John Negroponte and Tupac Katari (1)
To accompany President Saddam Hussein's lynching the Bush regime announced that death-squad manager nonpareil John Negroponte is to take over the post of deputy Secretary of State to hapless Condoleezza Rice left vacant by Robert Zoellick in 2006. One has to admire Zoellick's timing. He jumped ship before the Bush regime completes its extraordinary rendition of the United States' people to economic hard times at home and definitive military catastrophe in Iraq. In 2004 gangster-diplomat extraordinaire Negroponte took to Iraq the expertise in promoting mass disappearances, torture and organized terror he perfected in Honduras in the early 1980s. As ambassador in Baghdad to the US occupation, he helped oversee the implementation of the so-called "Salvador option" whose death squad fruits now bring Iraq's desperate people a daily fare of unparalleled horror.
Saddam Hussein's judicial murder and Negroponte's appointment highlight yet once more the fundamental twin bases of contemporary imperialism - sadism and hypocrisy. If one takes into account the death-by-sanctions of hundreds of thousands of children and the hundreds of thousands of deaths resulting from the illegal invasion in 2003 and the subsequent occupation, one can now confidently assign to the political elites of the United States, Europe and their Pacific allies well over one million deaths in Iraq alone. Without any doubt, that puts the cream of the US, British and Australian political elite in any league table of war criminals at least on a par with Saddam Hussein.
The US and its allies actively rigged his trial so as to avoid discussion of their own role as accomplices in his wars and in his domestic repression. Then they handed him over to his enemies to be lynched. It was striking how few of the character-assassinating obituarists took the trouble to imagine what Saddam Hussein looked like to the world's vast non-imperialist majority. Many millions regard Hussein as having been a defender against injustice, a statesman neither more nor less guilty than numerous others of the last hundred years or so who justified their crimes by reasons of State. Saddam Hussein's apotheosis as martyr and its context mark the end of any tenuous claim the United States or Europe ever had to moral superiority in the eyes of the rest of the world. Negroponte's appointment could hardly be more emblematic of that reality.
Re-inventing non-alignment As the Bush regime retrenches at the start of 2007 in a vain attempt to manage its catastrophe in south west Asia, a new era of hope for humanity began in Managua, Nicaragua's capÃ¬tal. There on January 11th the Presidents of Nicaragua, Bolivia and Venezuela, along with Fidel Castro's representative Vice President Machado Ventura, formally accepted Nicaragua as a participant in the ALBA (Alternativa Bolivariana de las Americas) integral trade and cooperation initiative. The day before, on January 10th Hugo Chavez was sworn in again as Venezuela's President following his latest categorical electoral victory in December last year. On the same day Daniel Ortega also took the presidential oath, signalling the resurrection of the Sandinista revolutionary humanitarian dream buried by United States government terror sixteen years ago.
Ortega's swearing in was delayed by over an hour to give Hugo Chavez time to arrive from Caracas. As the ceremony got under way, Chavez entered alongside Evo Morales, President of Bolivia and Rafael Correa, President-elect of Ecuador. (Correa takes office on January 15th). A gaggle of Presidents occupÃ¬ed the stage including all the other four Central American Presidents, Alvaro Uribe of Colombia, Rene Preval of Haiti, Martin Torrijos of Panama, Leonel Fernandes of the Dominican Republic, Chen Shui Ban of Taiwan and Felipe Calderon of Mexico. In all, representatives of over 65 countries took part in the ceremony whose seating diplomatically reflected the underlying relationships. Nearest to where Ortega received the oaths of allegiance to the constitution from his new government's functionaries, were Chavez, Morales and Correa. Next to Correa sat Colombian narco-terror capo di capos Alvaro Uribe, apparently on speaking terms despite the current dispute over Colombian glyphosate chemical warfare on the Ecuadoran border. A long way away sat another fascist, Mexico's Felipe Calderon, perhaps reflecting the Mexican opposition's impolite nickname for him - Fecal - or perhaps the odour of death, torture, rape and electoral fraud that characterize his regime.
