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Latin America's march of democracy as a challenge to hegemon: The struggle against the containment of democracy

By Mehdi S. Shariati

A New Dawn in Latin America has begun. Enormous challenges and opportunities confront the region in the Face of a crushing and vengeful neo-liberalism of global capitalism and all of its supportive economic, military and political institutions. This paper examines those challenges and opportunities particularly as they are related to the possible loss of U.S. hegemony and the attempts at containing democratic aspirations and strategies in Latin America.

Latin America

Contemporary challenges faced by Latin countries are no less determining than what they were confronted with in the decades following their independence. From the rise of Bolivarian ethos to the struggles for liberation and autonomy waged by guerrilla leaders such as Che, Castro and the Sandinista of Nicaragua to democratically elected Socialists such as Arbenz of Guatemala, Allende of Chile, to the contemporary democratically elected governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, and the quasi-populist De Silva of Brazil, the struggle remains not just a political and an economic one, but rather an existential one.

The Latin people for most of their history have struggled for democracy and had they been free of imperialistic interventions aided by domestic comprador, they would have achieved much more in the social, economic and political arena. This has been a very long and sordid history. Any attempt at liberation and autonomy has been forcefully confronted and decapitated. Peron was discredited, Che was murdered,  the Cuban revolution has been effectively contained within its shores, Arbenz was overthrown and murdered, so was democratically elected President of Chile, Salvatore Allende, the Sandinista government of Daniel Ortega was overthrown through a bloody Contra group carved out of the body of Sandinista revolutionaries and aided by some of the Latin governments (Argentina, Honduras, and El Salvador among others involved in the "dirty war"), various organs of the United States governments, Christian Fundamentalist, World Anti-Communist League and Omega 7 (Armony, 1977).

 Since independence, Latin America as a region had experienced over 160 coups, and during the same period their powerful neighbor to the north often presenting itself as a benevolent imperial protector of its backyard by intervening when its interests warranted. In the words of former United States Senator George P. McLean, it is an "imperialism of science, peace, and justice (Congressional Records, 1927, cited in Smith 1981:66).  United States has maintained its hegemonic control through regional treaties, agreements and support of the elite dominated regimes nourished through social, economic and military means. Today those countries which have opted for democratic socialism or are struggling against globalization, and neo-liberalism are engaged in a desperate struggle to sustain themselves in the face of a very destructive and dangerous form of terrorism -monetary terrorism.

Drawing on historical parallel may not be as significant in conveying much about the future, but historical experiences ought not to be readily discarded, particularly if the motives and reasons for the past experiences are as valid today as they were then.  There may be a lesson if anyone cares to learn. What do the learned Latin Americans think of the Monroe Doctrine, Clark Memorandum, The Platt Amendment, Roosevelt Corolary, The Panama Canal (1),  Venezuela, the Big Stick Policy, the Good Neighbor Policy, Mexico, the Rio Treaty, The Alliance for Progress, Kennedy Round, Dominican Republic, Che Guevera , The "Banana Republic", The School of the Americas, Arbenz, Allende, Contras, El Salvador, Haiti, Caribbean Basin initiative, North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), The Summit of the Americas, Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA),and Free Trade Areas of the Americas (FTAA)? In the mind of the Latin American masses, there is no ambiguity with regards to the cultural disdain towards them. In their view the technologically advanced, militarily strong, and economically imperial North has always had a fear of true democracy and the people consciousness about their condition as prelude to revolution. They do recite the struggles of their forefathers and the consequences of those struggles and in the end speculate as to what went wrong and how not to repeat the mistakes that brought them defeat. Social scientists theorize about them, theologians reoriented eschatological tenor, philosophers debated ontological concerns and the Latin masses for the most part (except for some segment of the Church) remained outside of the discourse. Today, Latin America has entered a new phase of existence and is attempting to forge a new identity. They are proving that they do understand and that realization is being communicated through democratic process and alliances.

What do North Americans by and large think of the history of United States/ Latin America relations and/or the contemporary issues regarding that relationship? Is there sufficient number of people with the knowledge and concerns for their country's relationship with Latin America to warrant such question? And to what extent can one  conclude that the United States foreign policy is governed by the democratic process if the answer to the first question is "very few"? How many of them can identify countries to the south of Mexico and how many of them bother to ask pertinent questions? Much is done in the name of the American people and yet we are constantly reminded that not many of them know or care to know about the very regions their political, economic and social elites are operating either in the form of war or exploitation.  How many of them understand that under the despotic regime of global capitalism, all of the developing countries are forced to compete for foreign investments, effectively relinquishing their control over their economies to the agents of global finance. And that accumulation is the modus operandi, the alpha and the omega of the dynamics of global capitalism. Accumulation on a global scale does not allow prosperity for the majority including North American masses. It endorses and breeds dispossession. It effectively lowers wages and reduces or eliminates social services as part of the crushing austerity measures administered by one of its powerful agents-the IMF. Accumulation and privatization are symbiotic processes in the global capitalist system. Long term hegemonic plans are designed to reinvent themselves in each specific historical period. Accordingly, the socio-economic and political control in each specific period demands specific means. But what remain constant is the common practice of privatizing the gains and socializing the cost associated with global capitalist transactions from free trade to all aspects of globalization. Thus, it is imperative that imperialism both in its external dimension and its internal dimension (social imperialism) is successful.


