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The Latin American Revolt: An Introduction

The revolt against U.S. hegemony in Latin America in the opening years of the twenty-first century constitutes nothing less than a new historical moment. Latin America, to quote Noam Chomsky, is “reasserting its independence” in an attempt to free itself from centuries of imperialist domination. The gravity of this threat to U.S. power is increasingly drawing the attention of Washington. Julia Sweig, Latin American program director at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that the twenty-first century is likely to be known as the “Anti-American Century,” marking a growing intolerance of the “waning” U.S. empire. Outweighing even the resistance to the U.S. war machine in Iraq in this respect, Sweig suggests, is the political realignment to the left in Latin America, which, in destabilizing U.S. rule in the Americas, offers a “prophetic microcosm” of what can be expected worldwide.1

The United States, through the 1823 Monroe Doctrine and the 1904 Roosevelt Corollary, Sweig asserts, long ago established its “right to preemptive military intervention in the Americas.” But Latin Americans themselves rarely saw it that way. “What was for the United States the rightful and manifest extension of power in the name of national interest, values, markets, democracy, or nation building became for Mexicans, Cubans, Nicaraguans, Haitians, Hondurans, Costa Ricans, Dominicans…trespasses of sovereignty by a colossus.” Since the Second World War, Latin Americans have been subjected again and again to U.S. interventions (replicating a long history of U.S. intrusions in the region): “Guatemala in 1954; Cuba in 1961; Dominican Republic in 1965; Chile from 1970 to 1989; the Southern Cone dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s; the contras, counterinsurgency, and death squads in Central America; invasions in Grenada and Panama.” U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger flatly declared, with respect to Allende’s Chile, that it was within the rights of the United States to “set the limits of diversity” in Latin America.2

The most recent U.S. attempt to “set the limits of diversity” in Latin America by military means (apart from the continuing U.S. covert war in Colombia) was the coup d’état carried out against democratically elected President Hugo Chávez in Venezuela in 2002. Not only did the United States know about, help plan, provide logistical support for, and covertly give a green light to the coup, but it greeted it, once it had occurred, with open arms—offering immediate diplomatic recognition to the coup plotters. Nevertheless, the coup quickly fell apart, due to an immense popular upsurge in support of Chávez, and Washington’s plans backfired, leading, as Sweig notes, to Chávez’s rise “as a symbol of defiance of the United States, just as Fidel Castro was in the twentieth century.”3

But if Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution that he has helped inspire are today the primary symbols of the new Latin American revolt, the upsurge of Latin America’s peoples is now to be seen everywhere in the southern part of the hemisphere. A brief list would have to include: the election of Evo Morales of the Movement Toward Socialism as president of Bolivia in 2005; the alliance of Venezuela, Cuba, and Bolivia in the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America and the Caribbean (ALBA); the 2006 election of Rafael Correa, a proponent, together with Chávez, Morales, and Castro, of “socialism for the twenty-first century,” as president of Ecuador; the election of Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega as president of Nicaragua in 2006; the dramatic electoral and social movement struggles in Mexico (where the populace in the millions rose up to protest the stolen 2006 election, and where momentous popular struggles are occurring in the regions of Oaxaca and Chiapas); the unrelenting peaceful insurgency of the Landless Workers’ Movement in Brazil; Argentina’s repudiation of external debt in defiance of the World Bank along with its widespread factory takeovers; the rejection of the U.S.-sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas and the expansion of the Southern Cone’s Common Market (MERCOSUR)—with Venezuela now a member; the continuing resistance of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) in the face of the U.S. “Plan Colombia” Cuba’s successful handling of its “Special Period” and its transition to a post-Fidel government. Altogether these developments point to the strength, breadth, pervasiveness, and multi-faceted nature of the new Latin American revolt.

