Category Archives: Latin america

Neoliberalism Raises Its Ugly Head in South America: As Washington Targets Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina

Latin America and the Paradoxes of Anti-Imperialism and Class Struggle

Global Research, September 03, 2014

latinamericaThe complexities of the new political relations in Latin America require that we breakdown what previously was the unified components of anti-imperialist politics.

For example in the past, anti-imperialist regimes pursued policies which opposed US military aggression and intervention in Latin America and throughout the third world; opposed foreign investment especially in extractive sectors; and, not infrequently, expropriated or nationalized strategic sectors; opposed joint military exercises and training missions; supported nationalist liberation movements and extended political – material support; diversified trade and investment to other economic regions and countries; developed regional political organizations which opposed imperialism and formed regional economic organizations which excluded the US.

Today, few if any of the anti-imperialist countries fit these criteria. Moreover, some of the countries ‘favored’ by Washington fit all the criteria of an imperial collaborator.

For example, among the most prominent ‘anti-imperialist regimes’ in Latin America today, Bolivia and Ecuador are big promoters and supporters of a development model which relies on foreign multi-national corporations exploiting mining and energy sectors.  Moreover both regimes, in pursuit of extractive capital accumulation have dispossessed local Indian and peasant communities (the so-called Tipnis reserve in Bolivia).

In line with the ‘double discourse’ of these contemporary ‘anti-imperialists’, the Bolivian Vice President chaired a meeting in Cochabamba by a prominent anti-imperialist academic critic, David Harvey, to expound on the issue of ‘capital accumulation by dispossession’.  Needless to say Professor Harvey ignored, or chose to overlook, the pervasive extractive practices of his generous hosts.

On the other side of the ledger, several Latin American regimes which are in favor with Washington and have embraced the Trans-Pacific Alliance namely Peru and Chile, have diversified their trade away from the US and have turned to China, Washington’s leading global competitor.

The lines separating the critics and backers of Washington, the nationalists from the neo-liberals are not as clear as in the past.  There is a great deal of overlap, especially with regard to the extractive model of capitalist development, the presence and dependence on foreign multi-national capital and the pursuit of orthodox fiscal policies.

The sharpest distinction between the anti-imperialist and neo-liberal regimes revolves around foreign policy, but even here, there is some overlap. Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Cuba and to a lesser degree Brazil and Argentina condemn the so-called ‘US war on terror’, its pretext for launching wars and military intervention in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.  Washington’s favored regimes, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Paraguay and its Central American clients, support US global militarism.Colombia offers troops or maintains a discreet silence.  Yet in Latin America, even Washington’s favored regimes support exclusive Latin American organizations, Mercosur, Alba, CELAC; opposed (temporarily) the US backed coup in Honduras; reject the US blockade of Cuba and interference in Venezuelan politics.  Even Colombia which has allowed seven US military bases, has signed off on several military understandings and economic agreements with Venezuela – even as the US heightens its hostility to the Maduro government in Caracas.

The theoretical point is that in the present conjuncture we need to work with a revised conception of what constitutes a pro and anti-imperialist political framework.  We will be looking at the specific economic relations and linkages, the divergences between specific public pronouncements on foreign policy issues and the long term, large scale economic strategies.  At the ‘extremes’ ,for example Mexico and Venezuela, the differences are significant.

Mexico is the most favored imperial client in both foreign and economic policy.  It supports NAFTA (integration with the US); its security forces are subject to US oversight; it has the lowest minimum wage in Latin America (even below Honduras); it is privatizing the strategic petrol sector firm PEMEX; it is a major ‘labor reserve’ for cheap manufacturing workers (especially in the auto industry); it has the lowest effective tax rate; it has joined the US war on drugs and war on terror by militarizing its domestic society.  Few countries in Latin America can match Mexico’s submission to Washington and few regimes would want to!

In contrast, Venezuela is the US bête noir: Washington has been engaged in permanent war with the democratic governments of Chavez and Maduro because they oppose the US wars in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.  They nationalized select enterprises; financed large scale long-term social welfare programs that reduced unemployment, poverty and inequality.  They imposed controls on financial transactions (rather weak and ineffective).  They offer generous aid programs to Caribbean and Central American countries, enticing them out of the US orbit.  Caracas has ended US military training and indoctrination programs and encouraged the growth of nationalist consciousness among officers.  Venezuela has increased economic ties with US adversaries (Iran and Russia) and competitors (China).

The rest of Latin America falls somewhat in between these two polar opposites, overlapping with each or developing their owncombinations of pro and anti-imperialist policies.  This makes it difficult to generalize and create ‘typologies’ ,as many of the contrasts and similarities overlap.

However, there are two good reasons to make the effort.  First of all with all the complexities, specific politico-economic configurations are evolving which are determining the correlation of forces in the Hemisphere and over time will decide whether the region will take an independent role or fall back under US hegemony.

Secondly, and equally important, the ‘external relations’ or international relations of the regimes are playing out in the context of a new set of class relations and social conflicts, which do not necessarily correlate with the degree of pro or anti-imperialism of the regimes.  For example both the Bolivian and Ecuadorean regime, which are considered leading anti-imperialists have repressed, co-opted or denied legitimacy to class organizations.

For both these reasons we will now turn to classifying the pro-imperial and anti-imperial regimes, in order to then proceed to analyze how these regimes face up to the emerging class and social conflicts.

Classifying pro-Imperialist and anti-Imperialist Regimes

The key to the classification of Latin American countries is the scope and depth of land grants which regimes have made to large foreign and domestic multi-national corporations.  Over the past two decades Latin America has experienced re-colonization byinvitation:  government grants of millions of acres of territory under the quasi-exclusive jurisdiction of giant mining and plantation consortiums.  These land grants are accompanied by mineral exploitation and water rights, license to contaminate and the free use of the state to evict local inhabitants, to repress rebellious communities and to construct transport grids centered in the colonial land grant.  The phrase ‘capital accumulation via dispossession’ is too narrow and vague.  The concept ‘recolonization’ captures more accurately the large scale long term transfer of sovereign wealth, natural resources and special ‘colonial’ laws and regulations, that exempt this huge holdings from what previously passed for ‘national sovereignty’.

In other words when we speak of imperialist and anti-imperialist regimes, we are really writing about the scope and depth of re-colonization (populist rhetoric not withstanding).

What we have in contemporary Latin America is a new combination of seemingly contradictory features:  greater diversificationof international markets, the emergence of an affluent ‘national bourgeoisie’ and the granting and recolonization of vast sectors of territory and resources by imperial capital.

This is cleanly the case with a cluster of states which have forsaken regulatory controls, denationalized key mining sectors and adopted a “Big Push” strategy directed to the ‘extractive sector’.  This is clearly reflected in the accentuated colonial character of theirtrade relations:  large scale long-term exports of raw materials and imports of finished goods, (machinery, intermediary and consumer goods.

The Colonial Extractive Regimes

The leading colonial-extractive regimes are found in Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Paraguay and Central America. This cluster conforms to the all-around criteria for a pro-imperial regime:  closely integrated to the US centered geo-political order, as well as containing vast colonial agro-mineral enclaves.

Mexico under President Enrique Péna Nieto, Colombia under Presidents Uribe and Santos and Peru under President Ollanta Humala have granted millions of acres to giant mining corporations and savagely repressed and dispossessed communities, farmers and local enterprises to “make room” for the colonial mining operations. These regimes compete to lower labor costs – with Mexico heading the list with the lowest minimum wage, the most repressive anti-trade union practices and the weakest regulations of environmental contamination. Peru under Humala, like Nieto and Santos, has worked closely with US “anti-terrorist”, “anti-narcotics” military forces to savage any popular insurgency, any economic activity which conflicts with the “Gran Mineria”.

The troika have moved decisively to privatize major resource industries and in general, lowered taxes below even “First World”, levels. The ‘Colonial Clusters’ are solid supporters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and have bilateral free trade agreements with the US and in practical terms, have downgraded “Latin American” integration.

The class struggle in ‘the pro-imperialist cluster’ is evidenced at the sectoral and regional levels, varying in intensity and consistency over time and place. In both Peru and Colombia, intense struggles have involved displaced peasants and to a lesser degree miners and the adjoining labor force.  In Colombia large scale marches by the rural poor have crisscrossed the country, demanding the return of their land, a greater allocation of state aid (a reallocation from agro-mining). Under Santos selective assassinations have replaced the massacres of the previous Uribe regime. In Peru, large scale community rebellions have confronted the Humala regime, who has done a complete about face, from social-reformer to free market advocate. Civic strikes, community and region-wide protests have confronted military occupations directed at facilitating massive foreign mining colonization and enrichment.  These pro-imperial regimes, especially Peru under Humala, faced with massive opposition, have embraced a policy of ‘inclusion’, combining the extractive colonial regime to “trickle down economics” – allocating a fraction of the mining tax toward social welfare.

The Eclectic Cluster:  Colonial Economies and Anti-Imperialist Foreign Policy

There is no sharp break between the extractive colonial economies of the pro-imperial cluster and the moderate ‘anti-imperialist’ grouping.  In fact in some cases the distinction hardly can be made. The moderate anti-imperialists include Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile.

Chile and Uruguay both have embraced free trade models, depend heavily on mining and agro-exports and  have pursued free trade agreements, Chile more than Uruguay. Yet there are some key differences with the imperial cluster. Neither Chile, Uruguay, nor Brazil or Argentina support and collaborate with US military and counter-insurgency forces in policing their country as is the case with Colombia (seven US bases) Peru and Mexico.  Nor have they actively contributed to overseas occupations, with the notorious exception of Haiti.

What is pre-eminently clear, however, is that the ‘moderate countries’  have not prioritized their relation with Washington over their regional associations (with the  exception of Chile). They have diversified their trade and investment partners and in some key instances have taken positions strongly opposed to Washington.  In particular the countries have multiple relations with Cuba, Venezuela, Iran and other US adversaries.  Their ties to China are expanding at the expense of Washington.  Their policies oppose ‘US centered’ integration schemes.  All the countries have opposed the US judicial process favoring the New York speculative hedge fund and support Argentina’s offer to settle on the terms of the original bondholders.

However the ‘moderate grouping’ at no point has ever considered a ‘rupture’ with imperialism – a sharp break in relations, an adversarial political alliance.  Its brand of anti-imperialism is more a gradual,an incremental shift of economic ties, a firm opposition to US interventions and military coups. They favor a growing regional identity and a weakening of engagement with highly militarized programs such as the ‘antiterrorist’, “antidrug’ crusades which place their security services and military under US tutelage. The highly militarized global direction of US imperial policy has contributed to the weakening of ties with the moderate grouping, whose prime concern is driven by an economic developmentalist agenda – namely greater trade, increased investments and wider markets.

The ‘moderate group’ has adapted to the rise of large scale national and foreign private agro-mineral elites to power. They have played a major role, with greater or lesser success, in coordinating their accommodations with the entry of large scale foreign multi-nationals. Their ‘nationalism’ or ‘anti-imperialism’ is mostly directed at managing these mix of enterprises, regulating the operations of both and securing taxes to subsidize moderate welfare programs, under the rubric of ‘inclusive development’.

The key issues for Washington is the lack of automatic submission on foreign policy, the presence of a national option with regard to access to resources and the lack of support for US centered hemispheric integration. It appears that Washington’s frame of reference in dealing with the moderate group is still embedded in the 1980’s and 90’s when debt leverage secured compliance with the Washington Consensus; when neo-liberal regimes engaged in wholesale privatization and denationalization of entire economic sectors; when the Latin American regimes were embedded in the imperial state structure.

The moderate countries have moved to a new type of relation with the US in which, relationships and agreements are negotiated, taking into account national capitalist interests, diverse extractive export markets regional economic ties and residual, but occasionally important, nationalist and democratic pressures from leaders with a radical past.

Most of the moderate anti-imperialist leaders in an earlier period, were active in revolutionary or radical social and national liberation movements.  Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, President Bachelet in Chile, President Mujica in Uruguay, President Ceren in El Salvador, all were engaged in revolutionary anti-capitalist struggles. They have broken decisively with their revolutionary past and embraced electoral politics but still retain the legacy of popular commitments, of being ‘on the Left’. This allows them to secure the backing of plebian electoral sectors.  While their past has not in any way influenced their pursuit of foreign capital and their promotion of agro-mineral extractive economic growth, still their past experience reminds them that they need a “social dimension” and anti-imperial symbolic action to retain strategic mass support.

Anti-Imperial Quartet: Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and Ecuador

The centerpiece of US imperial hostility focuses on four countries, which have consistently opposed US efforts to re-assert dominance in the region. While, in themselves, the four are not major powers, they exert a direct and especially indirect impact on the rest of the continent especially among the ‘moderate group’. Moreover, even in this anti-imperial grouping, there are important departures and inconsistencies especially in the realm of policy to foreign direct investment agreements.

The four countries which form the quartet, are in different degrees in opposition to imperialism.  They also share a common platform of support for a greater degree of regional integration, opposition to US military interventions and economic sanctions, and anideology which proclaims some variants of ‘socialism’ – whether ‘21st century socialism’ (Ecuador), Bolivarian Socialism (Venezuela), Martian Socialism (Cuba), or “communitarian” or “Andean Socialism” (Bolivia).

All four countries have faced and defeated recent US sponsored subversion and coups in recent years: Cuba uncovered a US Aid financed plot to recruit agents (2009-11). Venezuela defeated a coup (2002), a lockout (2003), a violent  destabilization campaign (2014).Ecuador defeated an abortive police uprising (2009).  Ecuador’s President Correa partially defaulted on dubiously incurred foreign debt.  Chavez ‘renationalized’ the oil and other industries, transferring oil revenues from overseas operations to domestic welfare programs. Bolivia claimed to have ‘nationalized’ its oil and gas industry, when in fact it raised royalty payments and state ownership shares.  Cuba has operated a planned collectivist economy up to now.

If we go beyond the common political and ideological anti-imperialist practices of the quartet, to examine the dynamics of economic policy and the structure of ownership of strategic economic sectors, the notion of anti-imperialism becomes very fuzzy and elusive.

