|Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez |
with Argentina's President Cristina
Kirchner at the CELAC summit.
The 600-million people of the combined regions have taken another important step towards minimizing the influence of the United States, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and even Canada in their countries.
Meeting in Caracas, Venezuela, all 33 governments from those regions – bolstered by a new sense of pride and independence – launched the much acclaimed Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) during the first week of December.
The gathering turned its back on the United States and Canada – both members of the existing hemispheric body, the U.S.-dominated Organization of American States (OAS) – by not inviting them to attend.
CELAC and other regionally-controlled bodies are slowly replacing the OAS, which the U.S. used for decades as a key tool in its often brutal treatment of peoples in these countries. No one in Latin America or the Caribbean has been left untouched.
The launching of CELAC demonstrates the strength of a range of progressive governments in Latin America, which includes Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Peru and Venezuela.
A major objective will be the setting up of an inter-regional financial system that will almost certainly replace the U.S.-European controlled International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, both of which forced Latin and Caribbean governments to adopt neo-liberal policies in return for loans.
CELAC has a work agenda that includes energy cooperation, addressing hunger and illiteracy, boosting inter-regional trade, and cooperation around humanitarian and environmental challenges – objectives that have never been seriously raised through the OAS or the IMF.
Key documents for the meeting were drafted jointly by the socialist government of Venezuela and the right-wing Government of Chile as they unite in support of the two regions in spite of their political differences.
While most leaders from the regions increasingly see the OAS as a relic from the past, the U.S. government and the pro-US corporate media are, of course, in denial. A U.S. State Department spokesman said that the OAS remains “the pre-eminent multilateral organization speaking for the hemisphere.”
The New York Times dismissed the launching of CELAC with a 100-word brief. A Google search turned up only one story carried by the Canadian media.
Millions of people throughout the regions recall their brutal treatment at the hands of the American for more than 100 years.
The United States used military intervention in Latin America more than 50 times. It is responsible for the direct or indirect murder of tens-of-thousands of people in the region during the Cold War, mainly during the 1970s and 1980s. It provided billions-of-dollars to repressive, brutal regimes that killed and tortured democrats and socialists in the name of anti-communism.
The U.S. controlled just about everything that happened politically and economically in most of Latin America and the Caribbean until just a few years ago.
“Only a decade ago, nearly all the governments of the region embraced the Washington Consensus dogma of free markets, deregulation, privatization, and the downsizing of the of the state and its role in the economy,” writes Alex Main, of the Centre for Economic Policy and Research, a London-based research group.
“By the early 2000s,” Main continues, “the tide turned as the peoples of the [Latin American] region went to the ballot boxes and overwhelmingly rejected policies that had led to stagnant economic growth, increased inequalities, and decreased access to education, healthcare, and other public services.”
Much to their credit, countries from Latin America and the Caribbean resisted U.S. browbeating for half a decade, finally refusing to enter into a so-called “free trade agreement” which was not really about free trade but about making the region super-business-friendly.
The optimism does not mean there will not be hurdles to overcome. Some South American countries fear the ambitions of all-powerful Brazil. And there have been military tensions between Venezuela and Colombia and between Peru and Ecuador. In the Caribbean, most countries need significant support to help them salvage their economies.
Looking forward, the U.S. still wants to be the Big Boy on the Block in Latin America and the Caribbean, but without putting billions of dollars into the two regions as it has in the past. Interestingly, after its formation, CELAC was not contacted by Washington but received a congratulatory note from China.
While Canada pretended to be an innocent bystander during the Cold War, we also did our share to support the capitalist plunder of Latin America and the Caribbean. One example: In 1980, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) awarded the Jamaican socialist-nationalist government of Michael Manley $9-million in aid. But immediately after Manley was defeated by pro-American, business-oriented Edward Seaga, CIDA aid was immediately increased to $34-million.
In the 21st Century, the Harper government is still trying to please the
super-capitalists in the United States, and is almost always on the wrong side of issues in Latin America and the Caribbean.
In Honduras in June 2009, the military overthrew the democratically-elected left-wing government of President Manuel Zelaya. Clearly the United States approved of his removal and deportation. However, Zelaya had strong public support as thousands of workers staged strikes. Even so, then-Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Kent, now our ‘anti-Environment Minister, would not support Zelaya’s return, and instead supported the election of the right-wing Porfirio Lobo government.
Despite the horrendous state of human rights in Honduras, the U.S. and Canada supported the readmission of the Lobo government to the OAS. In return for its support, Harper was able to obtain concessions for Canadian mining companies working in Honduras.
When Harper visited Honduras as part of a four-country tour of Latin America in August, he announced that a free trade agreement had been reached with the Lobo government. Protests immediately erupted in San Pedro Sula outside the signing ceremony. Opponents argued that the deal would allow Canadian business to further exploit the rights of local workers, particularly in the textile and mining industries. Harper called his opponents selfish trade protectionists.
Canada has been establishing similar exploitive free trade agreements in Latin America with Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica, Peru, Colombia and Panama. Other free trade agreements are being pursued.
While Canada is credited with contributing substantial sums of money to the OAS, as well as supporting the development of the organization, we were criticized for restoring full bilateral aid to Peru in 1994 when human rights and democratization were suffering in the country. Also in 1994, we were criticized for not taking more Haitian refugees that had been intercepted by the United States, many of whom were instead detained at Guantanamo Bay.
Today, Canadian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) do their best to provide a wide variety of usually small support programs for a handful of the 33 countries in CELAC. However, CIDA, which provides a lot of their funding, is criticized for failing to come up with well-based development strategies and for not providing reliable, year-to-year funding.
Basically, we are not making a significant or consistent contribution to the two regions. In 2010, the World Bank studied the performance of 38 donor nations and placed Canada 29th.
Canadian business has exploited the Caribbean and Latin America for many years. Worst is the ruthless way many Canadian mining companies operate in Latin America. They cause life-threatening air pollution, soil and water contamination, and are guilty of human rights abuses. During mining disputes in 2010, at least five opponents of Canadian mining projects were assassinated.
Also in 2010, The Toronto Star obtained a secret international report stating that Canadian mining companies are far and away the worst offenders in environmental, human rights and other abuses around the world.
So far, most countries in Latin America and some in the Caribbean are doing just fine without support from the likes of the IMF and the World Bank.
In many cases the progressive governments have succeeded in creating growth rates not seen in 40 years. Poverty rates have been reduced significantly.
“This paradigm shift,” writes Alex Main, “has transformed policy-making in nearly every country of the region, with even right-leaning governments adopting “social agendas” that address the needs of the poor.”
Dominated by left-of-center political leadership, Latin America has grown increasingly independent from the U.S. And, the Caribbean, which will be supported by the strong Latin countries through CELAC and other bodies, will no doubt follow and see their economies strengthened.
Obviously, the quicker the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean see the back end of the Gringos the better off they will be.
JABS AND LEFT HOOKS: Ho! Ho! Ho! The top executives at Canadian banks are going to have a jolly Christmas! The six biggest banks set aside $9.5-billion – yes billion – for what they call “performance-based compensation” this year. Big bonus payouts are expected in the mining and resource sectors – you know, those sectors that bring home billions in profits for Canadian companies that destroy the environment and the water and violate human rights in exploited countries in the South. C’mon Occupy Movement, where are you when we need you? How about some activities to embarrass these thieves!
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