Mar del Plata Spin Cycle

That whirring sound you hear are the spinmeisters of the Bush administration trying to prettify the outcome of the Mar del Plata Summit of the Americas into something suitable for U.S. public consumption. Bush went to Argentina empty-handed and nevertheless wanted to get the Free Trade Area of the Americas negotiations, which had basically crashed and burned at a Miami ministerial level meeting two years ago, restarted.

By Joaquín Bustelo - Marxmail
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That whirring sound you hear are the spinmeisters of the Bush administration trying to prettify the outcome of the Mar del Plata Summit of the Americas into something suitable for U.S. public consumption.

To briefly recap: Argentina, which was hosting the summit, set (as Lula put it) a 3-point agenda: "jobs, jobs and more jobs." Or as the official conference slogan had it: "Creating Jobs to Fight Poverty and Strengthen Democratic Governance"

Bush went to Argentina empty-handed on this score and nevertheless wanted to get the Free Trade Area of the Americas negotiations, which had basically crashed and burned at a Miami ministerial level meeting two years ago, restarted.

Bush was met with a week-long alternate summit, a mass march and rally of tens of thousands on Friday morning and violent street protests in the afternoon while President Nestor Kirchner welcomed the summiteers with a brief speech where he said Argentina wasn't about to go down the road of "economic growth" without job growth. Been there, done that, and at the end people didn't even have enough money to buy the T-shirt. It's time to find another road.

The event was marked by an unusual amount of tension, reflected in the cancellation of multiple press briefings and even a banquet. Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela took a firm position that the conditions did not exist that would make it possible to have a fair FTAA. And thus no matter how many ways the Bushites and their Latin American acolytes tried to square that circle, and get the five to accept at least some nice-sounding noises about the FTAA in the final communiqué, the five wouldn't budge.

But it also pissed them and lots of other folks off that Bush basically hijacked the meeting away from a discussion of job creation to a fruitless two-day wrangle over setting the date to negotiate over the FTAA, which was basically the U.S. demand.

That's because Brazil has been very clear. It's not going to let the Americans do to its agricultural sector what was done to Mexico, where Mexico dropped its tariffs and was invaded by an ocean of ultra-subsidized U.S. agricultural products. The U.S. said to Brazil and others in the FTAA, so sorry, we're going to talk about subsidies in the Doha round of the WTO negotiations. Not here. So Brazil said, well, then there's really no point in talking about an FTAA right now until we see what happens in the WTO with these subsidies. That's basically Argentina's position, too.

In the end, a "compromise" was reached -- the position of both the pro and anti FTAA camps would be in the final statement. In other words, the United States was forced to accept having the final communiqué record the position of the five that until and unless the imperialist countries do something about their agricultural subsidies and other trade-distorting swindles, not only wasn't there going to be a deal, they weren't even going to waste their time talking about it.

This position is entirely reasonable. The United States has refused to engage on its monstrous subsidies to agribusinesses in the framework of FTAA talks. It claims it can't on account of it is already negotiating about the same thing in the Doha round of world trade talks.

But the U.S. still wants countries like Brazil and Argentina to eliminate their tariffs so that the ultra-subsidized U.S. corn, wheat, soybeans, etc., can nuke their rural economies, just as they have already done to Mexico and are now doing to Central America. In other words, areas in which the U.S. wants concessions from Latin America are on the table; but even in the same sectors of the economy and even the same specific commodities, the U.S. isn't even willing to talk about what it might give.

In Latin America there is a rather vulgar description of such a deal which involves bending over and the lack of a use of Vaseline. And, not unreasonably, these five Latin American countries, with the clear sympathy of the majority of people in the region, invited the United States to apply that procedure to itself.

Comes now the Washington Post, to describe how well Bush did in Mar del Plata.

"In Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's version of Latin America, the leaders who concluded a two-day summit Saturday are poised to ignite a unified, region-wide socialist revolution that rejects U.S.-style capitalism outright.

"But if the summit proved anything, it was that there is more to Latin America than Chavez."

That's the LEAD of the article -- I kid you not. That dastardly dude Hugo Chávez, was on the verge of having folks like Vicente Fox join him on the barricades in a revolutionary overturn more earth-shaking than any since the October Revolution. But St. George the Bush slew that dragon.