Bolivia is a case in point.  Evo Morales’ ardent political attacks on imperial wars, needs to be balanced by his welcoming embrace of foreign multi-national corporations in every sector of the strategic mining sector:  iron, gold, petrol, zinc, lithium etc. Similarly Ecuador, while condemning US imperialism, terminating the US military base agreement in Manta and denouncing Texaco’s pollution of its oil site, has signed off in multiple oil agreements with Chinese and other foreign multi-nationals.  It has signed off on an IMF loan and retains the dollarization of the economy.

Venezuela which has consistently challenged US dominance in the Caribbean, Central America and elsewhere with aid programs, still depends on the US oil market for most of its exports and US food imports for most of its foodstuffs.  In addition the great bulk of its non-petrol economy is directly controlled by domestic and foreign capitalists.

Cuba’s relationship to imperialism is a more complex and changing phenomenon.  For nearly a half-century Cuba was in the forefront of global anti-imperialist struggles in Latin America, Africa and Asia backing their ideology with revolutionary volunteers, material and more support.

In recent decades, however, Cuba has shifted toward its domestic priorities, while retaining international solidarity in the areas of health and education. In line with its attempt to overcome bureaucratic bottlenecks and economic stagnation, the Cuban government has adopted a new economic strategy based on attracting foreign investment and gradually liberalizing the economy.

The problems facing the collectivist economy ae real; the needs for investments, markets and technology are great. But so are the political consequences resulting from adapting to the needs of foreign capital as far as the idea of sustaining an international anti-imperialist policy.  The accommodation with foreign multi-national capital in Cuba means that criticism, let alone opposition elsewhere will be diluted.

Anti-Imperialism, Yesterday and Today

The notion of anti-imperialism that emerged in the early 20th century and reached its peak in the late-middle of the 20th century, combining political (anti-colonialism) and economic (anti-foreign capital control)policies, has been ‘redefined’ in the 21st century. Today the practice of the ‘anti-imperialist quartet’, combines powerful opposition to military and political imperial expansion and collaborative association with the major foreign agro-mining multi-nationals. While denouncing the most extreme forms of US centered integration proposals and favoring regional integration and diversified trade agreements, the quartet has pursued a colonial style development strategy, emphasizing the export of primary commodities and the import of finished goods. “Anti-neo-liberalism” the battle-flag of the quartet, revolves around a more equitable distribution of the revenues from . . . free trade!

Thus the differences between the ‘radical’ and ‘moderate’ anti-imperialist regimes are greatly diluted when we consider the realm of international economic relations and policies.  And the differences between the moderate nucleus and the pro-imperialists in the realm of political alignments become blurred. The blurring lines and overlap have two effects.  One involves weakening the alignment of the pro-imperialists regimes with Washington especially on economic issues.  The second involves weakening the anti-imperialists, especially, but not exclusively, the ‘moderates’ support for anti-imperialist struggles.  There is a tendency to converge and redefine ‘anti-imperialism’ in political terms and to line-up with the pro-imperialists with the economic demands for greater trade, investment and growth.  This is the framework in which we now turn to examine how the contemporary ‘anti-imperialism’ relates to the class struggle.

Class Struggle and Anti-Imperialism of the 21st Century

The nature and scope of the class struggle has changed dramatically over the course of the 21st century.  The revolutionary struggles characterized by large scale worker occupation of factories as part of a political offensive have virtually disappeared.  Thegeneral strike as a weapon to block anti-labor legislation, austerity programs, welfare cuts and the onset of authoritarian regimes has become a rarity.

The decline of traditional industrial workers centered mass direct action is not wholly the result of diminished militancy.  Part of the reason is that ‘times have changed’ with the onset of center-left regimes.  In the aftermath of earlier popular upheavals during the previous decade, industrial workers have secured, incremental steady and persistent wage increases and access to tri-partite negotiations.

Secondly, with the shift to primarization of the economy, the manufacturing sector has ceased to be the dynamic center of development.  It has partially given way to the agro-mineral export sector.  Hence it no longer is numerically or qualitatively in a position to leverage power.

Thirdly, the center-left regimes in particular, have fostered mass consumer borrowing via easy credit terms, turning workers toward individual consumption over collective struggles for social consumption.

However, the diminution of the role of the industrial working class does not mean class struggle has been eliminated.  Moreover, new class forces, ‘working peoples’ movements have burst upon the scene, engaging in new forms of class, national and ethnic struggles against the new model of extractive capital and its backers, including in many cases the ‘anti-imperialist’ regimes.

This new ‘class struggle’ or more accurately popular social struggles, more frequently than not, revolves around economic relations; more specifically, the dispossession of land, the uprooting of communities, the colonization of land and resources by large-scale multi-national corporations and the destruction and contamination of water, air,crops and fish.

Major conflicts involve direct confrontations with the state – and pit the popular classes, including peasants, workers, local artisans, small businesspeople against the local and national repressive apparatus.

Unlike early ‘economistic’ struggles between workers and capital, the struggles today are directly political; popular demands are directed against state policies, development agencies and economic strategies.

The shift of the epicenter of class struggle has evolved over time, but has come to the fore over the past decade.  The historical change is necessary to understand the current configuration of class forces. In contemporary Latin America, we can identify (three) types of class- social struggles : the moderate, the militant and the radical.

Moderate Class Struggle

Moderate class-social struggle largely involves little mass involvement and direct action.  It is largely a process of elite negotiations between labor (union) officials, employers and the Labor Ministry.  It operates largely within the wage and salary framework (guidelines) established by the Finance Ministry.

This type of institutionalized class struggle paradoxically is a result of earlier militant class struggles in which regime change (the rise of the center-left) resulted in a ‘historical’ compromise in which labor was recognized as a ‘legitimate’ interlocutor, and wage and salary raises were granted in exchange for renouncing anti-capitalist struggles and challenges for state power. The regime’s subsequent shift to extractive capital and neo-colonial land grants, has not evoked any sustained struggle from the organized urban working class, encased in the tri-partite framework.

Militant Class Struggle

The struggles within and over  extractive capital involves new classes and social movements. This second type of social struggle involves militant mass direct action by classes and communities and takes place  in and around the centers of extractive capital.  The large scale colonization by invitation of land and minerals by multi-national corporations, aided and abetted by military and paramilitary forces, has provoked major confrontations throughout Latin America.

The protagonists of this militant form of class struggle involve provincial, semi-rural and rural community based organizations with ethnic, class and ecological driven agendas.

Radical Urban Class Struggle

The third type of social struggle revolves around mass urban based movements, demanding a massive reallocation of economic resources from corporate subsidies and tax exonerations to social spending on education, health, public transport and housing, increases in public social service employee salaries and the minimum wage.

Armed Struggle and Direct Action

The fourth type of social struggle includes armed rural struggle as in the case of the Colombian guerrillas, land occupations as in the case of the Rural Landless Workers movement in Brazil (MST) and the selective occupation of factories in Venezuela. This  form of class conflict is on the decline.The Colombian guerrillas are negotiating a peace accord.The MST land occupations have diminished .The Venezuelan labor movement is too fragmented and economistic to move toward a general offensive featuring factory occupations.

Types of Class Struggle:  According to Country

Latin America exhibits all four types of class- social struggle, but in varying degrees of prominence.  No single form of class conflict exists independently of other types.  However, we can identify the most prominent and dynamic forms which are most closely linked to the possibility of structural changes and which are linked to the dynamic extractive imperial sectors. We will identify countries where one or another type of struggle predominates and then proceed to analyze the relationship between ‘anti-imperialist countries’ and types of class struggle in the context of the growth of the extractive capital model.

Institutional Class Struggle:  Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia, Chile, Venezuela and Mexico

The major urban trade unions, in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Chile, Venezuela and Mexico are by and large engaged in collective bargaining mediated by the state, over wages, salaries, pensions, etc.  The behavior of the trade unions is dictated by an ideological affinity with the regimes in power (Center-Left) in the case of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela and Bolivia.  In other countries, repressive action by the state (Mexico, Paraguay) enforces conformity.  Struggles are limited in scope, duration and frequency.  More often than not the trade unions’ do not question, let alone challenge, the extractive imperial economic model.  In most cases the trade unions are not engaged with other popular movements involved in more consequential forms of class action in the agro-mineral sector or even in urban mass actions demanding changes in state budgets.

Mass Direct Action against Extractive Capital

Mass direct action against extractive capital is most intense and widespread in regions and sectors associated with the dynamic expansion of agro-mineral extraction.  With few exceptions, the greater the scope and expansion of extractive capitalist exploitation, the more likely there will occur large scale clashes, not only between capital and the popular classes, but with the state.

Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil have all been sites of conflicts between expanding extractive capital and the local communities, farmers, peasants, popular and civic organizations.  Provincial-wide strikes, road and transport blockages, occupations of work sites have led to the state intervening and military repression:the killing, wounding and arrest of numerous protestors.

The radicalism and militancy of the popular movements is a direct result of the material stakes which are involved.  In the first instance, local producers, whether farmers or artisan miners and households, are dispossessed, uprooted and abandoned.  Theirs is a struggle for the survival of a “way of life”.  Unlike other forms of struggle, urban or trade union, theirs is not over an incremental gain or loss in salary or wages.  Secondly, the struggle is over the basic necessities of everyday life:  clean air, unpolluted water, uncontaminated food, health and mortality.  Mining and agro-chemical export economic activity, absorbs irrigation water, pollutes drinking water, fills the air with deadly fumes.  Toxic chemicals, pesticides and herbicides are sprayed constantly, undermining the local economy and making the region unlivable.  Thirdly, local cultural and community customs and practices are eroded as large scale mining organizations draw the riff-raff of the world-prostitutes, drug dealers, smugglers.  In addition corporate-centered diversions erode class-community solidarity.

The extreme and pervasive erosion of social and personal relations, the radical uprooting and deterioration of everyday life provokes wide-spread and sustained militant social action which is directed at the state which promotes extractive capital as well as the foreign and national owners.  These struggles are political as well as economic and social, unlike the trade union ‘peso and centavos’ centered demands.

Mass Urban Struggles over Social Expenditures

During the World Cup extravaganza in Brazil, multi-million person mass demonstrations occurred demanding a massive shift in state priorities toward education, health and public transport.  In Chile for the better part of 2011-14, hundreds of thousands of students demanded free, public, quality higher education with the backing of community groups and teachers’ unions.

In Venezuela mass urban protests organized by rightwing parties and violent social movements, backed by Washington, attacked the national populist government, exploiting popular grievance against shortages of consumer goods, induced by corporate hoarding and contraband gangs.

Leftist trade unions engaged in counter-protests, as well as strikes over wages and in a few cases for a greater role in managing public enterprises.  More significantly hundreds of elected community councils have emerged and have formed parallel administrations, challenging local municipal governments on the left and right.  The demands for “popular power” include greater security and control of the distribution of consumer goods and prices.

In Argentina the mass urban struggles of the unemployed which led to successive regime changes in 2001-02 have practically disappeared, as has the factory occupation movement.  Dynamic growth led to a sharp reduction of unemployment and pension and wage increases.As a result the axis of social struggle has turned to the growth of movements protesting the depredations of extractive capital – in particular agro-toxic exploitation led by Monsanto.  This ‘struggle’, however, has little resonance in the large urban centers and among the trade unions,

Armed Struggle, Land Occupations and Revolutionary Transformation

The only regime changes through extra parliamentary means have been engineered or attempted by US backed military-oligarchical elites.  In Honduras a US backed junta overthrew the elected Center-Left Zelaya government; in Paraguay an oligarchical palace coup ousted the elected President Fernando Lugo.  Unsuccessful and aborted US backed coups took place in Venezuela 2002, 2003 and 2014; Bolivia in 2009; and Ecuador 2010.

In contrast social movement backed leftist parties  pursued and secured power via the electoral process throughout the continent.  In the course of which they played down class struggle and harnessed the movements, trade unions and political activists to their electoral machinery.  As a result the advent of the Center-Left to power was accompanied by the decline of class struggle.  The opening of the electoral route eliminated the revolutionary road to class power.  The armed struggle movements in Latin America declined or demobilized.  Revolutionary mass uprisings have led to changes and popular demobilizations.

The remaining center of armed popular action is Colombia, where the guerrilla movements (FARC, ELN) are currently in negotiations with the Santos regime over the socio-political and economic reforms which should accompany their incorporation to electoral and mass politics.

Nevertheless, land occupation movements in Honduras, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Colombia, persist even as their scope and intensity varies between countries and time frames.   Today ‘land occupations’ are tactic to block the expansion of extractive, agro-toxic – export corporations and  a vehicle to pressure for land reform, repossession of land and a key element in a strategy for ‘food security’ based on non-GM crops.

With the exception of the ‘institutionalized class struggle’, the other three types of class struggle clash with the dominant extractive imperialist development model pursued  by both pro-imperial and anti-imperial regimes.

Continuing Class Struggle:  In the Name of Anti-Imperialism and Imperial Centered Free Trade

The key to the growth of extractive imperialism has been the abilities of the regimes to contain, fragment, co-opt and/or repress the class struggle.  The reason is because extractive capital concentrates wealth, enriches the multi-national corporations, pillages wealth, reproduces a ‘colonial style’  trade relation and pollutes the environment.

Paradoxically the most successful extractive regimes, in terms of growth , stability and in containing the class struggle and attracting and retaining extractive capital, are the Center-Left regimes.  ‘Anti-imperialism’ has been a useful ideological weapon in securing legitimacy even as the regimes hand over vast territories for foreign capitalist exploitation.

Secondly, the incorporation of social movement and trade union leaders and former guerrilla militants to the center-left regimes creates a political cushion, a layer of savvy, well connected quasi-functionaries who set the boundaries for class struggle and adjudication of grievances.  Moreover, the center-left, use their “anti-imperialist” posture to disqualify class struggle activists as ‘agents of foreign powers”.  The center-left regimes then feel justified in repressing or jailing class struggle practioners as part of their mission of defending the “Nation”, “Change” or the “Revolution”.

Pro-imperialist regimes, like Peru, Mexico and Colombia rely to a greater extent on physical repression, less on co-optation or more likely a combination of both.  Large scale grants of land, are accompanied by regional or national militarization.  For the pro-imperialist right, anti-drug and anti-terrorist campaigns serve to justify their defense of the extractive capitalist model.

The anti-imperialist regimes speak of extractive capital with ‘social inclusion’ – the transfer of a fraction of extractive revenues to poverty-reduction – not to well paying jobs in industry or to reducing pollution or increasing spending on health, education and welfare .And certainly not to financing  any consequential land reform or increase in workers management of natural resource exploitation.