From the early part of the nineteenth century, the United States has considered Latin America all its own-the backyard. It was declared an area off limits to foreign intervention by the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 (which has been invoked many times since its inception).  It was reinforced by President James Buchanan (1857-61), who believed that the U.S. should take on the role of a policeman in the region. Police actions against Latin America continued to define the "big stick" policy of Theodore Roosevelt (inspired by Kipling's "White man's burdern") through which Latin America suffered covert and overt military, economic and social intervention in order to "civilize" the "uncivilized" produced a frightening Yankee image. With certain modifications the "big stick Policy" evolved into the "good neighbor" policy of Franklin D. Roosevelt (2), but Military intervention and economic imperialism along with racism, and cultural disdain embedded in Social Darwinism continued. Irrespective of the political party in control of Washington and/or historical period, independent Latin governments were to be monitored, contained or removed. All nationalists, Leftists and radicals who oppose domination of their economies by the hegemonic powers, were and are viewed as instances of political instability and "uncivilized behavior." The wrath of intervention and the brutality of the encounters between the mighty North and the impoverished South is a story well told in Latin America. Gabriel García Márquez's novel One Hundred Years of Solitude eloquently narrates the suffocating socio-economic and political influences on Latin American countries as exemplified by the slaughter and devastation brought to the fictional town of Macondo, Colombia.

The long term hegemonic plan is manifested in the draft and implementation of various historically specific treaties and alliances sponsored by capital. In particular, in the Post World War Two era, the United States foreign policy towards Latin America was formulated primarily in the context of the Cold War, Soviet "expansionism" and the internal socio-economic and political conditions in Latin America. The Truman administration sought to convince the Latin countries that there was an imminent danger of Communist infiltration and subversion. Therefore, it was necessary to replace "Axis Credo" with the "U.S. Credo" in Latin America (Gil, 1971).   The Rio Treaty is one such treaty. Article VI of the Treaty dealt with dictatorial regime in Latin America. An important component of Article VI, the Committee of Political Defense (CPD) was to be an anti-dictatorial alliance in the upcoming Rio Treaty, a number of dictatorial regimes in Latin America opposed it, and the U.S. supported them. To Dean Acheson and most of his colleagues democratic ideals were expendable when it came to U.S interests. Both Articles VI and IX, made it clear that internal political conformity was the key concern of the United States and that aggressive behavior (armed or otherwise) were to be challenged head on.

In post WWII, particularly during the Cold war, the push for reproducible and dependent capitalist economies on the part of the American political and economic class had the aim of containing Soviet Communism while at the same time containing homegrown democratic movements all for the purpose of making sure that the American penetration and domination of Latin economies proceeded without challenge. Soviet style Communism however was not to be feared by the Anglo American capitalism. It was to be used as a label for democratic, independent and nationalistic governments in the peripheral world of Africa, Asia and Latin America. That label implied a malignancy which had to be excised while in its infancy. The biggest fear of all however was the fear of "loosing" Latin America to its own people, a fear that today as did then, dictates United States' policy in Latin America.  In 1923, the United States sponsored the Treaty of Peace and Amity with Central American governments for the sole purpose of discouraging and preventing revolutions either by the nationalists or the Communists (4).  All political appointments, organizations (specifically labor) and individual leaders were to be monitored. Faced with challenges from radical nationalists and leftists who perceived their governments as being American puppets, the ruling elites espoused the doctrine of Modernization in order to legitimize their control of state apparatus. Even when the Economic Commission for Latin America (ACLA), (a United Nations' Commission) introduce the idea of a Central American Common Market (ACLAC)  without any structural change, the Kennedy Administration made an offer of $100 million in aid trying to alter the final draft. It effectively distorted the mechanism by removing segments on regional planning and balanced growth in favor of free trade (Pearce, 1982:47).  Then and now the compradors are taken care off through the rewarding capitalistic institutions of kick backs and corruption disguised as bidding, competition and mediation.


Various strategies in the 1960s and 70 emphasized Import-substitution industrialization as a solution to economic malaise. In 1961, The Alliance for Progress was formulated, precisely for facilitating a shift in United States' investment strategy which involved moving away from solely cash crop based economies of Latin America to import substitution Industrialization. Invariably these policies had an eye on the North as the provider of technology and capital, thereby creating a new form of dependence.

