Monday, January 25, 2010

7 Questions for Carlo Moiana about the current situation in Latin America

Today its my very real pleasure to publish my interview with Carlo who, since our "meeting" in August 08, became a regular commentator on this blog. Carlo is extremely well-informed about the situation in Latin America (his other specialty is Russia) and I asked him to agree to a Q&A about the current developments on this continent. It is hard to overstate the importance of Latin America in the worldwide struggle against the USraelien Empire and recently the liberation struggle has been faced with numerous ominous developments. Now is a perfect time to make a survey of the "Latin American Union" with an expert like Carlo to whom I am deeply grateful for his time and expertise.

The Saker
The Saker: Carlo - lots of things have been happening in Latin America. The USA successfully overthrew President Zelaya of Honduras, Evo Morales was brilliantly won the General Election in Bolivia, but in Chile a multi-billionaire right wing president, Sebastian Piñera, won the presidential elections with 51.6% of the vote. The US recreated the 4th Fleet under SOUTHCOM, Colombia allowed the US to open a series of military bases and Venezuela reported regular airspace violations by US military aircraft from Colombia (a de-facto US colony) and the Dutch Antilles (a de-jure and de-facto Dutch/NATO colony). Venezuela is engaged in a major arms purchase program (from Russia) while at the same time the oil prices are putting Venezuela in a difficult economic situation. The earthquake in Haiti made it possible for the USA to essentially occupy the small country and make darn sure that the devastation would not be a pretext for the return of the legitimate President. What do you make of all these, and other, developments in Latin America? What is your assessment of the "State of the Continent", so to speak.

Carlo: Well, you already made an excellent summary of the most important events in Latin America in the last years. The region has made important progress in the last 10 years, but we should notice that the "golden years" are gone. These lasted from 2002, when the US became completely involved in Afghanistan and began preparing the war against Iraq, til 2008, when the 4th Fleet was reactivated, and it meant that South American countries could do mostly what they wanted without fearing a US intervention. Now there are more risks when implementing independent policies in the region, but I think Chavez, Morales and Correa don't fear these risks anyway.

Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean are different cases, and the US kept intervening there even during the height of the "War on Terror". I think it is extremely likely that the US participated in the coup against Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004 (he was forced to board a US plane with US military personnel) and a possible manipulation of Mexican presidential elections in 2006, when a leftist candidate almost won.

The Saker: Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador seem to be forming in informal alliance of Latin American countries which clearly reject US imperialism and who want to built a new economic model. How are, in your opinion, these countries doing, how successful have they been.

Carlo: Politically, very successfully. They have a very good image throughout the world (except perhaps Cuba), even though there are many attacks from the US corporate media, and this makes unlikely a direct military attack against them. They also managed to decrease poverty and income differences (which are huge in most of the continent), and create better health and education systems - Venezuela was the second country in the region, after Cuba, to eradicate illiteracy. But there may be problems ahead. The main economical and political engine of this alliance was surely Venezuela, fuelled by very high oil prices. But now that these have decreased drastically, inflation and deficit budget are increasing in Venezuela, and this may affect Chavez's government in the parliamentary elections that will happen this year. Chavez made the big mistake of not diversifying his country's economy, which only exports oil and imports most of the industrialized products and even a great part of the food it consumes. In 2005 a program to settle unemployed urban workers in the countryside was implemented, but it will probably take some time to bring results. Anyway, despite the problems, Chavez's popularity is still very high, so probably he won't suffer very bad results in the elections.

The Saker: In contrast, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay have followed a "sort of but not really" kind of progressive course, in which the rhetoric is definitely Left-leaning, but the actual policies are not. What kind of result has that brought these governments and how do you assess their future prospects?

Carlo: You could have included Chile in the list also, at least until Piñera assumes. First, let's talk a bit about Mercosur. This was originally conceived in the 1980's as a free trade area between Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay, but its role has grown, and now it has a parliament, very easy transit of people (it is not even needed a passport to travel between these countries), an increased number of associate members (Chile, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela, the last is to become a full member as soon as Paraguay approves its membership), and plans to create a common currency. Mercosur did a lot to integrate these countries, but has its share of problems, mostly the commercial disagreements between the two biggest and most industrialized members, Brazil and Argentina. Uruguay and Paraguay have less diversified economies and sometimes feel their interests are overshadowed by the biggest members, so many times they turn to the US to have an alternative market for their agricultural products. The same happens with Chile, which is mostly an exporter of raw materials: this country has been ruled by the moderate left since Pinochet left power in 1990, but remained an important political and comercial partner of the US.

