On The South American Chessboard?
By Federico Fuentes
08 October, 2007
It has been a year of political tours and counter-tours for Latin America,
principally by the two figures who dominate the regional political landscape:
Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez and US President George
W. Bush. While Bush embarked on a tour in March of Brazil, Uruguay,
Colombia, El Salvador and Mexico, Chavez made his move by visiting Argentina,
Bolivia, Nicaragua and Haiti. At each stop, the warmonger who presides
over the US empire was met with mass protests; the firebrand revolutionary
proclaiming the need for a new socialism of the 21st century was met
with mass outpourings of support.
Bush has not dared to venture
back down south since, instead sending high-ranking representatives
on low-profile visits and shuffling the pieces he controls on the South
American chessboard. Meanwhile, Chavez has continued to travel the continent,
signing trade agreements and pushing his project of the Bolivarian Alternative
for the Americas (ALBA), an alternative to US-pushed policies of "free
trade" inspired by the dream of Venezuela's liberator Simon Bolivar
for a united Latin American homeland.
Speaking to Green Left Weekly
about the significance of these events, Argentine author and journalist
Luis Bilbao commented that these two tours showed "South America
repudiated Bush and South America and part of the Caribbean recognised
in Chavez an international leader".
However, Bilbao noted that
"US strategists in no way pretended to be able to compete with
Chavez at this level, so it is evident that there was another plan".
Latin America is "living the results of those tours today",
because the "accelerated dynamic of convergence [of Latin American
countries] based on a clear anti-imperialist, and above all, anti-US
dynamic, has halted".
Bilbao is no stranger to
Latin American politics, having authored numerous books on the topic,
including two based on extensive interviews with Chavez — Chavez
and the Bolivarian Revolution and Chavez After the Coup and Oil Sabotage
— as well Petroamerica versus FTAA. His most recent is Argentina:
The Key to the Region. Previously working for the "southern cone"
edition of Le Monde Diplomatique, today Bilbao is the director of America
XXI, a Latin America-wide magazine backed by Venezuela's government
that promotes Latin American integration.
Washington's game plan
Chavez's tour was "a
response to Bush's tour and an attempt to revitalise a unifying dynamic"
in Latin America that US policy had begun to have a negative impact
on, according to Bilbao. While continuing to use the stick of direct
political pressure, blackmail and other threats, Bush's trip had as
its central objective to leave behind political "time bombs"
— in the form of the "carrot" for Latin America's oligarchies
and large landowners of ethanol. "The perverse, but effective,
idea was to conquer the oligarchies with an economic bribe and through
these oligarchies exert pressure over the more fragile governments."
Bush's plan of replacing
food crops with crops intended to be used in the production of ethanol-based
biofuels for the US has been widely criticised by a number Latin American
governments, including those of Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia,
as well as social movements across the continent.
As a result of this plan,
the until then fast-tracked process of Venezuela entering Mercosur (the
Common Market of the South) has been slowed down by right-wing parties
in the Paraguayan and Brazilian senates (the parliaments of Mercosur's
member countries — Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina —
have to vote to accept new full members into the trading bloc).
At the same time, an important
step taken at an April meeting in Venezuela where the countries of South
America agreed to form Unasur (the Union of South American Republics)
— "a project … and to a certain extent, a realisation
of a qualitative leap" in Latin American convergence — has
since ground to a halt.
GLW asked Bilbao whether
a "pro-ethanol" tour by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio "Lula"
da Silva that coincided with another of Chavez's regional expeditions
was a reflection of the success of Washington's plan. He argued, "Lula's
tour was a concession by the Brazilian government to those oligarchies
and a sector of its own bourgeoisie. But this project [by the US] was
not only aimed at Brazil … perhaps not even principally, because
the objectives are Uruguay, Argentina and Bolivia".
That explains why there is
a "change in the discourse and actions of these governments",
except for Boliva — "the only one that escapes this logic".
For this nation, the US has a different plan. "In Bolivia there
is an acceleration of the fracturing of the country because the oligarchies
and large landowners, who produce soya, are aiming to divide the country
in order to take power, given that they cannot do this through the government
[which is led by left-wing indigenous President Evo Morales. Bolivia's
right-wing has been pushing for extensive 'autonomy' for its states
to escape progressive measures by the Morales government, which came
to power in the wake of years of massive social rebellion that challenged
the power of the country's ruling elite]."