Whereas from the 1950s to late 1970s, public sector grew rapidly, from the 1980s, privatization of major industries accelerated. That is before the onslaught of neoliberalism and rush to shedding off the "inefficient" public sector enterprises, the private sector was for the most part national and local. Privatization opened up the economy to foreign investors mostly from the North and with it comes the concentration, and centralization of resources in the hands of a few.  "Between 1985 and 1992, more than 2,000 publicly owned firms, including public utilities, banks, insurance companies, highways, ports, airlines, and retail shops, were privatized throughout the region"  (Edwards, 1995: 170). Privatization is a neoliberal strategy of denationalizing the state, invites and creates profitable investments for foreign owners and removing any credible regulation from the economic life.

With the expansion of neoliberalism and the internationalization of capital came the devaluation of currency, indebtedness and privatization initiatives.  Just to illustrate take the case of Mexico when it was the recipient of the largest increase of maquiladoras in 1982, following devaluation of its currency. During the same period, privatization of the economy started thereby allowing more foreign ownership (globalization) of the Mexican economy.  . In less than a decade, Mexico was forced to privatize 886 state enterprises out of a total of 1,155 with U.S. monopolies gaining control over telecommunications, airlines, banking, mining, steel and other sectors.

From the early 1980s a deliberate depopulation of rural areas for the purpose of aiding the expansion of maquiladoras began. The Mexican government allowed the U.S. to dump millions of tons of corn into Mexico. This policy along with greater mechanization of rural areas, forced more of the rural population to seek life in the cities and off course migrate North. Once NAFTA was signed by the three participating governments, the cheerleading section of US media cheered the neoliberal coup as the solution to the economic ills of the three nations. The reality of the global capitalist class alliance as exemplified by NAFTA is parallel to the forced absence of any class alliance on the part of international working class. Not only is there no alliance between workers of the World, there is plenty of antagonism as exemplified by one of the consequences of effective social imperialism by the belief on the part of US workers that their plight is caused by the hords of great unwashed crossing the borders. NAFTA has cost the US workers over one million jobs.   

Following NAFTA, Mexico reduced funding for farm programs from $2 billion in 1994 to $500 million by 2000 (Chessnof, 2004).  Real wages in Mexico are lower today than before NAFTA  and 31 percent of Mexicans currently live below the poverty line while the rich have got richer.  Both NAFTA and CAFTA are benefiting a well to-do segment of participating countries and are expanding corporate rights over some of the poorest countries in the region. With a population of 44 million and a per capita income raging from $370.00 in Nicaragua to $1750 in Guatemala, to $4000 in Costa Rica, Central America is increasing scarcity of food and medicine primarily because if intellectual property rights and higher prices (Weisman, 2004:13).  General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) considers "dumping" or selling commodities below the cost of production illegal. Yet, in 2001, "the average export price for US corn was 33 percent below the full costs of production and transportation. For rice, it was 22 percent" (Ricker, 2004). The loss of jobs in Guatemala alone would be about 80,000 in five years. Prices of basic food items (corn) would increase dramatically and increased for Mexico (Oxfam America cited in Ricker). Mexico losses of jobs of 1.7 million in agricultural sector due to the influx of  US corn and a drastic reduction in the income of 15 million small farmers (Ricker. 2004:11). 

The profitability and the security of foreign investments are the reasons for their investment in an area. The security aspect is always a matter of concern for transnational corporations because of the fact that transnational are the cause of the problem. The role of the state, therefore must be negotiated and while privatization invites in the foreign capital, often in alliance with local capital. Once, the profit is realized, it is not reinvest it in the area where the profit was made. They take off for other areas and the process leaves battered people and an abused environment behind.  This also clearly transcends political party affiliations in the United States. It is a mistake to consider systemic imperatives and contradiction with political party and individuals occupying a particular office. For the most part the people in the United States and people outside of it who are observers of political events mistakenly believe that there are two distinct and diametrically opposed political parties in the US. The reality is that in all respect particularly with respect to the power of the business class and US based transnationals there are no differences. It is within this view that the Democratic Party somehow has managed to appear as the Party of the working class. Here is an example of the Democratic Party's appeasement of multinationals in all industries so as keep the trough accessible; in its "Four Reasons to Support CAFTA" (increase exports for the U.S., national security/strategic U.S Interests, peace and prosperity, and peaceful internationalism) states that, CAFTA's passage is in the national interest and deserves Democratic support and involvement. But the reasoning suggests anything but national interests. For CAFTA is the embodiment of reckless disregard for human life, the environment, democracy and even the honest and legitimate US national interests.

Current reality of North/South relationship points to an arrangement in which one or a handful of powerful members decide all of the rules and even then not all of them play by those very rules. And it is within this context that strong member (s) decides everything in secret and unilaterally and then act as if everyone with complete knowledge has accepted the terms -the absence of democratic consensus will prevail. The problem is even more serious because the public knows almost nothing about these regional and bilateral treaties, as they are frequently negotiated in secret and even when the text is made public, the very technical language of these treaties make them incomprehensible.
As all other neoliberal agreements, CAFTA's  nine rounds of negotiations were held in secret. A key component of free trade agreement is the push toward an immediate or future plans for privatization of public services. Similar to all other multilateral agreement, CAFTA is forcing greater privatization of state run health care, education, electrical generation, and water systems. And it is within this context that the common practice of privatizing the gains and socializing the cost associated with global capitalist transactions from free trade to all aspects of globalization become the norm. Privatization is a serious threat to the biologically diverse Central America and it is beginning to devastate small farmers whose condition is already a dire one. Loss of income and the threat of poverty would force millions to migrate to urban areas or they would risk their lives trying to reach the North amid its increasingly hostile mood.

