Tags: extractivism, gerard coffey, Latin America, Latin American politics, neoliberalism, neoliberalismo, poverty, raul zibechi, revolution, roger hollander
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The Uruguayan journalist Raul Zibechi is one of the best, and best known, political analysts in Latin America. He has worked with numerous publications in the region and has a long list of books to his name. His latest, Latin America: Counterinsurgency and Poverty was published in June of this year in Bogotá Colombia, by desdeabajo http://www.desdeabajo.info . The book is critical of the current wave of progressive governments in the region, in particular regarding the Poverty Reduction Policies most of them have adopted. Zibechi calls these a new form of domination.
The principal problem, according to the author, is that these policies adopt the language and methodology of World Bank programmes, dividing and sub dividing the population into groups of ‘beneficiaries’ of programmes that do little more than smother the appetite for the structural change. To make things worse, the very social movements that until recently lead the fight for change have not only become institutionalised, but now form the leading edge of attempts by governments to create a world in which everything is resolved peacefully through a type of lop sided negotiation. This is a world with only two ‘actors‘ : the state and business.
According to the author: “The strategy of domination and control of populations, of consolidation of states without problematic dissidence’, is taking on new forms and is becoming a reality in many places. This book allows us to get inside the details of these new forms, known by the name of the ‘Integrated Action Doctrine’, applied in Colombia with full force, but also in the majority of Latin American countries by means of the Poverty Reduction Policies promoted by the Multilateral Banks after the defeat of the United States in Vietnam.”
Interview with Raul Zibechi
LATIN AMERICA: COUNTERINSURGENCY AND POVERTY
18th August 2010
G.C. Your book appears to be calling for revolution, or rather a non frontal resistance in the small spaces of daily life in order to overwhelm the capacity of the state to control, and from there go on to achieve structural change.
R.Z. I’m not in the habit of calling for anything in particular, least of all revolution. My interest in writing this book, is to make the new forms of ‘open sky’ oppression and domination visible (the idea comes from Gilles Deleuze) , because I think that by making domination visible it’s easier to neutralise it. I’m not someone who thinks that taking control of the state is a good idea, I do think that the best idea is to resist in the small spaces of daily life and, as a result, create non state forms of power in order to defend those small spaces. That’s where that “other possible world” can be created, not from above, nor through the state.
GC. You say that the fight against poverty, at least in the way it is carried out by progressive governments in Latin America is a mistake, that wealth, not poverty is the real problem.
RZ. Of course poverty is a problem, but poverty can’t be resolved with crumbs but rather with basic changes that impede a greater accumulation of capital at one end of the societal scale. I’m not against fighting poverty, but I am opposed to only using this type of mechanism, because it’s something that doesn’t address the real issues. It’s like trying to cure a serious illness with aspirin. It helps alleviate the pain a bit, but the illness is still there. And this particular illness is called neoliberalism, whether due to accumulation by eviction or by robbery, as David Harvey has pointed out.
GC. And these poverty reduction policies are nothing more than a form of governability, a way to make sure that the social movements lose ground vis a vis the state, and only serve to cover over the structural problems and dissipate the fight for structural change.
Compensatory poverty reduction policies, i.e. those that based on monetary transfers that compensate the loss of the right to an income, domesticate social conflict and push social movements into a dynamic of vying to present the most attractive projects in order to resolve the smallest problems. For example, pregnancy amongst rural adolescent girls. That’s fine, it’s a problem, but by presenting the issue like this you lose the wider perspective, which is that these families are being ruined because their land is being taken from them, or because they’ re being pushed into abandoning the countryside so that increasing amounts of soya or sugar cane can be produced for biofuels. So while it is possible to apply a policy such as this as part of a structural reform, as an isolated proposal it achieves nothing. What it does do, is weaken social movements.
GC. Isn‘t this era of progressive governments inevitable after decades of right wing or corrupt administrations? And isn’t it also inevitable that, despite the risks involved, people are willing to abandon the fight when a government appears that gives them a good part of what they have been asking for during those decades of struggle for rights?
RZ. Of course. An important phase of struggle has come to an end and people need something. And that something, whether it be a little or a lot, are progressive governments that do have some positive characteristics: they have put poverty on the agenda, they’ re not so repressive, some have nationalised oil and gas; they have a more sovereign stance. It’s no small thing viewed from a historical perspective. There’s been a major change of direction in Latin America, a change that can be summed up by the reduced domination of the United States. To me this is all to the good, but it’s not enough. And if the consequence is that social movements are weakened, then there will be no one left to defend these progressive governments.
