Varieties of Imperial Decline: Rearguard Success, Strategic Defeat

The US
government and its European allies may have had some successes as they
mount their various rearguard actions attempting to defeat, stymie or
co-opt moves towards unity and integration in Latin America. However, Latin America may yet clinch autonomy from the grip of decrepit but still vicious
US and European imperialism.

By toni solo - ZNet
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"from
1920 to 1960, Venezuela was the leading world exporter of oil and here,
through our Caribbean sea passed thousands of boats loaded with oil:
but they left nothing to benefit the peoples of the Caribbean, the
sister peoples of Latin America. Today revolutionary Venezuela places this wealth, above all, at the disposal of our sister peoples of the Caribbean and of Latin America: not for the North American empire."
Hugo Chavez Frias, from closing words at Fourth Petrocaribe Summit.

Returning to Europe
after some time away is like visiting an unloved relative falling into
dementia. It may be unwelcome, but one sheds no tears. The persistent
optimism of Western Bloc political and financial leaders is bizarre.
For example Brian Cowen, Ireland's Finance Minister presented a budget
recently based on projected inflation through 2008 of a little over 2%
and growth in gross domestic product at 3%. Subsequently, Ireland's
Economic and Social Research Institute's latest quarterly economic
commentary reckoned growth at nearer 2% and inflation at over 3%.

But as this decade's credit boom slumps into bust, service-skewed economies like those in the US, Britain and Ireland
are likely to be hit much harder than these forecasts suppose. Most
people, businesses and households, more or less heavily in debt, will
cut back hard on non-essential spending. That will probably create a
vicious downward spiral as increasing numbers of people are made
unemployed and overall consumer demand drops correspondingly. At the
same time, creeping inflation will make everything dearer for people to
buy. The full effects of all these processes are unlikely to work
themselves out until late 2009 at the earliest.

Rich-country
economists read their tarot card statistics blinkered by arrays of
crystal-ball maybe-maybe-not data. But for millions of households in
Asia, Africa and Latin America facing
significant drops in family remittances as rich country economies go
belly-up through 2008, real life stares them brutally in the face. For
low-income families and communities in Africa, Asia or Latin America
the effects of the coming recession will be far more devastating than
for people in Europe and the US.
Countries bullied into US-style trade-in-your-sovereignty pacts or
EU-style Europeans-only-let's Party Agreements with the globalization
devil will find their souls quickly ripped apart as the funny-money
credit boom collapses into dwarf-star stagflation or a recessionary
black hole.

For example, Mexico's small and medium farm
economy will be annihilated through 2008 as North American Free Trade
Agreement agricultural teaser clauses expire and trade terms re-set
dramatically in favour of big US agri-business. These are the same
mechanisms used by the derivative paper hucksters and structured
investment artful dodgers who set up the current debacle in the global
financial system. The agony in Mexico's agricultural economy is likely
to be compounded by fierce military repression deployed to crush rural
resistance. The unfolding catastrophe will provide a vivid, manifold
justification of the ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas)
regional integration process led by Venezuela and Cuba.

ALBA visits Cienfuegos

With
one very important difference, the final declaration (1) of the recent
Fourth Petrocaribe summit at Cienfuegos in Cuba echoes the Coal and
Steel Agreement that led to the formation of the European Economic
Community, now the European Union. The main difference in this Latin
American regional integration initiative is that so far the driving
ideological force has been socialist-inspired solidarity rather than
imperialist-country consolidation of capital and infrastructure. The
Cienfuegos declaration stresses the interconnectedness of energy
cooperation with social and economic development for vulnerable
developing country economies.

Instead of focusing exclusively on
the economic benefits of the agreement, the declaration stresses the
need to use resulting financial benefits for literacy, healthcare,
education and housing. The agreement takes in the macro-economic
effects of dramatically improving participating countries' cash flow,
thus reducing the need to incur unsustainable foreign and internal
debt. The declaration also makes clear the anti-imperialist raison
d'etre of Petrocaribe by stating solidarity with the Bolivian
government in the face of current US and European backed opposition
efforts to destabilise the country and break it up.