Brazil and Argentina are very unique countries. In Brazil, the rightists have a very strong hold in Brazilian mass communication (mostly Globo, one of the biggest mass-media corporation in the world), and they usually support the US economical and political agenda. On the other hand, Brazil has a very diversified economy, it exports many industrialized products, like automobiles, electronics and aircrafts, and is undoubtedly the leader in South America, having by far the biggest territory, population and economy. And the political leaders, even though not left-leaning, usually pursue a more independent foreign policy. This was true for previous presidents, like centrists José Sarney (1985-1990) and Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003). And the independent policy got stronger (though not as much as in Venezuela and Bolivia) with Lula, the current president since 2003, who is extremely popular, and has always been at odds with the mass media.

Argentina was the most industrialized country in the region until the 1970's, but is perhaps the only country in which a de-industrialization program was conceived and applied on purpose (Russia and other former Soviet countries were largely de-industrialized in the 1990's, but it wasn't done so much on purpose, it was mostly due to the ill-conceived "reforms"), in two phases: first during the military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1976 to 1983, and then during the hard-right presidency of Carlos Menem, from 1989 to 1999. The rightists are not so strong in this country because people felt directly the consequences of a very pro-US politics and monetarist economics, which ruined the country and caused most of the industries to close, creating huge unemployment and a sharp decrease in living standards (which, til the 1970's, were much higher than any other South American country).

The presidency of the Kirchners (first Nestor, from 2003 to 2007, and since then his wife Cristina) have been a contradictory and deceiving government. After the complete collapse of the country in 2001, Nestor Kirchner assumed in 2003 and had a quite successful presidency, restoring the economy and partially re-industrializing the country. Also, ties with Venezuela and Bolivia have increased, and some anti-US rhetorics have appeared. But Argentina kept close ties with Israel (even adhering to the US and Israelian version of the attack against the AMIA Jewish center, which was bombed in 1994, blaming Iran and Hezbollah for it). But the Kirchners have a very apathetic foreign policy, differently from Brazil and Venezuela, which are constantly seeking new allies and partners to diminish the influence of the US and Europe in the region. Cristina Kirchner last week canceled an official visit to China, because of conflicts with her vice-president. And after some years of high growth and some decrease of poverty, the economy has been deteriorating again, with high inflation, stagnation and a new rise of poverty and income differences. There has been no interest in fighting inflation, instead what the government has been doing since 2007 is interfering in the main statistical institute, trying to hide the true economical data. And with shrinking popularity, it is very probably that they won't remain in power after 2011, when there will be new presidential elections, but it is still impossible to know what will happen then. Nestor and Cristina Kirchner are probably the biggest disappointment in the region: the country seemed to be in the right path from 2003 til 2006, but since then they became more arrogant, distant from the population, made billionaire agreements with business which showed loyalty to them, and their personal fortune increased 7-fold in just one year (2008). Lula, though not as independent and progressive as Chavez, and also with some corruption scandals, at least managed to increase considerably the economy, decrease poverty to some extent, and specially strengthened Brazilian influence in the world.

The Saker: Mexico, Peru, Colombia and now, Honduras are clearly under US control and have pretty much cast their lots with the US Empire. Do you believe that these countries are now indeed firmly under US imperial control or do they still have the potential to free themselves?

Carlo: Mexico has a US ally in the presidency, Felipe Calderón, thanks to very controversial elections in 2006. And Honduras went under US control through a coup against former president Zelaya, who was a close ally of Chavez. So these two countries could have a possibility of freeing themselves, though proximity with the US make this much harder than in South America. Colombia, on the other hand, has a very rightist president who was elected through legitimate elections, and who is also very popular. But Alvaro Uribe, the Colombian president, is surely the biggest threat: using "anti-terrorist" rhetorics (against the FARC guerrilla which controls a great part of Colombian territory) he even attacked Ecuadorian territory in 2007, to kill some FARC leaders who were there for negotiations to have Ecuador as a mediator in the Colombian conflict. Uribe also uses very strong rhetorics against Chavez, accusing him of supporting the "terrorists", and there are fears that a war between both countries may appear.