GC. If the only way to fight for real change is to break with the state and its social policies and challenge the NGO’s and the International Aid Agencies that have a negative effect on the social movements, and in fact have had no effect on poverty or inequality, does this imply that that these institutions and their staff are always a problem rather than a solution, no matter that they work in good faith.
RZ. My impression is that things are not black and white. In the period when labour struggles were important, in the factory the foremen and other company people whose job it was to control, often sided with the workers, or at least maintained a neutral position that benefitted them. So it’s not always that clear. Although times are different, it’s the social workers on the ground, in the local areas, who are putting the policies into practice, that have now assumed that role. Many of have an activist background, at one time were part of a social movement, and this is an attractive for Social Development Ministries. In the future these workers could play an important role, that is if they side more with those that receive the benefits rather than those that provide them. It’s the same situation with many of the people that work for NGO’s, people who have a moral commitment to the people they work with. They can all be allies of the social movements, and in fact it’s evident that they’ re often very unhappy with these social policies.
GC . Isn’t it likely that the social movements will revive when these progressive governments start to lose legitimacy and are replaced by right wing governments more aligned with business and capital?
RZ. The movements were never inactive, even when some of them were co-opted by governments. And there are new social movements that have cropped up under these progressive governments. For example, in Argentina the fight against mining involves the more than 100 members of the Union of Citizen’s Assemblies; in Brazil the urban ‘Sin Techo’ movements that were fairly weak before Lula arrived on the scene, have acquired a new urgency; in Chile youth movements are an important element, and in Bolivia the lowland, i.e. Amazonian, indigenous groups are very active. We don’t know what’s going to happen, what’s certain is that if the Right gets back into power it will be difficult for them to govern, but what is clear is that they’ll keep using the same social policies.
GC. And you think that because the fundamentals of domination are no longer questioned, that’s why financial power groups are willing to work - given certain conditions of course – under governments led by left wingers, and even ex guerrilleros such as José Mujica in Uruguay where 1,500 business leaders pledged to work with his administration?
RZ. That’s the point of view of Chico de Oliveira, a Brazilian sociologist and a founder of the Workers Party (PT) but who has since left the organisation. And I share his analysis. When domination isn’t questioned, anyone can govern; the dominant classes don’t need to take control of power directly, or even indirectly. Now the businessmen and the rich say: the best way to maintain the Status Quo is for you, the leftists and ex guerrillas take charge. But don’t start questioning wealth. And if you don’t, then not only can you govern with no problem, we‘ll also give money to help the poor thought eh social responsibility of the companies who are paying their taxes. And they are right. The ex leftists look after their wealth and also look after the crowd. That is, until the crowd wakes up to the illusion and begins to rebel. This is what I’ve been writing about all these years, about dispelling the illusion.
GC. You talk about extractivism as another stage of a neoliberalism, a neoliberalism that hasn’t been defeated, but simply changed its shape. On the other hand in Bolivia the state depends on, and presently has much more control over, natural resources such as oil and gas. Not only that, but the struggle to control these resources has been one of the major political changes that have taken place in that country. What’ s your opinion?
RZ. I don’t think that there is such a thing as good extractivism and bad extractivism. It’s a matter of defending the environment and of a system that creates exclusion. Whether the resource companies belong to the state or not doesn’t change this. Almost a century ago the same debate took place in the Soviet Union. It was said that when the companies belonged to the state there could be no exploitation. But when you go to a factory, and see that it functions on the basis or Fordism or Taylorism, with work rates like those in Chaplin’s film ‘Modern Times’, and you put yourself in the place of the worker, there’s not the slightest difference. In the USSR it took decades to wake up to the reality. These days in Bolivia they say that because the mines and the gas are state property there’s no problem. But the indigenous people are fighting for control over their resources, and this is a conflict that has no solution within the framework of the state, plurinational or not. There’s also conflict in Venezuela with the Yupka, and in Ecuador over water and mining, and conflicts are increasing in all parts of the continent.
GC. In the Soviet Union everyone was expected to sacrifice for the good of the revolution, but here, now , we’re not talking about sacrifice. So isn’t it possible to resolve the problem by improving working conditions? And then if the government redistributes the income from the copper or gas or whatever, and improves the living conditions of the general population, doesn’t that legitimise the extraction?
