What has really changed in Latin America with respect to the years of the Washington Consensus? What structural value can we attribute to the actions of the integrationist governments, culminating, in December 2007, in the foundation of the Bank del Sur? How is the role of the United States changing in a backyard where – for the first time since the ebbing of the British Empire, and much more than the Soviet Union has ever aspired to do – other protagonists, like China, India, the European Union itself and the South-South commerce are obtaining ever increasing and important political and market gains? Is Latin America the new ground for activities of a multi-polar world?
According to CEPAL, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, of the United Nations, Latin America, in 2007, registered an overall GDP growth of 5.6% (1). In the lead of the faster growing countries are: Panama, Argentina and Venezuela, which touch 10%, while countries like Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua and Ecuador are well behind, with a growth rate around 3%.
It is the 5th consecutive year that the Latin American economies have been growing at such a steady rate. Poverty is slowly decreasing and unemployment has fallen to the levels of 15 years ago, that is, before the acme of the neo-liberal season, and is today placed under the 8% on a continental basis.
Investments touch the 100 billion dollar mark and even domestic consumption – for a long time constricted – is growing to reach the double figure. For the first time in many years, with the only, and not trivial, exceptions of Mexico and Peru, both the working and executives classes are looking with optimism towards the future of the region.
If the sign of political change registered in the major part of Latin America in the last five years has clear political features (2), which, however, are not dealt with in this specific essay, one of the most significant products of such political change lies in the finally common and decisive effort towards regional integration. Above all, of South America and, more specifically, of the countries which overlook the Atlantic Ocean.
The Brazilian Constitution (but the others are not lacking), in Art. 4, declares: “The Federal Republic of Brazil will pursue economic, political, social and cultural integration of the peoples of Latin America, promoting the formation of a Latin American community of nations”. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the constitutional dignity given to integration, the dream of Simón Bolivar and José de San Martin remained, for a long time, unrealized.
When the Mercosur, the common market between Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay (3) originated at Asunción in 1991, this had no other objective but the customs harmonization between the agreement members. All this changed in the first years of this Century with the crisis, both material and ethical, of the neo-liberal project conducted by the IMF.
The death by starvation of thousands of children in an immense fertile plain like Argentina, while the IMF persisted in considering the Country as its own model pupil, and persevered with its own preconceived methods, was a shock for the Latin American public opinion: a shock which still has its echoes. Within both the Mercosur and the CEPAL environment, the historic UNO breeding ground of Latin American economists and technocrats, supplanted during and after the dictatorships, by the monetarist school of the so-called Chicago Boys, return to go ahead with the idea – refused by the neo-liberalism – that it is the centre-suburbs relation that causes the permanence of under-development, and that only regional integration can create the basis for a way-out.
The democratic establishment of integrationist governments, or rather, those who considered that the way-out of under-development must come about through Latin American integration and not through relations which are direct and subordinate to one or a few world economic centres, was the next step in a rapid movement of the hegemony towards those classes which had most suffered in the previous phase: these, enormously increased in poverty and exclusion were numerically swollen and organized around participating political models.
Therefore, let us define such governments more correctly as integrationist, rather than Left wing, as they are often simplistically defined. This, because the cipher of ‘integrationism’ signals the overcoming (or the hope of overcoming ) of that “theory of dependency”, identified until the 60’s as characteristic of colonialism and of post-colonialism (4). The progress is rapid and in the brief passage of five years from the CEPAL, they are able to w rite that (5) “the Mercosur is the major success of the Latin American integration, but before being a commercial and economic project, it is a political project”.
It is not the only one. Very much criticized by large international bodies and by the mainstream western media are certain passages in the field of energy, following the return of timid, but successful politics of nationalization, such as the creation of the Energy Council of South America, Petrosur and Petrocaribe, which outline a course of security and autonomy in regional energy and in the management of raw materials, bio-diversity and resources such as drinkable water.
The policies of marked social and redistributive valence or the protagonism of figures like Hugo Chávez or Evo Morales are stigmatized by the orthodox monetarist, omitting the fact that in all the most important undertakings of Venezuela, the key and geo-politically inescapable role remains that of Brazil.
Without the strength of this common participation, Brazil, Argentina and other indebted minorities would never have closed the relations with the IMF(6), but without the unwavering will of the Brazilians, the Bank of the Sur would never have been created.
Proposed by the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chávez, in 2004, besides Brazil and Argentina, there are four other founding associates; Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay. Three quarters of the South American population are concentrated in these Countries. Through this instrument financing is proposed for infrastructures and key projects in the harmonization of the various economies.
