Thursday, October 02, 2008

Social Summit for Latin America: Chomsky

VII Social Summit for the Latin American & Caribbean

By Noam Chomsky
Septmber 30, 2008


During the past decade, Latin America has become the
most exciting region of the world. The dynamic has very
largely flowed from right where you are meeting, in
Caracas, with the election of a leftist president
dedicated to using Venezuela's rich resources for the
benefit of the population rather than for wealth and
privilege at home and abroad, and to promote the
regional integration that is so desperately needed as a
prerequisite for independence, for democracy, and for
meaningful development. The initiatives taken in
Venezuela have had a significant impact throughout the
subcontinent, what has now come to be called "the pink
tide." The impact is revealed within the individual
countries, most recently Paraguay, and in the regional
institutions that are in the process of formation.
Among these are the Banco del Sur, an initiative that
was endorsed here in Caracas a year ago by Nobel
laureate in economics Joseph Stiglitz; and the ALBA,
the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America and the
Caribbean, which might prove to be a true dawn if its
initial promise can be realized.

The ALBA is often described as an alternative to the
US-sponsored "Free Trade Area of the Americas," though
the terms are misleading. It should be understood to be
an independent development, not an alternative. And,
furthermore, the so-called "free trade agreements" have
only a limited relation to free trade, or even to trade
in any serious sense of that term; and they are
certainly not agreements, at least if people are part
of their countries. A more accurate term would be
"investor-rights arrangements," designed by
multinational corporations and banks and the powerful
states that cater to their interests, established
mostly in secret, without public participation or
awareness. That is why the US executive regularly calls
for "fast-track authority" for these agreements -
essentially, Kremlin-style authority.

Another regional organization that is beginning to take
shape is UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations.
This continental bloc, modeled on the European Union,
aims to establish a South American parliament in
Cochabamba, a fitting site for the UNASUR parliament.
Cochabamba was not well known internationally before
the water wars of 2000. But in that year events in
Cochabamba became an inspiration for people throughout
the world who are concerned with freedom and justice,
as a result of the courageous and successful struggle
against privatization of water, which awakened
international solidarity and was a fine and encouraging
demonstration of what can be achieved by committed

The aftermath has been even more remarkable. Inspired
in part by developments in Venezuela, Bolivia has
forged an impressive path to true democratization in
the hemisphere, with large-scale popular initiatives
and meaningful participation of the organized majority
of the population in establishing a government and
shaping its programs on issues of great importance and
popular concern, an ideal that is rarely approached
elsewhere, surely not in the Colossus of the North,
despite much inflated rhetoric by doctrinal managers.

Much the same had been true 15 years earlier in Haiti,
the only country in the hemisphere that surpasses
Bolivia in poverty - and like Bolivia, was the source
of much of the wealth of Europe, later the United
States. In 1990, Haiti's first free election took
place. It was taken for granted in the West that the US
candidate, a former World Bank official who monopolized
resources, would easily win. No one was paying
attention to the extensive grass-roots organizing in
the slums and hills, which swept into power the
populist priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Washington
turned at once to undermining the feared and hated
democratic government. It took only a few months for a
US-backed military coup to reverse this stunning
victory for democracy, and to place in power a regime
that terrorized the population with the direct support
of the US government, first under president Bush I,
then Clinton. Washington finally permitted the elected
president to return, but only on the condition that he
adhere to harsh neoliberal rules that were guaranteed
to crush what remained of the economy, as they did. And
in 2004, the traditional torturers of Haiti, France and
the US, joined to remove the elected president from
office once again, launching a new regime of terror,
though the people remain unvanquished, and the popular
struggle continues despite extreme adversity.

All of this is familiar in Latin America, not least in
Bolivia, the scene of today's most intense and
dangerous confrontation between popular democracy and
traditional US-backed elites. Archaeologists are now
discovering that before the European conquest, Bolivia
had a wealthy, sophisticated and complex society - to
quote their words, "one of the largest, strangest, and
most ecologically rich artificial environments on the
face of the planet, with causeways and canals, spacious
and formal towns and considerable wealth," creating a
landscape that was "one of humankind's greatest works
of art, a masterpiece." And of course Bolivia's vast
mineral wealth enriched Spain and indirectly northern
Europe, contributing massively to its economic and
cultural development, including the industrial and
scientific revolutions. Then followed a bitter history
of imperial savagery with the crucial connivance of
rapacious domestic elites, factors that are very much
alive today.

Sixty years ago, US planners regarded Bolivia and
Guatemala as the greatest threats to its domination of
the hemisphere. In both cases, Washington succeeded in
overthrowing the popular governments, but in different
ways. In Guatemala, Washington resorted to the standard
technique of violence, installing one of the world's
most brutal and vicious regimes, which extended its
criminality to virtual genocide in the highlands during
Reagan's murderous terrorist wars of the 1980s - and we
might bear in mind that these horrendous atrocities
were carried out under the guise of a "war on terror,"
a war that was re-declared by George Bush in September
2001, not declared, a revealing distinction when we
recall the implementation of Reagan's "war on terror"
and its grim human consequences.

In Guatemala, the Eisenhower administration overcame
the threat of democracy and independent development by
violence. In Bolivia, it achieved much the same
results by exploiting Bolivia's economic dependence on
the US, particularly for processing Bolivia's tin
exports. Latin America scholar Stephen Zunes points out
that "At a critical point in the nation's effort to
become more self-sufficient [in the early 1950s], the
U.S. government forced Bolivia to use its scarce
capital not for its own development, but to compensate
the former mine owners and repay its foreign debts."

The economic policies forced on Bolivia in those years
were a precursor of the structural adjustment programs
imposed on the continent thirty years later, under the
terms of the neoliberal "Washington consensus," which
has generally had disastrous effects wherever its
strictures have been observed. By now, the victims of
neoliberal market fundamentalism are coming to include
the rich countries, where the curse of financial
liberalization is bringing about the worst financial
crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s and
leading to massive state intervention in a desperate
effort to rescue collapsing financial institutions.


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