In sharp contrast to the past, contemporary anti-imperialism is also profoundly hostile to the politics of class struggle.  The key to the success of their extractive model is class collaboration: between the center-left regime , the multi-national corporations and the leaders of the co-opted class organizations.

Conclusion:  Wither the Class Struggle?

Building from the core struggles today, organized against the dynamics of extractive imperialism, there are clear signs that the regional struggles can expand beyond the agro-mineral sectors.

For one, the urban popular struggles over state expenditures, though anchored in a different set of priorities, pursues  the same enemy:  a state which allocates most resources to infrastructure designed to facilitate extractive revenues over and above the deteriorating socio-economic conditions of the urban middle and working class.  Secondly, the struggles against the extractive sector have secured important victories against Monsanto in Argentina and the mining and oil companies in Peru, Ecuador and Mexico.  These are partial and limited gains, but demonstrate that the ‘extractive model’ is vulnerable and susceptible to challenge by unified mass based community movements.

Moreover, the entire structure of the extractive imperial model is based on vulnerable foundations.  The rapid growth and rise in revenues is based in large part on world demand and high commodity prices.

China’s growth is slowing.The European Union is in recession .The US has not demonstrated any capacity to return as the ‘locomotor’ of the world economy. If and when the commodity mega boom collapses, the capacity of the regimes to contain the class struggle by co-opting the urban trade unions and social movement leaders will wither.  The current alliance between “anti-imperialists” and global extractive capital will splinter.

If and when that occurs, the real anti-imperialist struggle combating the imperial firms as well as the state will once again converge with the class struggle.  In the meantime, the epicenter of class struggle will be found in mass movements, not in guerrilla detachments; in the agro-mineral regions and not in the urban factories; in the struggles over allocations of state budgets and the quality of life and not merely in wages and salaries.

The specific extractive character of imperialism suggests that the previous undifferentiated view of ‘imperialism’ and “anti-imperialism” is no longer relevant:  the distinctions between progressive and reactionary regimes need to be re-conceptualized.

How to Forgive Your Torturer The River Kwai Passes Through Latin America and Washington

Kerry: Era of Monroe Doctrine in Latin America is over (link)

Kerry: Era of Monroe Doctrine in Latin America is over.

Snowden and Latin America Expose Washington’s Impotence in a Changing World

By Finian Cunningham

July 22, 2013 “Information Clearing House –   One of America’s genuine heroes, Major General Smedley D Butler revealed in his memoirs the true, abhorrent nature of Washington’s foreign policy. Butler had led countless military operations in Central America and the Caribbean as a US Marines Corp commander in the era of “gunboat diplomacy” during the early 1900s. Years after his retirement, he spoke out candidly and ruefully of his highly decorated military service in a book entitled War is a Racket. Here is how Butler characterized with unsparing words his service for country in 1935, five years before his death:

“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism”.

Awarded twice with a Medal of Honor, Butler in his later life was scathing about official US government ideological pretensions, such as “Manifest Destiny”, that presume to enlighten the rest of the world on the principles of human rights and international law. Under the veneer of maintaining foreign policy and relations, Butler knew from his own sordid experience that Washington’s conduct was in essence to provide the military wing of American capitalism.

The retired US general described his role thus:

“I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903″.

More than seven decades after Butler’s death, another American hero is today revealing again the brute nature of the US government and its foreign relations.Edward Snowden, who formerly worked as an intelligence analyst at the National Security Agency, has lifted the lid on a global system of criminal spying and information gathering by his government.

The 30-year-old former CIA contractor has disclosed how Washington has systematically broken international laws and treaties against dozens of countries, violating the sovereign rights of governments, diplomatic institutions, private companies and millions of citizens around the world and within the US. Not only this, but Snowden, along with journalists like Glenn Greenwald at the British Guardian newspaper, has revealed beyond dispute how senior US government officials and politicians, including President Barack Obama, have willfully lied to or misled their own people and Congress under questioning about this clandestine activity. The secret activities that Snowden has unearthed through his courageous disclosures represent grave violations of the American Constitution and the subsequent mendacious “explanations” and “justifications” invoked by Obama and others represent further compound this vast impeachable criminality.

This systematic secret surveillance first began under President George W Bush soon after 9/11 and greatly expanded under the Obama administrations. Since Snowden’s recent disclosures, these secret programs have been retrospectively justified as defensive measures necessitated by the putative “War on Terror”. When Snowden first began blowing the whistle after he fled the US to Hong Kong early last month, the US government has tried to play down the violations, claiming that they were minor infringements on personal privacy outweighed by the security needs of the nation.

But what Snowden has gone on to reveal explodes the myth about the so-called War on Terror. Earlier revelations showed how Washington has been spying systematically on Russia and China. While this is not in any way legally justifiable, those transgressions could be expected and perhaps understandable given the lingering enmities of the Cold War. But in subsequent reports, what has transpired is that the US, enabled by its partner-in-crime British intelligence, has been spying on supposed allies, including the governments and citizens of Western Europe. In the latest trove of disclosures, Washington has overseen blanket surveillance over the entire continent of Latin America, including those countries deemed to be allies or friendly states such as Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Costa Rica, Panama and El Salvador.

Despite initial protestations by President Obama and senior officials, including General Keith Alexander, the NSA chief, and National Intelligence Director James Clapper, that the sole purpose of the surveillance programs was to counter terrorism, it has now become patently clear that the real purpose of American offensive spying is to target sovereign governments, their economies and their citizens. Since when did the governments and citizens of Western Europe, including NATO member countries France and Germany, become havens for terror networks plotting to destroy the US?

Clearly, the US (and British) official justification for surveillance – the War on Terror – is a façade to mask what is otherwise criminal information gathering for other purposes. This is underscored by the recent revelations that Washington has been tapping and hacking into its South American neighbors.

At the weekend’s 45th summit of the Latin American trade bloc, Mercosur, in the Uruguayan capital, Mondevideo, government leaders roundly condemned Washington’s illicit eavesdropping and snooping. Bolivia’s President Evo Morales told delegates how his private communications and those of his senior aides have been violated by US intelligence. Argentina’s Foreign Minister Hector Timerman also told the summit how his government has been transgressed. Likewise Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay and Peru. Even the rightwing government of Colombia, which is a close ally of Washington and the third biggest recipient of American military aid after Israel and Egypt, has been spied on by the US, and is now angrily demanding an explanation from Washington.

It is not altogether surprising that Washington has been tapping into government communications in Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua since these countries are strident critics of Yankee imperialism. Nevertheless even taking this antipathy towards Washington into account, there are no objectively justifiable grounds for US ubiquitous spying. None of the South American states have remotely any connection with harboring a terrorist threat towards the US. So right there, the official Washington rationale for its spying network collapses into dust.

What the revelations of US spying on Latin America expose demonstratively is not only the charade of the entire War on Terror pretext but also the real, imperialist motive underpinning this illegal activity. Snowden’s latest disclosures published in Brazil’s largest daily newspaper O Globo show that a major purpose for Washington’s snooping on the continent was to gather sensitive industrial and commercial information. A predominant concern for Washington is to collate information on South America’s energy industry. Venezuela, Mexico, Brazil and Ecuador are not only major suppliers of oil to the US, but with the latter’s plans to reinvigorate its own domestic oil and gas industries, South America also represents a major energy trade competitor.

This imperialist attitude and policy – unacceptable in a world of equals and international law – is further revealed by Washington’s campaign to intimidate Latin American countries from offering Edward Snowden political asylum. The American whistleblower has been stuck in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo international airport since he arrived from Hong Kong on 23 June en route to Ecuador, because the US government cancelled his passport. Snowden has now applied for temporary asylum in Russia from where he still intends to eventually seek refuge in one of the Latin American countries, such as Bolivia, Venezuela or Nicaragua.

But Washington is stepping up the rhetoric to warn Latin American countries against receiving Snowden. Last week, the presidential aircraft of Bolivia’s Evo Morales was forced to make an emergency landing in Austria during a return trip from an energy conference in Russia, hosted by President Putin. During that conference, Morales voiced his support for Snowden. Hours later, Washington instructed European countries, France, Spain, Portugal and Italy to withdraw over-flight clearance for the presidential jet on the alleged suspicion that Snowden was onboard. The young American wasn’t onboard, but Morales and his cabinet ministers were made to wait 13 hours in Vienna’s airport before receiving clearance to continue their onward flight.

The violation of Bolivia’s sovereignty – at Washington’s behest – was rightly denounced by the Bolivian government as an “act of piracy” and “aggression”. It was an unmistakably blunt display of intimidation towards Bolivia and other Latin American countries to show the reckless measures that Washington is prepared to take in order to arraign Snowden and prosecute him for espionage in the US.

Washington has since followed up with threatening communications to all the Latin American capitals, including personal phone calls from US Vice President Joe Biden to heads of state. “There is not a country in the hemisphere whose government does not understand our position at this point”, a senior State Department official told the New York Times. The official added that if any Latin American country were to offer Snowden asylum that it “would put relations in a very bad place for a long time to come”.

However, the Latin American countries are not backing down, as they might have done in times past. The four founding members of Mercosur – Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela – expressed solidarity with Bolivia over the infringement in Europe and announced that they were recalling their ambassadors from France, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

“We’ve taken a number of actions in order to compel public explanations and apologies from the European nations that assaulted our brother Evo Morales”,Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro said.

In a statement, the Mercosur members condemned the “unacceptable behavior” by European countries “that breaches our sovereignty and harms relations between nations”.

“The gravity of the incident – indicative of a neocolonial mindset – constitutes an unfriendly and hostile act, which violates human rights and impedes freedom of travel, as well as the treatment and immunity appropriate to a head of state,” the joint statement said.

Bolivia’s Morales has also threatened to shut down the US embassy in La Paz. “We don’t need it anyway”, he said. Already, France and Spain have been forced into offering apologies to Bolivia.

Whether Edward Snowden manages to obtain safe passage to his destination remains to be seen over the coming weeks. He has said that he has even more damaging disclosures about US government malpractices. From Washington’s desperation to apprehend the whistleblower, it would seem that the US government is also anticipating some very compromising revelations. So, from that viewpoint, it can be surmised that Snowden’s safety is gravely at risk.

Meanwhile, we can take stock of several important historical insights drawn from the Snowden affair, accentuated by the latest revelations and tensions over Latin America. Foremost is that the illegal global spying network set up by Washington over the past decade can be seen to have nothing to do with fighting terrorism. Indeed, it can be inferred from Washington’s secret criminality against a host of neutral and friendly states that the “War on Terror” is a risible charade that not even the US government believes in. The real purpose for Washington’s violations of international law and the sovereignty of other nations is to do with maximizing political and economic advantages, or in a word – imperialism. Needless to say such misconduct is wholly reprehensible and unacceptable. This is clearly the case when it comes to the countries of Latin America, which have never posed a security threat to the US.

In fact, the security threat that exists on that continent emanates, as it always has done, from Washington towards the countries of Latin America. A long, baleful history of US-led coups, death squads, state terrorism, blockades and outright wars is consistent with Snowden’s revelations of Washington’s wholesale spying and manipulation against its southern neighbors. When the so-called War on Terror façade is swept away, what we see is essentially the “gangster imperialism” of the US that Major General Smedley Butler spoke of nearly a century ago. In that way, not much has changed in terms of the brute nature of US foreign policy serving as a military wing of American capitalism.

On the other hand, times have changed substantially. US political and economic power is no longer what it once was. The country is undergoing a historic social meltdown that betrays the moribund state of capitalism in the 21st century. The ordinary public, both in North and South America, are much more aware of international law and rights, even if the US government isn’t, as well as being more aware of the transparent fraudulence of Washington’s politicians and media on almost everything they say. Snowden’s immense support from the public, as shown in recent polls, demonstrates that the official accusations against him are dismissed in the court of popular opinion. Furthermore, today the countries of Latin America are also more cohesive and confident in asserting their independence from Washington. They are no longer malleable to the devious desires of Washington’s corporations and banks as in a bygone era.

It is still completely unacceptable that Washington and the old colonial has-been powers of Europe can presume to bully other nations to hound down an honorable truth-teller such as Edward Snowden. Nonetheless, their evident impotency to effect their malicious objective shows that the world has changed significantly from the “good-old days” of unilateral gunboat diplomacy.

