Scoop (New Zealand) | Wednesday, 26 April 2006
Shifting Centres Of Gravity In Latin America
by Toni Solo
COPA the Panamanian airline is now flying the Brazilian company Embraer’s E-190 commercial airliners on routes previously dominated by Boeing 737s. This detail highlights broader shifts in the economic balance of power in Latin America away from United States corporations. US businesses over-accustomed to hefty direct and indirect government subsidy and support are steadily going to have make sharp adjustments. The Bush regime’s desperation to force through "free trade" deals with Latin American countries is partly an attempt to soften, if not avoid, the blows to come.
Embraer’s sale of airliners to COPA indicates the incipient displacement of European and US aerospace industry in Latin America by Brazil. Last week President Lula decorated Brazil’s first astronaut, who had succesfully completed a mission with the Russian space programme. Brazil is also developing its nuclear industry. Both Brazil and Venezuela are making significant widespread use of free software in preference to proprietary software like Microsoft’s Windows operating system. Global trade links between Brazil and China, Venezuela and Iran combine with regional integration initiatives that are remaking Latin America’s traditional networks of international relations.
Patterns of investment and exploitation of natural resources are also shifting. A sign of this is the environmental concern now being raised in relation to an inter-governmental plan for a gas pipeline from Venezuela to Argentina to link much of South America’s gas resources into a single network. But its proposed route passes through some of the world’s most precious areas of biodiversity, forest and water reserves. Presidents like Hugo Chavez and Ignacio da Silva will have to square the conflicting demands their drive to regional integration imposes.
Local impacts, global context
They also face the likelihood of crises exacerbated by conflicts resulting from the global corporate elite’s refusal to share power. The US government’s commitment to "full spectrum dominance" and support for that policy from dependent allies like the UK is non-negotiable and extremely destabilising. One sees this all too clearly in the continuing refusal of North American and European countries to respect the democratic electoral decisions of the Palestinians.
That self-evident hypocrisy is a sign of political and economic failure in a much wider context. Accompanying that failure is the delusion that US military might and North American and European economic muscle can staunch the flow of influence away to increasingly powerful countries like Russia, China, India and Brazil. As they flounder and fail on Iran, political frontpersons for the global corporate elite like George Bush and his cronies are perhaps in even worse straits in Latin America.
Conflicts engendered by these global and regional changes inflict heavy costs on weak and vulnerable countries and peoples. The casualties and the damage inflicted receive little attention. The plight of the Palestinian people is archetypal in this regard. Haiti and, currently, Nicaragua, show that open intervention in electoral processes and refusal to accept unfavourable results have become so routine that they are not even reported in the corporate media. Currently, in Nicaragua, US ambassador Paul Trivelli’s antics are proving so embarrassing that even local church leaders have been moved to protest.
Right now a large US naval task force led by the aircraft carrier "George Washington" is on manoeuvres in the Caribbean, in an exercise called "Partnership of the Americas". The manoeuvres are supposed to help bolster and coordinate activities against narcotics and people trafficking. It is impossible to accept that anodyne gloss on such a powerful show of force. The exercise follows a few weeks after the Dutch Defence Minister made the absurd allegation, swiftly rejected by the Dutch Antilles Prime Minister, Etienne Nestor, that Venezuela might invade the Dutch territories of Bonaire, Aruba and Curaçao. The US warships are scheduled to visit Curaçao, Aruba, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis as well as Nicaragua and Honduras,
Andean economic tensions
This gunboat diplomacy may indirectly constitute some kind of response by the Bush regime to the shock caused by Venezuela’s withdrawal from the Andean Community of Nations. Venezuela’s government feels that recent "free trade" deals with the US signed by the governments of Peru and Colombia undermine the community’s rationale of regional integration. The decision by Venezuela to withdraw from the ACN threatens severe problems for Colombian businesses that have benefited from ACN’s concessionary terms of trade.
Now those benefits are at risk. This outcome, upping the ante in the regional tussle to define trade arrangements, has found the Colombian government ill-prepared. Venezuela’s move may not be unrelated either to damaging recent publicity in the Colombian media confirming that the Colombian government’s DAS security service has plotted to murder Venezuela’s President Chavez. Rafael Garcia, former head of information services in the DAS, made the allegations in a detailed interview with the Colombian "Semana" magazine.
Venezuela’s decision to leave the ACN embarrasses neighbouring local oligarchies by throwing even more doubt on the benefits to Andean countries of opening up their markets wholesale to United States corporations. In Peru, nationalist presidential candidate Ollanta Humala’s effective campaign prioritized opposition to the Toledo government’s signing of a "free trade" deal with the US. After winning the first round of voting, Humala goes into a second round run-off vote for the Presidency towards the end of May. If he wins he may trash Toledo’s deal and insist on renegotiation at the very least. Something the US government would likely reject.
Venezuela and its South American allies foiled attempts by the Bush regime to impose a continent wide Free Trade Area of the Americas in Latin America. The US government had already worked out and was ready to execute a response to this setback. Originally, it was ruthlessly implemented by former US trade representative Robert Zoellick. Zoellick pushed through negotiations on the Central American Free Trade Agreement before moving on to become deputy Secretary of State to Condolezza Rice. His successors failed to persuade the Andean countries to negotiate a regional trade deal to match CAFTA. They ended up having to pick off Colombia and Peru separately.
But now the Venezuelan government is pursuing its vision of just and equitable trade to favour excluded and impoverished majorities by offering cheap fuel and fertilizer to Nicaragua. The deal has been facilitated by the Sandinista FSLN led by Daniel Ortega and will benefit up to 151 municipal authorities in Nicaragua regardless of their party political persuasion. It should be formally signed on April 25th.
This support from Venezuela will help alleviate the worst effects of Nicaragua’s fuel crisis and provide much needed cheap fertilizer just when small farmers will be preparing to sow to take advantage of the year’s first rains. Nicaragua’s neighbours, with the powerful FMLN bloc in EL Salvador and a pragmatic new government in Honduras, are likely to want similar support. Venezuela may well be able offer these other Central American countries terms like those it negotiated with Caribbean countries under the Petrocaribe initiative in 2005.
Unhappy US twins - failure, aggression
In their different ways, Venezuela and Brazil are making their presence felt in Central America and across the continent. The political and economic options this shift opens up are likely to transform relations between states throughout the region. Cringing from US government threats and jumping for meagre US government carrots are unlikely to remain much longer as the principal options dominating Central American regional diplomacy.
Aggressive US government rhetoric about Venezuela reflects its failing status in Latin America just as its war-mongering rhetoric on Iran indicates its regional political failure there. Military aggression to compensate for its political and economic debacles is an ominously ready option for the failed regime of George W. Bush. His incompetent, deceitful administration could lash out at any time in a misguided military gamble to try and reshape reality in accordance with its own delusions. The chances are such an adventure will hasten, not arrest, the United States of North America’s imperial decline.
toni solo is an activist based in Central America - contact via www.tonisolo.net