Privatization permanently makes the Latin economies vulnerable to transnationals and benefits only a tiny political and economic elite at the expense of the general public. Privatization makes the  countries struggling on the peripheries of global capitalism much more  vulnerable to chaotic market conditions and accumulation crises of the center. With privatization comes kick backs and corruption often disguised as bidding, competition and mediation. Privatization has produced higher prices, poorer service, union busting, worsened working conditions and has strengthened the hands of comprador allied with international capital. It is a grotesque socialization of the cost associated with accumulation of capital. Privatizing state enterprises has lead to the creation of a new class of rich and parasitic people whose connection to the privatizing state and its military institutions is a symbiotic one. Once that old and/or new class finds its economic power, it is to their advantage to ally themselves with the political establishment, international capital and the others. Ultimately the alliance works against the public through privatization of the gains and socialization of the cost. It is important to note that long before, the attempt at wholesale privatization is made, the propaganda that anything public is inefficient, corrupt and often referred to as "socialistic", prepares the stage for theft of public enterprises.

A supportive political umbrella is absolutely essential for the maintenance of such a parasitic system. True democracies by their very nature do not support such a system and therefore, from the point of view of global capitalism, are not to be tolerated anywhere. For truly democratic system ensures economic democracy and economic democracy is antithetical to the pursuit of capitalistic profit margins, the size of which is determined by Greed and favorable accumulation conditions. Economic democracy is antithetical to a condition in which people are denied access to basic necessities and being forced to relinquish the very basic resources such as water to private sector. The demand to abandon the condition that degrades humanity is the demand to abolish the system which imposes such degradation. For almost two centuries now, Latin America except for a few countries and for a short period of time has been at the mercy of Anglo-American capitalism and its domestic comprador group. The end results are the absence of democracy, decent living conditions and national pride. The situation is becoming so tenuous that even the comprador groups began wondering how long they will last. Then comes the rescue package of "democratic" elections and self determination and democracy and freedom.  How do you preempt the rising demand for economic and political democracy and what form does it take? What form other than a fabricated handed down package of rhetoric and selection of heads independent of the grass roots? Therefore, it is time to stop further damage to the national pride and regional possibilities by talking regional self sufficiency and alliances with the realization that they are being watched.

Today as the "War on Terror", is fought on a global scale, we see a most refined and developed version of that strategy implemented by the agents of the empire---the supranational and international agencies such the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund among others. The return of speculative finance capital revived indebtedness as an instrument of control. Colonial empires of 19th century notably the British, French and German empires used debt trap as a mechanism of reproducible hegemony and informal empire. Debt trap justifies austerity measures and austerity measures guarantee higher profit margins. By 2001, the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean owed $787 billion to U.S. and international bankers and were paying more than $150 billion/year in debt service (see U.S Commerce Department's "Survey of Current Business," September 2002). With indebtedness comes the massive auctioning off of public assets as a precondition to satisfy the creditors.         

Central and South American, workers and farmers are at the mercy of this regime while the leaders, activists, and organizers for the cause of human rights, environment and labor are arrested, tortured and in some cases assassinated. Are US workers in a better position than those of Latin America?  For the time being, the impact of job and opportunity losses are not as severe in the North as are in the Central and South America. In the North, the institutional arrangements (increasingly becoming obsolete) provide temporary relief for laid off workers. But the conditions in the South are increasingly tense and potentially explosive.

The current crises of the American empire both at home and abroad are viewed by most Americans as reflections of American authorities' involvement with bad characters abroad and the incompetence of not dealing with "them" forcefully. It is equally misguided when it comes to the views expressed by people outside of the United States that only individual leaders are viewed as the culprit. But what is the implication of such a view? Are we to believe that anyone else as President, would have taken the American Empire in a direction other than what has been the case? Are we to assume that militarism, globalization and global accumulation are the policy mechanisms of a particular party or individual in office? Are we to believe that systemic contradictions are either dissolved in the cult of personality of the leader and the party or that they will come to surface as major crises?  At a glance, the United States' history shows no credible connection between militarism, imperialism and accumulation to a particular political party. Although there are minor variations in approach, the ultimate goal remains the maintenance of hegemonic control over the vulnerable world.