Latin American governments blast hijacking in Snowden manhunt

By Bill Van Auken 
6 July 2013
Five South American heads of state joined with Evo Morales in Cochabamba Thursday to denounce the US-instigated grounding of the Bolivian president’s plane. The action was ostensibly taken in response to faulty intelligence that the former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who has exposed massive illegal spying by the NSA, was on board the aircraft.
On Friday, speaking on the occasion of Venezuela’s Independence Day, President Nicolas Maduro said he would offer asylum to Snowden. “In the name of America’s dignity… I have decided to offer humanitarian asylum to Edward Snowden,” he told a televised military parade. It is not clear whether Maduro is attaching any conditions to the offer.
Also on Friday, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega appeared to make a conditional offer of asylum. Speaking at a public event, he said, “If circumstances permit it, we would receive Snowden with pleasure and give him asylum here in Nicaragua.”
The meeting on Thursday, which included half of the heads of state of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR, its acronym in Spanish), was convened after Morales returned to Bolivia aboard a presidential jet that had been detoured from its approved flight path Tuesday and forced to land in Vienna, Austria, where it remained for nearly 14 hours.
Some three hours into the plane’s flight from Moscow, the governments of France, Portugal, Italy and Spain refused it permission to travel through their airspace, compelling it to make the emergency landing in Vienna due to dwindling fuel. The actions of these governments was in violation of international treaties and air traffic agreements and placed the lives of Morales and other senior Bolivian officials on board at risk.
The joint declaration issued following the meeting between Morales and Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Uruguayan President Jose “Pepe” Mujica and the president of Surinam, Desi Bouters, accused the European powers of turning the Bolivian president into “virtually a hostage” and setting “a dangerous precedent in relation to existing international law.”
It went on to demand that the governments of France, Portugal, Italy and Spain provide explanations for their actions and issue “public apologies” for the “grave acts” committed against Morales.
The statement denounced the extraordinary forcing down of a head of state’s aircraft in mid-flight as an example of “neo-colonial practices” and condemned “illegal acts of espionage that threaten citizens’ rights and the friendly co-existence between nations.”
The statement made no direct mention, however, of Edward Snowden, the target of the extra-legal US manhunt, whose reported presence on Morales’ plane was the motive for the European governments’ bellicose actions.
The former NSA contractor is reportedly still trapped in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, where he arrived on June 23. According to WikiLeaks, he has made applications for asylum to 27 countries, many of which have summarily rejected his request.
The governments of Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela have indicated that they would consider his bid for asylum. The Ecuadorean government, however, made a sharp shift from its earlier cooperation with Snowden. Having initially provided him a safe-passage document for his flight from Hong Kong to Moscow, it then declared the move a “mistake” and rescinded the document. Quito has since insisted that Snowden would have to be on Ecuadorean soil before asylum could be considered.
Venezuela’s President Maduro, meanwhile, announced that his government would await “the reaction of the world” before deciding on the asylum request.
While in Moscow attending a summit of gas-exporting nations, Morales gave the most forthright statement on Snowden’s appeal, stating that Bolivia was “ready to accept those who disclose espionage.” Asked directly if he would grant asylum, Morales replied, “Yes. Why not?”
It is by no means clear whether the US really suspected that Snowden was on Morales’ aircraft—which departed from a different airport than the one where the ex-NSA contractor has been confined—or whether it sought through an act of international gangsterism against the Bolivian president to intimidate anyone considering aiding Snowden.
Spain’s foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, in an interview with Spanish state television, TVE, rejected the demand from UNASUR, insisting that his government had no reason to apologize.
“They told us he [Snowden] was inside” the plane, he said, while claiming that Spain’s overflight authorization had not been rescinded, but merely expired after France and Portugal refused to allow Morales’ plane to enter their airspace. “The reactions of the European countries was because of the information that they gave us that he was inside,” he added.
While García-Margallo did not volunteer who “they” were, he was asked directly whether the Spanish government had been in telephone contact with US officials regarding the incident. “That information remains secret,” he replied.
Morales has charged that while he was detained on the ground in Vienna, the Spanish ambassador to Austria came to the airport and asked to be invited onto the airplane “to have a coffee.” The Bolivian president refused, charging that the request amounted to a thinly veiled attempt to search the aircraft for Snowden. “I am not a criminal,” he declared.
For its part, Washington has refused to comment on the widespread charges that it instigated the forcing down of Morales’ plane, which amounts to an act of war between nations.
Venezuela’s President Maduro stated that a European minister “told me personally that it was the CIA that gave the order to the air traffic authorities, which gave the alert that Snowden was going in the plane.”
Both Bolivia and Venezuela have rejected demands from Washington that they extradite Snowden should he land on their soil. The extradition request arrived in La Paz just a day after Morales’ ordeal in his flight back from Moscow.
The Bolivian foreign ministry described the request as “strange, illegal and unfounded,” given that Snowden wasn’t even in the country.
For his part, Morales threatened to expel the US diplomatic mission and shut down its embassy. “We don’t need the pretext of cooperation and diplomatic relations so that they can come and spy on us,” said the Bolivian president.
Venezuela’s Maduro said that his government had received a similar request from Washington. He rejected it saying that Washington has “no moral authority” to pursue Snowden after he exposed “crimes against humanity.”
“They have no moral authority to request the extradition of a young man who exposed the illegality under which the Pentagon, the CIA and the power of the US work,” said Maduro. “I reject any request they are making for extradition.”
The Venezuelan president added that the US government should first comply with Venezuela’s demand for the extradition of Luis Posada Carriles, who is wanted in Venezuela for the 1976 terrorist bombing of a Cuban passenger plane that killed all 78 people aboard. The US has rejected the request and effectively provided the Miami-based Cuban exile terrorist with political asylum.
Bolivia can make a similar case, with Washington dismissing its demands for the extradition of the country’s former president, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, who is wanted not for exposing government crimes, as in the case of Snowden, but rather for massacring scores of unarmed demonstrators.
Snowden’s life remains in grave danger, with the Obama administration demanding his return to face espionage charges, which carry a potential death penalty. As the Morales episode makes clear, Washington is prepared to kill him or those it believes are aiding him.

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Latin America is Ready to Defy the US over Snowden and Other Issues

Latin America has long lived in the US shadow, but the fact that some countries might take Snowden shows how that’s changed
By Stephen Kinzer 
June 25, 2013 “Information Clearing House – “The Guardian” —- No offense to Iceland, but Latin America is where the fugitive leakerEdward Snowden should settle.
He apparently has the same idea. News reports suggest that he is in Moscow awaiting transport to Cuba, Venezuela, and/or Ecuador. A Facebook post suggests Bolivia may have granted Snowden asylum. Nothing has been heard from Nicaragua, Peru, Brazil, or Argentina, but any or all might also welcome him.
Any country that grants asylum to Snowden risks retaliation from the United States, including diplomatic isolation and costly trade sanctions. Several don’t seem to care. The fact that Latin America has become the favored refuge for a United States citizen accused of treason and espionage is an eye-popping reminder of how fully the continent has emerged from Washington’s shadow.
“Latin America is not gone, and we want to keep it,” President Richard Nixon told aides as he was pressing the covert operation that brought down the Chilean government in 1973. A decade later, the Reagan administration was fighting proxy wars in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. In the 1980s the US Army invaded two Caribbean countries, Grenada and Panama, to depose leaders who had defied Washington.
During the 1990s the United States sought to impose the “Washington Consensus” on Latin American governments. It embodied what Latin Americans call “neo-liberal” principles: budget cuts, privatization, deregulation of business, and incentives for foreign companies. This campaign sparked bitter resistance and ultimately collapsed.
In spite of these military, political, and economic assaults – or perhaps because of them – much of Latin America has become profoundly dissatisfied with the made-in-USA model. Some of the continent’s most popular leaders rose to power by denouncing the “Washington Consensus” and pledging to pull their countries out of the United States orbit.
Because President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela was the most flamboyant of these defiant leaders, some outsiders may have expected that following his death, the region would return to its traditional state of submission. In fact, not just a handful of leaders but huge populations in Latin America have decided that they wish for more independence from Washington.
This is vital for Snowden because it reduces the chances that a sudden change of government could mean his extradition. If he can make it to Latin America, he will never lack for friends or supporters.
One would be the American-educated President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, an avowed socialist and admirer of Fidel Castro. In 2009 Correa forced the United States to abandon its military base in his country, despite repeated protests from Washington. He has already granted a form of asylum to Wiki-leaks founder Julian Assange, who is living inside the Ecuadoran embassy in London. Having publicly welcomed Assange to “the club of the persecuted,” he would presumably embrace Snowden as another member.
Ecuador, with its long coastline, majestic mountains, and lush rain forest, is an ideal place for such a club to assemble. It is more than twice the size of Iceland and considerably warmer. Its people, not just its president, are known for gentle hospitality.
From Ecuador, Snowden could travel widely. Everything from the splendor of Bolivia’s Lake Titicaca to the vibrancy of teeming Caracas awaits him. With luck, he might even be able to visit Guatemala in September to attend the grand festival being planned for the 100th anniversary of the birth of Jacobo Arbenz, the reformist president who the United States deposed in 1954.
Snowden would have much to celebrate upon landing in Latin America, and much to anticipate. He might not be truly free, however. Some in Washington have raised his case, like those of Assange and Corporal Bradley Manning, into major national security tests. They might press for a “rendition” in which Snowden would be snatched and brought home for trial.
Two breathtakingly different possible lives await Snowden. If the United States has its way, he will probably end up with something like the long prison sentence that is being prepared for Corporal Manning. If not, he could spend years in an Ecuadoran beach town like Playas, where the lobster is cheap, the sunsets are spectacular, and internet connections could keep him on the front line of the information war for years.

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Latinamerican Leaders Praise Chavez

All Latinamerican leaders expressed their deep sorrow over the death of President Hugo Chavez, and several of them will be travelling to Caracas for his funeral scheduled next Friday.
By MercoPress
March 06, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – “MercoPress” – Argentine president Cristina Fernandez suspended all official activities, declared three days of mourning and will be flying to Caracas for the funeral. Cristina Fernández decided to leave Wednesday morning in the Tango 01 presidential plane along with her Uruguayan counterpart José “Pepe” Mujica, Planning Minister Julio de Vido and Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman.
Likewise Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff cancelled this week’s visit to Argentina and is planning to travel to Caracas for the funeral of Chavez. During an official ceremony Rousseff said that “in many occasions the Brazilian government did not fully concord with President Chavez”, but “today and as always we acknowledge him as a great leader, and an irreparable loss, and above all a loyal friend of Brazil and of its people”.
The Brazilian leader said she regretted the loss “not only as president but also as a person for which I had great affection”
Former president Lula da Silva also expressed ‘deep sorrow” over the death of President Chavez and in “this very sad day, all my solidarity with the Venezuelan people”.
Uruguayan president Jose Mujica also expressed his deep pain over the loss of ‘companion-commander’ Chavez and trusted the Venezuelan people and its government would continue to ‘strengthen democracy” of which the deceased leader was a “great builder”.
Bolivia’s Evo Morales who had special admiration for Chavez left Tuesday night for Caracas and decreed a full week of mourning and flags at half mast.
“Undoubtedly we had our differences, but I always admired the strength and commitment with which president Chavez battled for his ideas. He was a man profoundly committed to the integration of Latinamerica”, said Chilean president Sebastian Piñera.
From Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto expressed his “deep condolence” over the loss of President Chavez. “My feelings are with his family and with the Venezuelan people, and for Venezuela to continue along the path of democracy”.
Peruvian president Ollanta Humala sent to the Venezuelan people “Bolivarian, South American and Latinamerican solidarity” and wished that in such difficult moments, “unity and reflection will prevail in such a way that things can go ahead peacefully and along the democratic track”.
From El Salvador president Mauricio Funes said Venezuela has not only lost a president, but a patriot, a man who transformed his country and “ruled for the people, changing the inequality and exclusion that prevailed in the country before he was elected to office”.
Finally the Organization of American States Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza expressed condolences to the government and people of Venezuela regretting the sad news of the death of President Chavez.
“In a moment of such pain and sorrow for the Venezuelan people, we are next to you together with the rest of the peoples of the Americas”, said the OAS release. OAS flags will fly at half mast and there will be an extraordinary meeting of the Permanent Council to the memory of President Chavez.

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Think There’s No Alternative? Latin America Has A Few

Not only have leaders from Ecuador to Venezuela delivered huge social gains – they keep winning elections too
By Seumas Milne 
February 20, 2013 “The Guardian” — Ever since the crash of 2008 exposed the rotten core of a failed economic model, we’ve been told there are no viable alternatives. As Europe sinks deeper into austerity, governing parties of whatever stripe are routinely rejected by disillusioned voters – only to be replaced by others delivering more welfare cuts, privatisation and inequality.
So what should we make of a part of the world where governments have resolutely turned their back on that model, slashed poverty and inequality, taken back industries and resources from corporate control, massively expanded public services and democratic participation – and keep getting re-elected in fiercely contested elections?
That is what has been happening in Latin America for a decade. The latest political leader to underline the trend is the radical economistRafael Correa, re-elected as president of Ecuador at the weekend with an increased 57% share of the vote, while Correa’s party won an outright majority in parliament.
But Ecuador is now part of a well-established pattern. Last October the much reviled but hugely popular Hugo Chávez, who returned home on Monday after two months of cancer treatment in Cuba, was re-elected president of Venezuela with 55% of the vote after 14 years in power in a ballot far more fraud-proof than those in Britain or the US. That followed the re-election of Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Latin America’s first indigenous president, in 2009; the election of Lula’s nominated successor Dilma Rousseff in Brazil in 2010; and of Cristina Fernandez in Argentina in 2011.
Despite their differences, it’s not hard to see why. Latin America was the first to experience the disastrous impact of neoliberal dogma and the first to revolt against it. Correa was originally elected in the wake of an economic collapse so devastating that one in 10 left the country. Since then his “citizen’s revolution” has cut poverty by nearly a third and extreme poverty by 45%. Unemployment has been slashed, while social security, free health and education have been rapidly expanded – including free higher education, now a constitutional right – while outsourcing has been outlawed.
And that has been achieved not only by using Ecuador’s limited oil wealth to benefit the majority, but by making corporations and the well-off pay their taxes (receipts have almost tripled in six years), raising public investment to 15% of national income, extending public ownership, tough renegotiation of oil contracts and re-regulating the banking system to support development.
Many of the things, in fact, that conventional “free market” orthodoxy insists will lead to ruin, but have instead delivered rapid growth and social progress. Correa’s government has also closed the US military base at Manta (he’d reconsider, he said, if the US “let us put a military base in Miami”), expanded gay, disability and indigenous rights and adopted some of the most radical environmental policies in the world. Those include the Yasuni initiative, under which Ecuador waives its right to exploit oil in a uniquely biodiverse part of the Amazon in return for international contributions to renewable energy projects.
But what is happening in Ecuador is only part of a progressive tide that has swept Latin America, as social democratic and radical socialist governments have attacked social and racial inequality, challenged US domination and begun to create genuine regional integration and independence for the first time in 500 years. And given what’s already been delivered to the majority, it’s hardly surprising they keep getting re-elected.
It says more about the western media (and their elite Latin American counterparts) than governments such as Ecuador’s and Venezuela’s that they are routinely portrayed as dictatorial. Part of that canard is about US hostility. In the case of Ecuador, it’s also been fuelled by fury at Correa’s decision to give asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who faces sexual assault allegations in Sweden, over the threat of onward extradition to the US. In reality, the real anti-democratic menace comes from the US’s own allies, who launched abortive coups against both Chávez and Correa – and successful ones in Honduras in 2009 and Paraguay last year.
Of course, Latin America’s left-leaning governments have no shortage of failings, from corruption to crime. In Ecuador and elsewhere, tensions between the demands of development, the environment and indigenous rights have sharpened. And none of these experiences yet offer any kind of ready-made social or economic alternative model.
There is also a question whether the momentum of continental change can be maintained now that Chávez, who spearheaded it, is expected to stand down in the next few weeks. His anointed successor, the former trade unionist Nicolás Maduro, is in a strong position to win new elections. But neither he nor the charismatic Correa is likely to be able to match Chávez’s catalytic regional role.
Latin America’s transformation is nevertheless deeply rooted and popular, while a discredited right has little to offer. For the rest of the world, it makes a nonsense of the idea that five years into the crisis nothing can be done but more of the same. True, these are economies and societies at a very different stage of development, and their experiences can’t simply be replicated elsewhere. But they have certainly shown there are multiple alternatives to neoliberal masochism – which win elections, too.
Twitter: @SeumasMilne

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The Monroe Doctrine Turned on Its Head?

