Despite all it’s posturing of being for democracy in the Middle East, the US is scared to death of the events that are changing the region. That is why, despite all its statements to the contrary, the US supported Mubarak as long as it possibly could (first downplaying the protests, then asking Mubarak to keep the peace, then saying elections should be held in 9 months, then saying Mubarak should recuse himself from that election, and only once it had run out of excuses, did it ask Mubarak to leave immediately). In Libya, the people called for a NFZ for weeks, while the US kept making excuses about why it could not do that.
But this diary is not about the Middle East. This diary is about another region of the world that was once full of US puppet governments, but that in the past decade has moved steadily in the direction of political and (gasp!) economic independence: South America. I’m hoping that a democratic Middle East will be able to follow a similar trajectory (and considering its vast oil wealth, it should be well positioned to do so).
Lets start from the present. Al Jazeera has a post up now titled “Brazil stares down US on Libya“. The article is about how the new Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, who was expected to be friendlier with the US than her predecessor, Lula da Silva, is in fact turning out to be as resistant to US policy as he was. This of course leads to the question of how is she being resistant? (Aside from not supporting the Libya intervention), the article gives an amazing example: The IMF wants her to cut social spending to fight off inflation, but instead she is listening to her economic team and cutting off “the ability of foreign capital to place speculative bets on, and reap enormous profits off of, Brazil’s currency”.
The IMF, as most readers here surely know, has for decades been a means of controlling policy in many Latin American nations. They give a country loans in exchange for policies that are in US corporate interests, but not in the interest of the people of the country. When such policies inevitably lead to the country having trouble paying off its debt, the IMF uses that leverage to force even more extreme policies (read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, or John Perkin’s Confessions of an Economic Hitman for some examples).
That Brazil would directly rebuff the IMF is not so surprising in today’s world, but it would have been unimaginable only a few decades ago. How did we get here? A large part of the answer is Hugo Chavez. The democratically elected president of Venezuela insisted that part of the country’s oil wealth be used to raise the quality of life of the Venezuelan peasants. This was tantamount to heresy to the US oil companies that wanted the profits all to themselves.
It is now known that the 2002 coup d’etat against Chavez was at least partially funded by the US through the National Endowment for Democracy. Fortunately, two European filmmakers were creating a documentary on Chavez at the time and were able to catch the entire coup on film. The film was never released in the US (not surprisingly), but it is on youtube. Long story short (see the film for the long version), as soon as the coup took place, the private media in Venezuela and the US became propaganda channels saying it was “the people” who rose up against Chavez (it was one or two Generals on the US payroll). When the people found out the truth, they flooded the streets (chanting “Chavez, amigo, el pueblo esta con tigo”–Chavez, friend, the public/people/villages are with you), and Chavez was back in power in 6 days.
The US has performed coup d’etats on countless democratically elected Latin American presidents who threaten to increase the quality of life of their people. Chavez, having survived his, got to actually fulfill his intentions. Big Oil still got contracts with Venezuela, but they had to agree to terms that would let the people of Venezuela keeps some of the profits as well. Chavez used the money not only on infrastructure (roads and hospitals and such), but also to strengthen other Latin American countries. He paid off the IMF debt for Argentina and formed the Bank of South America to replace the IMF in the region. He made an oil-for-food trade deal with Brazil (the second largest economy in the western hemisphere). He supported two other popular presidents in the region in two other oil rich countries: Morales in Bolivia and Correa in Ecuador. Both of these presidents are following in Chavez’s footsteps and declaring their independence from US corporations. Morales is even supporting lawsuits against Big Oil companies worth billions.
This is not to say US influence is totally gone. The dictator of Columbia is still considered a “strong US ally” (funny how the terms “dictator” and “US ally” tend to go together). And the coup d’etat in Honduras almost two years ago had at least implicit US support (if not explicit support). Nonetheless, the US has a much weaker hand in the region than it once did. The way things are unfolding in the Middle East makes it seem like the US will have to contend with (at least some) independent democracies there as well. The era of US imperialism may be in the decline.