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After years of obsessing over Cuba, the United States has decided to obsess over the whole of Latin America because now it turns out that the Cuba threat wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. After all, what’s communism compared to the scourge of international populism?
Today, the perceived threat to national security is the subversive effect of popular dissatisfaction with the neoliberal free market and the U.S. drive to globalize it under the cover of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Thus, a new germ theory takes its place beside the old theory of how communism invades the body politic: Weakening of the market anywhere in Latin America provides an opening for the subversive germs of international populism.
Fishing for friends
Administration officials have been trolling recently in Latin American waters for someone, anyone who might agree that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is directing an axis of populism devoted to overthrowing governments to stray from the free market. Cuba, now seen in Washington as a Venezuela without money, is demoted to a junior partner in crime.
These fishing trips have usually failed. The split between the United States and Latin America, which Bush is now belatedly trying to patch over, goes back at least to the 1998 Summit of the Americas in Chile, when delegates were more interested in bringing Cuba back into the Organization of American States (OAS) than signing on to the FTAA. In hindsight it seems obvious that the U.S. campaign to integrate the hemisphere on U.S. terms has led to Latin Americans thinking of doing it on their terms.
In May 2003, the OAS Permanent Council responded to pressure from Secretary of State Colin Powell to pass a resolution condemning Cuba by offering up a weak, non-binding statement that failed to get a majority vote. The next month OAS delegates ignored his request for help in "hastening" Fidel Castro’s downfall.
In April 2005, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice went around Latin America armed with the invective and unsupported accusations against Venezuela and Cuba that pass these days as fact. Rice had established at her confirmation hearings in January the "fact" that Chavez was a troublemaker and Cuba "an outpost of tyranny"(The Miami Herald, 01/18/05). But in Brazil, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva objected to her comments as "defamation and insinuations" against a friendly state (Los Angeles Times, 04/02/05). In Chile, President Ricardo Lagos reminded Rice that Chavez was "legitimately and duly elected" (Prensa Latina, 04/29/05).
Militarizing the Guardians of Capital
The Bush administration has tried to put in place a strategy of militarizing the free market against populism just as it has militarized its response to terrorism. However ludicrous the invective against Cuba and Venezuela may be, the Bush administration has tried to give it intellectual rigor by providing a policy framework wherein even the most trivial of social or economic disruptions can signal the need for cleansing, multilateral action.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld introduced the strategy in November 2004, at an OAS Defense Ministers meeting in Quito, Ecuador. He proposed a multi-national military force managed by the Inter-American Defense Board [headquartered in Washington, DC] that would intervene in states that did not meet certain democratic standards.
The plan was promoted as a fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, common crimes, and other destabilizing threats. In essence, the plan recommends unifying military and police functions and re-thinking the once rejected central role of the military in regional affairs.
Instead of encouraging generals to unseat governments in the name of anti-communism, Rumsfeld would have them make the world safe for the free market.
The intellectual underpinning for the plan is found in a report titled Fostering Regional Development drawn up for the Pentagon by the Council of the Americas. It urges heightened security against every sort of crime to foster a climate more conducive to foreign investment.
The approach is based on the Williamsburg Principles adopted at the first Defense Ministerial of the Americas (DMA) held in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1995. The principles call for protecting democracy through mutual security, recognizing "that the development of economic security profoundly affects defense security and vice versa."
The report alludes to the growing dissatisfaction in Latin America with neoliberal market economics and the resulting "foothold" gained by populism. Populism is the euphemism for popular movements not approved by the White House. The report urges the defense ministers to discuss in Quito what some people may not know exists: "the defense-related aspects of open market development."
While the concept of defense-related aspects of the spread of neoliberalism may be an unfamiliar one, according to Rumsfeldthink, a multilateral military force – presumably led by the United States – must rid every country of terrorists, crooks, cocaine sniffers, and populists if direct foreign investment is to freely flow.
The authors of the report rightly note the prevalence in Latin America of poverty, crime, and official corruption, but the alleviation of these scourges is left largely to the magic of the marketplace, whose unseen hand arguably caused them in the first place.
It should be noted in passing that the Bush administration has come to rank the free-market model equal in importance to democracy among the virtues of statecraft without raising much discussion and without any basis in international consensus. It could be said that crony capitalism, the protected domestic market, subsidized exports, and other features of the U.S. economy make this country ineligible for membership in its own free-trade inventions.