The US
government and its European allies may have had some successes as they
mount their various rearguard actions attempting to defeat, stymie or
co-opt moves towards unity and integration in Latin America. For the
moment they are relying on local allies to destabilise the ALBA country
governments and ALBA sympathisers like the government of Rafael Correa
in Ecuador. They co-ordinate those destabilisation efforts with their
allies in the global corporate media and the powerful multinationals
determined to dominate access to Latin American resources and markets.

Re-inaugurating
the oil refinery at Cienfuegos - at a cost of US$166m - during the
Petrocaribe summit there, was a great symbolic moment for the ALBA
integration process. It linked ALBA's contemporary socialist-inspired
vision of solidarity based trade and economic cooperation with Cuba's
liberation from US neo-colonial rule. The Camilo Cienfuegos refinery
had to be mothballed during the early 1990s because the US blockade
made it impossible for Cuba to find partners to operate it. As Rafael
Ramirez, Venezuela's Energy Minister, noted during the new
inauguration, the reactivation of the refinery breaks wide open the US
government's economic blockade of nearly 50 years. (2)

US backyard - getting smaller all the time

When
Honduran Defence Minister Aristides Mejía signed ALBA's Petrocaribe
initiative in Cienfuegos, Honduras became Petrocaribe's 17th member.
Ever since Nicaragua joined ALBA in January 2007 it has only been a
question of time before Honduras signed up too one way or another.
Guatemala is not far behind. Increased foreign debt is all the US
government and the European Union have to offer impoverished Central
American and Caribbean countries almost completely dependent on oil
imports. Aristides Mejía pointed out that Honduras joined Petrocaribe
after experiencing the hostility of the big multinational oil companies
to Honduran government attempts at stabilizing domestic fuel prices. (3)

Petrocaribe
now supplies 53,000 barrels of oil per day to the economies of its
member countries. Since its inception it has delivered oil products
totalling 43 million barrels. Honduras joins Antigua and Barbuda,
Bahamas, Cuba, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Dominican
Republic, St Kitts and Nevis, Santa Lucia, St. Vincent and the
Grenadines, Surinam, Haiti, Nicaragua y Venezuela. During the summit
Rafael Ramirez, cited the huge disporportion between eastern Caribbean
countries consuming just 10,000 barrels a day and the United States
guzzling 20 million barrels a day to explain Petrocaribe's importance
as a means of correcting energy market distortions caused by US
over-consumption.(4)

Guatemala is another Central American
country struggling to cope with problems caused by the fall in the
value of the US dollar and surging oil prices. Shortly after his
election in November 2007 President Alvaro Colom confirmed his
intention to strengthen links with Cuba saying, "There is plenty of
synergy between both States following the re-establishment of
relations". Then, early in December, Colom confirmed his interest in
bringing Guatemala into Petrocaribe.(5)

The willingness of
Central American leaders to embrace Cuban medical aid and Venezuelan
energy support is in tune with a reconfiguration of the region's
economic and trade options. Costa Rica recently dumped relations with
Taiwan in order to open diplomatic and trade relations with China.
Perhaps of equal interest are the openings that ALBA is creating
towards Africa and west Asian countries like Iran.

Building South-South cooperation

Currently
Iran's trade with Latin America is something over US$2bn per year. For
2008 trade is projected to grow to US$4bn a year. The Iranian Foreign
Ministry's Director for the Americas, Ahmad Sobhani recently remarked,
"Despite the distance between us and Latin America, we see many points
in common, the challenges are also shared since both geographic zones
are oppressed by the imperialists and relations could be mutually
beneficial." Sobhani was explaining Iran's intention of working closely
with ALBA for more political and trade cooperation between Iran and
Latin America.

