FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Critical Support: What Does It Mean for Solidarity with Latin America?

Critical support for Left governments has been a hotly debated subject since long before I joined the US Latin America solidarity movement 28 years ago. The issue is particularly important today as the governments in countries of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA) are under unprecedented attack from internal and external forces. I have no illusion that this short essay will lay to rest the debate, but I want to frame the issues and what is at stake.

ALBA was formed in 2004 by Cuba and Venezuela, quickly joined by Ecuador and Bolivia. The Sandinista party in Nicaragua participated in Venezuela’s preferential oil program, which became known as PetroCaribe, and joined as a full member of ALBA when President Daniel Ortega took office in 2007. Honduras was briefly a member prior to the June 28, 2009 coup against President Manuel Zelaya. The Caribbean island nations of Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines are members and Suriname was admitted as a guest country in 2012.

The idea behind ALBA was to create an alternative model to the US-proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement (FTAA). ALBA is much more than a cooperative, rather than a competitive, trade pact. Its goal is to realize Simon Bolivar’s dream of social, political, and economic integration of Latin America and the Caribbean. It is anti-imperialist, providing strength in unity against what Bolivar called “the Colossus of the North.” The member countries are democratic and to varying degrees “on the road to socialism.”

To date, the economic backbone of ALBA has been Venezuelan oil. Cuba and Nicaragua especially have reaped huge benefits by being able to buy Venezuelan oil at market rates but with preferential payment conditions that have meant money for poverty reduction, small-scale agricultural development, and job creation. In addition, ALBA countries can pay each other in-kind rather than US dollars. That has been made even easier with the adoption of the “Sucre”, a bookkeeping currency that allows them to trade without using US dollars. Thus Cuba can pay for oil by sending doctors to Venezuela (or other ALBA countries) and Nicaragua can pay with black beans (which Nicaraguans won’t eat) and beef. Nicaragua and Cuba have had bilateral trade on the same basis with Cuba providing doctors and literacy experts in exchange for Nicaragua’s agricultural products.

The effects have been significant. While Cuba had already achieved full literacy as measured by the United Nations, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia have met that high goal since joining ALBA. All five countries have made impressive advances toward achieving the UN Millennium Goals of halving poverty by 2020. Nicaragua, the second, or now perhaps third poorest country in the hemisphere, (by some measures Honduras has dropped to number two), has made poverty reduction advances that are praised again and again by the UN. It is hard to see how any of the countries could have made such advances without ALBA cooperation.

Free healthcare and education, economic stimulation of family agriculture and micro, small and medium business, are all factors in driving poverty reduction as well as better and healthier standards of living, and hope for the families in ALBA countries. These objective improvements have proven popular with voters. While US corporate media dismisses the popularity of elected leaders by claiming a populist pandering to the poor, in fact, it is the sustainable development that has accompanied poverty reduction, that has meant real improvements for families who then vote in their actual interests to return the ALBA presidents to power.

ALBA’s unity has inspired and increased Latin American unity, even across ideological divides, resulting in strong regional bodies such as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which is an alternative to the US-dominated OAS. CELAC includes all the States of the hemisphere except the US and Canada.

Imagine, without this ALBA-inspired unity that Bolivia could have changed its formula with transnational energy companies exploiting its natural gas from a split giving 80% of the profit to the energy companies and 20% to Bolivia, to exactly the opposite proportion. US marines would have been patrolling the streets of La Paz in a minute without a united front to stop them. Imagine the US normalizing relations with Cuba without the unanimous pressure by a united Latin America which made clear there would be no more hemisphere-wide meetings without Cuba’s presence.

One can only imagine the wailing and gnashing of teeth in the corporate boardrooms and the bowels of the State Department caused by a unified world view and development vision that is not dominated and controlled by the US. US policymakers imagine that this unity can be destroyed and that Latin America can be returned to the reservation and controlled by the US to the benefit of US capitalists. US government policy is that ALBA must be destroyed.

We all love to chant, “the people united will never be defeated.” But I’ve never actually believed it was true. In fact, victories are never forever. Every advance toward a better world must be constantly defended because the fact is that people and movements and countries can be divided and defeated and the entire weight of US foreign policy is to do just that.

I find it alarming that, at least in the US, solidarity activists seem much more inclined to condemn the imperfections of the ALBA governments than they are to defend the gains they have made. We have envisioned the end of the US Empire, but it is madness to act as if our vision were already a reality. The Colossus of the North is still the most powerful force on earth economically and militarily. A wounded predator is often more dangerous than a healthy one. We are astounded and amused by the outrageous pronouncements of the candidates for US president, thinking them to be the delirium of the fringe when in fact they represent the mainstream and it is we who are marginalized. The Empire can fight back, and it is.

I am not one who says it is never appropriate to criticize a Left government. But I do believe there are constraints on that criticism. I am one who believes that taking State power is the ultimate goal, and it is those governments that function on behalf of the poor majority with which we are in solidarity, not just social movements, and certainly not with the broadly co-opted “civil society”. I think even those who do see the social movements as the highest object of their solidarity still need to consider how the “critical” part of their solidarity advances or detracts from their other goals.

Here are some questions that I think we should think about personally and discuss within our organizations. These questions are focused in particular on US solidarity and may or may not be applicable to solidarity movements in other countries.

