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A Not-So-Magical Reality

Latin America and the US

by TONI SOLO

When George Bush and Tony Blair start talking loudly about defending "freedom" and "democracy" and "ending poverty", people everywhere had better watch out even more keenly than usual for their ever more precarious liberties and economic resources. The US regime and its allies are committed to genocidal aggression, unlawful judicial procedures, debilitating "aid" blackmail and "free trade" extortion as their main foreign policy tools. They have demonstrated they will do whatever is necessary to get what they want.

People in Central America in the 80s and in Colombia for over forty years have already lived out the future in Iraq and other targets of international corporate greed. Iraq was already destroyed economically by UN sanctions and US-uk aerial bombardment through the ’90s. But events in Fallujah confirm that the country faces mass population displacement over the next few years, just as millions of people in Colombia have been displaced. That population shift will create an even more desperate pool of semi-skilled and unskilled labour compelled to accept low wages incapable of providing a decent life.

Apart from losing the benefits of its oil, Iraq’s cultivable soils will be ravaged by chemical pesticides and herbicides and planted with "green desert" GM crops to enrich foreign corporate agri-business, as is happening throughout Latin America. Its water resources will be debilitated and privatized just as is happening to water resources from the Rio Grande to Tierra del Fuego. Together with these social and environmental catastrophes, the conditions imposed through "free trade" policies, by the World Bank, the IMF, and by "aid" programmes will create and sustain a continuous crisis of political institutions meant to prevent reforms that benefit the poor majority.

Constant interference by the US and its allies in the internal affairs of resource-rich poorer countries purposefully creates instability so as to cripple countries’ abilities to deal effectively with mass poverty. In Latin America, the example of US illegality and contempt for basic legal norms is creating the conditions for renewed tyranny and dictatorship. Ruthless opportunists like Presidents Uribe in Colombia, Gutierrez in Ecuador, Toledo in Peru and Mesa in Bolivia and the US proxies running Central America right now, are all too ready to copy the Bush regime’s freefall into criminality if they get the chance.

Trinidad, Sonia, Granda: criminal abduction as State policy

Recent events in Colombia are emblematic of that criminality. In January 2003, US agents helped Ecuadoran security forces kidnap Simon Trinidad in Quito. Trinidad was a negotiator for the Colombian FARC armed opposition to the Colombian government during peace negotiations during the Presidency of Uribe’s predecessor Andres Pastrana. Trinidad was taken illegally to Colombia from Ecuador and subsequently extradited to the United States on a trumped up charge of having smuggled 5 kilograms of cocaine.

By contrast, Salvatore Mancuso, for whom the United States has ostensibly sought extradition since 1997 from Colombia in connection with a shipment of 19 tons of cocaine, moves freely in Colombia. In June last year, Mancuso was invited to address the Colombian National Assembly. He did so in July with two other chiefs from the AUC paramilitary death squads as part of the spurious "peace negotiations" between the AUC and the government. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is a long time supporter and collaborator of the death squads as well as having been identified by the US authorities as involved in narcotics in the early 1990s.

In February 2004 another FARC member, Nayibe Rojas Valderrama, known by her nom de guerre "Sonia", was captured in Cartagena del Chairá. In gross violation of basic legal norms she was taken secretly to a naval vessel at sea where she was interrogated by agents of the US Drugs Enforcement Agency.(1) Then in December last year in the Venezuelan capital Caracas, Ricardo Granda another leading FARC representative during the failed peace negotiations with Andres Pastrana was kidnapped and taken across the border to Colombia.

The Colombian government admitted it had secretly paid members of the Venezuelan security forces to help carry out the crime in support of members of the Colombian security forces acting illegally inside Venezuela. The kidnapping has led to an acute diplomatic crisis with the Venezuelan government. These high profile cases only emphasize the routine violation of basic rights by the Colombian authorities against ordinary trades unionists, rural workers organizers, human rights defenders, indigenous peoples organizations – anyone working to defend people’s basic rights.

US hall of mirrors: Colombia and Iraq

Despite over US$3 billion of US taxpayers’ money in military aid, despite the support of the drugs dealing paramilitary death squads and despite constant recourse to flagrant illegality, President Uribe is losing the war against the FARC just as the US is losing the war against the Iraqi resistance. The High Command of the FARC’s eastern region claim to have killed over 1300 Colombian army soldiers in 2004 for the loss of 245 of their own fighters.(2) Just as in Iraq, abundant US funding, wholesale human rights abuses and the militarization of vast areas of the country have failed to defeat popular resistance.

Fighting on that scale indicates clearly that the FARC control large parts of the national territory. They represent a highly organized, belligerent force with a central command recognized by the government in various negotiations. The Bush regime sustains the war because they could hardly care less how many die in Colombia so long as their corporate backers get to extract the country’s natural resources and exploit its repressed labour force. The "war on drugs" and the "war on terror" mask corporate imperialism that takes billions of US taxpayers’ money to subsidize the profits of a few multinational corporations. Little has changed in a hundred years, except for the worse.