Cuba has enjoyed close relations with Angola and
South Africa since Angolan and Cuban forces defeated the apartheid
regime's invasion of Angola in the late 1980s. But it is Venezuela's
determination to work with countries like Angola and Nigeria inside the
Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries that gives the ALBA
countries leverage beyond their individual potential. On November 18th
in 2007 Angola's President Dos Santos met with both Hugo Chavez and
Nigeria's Umaru Musa Yar'Adua in Riyadh in meetings outside the main
meeting of OPEC ministers.

At that meeting in Riyadh, Angola
sided with Saudi Arabia against Venezuela and Iran in refusing to
discuss OPEC pegging of oil to the dollar. But both Angola and Nigeria
are exploring how to diversify their international reserves out of
dollars.(6) It seems unlikely that OPEC will be able to resist pressure
to cut loose from the dollar through 2008 unless it claws back losses
against the Euro to regain a Euro exchange rate of under 1.40.

Another
area in which OPEC member countries like Nigeria, Angola, Venezuela,
Iran and now Ecuador are likely to make their presence felt is in the
uses of the multi-billion dollar OPEC Fund for International
Development. In July 2006 both President Chavez of Venezuela and
President Ahmadinejad attended the African Union summit of 53 African
leaders that year. Venezuela will host the Second Africa-South America
Summit in November 2008. At a preparatory meeting for that event, then
Chairman of the African Union Commission Alpha Oumar Konaré declared:

"Today
we should remember here the historical leadership that in the 20th
century directed Africa towards its Independence, towards its
liberation. Today we would have to remember here how that leadership
rose in the midst of great difficulties and how often that leadership,
almost in all its opportunities, was harassed by the empires... Today
we should remember the great Patrice Lumumba, to Julius Nyerere,
Amilcar Cabral, to Nasser, Thomas Sankara, to Samora Machel and to the
great Nelson Mandela." (7)

South-South openings relating to ALBA
countries stretch across the Pacific as well as the Atlantic. Vietnam
and Cuba are now ready to start the second phase of the ambitious
3000km Ho Chi Minh highway project, running the length of Vietnam as
far as the border with China. These external cooperation initiatives
will eventually connect with inward Latin American integration
initiatives like Bancosur, formally established on December 9th 2007
with the aim of freeing Latin America from the international financial
institutions.

Rearguard class attrition

As these moves
gain momentum one can see the political and ideological fields of
conflict changing. Latin America's long struggle to throw off the dead
seigneurial hand of US and European domination is complicated now by
confusion and ambivalence among local middle classes and business
classes about where their best interests lie. This is reflected, for
example, in Nicaragua, where former Contra leader banker Jaime Morales
works hard as Vice-President to get the best out of commercial
relations with countries committed to "free markets" as well as
supporting Daniel Ortega's decision to join ALBA led by Venezuela and
Cuba.

Morales' pragmatic ambivalence is becoming more and more
typical among his counterparts throughout Latin America. The
willingness of the Zelaya government in Honduras and the Colom
government in Guatemala to join Petrocaribe may well be pure
pragmatisim. But Petrocaribe and the wider ALBA project are already
showing advantages and benefits well beyond the reach of the miserable,
one-dimensional "free trade", debt-plus-aid, anti-development model
propounded by the United States and its G7 allies. ALBA countries'
geographical reach makes nonsense of traditional Latin American
diplomacy and geo-strategic planning, forcing even their local enemies
to re-think regional strategy.

Still, in the course of the
long strategic defeat they are suffering, the United States and the
European Union and their allies can claim some rearguard successes. In
2006 they had Felipe Calderon's fraudulent electoral win in Mexico,
Alan Garcia's dodgy defeat of Ollanta Humala in Peru and Alvaro Uribe's
narco-terror-based presidential win in Colombia. In 2007, US and EU
proxies scraped a win against the Chavez government's proposed
constitutional reforms in the December 2nd referendum in Venezuela.
Prior to that, US allies in Costa Rica squeezed out a suspiciously
tight win in the referendum on the Central American Free Trade
Agreement.

