Dubya Rides South


When distinguished Uruguayan journalist
Raúl Zibechi recently stated that President George W Bush’s visit to
Latin America this month is "he most ambitious attempt to reposition
the United States in the region since the Free Trade Agreement of the
Americas (FTAA) died in Mar del Plata in November of 2005", he could not have been more accurate.

Dubious Bush rhetoric about increasing aid to Latin America aside,
the US President’s selective tour of the region has two key objectives:
to counter Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s influence throughout
Latin America; and, as Zibechi argues, to form a "strategic alliance
with Brazil for the production of ethanol".

The US still has
considerable clout in the region, but, unlike previous eras, an
alternative vision to the ‘Washington consensus’ not only exists, it
has the backing of a State (Venezuela) with one of the largest oil
reserves in the Western hemisphere — estimated at 77.8 billion barrels
in 2004.

And the Venezuelan President’s latest project is
certainly a major concern for Washington — Chávez proposes to create El
Banco del Sur (or ‘Bank of the South’) without the traditional, free
market conditions imposed by such organisations as the International
Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank (WB) or the Inter-American
Development Bank (IDB) .

According to Christopher Swann, in an article for Bloomberg.com,
Venezuela has already purchased $US2.5 billion in government bonds to
help pay off Argentina’s creditors; while $US1.5 billion has been
offered to Bolivia; and $US500 million to Ecuador. Swann adds that:

[IMF’s] worldwide portfolio has shriveled to $11.8 billion from a peak
of $81 billion in 2004, and a single nation, Turkey, now accounts for
about 75 per cent … Prosperity in Latin America means hard times for
the IMF, which depends on income from loans.

As if inhabiting some parallel universe, the White House continues to push free market policies which have failed miserably throughout the region — increasing poverty, unemployment and migration to the developed world.

In Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, Bush declared, "We [the United States]care about the human condition". Such comments
often induce a certain ridicule from Latin Americans, considering, for
example, Washington’s huge military support for Colombia’s President Álvaro Uribe Vélez — who has long had links with his country’s notorious drug cartels and who presides over a war rife with human rights violations committed by the Colombian armed forces and their paramilitary allies.

by Bush to Guatemala — a country where a huge number of women each year
are brutally murdered by ex-paramilitaries turned petty criminals — and
Mexico — where an electoral fraud last year
robbed Centre-Left candidate López Obrador of the presidency — do
nothing but confirm the view that Washington has always preferred to
befriend governments who put US interests first, and those of the
general population last.

In contrast, Chávez’s huge popularity
in Latin America is based on more than just denunciations of Bush’s
policies. For example, Venezuela has promoted programs for the poor
such as Misión Milagro (Miracle Mission) which fly Latin
Americans free of charge to Havana for eye surgery. In Bolivia,
Venezuelan aid and hundreds of Cuban doctors and teachers are providing
basic services which millions of Bolivians have never known before.

many in Washington hope to restrict the Caracas-Havana alliance, the
recent election of Centre-Left governments in Bolivia, Ecuador, and
Nicaragua has meant that all these countries have signed, or are in
various stages of signing, what is called the Bolivarian Alternative
for the Americas (ALBA) — the Cuban-Venezuelan counter-proposal to the

In the past few weeks, Argentina’s President Néstor
Kirchner has also consolidated his country’s commercial and political
commitments with Venezuela — signing accords which cover "finance, agriculture, food supply, farm equipment manufacturing, new
housing and energy", with the result that trade between the two
countries will rise from the $US100 million per annum (of 2003) to an
expected $US1 billion this year.

In a rebuke of the Bush Administration, Kirchner — who has been described as the most important of the Left-leaning ‘pink tide’ leaders — recently stated that, "It cannot be that there are some who are bothered because our peoples
are integrating. They should put an end to these paternalistic theories
according to which we or [Brazil’s leader] Lula need to contain other

Bush and the neo-cons in Washington, however, do
hold a few cards up their sleaves. Uruguay, for example, which is
governed by a Centre-Left coalition headed by Tabaré Vázquez Rosas, has recently come into conflict with Brazil over trade tariffs, and with Argentina over a proposed pulp mill.
And historically, both Brazil and Argentina have been contemptuous of
their smaller neighbour. This, in part, explains why Uruguay has
knocked on Washington’s door — signing the first stage of a bilateral
free-trade agreement.

If Vázquez’s administration decides to fully commit to the FTA with the US, Uruguay could be expelled from Mercosur (or Southern Common Market).


US President George Bush and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio da Silva

The recent embrace by Brazilian
President Luiz Inácio da Silva (better known as ‘Lula’) of Bush, on the
other hand, smells of opportunism — as Washington has proposed a joint ethanol project.
While this project would reduce the US’s dependence on Middle Eastern
oil, for Brazil the consequences could be a social and ecological
disaster as mono-cropping sugar would, according to some, exacerbate "rural areas of landlessness, hunger, unemployment, environmental
degradation, and agrarian conflicts".

There is a certain
sentimentalism surrounding Lula’s Workers Party (PT) — especially
because of its historic struggle against Brazil’s military dictatorship
and its current, mild support of Chávez. But in a detailed paper
published last December in the New Left Review, Francisco de
Oliveira — a distinguished Brazilian social scientist — noted that Lula
won last year’s elections unconvincingly, amid "the highest measure of
electoral indifference in modern Brazilian history" with 23 per cent of voters abstaining and 8 per cent casting null or blank votes.

Oliveira’s perspective the PT has lost its ‘ethical patrimony’ as Lula "throws himself into fresh activities every day, constantly announcing
new programs and social projects that are little more than virtual, but
which serve to show that something is being done, to simulate political
leadership". Most alarmingly, Oliveira states that:

the context of Brazil’s dizzying inequality, subjected to the constant
bombardment of neoliberal privatisation, deregulation and attacks on
rights, competition has produced not a democratising individualism but
an intensification of barbarism, now escalating into political

When one considers, as Foreign Policy In Focus analyst Mark Engler has
pointed out, that Brazil’s GDP over the last four years has averaged
2.6 per cent — the poorest in Latin America, alongside El Salvador and
Haiti, and contrasting with Argentina’s 9 per cent per annum growth
since 2002 — it is not difficult to see why so much internal discontent surrounds Lula’s Government.

suspects Lula’s embrace of Bush has done little for his image in Latin
America. Meanwhile, the growing alliance between Caracas, Havana, La
Paz, Buenos Aires and now Quito continues to work to reduce poverty and
forge regional integration.

At the end of his current visit,
Bush may leave Latin America with Lula and traditional Right-wing
lackeys on-side, however, there are growing demands from people in the
region that their leaders act independently of ‘US interests’ while
seriously addressing the issues of poverty.

This coming September, Rigoberta Menchú — a human rights activist and recipient of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize
— is running for President of Guatemala. If she wins, have no doubts
the letter of the first capital she will visit will start with ‘C’, not

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.