CELAC Rising
By Manuel R. Gómez
February 02, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – Last Monday, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (CELAC) met for its second summit in Santiago, Chile, one year after its founding meeting in Caracas, Venezuela in 2011. The Summit is the culmination of roughly a decade of efforts to create a viable mechanism for greater integration in the Americas, and particularly a year of planning by a “troika” of representatives from, believe it or not, Chile, Venezuela and Cuba. They were able to pull it off successfully, despite their obvious differences, and all 33 presidents or heads of state from the region attended, with the exception of Hugo Chavez from Venezuela, who sent a letter with his Vice-President Nicolás Maduro.
CELAC explicitly excludes the US and Canada, a historic first for a hemispheric organization with huge symbolic importance, because it answers a long-standing dream for unity of the subcontinent that harks back to Simón Bolívar and the struggles for independence from the European colonial powers. Beyond the symbolism, however, it is strategically crucial: It means that there is now a subcontinent bloc of developing nations that can speak with one voice,, and also serve as a counterweight to US political and economic hegemony.
In the days preceding the Summit, the group also held another summit, its first one with the European Union. Germany’s Angela Merkel, Spain’s Mariano Rajoy and more than two dozen other heads of state or foreign ministers from the Continent were present, along with top leaders of the European Commission. The meeting focused on collaboration in trade and mutual investment, which is no surprise. The EU is the biggest foreign investor in the area, and it is very interested in attracting investors from the region. This meeting with the EU is no fluke. According to the EU’s webpage: From now on, CELAC will be “the EU’s counterpart for the bi-regional partnership process, including at summit level.” This is no trivial bureaucratic change.
The independent character of CELAC is best illustrated through some of the otherwise routine details of the event. The rotating one-year presidency of the organization was passed from the conservative President of Chile Sebastián Piñera to the President of Cuba, Raúl Castro, who will hold the reins on behalf of the organization until the next summit in Havana next year, supported by a new “troika” that will include Chile, Costa Rica–the next president–as well as Haiti as a representative of Caricom, the regional organization of the Caribbean island nations! No wonder that, according to the AP, Argentine President Cristina Fernández remarked that “Cuba’s assumption of the presidency of the CELAC marks a change of times.” And if anyone doubts that CELAC confirms the successful reintegration of Cuba into hemispheric organizations, note that one of the few unanimous declarations from both summits was a call for an end to the US embargo against Cuba.
The organization also is born and gains strength, while, “most governments are not taking the OAS seriously,” and in a letter to the State Department last November, Senators Kerry, Menendez, Lugar and Rubio write that the OAS “is sliding into and administrative and financial paralysis,” that threatens to condemn it to “irrelevance.”
The summit concluded with a joint declaration and plan of action, already begun in 2011. These emphasize numerous areas of integration and coordination through work groups and events in areas as diverse as addressing the impact of the world financial crisis and creating regional financial structures, sustainable development and environmental issues, a regional energy strategy, new mechanisms for regional collaboration, as well as education, poverty, food security, and social justice. In his brief acceptance speech upon assuming the presidency, Raúl Castro emphasized the goal of a unified voice to speak on behalf of the subcontinent, while respecting the diversity of its membership. His comments echoed many in the opening speech by President Piñera and the addresses of many other heads of state.
Make no mistake. CELAC is no panacea; there will be plenty of obstacles to its eventual success. There is no lack of skeptics who have already tried to characterize it as little more than an occasional forum for presidential speeches. The clash of interests between the EU and the subcontinent will make it difficult to reach agreement on key issues such as protectionism and immigration. The reasons for joining and supporting CELAC range as widely as the many disparate political, economic and social systems of the subcontinent nations, so unity will not come easily. There are also plenty of bilateral and regional historical obstacles—such as Bolivia’s dispute with Chile over access to the sea–that have torpedoed earlier integration attempts. Not to mention that the US will likely try to sabotage it actively, even if the only official US comment about CELAC came when a State Department press spokesman in 2011blandly commented that the US considered the OAS the “pre-eminent” hemispheric organization.
Yet here we are seeing something like the Monroe Doctrine turned on its head, excluding the US while seeking to deepen ties with many of the old colonial powers, led by CELAC, a new regional bloc of nations, designated as the “the EU’s counterpart for the bi-regional partnership process” and led for its coming year by Cuba and its President, Raúl Castro, who assumes the presidency from the hands of the conservative Chilean President Piñera! And the new organization is born as the OAS is faltering, and it also adopts and reiterates a unanimous repudiation of the US embargo against Cuba, as well as supporting Argentina on its claims on the Malvinas. No wonder Argentine President Fernández is reported to have said, “For Chilean President Sebastián Piñera to transfer the presidency pro-tempore to Castro shows the times we are living.”
And these are indeed different times, yet the mainstream US media barely mentioned this historic event—much less examine its significance, just as it largely failed to report on its founding meeting in late 2011 (CounterPunch, December 21, 2011). Never mind the multiple potential and actual impacts of these regional developments, only a few of which are sketched here, or that the Chilean press reported more than 1300 journalists from 35 countries were present to cover the event, with the “largest press room ever installed in Chile” for such a gathering.
There is something very wrong with this picture and with our media; it would do the US public and leaders well to pay attention to CELAC, and all the currents that have created it.
Manuel R. Gómez is a scientist in Washington, DC who emigrated from Cuba when he was 13 in 1961. He serves on the Board of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, a Washington-based educational non-profit organization that advocates engagement with Cuba.
This article was originally posted at Counterpunch

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History Never Ends

Why is justice a one-eyed blind woman?
I Hate to Bother You
By Eduardo Galeano
January 26, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – I’d like to share with you some questions–some flies that keep buzzing in my head.
Is justice right side up? 
Has world justice been frozen in an upside-down position? 
The shoe-thrower of Iraq, the man who hurled his shoes at Bush, was condemned to three years in prison. Doesn’t he deserve, instead, a medal?
Who is the terrorist? The hurler of shoes or their recipient? Is not the real terrorist the serial killer who, lying, fabricated the Iraq war, massacred a multitude, and legalized and ordered torture? 
Who are the guilty ones–the people of Atenco, in Mexico, the indigenous Mapuches of Chile, the Kekchies of Guatemala, the landless peasants of Brazil—all being accused of the crime of terrorism for defending their right to their own land? If the earth is sacred, even if the law does not say so, aren’t its defenders sacred too? 
According to Foreign Policy Magazine, Somalia is the most dangerous place in the world. But who are the pirates? The starving people who attack ships or the speculators of Wall Street who spent years attacking the world and who are now rewarded with many millions of dollars for their pains?
Why does the world reward its ransackers?
Why is justice a one-eyed blind woman? Wal-Mart, the most powerful corporation on earth, bans trade unions. McDonald’s, too. Why do these corporations violate, with criminal impunity, international law? Is it because in this contemporary world of ours, work is valued as lower than trash and workers’ rights are valued even less?
Who are the righteous and who are the villains? If international justice really exists, why are the powerful never judged? The masterminds of the worst butcheries are never sent to prison. Is it because it is these butchers themselves who hold the prison keys?
What makes the five nations with veto power in the United Nations inviolable? Is it of a divine origin, that veto power of theirs? Can you trust those who profit from war to guard the peace?
Is it fair that world peace is in the hands of the very five nations who are also the world’s main producers of weapons? Without implying any disrespect to the drug runners, couldn’t we refer to this arrangement as yet another example of organized crime?
Those who clamor, everywhere, for the death penalty are strangely silent about the owners of the world. Even worse, these clamorers forever complain about knife-wielding murderers, yet say nothing about missile-wielding arch-murderers.
And one asks oneself: Given that these self-righteous world owners are so enamored of killing, why pray don’t they try to aim their murderous proclivities at social injustice? Is it a just a world when, every minute, three million dollars are wasted on the military, while at the same time fifteen children perish from hunger or curable disease? Against whom is the so-called international community armed to the teeth? Against poverty or against the poor?
Why don’t the champions of capital punishment direct their ire at the values of the consumer society, values which pose a daily threat to public safety? Or doesn’t, perhaps, the constant bombardment of advertising constitute an invitation to crime? Doesn’t that bombardment numb millions and millions of unemployed or poorly paid youth, endlessly teaching them the lie that “to be = to have,” that life derives its meaning from ownership of such things as cars or brand name shoes? Own, own, they keep saying, implying that he who has nothing is, himself, nothing.
Why isn’t the death penalty applied to death itself? The world is organized in the service of death. Isn’t it true that the military industrial complex manufactures death and devours the greater part of our resources as well as a good part of our energies? Yet the owners of the world only condemn violence when it is exercised by others. To extraterrestrials, if they existed, such monopoly of violence would appear inexplicable. It likewise appears insupportable to earth dwellers who, against all the available evidence, hope for survival: we humans are the only animals who specialize in mutual extermination, and who have developed a technology of destruction that is annihilating, coincidentally, our planet and all its inhabitants.
This technology sustains itself on fear. It is the fear of enemies that justifies the squandering of resources by the military and police. And speaking about implementing the death penalty, why don’t we pass a death sentence on fear itself? Would it not behoove us to end this universal dictatorship of the professional scaremongers? The sowers of panic condemn us to loneliness, keeping solidarity outside our reach: falsely teaching us that we live in a dog-eat-dog world, that he who can must crush his fellows, that danger is lurking behind every neighbor. Watch out, they keep saying, be careful, this neighbor will steal from you, that other one will rape you, that baby carriage hides a Muslim bomb, and that woman who is watching you–that innocent-looking neighbor of yours—will surely infect you with swine flu. 
In this upside-down world, they are making us afraid of even the most elementary acts of justice and common sense. When President Evo Morales started to re-build Bolivia, so that his country with its indigenous majority will no longer feel shame facing a mirror, his actions provoked panic. Morales’ challenge was indeed catastrophic from the traditional standpoint of the racist order, whose beneficiaries felt that theirs was the only possible option for Bolivia. It was Evo, they felt, who ushered in chaos and violence, and this alleged crime justified efforts to blow up national unity and break Bolivia into pieces. And when President Correa of Ecuador refused to pay the illegitimate debts of his country, the news caused terror in the financial world and Ecuador was threatened with dire punishment, for daring to set such a bad example. If the military dictatorships and roguish politicians have always been pampered by international banks, have we not already conditioned ourselves to accept it as our inevitable fate that the people must pay for the club that hits them and for the greed the plunders them?
But, have common sense and justice always been divorced from each other?
Were not common sense and justice meant to walk hand in hand, intimately linked? 
Aren’t common sense, and also justice, in accord with the feminist slogan which states that if we, men, had to go through pregnancy, abortion would have been free. Why not legalize the right to have an abortion? Is it because abortion will then cease being the sole privilege of the women who can afford it and of the physicians who can charge for it?
The same thing is observed with another scandalous case of denial of justice and common sense: why aren’t drugs legal? Is this not, like abortion, a public health issue? And the very same country that counts in its population more drug addicts than any other country in the world, what moral authority does it have to condemn its drug suppliers? And why don’t the mass media, in their dedication to the war against the scourge of drugs, ever divulge that it is Afghanistan which single-handedly satisfies just about all the heroin consumed in the world? Who rules Afghanistan? Is it not militarily occupied by a messianic country which conferred upon itself the mission of saving us all?
Why aren’t drugs legalized once and for all? Is it because they provide the best pretext for military invasions, in addition to providing the juiciest profits to the large banks who, in the darkness of night, serve as money-laundering centers?
Nowadays the world is sad because fewer vehicles are sold. One of the consequences of the global crisis is a decline of the otherwise prosperous car industry. Had we some shred of common sense, a mere fragment of a sense of justice, would we not celebrate this good news?
Could anyone deny that a decline in the number of automobiles is good for nature, seeing that she will end up with a bit less poison in her veins? Could anyone deny the value of this decline in car numbers to pedestrians, seeing that fewer of them will die?
Here’s how Lewis Carroll’s queen explained to Alice how justice is dispensed in a looking-glass world:
“There’s the King’s Messenger. He’s in prison now, being punished: and the trial doesn’t begin until next Wednesday: and of course the crime comes last of all.”
In El Salvador, Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero found that justice, like a snake, only bites barefoot people. He died of gunshot wounds, for proclaiming that in his country the dispossessed were condemned from the very start, on the day of their birth. 
Couldn’t the outcome of the recent elections in El Salvador be viewed, in some ways, as a homage to Archbishop Romero and to the thousands who, like him, died fighting for right-side-up justice in this reign of injustice?
At times the narratives of History end badly, but she, History itself, never ends. When she says goodbye, she only says: I’ll be back.
Translation from Spanish: Dr. Moti Nissani
In 1971, EDUARDO GALEANO wrote The Open Veins of Latin America and, in 1976, escaped death at the hands of CIA-financed Argentine death squads. 
This article was originally posted at Counterpunch

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The Threat–Again–of Left-Wing Latin American Democracy