Hunger, poverty induced violence, degradation, hopelessness, despair, political and economic exclusions will be met head on with force. Imperialism of trade impoverishes it victims and will lead to social upheaval. Colonial history and the history of imperialism are histories of plunder, exploitation and mass murder. Competition, efficiency, deregulation among others are nothing but disguised components of Social Darwinism (survival of the fittest) as a guiding ideology. Under this kind of so-called free trade all is controlled, contrived and manipulated to serve the interest of the most powerful groups in member countries.  What did free trade do for the Indians under the British mandated and sponsored free trade and what are the similarities? Karl Polanyi documents that under the British system of free trade, millions (particularly in India and China) perished of hunger. The shocking reality of Chinese parents swapping their children for other people's children as food occurred for the first time under the British mandated free trade. These "free" trade agreements are modern Mercantilism at best. Now as then, the most powerful sets the rule and enforces them according to their own interest.

 Today resistance to these realities are met with force again.  Today, incentives are by far much greater to subvert any attempt at unity against free market capitalism and global accumulation. Now they have to use much more sophisticated and more brutal mechanisms to maintain control. Let's allow some ideologues to assume that we have reached "the end of history" --the struggle is over. But the good news is that a new chapter in the history of resistance has begun and crushing of the struggle in all likelihood will not materialize. The consequences of neoliberalism for the general public worldwide are becoming increasingly unbearable and any attempt at cooptation without credible changes in the material conditions will not be effective.  At the same time any attempt at radicalization on a mass scale will be "punished" as the term has been used repeatedly throughout the history of United States/Latin America relationship. So what is the best strategy for dealing with that possible reaction? It is imperative that Latin America and indeed all of the nation-states seeking to free themselves from the global capitalism, begin by establishing and strengthening national democratic institutions and intraregional collaboration at the level of these institutions. And Latin America is in a very good position to begin to develop such a model for regional integration and development.


What are the alternatives to capital's sponsored regional agreement? Latin America has been struggling to find its way out of what I call backyardness syndrome-a condition akin to an inferiority complex, and self doubt. Backyardness is the reproduction of a material reality characterized by alienation, powerlessness and apathy. It is history at a stand still. By viewing Latin America as its backyard, United States is deciding whatever reality they find themselves in and today we witness serious trouble in the "backyard". There are signs that the Latin Masses have begun to recognize the disease and now pursues radical eradication of the causes of backyardness. Food insecurity and hunger are closely associated with extreme poverty in Latin America. Meanwhile, the continent's income disparity, already the world's largest has widened and millions of people have become poor. Today more than a third of South Americans live in poverty and, in many countries, the richest 10 per cent control more than half of all income. As a direct consequence of these measures imposed on Latin people many armed insurgent groups have emerged. The previously unknown April 13 Revolutionary Movement staged a press conference in Caracas, where the group's hooded leader declared that it would defend Mr. Chavez's "Bolivarian Revolution." And no one ought to be under the illusion that the current democratically elected leaders are immune to accountability. If For instance Chavez or any other elected officials become too comfortable in their position and disregard public opinion, there is no doubt they will face the same fate as those ruling their countries with an iron fist. The proposed common market could be used to guarantee not only democratic practices between the participating states, but within the states also.

Trade between participating members is not an economic transaction and exchange, with losers and winners, but a social, cultural and political one. The ultimate goal of ALBA is to promote peace and international cooperation, to eradicate poverty and illiteracy, the exchange of scientific and technological knowledge, provide access to medicine as one of the basic rights, integrate Latin and the Caribbean (the great Antilies) economies into one viable common market while at the same time promoting solidarity and respecting cultural indentities in all respect. As an example, in Bolivia with the aid of Cuban teachers four main languages of Spanish, Aymara, Quechua and Guarani are taught to the Bolivians as component of literacy campaign. After the signing ceremony for ALBA, Fidel Castro said one day, all [Latin American] countries will be members; Not too long after, Paraguayans elected Fernando Lugo (A Roman Catholic Priest referred to as the "Red Bishop" the opponents and "Bishop of the Poor" by supporters).

Evo Morales said the meeting was an "historic gathering of three generations and three revolutions." Morales called for the return of Latin reserves from the North and Daniel Ortega echoed the sentiment that "speculative capital" ought not to be able to ruin people's lives for the sake of profit and in the name of free trade.  Morales denounced U.S. aid policy as a hegemonic tool and divisive. The leaders noted that it was no coincidence that just at the time of the ALBA Summit, Condoleezza Rice was visiting neighboring Colombia to promote a U.S.-Colombia Free Trade pact. Alba has as its basis and philosophy the empowerment of the economically less articulated and industrially less diversified members while at the same time according them dignity by respecting what they can contribute (i.e., Bolivian and Cuba's knowledge in certain area that could be used by other members. Such capabilities as having a wealth of knowledge in "natural medicine" on the part of Bolivia and in the case of Cuba having the modern medical know how. One significant step is the cancellation of Bolivia's "unjust" debt as a necessary condition in alleviating poverty. Therein lies its seduction.

