“If the countries of the Caribbean have to submit to the logic of the international market we’d be helping bring about a crisis with profound consequences that will lead us into instability, social disruption and total ungovernability”. Leonel Fernandez, President of the Dominican Republic. (1)
Two meetings took place in Central America and the Caribbean recently, of great practical and symbolic importance for Latin America and the rest of the world. In Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela, government representatives from Venezuela and the Caribbean countries met to advance integration of regional energy policy. In Tegucigalpa, Honduras, the Central American presidents met also, ostensibly, to discuss further regional integration.
The two meetings represented opposite poles of regional responses to incipient US imperial decline. In Puerto Cruz, Venezuela and its Caribbean neighbours consolidated an energy and trade model based on cooperation among equals, solidarity with the disadvantaged and sustainable use of resources. In Tegucigalpa, the Central American presidents continued to prop up the oligarchical model of neo-colonial dependency, exclusion of the poor majority and abject capitulation to dead-end “free-trade”.
The two summits neatly set off the steadily narrowing options for the United States and its regional allies against the profuse creativity of Venezuela’s regional integration initiatives. As the accumulating energy crisis begins to hit hard, the US government and its local allies struggle to stop vulnerable subject economies from falling into recession. Imperialist protection racketeers from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund flounder clueless, blathering discredited neo-liberal alchemical formulae. In brilliant contrast, Venezuela and its neighbours act practically and decisively to defend the interests of their peoples. The background detail is illuminating.
Preparing intervention in Nicaragua
The twenty sixth summit of the Central American Integration System met in Tegucigalpa purportedly to consider moves towards a common passport and visa system for their countries. Another priority concern was security policy to mitigate the gang culture crisis that originated in California and has spread throughout Central America. But the meeting was largely taken up by the political crisis in Nicaragua.
Nicaraguan president, Enrique Bolaños took full advantage of the summit to mobilise public statements of support from his presidential peers. Dan Fisk, US Assistant Secretary of State for the Hemisphere arrived towards the end of the summit to declare that the Bush regime “firmly supports the constitutional President of Nicaragua.” President Sacasa of El Salvador had already declared that any constitutional upheavals in Nicaragua would likely cause a crisis in the whole region.(2)
The summit’s final declaration stated, “the member States of the Central American Integration System will not recognize any government resulting from changes to the consitutional democratic order.” This declaration follows the recent fruitless fire-fighting visit to Nicaragua of the Secretary General of the Organization of American States. This week the former Argentine Foreign Minister Daniel Caputo returned to Managua to continue to monitor the political crisis in Nicaragua for the OAS.
Bolaños digs himself deeper into illegitimacy
President Bolaños, a beleaguered figurehead at this point, bereft of support and political authority inside Nicaragua, is doing all he can to secure external intervention in order to fend of constitutional attempts to throw him out of office. Over the last couple of weeks, Bolaños has provoked an institutional crisis by refusing to accept the authority of his own country’s Supreme Court. He has ordered the police to refuse to cooperate with judicial orders not approved by his presidency.
Bolaños insists the police obey a ruling by the Central American Court of Justice in defiance of a ruling by Nicaragua’s Supreme Court stating that the regional body has no authority to overrule Nicaragua’s Constitution.(3) In response, both the National Assembly and the Supreme Court have moved against President Bolaños. In the National Assembly, two separate commissions have been established to examine the basis for deposing the President.
As in the cases of Presidents Gutierrez in Ecuador and Toledo in Peru, the main legal basis for the moves against Bolaños are irregularites in the President’s electoral campaign back in 2001. In relation to his recent conduct, members of Nicaragua’s Supreme Court have already signalled that the President has grossly violated the country’s constitution, clearly abjuring his oath of office.(4)
Therein lies the perversity of US envoy Fisk’s declaration. The invasion of Iraq and the coup in Haiti remove all pretence that the United States and its allies respect centuries-old sovereign law of nations and the Geneva Conventions. Quite blatantly now, they implement unilateral, a la carte, make-it-up-as-we-go-along “globalization”. So when the US majordomo in Nicaragua,- Enrique Bolaños, violates his own country’s constitution, automatically he receives the support of the United States: But democratically elected presidents are either deposed, like Jean Baptiste Aristide, or menaced and demonized like Hugo Chavez.
Nicaragua – a farcical IMF Alamo
To get some idea of the reasons why Bolaños’ government is completely isolated politically in Nicaragua, one has only to review its pitiful record of economic failure. Totally in thrall to the IMF, it is characterised by chronic anomalies and incompetence. The government controlled Central Bank sustains the fantasy that inflation is in single figures. It does so because, to receive further IMF support, Nicaragua’s inflation has to be….in single figures. But everyone in Nicaragua knows that prices have generally almost doubled over the last year.
