Friday, January 26, 2007

Alternatives for the Americas



Alternatives for the Americas

Noam Chomsky - January, 2006.
THIS month a coincidence of birth and death signaled a transition for South America and indeed for the world.
Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet died even as leaders of South American nations concluded a two-day summit meeting in Cochabamba, Bolivia, hosted by Bolivian president Evo Morales, where the participants and the agenda represented the antithesis of Pinochet and his era.
In the Cochabamba Declaration, the presidents and envoys of 12 nations agreed to study the idea of forming a continent-wide community similar to the European Union.
The Declaration marks another stage in recent moves toward regional integration in South America, 500 years after the European conquests. The subcontinent, from Venezuela to Argentina, may yet present an example to the world on how to create an alternative future from a legacy of empire and terror.
The United States has long dominated the region by two major methods: violence and economic strangulation. Quite generally, international affairs have more than a slight resemblance to the Mafia. The Godfather does not take it lightly when he is crossed, even by a small storekeeper.
Previous attempts at independence have been crushed, partly because of a lack of regional cooperation. Without it, threats can be handled one by one. (Central America, unfortunately, has yet to shake the fear and destruction left over from decades of US-backed terror, especially during the 1980s.)
To the United States, the real enemy has always been independent nationalism, particularly when it threatens to become a "contagious example," to borrow Henry Kissinger’s characterisation of democratic socialism in Chile.
On September 11, 1973, a date often called the first 9/11 in Latin America, General Augusto Pinochet’s forces attacked the Chilean presidential palace. Salvador Allende, the democratically elected president, died in the palace, apparently by his own hand, because he was unwilling to surrender to the assault that demolished Latin America’s oldest and most vibrant democracy and established a regime of torture and repression.
The official death toll for the coup is 3,200; the actual toll is commonly estimated at double that figure. An official inquiry 30 years after the coup found evidence of approximately 30,000 cases of torture during the Pinochet regime. Pinochet soon moved to integrate other US-backed military dictatorships into an international state terrorist program called Operation Condor, which killed and tortured mercilessly within the region and beyond.
Among the leaders at Cochabamba was Chilean president Michelle Bachelet. Like Allende, she is a socialist and a physician. She also is a former exile and political prisoner. Her father was a general who died in prison after being tortured.
At Cochabamba, Morales and Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez celebrated a new joint venture, a gas separation project in Bolivia. Such cooperation strengthens the region’s role as a major player in global energy. Venezuela is already the only Latin American member of OPEC, with by far the largest proven oil reserves outside the Middle East. Chavez envisions Petroamerica, an integrated energy system of the kind that China is trying to initiate in Asia.
The new Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa proposed a land-and-river trade link from the Brazilian Amazon rain forest to Ecuador’s Pacific Coast — a South American equivalent of the Panama Canal. Other promising developments include Telesur, an effort to break the Western media monopoly.
Brazilian President Lula da Silva called on fellow leaders to overcome historical differences and unite the continent, however difficult the task.
Integration is a prerequisite for genuine independence. The colonial history — Spain, England, other European powers, the United States — not only divided countries from one another but also left a sharp internal division within the countries, between a wealthy small elite and a mass of impoverished people. The correlation to race is fairly close. Typically, the rich elite was white, European, westernised, and the poor were indigenous, Indian, black and intermingled. The mostly white elites had few interrelations with the other countries of the region. They were oriented to the West, not to their own societies in the South.
Because of the new developments in South America, the United States has been forced to adjust policy. The governments that now have US support — like Brazil, under Lula — might well have been overthrown in the past, as was Brazilian President Joao Goulart in a US-backed coup in 1964.
The main economic controls in recent years have come from the International Monetary Fund, which is virtually a branch of the US Treasury Department. Argentina was the poster child of the IMF — until the crash of 2001. Argentina recovered, but by violating IMF rules, refusing to pay its debts and buying up what remained of the debt — partly with the help of Venezuela, in another form of cooperation.
Brazil, in its own way, has moved in the same direction to free itself from the IMF. Bolivia had been an obedient student of the IMF for about 25 years and ended up with per capita income lower than when it started. Now Bolivia is getting rid of the IMF, too, again with Venezuelan support.
In South America, the United States still draws a distinction between the good guys and the bad guys. Brazil’s Lula is one of the good guys. Chavez and Morales are the bad guys.
To maintain Washington’s party line, though, it’s necessary to finesse some of the facts. For example, when Lula was re-elected in October, one of his first acts was to fly to Caracas to support Chavez’s electoral campaign. Also, Lula dedicated a Brazilian project in Venezuela, a bridge over the Orinoco River, and discussed other joint projects.
The tempo is picking up. This month, Mercosur, the South American trading bloc, continued the dialogue on South American unity at its semiannual meeting in Brazil, where Lula inaugurated the Mercosur Parliament — another promising sign of deliverance from the demons of the past.
Noam Chomsky is a professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the author, most recently, of Hegemony or Survival Americas Quest for Global Dominance.
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