 What is crucial for any embryonic alliance with a behemoth as enemy to strengthen itself through "social movements from throughout the hemisphere," said Joel Suarez of Cuba's Martin Luther King Center. "Governments may be pressured not to join, but the social movements are anxious to be part of an alliance that promotes fair trade over free trade." Indeed, the proposal is to even include social movements from the United States. ALBA negates competition as a mechanism of economic relationship, and considers trade as a means toward the realization of greater good for society and not as an end in itself and the rejection of Social Darwinism and trickle down theory promoted by the "historical block" and in the context of mainstream economics. Within international arena, economic competition coupled with economic incentives to gain, have worked to produce what Ruy Mauro Marini has called "SUBIMPERIALISM."  SUBIMPERIALIST-exploits others while at the same time it is subject to control from the center. It plays a role in the hegemonic structure. Almost a scavenging existence and neuroticism commonly found in any pecking order. It is within capital sponsored common market that one can find subimperialism.  Take the case of Brazil in the context of Mercosur. Although it has come along way from the decades of military governments and repressive economic system, as shown by Flynn (2007) that "instead of representing a new form of social justice ....the country's foreign policy initiatives are structured more by the regional orientation of Brazilian elites interested in reproducing their class position in a globalized capitalist economy." As an alternative, could ALBA pull other agreements such as Mercosur in its own direction? The South American trading block, Mercosur now constitutes 75% of South America's economic activity, holds 65% of the continent's population, and contains some of the largest reserves of water and hydrocarbons on the planet. The potential for Mercosur to be a catalyst for ALBA is very good. ALBA in the word of one of its founder, Hugo Chavez, is "integration" and an "historic moment." Given the "....indisputable failure of the neoliberal policies imposed on our countries, the Latinamerican and Caribbean peoples find themselves on the road to their second and true independence, the birth of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas..." (3)

What frightens the Washington block is the formation and reproduction of a philosophy that puts people before profit. In the context of home grown regional integration the preoccupation with high profit margins cease to exist. By the very definition, regional integration strategies would eliminate intraregional competition and expensive solicitation for foreign investment from the imperialist zones. Indeed economic democracy is possible only when deregulation (regulation favoring big business) is replaced with long term regional planning at the national level and in conjunction and association with long term regional planning predicated on cooperation rather than competition.  Within the context of regional common market in which each member is an equal player, elimination of tariff and other barriers are appropriate. In this context an arrangement by which all members decide all the rules and they all play by the same set of rules, then development and growth (as measured by all the indices of social inclusion) are possible and both the gains and if need be all losses are socialized. 

It is within a vibrant regional association that in addition to economic integration, a political as well as military (defensive) integration is possible. The task of establishing a regional economic power house in Latin America ought to be much easier than any other geographic region For one, there are very strong cultural ties (though diverse in ethnic and racial identities) between the countries of the region and second the impulse of building a common market much stronger since they have collectively experienced outside intervention and still feel very vulnerable. The struggle to create a common market of truly independent members operating on the basis of a charter which puts human dignity, social development, economic democracy, and political accountability, has been, is and will be challenged by the powerful politico-military establishment that serves the transnationals.


The business elite dictates what it wants, political establishment strategizes and packages those interests as legitimate "national interests" ("national security") and if and when necessary the military carries out the orders. To accomplish the goals, a successful social imperialism is essential.

 On the one hand there is the question of conventional military power of the United States particularly in its ability to invade and occupy more countries like Afghanistan and Iraq. Certainly the outcomes in Afghanistan and Iraq will determine the viability of more reliance on military, but the question is to what extent it is a systemic imperative.  The belief that there has been a decline in the power of the United States in terms of its militarism that once it exercised in Latin America and indeed around the World is primarily based on the social, and economic costs rather than the actual preponderance of power and the proclivity to use force.  Although the United States military has been designed to fight two and half major wars and a few small ones simultaneously, dire condition at the present on the grounds of Iraq and Afghanistan along with overwhelming internal contradictions would make a high intensity military confrontation in Latin America unlikely and unnecessary. There are several reasons for this contention; first the cost of undertaking another major conflict would be so astronomical that no amount of additional tax revenue for a highly taxed American working class and Chinese lending can provide for the war efforts. Second, no European ally with the possible exception of Britain and Israel (which has a history of military involvement in Latin America) would join in any credible way for a war against any Latin government. 

Therefore, the likelihood of an additional front would not at the present be an option. Yet under different circumstances, the United States would not as its history shows be reluctant to use force. Even if the capability exists, given the financial meltdown in the global North, the idea of selling a new war to the American public at the present would be difficult. But in the arsenal of the empire there are many other weapons which could be employed to safeguard the interests of the corporate elite. Fostering Internal disintegration on the basis of ethnicity and irredentist tendencies, potential intraregional conflict as was witnessed by Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru among others, Mercenaries, Drug Lords with a promise of better harvest (as in during the counterrevolutionary activities in Nicaragua), Colombia, Peru, Bolivia. There is a very long history of divide and conquer and as long as there is no regional integration it will continue to be the least expensive of all methods.