In any case, the number and level of the delegations indicated the significance of the Sandinista Front for the Liberation of Nicaragua's return to power for Central America and the Caribbean and for Latin America as a whole. Longstanding networks of diplomatic and trade relations now need to be redefined. Taiwan's presence and the subsequent signing of a memorandum of understanding between the two governments implicitly puts the question to the People's Republic of China as to how it proposes to frame its future relations with Central America. The presence of delegations from South Korea and Vietnam indicate the importance South East Asian nations attach to their relations with Latin America and, too, the age-old strategic importance of Nicaragua's geographical location on the Central American isthmus and its new significance as a trade and diplomatic bridge to Venezuela, Cuba and the Caribbean Basin. In an age of ruthless efforts by the United States, Europe and their Pacific allies to sustain their imperial prerogatives, Nicaragua seems fated to play a key international role once more.
Daniel Ortega's swearing-in took place in the Omar Torrijos Plaza of Non-Aligned Nations. That, deeply symbolic in itself, signals Nicaragua's escape from under the US imperial thumb to active, autonomous sovereign diplomatic relations worldwide, heralded by the presence of delegations not just from Asia but also from Iran, Algeria, Libya and the Sahrawi Democratic Arab Republic. This contrasting global and regional range of visiting statesmen and delegations indicates the paradoxical, sometimes blatantly conflictive bi-lateral relations Nicaragua must now seek to negotiate. Still, the overwhelming emphasis on an alliance with Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia was clear. The US delegation led by Michael Leavitt and Thomas Shannon controlled their undoubted exasperation at it all. The visit to Nicaragua on January 13th of Iranian President Ahmadinejad for further trade and cooperation talks with the new FSLN government will only add to the Bush regime's misery at their debacle in Nicaragua
ALBA - vindicating Bolivar, Marti, Sandino Among the plethora of trade and diplomatic talks taking place behind the scenes through January 10th and 11th in Managua, the main event was the signing of Nicaragua's participation in ALBA. The agreement covers such a wide range of cooperation initiatives it is hard to know where to start, but the principal initiative is aimed at resolving Nicaragua's energy crisis. Generating plants are already being immediately installed as a provisional measure to cover 60 megawatts of the capital Managua's electricity demand. Further short term support for Nicaragua's energy needs will take the form of diesel bunker fuel at preferential prices while medium and long term plans for electricity generating capacity are brought to fruition. The agreement plans total sales on preferential terms of 10 milllion barrels of fuel a year to end Nicaragua's long-standing stop-go energy difficulties.
Other intiatives include the construction of a new refinery, a proposed gas pipeline to link up with the pipeline being built from Venezuela through Colombia to Panama and an aluminium processing plant to produce finished aluminium goods for sale in the Central America markets. Around the signing ceremony for the ALBA agreement, Venezuela's governmental delegation of 75 members was negotiating a series of bilateral agreements with their Nicaraguan counterparts. Evo Morales and Machado Ventura indicated that similar bilateral agreements within the ALBA framework will follow between Nicaragua and Bolivia and Nicaragua and Cuba. At the signing ceremony incorporating Nicaragua into ALBA, Hugo Chavez laid out the broad elements of Nicaragua-Venezuela cooperation as part of a clear anti-imperial strategy in Latin America.
He declared, "What Tupac Katari said, we recalled last night ..."I die today, but one day I will return made into millions"; Sandino returns, he is here, the General of Free Men; BolÃvar returns; MartÃ returns; Tupac Katari returns; again MorazÃ¡n, Sucre, Miranda, Bartolina Sisa. The martyrs return. They return in ourselves. And now I think we can hardly afford the luxury of a new historical defeat. No! This century must be the century of the peoples of our America, the century of liberation, the century in which we break definitively with the chains of imperialism, it ought to be our century. BolÃvar who died in exile, thrown out and betrayed, grieving, weeping tears of blood, said it when he understood he would not see his project of liberation realised and the integration of a kind of confederation of republics in our Latin Caribbean nation. Bolivar said..."the great day of our America has yet to come." Two hundred years have passed since that, let us indeed make sure this century becomes the day of our America! That now at last this twenty first century be the day of our America!.........So let's choose then. Either imperialism dies or we die, let everyone make their choice." (2)
With Rafael Correa likely to lead Ecuador into ALBA following his presidential inauguration on January 15th, the events in Managua should probably be seen as preparing the ground for a concerted attempt to encourage a sea-change in the policy of the Mercosur trading bloc. Mercosur, made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela, will hold a policy summit later this month together with associate members like Bolivia and Chile. Mercosur's Secretariat have already made clear they look forward to Bolivia's incorporation into the regional trading bloc. Since its inception, Mercosur has failed to generate the kind of dynamism necessary to seriously challenge the corporate neo-liberal economic structures imposed for over twenty years by the US and its allies and their proxies, the World Bank and the IMF.
