Monday, January 23, 2006
Reds On The Doorstep. posted by Richard SeymourAn inspiring panic in today's Telegraph about the wave of victories for the Left in Latin America. Just a few delicious nuggets of absurdity:
The next country in the region that could soon turn "red" is Peru. Among Mr Morales's personal guests was Ollanta Humala, a favourite to win April's Peruvian presidential elections.
Like President Chavez, Mr Humala is a former army colonel who led a coup. Like Mr Morales he has the backing of his country's militant coca farmers. Like both he is an ultra-nationalist, and should he win the Bush administration will lose another friendly regime in the region.
Ultra-nationalists. Chavez' comportment makes him out to be an internationalist above all else, not least his supplying cheap oil to America's poor. Yet, anyone who is not automatically susceptible to neoliberal dogma, does not tear down 'trade barriers' and tarrifs, does not reduce 'barriers to investment' such as the minimum wage and safety regulations, does not wish to sell off any prime asset in the country's possession, is an ultra-nationalist.
The White House has decided not to react to Mr Morales's critical rhetoric, but rather wait and see what the new president does rather than says. Washington sent Thomas Shannon, the assistant secretary of state, to attend the swearing-in ceremony.
The language of pure power: it is for the White House to decide what fate will befall democratically elected leaders whose policies are not strictly compatible with Washington's concerns.
Apart from Mr Chavez, sitting astride the largest reserves of oil outside the Middle East, and Mr Castro, still unbowed after four decades of a US economic embargo, Latin America's Left-wing leaders have taken a pragmatic approach to relations with the US, and Washington is hoping that Mr Morales will do the same.
With more than 60 per cent of the population living in poverty, the new president can ill afford to reject US aid nor can he hope to exploit the country's massive gas reserves without international help.
Yes, you certainly can't go around rejecting US 'aid' when there's so much poverty, even if that aid comes with strings that will deepen the impoverishment. And by all means, seek "international help" in exploiting your own resources. The euphemism is delectable, and can be reiterated endlessly. Imagine if Iraq hadn't sought "international help" in exploiting its oil resources.
Curiously enough, while much was made of Bachelet's victory in Chile introducing the first woman president to the country, comparatively little has been said about the fact that Morales is the first Indian president in Bolivia. It isn't that Bachelet's being a woman is insignificant - it just may be the only significant thing about her victory. Whereas Morales background intersects with the whole variety of reasons why he was elected. In short, this is the first Indian political leader Bolivia has had, in a country with an Indian majority, since Spanish colonialists conquered the area in 1525. It was the Indian population that provided an army of slave labourers to augment the "international help" in exploiting the silver mines. It was the colonial elite that controlled the country even after the colonists had been kicked out in 1809 - and a weak elite it was, too, susceptible to invasion and the loss of territory on all sides. It is fairly safe to say that this elite would have been dispatched a lot more rapidly and properly buried had it not been for US intervention. For although the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement had, following the 1952 revolution in which it ousted much of the old landed oligarchy and expropriated the mines, begun the process of consolidating the rule of the domestic middle class, it did create the conditions in which dual power could subsist. That was terminated by a CIA supported military coup in 1964, which saw Rene Barrientos take power until 1969, during which time miners had their wages cut and were massacred at Catavi. There was a short-lived left-nationalist regime under Gen. J.J. Torres in which workers's self-government was created in a popular assembly, and - yes - that too was supplanted after a mere two years by yet another CIA backed coup in 1971. General Banzer, after seven years of rule, was followed by a succession of military dictators known for their corruption, illicit narco-trafficking, and extraoardinary brutality. Subsequently, a sequence of liberalising governments allowed the country's nationalised assets to be bought off in large chunks by foreign investors - the so-called 'capitalisation' programme. Gen. Banzer won power electorally in 1997, with a mere 22% of the vote, and proceeded to crack down hard on the coca growers whose militancy had dogged previous governments, privatise industry, and renege on his pledge to suspend the privatisation of the oil company. All in accordance with the wishes of Washington. In 2001, he gave way to a former IBM employee, who in turn gave way to another 'technocratic' neoliberal. However, by then the genie was out of the bottle again - in 1998, the World Bank refused to guarantee a loan to finance water services in Cochabamba unless the utility was privatised and the costs passed on to consumers. In 1999, consortium led by Bechtel won the contract, and immediately doubled the price of water, which meant that for many it cost more than food. The World Bank kindly announced that it supported the full-cost pricing and declared that none of its loan could be used to subsidise water for the poor. In 2000, mass strikes and demonstrations broke the government and Bechtel were ordered out.
And of course, the most recent wave of strikes and protests led to the Bush administration saying it was "very concerned about serious challenges to Bolivia’s stability from radical opposition groups that threaten the country’s hard-won gains in democracy". There have been threats to impose yet another dictatorship, (and of course, as we all know, multinationals have a history of deep support for and involvement with these dictators). The domestic Bolivian ruling class is a very weak one, moulded during colonialism, broken through various lost wars and internal rebellions, and yet saved every time from the latter by US imperialism. One assumes that it will happen again, if Mr Morales does not care to be "pragmatic" (oh, this is real Mafia talk - "'Ey, think it over, be pragmatic, don't bust my fockin balls..."). Self-evidently, Bolivia's workers can take on their own government, but not the combined might of international capital, and certainly not a US military intervention - even by proxy. Had the Venezuelan coup not been botched, it is very unlikely that Morales would have been sworn in. If the Haitian coup is not botched (and there is still considerable room for that), then Morales cannot expect to stay in power for long and do anything meaningful. If Afghanistan can be off-loaded onto the Nato forces, and Iraq pacified somehow, then perhaps Iran can expect a noisy public strike while death squads are despatched to Bolivia direct from the School of the Americas (now the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation).
To say that capital is only as strong as its weakest link only rises above useless platitude if those who are ideologically prepared to strike against it at its weakest points are supported by those who live in its centre. That is what anti-imperialism is about. And that is what the neophytic leftie converts to imperialism have forgotten, if they ever knew it in the first place.
Bolivia: Between Colonisation and Revolution.