Direct military intervention now would render Latin America a very troubling backyard. The United States military strategists of the yesteryear know well the potential for a Latin backlash against overt and direct military involvement. Even if the U.S. has the conventional capabilities of pre-Iraq and Afghanistan invasions, it would be very difficult to justify an invasion. But the "national security" argument remains one of the most potent invocations that the US has used and it can identify just anything as a threat to its national security including an island nation such as Granada which was invaded just to "rescue American medical students".  "Plan Colombia" is primarily a militarization plan for the Andes and for now directed against Venezuela and Bolivia, FARC, and similar groups. As shown by Nieto (2007) after September 11, 2001, the war on drugs in Colombia soon became a war on terror fought on the Colombian soil. Also, Colombian oil is now more than ever a reason for the United States to broaden its presence and try to eliminate rivals. With Colombia being the seventh largest oil supplier to the United States, and with Venezuela and Ecuador combined, the US imports more oil from South America than from the Persian Gulf (Soltani and Keonig, 2004:12).

Even though militarily the United States is not as likely to intervene in Latin America, its power to implement neo-liberal economic policy as part of "Washington Consensus" and through international agencies such as the IMF and the World Bank remains intact. This option is perhaps the most likely option to be considered. Financial strangulation would definitely lead to political upheaval and the only way to avert this scenario is to create a common market with its own currency.

Another possible option that the United States would entertain would be the exploitation of ethnic differences in the region which has already beginning to rear its ugly head. There is no doubt that if necessary powers that aim at maintaining the status quo in Latin America would not stop at using minor ethnic differences to bread disintegration first within and then between countries. Bolivia began noticing heightened ethnic tension immediately after the election of Evo Morales.  There are historical precedents for supporting irredentist and separatist movements in post-Colonial history. In Latin America, Colombia is illustrative of the approach to non-conformist behavior. A portion of Colombia's territory was carved out and became what is now Panama in 1903. United States was the first country to recognize the new country and sent troops to protect its economic interests. It occurred again in the 1980s. Other option for which there are historical precedents are the aiding of mercenaries such as William Walker who declared himself President of Honduras and the gang of corporate mercenaries (i.e., Vanderbilt's gang) hired to assassinate, burn and bribe. And it is within this context that strong members decide unilaterally and then act as if everyone with complete knowledge has accepted the terms which are often deceptively technical -the absence of democratic consensus will prevail.


However, it must be made abundantly clear that the production of real economy can not take place with rhetoric. It must be backed by very real and tangible measures. It must transcend utopianism and enter the realm of possibilities and as reality is moved toward utopia (ideal), it must be understood that the road toward emancipation is full of traps, detours, sharp curves and bumps and bandits that could move it toward an immediate dystopia. Equipped with knowledge of reality, energized with the absence of dogma on all fronts and a clear understanding of possibilities, various groups in Latin America could map out a new integration strategy. The left must be seen as a collection of groups opposing global capitalism and its neoliberalism. A common ground and common goal must be forged in the struggle. In Latin America as elsewhere, religious groups and movements (liberation theology), environmental groups, trade union, native people, as well as the radical intelligentsia, nationalists and Marxists can succeed only when working in concert toward emancipation and development. It is also necessary for the totality of these groups to join international forces particularly the regional groups sharing the same aspirations. Also important is to show the high opportunity cost their alliance with outsiders with selfish interests and at the expense of regional integration and development

Liberation Theology began its effort at raising awareness (conscientization) many decades ago. In the process it has allied itself with academics, labor and environmental organizations among others.  It is critical that their tradition of grass root mobilization is incorporated into broader strategy of change through social mobilization in all levels. In the context of Latin America, faith and religion on one hand and Socialism and Communism on the other have not been antithetical as they have been in other context. Liberation theologians have for the most part been at the forefront of the struggle, even though their institution historically was a component of the oppressive structure.  As one of the founders of Latin American communism, José Carlos Mariátegui (Lowy, 2008) sees much convergence between faith and communism. Jose Miranda of Mexico sees "Communism in the Bible" (the title of his book).  The method of Liberation theology predicated on  "conscientization" and the dependency/imperialism centered analysis have contributed to the creation of  a new church, a self sustaining community and grass roots movements composed of landless peasants, workers and the poor struggling for social, cultural, economic and political rights  by opposing privatization, accumulation and exploitation (Keucker, 2007; Issa 2007; Webber, 2007) and the power of the indigenous people to oppose giant oil companies and multinational as documented by Soltani and Keonig (2004), the power of Zapatistas as the most effective indigenous groups in struggle against privatization, globalization and neoliberalism (Stahler-Sholk, 2007). It is promising that the struggle against global exploitation is very widespread and in particular it is the working class that is the avanguard and at the forefront of the struggle (Almeida, 2007), Why should communism, religious values and national identity collide if each is viewed as a method and means toward emancipation and not an end in itself?  As hegemony is context dependent, modes of resistance must also be context dependent and while each context is different, within each context the manifestations of hegemony may requires a combination of modes of resistance (i.e., radical democracy, socialism, passive resistance, religious values, and in cases where resistance to hegemony has been confronted with structural violence, armed struggle became a tactic of choice).