It is too early to say whether the Bank will be successful in realizing its ambitious programmes, but the end of the conditionality of the loans, which from the middle of the 50’s had characterized the policies of the IMF, is interpreted by the South as a recovery of national sovereignty.
Not only; in the face of the uninhibited devaluation of the dollar, which has dragged on since 2003, also the Latin Americans, like the Europeans have already done with the Euro, and the Asians at Chiang Mai, in 2000, they need an instrument which compensates the volatility of the refuge ex-currency. Already today, the Argentine-Brazilian interchange prescinds from the dollar and preludes a regional currency.
A multi-polar view
If, in the three-year period, 2003-2006, all this has led to a growth of 250% of the regional interchange , also the South-South commerce has doubled its figures. Above all, due to Brazilian and Venezuelan ventures, the South Atlantic, chiefly in the South African and Nigerian direction, has been narrowed. Similar initiatives have been undertaken towards the Arab world.
The Venezuelan oil industry diplomacy reinforces OPEC in a cartel of producers who are vigilant of their interests independent of their geographical locations. India, not only with the traditional Tata (7), is increasing its interchange, importing substantial amounts of Brazilian crude oil and Argentine Soya bean oil.
But what is more significant is the role of China. On the one hand it is concentrating in large construction works; infrastructures, ports, airports, canals, as the investments at Panama testify; on the other, in the mining sector, with the importation of iron, copper (8), bauxite, manganese and zinc. From the beginning of the Century, the Chinese presence has grown by a dazzling 60% year, with investments which will reach the hundred billion dollar mark within 2010. Even if Chinese investments have not always arrived within the time and quantity promised in the numerous trips of Hu Jintao, and even now the Chinese interchange in Latin America is not worth the 15% of the United States, it is evident, as the Brazilian President, Lula remarked, that China is a new strategic partner of the first level for the region. And China is a partner which – even if feared, also in Latin America for the competition represented by the low salaries for the Central American and Mexican maquiladoras – had confidence in the Latin American agro-industry and strategically laid itself open to risk.
In fact, it surrendered, in part, its traditional food independence, which had characterized its own demographic policies since the time of the foundation of the Republic of the Chinese People. This policy was carried out in a prudent manner, 5% of its needs, but it was done mainly with Argentina and Brazil, which today, send 15% of their agricultural export to this Asiatic Country.
It is fundamental to point out that, as much as the role of China can grow, or that of all the other Countries mentioned (including the EU), singularly, they will never compete in the great numbers with the United States, which will remain the principal partner of the region, especially in Central America. But these subjects, together, have already revolutionized
The global common participation of Latin America.
Their presence, besides the Latin American activism in diversifying the economy (another of the prerequisites for the way-out of the under-development situation), and commercial and political relations, render less convincing any pressure which could be applied on the region by the Americans themselves.
As we shall see further on, it is evident that a possible future change of a political colour, a democratic administration in the United States able to accord something to the partner – first and foremost lowering the agricultural subsidies – and a majority of centre-right governments south of the Rio Brava, could do much to reconcile the positions. But many of the changes previously mentioned here, especially the multiplication of the partners offered by the same globalization, allow the assumption that the return of the years of the Washington Consensus would be most difficult.
The United States in the backyard
At the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, it seemed that everything was going very well. The dictatorships had been replaced by more presentable democracies based on the Washington Consensus. Not a leaf stirred without the assent of the White House and the International Monetary Fund. Friendly governments were established everywhere, and the return to the fold of Cuba was considered imminent. The coming into force of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on the 1st of January, 1994, seemed to prelude the creation of a single continental market, The Free Trade Area of the Americas (ALCA), fully under the United States’ control and orthodoxly neo-liberal.
And yet, in the arc of a very few years, an observer completely aligned with the positions of Washington, like the Director of Foreign Affairs, Moises Naim, states that “Latin America
is lost”. In agreement, in a less dramatic way, but equally worried is Peter Hakim (9) , the President of Inter-American Dialogue, the most important United States-Latin American think-tank (10) , who acknowledges how much the European Press resists clear focalization: the series of reversals experienced by the United States is long and often structural.
Today, the United States, in what they had theorized to be the New American Century, and what they had considered for 185 years to be their own backyard, see their interests conflict and often not prevail with respect to homologous national interests of the countries of the region. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the difficulties – some of which we shall examine in more detail – there is a situation in which the United States’ glass might be considered half-empty, but also, half-full.
