Again and again we hear from the Bush Administration, the pundit class and others of the illuminati that the problem with the rest of the world is that they really don’t know about all the good things that the United States does in the world and all they need to do is dig a little, listen to the Voice of America, a Karen Hughes press conference and all the hate against the US would go away. I think some of the liberal folk over at NPR actually believe this line.
Here’s how National Public Radio reported President Bush’s trip to Latin America this week. According to Adam Davidson, NPR’s crack All Things Considered reporter (March 8, 2007), the US has a public relations problem in Latin America, why?, because after 9/11 all “we” ever want to talk about in relation to Latin America is trade and democracy, and when Latin Americans hear these words they hear oligarchy and imperialism. So far so good right?, well no, because that’s where Davidson leaves it, no discussion of whether or not Latin American fears are justified, no discussion of the actual policies of the US or the Bush Administration or even a cursory look at US, uh, imperialism and support for oligarchs, just the statement that the US has a public relations problem and a quote from Bush to this affect.
After identifying the problem for “us” Davidson, with expert in tow, then explores the “real” issue, for the Bush trip to Latin America, Hugo Chavez. And boy is that Hugo a PR juggernaut, convincing the easily led masses of the South and beyond with his silver tongue and easy money. Analysis of Chavez’s understanding of the economic and political problems of Latin American literally gets a belly laugh from our expert. We then are given an interpretation of the belly laugh by our Muckraker Davidson-Chavez has lots of money because of the high price of oil and he is spreading that money around giving “colorful speeches” and Bush has been nowhere to counter the well hued spendthrift. Because of this the Latin American street has decidedly moved into the Hugo camp. But no need to fret, according to our expert, because international relations are like a Risk game and Columbia, Mexico, Central America and the Latin American elite are still in “our” camp. Now, I have no beef against jazzing up the news a bit but belly laughs, Risk analogies and talk of dazzling speechifying are what pass for analysis on the nation’s news channel? And there is nothing to say about the actual policies of the revolution in Venezuela where oil revenues, land and power are actually being re-distributed by the state? Where the state is actually being re-organized so that power is no longer solely in the hands of the white and mestizo capitalist elite? Is it really only about public relations?
Just a few reasons why the Latin American street might be a little irritated with the US and Bush:
Bush supports the IMF and World Bank which have engineered the neo-liberal regime that has accelerated the already unequal distribution of wealth and power that exists across the region and which also then subscribes the “cure” of privatization and liberalization of trade which exacerbate inequality even more.
Bush supports democracy when the democracy returns the desired result-more political and economic power to the oligarchs, liberalization and privatization-and if the desired result is not obtained the heavy hand, of yes, imperialism, will emerge in the form of funding for propaganda campaigns, liberal parties, sometimes populist challenges, death squads, coups, brutal counter-insurgency campaigns that kill thousands of innocents, military dictatorship, and outright invasion on too many occasions to count.
Bush thinks of the region as a “backyard,” a place that has historically been a provider of slave labor, wage-slave labor, natural resources, strategic outposts, toxic waste dumps and markets (financial and otherwise) for the elites of the North.
People in Latin America don’t need Hugo Chavez to tell them that they have been screwed over by the US and international capital. The indigenous people of Guatemala, Mexico, Venezuela, Peru, Columbia, Bolivia, Ecuador and Brazil know that the US has consistently sided with the white elite to use them as vassals on the plantation that was/is their country. The African people of the Caribbean, Central America, Columbia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and Brazil don’t need Hugo Chavez to tell them that they were chattel for at least 400 years and that they have been systematically left out of the meager pie that has been created by capitalism in the region. The campesinos, workers, trade unionists, teachers, radical priests and sisters, socialists, social democrats, liberals, communists, populists and other progressives don’t need Hugo Chavez to tell them that they have gone through the meat grinder of torture, disappearance, wholesale slaughter, and counter-insurgency at the hands of the militaries of their countries that get most of their training, supplies and guidance from the Pentagon and the School of the Americas.
Davidson’s report is just a symptom of the larger problem of how most get our information about Latin America or any other issue for that matter. The liberal folk at NPR really like this type of report because it has a facade of irreverence and criticism but actually it does little but re-iterate the message that, fill in the blank Administration, want out there. No historical analysis, no explanation of how power is actually wielded, no larger economic context, really not much of anything but clever banter that in the end serves power well.