RZ. The problem is that extractive industries employ very few people and the consumption takes place outside the country. So increasing salaries doesn’t change anything. And redistribution is exactly what they are doing now. How? They haven´t nationalised gas in Bolivia for example, they’ve negotiated new contracts and the increased income has been distributed, even though it might be a small proportion, to the general population. Of course this increases the legitimacy of extractivism , but the population becomes dependent on subsidies and not work, which from my point of view affects self esteem as well as personal and collective sovereignty.
GC. As a last question, if Brazil is now a middle class country, and increasingly powerful, what implications does this have in the medium term for the rest of the countries of the region, above all vis a vis the presence of the United States?
RZ. These are two different issues. That Brazil is a middle class country implies that the internal market is going to grow a great deal. This offers the chance to depend less on the global market, and above all the North, which is in crisis and can’t buy what it previously imported. On the other hand, Brazil is the fifth ranking economy in the world and its reserves of oil and uranium and other resources are amongst the largest in the world, as are some of its multinationals. So you could say that its economy is in a major expansionary process. To complete it, Brazil needs South America as its back yard, in the same way that a century ago the Caribbean was, and still is, the United States backyard. On the one hand this is positive, because the United States will no longer be the region’s dominant power, but on the other the fact that Brazil could take its place would not be quite so positive. For the moment we’re are in an era of transition and this is important because in all situations of change cracks open that the marginalised sectors can use to exert influence on the process.
Tags: archbishop romero, Arizona, arizona law, arizona racism, DAVID A. SYLVESTER, economic refugees, El Salvador, Free Trade, guatemala, harold pinter, Immigration, imperialism, jan brewer, Latin America, Mexico, migrants, migration, NAFTA, neoliberalism, nicaragua, Race, racial profiling, racism, refuges, ronald reagan, seth minkoff, U.S. imperialism, undocumented
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April 30, 2010
Undocumented migrants have a right to work here because they deserve economic reparations for failed U.S. economic policies and disastrous military interventions.
We hardly need another symptom of the spiritual and social bankruptcy of the system, but this new Arizona law targeting and criminalizing undocumented migrants is a good example. You might know that Gov. Jan Brewer signed last week a new law that broadens police power to stop anyone at anytime for virtually any reason simply for looking suspiciously like an undocumented immigrant. It is supposed to take effect in August, but this is unlikely since it is probably unconstitutional and will face a barrage of court challenges.
This Saturday, May Day, the traditional day for workers rights, more than 70 cities are planning protests against the law, and boycotts against Arizona are spontaneously spreading — as they should. Mexican taxi cab drivers are apparently refusing to pick up anyone from Arizona, and the Mexican government has issued a travel advisory warning Mexicans of the danger of traveling through Arizona. In California, pressure is growing to join the boycott.
In the midst of this uproar, few are asking one simple question: Why? Why do so many Mexicans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans enter the U.S. by the most dangerous and expensive route possible? Just imagine yourself in their shoes: You leave your family and neighborhood to make a dangerous trip, including a difficult trek for three nights across barren deserts, pay as much as $7,000 person to put yourself in the hands of an unofficial guide of questionable character. On the way, you are prey to exploitation, robbery and especially if you are a woman, to rape. Then you arrive to live in crowded apartments, hopefully with some family members or people you know, but under constant fear of arrest and deportation. If you’re lucky, you get the brass ring you’ve been reaching for: casual work cleaning homes, gardening or working odd jobs in construction for $8 to $10 an hour. If you’re unlucky, you might stand on street corners for hours waiting without work, vulnerable to the temptations of drugs and alcohol to numb despair.
Sound like a bargain? Now, consider that, in spite of this, you decide scrape together another $7,000 to bring the next family member. How can this make any sense? It does if you take a close look at what has happened to the economies and social fabric of the countries below the U.S. border. Most U.S. citizens have little idea of the devastation wrought by NAFTA in Mexico and by the murderous civil wars that Reagan Administration funded and supported during the 1980s has done to El Salvador and Guatemala.
This is the reality that none of the opponents of this “illegal” immigration want to face. And it is a reality that even the advocates of change have not fully articulated. In essence, the neoliberal economic policies of the so-called Washington consensus, including NAFTA, have plunged Mexico into an economic crisis in the countryside. More than 2 million agricultural workers have been forced off their land and have moved into urban areas that can’t absorb them. The undocumented workers from El Salvador and Guatemala, the two other main sources of migration into the U.S., are fleeing dysfunctional and oppressive social and economic systems maintained by U.S. military power and funding since Ronald Reagan and CIA director William Casey turned these small countries into demonstration projects for Cold War power. As a result of these interventions, the U.S. has blocked democratic social change in these countries, sustained the exploitative legacy of the conquista and kept the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of rich, uncontrolled oligarchies.
