[OPE-L] is US suffering a "death of a thousand cuts" in Latin America?

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Mon May 02 2005 - 10:35:53 EDT

Commentary No. 160 [by Immanuel Wallerstein], May 1, 2005

  "Death by a thousand cuts"

  There was an old Chinese torture called Ling chi, a death by a
thousand cuts. The cuts are all small, but in the end the person
This is what is happening to U.S. dominance of Latin America. The  latest
small cut, and it is a small cut, has happened in Ecuador.  Ecuador is a
small country with however several important features:  It
is an oil producer. It has a very large indigenous population which  has
historically been excluded from power and is of course economically  and
socially exploited. It borders Colombia where a civil war has been  going
on for a very long time now, and in which the United States is  heavily
implicated in support of the very conservative government. It  is also a
country in which in the last ten years three presidents  have
been forced out of office by popular uprisings, each time with at  least
the tacit support of the armed forces.

  In 1997, Abdala Bucaram, who had been elected on a platform of
fighting the oligarchy, instead began pushing a severe austerity
program, as advised by the Argentine former finance minister, Domingo
Cavallo, of the kind the IMF had been pushing (and which Cavallo had
previously implemented in Argentina). After a two-day strike by labor
unions, students, womens' groups, human rights organizations, and  CONAIE,
the federation of indigenous nationalities of Ecuador, the  Ecuadorian
congress dismissed Bucaram, on the grounds of mental
instability. The next election brought in another conservative Jaime
Mahuad, who proceeded to "dollarize" the economy. So in early 2000,
another popular uprising evicted him. This one was led by a
combination of indigenous organizations and "populist colonels," whose
leader was  Lucio Gutierrez, and who was thought by the United States to
have  links to Chavez in Venezuela (see Commentary No. 33, Feb. 1, 2000).

  The forces of order took hold once again. Gutierrez went into exile
and the Vice-President, Gustavo Noboa, took over. In the next
elections in 2002, however, Gutierrez defeated Noboa with the strong
support of  the indigenous movements. The election was hailed as a victory
for  the left. Once in office, nonetheless, Gutierrez changed his stripes.
In  2003 he visited Washington and declared himself "the best friend of
United States" in Latin America. Soon, the indigenous movements
out of the government and Gutierrez proceeded to offer a new military
base to the United States, become an enthusiastic supporter of Plan
Colombia (the U.S.-led plan to support the Colombian government
the guerillas and also, the U.S. argued, against narcotraffickers).  And
Ecuador was in full negotiations over a free trade treaty with the  United
States. While the oil price rise was aiding the government  budget, none
of that money reached the vast majority of the population.
The drop that made the cup overflow was that Gutierrez changed the
Supreme Court so that the new one would pardon Bucaram, who promptly
returned to Ecuador, and had his party in parliament support Gutierrez.

  So this April, there was another uprising in Ecuador. Gutierrez
called the demonstrators forajidos - fugitives. The demonstrators
immediately assumed the name with pride, and within days were able to
make Gutierrez into the forajido instead. This time, the uprising
included  not only the usual suspects - the movements of the indigenous
populations but also segments of the middle class who were revolted  by
the corruption of Gutierrez and Bucaram. Once again the army stepped  back
and Gutierrez has now been succeeded by his vice-president, more  to the
left, Alfredo Palacio. Since then, there have been confusing  indications
of the new policy. Palacio appointed a moderately left  Catholic, Rafael
Correa as finance minister, one of whose first statements was to deplore
that 40% of the government's budget went to  paying off the debt and only
2% to health and education. While the  government has assured the U.S. it
will permit its existing base to  remain, it is not going to build the
additional larger base to which  Gutierrez had agreed.

  The U.S. has warily recognized the new government after much delay.
Castro and Chavez have hailed the change, but some "revolutionary"  groups
are decrying the fact that it is not doing a lot more. What  may
we expect now? Probably this time, a great slowdown on anything that
smells of neoliberalism. Already the indigenous parties have
recovered some parliamentary seats which they had lost because some of
the representatives elected on their list had shifted parties to support

  The Ecuadorian uprising fits into a pattern that has been going on
now for a decade in Latin America, and especially since George W. Bush
came to power. Not so long ago, when a government in Latin America
displeased the U.S., the U.S. was usually able to change it - by
direct force if necessary, or by using the local military. This was the
fate  of Guatemala, of the Dominican Republic, of Chile, of Brazil, and
many others. The only notable failure in this regard was Cuba, and the
U.S. was able to mobilize almost all Latin American countries to cooperate
 in isolating/blockading/ boycotting Cuba.

  In the last five years, on the other hand, many Latin American
countries have moved to the left both via the ballot box and via
popular demonstrations, but always less than totally left. The list  is
long: Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia, Chile, Venezuela. Indeed,  the
only government in South America which the U.S. government really  likes
these days is Colombia. Just recently, there was an election of  the
Secretary-General of the Organization of American States. And for  the
first time in the history of this organization, the U.S.
candidate did not win. The Mexican government recently tried to eliminate
from  the next presidential competition the candidate of the left party.
And it had to back down under popular pressure from within Mexico. Cuba
is no longer isolated in Latin America. None of this is being celebrated
in Washington.

  Now these are all small cuts. None of these states, even Venezuela,
have pushed too far. But Brazil did organize the G-20 revolt in the  World
Trade Organization which has brought that organization to a  virtual
standstill. And Argentina did defy the world financial
community and reduce outstanding debts remarkably. And the Free Trade
Association of the Americas (ALCA in Spanish initials) is getting
nowhere, although it remains the prime economic objective of the U.S.  in
Latin America.

  Left intellectuals and some left movements are unhappy in each of
these countries with all the things the supposedly left governments  have
not done. But the U.S. is even unhappier with what they have  done.
The fact is that today the U.S. no longer can be sure that it has  control
- economic, political, or diplomatic - of its backyard, the  Americas. It
is dying the death of a thousand cuts - all small ones,  but quite deadly,

  by Immanuel Wallerstein

  [Copyright by Immanuel Wallerstein. All rights reserved. Permission
granted to download, forward electronically or e-mail to others and  to
post this text on non-commercial community Internet sites, provided  the
essay remains intact and the copyright note is displayed. To
this text, publish it in printed and/or other forms, including
commercial Internet sites and excerpts, contact the author at
immanuel.wallerstein@y...; fax: 1-203-432-6976.

These commentaries, published twice monthly, are intended to be
reflections on the contemporary world scene, as seen from the
perspective not of the immediate headlines but of the long term.]
--- End forwarded message ---

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Tue May 03 2005 - 00:00:00 EDT