMEX, Argenpress, 02/08/2006
3. "EEUU aplica "softpower" con Ortega", Radio La Primerisima, July 10th 2007 - http://www.radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias/general/16513
4. "Malcolm X on Wealth of Africa" - http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45a/460.html
5. "Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon: "Battle of Ideas" in Americas Driven by Expectations" Scott Miller, Washington File, Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. May 6th 2006.
6. "Las injerencias de Alemania en LatinoamÃ©rica : Con guante blanco" - german-foreign-policy.com, in RebeliÃ³n, July 1st 2007.
7. "Cafta sin rendir los frutos esperados" Gustavo Alvarez, El Nuevo Diario, July 7th 2007.
8. "Nueva Base Militar de EE.UU. en Colombia ", Altercom / CEPRID July 1st 2007.
9. Presidentes de Centro AmÃ©rica y MÃ©xico aprobaron resoluciÃ³n sobre el ALBA, Radio La Primerisima June 30th 2007, - http://www.radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias/general/16109
10. "Ratifica presidente ruso interÃ©s por AmÃ©rica Latina", Prensa Latina, July 4th 2007
11. "Lula resumes nuclear programme to make Brazil 'world power'", AFP, July 11th 2007 - http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/afp_world/view/287451/1/.html
12. "Venezuela and Iran to Join on $4 Billion Oil Project", Steven Bodzin, Bloomberg, July 10th 2007 - http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601086&sid=aDMXZnYHbZ50&refer=news