But the separatist inspired disruption of Bolivia's
constituent assembly failed to prevent the handover of the country's
new constitution by the December 15th deadline. Nor has the local
oligarchy been able to rally effectively so far against the recently
installed constituent assembly in Ecuador. For the US and its allies,
win-some-lose-some has become win-a-few-mostly-lose-'em. Their tactics,
especially with death-squad terror veteran John Negroponte in the State
Department, are likely to become more vicious as the potential scale of
their strategic defeat grows clearer and the temptation to double or
quits grows stronger.

Dan Feder of Narco News has written about
increasing terror activity by Colombian government proxy paramilitaries
in Venezuela's border areas. (8) The US government backed separatist
movement in Bolivia's eastern provinces has used violent paramilitary
gangs to attack supporters of the government of Evo Morales and also
members of the constituent assembly trying to comply with the deadline
for Bolivia's new constitution. The December 2nd referendum on
Venezuela's constitutional reform was also marked by violent incidents
provoked by the US government funded opposition.

Dynamic younger
ALBA leaders like Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales and their Cuban and
Nicaraguan counterparts can count on the international experience and
savvy of older leaders like Fidel Castro and Daniel Ortega. All are
ably supported by thinkers and diplomats at least as subtle - often
more so - than anyone on Negroponte's team. ALBA's socialist-inspired
drive for integration will likely see the region through the worst of
the coming economic storms despite US and EU efforts to exploit ensuing
crises to their advantage.

The moral dimension of things pits
the altruism of ALBA's humanitarian vision and practice against the
greed-driven, mass murdering frauds of the Bush regime and their
European allies. The Cuban and Venezuelan led Mision Milagro medical
programme recently notched up one million patients. ALBA's grass roots
literacy and education programmes are enabling hundreds of thousands of
people to read and write and advance their studies. By contrast,
between them, the US and European governments have destroyed millions
of lives in Iraq and Afghanistan and deploy a full spectrum assault on
Palestinians in Gaza in violation of their commitments as members of
the United Nations.

The next two years of economic upheaval and
fierce political turmoil will be a decisive period for Latin America
finally to clinch autonomy from the grip of decrepit but still vicious
US and European imperialism. But Brazilian and other regional elites in
league with new foreign capital from China and India are marrying those
new elements to their traditional relationships with US and European
corporate power. The emerging pattern of struggle for the region's
peoples will be much the same as it has been for 500 years - fighting
to ensure their countries' enormous natural resources benefit
themselves and their children rather than people on the far side of the
world.

toni solo is based in Central America - see toni.tortillaconsal.com

NOTES
Note 1. Full text of the Declaration of the Fourth Petrocaribe Summit

The
heads of State and government leaders of the Petrocaribe member
countries, meeting at Cienfuegos, Cuba on December 21st 2007,

Recognising
that thanks to Venezuela's generous strategic initiative, Petrocaribe
is now a real and effective project, clearly in the process of
execution as a sign of the spirit of solidarity, cooperation and
integration that have inspired it;

Underlining the nefarious
consequences of the unequal international economic order that, among
other things, has a negative impact on the prices of basic foodstuffs,
including hydrocarbons and highlighting the duty to protect developing
countries from the damage caused by more expensive fuels;

Recognising
the serious impact of the United States' dollar's devaluation on the
growth of an international price spiral for oil;

Emphasising
that, exactly when the bill for purchasing oil is undergoing larger
increases, the Caribbean countries can count on a scheme which more and
more guarantees necessary supplies on fair and sustainable terms;

Taking
note that Petrocaribe has shown itself to be more than simply a trade
mechanism for fuel supply and that it now constitutes a strategic
programme for energy security that also contemplates cooperation to
ensure savings and efficiency in the energy generation, transmission
and consumption, which has been widely shown by the experiences of
various Caribbean countries in energy cooperation;

Underlining
that initiatives of a social character benefiting the most impoverished
sectors of participating nations have begun to show successful results
and will carry on being a central objective of Petrocaribe and that the
programmes of literacy, healthcare, education and housing are worthy
examples of the fair use and solidarity that can result from high
incomes received by exporters of energy resources under current
conditions and of the savings generated by those importing countries
that participate in the scheme;

Underlining, too, that through
Petrocaribe and under the integrationist principles of the Bolivarian
Alternative for the Peoples of Our America, the Caribbean nations have
continued building an efficient sub-regional energy matrix that
contemplates setting up new capacity for refining, storing and
transporting oil, of import-export and processing infrastructure for
natural gas and for the training and preparation of human resources for
the energy industry:

1. We express our conviction that the
agreements reached within the Petrocaribe framework form an important
tool to ensure energy security and that way to contribute decisively to
promoting the sustainable social and economic development of
participating countries.