"Instead of backing their Venezuelan counterpart's rallying cry to bury a U.S.-backed proposal that would link markets throughout the Western Hemisphere, the leaders reluctantly agreed to discuss the proposal again during future talks. Cautious skepticism -- not Chavez's tone of enraged dismissal -- emerged as the strongest unifying force in a region exploring the possibility of greater independence from U.S. influence."

One of the curious things about this "agreement" that the Washington Post talks about is that they don't quote it. There is literally no reference anywhere in the story to the official document that issued from the event. Instead there is a recapitulation of some of the reasons why Latin Americans hate U.S. imperialism in general and George W. Bush in particular, all as a way of saying that given this, Bush did OK.

The Miami Herald takes a similar tack: "Bush is bruised but not beaten in talks. President Bush faced harsh criticism from Latin American presidents over a free-trade proposal, but no clear winners and losers emerged."

Remember, these are the imperialist-inspired "hemispheric summits" that Clinton launched under the aegis of "the Washington Consensus" for neoliberal globalization a decade ago in Miami. "The Spirit of Miami" would lead by 2005 to the biggest and most powerful trade block the world had ever seen.

And here we are, in 2005, and not only is there no free trade area of the Americas, but the "Spirit of Mar del Plata" has replaced the spirit of Miami. That spirit was expressed in the alternative summit and the big demonstration of tens of thousands of people repudiating Bush's visit. But it was also clearly echoed in the official summit itself -- and not just by Hugo Chávez.

"U.S. policy not only generated misery and poverty but also a great social tragedy that added to institutional instability in the region, provoking the fall of democratically elected governments," Kirchner said at the summit Friday. "We must create a kind of globalization that works for everyone, and not just for a few."

Compare that to the halcyon days of the mid-1990's when TINA --There Is No Alterative-- was the watchword. Faith in the "free market" religion has collapsed throughout Latin America as working people have seen what it means in practice. And even bourgeois politicians (well, at least some of them) are smart enough not to parade before the people mounted on a horse that's dead.

The Herald quoted with a straight face this official U.S. assessment: "It turned out well," said U.S. assistant of state for Latin American affairs Tom Shannon. "Chávez came to Mar del Plata to bury FTAA. Instead he resurrected it. He provoked a very deep debate among the leaders about FTAA," he told The Herald.

Sure. I believe it. The U.S. *really* wants a big debate about the FTAA. That's why they're always inviting Fidel to these summits. NOT.

All of the bourgeois press emphasized that the division was between the big majority (29 countries) and a small minority (5). None even mention that the five are really six, because Cuba is excluded from the talks but it is part of the hemisphere and there ain't no way it's going to join the FTAA. Nor that together the six represent 275 million of the 580 million Latin Americans (excluding colonial subjects) which is 47% of the region's population and in  reality the bulk of its economic muscle.

You can contrast the U.S. press coverage to the way it was covered elsewhere. "Bush faces Latin fury as popularity sinks at home." is the headline in the Independent. The FT says, "Bush is single target of multiple complaints." The BBC reports flatly, "No trade deal at Americas summit."

The BBC quotes the typical U.S. spin (basically, that it was really good because no one torched copies of previous pro-FTAA summit declarations, at least not during the official sessions):

"The US National Security Adviser, Steven Hadley, spoke of 'real progress'.

"'We went from a summit which was supposed to bury FTAA to a summit in which all 34 countries actually talk in terms of enhanced trade ... recognizing there are challenges,' he said."

The Spanish news agency EFE, however, had a very different take:

"The 'Spirit of Miami' failed in Mar del Plata"

"Eleven years and successive fruitless meetings had to pass before the so-called 'Spirit of Miami,' which promised an Americas united by free trade, would fail in Mar del Plata, 11,500 kilometers to the south of the place where the 'integrationist dream' was born.

"Miami and Mar del Plata, hosts of the First and Fourth Summit of the Americas, close the circle of a process that was initiated in 1994 when the political stage of the hemisphere looked very different from what it does today."

We'll see now what happens today in Brazil where Bush will attend a barbecue thrown by Lula.

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