The fact that the United States has historically exercised in Latin America all “the supremacy of power which hegemony provides” has meant that the U.S. ruling class and its attendant foreign policy elites have frequently viewed the entire region as a “laboratory” of U.S. global rule.4 It was in the U.S.-sponsored dictatorships of the Southern Cone of South America (Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay) that neoliberalism, i.e., the promotion of a new naked capitalism in response to world economic slowdown—requiring the elimination of all state protections for the population and all limits on the movement of capital—was first imposed. This process began even before the onset of the third world debt crisis in the early 1980s, and was identified above all with the alliance between the Pinochet dictatorship and the Chicago school of economics led by Milton Friedman. But according to Francisco Dominiguez, head of Latin American Studies at Middlesex University in the United Kingdom, “it was ‘Third Way’ administrations such as Concertación in Chile, the Peronist Menem in Argentina, the traditional parties, Blanco and Colorado in Uruguay, the MIR-Banzer alliance in Bolivia, ADECO and COPEI in Venezuela, Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s Partido Social Democratico Brasileiro, in Brazil, and the most pro-U.S. factions within the Mexican PRI, just to cite the most prominent examples, which systematized, perfected and consolidated neoliberalism in these countries.”5

The result was an unmitigated economic disaster, represented by the “lost decade” of economic growth of the 1980s. In 1980, 41 percent of the Latin American population was living in poverty. By 1990 this had jumped to 48 percent, while in 2002 it was still at 44 percent. Nearly half of Latin America’s poor, around 97 million people, are presently struggling to live on an income of less than a dollar a day. Meanwhile the number of Latin American billionaires has more than quadrupled since the late 1980s.6

Today’s Latin American independence movement is thus an attempt to overturn neoliberalism forced on Latin America by the United States and the other advanced capitalist states (enforced by the IMF and the World Bank). As Morales stated, “The cause of all these acts of bloodshed [against the exploited population], and for the uprising of the Bolivian people, has a name: neoliberalism.”7 The nature of this struggle necessitated a radical revolt against U.S. imperialism and capitalism, and against the internal relations of exploitation that have arisen in this context. Leadership in the revolt was therefore assumed mainly by anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, indigenous, and socialist forces. Class and other social struggles continue in all of these countries, and there are considerable tensions between nations. Nevertheless, there are also rising signs of a new Latin American solidarity.

The foremost example of this is ALBA. Beginning primarily as an alliance between Cuba and Venezuela, it now includes Bolivia, and has the support of Ecuador’s Correa. ALBA has centered on the development of cooperative barter arrangements between Latin American states in order to free the region from the iron grip of global monopoly-finance capital centered in the North. The best known example has been the exchange of Venezuelan oil for twenty thousand Cuban doctors to help bring basic health care to at least seventeen million Venezuelans. But wider cooperative arrangements are now being pushed under the auspices of ALBA in areas as diverse as petrochemicals, literacy, media (ALBA’s Telusur project), and even a proposed Bank of the South and Latin American currency.8

The growing turn to the left in Latin America has of course not gone unnoticed in the Colossus of the North, which has attempted on a number of occasions since the 2002 coup to engineer regime change in Venezuela (including backing an unsuccessful bosses’ oil lockout and supporting opposition forces in a presidential recall referendum, which nonetheless led to a resounding victory for Chávez). In February 2006 U.S. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld provocatively compared the reelection of Chávez in Venezuela to the election of Hitler as German Chancellor.9 In June 2007 Secretary of State Rice accused Venezuela of backing away from democracy by refusing to renew the broadcasting license of Radio Caracas TV, a private broadcaster that had actively supported the 2002 military coup in Venezuela.

For Washington, the key problem is how to depose Chávez, end chavismo, and bring the Bolivarian Revolution to a halt—as the most crucial step in the resubjugation of Latin America. Its primary “diplomatic” strategy is to undermine support for Chávez both internally within Venezuela and externally in relation to other major Latin American states. Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and former director of policy planning in Bush’s state department, emphasized in November 2006 that the object was to formulate a long-term strategy “to dilute Chávez’s appeal and power.” The main tool to achieve this was for the United States, in agreement with other Latin American states, to establish “red lines in foreign and domestic policies” such that, if Chávez crossed them, they would automatically trigger the isolation of the Bolivarian Republic.