2. We ratify the commitment to
contribute to the common energy security, as well as the development
and greater integration of the countries of Central America and the
Caribbean making sovereign use of energy resources.

3. We
emphasise that Petrocaribe is a model for cooperation among developing
countries guided by principles of solidarity and special differentiated
treatment for countries lacking natural energy resources.

4. We
note the significant contribution of the agreements signed in the
Petrocaribe framework to soften the effects of high and growing
hydrocarbon costs for economies dependent on importing them.

5.
We recognise the positive social impact in our countries of programmes
financed by the ALBA Caribbean Fund as a complementary arm of
Petrocaribe's energy projects.

6. We are proving to our
satifaction the sustained progress to accomplish agreements reached
since the first Petrocaribe Summit and we welcome the first steps in
the creation of the infrastructure required to carry out commitments
that have been undertaken. In this context we commit ourselves to take
the necessary measures to accelerate their due progress.

7. We
repeat the need to continue investing economic resources, saved by the
financing of 40% of the oil bill, in projects with high social content
that promote poverty reduction for our peoples.

8. We
recognise that the process of energy integration involves as the main
actors, the State, companies in the sector and the whole society so as
to achieve an equilibrium between the interests of countries, the needs
of peoples and the efficiency of the sector.

9. We voice our
support for the national and popular processes developing in Latin
America in defence of sovereignty and natural resources and very
particularly our solidarity with the government of Bolivia faced with
attempts to subvert Bolivia's democratic process and break up the
country.

10. We are determined to promote energy savings and
efficiency and the development of renewable energies so as in this way
to contribute to energy security, to promote universal access to energy
and the conservation of the environment.

11. We accept with
satisfaction the resolution adopted by the Third Meeting of the
Petrocaribe Council of Ministers celebrated within the framework of
this Fourth Summit.

12. We are determined likewise to continue
promoting Petrocaribe and developing within it new initiatives
contributing ever more decisively and palpably to the social and
economic development of our nations and the wellbeing of our peoples.

13. We agree to celebrate the Fifth and Sixth Petrocaribe Summits in St. Kitts and Nevis and in Belize respectively

Cienfuegos, Cuba, December 21st 2007

Note 2.
"Refinería de Cienfuegos, un día histórico", Juan Diego Nusa Peñalver, AIN, for argenpress.info, 21/12/2007.

Note 3.
"Honduras entra a Petrocaribe y agradece a Chávez ayuda petrolera" AFP, in radioprimerisima.com, 22-12-2007

Note 4.
"Honduras ingresa en Petrocaribe", Presidential Press Office, in rebelion.org , 22-12-2007

Note 5.
"Presidente electo de Guatemala destaca vínculos con Cuba", Carmen Esquivel, Prensa latina, 5-12-2007
"Colom Reaffirms Guatemala's Interest in Petrocaribe", Prensa Latina, 8-12-2007

Note 6.
"Saudi
Arabia Not Alone in Defending Dollar in OPEC (Update1)", Anchalee
Worrachate and Zainab Fattah, bloomberg.com 17 -11-2007

Note 7.
"Venezuela Hosts Preparatory Meeting for Second Africa-South America Summit", Kiraz Janicke, venezuelanalysis.com, 19-7-2007

Note 8.
"Colombia's
New Generation of Paramilitaries Operates on Both Sides of Venezuelan
Border", Dan Feder, narcosphere.narconews.com, 19-12-2007