Looking at the half-full glass, it is true that the United States have failed in the creation of the ALCA, the single continental market launched by Bill Clinton, vigorously wanted by George W. Bush, and refused primarily by the reawakened Brazilian and Argentine “national bourgeoisie” at Mar del Plata, in 2005. But it is also true that Plan B, that of substituting a general agreement with the signing of bilateral treaties with important nations such as Colombia (11) Peru or Chile, as well as Mexico and with approximately 10 minor partners, has afforded Washington not a little satisfaction.
Furthermore, the neo-liberal system on the Continent does not seem substantially weakened either from the point of view of production relations or with regard to the practicability of the major part of the United States’ interests.
Hundreds of American multi-nationals continue to invest with profit in the region (above 350 billion dollars in 2005) and, accomplice to the Latin American economic growth an the weakness of the dollar, the interchange grew in 2006 to double figures in both the flows. The United States’ export to the region will reach, before the end of 2010, 200 billion dollars per year (but two thirds are oriented towards Mexico) and no-one, not even those governments most critical of the policies of Washington, Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador can, nor want to, renounce doing business with the first economy of the world.
Looking at the half-empty glass, if for nothing more than in honour of an American idiosyncrasy lasting 50 years, first, should be mentioned the inexplicable resistance of Cuba. Today, the island, which has successfully come through the critical period subsequent to the end of the real socialism and has experimented, over the last years, an important growth and diversification of the economy, which goes well beyond the tourist trade, has reconstructed a solid framework of regional and international relations, both political and economic.
The summit of the non-aligned of 2006 testifies to this, when 70 Heads of State went to Cuba, representatives of more than half the inhabitants of the planet and among whom, great democracies like India were very much in evidence. Today, notwithstanding the embargo, the whole world, including the European Union, do business with Havana.
In a general way, the Bush Administration has often acted inadvisably, drastically reducing aid for development, to substitute it with aid, plans and military presence – straining to unearth, in the most peaceful continent with one of the lowest military
budgets in the world, an inexhaustible list of enemies. Testimony is also found in the enthusiastic support, shared with the Spanish Governor and the IMF, to the failed coup d’état in Venezuela of April 11th 2002. The results were catastrophic, reinforcing and radicalizing the Bolivian movement of President Hugo Chávez. In Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, and to a less overt extent also in large countries like Brazil, extraordinary and explicit pressure was exercised at all levels, inducing voters not to vote for Left wing candidates: result being, however, that they were unfailingly elected.
When in June, 2007, at Panama, in the plenary session of the OEA (Organization of the AmericanStates), the Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice demanded the constitution of a
commission for the study of the RCTV case (12) , sustaining that in Venezuela liberty of the press was not fully guaranteed: this demand was so totally refused by all, that C. Rice left the meeting in sign of protest – an unusual gesture for one at the head of the first world diplomacy.
Seen from Europe, the time seems very far away when Ronald Reagan’s ex-Minister of Defence, Jeane Kirkpatrick, accused the Carter Administration of damaging United States’ interests by being hostile to the military dictatorship friends for their violations of human rights.
It was the “Kirkpatrick doctrine” which offered full political and economic support to the regimes. In theory, nothing could be further from the concept of the ’exportation of democracy’ of George Bush.
But in Latin America, much more than in Europe, history makes it difficult to present the United States as Paladins of democracy and human rights. A recent survey made by the weekly, Newsweek (13)
) confirms this. It attests, no less, that 86% of the Latin American executive classes (with a significant 81% considering themselves of the Centre or of the Right) have a negative opinion of the Bush Administration. To liquidate such opposition, which Washington often does, as anti-Americanism, explains very little.
The Latin American élite looks always less at the United States as the privileged partner par excellence, but move closer to subjects which they consider equally important, such as the development of the regional interchange with the European Union, with China, with the Moslem world, as well as the South-South commerce. The idea that the United States are partners which demand a lot and give little or nothing is, by now, rooted and causes serious “collateral damage” to the United States.
In the brief period of a few years, the Latin American élite has interiorized both the integrationist question and that of globalization, but not in the sense the United Stated hoped. If, in the last quarter of the 20th Century, they have had as hegemony partner, the United States, today, they discover, with favour, that a policy where they can serve themselves at more than one oven is extremely convenient.
The United States philosopher, Emmanuel Wallerstein (14) compared the continental policies of Bush to the Big Stick, the big club of Theodore Roosevelt, in a continent which would be much more sensitive to a “good neighbourliness” in the manner of Franklin D. Roosevelt. This, we shall see, is only partially true and also the Bush Administration has known how to take a different position, especially in its second mandate, after the exit of figures like Donald Rumsfeld and Otto Reich.