Ecuadoran Supreme Court: now you see it, now you don’t

Meanwhile, in Ecuador, President Gutierrez is manouevring to centralize power in the Presidency. In December before the holiday recess, his political allies’ used their small majority in the Ecuadoran congress to dismiss all the judges in the country’s Supreme Court. They were able to do that only because they had previously unconstitutionally taken over the Executive Council of the Congress in an election in which not a single opposition deputy was present, a circumstance assisted by police who physically prevented opposition deputies from participating.

Currently, broad sectors of opinion throughout Ecuador are protesting the actions of Gutierrez’s congressional allies demanding that the President and his cronies respect the Constitution. The crisis results from attempts by Gutierrez’ opponents in November 2004 to indict him for misusing public funds to finance his presidential election campaign. Despite losing overwhelmingly in last year’s municipal elections, Gutierrez is determined to use his allies’ majority in Congress to suppress debate on measures likely to be rejected by a majority of people in Ecuador. Among the disputed measures are a bilateral "free trade" deal with the US, legal immunity for US military operating in Ecuador and deeper involvement in US-Colombian military operations along the Ecuador-Colombia border against the FARC.

US hypocrisy: the deafening sound of silence

Typically, the US has kept mum about Gutierrez’ unconstitutional antics. The routine double standard that characterizes global US policy applies with a vengeance in Latin America. Anti-democratic forces throughout the continent get a benevolent nod of approval from the US government and its local ambassador-proconsuls. So in Colombia, narcotics dealing terrorists like Mancuso and his fellow mass-murderers, "terrorists" according to the US, openly flaunt their crimes with impunity. US representatives say nothing.

At the same time, government opponents are murdered wholesale by Mancuso’s followers and by his fellow paramilitaries. The US funds and trains the killers, both directly through "sub-contractors" and indirectly through the Colombian army. Similarly, when the Venezuelan Congress votes through changes in the Supreme Court, US officials openly cry outrage at a "threat to democracy". When a whole Supreme Court is disappeared in Ecuador, US representatives request anonymity to observe lamely, "It was reflective of how weak the democratic institutions are here."(3)

Nicaragua: US embassy saddled wrong horse, rides backwards

The turmoil that has racked the Andean countries may not be so acute in Central America, but Nicaragua is suffering similar political chaos resulting from crude US intervention. US ambassador Barbara Moore seems not to have read her own embassy’s 2003 USAID country plan for Nicaragua which states, "In order to achieve the regional strategic objective of More, Responsive, Transparent Governance, USAID/Nicaragua will concentrate its efforts on strengthened rule of law," Moore seems to interpret this to mean meeting with President Bolaños and opposition politicians behind closed doors to organize strategy against a possible win by the Sandinistas in the 2006 presidential election and to support IMF demands for water privatization.

Right now the Sandinista party – the FSLN – controls almost all Nicaragua’s municipal authorities, including the capital Managua which it held comfortably in the recent municipal elections. There is nothing transparent or legal about a US ambassador directly organizing the political life of Nicaragua or any other country. The fact that they do so as a matter of course only reflects the die-hard hypocrisy of the US State Department.Moore’s main problem is that her predecessor, Oliver Garza, picked yet another loser in the long list of US deadbeat nags in Latin America when he helped shoo in Enrique Bolaños in 2001.

Bolaños is probably the most isolated leader in all of Latin America. A handful of deputies support him in the National Assembly. His recent threat to declare a state of emergency met a damp response from both the police and the army. Desperate for support, he has had to turn to the Organization of American States who solemnly declare that they are "monitoring" the situation. Bolaños’ only rock-solid support is in the US embassy. Washed out as President, he is probably resigned to having to put on a brave face until the elections in 2006.

Bolaños only managed to avoid indictment for mis-use of public funds in 2004 by invoking his presidential immunity. In December his Finance Minister Luis Eduardo Montiel resigned, averring the impossibility of working with a President whose office directly manages up to 40% of the national budget on a discretionary basis.(4) Montiel said he was never able to get the President or his advisers to address the confusion of capital investment items with operational costs – presumably another victory for Ambassador Moore-style transparency.

There have been many twists in the long running whodunnit about why Nicaragua remains the second poorest country in Latin America after Haiti. The latest search for an exit, inspired by a deal between the Sandinista FSLN and the Liberal PLC, the other largest bloc in the legislature, involves a dramatic shift in power from the Presidency to the National Assembly. The move is possibly unique in Latin America.

Ambassador Moore is energetically seeking to head off the initiative, but for now her favoured bet, Bolaños, is lame. The usual economic threats from the US and its prosthetic aids, the IMF and the World Bank, may well have less effect than usual on the country’s politicians who must be acutely aware of events elsewhere in Latin America. The country’s impoverished majority are now so immiserated, not much more can be done to them that hasn’t been done already.