By Peter Hart
August 02, 2012 “Information Clearing House” — You can count on U.S. corporate media to express alarm about the threat posed by left-wing governments in Latin America. Sometimes it’s military hype (think Soviet MiGs in Nicaragua), but more typically it takes the form of a generalized concern about certain governments’ commitment to democratic ideals.
But how do you sound the alarm about left-wing threats to democracy when actual elected left-wing leaders are being removed in anti-democratic coups? That’s no easy feat, but some reporters are up to the challenge.
In the Washington Post on July 22 (under the headline “Latin America’s New Authoritarians”), reporter Juan Foreroexplains that today’s quasi-dictators are clever enough to rule in what are nominally democracies:
More than two decades after Latin America’s last right-wing dictatorships dissolved, a new kind of authoritarian leader is rising in several countries: democratically elected presidents who are ruling in increasingly undemocratic ways.
Unlike the iron-fisted juntas of a generation ago, these leaders do not assassinate opposition figures or declare martial law.
But in a handful of countries, charismatic populists are posing the most serious challenge to democratic institutions in Latin America since the 1980s, when rebel wars and dictators were the norm.
Of course, another way of looking at this history might lead one to conclude that the United States posed the greatest threat to democracy in Latin America in the 1980s, either by fueling proxy wars or backing repressive dictatorships that were our political allies.
But that’s not something we like to bring up. So Forero just ignores U.S. policy, then? Not quite. Part of the argument here is that the United States is faulted for doing next to nothing. As Forero puts it, “What rights groups and some political leaders call a growing threat to hard-won democratic gains has drawn a tepid response” from the U.S.
Forero notes in passing that U.S.-allied leaders have been criticized, but the real problem are the leftists, as Forero notes with some alarm:
Today, the most prominent and powerful of a handful of democratically elected leaders who enjoy near-total control of the political life of their countries is Chavez. Even as he recovers from cancer, the former lieutenant colonel is running for reelection in October’s presidential vote as he seeks to extend a presidency that began in 1999.
Other presidents who have consolidated their hold on power–controlling, among other institutions, the courts, which then give them leverage over opponents–include Ecuador’s Correa, Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega.
All vocally oppose the Obama administration, favor state intervention in the economy and have moved to strengthen alliances with Washington’s adversaries, among them Cuba, Iran and Russia.
Forero adds that in Venezuela, Chavez has “built a vast state media apparatus that heaps scorn on his critics while venerating his policies.” That’s one way to see it; another view is that the 2002 coup that briefly removed him from power was facilitated by private media owners who used their media holding to help orchestrate the removal of a democratically elected president. But the point of this article–which seems to borrow its premise from a recent book by William Dobson, who is quoted in the piece–is that the real threat comes from these authoritarians who rule just like dictators.
As Keane Bhatt wrote for NACLA (7/30/12), a notable omission in a piece about threats to democracy are the very recent removals of democratically elected presidents in Paraguay and Honduras:
in Forero’s account of “creeping authoritarianism” in the region, it’s as if two prominent examples of this phenomenon–the Honduran coup and last month’s illegitimate ouster of Lugo–never happened.
And far from staying out of the region’s affairs, Bhatt notes that the United States sends $50 million to the notoriously brutal Honduran police and military.
It’s not just Juan Forero who’s writing this story. In Newsweek, Mac Margolis–no stranger to the anti-left beatwrites that “Latin American democracy is in trouble.” He explains:
While civil society and the rule of law have matured in Latin America, so has a new generation of autocrats. Forget about corpulent generals in aviator sunglasses: today’s authoritarians are urbane, technologically savvy, and skilled at repurposing due process and popular elections in order to concentrate their power.
The prime example is Hugo Chavez, who has–among other things–”used government largesse to buy popular support in lopsided national referendums and elections.” That’s a fancy way of saying that the country’s oil wealth is spread more evenly across society than it had been prior to Chavez’s presidency.
Margolis’ take is a lot like Forero’s, but there are some notable differences. He doesn’t ignore the Paraguay coup; instead, he argues that governments in the region that spoke out against the coup really did so in order to bolster Chavez’s standing in a regional trade body–essentially backing a dictator’s power grab.
So there’s a threat to Latin American democracy, but it’s not the removal of elected leaders that is the problem. The real problem is when countries speak out against undemocratic coups. Is that confusing? A little. But there’s an easier way to understand how the corporate media keep score: If something’s good for Chavez or other left-wing leaders in Latin America–it’s bad for democracy.
This article was originally published at Fair

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Extractive Capitalism and the Divisions in the Latin American Progressive Camp