It is not only Guantanamo that offends. In recent weeks, in Mexico, the ample and inevitable diffusion of FBI official information, which shows the ever-increasing growth of anti-Latin American racism in the United States, causes a malaise which touches two painful nerve points of the inter-American relations, both attributed to the intransigence of the United States.
In the first place, there are the migratory policies which are considered unjustly repressive. In only a few years, the wall of Tijuana, at the frontier between Mexico and the United States, has caused the death by starvation or by the shooting down (the minutemen, infamous for their cruelty, if seen from the South; legendary, if seen from the North) of at least, 4,500 Mexican citizens. Citizens who, almost in their entirety (and this is the second painful point) were impoverished peasants, pushed to emigration after the coming into force of the NAFTA: the treaty of free commerce which, favouring the rich and subsidized agriculture of the United States has caused, according to the critics, the emigration of 12 million Mexicans. Also sources close to the Government of the United States, such as the already cited Inter-American Dialogue see, in the radical American refusal to the slightest minimum concession regarding importation duties and in their wanting to maintain in tact the framework of the subsidies of their agriculture, the principal reason for rejection towards the United States. This, not only on the part of the ever strengthening indigenous and peasant movements (Brazilians alone “Sem Terra” organize 4.5 million families), but also on the part of the most traditional gentlemen farmers, united in this with the previously mentioned “national bourgeoisie” in criticizing the United States and widening the two banks of the Rio Bravo.
The United States, therefore, live in an unusual situation of isolation. To this they initially responded with aggressiveness and only, subsequently, adapted and made their policies a little more flexible. After the 11th September and for as long as Donald Rumsfeld remained in his job, an idea was designed and included in the context of the war on terrorism – an indistinct Latin American threat in which the most dangerous element was assessed to be the Brazil of Lula.
Daily newspapers like the Washington Times (15) even wrote of an “axis of Latin American evil”, which represented a nuclear threat for the United States and which was necessary to strike first, in order to prevent it. The failed coup d’état on the 11th April, 2002, at Caracas demonstrated how unrealistic and dangerous this policy was for the interests of the United States. When Reich was substituted by Thomas Shannon, in charge of the hemisphere, a different policy line was designed: in American there existed responsible Left wing governments and irresponsible Left wing governments. To the second belonged Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Argentina. With this last, the United States kept up the very worst underlying relations, with scarce possibility of improvement during the mandate of Cristina Fernández.
Instead, Chile belongs, without a doubt, to the first group, but it is necessary to include also Brazil: it has excellent relations with Argentina and Venezuela and the best, in history, with Cuba: it is the corner-stone of the Latin American integration, of the Bank of Sur and was decisive in the ditching of ALCA, the most important American project for the region in the last 20 years, but it has never been publicly reproached, either by the United States Government or by the mainstream media.
To this is added that from 2005, the United States offer more advantageous agreements to the Countries which remain friends and, above all, to those which sign the TLC, compared to those which would have signed only 5-7 years ago. It shows that today it is the United States’ Congress to balk. It occurs for the TLC with Colombia for which it reproaches the government for having granted too much to the key ally, Álvaro Uribe.
If better agreements – something unthinkable in the 80’s and 90’s – and the search to choose and promote them between the integrationist governments – certainly an improvement compared to the initial approach of the “axis of Latin American evil” – in the American policies other aspects continue to prevail. Among these are the enormous funds granted through USAID (United States Agency for International Development) and other ONG (non-government organizations) to entities which can favour the return of friendly government.
It is the case, for example, that the money that finances the Bolivian autonomism is that which is destabilizing the Evo Morales government. On the other hand, the management of the military agreements is the key. If, with respect to the Cold War period, the development aid offered by the United States is reduced to one third, the Ministry of Defence, which has granted military aid to the tune of 8 billion dollars in the last ten years, has become the principal instrument of financing friendly governments, starting from the Colombian one.
The list of enemies drawn up after the 11th September, is, however, very long. It goes from the guerrilla organizations, present, by now, almost exclusively in Colombia, to the narcos, to the social movements, peasants and native people, to the so-called “radical populism”; to finish with the juvenile bands, the maras and the clandestine immigrants – all indicated by the National Security Council as potential terrorists. The capacity of the United States to cream off this list and the acceptance that the region by now, wants at least, a more mature common participation, could do much to improve relations which are at an all time low.