1 To what extent have we internalized US exceptionalism and believe that we have the right to be heard on any issue about which we have an opinion

2 When we say that we are in critical support, do we spend as much effort on the support as we do on the criticism?

3 In what ways do our criticisms differ from, or are similar to, the arguments made by those who want to return to a system of oligarchy under US hegemony?

4 To what extent has US funding created artificial civil society groups and influenced the discourse of legitimate popular movements?

Alliance for Global Justice defines solidarity as “amplifying the voices of those with whom we are in solidarity; not telling them what their priorities should be.” We also believe that the sovereign people of countries with real democracy have the right to resolve most issues without outside interference either by our government or ourselves.

Therefore it is neither necessary nor appropriate for us to have a public opinion about the Nicaragua canal, the Bolivian TIPNIS highway, Ecuadoran oil exploration, or Venezuelan food shortages. But what is very much our responsibility is US government intervention in these and other issues and the transnational corporate rape of resources that prop up our high standard of living.

I also think that it is perfectly appropriate to debate our criticisms within our organizations, much the way families discuss issues internal to the family. But when we voice those issues outside of the family, we need to be very deliberate in how we speak lest we destroy the family in the process. We must consider that if the governments of the ALBA countries fall, they will not be replaced by forces that will move them farther along the road to socialism but will move them backwards. That will strengthen the US Empire. So in the final analysis, our own liberation is intrinsically connected to the success of ALBA, and we ignore that fact to our own peril.

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
August 21, 2019
Craig Collins
Endangered Species Act: A Failure Worth Fighting For?
Colin Todhunter
Offering Choice But Delivering Tyranny: the Corporate Capture of Agriculture
Michael Welton
That Couldn’t Be True: Restorying and Reconciliation
John Feffer
‘Slowbalization’: Is the Slowing Global Economy a Boon or Bane?
Johnny Hazard
In Protest Against Police Raping Spree, Women Burn Their Station in Mexico City.
Tom Engelhardt
2084: Orwell Revisited in the Age of Trump
Binoy Kampmark
Condescension and Climate Change: Australia and the Failure of the Pacific Islands Forum
Kenn Orphan – Phil Rockstroh
The Dead Letter Office of Capitalist Imperium: a Poverty of Mundus Imaginalis 
George Wuerthner
The Forest Service Puts Ranchers Ahead of Grizzlies (and the Public Interest)
Stephen Martin
Geopolitics of Arse and Elbow, with Apologies to Schopenhauer.
Gary Lindorff
The Smiling Turtle
August 20, 2019
James Bovard
America’s Forgotten Bullshit Bombing of Serbia
Peter Bolton
Biden’s Complicity in Obama’s Toxic Legacy
James Phillips
Calm and Conflict: a Dispatch From Nicaragua
Karl Grossman
Einstein’s Atomic Regrets
Colter Louwerse
Kushner’s Threat to Palestine: An Interview with Norman Finkelstein
Nyla Ali Khan
Jammu and Kashmir: the Legitimacy of Article 370
Dean Baker
The Mythology of the Stock Market
Daniel Warner
Is Hong Kong Important? For Whom?
Frederick B. Mills
Monroeism is the Other Side of Jim Crow, the Side Facing South
Binoy Kampmark
God, Guns and Video Games
John Kendall Hawkins
Toni Morrison: Beloved or Belovéd?
Martin Billheimer
A Clerk’s Guide to the Unspectacular, 1914
Elliot Sperber
On the 10-Year Treasury Bonds 
August 19, 2019
John Davis
The Isle of White: a Tale of the Have-Lots Versus the Have-Nots
John O'Kane
Supreme Nihilism: the El Paso Shooter’s Manifesto
Robert Fisk
If Chinese Tanks Take Hong Kong, Who’ll be Surprised?
Ipek S. Burnett
White Terror: Toni Morrison on the Construct of Racism
Arshad Khan
India’s Mangled Economy
Howard Lisnoff
The Proud Boys Take Over the Streets of Portland, Oregon
Steven Krichbaum
Put an End to the Endless War Inflicted Upon Our National Forests
Cal Winslow
A Brief History of Harlan County, USA
Jim Goodman
Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue is Just Part of a Loathsome Administration
Brian Horejsi
Bears’ Lives Undervalued
Thomas Knapp
Lung Disease Outbreak: First Casualties of the War on Vaping?
Susie Day
Dear Guys Who Got Arrested for Throwing Water on NYPD Cops
Weekend Edition
August 16, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Uncle Sam was Born Lethal
Jennifer Matsui
La Danse Mossad: Robert Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein
Rob Urie
Neoliberalism and Environmental Calamity
Stuart A. Newman
The Biotech-Industrial Complex Gets Ready to Define What is Human
Nick Alexandrov
Prevention Through Deterrence: The Strategy Shared by the El Paso Shooter and the U.S. Border Patrol
Jeffrey St. Clair
The First Dambuster: a Coyote Tale
Eric Draitser
“Bernie is Trump” (and other Corporate Media Bullsh*t)
Nick Pemberton
Is White Supremacism a Mental Illness?
Jim Kavanagh
Dead Man’s Hand: The Impeachment Gambit
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail