U.S. and Latin America: Overview for 2006, Perspectives for 2007

The New Year does not promise ‘more of the same’: it will start with a major US military escalation in the Middle East but it will likely end with a greater military debacle, ensuring deepening political crises and increased economic instability both in the Middle East, the US and Latin America.

By James Petras
Posted by (Bulatlat.com)

Introduction: Escalation of Warfare

To understand US-Latin American relations this year and its likely trajectory in 2007 it is obligatory to consider three dimensions: 1) the global context of US-LA relations; 2) internal dynamics of the US and 3) the real practical political-economic consequences of the 2006 elections in Latin America.

US imperial policy continues to pursue military victories in Iraq and Afghanistan, to give unconditional support to Israel’s war against the elected Palestinian Government and to threaten a direct or Israeli attack on Iran. In other words, the prolonged, costly and inconclusive wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Palestine during 2006 will continue in 2007. Further military escalation, includes increased US troops and spending for wars in the Middle East; an extra $800 million USD in addition to the annual $3 billion USD for Israeli war plans against Lebanon, Palestine and especially Iran. Those commentators who interpreted US policy via public opinion polls, electoral processes (the victory of the Democrats), advisory reports (Baker’s Iraq Study Group) and casualty rates in Iraq, and predicted a ‘gradual’ withdrawal, failed to understand the logic of the White House’s political strategy. For the Bush regime, the military failures are a result of the application of insufficient power: what is necessary, they argue, is greater numbers of soldiers and bigger military budgets (BBC 12/16/06).

Polarization

Both in the United States, Latin America and in the world at large, profound and deepening divisions are driving policy and provoking increasing conflicts. The lines of division in the United States on the fundamental questions of confrontation or negotiation in the Middle East and Latin America cut across the two major parties, and the liberal-conservative spectrum. On the one side the White House, backed by pro-war Democrats, Republicans, the Presidents of the Major Jewish Organizations, right-wing veteran groups and neo-conservative intellectuals and the majority of the corporate mass media. On the other side, minorities in the major parties and mass media, the majority of public opinion, sectors of the active and retired military officers, establishment intellectual and prominent political critics of the Zionist lobby and war policies like Brzezinski, James Carter, James Baker among others.

Similar divisions appear with regard to Latin American policy. The White House, backed by the Cuban (exile) lobby, the Pentagon and a minority of right-wing ideologues and business groups favor forceful pressure and intervention against Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia and support of illegitimate President Calderon, the Santa Cruz separatists in Bolivia and other authoritarian extremists in the region. In varying degrees of opposition, stand liberal and conservative congress-members backed by agro-business exporters, tourists agencies, a majority of public opinion and sectors of the State Department headed by Undersecretary for Latin American Affairs, Shannon, who support greater emphasis on diplomacy, negotiations and a ‘two-track’ approach.

Within Latin America similar profound divisions emerged in 2006 which will deepen in 2007. In Mexico, the minority Calderon regime faces major opposition from the AMLO coalition, Oaxaca popular assemblies, the trade unions and social movements. As he proceeds to deepen the liberalization of the economy and he militarizes the country to implement his program, the polarization will deepen.

In Bolivia, rightwing business and agro-business elites regrouped, taking advantage of Morales conciliatory policies and incapacity to carry-out any major redistributive policies (in land and income) – and have consolidated a power base in Santa Cruz, which has forced Morales to retreat further in his reforms and aroused mass popular discontent. Similar divisions have appeared in Ecuador, between the peasants/Indians of the Andean region and the land barons and bankers of the Coast. In Colombia the divisions between the paramilitary forces allied to President Uribe and the popular civil society organizations (and the guerrilla) have deepened (Boston Globe December 14, 2006). In Venezuela the polarization between the Socialist and social-liberal Chavistas(and their allies among the ‘moderate’ opposition) will surface in 2007 as Chavez implements party and cabinet changes in pursuit of a socialist agenda.

These internal divisions in the US and Latin America are played out in an international context which radicalizes the class and national confrontations.

International Context

Two world-historic processes affect US policy toward Latin America: 1) the prolonged Middle East wars and 2) the dynamic growth of the four Asian powers led by China. The Middle Eastern/South Asian wars have severely overextended US military forces, undermined domestic support for new wars and severely strained the budget. These outcomes have weakened the US military capacity for intervention in Latin America in support of a military coup, or, even less, a direct military invasion. As a result the US increasingly relies on domestic (Latin American) clients to defend its interests (Calderon, Santa Cruz land/business barons, Garcia, Uribe).

Asia’s (particularly China and India) dynamic growth and demand for raw materials (iron, copper and oil), food and agricultural products (like soya) has resulted in greater competition with the US/EU for access to Latin American exporters and suppliers, and increased prices and revenues for Latin American treasuries (major trade and budget surpluses). Asia increases the diversity of markets and investors for Latin American exporters. These changes mean less dependence on external financing (especially the IMF) and US markets which in turn means Washington has less political and diplomatic leverage over Latin American regimes, even neo-liberal governments like Lula, Bachelet, Kirchner and Vazquez.

Faced with a loss of military capacity and a decline in economic leverage, Washington is moving toward a ‘compromise’ between the White House’s hard line militarists and the State Department’s market-driven ‘negotiators’. The essence of the compromise is to pursue a ‘two-track policy’: combining support for the subversive opposition in countries where it is strong (Bolivia) with negotiation in countries where it is weak (Venezuela). With regard to the neo-liberal regimes, which have some degree of autonomy (Brazil, Chile and Argentina), Washington will emphasize bilateral relations and try to maximize economic opportunities while discouraging any concession to the mass movements especially demands to reverse privatizations. The two-track policy will be combined in the cases of Cuba and Venezuela: with promises of dialogue and agreements conditional on major concessions in diplomacy, property and investments combined with continued financial support for agents of destabilization.

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