The "standard" and "appropriate" conduct for the  non-European peoples and governments set by the West including such expectations as acting "with reasonable efficiency and decency"...keeping "order" and meeting debt "obligations" and  the responsibility on the part of the West  led by the U.S. to "prevent chaos and anarchy", to "democratize", to "civilize", to bring "freedom", to make them "prosper", to inculcate them with "Our values", to "assist them", to "fight terrorism", to get rid of "dictator", and that U.S has the moral authority and a providential duty to "administer government among savages and senile people", continues to justify imperial interventions. The United States ought not to be expected to abandon its long history of imperialistic intervention in Latin America. It will never happen. But Latin America can close that chapter of its history through greater regional integration, "radical" socio-economic and political democratization and a form of socialism suitable for its own reality.   

While Latin America moves toward radical democracy, it is imperative to move as far away as possible from any idea of denationalization of the state In favor of internationalization of the economy and in the image of neoliberal elites. On the other hand, within Latin America, national and ethnic  identity,  rising expectations, demographic changes, and overwhelming problems associated with scarcity, class structure and class divide are creating new opportunities may  hasten  its unraveling further. Today, few make decision for many and the fate of the planet is in their hands. Imagining a world in which not a few make decision for millions, but millions make collective decisions for collective goods, is becoming easier. As more and more people in various regions of the world consider an alternative to the existing reality, those in control of the current reality will do their utmost to destroy the movement. It is this historical trajectory that is pregnant with significant challenge both within and without Latin America as well as in other areas struggling to overcome both internal and external hegemony. As described by Francisco Garcia Calderon (1913), nearly a century ago, "Warning, advice, distrust, invasion of capital, plans of financial hegemony -all these justify the anxiety of the Southern peoples....neither irony nor grace nor skepticism, gifts of the old civilization, can make way against the plebeian brutality, the excessive optimism, the violent individualism...." (cited in Smith, 1981:61-62).  Indications are that the new century will be at least for the first half as anxiety ridden as the old century was and United States once more is failing to reverse the tide against itself. There is a very solid history of revolt in Latin America as indeed there are in every part of the planet subject to plunder. Arriving at a future mapped as an independent Latin America seems overwhelming and that for the most part is due to the experience of Latin countries mostly as subjugated dependencies. Today, the masses of people in the core capitalist countries are as much a victim of "accumulation by dispossession" (as the current meltdown shows) as are masses of people in the global South. To defend the rights of the masses in the core is tantamount to defending the rights of masses in the developing world and it must begin with opposition to imperialism and militarism. The real and long term American progress requires progressive policies and responsible politics. And as long as people in the Global North do not ask hard questions and take part in the process of self governance, they will continue to erode the basis of their own "democracy." Within the existing structure the election of individuals to the highest office, irrespective of the progressive slogans, will do very little to resolve the structural contradictions.

Democracy in Latin America is being rejuvenated and it is within this context that winning or losing the progressive parties and their officials get the credit. Recent challenges to Chavez, if indeed homegrown and reflective of the aspiration of the Venezuelan masses, must be supported inside and outside of the region. Hamas' election victory in the occupied Gaza strip was according to all observers an authentic and genuine election, and the degree of opposition to that group by the Israeli and American officials and its dismissal as an "Iranian terror group," is a good indication of its authenticity. After all a "Democracy" in the mainstream Western social, and particularly political science, is a "Democracy" only if corresponds to a vision of a society based on a free enterprise system and election of heads, and it is in this regard that they view not all "democracies" as standard "Democracy."


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For a survey of energy sector privatization In Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe see

1) In November 1903, Phillipe Bunau-Varilla-a French citizen who was not authorized to sign any treaties on behalf of Panama without the review of the Panamanians-unilaterally signed the Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty which granted rights to the United States to build and administer indefinitely the Panama Canal, which was opened in 1914.

2) Half of century later Roosevelt's grandson, Kermit Roosevelt engineered a coup against the democratically elected government of M. Mossadegh of Iran in 1953. The theater of subversion and "regime change" was conducted from the basement of the United States Embassy in Tehran. A bit of that bitter history is sorely missing from the public discourse regarding Iran.

3) The Congress of Panama was organized by Simón Bolívar in 1826 so as to create a united Latin towards Spain while promoting integration and development. It proposed creating a league of American republics, with a common military, a mutual defense pact, and a supranational parliamentary assembly.

Acknowledgement: Many thanks to my colleagues Charles Reitz, Stephen Spartan and Tamela Ice for their comments and suggestions. 

The author is Associate Professor of Economics and Sociology at Kansas City Kansas Community College.

... Payvand News - 11/25/08 ... --

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