Six months ago, Bolaños’ Finance Minister Luis Eduardo Montiel resigned, because he refused to work with a President who directly managed up to 40% of the national budget on a discretionary basis. (5) When presidential adviser Mario Arana, the man overseeing that particular policy outrage, was asked recently what plans the Bolaños government had to deal with IMF concerns about the worsening energy crisis, the meaning of his meandering reply was, none.
But the IMF will fall over backwards to prop up the Bolaños administration. The IMF’s double standards are shockingly clear between one country and the next. The Bolaños government in Nicaragua can bumble from one policy failure to another no questions asked – patching up botched privatizations, grotesque budgetary waste, bogus drives against corruption. So long as Bolaños parrots the IMF rote he gets a free ride. Contrast that with the treatment for Tabare Vasquez’s government in Uruguay, blackmailed into policy decisions contrary to Vasquez’s electoral campaign program by threats of withdrawal of IMF support.(6)
Petrocaribe: busting the empire mobsters
In Nicaragua, a long-standing US puppet like Enrique Bolaños despises his own country’s Constitution and goes cap in hand to foreigners for support against his own people. Whereas Venezuela and its neighbours stake out a sovereign future for all the peoples of Latin America. The recent Petrocaribe summit in the Venezuelan port of Puerto La Cruz heralds a new era of integration very different to the virtual slave state integration envisaged by the pro-Central American Free Trade Agreement presidents meeting in Tegucigalpa.
The Petrocaribe initiative, carefully developed by consensus over the last two years, offers a stable framework for the participating Caribbean countries (7) to confront the developing energy crisis on a basis of cooperation and solidarity. Among its provisions, the agreement will set up a social and economic development fund to finance new infrastructure, assist with transport costs, and offer long term finance facilities at low interest rates. Under the agreement countries will be able to pay for petroleum products with goods and services, allowing them to save precious foreign currency.
An annual Council of Ministers of participating countries will oversee the agreement’s operation supported by an Executive Secretariat based in Caracas. The Secretariat will coordinate execution of the agreement, focusing on production, refining, transport and supply. Venezuela offered to put up US$50million to fund initial start up costs. and will also open a subsidiary of its PDVSA State oil company called PDV-Caribe to manage Venezuela’s operations under the agreement.
For Venezuela the agreement is a logical advance in its efforts to promote regional integration on the basis of mutual cooperation for development. Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez was reported as stating that Petrocaribe marks a shift in Venezuela’s policy in favour of regional neighbours based on an integrated development agenda. It is seen as superseding the less favourable 1980 San Jose Pact. Nothing could be further from the letter and spirit of US style “free trade” agreements geared totally toward corporate profit.
Adios to “there-is-no-alternative”
These recent events indicate how far meretricious “free trade” ideology touted by the US has fallen under the weight of its own failure. The US government can still manipulate servile local oligarchies into betraying their countries so as to permit multinational corporations to make gigantic profits. But strong independent countries like Venezuela are able to sustain their sovereignty and promote autonomous regional initiatives.
That is why the US will accept pretty much any level of destabilization that renders a sovereign country susceptible to manipulation. The usual techniques run through heavily conditioned “debt” and “aid” to trade coercion and blackmail or, ultimately, to outright military threats. Chaos and conflict in Colombia, the agony in Haiti or the misery in Nicaragua and the rest of Central America matter little to the US government. As in Iraq, so long as the Washington regime and its allies get their way, all that immeasurable human suffering is of no interest to them.
The humane, alternative vision of Venezuela, Cuba and less forthright but sympathetic regional governments has found its feet. Steadily and surely, they are developing models of cooperation on the basis of autonomous sovereign agreement for their mutual benefit as countries equal but different. When Trinidad and Tobago declined to sign the Petrocaribe initiative because it had misgivings about the agreement’s implications for its own petroleum exports, Fidel Castro remarked “”no two countries are the same in this whole hemisphere, as is evident from what the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago has said,” adding, “This divergence can be overcome.”
Here come alive is the nightmare of the United States and its allies. Impoverished less developed nations are developing their own ways of doing things pretty much regardless of what the rich countries say or do. For that crime, Cuba has suffered over forty years of illegal economic blockade. For that crime, Nicaragua was devastated by a US terrorist war lasting a decade.
Now, from Bolivia to Venezuela via Ecuador, the regime in Washington can barely manage to prop up their oligarchical stooges in Latin America. Every national election sees frenzied overt and covert US government activity to bamboozle electorates, rig voting and counting procedures and secure a win for Washington’s candidate. But Venezuela and Cuba can and do actively offer successful alternatives, promoting autonomy and self-determination. Hence the current escalation in media and diplomatic aggression against Venezuela from the United States and its allies and the assassination plots against its President, Hugo Chavez actively encouraged by the US State Department’s inflammatory anti-Chavez rhetoric.