By James Petras 
May 03, 2012 “Information Clearing House” — The leading agro-mineral exporting countries, including those engaged with the world’s leading mining and energy multi-national corporations(MNC) are also those characterized as having the most independent and progressive foreign policies. Apparently the primacy of “extractive capitalism” and commodity-export based economies are no longer correlated with ‘neo-colonial’ regimes.
It can be argued that the concessions to the extractive MNC and local ‘leading’ classes assures stability, steady revenues and finances the incremental social expenditures which permit the re-election of the center-left regimes. In other words a de facto alliance between the “top” and “bottom” of the class structure is the unstated bases for center-left electoral successes despite the growing political divergence between the regimes and sections of the social movements.
The Progressive Camp
There is a general consensus that regimes in seven countries in Latin America form what can be called the “progressive camp”: Bolivia , Ecuador , Argentina , Brazil , Uruguay , Peru and Venezuela .
The identifying features usually attributable to regimes in these countries include
(1) their past political trajectory: most are led by former leaders and activists from social movements, trade unions or guerrilla formations
(2) their relatively independent foreign policy pronouncements especially regarding US intervention and sanctions policies
(3) their ideology rhetoric rejecting US led regional bodies and favoring Latin American centered organizations
(4) their populist electoral campaign programs regarding social equity, environmentalism and human rights
(5) their vehement rejection of ‘neo-liberalism’ and traditional neo-liberal personalities, parties and privatizations
(6) their strategic perspective that envisions a prolonged process of social transformation that emphasizes an agenda featuring modernization, developementalist priorities and high levels of investment oriented toward global markets (7) their prolonged political incumbency based on constitutional reforms permitting re-election justified by the need for completing the transformative vision.
The progressive camp has a self-image, projected inward to its electorate as representing a rupture or ‘historical’ break with the past, first with regard to the traditional neo-liberal oligarchy and secondly with the ‘statist’ left. In the case of Bolivia , Ecuador and Venezuela they frequently resort to rhetoric evoking “21st century socialism”. The potency of the appeal to radical novelty has a limited time span dependent on the degree to which the regimes pursue policies in variance with the preceding neo-liberal regime.
The’Left-Right Division’ as Represented by the Progressive Camp (PC)
The perceptions of the objective and subjective divergence between the progressive camp and the right vary according to whether they emanate from official sources or from a critical empirical investigation.
According to the ideologues of the “Progressive Camp” (PC) there are at least five major policy areas which reflect the radical rupture with the traditional neo-liberal right.
(1) Nationalism:
(a) the PC through renegotiations of contracts with extractive MNC secures a higher rate of taxation, increasing revenues for the national treasury;
(b) via increased state investment it converts wholly owned private firms into public-private joint ventures;
(c) through increases in royalty payments it lessens ‘foreign exploitation’; (d) through the greater presence of ‘local technocrats’ it increases national oversight of strategic economic decisions.
(2) Foreign Policy:
The progressive camp has pursued an independent, if not explicitly anti-imperialist foreign policy. The progressive camp has established several Latin American and Caribbean regional organizations which deliberately exclude the presence of North American and European imperial countries such as ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas ) and UNASUR (Union of South American Nations). The PC has rejected sanctions against Cuba , Iran , Syria and Gaza and opposed the US backed NATO war against Libya . They criticized the US position at the Summit of the America ’s meeting in april 2012 on at least three major issues – inclusion of Cuba , opposition to British colonial control of the Malvinas and the de-penalization of drugs. The PC has expressed its opposition to US hegemony, to IMF “structural reforms” and Euro-US control over international lending institutions. With the exception of Venezuela , the PC has diversified its export markets. For example Brazil exports to the US only 12.5% of its goods and services; Argentina 6.9% and Bolivia 8.2%.
(3) Social Policy:
The PC has increased social expenditures, especially toward reducing rural poverty; increased the minimum wage; approved salary and wage increases. In a few countries they provide easy credit and financing to small and medium businesses, have given legal title to land squatters and distributed plots of uncultivated public lands as a kind of ‘agrarian reform’.
(4) Regulation:
The PC has, with varying degree of consistency, imposed controls over the financial sector, regulating the flow of speculative capital and the volatility of financial markets. With regard to the extractive sector regulations have been relaxed to permit the large scale inflow of capital and the pervasive use of toxic chemicals and genetically modified seeds by agro-business. They have permitted the expansion of mining, agriculture and the timber industry into Indian and natural reservations. They have financed large scale infrastructure projects linking extractive enterprises to export outlets trespassing onto previously regulated, protected natural habitats. Regulatory norms have been harnessed to facilitate ‘productive’ extractive developmentalism and to limit the financialization of the economy.
(5) Labor Policy:
has been based on a ‘corporatist model’ of business-state-trade union (tri partite) negotiations and conciliation to limit lockouts and strikes and maintain growth, exports and revenue flows. Labor policy has been conditioned by the policy of limiting budget deficits, fixing wage increases, to the rate of inflation. In line with orthodox fiscal policies, pensions for public sector workers have been frozen or reduced especially among the middle and high end functionaries. Traditional job security guarantees have been maintained not augmented and severance pay has not been raised. Strikes by public sector workers, especially among teachers, medical staff and social service workers have been frequent and have led to government mediation and marginal gains. Government policy has been oriented toward protecting managerial prerogatives, while respecting and upholding the legal status, collective bargaining rights of trade unions. 
Within nationalized firms, state-appointed directors rule; there is no move toward worker self-management or ‘co-management’-except in limited cases in Venezuela . The structure of labor relations follows the private corporate hierarchical model Labor has, at best, an advisory role regarding health and safety but no determining influences or investment within this corporate framework. Pressure via strikes and protest by trade unions have been necessary, frequently in alliance with community groups, to rectify the most egregious corporate violations of health and safety rules. While the progressive regimes publically eschew neo-liberal “labor flexibility” policies they have done little to expand and deepen labor prerogatives over the labor and productive process.
The principle difference in labor policy between the progressive regimes and the traditional right is the ‘open door’ to labor leaders, their willingness to mediate and grant incremental wage increases, especially of the minimum wage and generally, the reduction of harsh, violent repression.
Continuities and Similarities between Past Neoliberal and Contemporary Progressive Regimes
Writers, academics and journalists on the Right and Center-left emphasize the difference between the progressive and the past neo-liberal regimes, overlooking the large scale socio-economic and political structural continuities. A more nuanced, balanced and objective analysis requires that these continuities be taken into account because they play a major role in discussing the limitations and emerging conflicts and crises facing the progressive regimes. Moreover, these limitations, based on the continuities, highlight the importance of alternative development models proposed by popular social movements.
The agro-mineral export model has demonstrated profound strategic deficiencies in its very structure and performance. The promotion of agro-mineral exports has been accompanied by the large-scale, long-term entrance of foreign capital which in turn determines the rates of investment, the sources for inputs of machinery, technology and ‘know-how’, as well as control over the marketing and processing of raw materials. The MNC “partners” of the progressive regimes have conditioned their involvement on the bases of (a) the de-regulation of environmental controls; (b) the termination of price controls and the introduction of “international prices” for sales to the domestic market; (c) freedom to control foreign exchange earnings and to remit profits overseas.
They also control decisions regarding the exploitation of mineral reserves. Expansion of production is dependent on their own global criteria rather on the needs of the ‘host’ country. As a result, despite the “re-negotiated” contracts, which the progressive regimes hail as a “giant advance” toward “nationalization”, the cumulative losses in revenues and in rebalancing the economy are substantial. If one looks beyond the agro-mineral enclave the negative impact to further development are substantial. The very limited impact that the agro-mineral model has on the economy as whole has led to occasional conflicts between the MNC and the progressive host governments.
A case in point is the conflict between the nominally Spanish oil company Repsol and the Argentine government of Cristina Fernandez in April 2012. Repsol’s behavior illustrates all the pitfalls of collaboration with foreign overseas extractive corporations. Repsol refused to increase investments, claiming that local regulated prices reduced profit margins.
As a result Argentina ’s energy bill rose three-fold between 2010 and 2011 from $3 billion to $9 billion. Furthermore, Repsol repatriated its profits, paid high dividends to overseas stockholders and thus had little impact in creating domestic industries producing inputs or refineries to process petroleum. The attempt by the deceased President Kirchner to increase ‘national ownership’ by bringing in a local private capitalist, (the Peterson Group) had no positive impact, merely entrenching Repsol’s control. When Fernandez took majority shares in order establish public control and increase local production, the entire Eurozone leadership led by the Spanish government and the Western financial press launched a virulent campaign, threatened litigation and predicted economic disaster. The problem of ‘inviting’ foreign MNCs to invest is that it is hard to disinvite them. Once they enter a country no matter how unfavorable their performance, it is difficult to rectify or undo the damage and move onto a new public centered model of development.
All the progressive regimes with the possible exception of Venezuela have signed long-term large-scale contracts with major foreign extractive multi-nationals. Apart from the increase in royalties these agreements do not differ greatly from contracts signed by preceding right-wing neo-liberal regimes.
Evo Morales signed a large scale exploitation contract with Jindal, and Indian multi-national to exploit the iron-mine Mutun with virtually all inputs – machinery, transport, etc. – imported and with very limited ‘industrializing’ of the raw iron ore – mostly simple iron ‘nuggets’. The bulk of Bolivia’s gas and oil is exploited by foreign MNC-public ‘joint ventures’ and is shipped abroad, leaving most of the 60% rural households without piped gas,and resulting in Bolivia’s importing most of its diesel.
Ecuador under President Correa, another leading progressive president, signed two big contracts with foreign oil groups in February 2012, despite the opposition of the majority of Indian organizations including CONAI. In Ecuador , as in Bolivia , big oil and gas companies, while raising objections to the re-negotiations of contracts leading to an increase in royalty payments and an increased presence of public officials, retain a privileged position in crucial decisions regarding management, marketing, technology and investment. Despite claims to the contrary, the leaders of the progressive regimes sign off on these strategic agreements without consulting the communities affected. Decisions are based exclusively on executive privilege. The style and substance of the distribution of the powers and privileges in the oil and gas agreements between the progressive governments and the multi-nationals are no different than what transpired under previous ‘neo-liberal’ regimes. Moreover, in both Ecuador and Bolivia many of the “technocrats” and administrators who worked under the previous neoliberal regimes play a prominent role in running the joint venture.
While progressive regimes have pursued anti-poverty programs and have registered some successes in reducing poverty levels, they do so as a result of the growth of the economy not via the redistribution of wealth. In fact the progressive regimes have not pursued redistributive polices: income and land concentrations, including high levels of inequality remain intact. In fact the hierarchy of the class structure has not been altered and in most cases has been reinforced by the inclusion of new entrants into the upper and middle class. These include many former leaders and activists from the lower middle and working class who have entered the government as well as ‘new capitalists’ benefiting from state contract agreements with the progressive regime.
The financial system has remained intact and prospered under the progressive regimes, especially because of the regimes tight fiscal policies, build-up foreign reserves, control over government spending and low rates of inflation. Financial sector profits are especially high in Brazil , Uruguay , Peru , Bolivia and Ecuador . Brazil in particular has attracted large inflows of speculative capital from Wall Streets and the City of London because of its high interest rates relative to the rates in North America and Europe .
Alongside the concentration of ownership in the extractive and financial sector, the progressive regimes have not introduced progressive taxes to reduce the disparities of wealth. The income of the agro-business elites in Bolivia , Argentina , Uruguay , Brazil and Ecuador are several hundred times that of the bulk of subsistence farmers, peasants and rural laborers. Many of latter remain subject to brutal working and living conditions. In many cases the progressive regimes have done little to enforce the labor and health codes in the giant agro-business plantations while workers are subject to unregulated toxic chemical sprays.
If the configuration of ownership and wealth remains relatively unchanged from the neo-liberal past, the progressive governments have accentuated the tendencies toward export specialization. Under the progressive governments the economies have become less diversified and more dependent on agro-mineral and energy exports, and more dependent on large scale long term foreign investments for growth. State revenue and growth are more dependent on primary product exports.
The free market policies of the progressive agro-mineral export regimes have stimulated the growth of large scale commercial activity. The commercial sector is increasingly influenced by the large scale entrance of foreign owned multi-nationals, like Wal-Mart, who source their products overseas, undermining local small scale producers and retailers.
The appreciation of the currency has adversely affected traditional manufacturers and the transport industry causing significant job losses especially in textiles, footwear and automobiles in Brazil , Bolivia , Peru and Ecuador . Moreover, favorable polices promoting large scale agro-mineral exporters has been accompanied by a credit squeeze on local small business people, especially, producers for local markets who have been bit hard by the import of cheap consumer goods (from Asia). Farmers producing food for local markets have been downgraded in the drive to expand cultivation of export crops like soya.
In summary, the progressive regimes have pursued a multi-faceted double discourse: an anti-imperialist, nationalist and populist rhetoric for domestic consumption while putting into practice a policy of fomenting and expanding the role of foreign extractive capital in joint ventures with the state and a rising new national bourgeoisie. The progressive regimes articulate a narrative of socialism and participatory democracy but in practice pursue policies linking development with the concentration and centralization of capital and executive power.
The progressive regimes preach a doctrine of social justice and equity and a practice of co-optation of social leaders and clientalism via poverty programs for the poorest sectors of society.
The progressive regimes have combined incremented income policies with large scale structural changes, benefiting the extractive-primary sector. Stability of the PC is utterly dependent on the increasing demand for raw materials, high commodity prices and open markets. The progressive regimes have successfully linked trade union and sectors of the peasant movement to the state and have undermined or weakened independent class organizations and replaced them with corporate tri-partite structures.
The progressives have successfully ‘reformed’ or replaced the chaotic, de-regulated, conflictual, racialist policies of their predecessors and institutionalized “normal capitalism”. They have introduced rules and procedures favorable to institutional stability, fiscal discipline and incremental but unequal gains. In other words the “parameters of neo-liberalism” are now effectively administered and legitimated by faux nationalism based on greater political autonomy and market diversification. Centralized executive decision making based on agreements which require extractive MNC to invest and develop the forces of production is legitimated by an electoral framework and a multi-class political coalition.
The domestic and foreign policies of the progressive extractive regimes reflect two contradictory experiences: their radical origins in the lead-up to taking power and their subsequent adoption of an agro-mineral developementalist export strategy, favored by neo-liberal technocrats. The “synthesis” of these two apparently “contradictory” experiences finds expression in the adoption of an independent, critical political position toward imperialist militarism and interventionism and economic collaboration with the agencies of economic imperialism, namely the signing of long-term and large scale contracts with US-EU-Canadian agro-mining and energy multi-nationals. In other words the progressive extractive regimes have ‘redefined’ or reduced imperialism to mean its state structures and policies rather than its economic components (MNC) which are engaged in the extraction of raw materials and exploitation of labor. In the same fashion, they redefine ‘anti-imperialism’ to mean opposition to political-military interventions and a ‘fair distribution’ of profits between the regime and its MNC “partner”. This redefinition allows the progressive regimes to claim popular legitimacy on the bases of periodical criticisms of the policies and practices of the imperial state while collaboration and agreements with the MNC allow the progressive regimes to retain support from domestic and overseas business interests.
When a progressive regime, as is the case of Argentina ruled by Cristina Fernandez, decides to “nationalize” or more correctly secure the majority shares in Repsol, the nominally Spanish oil multi-national, the entire financial press, the European Union and Washington denounce the move and threaten reprisals. In other words the unstated pact between the progressive camp and the imperial regimes is that political differences are tolerable but nationalist economic measures are not acceptable. Renegotiations of contracts to increase state revenues may cause a temporary suspension of new investments but not a political confrontation. However, the public takeover of a foreign extractive firm evokes predictable hostility and retaliation from the imperial states. The Argentine progressive regime’s embrace of a policy of economic nationalism was, however, enterprise and sector specific.
The Fernandez regime did not, and has no future plans, to expropriate other extractive firms, nor was the measure part of a general nationalist strategy to shift toward greater public ownership. Rather Repsol’s refusal to increase investments and production was increasing Argentina ’s dependence on imported oil, which was deteriorating its balance of payments and foreign currency reserves.
Repsol’s refusal to comply with Argentina ’s developementalist agenda was based on the Fernandez policy of maintaining the retail price of oil for the domestic market below the international price. Repsol’s decline in production was a way of leveraging the regime to lift price controls. However, a higher petrol price would have a negative impact on industrial and private consumers, raising costs and reducing the competitiveness of the Argentine exporters and domestic producers. In effect Repsol’s intransigence threatened to undermine the social and political balance of forces between labor and capital and between extractive exporters and popular consumers, which sustained the regimes majoritarian coalition. In brief the measure was nationalist in form but capitalist developementalist in content.
Even so the measure polarized the global economy between the imperial west and the Latin American left, with the usual imperial satraps in Latin America ( Mexico ’s Calderon and Colombia ’s Santos ) backing Repsol.
Divisions between the Progressive Regimes and the Social Movements
Prior to coming to power via electoral processes, the progressive leaders maintained close ties and actively supported and participated in the ‘street action’ and mass struggle of the social movements. They embraced the banners of economic nationalism, ecological conservation and respect for the natural reserves of the Indian communities, social equality and reconsideration of the foreign debt including the repudiation of ‘illegal debts’.
The social movements played a major role in politicizing and mobilizing the working and peasant classes to elect the progressive Presidents. This convergence was short-lived. Once in power the progressive regime appointed orthodox economic ministers to run the economy.They adopted the extractive strategy, shifted from a nationalist public sector economy , designed to diversify the economy, to a ‘mixed economy’ based on joint ventures with overseas extractive capital. First the Indian communities of Peru , Ecuador and some sectors in Bolivia went into opposition, on the bases that their interests were neglected and they were not consulted. Secondly sectors of the working class and public employees struck demanding higher salaries, an increase in public spending .Small farmers and manufacturers demanded economic stimulus for family farms and local industry rather than subsidies for agro-mineral MNC, fiscal orthodoxy and export strategies based on lower labor costs and neglect of the domestic market.
Radical trade union peasant and Indian leaders of the social movements called into question the entire agro-mineral extractive strategy, the distribution and administration of state revenues and expenditures. They reasserted their support for a social program embracing agrarian reform, including the expropriation of large plantations and the redistribution of land to landless peasants. Workers’ leaders called for an industrial policy to process ‘raw materials’ in order to create manufacturing jobs. Some trade unionists called for the nationalization of strategic industries and banks. However, despite some major protests, the bulk of the followers of the social movements and the majority of their leaders soon shifted from radical rejection of the extractive model to demands for a bigger share of the revenues. The progressive regimes attracted the bulk of the social leaders to tri-partite councils of conciliation to negotiate and secure incremental changes. The progressive regimes highlighted their opposition to “neo-liberalism”. They redefined it as unregulated capitalism based on low royalties and underfunding of social programs. The progressive regimes successfully divided the social movements between “utopian” radical opponents and progressive reformists. In time of social strife the progressive regimes evoked a “left-right alliance”, charging their social critics of acting on behalf of imperialism, impervious to their own collaboration with imperial based multi-nationals. Presidential appeals, a nationalist populist discourse and increased revenues which funded increased social expenditures weakened the left opposition. Moderate but sustained increases in anti-poverty programs and minimum wages neutralized the appeal of the radical leaders in the social movements. Despite the progressive regime’s break with its ‘radical egalitarian roots’ it was more than able to secure large scale mass electoral support, based on the overall dynamic growth of the economy and steady growth of income. Both were underpinned by long-term high commodity prices.
Popular extractivist presidents repeatedly won elections by substantial majorities and were able to mobilize sectors of the moderate social movements to counter anti-extractivist social movements. The high prices of commodities and multiple opportunities for exploitation of resources attracted foreign investors despite higher royalty payments. Foreign investors were attracted by the social stability ensured by the progressive regimes in contrast to the instability of the previous neo-liberal regimes. The progressive regimes thrived on economic ties with the MNC and an electoral alliance with the lower classes.
Case Studies of Extractive Capitalism and the Progressive Camp
While the seven regimes which form the ‘progressive camp’ share a common development strategy based on the export of primary commodities there are significant differences in the levels of diversity of their economies, the nature and character of the commodities which they export, the degrees of social polarization and social cohesion and the size and scope of the opposition. In line with these differences there are also substantial differences in the degree to which the “progressive and extractive model” is sustainable or subject to upheaval or reversal.
The progressive camp can be divided in many ways: between those regimes based on charismatic leaders and extreme dependence on primary exports ( Bolivia , Peru , Ecuador and Venezuela ) and those with developed industrial sectors and ‘institutionalized political leadership ( Brazil , Argentina , Uruguay ). There are also significant differences in the degree of class and ethnic conflict: Peru , Bolivia and Ecuador are experiencing significant mass resistance from substantial Indian communities, while in Brazil , Argentina and Uruguay , where the Indian population is sparse there is only isolated opposition. In terms of class struggles, Bolivia , has experienced wide spread protests by health, education, mining and factory workers. Venezuela has faced lockouts and boycotts organized by the economic elite (“class struggle from above”). Ecuador faced widespread protests from the police. Most of the rest of the countries ( Brazil , Argentina and Uruguay ) faced limited strikes largely on wage issues. With the exception of Bolivia , the major trade union confederations work closely and collaborate with the progressive regimes; in contrast the peasant and rural workers movements in Brazil , Ecuador and Peru have retained a greater degree of independence and militancy largely because they have been the most prejudiced by the agro-mineral export strategies. In Venezuela and Brazil landlord’s private armies have played a major role in combatting land reform beneficiaries with relative impunity.
The most pervasive and environmental degradation has occurred in Brazil , where millions of acres of rainforest have been “cleared” during the decade of Workers Party rule. Chemical exploitation of agriculture is strong in most countries especially in Brazil , Argentina and Uruguay where soya production has become a dominant crop. All the major agro-industrial exporters ( Brazil , Argentina and Uruguay ) rely on toxic chemicals and GM seeds with numerous cases of toxic consequences for indigenous residents and their natural habitat. The issue of toxicity and environmental degradation resulting from the giant mining and timber companies has been well documented in Peru , Ecuador and Uruguay . Overall, the greater the urban population and the more dispersed the rural communities adversely, affected, the smaller the environmental protest and the likelihood that NGO ecologists play a leading role in protest.
Since the extractive industries are outside of the major urban centers; since most of the major trade union confederations collaborate with the progressive regimes and secure incremental wage increases and since the overall economy has been growing and unemployment has declined, macro-economic imbalances, commodity dependency and related structural vulnerabilities have not resulted in major confrontations between labor and capital. The most contentious conflicts which have occurred have been between the orthodox neoliberal elites backed by US and European powers and the progressive regimes. Several cases come to mind.
On April 12, 2002 and in December – February 2003 the Venezuelan capitalist class backed by the US and Spain organized an abortive coup which was reversed and a petrol industry lockout that was defeated. An uprising in 2011 led by the police in Ecuador and an abortive coup in Bolivia were put down successfully, before they gained traction. A large scale agro business protest in Argentina in 2008 which paralyzed the agro-export sector against an export tax ended with regime concessions.
In large part, these “class struggles from above” worked in favor of the progressive regimes because it allowed them to pose the issue as one between a popular democratic regime and a retrograde authoritarian oligarchy. As a result the progressive regimes were able to neutralize, at least temporarily, internal critics from the left. The defeat of “the Right” burnished the credentials of the progressive camp and raised their popularity.
While popular support was important in sustaining the progressive regimes against US and EU backed rightest destabilization campaigns, of equal or greater importance was the backing of the military, sectors of the business elite and extractive capitalists. The progressives by adopting “moderate policies” – including business subsidies and generous pay hikes to the military – were able to divide the elite, retain support of the military and isolate the rightwing opposition. The rightwing has remained electorally marginal and provide very limited leverage for US-EU interference and influence over the progressive agenda.
The degree of “progressiveness” within the progressive extractive capitalist camp varies substantially.
The Chavez government has advanced an anti-imperialist and socialist agenda involving the rejection of US coups, wars and blockade of independent states: it has supported the re-renationalization of oil, aluminum and other raw material, mining and energy sources. Its extensive agrarian reform benefiting 300,000 families is aimed at food self-sufficiency. Universal free public health and higher education and subsidized basic food prices via publicly owned supermarkets; and large scale low cost public housing for the poor along with literacy campaigns and the formation of thousands of neighborhood councils to adjudicate and resolve local issues have deepened and extended the socialization process
On a far lesser scale, Bolivia , Ecuador and Argentina have pursued independent foreign policies. Their partial and selective nationalizations are designed to increase revenues rather than as part of a long term, large scale strategy of transformation. They have not followed Chavez’s lead on agrarian reform and on greater enhancement of social spending on health, housing and higher education. They offer remote, public lands of dubious quality as “land reform”. They have been advocates of incremental changes involving wage and social benefits commensurate with the rise in revenues from commodity exports and in line with the rate of inflation, Bolivia and Ecuador have dislodged land squatters and defended the major agro-business land holdings.
The least ‘reformist’ regimes with the most dubious ‘progressive’ credentials are Brazil, Uruguay and Peru (under Humala) which have adopted a free market agenda; they actively promote large inflows of unregulated foreign investments, degrade millions of acres of the rain forests (Brazil especially) , promote agro-business and oppose agrarian reform in all of its forms, relying on the dispersion of peasants and landless to the cities, towns where they serve as a labor reserve for capital or join the low paying informal sector. These “moderate” progressive regimes have signed military accords with the US , and adopt a low profile in opposition to US imperial policies in the Middle East .
Their “progressiveness” is found in their support of regional integration, their opposition to US hemispheric hegemonism (opposing the US coup in Honduras , blockade of Cuba and interference in Venezuela ) and the diversification of overseas markets. Brazil leads the way in catering to Wall Street speculators and in government anti-poverty spending on minimum food baskets. Poverty reduction is matched by the spectacular growth of millionaires linked to the finance and agro-mineral export sector. The “moderate” progressives have the most egregious (and well documented) record of ongoing environmental degradation. In Peru , Humala has given the green light to mining exploitation threatening the livelihood of thousands of peasants and local business in Cajamarca; Presidents Lula da Silva and Dilma Rouseff, of the Workers Party, promoted the destruction of millions of acres of the Amazon rain forest and displacement of scores of Indian communities in a decade. In Uruguay the Broad Front Presidents Tabaré Vasquez and Mujica promoted the highly polluting Botina cellulose factory contaminating the Parana River despite mass protests.
In summary it is difficult to generalize about the performance of the progressive camp given the divergences in social and economic policies. But a “report card” of sorts can be drawn up.
All regimes have lowered poverty levels and increased dependence on agro-mineral exports and investments. All have signed and/or renegotiated contracts with extractive MNC’ few have diversified their economies. Those with a substantial industrial base ( Argentina , Brazil , Peru ) have suffered a severe decline in the manufacturing sector because of appreciating currencies and loss of competitiveness resulting from high prices for commodity exports. Incremental wage agreements have led to low level social conflicts in the cities (except in Bolivia ) but displacement of peasants and degradation have intensified conflicts in the interior between rural communities and the MNC leading to state repression ( Peru ).
The social impact of the progressive regimes has the widest variation, with Venezuela registering the most far-reaching structural changes and the rest lacking any vision or project for redistributing wealth, income or land. Their common support for regional integration is matched by important divergences in accommodation to US military policy. Venezuela , Ecuador and Bolivia , the members of ALBA, reject military treaties, while Brazil , Uruguay and Peru have signed military agreements with the Pentagon.
The overall economic performance is mixed. Brazil’s economy, especially its manufacturing sector, is stagnating with zero or negative growth in 2011-2012, Venezuela is recovering, but with over a 20% rate of inflation ,while the rest of the PC is experiencing steady growth, but increasing dependence on commodity exports to the Asian (China) market.
Alternatives to the status quo extractive economies vary enormously. In Venezuela the regime has made diversification a high priority; the Brazilian and Argentine regimes are taking protectionist measures to promote industry with limited success especially as their policies are countermanded by the real expansion of acreage for soya production and exports. Uruguay , Peru , Ecuador and Bolivia talk of diversification but have avoided taking measures to shift to food production and family farming and have yet to take concrete measures to stimulate local industry via a publicly funded industrialization policy.
James Petras, a former Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50-year membership in the class struggle, is an adviser to the landless and jobless in Brazil and Argentina, and is co-author of Globalization Unmasked (Zed Books).

