An Alternative Future
By Noam Chomsky
08 January, 2007
International Herald Tribune
month a coincidence of birth and death signaled a transition for South
America and indeed for the world.
The former Chilean dictator
Augusto Pinochet died even as leaders of South American nations concluded
a two-day summit meeting in Cochabamba, Bolivia, hosted by President
Evo Morales, at which the participants and the agenda represented the
antithesis of Pinochet and his era.
In the Cochabamba Declaration,
the presidents and envoys of 12 countries agreed to study the idea of
forming a continent-wide community similar to the European Union.
The declaration marks another
stage 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
U.S.-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 characterization of democratic socialism in Chile.
On Sept. 11, 1973, 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, 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. Among
the leaders at Cochabamba was the 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
President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela 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. Chávez envisions Petroamerica,
an integrated energy system of the kind that China is trying to initiate
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, a new pan-Latin American TV channel based in Venezuela
and an effort to break the Western media monopoly.
The Brazilian president,
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, called on fellow leaders to overcome
historical differences and unite the continent, however difficult the
Integration is a prerequisite
for genuine independence. The colonial history — Spain, Britain,
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
The main economic controls
in recent years have come from the International Monetary Fund, which
is virtually a branch of the U.S. Treasury Department. But Argentina,
Brazil and now Bolivia have moved to free themselves of IMF strictures.
Because of the new developments
in South America, the United States has been forced to adjust policy.
The governments that now have U.S. support — like Brazil under
Lula — might well have been overthrown in the past, as was President
João Goulart of Brazil in a U.S.-backed coup in 1964.
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 Chávez's electoral campaign.
Also, Lula dedicated a Brazilian project in Venezuela, a bridge over
the Orinoco River, and discussed other joint ventures.
The tempo is picking up.
Also last 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
emeritus professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology. His most recent book is "Failed States:
The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy."
© 2007 The International
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