To see how muscle properly applied to the free market can work, the report directs our attention to China where success in capital accumulation was helped along by its willingness to suppress domestic opposition.
To assess progress made by the concept of multilateral security cooperation in this hemisphere, the report’s authors invite us "to look no further" than the peacekeeping efforts in Haiti by forces from various American states.
Looking further however, one must ask how the forcible removal of democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide by the United States in 2004, and his replacement with an armed thuggery conforms to the first of the Williamsburg Principles, namely, "that the preservation of democracy is the basis for ensuring mutual security." In effect, the report congratulates the DMA for sending soldiers to maintain in power an illegitimate U.S. client government in that country.
Following the recent trend, the delegates at the Quito meeting rejected Rumsfeld,s plan and in the final document pointedly endorsed national sovereignty instead of a militarized market.
But Rumsfeld is sticking to the multilateral defense of the market against evildoers. In his April 2005 sales trip to South America, Rumsfeld lectured Paraguayan President Nicanor Duarte on the Cuba-Venezuela axis and the need for multilateralism.
Duarte told Rumsfeld that Paraguay’s relations with Cuba and Venezuela were normal, and praised Venezuela for helping his country,s economic development through oil aid. Duarte later told a local newspaper that Paraguay received little aid from the US and called for the United States to open its market to Paraguayan products (Agence France-Presse, 08/17/05).
Paraguayan Defense Minister Roberto Gonzalez released a statement that seemed to close the door on Paraguayan support for the FTAA. "We agree, said the statement, "on the need to construct a united South America with greater political power in world decisions, especially in the economy, finances, and the distribution of information and knowledge" (Spanish News Service EFE, 08/20/05).
Undeterred, Rumsfeld went on to Peru where President Alejandro Toledo’s government, besieged by allegations of massive corruption and with a barely measurable approval rating, was in an advanced state of decomposition. But it was not the effect on Peruvians of Toledo’s bungling that concerned Rumsfeld but the possibility that misgovernance might open the door to "antisocial, destabilizing behavior," just the kind of instability Chavez could capitalize on and for which Rumsfeld has his military solution.
Rumsfeld has also been concerned that Cuba and Venezuela are trying to dominate Bolivia and meddle in the tri-border region where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet, a concern that has overshadowed his earlier claim that Islamic terrorists were operating there. This is same region where the United States has its Mariscal Estigarribia military base and where U.S. troops carry out "exercises.
Before leaving Asuncion, Rumsfeld proclaimed another of his "facts": "There certainly is evidence that both Cuba and Venezuela have been involved in the situation in Bolivia in unhelpful ways." (Telegraph, 08/19/05). But Admiral Marco Antonio Justiniano, chief of the Bolivian Armed Forces, said he had seen nothing to support such a charge (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 08/17/05).
In June 2005, undeterred both by the long series of rejections and by Rumsfeld,s failure in Quito to militarize the protection of capital, Rice went to the June 2005, meeting of the OAS General Assembly in Fort Lauderdale, asking for an agreement permitting Iraq-like pre-emptive interventions to preserve democracy in Latin America. Governments judged to fall short of standards set by the Inter-American Democratic Charter of 2001 would be subject to sanctions. The delegates rejected the proposal.
Interestingly, Cuba would not be eligible for punishment because it is not a member of the OAS. But Venezuela is a perfect fit because Rice aimed the concept at intervention against democratically-elected leaders who don,t do the right thing.
Having tailored the concept of intervention to fit the democratically-elected but apparently populist Chavez, Cuba’s strategic importance in U.S. Latin America policy appears to be on the decline.
ROBERT SANDELS writes about Cuba and Latin America for the Latin America Database at the University of New Mexico and other publications.. He received a B.A. in Spanish literature in 1958 from the University of the Americas in Mexico City. He also received an M.A. in American history in 1962 and a Ph.D in Latin American history in 1967 from the University of Oregon. He has taught at Chico State University in California, at San Francisco State University, and at Quinnipiac College in Connecticut.
ALEXANDER COCKBURN, JEFFREY ST CLAIR, BECKY GRANT AND THE INSTITUTE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF JOURNALISTIC CLARITY, COUNTERPUNCH
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