In other words, Arizona is facing “blowback,” the natural consequences of failed U.S. policies trumpeted by the Arizona-style conservatives. These undocumented workers are economic refugees fleeing from broken economic systems — and they have every right to work here to earn the living that they cannot earn in their home countries. It’s a form of economic reparations. And the situation would be considered ironic if it wasn’t so tragic: The more the economic policies fail, the more the poor of these countries are impoverished and the more they seek to survive in el Norte, the more the supposedly anti-government, free-market fundamentalists want to put the government squarely on the backs of and into the lives of individuals through increasingly repressive measures.
It isn’t just some kooky left-wing thinking to blame Washington’s policies for a large part of the problem. This is widely known among the academic researchers. I spoke with Marc Rosenblum and Miryam Hazan, two staff policy analysts at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. who have studied the issues. “NAFTA has supported a low-wage development model, and with Mexico’s implementation, you haven’t seen integrated development,” Rosenblum said. “Almost everybody will agree it has increased migration.”
The basic problem is that Mexican tariffs were lowered under NAFTA so that inexpensive corn and other agricultural products from U.S. agribusiness flooded Mexico and drove out up to 2.3 million small and medium-sized farmers. The idea was that they would move to the cities and provide the labor for new, more advanced industries to export. As Hazan describes it, the idea was to “modernize” the Mexican countryside.
The only problem is that such a plan depended on Mexico’s GDP growing at 6 percent to 7 percent — almost two-thirds of the rate of China’s growth. In fact, Mexico’s growth has stagnated under NAFTA at half the expected rate. Besides, it isn’t clear what these “new advanced industries” were supposed to be, except for the sweatshops and maquilladora along the U.S. border. Cheap labor is not what economists would call “a competitive advantage,” because there’s always another country with even cheaper labor to exploit.
Hazan has found that each year, Mexico adds 1 million new workers to its labor force — but only creates half a million jobs. This means that every year, half a million Mexicans must either enter what she calls “the informal economy” of low-wage work without benefits, the criminal and black market economy, or leave the country.
In fact, the criminal economy of the drug cartels, estimated at 2 percent of Mexico’s GDP, has become the new export-oriented industry. Again, for all the complaining about the Mexican drug traffickers, few people are wondering what kind of society has developed we’ve developed in the U.S. that generates such an incessant and growing demand for narcotics. Without the U.S. demand, the narcotraffickers would be largely out of business.
In El Salvador, there’s a separate problem stemming from the violence of the Reagan wars of the 1980s — and now compounded by the recent deportation of U.S. gang members back to El Salvador. Originally, they entered the U.S. as children with their undocumented parents, learned their gang skills in the U.S. and then once arrested, were deported back to El Salvador. As a result there’s been an explosion of gang violence in El Salvador.
Every week, I hear of new reports from Salvadoran friends: Six bodies showed up on the streets overnight in one small town, a man with an expensive car is kidnapped and killed, a schoolteacher threatened with a gun by a disgruntled parent of one of his students. During a visit three years ago, the student leader of the National University suddenly disappeared without explanation, and the newspapers were reporting a wave of killings of poor drug dealers in the slums as “social cleansing.” In addition, the phenomenon of femicide, the rape and murder of women, is not just a problem in Juarez or the border towns but has become a new problem throughout the countries. At one point, gang members had apparently infiltrated the telephone companies in El Salvador, found out who had been making calls to the U.S., then called those U.S. cell phone numbers with a simple message: Send us $500 within 24 hours or we’ll kill your family.
Guatemala is hardly any safer. A friend of mine who was a journalist in Guatemala City had to leave with his family after a government official took him aside and played for him tape recordings of his cell phone conversations with his sources — when he was inside his own home! Assassinations of the community leaders opposing destructive mining operations are common. At another point, a well-known TV reporter was gunned down in broad daylight in the capital.
From my experience, when I asked about this violence, many people there said it was difficult to know exactly what to blame: the economic crisis, the unresolved conflicts of the civil wars, the habit of violence from the wars or the lure of fast money in the drug trade, the unraveling of families as the more and more parents head north into the U.S. to work. All of it is connected to U.S. policies and actions, particularly the 1980s wars.
“There’s no question that the civil wars were a big source of initial migration of Central America into the U.S.” Rosenblum told me. The problem has become worse in El Salvador, he said, because besides the violence, it has embraced the neoliberal economic policies of corporate development that has led to highly unequal growth among the rich and poor.