The Saker: How would you assess the role and importance of the OAS, in particular in comparison with ALBA and how would you assess the current status and potential of ALBA?

Carlo: The OAS is, nowadays, quite useless. The entire region opposes the US embargo against Cuba (even Canada criticizes it), nevertheless it continues to exist and there seems no possibility that it will end anytime soon (unless there is a sudden regime change in that country). There was a consensus in the OAS in the 60's and 70's, when Latin America was entirely ruled by the right, mainly by military dictators. But since democracy has returned to the region in te 80's, there is no consensus at all in the OAS. About ALBA: it is an interesting political, strategical and economical proposal. Its members are Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Cuba, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica and Saint Vincent and Granadines. It appeared as an alternative against the US-led Free Trade Area of the Americas (which, by the way, will hardly be implemented entirely, except by some countries which signed bilateral agreements with the US, like Colombia). But ALBA is still only beginning, and Mercosur is a much more consolidated agreement and includes the two biggest economies in South America, Brazil and Argentina.

The Saker: It is clear that the Latin American continent is becoming polarized and there is a lot of talk about the risk for military conflicts. How likely do you think that such conflicts really are? In particular, what do you make of the US moves of recreating the 4th Fleet and opening bases in Colombia? Do you think that a major US intervention is being prepared and, if yes, against what country? Venezuela?

Carlo: The US didn't care for South America for quite some years, when they dedicated mostly to Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, and a lot of independent movements popped in the entire region. Even Mexico almost elected a leftist president in 2006, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Having realized this, the US is now coming back, for sure, with an increased military presence in the region. Hugo Chavez and even Fidel Castro had hopes that Obama would improve ties with their countries, the most "rebel" ones. But, as all other hopes people used to have for Obama, this one has also vanished completely. Anyway, I think a direct intervention of the US in the region, specially a military attack, is very unlikely, as it would be hugely unpopular in the entire world. But destabilization, economical wars, manipulation of elections and "revolutions for democracy" (similar to the Ukrainian and Georgian cases) are very real possibilities, and some of them may even be realities (for example, manipulation of the 2006 presidential elections in Mexico).

There are risks of a military conflict between the country with the most independent policy in South America, Venezuela, and the biggest ally of the US in the region, Colombia - two countries which, by an irony of fate, are neighbors. But I think the risk is small. The populations of both countries would be strongly against a war, and don't want any conflict. Also, I think a war between them wouldn't be good for the US, either. The last war that happened in South America was a brief border conflict in a remote jungle area between Peru and Ecuador in 1995, which lasted one month, and in 1998 both countries signed a treaty solving the territorial disputes between them.

The Saker: More generally, we can say that what is going on nowadays in Latin America is a struggle between the White, colonial, plutocracy and the native, indigenous popular movements. I am not much of a Marxist, but find that a class analysis of the politics in Latin America makes a great deal of sense. Do you agree with this view and, if yes, what do you see as the likely outcome of this 21 century "class struggle"?

Carlo: What you affirm mostly applies to Bolivia, and in a smaller degree to Argentina and Chile, where there is a division between European descendants, who belonged to the higher classes, and poorer Indian descendants. With Morales as president, Bolivia has made a great progress to integrate the Indian descendants, and now the country is officially called The Multinational State of Bolivia, with 36 native languages recognized as official, together with Spanish. But in Brazil, for example, there has been a lot of miscegenation, though usually the division was between European and African (brought as slaves) descendants. But I would say you are right in the aspect that Latin America is polarized between very poor populations, with no access to quality education and health care, minimal infrastructure and low qualification jobs, if not unemployed and going into crime, and, on the other hand, rich and medium classes who have lifestyles very similar to Western Europeans and North Americans. Latin America is not so much a poor region, it has a reasonable decree of economical development, even high in some countries (Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay), but the greatest tragedy in this region is the extremely unfair division of wealth and unequal access to education and health services.
Carlo Moiana, 32, is Brazilian and has been living in Argentina since 2005. He contributed voluntarily to the Portuguese-version of the online newspaper from 2003 til 2008, and since this year has been a follower of the Vineyard of the Saker blog (which he discovered during the South Ossetian war).