Thursday, September 22, 2005

Putting a New Face on Domination

With the demise of both the infamous rapid anti-Castro top diplomats for Latin America - Otto Reich and Roger Noriega - the Bush Administration appears to have recognized that naked aggression has gotten the US nowhere fast. The new appointee for the top spot, assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere., is Thomas Shannon a career foreign service and wonkish academic, who appears to represent a change in attitude, if not policy, on Latin America.

At his confirmation hearing yesterday, Shannon said the present situation with Venezuela is a "tragedy," but put all the blame on President Hugo Chavez. Shannon did acknowledge that the US has "not done a good job that we need to do in articulating our policies and our goals in the region" and that he is prepared to engage with Chavez in a "battle of ideas."

Interestingly, the term "battle of ideas" is Fidel Castro's. It refers to the rededication to socialist values in after some deviation during the post-Soviet economic troubles in the early 90s. If the US is truly willing to engage the leftists of Latin America in a battle of ideas, I can't wait. What lies and distortions will they come up with to prove that the past 25 years of neo-liberalism and privitization have actually made the continent better. How will they battle these damning facts:

· For the first 5 years of the current decade, 2000-2004, per capita GDP in Latin America is expected to grow by 0.2 percent annually, or about 1 percent for the whole period.

· This continues a long period of economic failure: for the prior 20 years, 1980-1999, the region grew by only 11 percent (in per capita terms) over the whole period. This is the worst 20-year growth performance for more than a century, even including the years of the Great Depression.

· By comparison, for the two decades from 1960-1979, Latin America experienced per capita GDP growth of 80 percent.

Maybe we should listen to our own (even conservative) EXPERTS first. Like Michael Shifter, from the right-wing, pro-business Inter-American Dialogue: "There's a lot of suspicion about the motives of the use of U.S. power, and also there is a sense that many of the economic models that were advocated by Washington have not really produced very satisfactory results for most Latin Americans," he said. "A lot of the opening of markets, privatization, liberalizing trade have taken place and yet Latin Americans, most of them, are not doing better. Poverty levels are still high, inequality has increased in almost every country. So there's a sense that somehow the prescriptions that Washington urged Latin Americans to adopt, and which they did adopt, really haven't produced the results that were expected."

But it appears to be more of the same from Shannon. For him, like good capitalist-apologists everywhere, the problem is that these failing countries just haven't gone far enough. It's all about "making tough decisions to strengthen democratic institutions, to open up their economies, to punish people for being corrupt, to make it easier to start a business, to get more credit to the private sector because that's how you're going to have sustained economic growth," he said. "These are hard things and the United States will stand by countries that help themselves." And those that want to try a new route?? They will look at the hell Chavez has had to endure from its friendly northern neighbors and its rich elite surrogates.

Roger Noreiega, on his way out the door, had some more choice words for Venezuela. "Just as we respect the sovereignty of Venezuela, even though we occasionally... (back coups, spread disinformation, fabricate election results, fund opposition political figures and ignore international law regarding extradition)... we nevertheless respect its sovereignty and we would hope Venezuela would respect the sovereignty of its neighbors too." I love when the US lectures sovereignty while its hands are dirty trying to overthrow a democratically elected government.

Meanwhile, whateveritisimagainstit found noteworthy Shannon's comments about "populism" (in relation to Chavez's "populism" of course). He says,"The United States went through a similar process of populism, and our party structure found a way to contain it." Lefti adds the definition of Populism: "A political philosophy supporting the rights and power of the people in their struggle against the privileged elite." Definitely something that needs to be "contained."


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