These economic and social problems are precisely why the U.S. will never solve the problem by enforcement, no matter what kind of walls we build or border patrol we fund. The “push” out of these countries has become much greater than the “pull” of a better economy and growing social networks of migrants now living in the U.S.
The Arizona law shows how much enforcement alone sacrifices basic moral values. The law itself is chilling to read. In the tradition of the double-standard legal system pioneered during the war on terror under Bush, it broadens police powers and makes enforcement much more stringent for non-citizens than for citizens. It requires all immigrants to carry documents, such as driver’s license, to prove their immigration status whenever asked by police with a “reasonable suspicion” about their status. If you are undocumented, you can be charged with a misdemeanor, fined (between $500 on the first offense up to $2,500) jailed for six months under mandatory sentencing. Courts are prohibited from suspending or reducing sentences. It also turns citizens into vigilantes: anyone can sue a government for failing to enforce this law. It prohibits picking up day laborers on streets to hire, transporting anyone in your car without documents if you do so “recklessly disregarding” their immigration status. And it expands the powers of police to pose as workers when they investigate employers who might be hiring the undocumented workers.
Where’s the Tea Party when you need it? Isn’t there supposed to be a revolt brewing in this country in favor of a “constitutionally limited government”? And isn’t this the free market at work, with workers responding to the market signals of wages to meet the demand for labor where there is a lack of supply? Oh, I forgot: Free markets and limited government are good — unless they interfere with U.S. dominance and privilege.
It’s easy to slip into bitter rhetoric, but the hypocrisy of the debate has its own spiritual significance. The U.S. seems to be afflicted by a strange blindness that prevents it from understanding the full dimensions of the problem it has created. I think this blindness is a natural spiritual consequence of the idolization of power and wealth. In my opinion, one of the best analyses of this was in the Nobel Prize speech of British playwright Harold Pinter. He spoke about the relationship of truth and lies in art, and then connected this to the relationship of truth and lies to political power.
To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.
Then he focused how lies played a part in the brutality of the U.S. government’s treatment of Central America:
I spoke earlier about ‘a tapestry of lies’ which surrounds us. President Reagan commonly described Nicaragua as a ‘totalitarian dungeon’. This was taken generally by the media, and certainly by the British government, as accurate and fair comment. But there was in fact no record of death squads under the Sandinista government. There was no record of torture. There was no record of systematic or official military brutality. No priests were ever murdered in Nicaragua. There were in fact three priests in the government, two Jesuits and a Maryknoll missionary. The totalitarian dungeons were actually next door, in El Salvador and Guatemala. The United States had brought down the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954 and it is estimated that over 200,000 people had been victims of successive military dictatorships.
Six of the most distinguished Jesuits in the world were viciously murdered at the Central American University in San Salvador in 1989 by a battalion of the Alcatl regiment trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, USA. That extremely brave man Archbishop Romero was assassinated while saying mass. It is estimated that 75,000 people died. Why were they killed? They were killed because they believed a better life was possible and should be achieved. That belief immediately qualified them as communists. They died because they dared to question the status quo, the endless plateau of poverty, disease, degradation and oppression, which had been their birthright.
Pinter pointed out that at the time the U.S. maintained 702 military bases in 132 countries and said:
The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.
This hypnosis isn’t just of the rest of the world; we’ve hypnotized ourselves so that we fail to understand the consequences of our actions. We’ve become like the violent drunk who trashes a motel room at night, then wakes up in the morning and demands to know who made such a mess.
In my brief search of the Web this week, I found only one person who had the courage to say aloud an obvious truth. Seth Minkoff of Somerville, Mass., a lone letter-writer to The Boston Globe of Somerville explained eloquently why the immigrants have a moral right to be here:
What goes unmentioned, however, is that some of us also feel that the fundamental aim of this law — enforcement of federal immigration regulations — is immoral.
A great many undocumented immigrants come here from countries that the United States has systematically devastated for generations by overthrowing democracy (as in Guatemala), sponsoring dictatorship and state terror (Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Haiti), and invading and annexing territory (Mexico). Actions such as these have helped the United States to control a grossly outsized share of world resources.
Until the US share of world resources is proportional to its population, so-called illegal immigrants will have a moral claim second to none on the rights of US citizenship. Arizona’s new law, like the federal laws it seeks to enforce, is an assault on people’s basic right to feed and clothe their families – in other words, on their right to access their fair share of the planet’s wealth, the patrimony of humanity.