Bolivia is "the frontline
of the US offensive in the political-military sphere". The idea
"is to initiate an internal confrontation [in Bolivia that] destabilises
the centralised power in that country and triggers off a sequence of
violent events in that region".
Comparing Washington's aggressive
policies in the south of South America with what is occurring in the
north of the region, Bilbao added: "The process of negotiations
between the Colombian government and the FARC [the Revolutionary Armed
Forces of Colombia, a left-wing guerrilla group], with Chavez as mediator,
is essentially the inverse of the policy being pursued by the US …"
The US is "pushing a
perspective of war, it needs war, it can no longer impede this process
of South American anti-imperialist convergence — even though it
is occurring at different speeds, depending on [different governments]
— solely via economic measures. It needs war as a key plank of
its strategy. The other aspects, particularly capturing some sectors
of the oligarchies, is simply part of a strategy whose axis is war.
"If they achieve the
neutralisation of some of the governments of the south of South America
and initiate bellicose situations in some country, for instance an armed
conflict in Bolivia, it would immediately have an impact in the region.
"Bolivia and Paraguay
[where a US military base is located just 400 kilometres from Bolivia's
border] could become involved in a military conflict, which could in
turn draw in Argentina and Brazil. All this would have an immediate
effect, no matter what the medium and long-term dynamic was, because
it would put a halt to the process of unification. This is what is at
stake in Bolivia."
A weak link
In Uruguay, the Frente Amplio
government continues to oscillate between joining the process of integration
and flirting with signing a "free trade" agreement with Washington.
But that country's political and economic weight is overshadowed by
Argentina's, which for Bilbao will be crucial for Latin America's future.
"Argentina is central to the grand battle between disintegration
and convergence … The US project for winning back its control
over some countries has as its strategic targets Venezuela, Brazil and
Argentina. Where this group goes is where the rest of Latin America
Yet, today, the strength
of Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution rules out the reversal of this
process by the US, "unless it wants to involve itself in a war
that could end up with a result totally contrary to what it is looking
for. Any peaceful road to reversing this process is excluded because
of the revolutionary leadership incarnated in Chavez."
In Brazil, "the US can
aspire to certain lines of conciliation, but never a reversal of Brazil's
South Americanist policy. Not because of the revolutionary will of the
Brazilian government, but because of the economic necessities of the
Brazilian industrial bourgeoisie."
In Argentina, however, neither
of these two factors exist. There is not a "potent industrial bourgeoisie"
nor "the ideological conviction of the government to continue the
path of Brazil and Venezuela". "This means", according
to Bilbao, that when the US looks at its chessboard, "it has Argentina
as its principal objective".
Bilbao stated that the current
Argentine government led by Nestor Kirchner could "in no sense
be classified as left", but was rather the result of an "extraordinary
crisis in the country where the political system exploded, with no-one
to assume the power in the name of the bourgeoisie".
In this scenario, the bourgeoisie
chose to support Kirchner, a relatively unknown figure with no social
base and who came from a politically insignificant province. In the
2003 presidential election he came second in the first round with 21%
of the vote. He won the election when the candidate who led in the first
round resigned in order to avoid certain defeat and to weaken Kirchner's
Bilbao explained that the
Kirchner government represented the continuation of two key measures
introduced by interim president Eduardo Duhalde following Argentina's
2001 economic meltdown that explain his government's current trajectory:
support for Latin American convergence and state intervention to help
the economy recovery.
The candidate supported by
Kirchner, his wife Cristina Fernandez, who is likely to win the upcoming
October 28 presidential election, represents a continuation of these
policies. A different government is unlikely to stray too far from these
economic measures, although its political discourse most certainly will.
For Bilbao, "no matter
who wins, they will not have the social base to govern" —
unlike Kirchner, who has been able to create a connection between the
government and people.
Faced with a drop in economic
growth, Argentina's presidential hopefuls "have no political or
union instrument, no political arguments, no strategy to confront that
reality. This will mean that in the medium- to long-term Argentina will
return to a situation of ungovernability and crisis, where the dispute
will intensify as to whether control over Argentina is once again regained
by the US in order to spearhead impeding South American unity, or if
in Argentina the revolutionary forces recompose themselves and the country
assumes a clear position in favour of Latin American integration."
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