The absence of representation at the highest level from Brazil, South America's most powerful country, at Daniel Ortega's inauguration poses yet more questions about the Brazilian government's commitment to radically socially-oriented policies. While the sharp exchanges and tension between Brazil and Bolivia over Bolivia's recuperation of gas resources managed by the largely foreign-owned Brazilian Petrobras company seem to have been left behind, it seems clear that the Brazilian government and its President Ignacio da Silva - Lula - leaned heavily on the Bolivian government to get their way. A sign of that was last year's resignation of Bolivia's outstanding hydrocarbons minister Andres Solis Rada, a fervent advocate of complete nationalization of Bolivia's gas resources. With various other tensions unresolved within Mercosur, what Chavez and Morales seem to be doing with their high profile visit to Managua is to set out before this month's summit more clearly than ever the kind of policies they would like Mercosur to follow.
To every action, a reaction
Since Condoleezza Rica has shown herself incompetent and mediocre beyond any doubt in dealing with Latin America, a likely effect of John Negroponte's appointment will be attempts to strengthen hard line US policies in the region. Neither Colin Powell's covert action backed diplomacy - as in the coups in Haiti and Venezuela - nor Robert Zoellick's policies of diplomacy based on trade coercion have been able to maintain US dominance in Latin America. It is a solid hypothesis that Hugo Chavez would have been murdered when he was kidnapped during the 2002 coup had John Negroponte been running the State Department at that time. Although, when he takes up his new post, Negroponte's principal brief will be Iraq, he has already made clear to the Senate Intelligence Committee this year that he believes Venezuela and Bolivia are a danger to democracy in Latin America. He described Hugo Chavez as "one of the most strident anti-United States leaders in the world" without explaining how he squares that canard with the Venezuelan government's unprecedented support for low income families in the US with winter fuel oil.
So far reaction from United States representatives to Nicaragua's incorporation into ALBA has been relaxed. Michael Leavitt told Nuevo Diario he was "optimistic that there are ways in which we can work together to improve the Nicaraguan people's circumstances." But he is clearly not referring to paying up the US$17 billion indemnity imposed by the International Court of Justice on the US government in 1986 for its terrorist war against Nicaragua through the 1980s. Despite the low key tone set by the US delegation, Daniel Ortega will have been more than ready to take note of Hugo Chavez when the Venezuelan President observed of the diplomatic friendliness of the US delegates "Yesterday I remembered when I was watching the delegates of the United States here, greeting, congratulating......behind , without doubt, the dagger, watch out for the dagger, Daniel!" (2)
Latin America now presents multi-faceted challenges to the imperial domination of the United States and its European and Pacific allies. The fundamental challenge is precisely the regional combination of determined leaders to break traditional patterns of trade and aid coercion backed up by covert action and outright military intervention. That is why John Negroponte identifies Venezuela and Bolivia as threats. In truth, they are a very serious threat to the Bush regime's continuation of the misery, death and destruction 500 years of colonialism, under its many guises, have inflicted on the peoples of the Americas. While the US and its allies massacre civilians in Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan and now Somalia, Cuba and Venezuela are treating hundreds of thousands of patients in need of medical care from all over Latin America and the Caribbean absolutely free. Tens of thousands of students from all over the world study free in Cuba's universities.
Stock US imperialist responses to the regional bloc composed of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and, shortly Ecuador, will include the usual components from the imperialist tool kit. There will be trade and aid blackmail for vulnerable countries like Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. The IMF, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank will be marshalled to hustle offending economies into line. Military intimidation will be repeated, like last year's massive naval exercises just off the Venezuelan coast. US government funding for domestic opposition groups, conventional politicians as well as NGOs, will be deployed extensively to try and replicate the destabilising electoral manoevres so successful in the Ukraine and elsewhere. Damaging conflicts will be encouraged by cultivating both regional divisions like those already existing in Mercosur and the Community of Andean Nations and also internal conflicts like the oligarchy-driven moves for autonomy in Bolivia's eastern departments and in Zulia in Venezuela. All of this will be distorted through the empire's corporate media outlets as a tussle between "successful free markets" and "failed socialism" or between "democracy" and "tyranny".