What a complete F$%KING MORON. Does that moral right include stealing, bank robbery, perhaps rape and why not murder too.
Shame on you Minkoff, go take your nonsense to Cuba or talk to Chavez and see how you make out.
This letter sounds like it was written from some fatuous far left wing Chomskyan elitist nutty northeast college professor.
Seth, Harold Pinter’s got your back.
It would be helpful if more people had his back as well. But some of the opposition to the Arizona law is disappointing. For instance, U.S. Catholic bishops couched their opposition entirely in terms of pragmatics. Salt Lake City Bishop John Wester called the law “draconian,” as if problem is only its severity, not its inherent nature. He worried that the law could “possibly” lead to racial profiling when racial profiling is almost unavoidable in spite of hypocritical language to the contrary in the law. He worried about how immigrants might be “perceived and treated” and the impact on U.S. citizens who are unfairly targeted.
This statement should have been much stronger in the light of Roman Catholic tradition. Basic Catholic teachings evaluate the moral value of actions and distinguish between morally good and evil choices. Actions are “intrinsically evil” if they are “hostile to life itself.” The examples of these actions include the obvious, such as homicide and genocide but also include:
whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit;
whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat laborers as mere instruments of profit and not as free responsible persons;
all these and the like are a disgrace and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honor due to the Creator (Encyclical Letter of John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor IV, italics mine).
By this Catholic standard, the Arizona law is not only badly designed and unconstitutional but quite possibly an intrinsic evil. One can argue that the law is also an attempt to stop human smuggling and trafficking in women and children, but if this was its aim, it would have been designed differently. As written, it subjects immigrants to the torture of insecurity and offends their human dignity with arbitrary imprisonment and deportation.
In the end, the crisis can be solved until we face the spiritual roots of the lies, the violence and the self-righteous myths we tell ourselves. We need to understand and address the real nature of the problem if we want to solve it. I’ve always remembered the words of a friend of mine as we participated in a memorial service for Monseñor Oscar Romero in San Salvador: “We have to start telling ourselves the truth.”
The Seeds of Latin America’s Rebirth Were Sown in Cuba January 29, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Cuba, Latin America, Venezuela.
Tags: aymara, Bolivia, che guevara, Chile, Cuba, Cuban embargo, Cuban Revolution, deregulation, Evo Morales, Hugo Chavez, Latin America, neoliberalism, Obama, pinochet, privitization, reagan, roger hollander, seumas milne, south america, thatcher, Venezuela
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On 9 October 1967, Che Guevara faced a shaking sergeant Mario Teran, ordered to murder him by the Bolivian president and CIA, and declared: “Shoot, coward, you’re only going to kill a man.” The climax of Stephen Soderbergh’s two-part epic, Che, in real life this final act of heroic defiance marked the defeat of multiple attempts to spread the Cuban revolution to the rest of Latin America.
But 40 years later, the long-retired executioner, now a reviled old man, had his sight restored by Cuban doctors, an operation paid for by revolutionary Venezuela in the radicalised Bolivia of Evo Morales. Teran was treated as part of a programme which has seen 1.4 million free eye operations carried out by Cuban doctors in 33 countries across Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. It is an emblem both of the humanity of Fidel Castro and Guevara’s legacy, but also of the transformation of Latin America which has made such extraordinary co-operation possible.
The 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution this month has already been the occasion for a regurgitation of western media tropes about pickled totalitarian misery, while next week’s 10th anniversary of Hugo Chávez’s presidency in Venezuela will undoubtedly trigger a parallel outburst of hostility, ridicule and unfounded accusations of dictatorship. The fact that Chávez, still commanding close to 60% popular support, is again trying to convince the Venezuelan people to overturn the US-style two-term limit on his job will only intensify such charges, even though the change would merely bring the country into line with the rules in France and Britain.
But it is a response which also utterly fails to grasp the significance of the wave of progressive change that has swept away the old elites and brought a string of radical socialist and social-democratic governments to power across the continent, from Ecuador to Brazil, Paraguay to Argentina: challenging US domination and neoliberal orthodoxy, breaking down social and racial inequality, building regional integration and taking back strategic resources from corporate control.
That is the process which this week saw Bolivians vote, in the land where Guevara was hunted down, to adopt a sweeping new constitution empowering the country’s long-suppressed indigenous majority and entrenching land reform and public control of natural resources – after months of violent resistance sponsored by the traditional white ruling class. It’s also seen Cuba finally brought into the heart of regional structures from which Washington has strained every nerve to exclude it.