Haass’s remarks were presented in the foreword to a report of the Council of Foreign Relations’ “Center for Political Action” entitled, Living With Hugo, authored by Richard Lapper, Latin American correspondent for the London Financial Times. According to this report, a primary threat associated with the Bolivarian Revolution is its “anti-capitalist crusade.” The chief tactical means for upsetting the Venezuelan state, opening it up to more forcible action from abroad, the report detailed, was to establish in advance “specific red lines,” determined by the United States and “regional leaders, such as Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Mexico.” This would entail agreements “on how to respond in the event that such red lines are crossed.” A joint “preventive-action” response could be constructed in advance to counter any steps Chávez might take that would “cause a crisis in Venezuela or the region.” Red lines could be drawn, it was specified, around (1) any attempt to amend the Venezuelan constitution to extend Chávez’s term of office; (2) Venezuelan support for destabilizing forces in other countries; or (3) a military relationship with Iran or some other enemy of the United States. Any contraventions of what the United States considers to be “democracy” could be red-lined, provided that the other major Latin American powers agreed.10

In the campaign around the expired broadcasting license of Radio Caracas TV we can see the Council on Foreign Relations plan already being put into action. Human Rights Watch has led the charge calling this a “serious setback for freedom of expression” (for super-rich media moguls!).11 At the same time its Executive Director, Kenneth Roth, is sitting on the Council on Foreign Relations’ Center for Preventive Action Advisory Committee (headed by Reagan’s former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff General John W. Vessey) that has been planning the Bolivarian Republic’s downfall. And all along the vast monetary resources and murderous skills of the CIA operate in the background. There are no crimes the U.S. ruling class will not commit to counter the “anti-capitalist crusade”—i.e. the liberation struggle of the peoples of Latin America, the original base of the U.S. empire.

The most important guarantee for the future of Latin America under these circumstances is the growing solidarity of its peoples—and the growing solidarity of all the world’s peoples with Latin America—in order to prevent further U.S. interventions. Evoking the spirit of nineteenth-century Latin American revolution, Chávez declared before the United Nations:

We fight for Venezuela, for Latin American integration and the world. We reaffirm our infinite faith in humankind. We are thirsty for peace and justice in order to survive as a species. Simón Bolívar, the founding father of our country and guide to our revolution swore to never allow his hands to be idle or his soul to rest until he had broken the shackles which bound us to the empire. Now is the time to not allow our hands to be idle or our souls to rest until we save humanity.12

But while the hands of those who resist the shackles of empire must never be idle, those in the United States and throughout the world who believe in Latin America’s struggle for free human development must insist that the hands of the empire itself be restrained. Hands off Latin America!

Notes

1.   Noam Chomsky, “Latin America Declares Independence,” International Herald Tribune, October 3, 2006; Julia E. Sweig, Friendly Fire: Losing Friends and Making Enemies in the Anti-American Century (New York: Perseus, 2006), xv, 3, 212.
2.   Sweig, Friendly Fire, 4–5, 9, 17; Roger Morris, Uncertain Greatness: Henry Kissenger and American Foreign Policy (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), 241.
3.   Sweig, Friendly Fire, 159. The most detailed description of the evidence in this regard is provided in Eva Golinger, The Chávez Code: Cracking U.S. Intervention in Venezuela (Northampton, Mass.: Olive Branch Press, 2006).
4.   Nicholas Spykman, America’s Strategy in World Politics (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Co., 1942), 62; Sweig, Friendly Fire, 2.
5.   Francisco Dominguez, “ALBA: Latin America’s Anti-Imperialist Economic Project” (August 10, 2006), http://www.21stcenturysocialism.com.
6.   Economic Commission for Latin America and Caribbean, “Trends in Poverty and Indigence, 1980–2006,” http://www.eclac.cl; Dominguez, “ALBA” Duncan Green, Faces of Latin America (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2006), 42.
7.   Evo Morales, “Speech at ‘In Defense of Humanity’ Forum, Mexico City, October 25, 2003,” in Tariq Ali, Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope (New York: Verso, 2006), 221.
8.   Dominguez, “ALBA.”
9.   “Rumsfeld Likens Venezuela’s Chávez to Hitler,” Associated Press, February 3, 2006.
10. Richard Lapper, Living with Hugo: U.S. Policy Toward Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela (Center for Preventive Action, Council of Foreign Relations), November 2006, v, 3, 37; includes “Foreword” by Richard N. Haass. On Haass’s own “Imperial America” strategy see John Bellamy Foster, Naked Imperialism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2006), 97–106.
11. Human Rights Watch, “Venezuela: TV Shutdown Harms Free Expression,” May 22, 2007, http://hrw.org/. Compare Charlie Hardy, “Don’t Cry for Venezuela’s RCTV,” May 27, 2007, http://narcosphere.narconews.com/.
12. Hugo Chávez, speech to the United Nations on September 16, 2005 in Ali, Pirates of the Caribbean, 232.

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