Warning signs in South America


By Ruiz Pereyra Faget

The crisis which has bitten the three centers of developed capitalism, the United States, the European Union and Japan, since 2008 has begun to be felt in South America. While the impact is to be expected because there are no national shields because all economies are interrelated, economists generally agreed that the continent was better prepared in the 2000’s to address it. In support of this argument is the fact of the less debt, a high growth rate, better income distribution that strengthened the domestic market and proper management of three key macroeconomic variables: fiscal deficit, current account balance and monitoring inflation.

In South America, the leading economies are Brazil and Argentina. However the growth of their production depends on exports of agricultural and mining production. Industrial development is at an intermediate stage. The Brazilian economy is the most advanced. The concern of the center-left governments that came after 2002 in both countries, was to abandon the neoliberal policies that drove the “Washington Consensus” and its trustee, the International Monetary Fund and whose main tool was the exchange rate of a currency artificially pegged to the dollar and therefore overvalued. The objective of this policy was to facilitate the entry of speculative capital attracted by high interest rates, the banking sector and the stock market, creating a great euphoria of “easy money” that charmed the middle class but that was undermining the competitiveness of exports, gradually paralyzing production and increasing unemployment, fiscal deficits and domestic and foreign debt.
The economist Luiz Bresser Pereira, has written that the developmental theory of Raul Prebisch and Celso Furtado, dominant in CEPAL (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean) in the 1960s, as an economic theory to liberate Latin America from dependence on the “core economies” lacked an analysis of the strategic role of the exchange rate. If the continent is behind in industrial development, the economies need a high exchange rate to provide an additional benefit to industry until it reaches the state of the technologically advanced industries. Today China practises this policy.
This approach will never be shared by the developed economies and their financial institutions like the IMF, which have built a model for the global economy and countries capital exporting and industrial products, and at the other extreme, countries exporting food and raw materials. The free trade promoted by the United States in Latin America, has this aim.
Brazil and Argentina, pursuing a developmental objective, did not follow the same policy towards the exchange rate. The first, under the Lula government, reconciled with the financial sector in São Paulo, designating the banker Henrique Meirelles as president of the Central Bank. This raised the basic interest rate, Selic, at a level broadly advantageous for capital inflows of all types that  overvalued the Real. The competitiveness of the industry was because speculation in the U.S. and the European Union was, at that time, gigantic. Therefore, Brazil was for several years running a large trade surplus and was able to accumulate a high amount of foreign reserves.
The situation changed with the crisis in both regions. The overwhelming flood of money released by the Federal Reserve Bank (USA) sought placement where there existed overvalued currencies and high interest rates, devaluation of the dollar and the increase of money available, which led to a critical situation in Brazil – the real strengthened further and exports began to slow down due to the contraction of the two great purchasing markets. This is the situation which president Dilma Roussef found when she took office. While Meirelles was removed and the economic team became more consistent, now with the Minister Guido Mantega with a freer hand, the change in monetary and exchange policy called for caution. It raised taxes on capital “swallows” to weaken the Real and at the same time, barriers were established on certain imports, in order to control the spending of foreign currency and simultaneously protect the domestic industry under a competitive disadvantage created by the low exchange rate.
A similar situation was found in Argentina, although the exchange rate and monetary policy has been different to that of Brazil. Since the abandonment of the fixed convertibility 1 x 1 (one dollar for one peso) in January 2002, the governments following De la Rua, considered the high exchange rate is a strategic issue as stated by Bresser. This meant a strong boost to exports. A growing accumulation of currency reserves and the retention of the high profits of exporters of soybeans, returned to the country a comfortable fiscal position which enabled it to address the most pressing aspects of social debt caused by the economic crisis of the second half of the 90s. But Argentina had an outstanding problem inherited from the end of convertibility, which was the debt to the Paris Club. Although it canceled its debt to the IMF, like Brazil, it stopped fulfilling its obligations to European lenders, and now intends to solve this. The amount of these obligations for this year are very large and, along with shrinking traditional markets and the measures taken by Brazil, the government headed by Mrs. Cristina Fernandez, has resolved extreme foreign exchange control, including imports (which require prior authorization), to strengthen the domestic industry and the domestic market.
All these measures have affected the obligations of the Treaty of Asunción which established MERCOSUR because this cannot replace the shortfall in world trade that is generating the crisis in the three poles of advanced capitalism. Neither can it replace UNASUR – South American integration – because cross-continental exchange of products is only 20% of exports and the export markets that account for the other 80% are outside the continent. Reversing this relationship is the fundamental challenge facing our continent in the coming years for which unity is necessary if we participate successfully in a world which economically and politically is being shaped in large blocks.
Uruguay, meanwhile, has a very open economy. Its domestic market is very small, agricultural production being the main provider of foreign exchange. The tax-free zones have developed industrial parks whose production is placed inside MERCOSUR. Production is subsidized with tax reduction to make it more competitive. Uruguay has also been, since 1974, as a financial center that is fed largely by black capital arising from tax evasion in production and trade within Argentina and Brazil. If we add to this the devaluation of the dollar, this explains the overvalued peso which carries the potential risk to our economy from the contraction of trade with the Euro-North American axis, as do also restrictions, for the reasons stated, that Argentina and Brazil have set in place.
 In the opening ceremony on  March20, the Assembly of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), held in Montevideo, with his peculiat style and language, President Mujica was graphic in describing the situation in Uruguay:
“We have a Mercosur that has its contradictions, which we respect little, and every day we make some criticism. But woe to us if it did not exist!”, he stated.
“Who would we sell our little cars to? To Germany, the United States?”
“What would I say to Conaprole? (Milk industry) You have lost your main market, Brazil, because we are going to bet on the open world. Kill me!”
“The defects of Mercosur are our faults and we will fight to death, without compromise and without loosening up. (…) If we can not negotiate with dollars, we will (sic). If we have to exchange, then we shall exchange. If we have to set quotas then let us have quotas and we will tell our industry “this is the parameter that exists.”
 “We do not believe that we have to fight with the rest of the world, nor do we believe in a war. But together we will build transports, we need to try to raise our energy systems together, we must gather together our universities and our research and our consciousness and our dignity as Latin Americans. We must not and we cannot give this up… “
 “Then, welcome the IDB, our IDB, here, committed to our problems, our pains, our anguish, with our limitations because a thousand times in the history of America we reason looking at the other side which turns its back on us and and today, in this globalizing world we have to build much larger things, be much more open, much more powerful to have any impact on the world to come and it is good that, with humility, the largest in Latin America understand this because they need us; in the globalised world, alone they are also nothing. That is why we are fanatics of the struggle for integration, for the creation of our America and we are not willing to abdicate this despite the great difficulties”.
These words of the Uruguayan president werea strong response against the oligarchic opposition parties supporting the abandonment of MERCOSUR if differences with Argentina and Brazil are not resolved quickly, redefining the concept of “buffer state” that England assigned to Uruguay in 1820, and which was reiterated by the IMF in 1976, something that the military dictatorship adopted.
Translated by Timofei Belov

Latin America prepared for US financial bubble to burst

Latin America is rapidly changing the orientation of the old standards of economic policy dominated by the United States and welcomes the arrival of other world powers. Some time ago, the South American continent was a good friend of Russia, its economic partner and political ally. However, Russia is moving away from it, and for no good reason.

It is hard to imagine that Russia and Latin America may have more in common than large reserves of natural resources. Meanwhile, cultural and spiritual values ​​of the Russians and citizens of many Latin American countries are so close that a single concept of the emerging new world is reflected in the economic and foreign policy. The idea of ​​creating BRICS, though not owned by the followers of a multipolar world, still embodied in the pursuit of post-industrial countries to set their own rules on the international platform.

Brazil is the largest country in Latin America in terms of economic indicators, as well as Argentina. However, recently the latter was in the deepest financial depression, enslaved by the International Monetary Fund. The economic growth that was beginning to show in Argentina suggests that Latin American countries are fed up with neo-liberal capitalism. The reformed economies have not been able to adapt to globalization, and class stratification began to grow exponentially.
The arrival of alternative, mostly leftist leaders in the region indicates that they welcome an end to the hegemony of the United States on the continent and are waiting for the arrival of other world powers. That is why a positive political dialogue is so important between the South American continent and Russia as it would catalyze the economic and trade ties. Despite the fact that the global financial crisis has caused severe damage to these relations, the trade between Latin America and Russia exceeds eight billion dollars, and before the crisis it was twice the present rate.
However, despite the fact that the countries seized by the idea of ​​national identity strive to form a unified Latin American space, they are far from uniform in terms of their financial indicators. Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Mexico are countries that follow the path of technological innovation and will continue to grow. Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Colombia will continue to languish as “drug lords”. This is despite the fact that the natural resources of Bolivia are hardly inferior to those of Venezuela, but the people in this country are among the poorest in the region.
Peru, Chile and Mexico are members of APEC, and Brazil is part of BRICS conglomerate. The insistence with which the Russians and Latinos overcome the difficulties and hardships should cause blatant jealousy of the West, where the population even in the “light savings” mode takes to the streets with protests. But why Russia that also has a large economic weight in the above-mentioned organizations have increasingly moved away from Latin American markets? What are the prospects for cooperation between Russia and the continent of South America at the time when Europe and the United States are in deep crisis? How utopian is the concept of multilateralism based on spatial-territorial proximity?
Writer Vladislav Savin suggested the concept of “friendship through a neighbor,” and there is certain logic to it. Latin America and Russia never had a common border and, consequently, territorial conflict. This is not to the liking of the United States used to leading the movement against a “common enemy”. So far the hegemony is supported by the economic indicators, as well as a number of formally independent organizations – NATO, WTO, World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Here Moscow should try and prepare in advance to enter the region with a competitive advantage when the U.S. financial bubble finally bursts.
On the one hand, the current numbers of the economic relations between Russia and Latin America have surpassed the numbers of the Soviet times, when Russia and the South American continent were mainly connected by virtue of ideological and political and military-strategic reasons. On the other hand, the inertia of the Russian business is a major barrier to unification. Even large corporations like the “Gazprom”, LUKOIL, “Aluminum” and “Power Machines” only began to move from talking to specific commercial projects.
If the current trends continue, the trade turnover between the countries of Latin America and Russia by 2017 could exceed $20 billion. It may be higher if Russia manages to keep this area as a major market for weapons after the Middle East currently engulfed in revolutions. The policy of “loose hands” may bring out other types of cooperation, such as the use of the equatorial launch site “Alcantara” in Brazil. The main thing is to be able to bring the relationship to the level of strategic partnership. To do this, both diplomacy and business will have to assess the interests of exporters and investors from other countries that are now firmly seated on the South American continent.

Darya Deryabina

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