The seeds of this Latin American rebirth were sown half a century ago in Cuba. But it is also more directly rooted in the region’s disastrous experience of neoliberalism, first implemented by the bloody Pinochet regime in the 1970s – before being adopted with enthusiasm by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and duly enforced across the world.
The wave of privatisation, deregulation and mass pauperisation it unleashed in Latin America first led to mass unrest in Venezuela in 1989, savagely repressed in the Caracazo massacre of more than 1,000 barrio dwellers and protesters. The impact of the 1998 financial crisis unleashed a far wider rejection of the new market order, the politics of which are still being played out across the continent. And the international significance of this first revolt against neoliberalism on the periphery of the US empire now could not be clearer, as the global meltdown has rapidly discredited the free-market model first rejected in South America.
Hopes are naturally high that Barack Obama will recognise the powerful national, social and ethnic roots of Latin America’s reawakening – the election of an Aymara president was as unthinkable in Bolivia as an African American president – and start to build a new relationship of mutual respect. The signs so far are mixed. The new US president has made some positive noises about Cuba, promising to lift the Bush administration’s travel and remittances ban for US citizens – though not to end the stifling 47-year-old trade embargo.
But on Venezuela it seemed to be business as usual earlier this month, when Obama insisted that the Venezuelan president had been a “force that has interrupted progress” and claimed Venezuela was “supporting terrorist activities” in Colombia, apparently based on spurious computer disc evidence produced by the Colombian military.
If this is intended as political cover for an opening to Cuba then perhaps it shouldn’t be taken too seriously. But if it is an attempt to isolate Venezuela and divide and rule in America’s backyard, it’s unlikely to work. Venezuela is a powerful regional player and while Chávez may have lost five out of 22 states in November’s regional elections on the back of discontent over crime and corruption, his supporters still won 54% of the popular vote to the opposition’s 42%.
That is based on a decade of unprecedented mobilisation of oil revenues to achieve impressive social gains, including the near halving of poverty rates, the elimination of illiteracy and a massive expansion of free health and education. The same and more is true of Cuba, famous for first world health and education standards – with better infant mortality rates than the US – in an economically blockaded developing country.
Less well known is the country’s success in diversifying its economy since the collapse of the Soviet Union, not just into tourism and biotechnology, but the export of medical services and affordable vaccines to the poorest parts of the world. Anyone who seriously cares about social justice cannot but recognise the scale of these achievements – just as the greatest contribution those genuinely concerned about lack of freedom and democracy in Cuba can make is to help get the US off the Cubans’ backs.
None of that means the global crisis now engulfing Latin America isn’t potentially a threat to all its radical governments, with falling commodity prices cutting revenues and credit markets drying up. Revolutions can’t stand still, and the deflation of the oil cushion that allowed Chávez to leave the interests of the traditional Venezuelan ruling elite untouched means pressure for more radical solutions is likely to grow. Meanwhile, the common sense about the bankruptcy of neoliberalism first recognised in Latin America has now gone global. Whether it generates the same kind of radicalism elsewhere remains to be seen.
Barack Obama’s Kettle of Hawks December 7, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tags: Afghanistan, america first, anti-war, biden, Bush, cia, foreign policy, hawks, hillary clinton, house of represenatives, Iraq war, james jones, jeremy scahill, Karl Rove, max boot, McCain, neocoms, neoliberalism, Obama, pakistan, Pentagon, Rahm Emanuel, Robert Gates, roger hollander, rumsfeld, senate
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Barack Obama’s national security team has been called a cast of rivals. (Photo: Reuters)Monday 01 December 2008, www.truthout.org
by: Jeremy Scahill, The Guardian UK
The absence of a solid anti-war voice on Obama’s national security team means that US foreign policy isn’t going to change.
Barack Obama has assembled a team of rivals to implement his foreign policy. But while pundits and journalists speculate endlessly on the potential for drama with Hillary Clinton at the state department and Bill Clinton’s network of shady funders, the real rivalry that will play out goes virtually unmentioned. The main battles will not be between Obama’s staff, but rather against those who actually want a change in US foreign policy, not just a staff change in the war room.
When announcing his foreign policy team on Monday, Obama said: “I didn’t go around checking their voter registration.” That is a bit hard to believe, given the 63-question application to work in his White House. But Obama clearly did check their credentials, and the disturbing truth is that he liked what he saw.
The assembly of Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, Susan Rice and Joe Biden is a kettle of hawks with a proven track record of support for the Iraq war, militaristic interventionism, neoliberal economic policies and a worldview consistent with the foreign policy arch that stretches from George HW Bush’s time in office to the present.