The small print – clawing back US influence
Apart from developing closer local economic relationships in South America and in the Caribbean, Venezuela is developing strategic global alliances with other powerful nations like China, Russia and Iran, opposed to US global dominance. To strip the ground from underneath the giant strides Venezuela and like-minded countries are making, the US government is exploiting the small and not-so-small print of various agreements with other Latin American countries. In doing so, the United States is carefully staking out patches of influence that will be difficult for Latin American countries to recoup easily.
The local oligarchies invariably ally themselves with the United States and its proxies. In Paraguay, the government has collaborated totally with the IMF as the country undergoes the usual rigamarole of privatization and deregulation. As everywhere else where these programs are forced through, widespread popular protest is being ignored.
At the end of May, virtually in secret, the Paraguayan Senate conceded legal immunity to US military personnel, effectively renouncing jurisdiction in its own territory. Now, up to 500 US military personnel are moving into Paraguay where they already have an airstrip capable of receiving giant transport planes and fighter jets close to the frontier with Bolivia.(9) The US has long alleged that Paraguay’s Triple Frontier area is an important base for international “terror”.(10) It just happens to be next door to Bolivia.
In Uruguay, the left wing government that took power recently also has the IMF Torquemada-style enforcers at its throat. But even further limiting its options is a disadvantageous bilateral investment treaty their predecessors signed with the US prior to leaving office. These apparently innocuous bilateral investment treaties are yet another means by which the US undermines national sovereignty. (11) The small print of such agreements, generally modelled on the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Multilateral Investment Treaty, invariably stipulates that any conflicts be settled by supra-national entities such as the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, an adjunct of the World Bank.
Governments end up having to justify domestic policy changes to foreign investors in foreign courts. They can be liable to significant penalties backed up by the economic muscle of rich country governments. These treaties go a long way to putting in place by the back door what the US has been unable to achieve with full blown “Free Trade” Agreements.
The US under George W. Bush – a loser
Still, Petrocaribe and the developing debacle of President Bolaños in Nicaragua mean that the United States government is failing as a continental never mind a global power. Any resort to direct military intervention in the hemisphere would likely be a short term patch doomed to ultimate failure. The examples of Gutierrez in Ecuador, Mesa in Bolivia and Bolaños in Nicaragua indicate that control of regional intermediaries only serves to cover up the progressive underlying decline of US influence.
The United States government is no longer able to control developments in Latin America. It reacts to them as it tries desperately to protect its mediocre local oligarchical allies. For the moment, a return to earlier decades of US inspired hemisphere-wide terror and repression in Latin America seems implausible. But as alternatives like Petrocaribe to “free trade” ideology get put into place, options for the US to retain its former unquestioned imperial dominance are running out.
That is why the Bush regime creates a propaganda climate to encourage terrorists who want to assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. That is why they support Colombian narco-President Alvaro Uribe, the eternal partner of drugs-dealing paramilitary mass murderers. That is why they are extending their web of military bases into the heart of South America.
toni solo is an activist based in Central America – contact via www.tonisolo.net
1. “PETROCARIBE evitará una mayor crisis”, Prensa Latina June 29th 2005
2. * Rechazan cualquier gobierno surgido de la alteración del orden constitucional”,
Esteban Solís, Nuevo Diario, July1st 2005
3. “El Estado soy yo”, Consuelo Sandoval and Ismael López, Nuevo Diario, June 28th 2005
5. “Un Ministro de Hacienda debe tener respaldo absoluto” La Prensa, 21/12/2004
6. “Revela el dirigente socialista Roberto Conde que Uruguay fue chantajeado por el FMI”, www.argenpress.info, June 30th 2005
7. Petrocaribe participants: Antigua y Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Cuba, Dominica, Grenada, Guayana, Jamaica, Santa Lucía, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Surinam, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominicana Republic, Venezuela
San Jose Pact participants:- Barbados, Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haití, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Dominican Republic, Venezuela
8. “Paraguay concedió inmunidad a las tropas de Estados Unidos” Hugo Olázar, Clarín, www.rebelion.org June 15th 2005
9. ¿Instalarán una base militar norteamericana en Paraguay? www.argenpress.info July 1st 2005
10. “Terrorist’ claims in the Triple Frontier” Gibby Zobel www.aljazeera.net February 28th 2004
11. “Los tratados bilaterales de promoción y protección de las inversiones extranjeras en el Continente Americano como alternativa al ALCA” Nana Bevillaqua www.argenpress.info June 28th 2005)