But the Bush regime and its allies are up against fundamental economic realities fatal to their imperialist programme. Venezuela and Cuba are delivering solid social and economic benefits to millions of people across Latin America and the Caribbean based on solidarity, complementarity and cooperation. The US government and its allies, by contrast, offer perversely unjust asymmetric trade deals, debt and aid rigged with extortionate conditionalities, along with discredited moral tales about human rights and corruption. Venezuela and Cuba offer genuine cooperation. The US and its allies offer coercion. John Negroponte will fail just as Powell, Armitage, Rice and Zoellick failed before him. With US government influence in decline, before too long its diplomats will be crying "Do what we want, or else..." only to the wind. The millions of Tupac Katari have better things to do. Every brick they lay, every child they feed and vaccinate, every tree they plant, every student they graduate, builds a Latin America they are unlikely ever to let sinister imperialist enforcers like John Negroponte steal away from them again.
The distraction of "pink tide" nonsense propagated by corporate mainstream media is irrelevant. The underlying reality is that the trade and cooperation model promoted by Venezuela and Cuba not only meets people's basic needs but has dramatically improved commercial and economic options for countries throughout Latin America. The United States and allied imperialist model cannot compete with that. So the imperial corporate machinery is hard at work discrediting Venezuela and Cuba and their allies, first Bolivia, soon Nicaragua and Ecuador. Simultaneously, they are working to create conflict so as to arrest the development of that competing model. As part of that process, John Negroponte's appointment heralds a much more ruthless phase of US activity in the region.
US government friends in the military and security forces throughout Latin America will be encouraged to intervene more in their countries politics. The recent kidnappings in Argentina of witnesses in trials of human rights abusers from the time of the "dirty war" is a symptom of that. While Mexico's illegitimate Felipe Calderon regime may currently be making friendly noises to Venezuela and Cuba, domestically its policies will deepen the disastrous effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement and work brutally to crush legitimate opposition. Likewise, Colombia's current narco-terror governmental crisis is unlikely to prevent a worsening of the country's civil war or the continuing increase in inequality between rich and poor. The United States government will back those policies and continue to use local proxies elsewhere to provoke instability which it can exploit for its own ends and the benefit of the plutocrat corporate elite it represents.
Through the Cold War successive US governments and their allies used anti-Communism as the pretext for their crimes against Latin America's peoples. Then with the end of the Cold War and the confection of corporate globalization they claimed "there is no alternative". Now with corporate globalization discredited, they are faced with resourceful, determined opponents who have created an alternative with which corporate capitalism cannot compete. The crucial question for US and allied relations with Latin America over the next five years is in two parts. Firstly, can the US and its European and Pacific allies prevent the ALBA socio-economic model from accumulating enough domestic support in Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Bolivia to secure the re-election of Chavez, Correa, Ortega and Morales or their political successors in five or six years time? And secondly, in the meantime, can they prevent other countries from signing up to that model?
While Central America looked to be an impregnable fiefdom of the US empire just a couple of years ago, now its energy vulnerability has cracked it open. Even private business representatives in Nicaragua welcome Venezuela's cooperation because the neoliberal corporate globalization model has nothing to offer them to solve their energy problems. But if Venezuela solves their energy problems the accompanying consequence is that it will solve the poor majority's poverty problems too. There is not a right-wing politician in sight to square that political dilemma. No US government, and certainly not the pathetic Bush regime crew, has the creativity or talent to resolve in their favour that contradiction between the underlying economics and the resultant politics - unless they resort to brute force. John Negroponte's appointment to the State Department is a signal that savage covert action and other forms of armed intervention are very much on the agenda.
1. Tupac Katari was executed by the Spanish in Bolivia in 1781 for his role in leading rebellions by the countries indigenous peoples.
2. Translated from transcript of speech distrbuted by the FSLN communications office.