Obama has dismissed suggestions that the public records of his appointees bear much relevance to future policy. “Understand where the vision for change comes from, first and foremost,” Obama said. “It comes from me. That’s my job, to provide a vision in terms of where we are going and to make sure, then, that my team is implementing.” It is a line the president-elect’s defenders echo often. The reality, though, is that their records do matter.
We were told repeatedly during the campaign that Obama was right on the premiere foreign policy issue of our day – the Iraq war. “Six years ago, I stood up and opposed this war at a time when it was politically risky to do so,” Obama said in his September debate against John McCain. “Senator McCain and President Bush had a very different judgment.” What does it say that, with 130 members of the House and 23 in the Senate who voted against the war, Obama chooses to hire Democrats who made the same judgement as Bush and McCain?
On Iraq, the issue that the Obama campaign described as “the most critical foreign policy judgment of our generation”, Biden and Clinton not only supported the invasion, but pushed the Bush administration’s propaganda and lies about Iraqi WMDs and fictitious connections to al-Qaida. Clinton and Obama’s hawkish, pro-Israel chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, still refuse to renounce their votes in favour of the war. Rice, who claims she opposed the Iraq war, didn’t hold elected office and was not confronted with voting for or against it. But she did publicly promote the myth of Iraq’s possession of WMDs, saying in the lead up to the war that the “major threat” must “be dealt with forcefully”. Rice has also been hawkish on Darfur, calling for “strik[ing] Sudanese airfields, aircraft and other military assets”.
It is also deeply telling that, of his own free will, Obama selected President Bush’s choice for defence secretary, a man with a very disturbing and lengthy history at the CIA during the cold war, as his own. While General James Jones, Obama’s nominee for national security adviser, reportedly opposed the Iraq invasion and is said to have stood up to the neocons in Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, he did not do so publicly when it would have carried weight. Time magazine described him as “the man who led the Marines during the run-up to the war – and failed to publicly criticise the operation’s flawed planning”. Moreover, Jones, who is a friend of McCain’s, has said a timetable for Iraq withdrawal, “would be against our national interest”.
But the problem with Obama’s appointments is hardly just a matter of bad vision on Iraq. What ultimately ties Obama’s team together is their unified support for the classic US foreign policy recipe: the hidden hand of the free market, backed up by the iron fist of US militarism to defend the America First doctrine.
Obama’s starry-eyed defenders have tried to downplay the importance of his cabinet selections, saying Obama will call the shots, but the ruling elite in this country see it for what it is. Karl Rove, “Bush’s Brain”, called Obama’s cabinet selections, “reassuring”, which itself is disconcerting, but neoconservative leader and former McCain campaign staffer Max Boot summed it up best. “I am gobsmacked by these appointments, most of which could just as easily have come from a President McCain,” Boot wrote. The appointment of General Jones and the retention of Gates at defence “all but puts an end to the 16-month timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, the unconditional summits with dictators and other foolishness that once emanated from the Obama campaign.”
Boot added that Hillary Clinton will be a “powerful” voice “for ‘neoliberalism’ which is not so different in many respects from ‘neoconservativism.’” Boot’s buddy, Michael Goldfarb, wrote in The Weekly Standard, the official organ of the neoconservative movement, that he sees “certainly nothing that represents a drastic change in how Washington does business. The expectation is that Obama is set to continue the course set by Bush in his second term.”
There is not a single, solid anti-war voice in the upper echelons of the Obama foreign policy apparatus. And this is the point: Obama is not going to fundamentally change US foreign policy. He is a status quo Democrat. And that is why the mono-partisan Washington insiders are gushing over Obama’s new team. At the same time, it is also disingenuous to act as though Obama is engaging in some epic betrayal. Of course these appointments contradict his campaign rhetoric of change. But move past the speeches and Obama’s selections are very much in sync with his record and the foreign policy vision he articulated on the campaign trail, from his pledge to escalate the war in Afghanistan to his “residual force” plan in Iraq to his vow to use unilateral force in Pakistan to defend US interests to his posturing on Iran. “I will always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally Israel,” Obama said in his famed speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee last summer. “Sometimes, there are no alternatives to confrontation.”
Jeremy Scahill pledges to be the same journalist under an Obama administration that he was during Bill Clinton and George Bush’s presidencies. He is the author of “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army” and is a frequent contributor to The Nation and Democracy Now! He is a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.