Toledo goes El Greco: long faces in Lima

That pattern repeats itself in Peru and Bolivia. The US puppets in those countries follow the same dysfunctional patterns as their patrons in Washington. Although their countries’ institutions perhaps tend to work better than those in the United States. This month, President Toledo of Peru accepted an investigation into electoral fraud by his party. His sister is under house arrest. His Minister of Defence is under investigation for misuse of public funds. His Interior Minister has resigned.

Just as in Ecuador, public opposition is widespread to a government supported "free trade" deal with the US. To underscore resistance to Toledo’s policies, over the New Year, former army officer Antauro Humala with 150 supporters captured a police station in Andahuaylas, about 450km south of the capital, Lima. Soon quashed, the revolt was symbolic of nationalist resentment at Toledo’s failure to resolve the needs of Peru’s poor majority and his perceived subservience to foreign, especially Chilean, influence.

Tin men, straw men. Oz in La Paz : "if we only had a brain…."

In Bolivia, the widely predicted consequences of President Mesa’s attempt to manipulate the results of last July’s referendum on the use of the country’s gas resources have come about. Mesa cannot get his energy legislation through Congress because opposition politicians led by Evo Morales and his MAS party have imposed their own interpretation of the referendum result in the country’s legislative assembly. Mesa is squeezed between the IMF and giant energy multinationals on the one hand and by a new wave of mass demonstrations, roadblocks and hunger-strikes mounted by Bolivian trades unions and other organization of the popular movement on the other.

After trying to raise fuel prices at the end of December to satisfy IMF demands, President Mesa is struggling to keep his administration together. Four Ministers have resigned following a censure motion in the Bolivian congress. Mesa has had to retract the fuel price rises. That debacle follows his decision to annul a contract with French water multinational Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux following a highly effective civil strike organized by the federation of local community organizations in the city of El Alto, just 14km from the capital La Paz. Now, in the resource-rich eastern province of Santa Cruz, Mesa faces an attempt by local politicians to declare autonomy.

Creme de la creme: Jean Brodie takes over the State Department

Perhaps the mess Colin Powell is leaving behind in Latin America is by way of bequeathing a poisoned blouse to his successor, manipulative schoolmarm Condoleezza Rice. Like Jean Brodie, the Mussolini-worshipping prima donna teacher in Muriel Spark’s novel, Rice has no qualms about sending young people off to die for fascism, the US variety, in Iraq or Colombia. Her likely deputy, former US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, is another fictional dead ringer, this time for Flannery O’Connor’s fake blind preacher Asa Hawkes. But instead of Hawke’s bogus spiel "If thine eye offend thee, plucketh it out!" Zoellick’s invitation to everlasting economic life is a mordant "trade-in-your-sovereignty!" discourse with the "or else…" menacingly unspoken.

Under Condoleezza Rice, the State Department will help the Pentagon steadily develop the already long planned aggression against Venezuela and deepen US military involvement in Colombia. The two things inevitably go together. From Rice’s second in command, Robert Zoellick, one can expect a renewed and even more zealous focus on enforcing progress in the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

Zoellick, former Olin Professor of National Security at the U.S. Naval Academy, will have little difficulty integrating a more complete military dimension to his "free trade" evangelism. His main job in Latin America will likely be to drum up solidarity among the Andean countries for US moves against Venezuela and to wave sticks and carrots at Presidents Lula, Kirchner and Vazquez in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, respectively, to encourage them to mind their own business. Chile’s President Lagos is already fully on board the plutocrat "free trade" gravy train.

The current chaos in so many Latin American countries is a result of incessant, direct and indirect, US and allied intervention. The catastrophic effects of that intervention on ordinary people in Latin America are of no importance to characters like Rice and Zoellick nor to the ruthless multinational corporate crooks to whose interests they lend a political front. In their different ways, the Venezuelan and Cuban governments and the FARC and ELN armed movements in Colombia represent the main resistance to those interests.

So, over the next four years, the US and its allies will seek to destroy the government of President Chavez in Venezuela and at the same time attempt a final solution to the conflict in Colombia. The regimes in Washington and Bogota do not have to defeat Venezuela in some once-and-for-all showdown. They will try and slowly bleed Venezuela’s revolution to death, just as they did in Nicaragua and as they have so far miserably failed to do in Cuba. It’s no exaggeration to think that humanity’s future may depend on the outcome of the developing conflict.

TONI SOLO is an activist based in central America – contact via www.tonisolo.net.

Notes

1. El estado colombiano y los agentes gringos secuestran a "Sonia". Dick Emanuelsson. Aporrea, 19/01/05.

2. http://www.anncol.org/side/1116 17/1/2005

3. Ecuador’s president treads swirling political waters, STEVEN DUDLEY Miami Herald 18/1/2005

4. ?Un Ministro de Hacienda debe tener respaldo absoluto? La Prensa, 21/12/2004