Low intensity conflict against Cuba
and Venezuela, infrastructure programs like Plan Puebla
Panama, the Free Trade Area of the Americas and the
war in Colombia may seem to have little in common.
But they are all part of the same "Thing"
in the sense used by John Thelwall the 18th Century
English dissident. They are all measures taken by
a ruthless State and private sector network determined
to protect its interests whatever it takes.
also helps to imagine this "Thing" in the
sense of the John Carpenter film of that name - a
destructive monster that takes on any shape it chooses.
In Latin America, the Thing is the determination of
the United States corporate plutocracy and its local
allies to advance their own interests over those of
the poor majority. The fact that George W. Bush and
his regional allies are running out of time politically
is behind the increasing urgency of attacks on Cuba,
provocations in Venezuela and efforts to tie up "free
trade" deals in the region by the end of 2005.
and Cuba - over the verge of a breakdown
recent breakdown in relations between Cuba and Mexico
is a symptomatic detail of regional United States
strategy to consolidate corporate control of the Americas.1
The vision of a Free Trade Area of the Americas has
little room for social policy - prioritized in Cuba.
As a result of its commitment to "free trade"
Mexico sits just a place or two above Cuba in the
United Nations Human Development Index.
the poor majority in Mexico have been subjected to
the dubious benefits of the North American Free Trade
Agreement for a decade, Cuba has been blockaded by
the United States for over 40 years. Mexico's recent
much-criticised condemnation in Geneva of Cuba's human
rights record comes when violent repression of legitimate
dissent in Chiapas and elsewhere is again resurgent.
Despite the obvious contradictions, Mexico's President
Vicente Fox seems determined to push through plans
to meet the needs of his corporate backers and allies.
is the main proponent of Plan Puebla Panama (PPP),
a regional integration program that prioritises corporate
transport and energy needs, allocating them over 80%
of its budget. PPP and its hemispheric twin, the South
American Regional Infrastructure Integration initiative
share the same false neo-liberal economic logic that
minimizes the importance of social policy and maximizes
deregulation. Policies on health, education and environmental
issues are heavily subordinated to the needs of big
of modish jargon about beneficent "synergies"
and "transversal axes", PPP documentation
of the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB)2,
tries to soft-sell the overall scheme and its components.
But in every case the basic intention is clearly apparent
in throwaway lines that tell it like it is. Try these
from the IADB Spanish web site
participation of the private sector requires the
harmonization of norms and regulations between markets
that will be integrated through the construction
of transmission lines of sufficient capacity."
(Mesoamerican Energy Initiative)
essential principle is to....optimize the use of
available sources of finance taking into account
the principle of fiscal responsibility which the
countries of the region have imposed which prevents
the realisation of projects whose costs the States
and users are not able to absorb." (The
Mesoamerican Transport Initiative)
Participant countries will take on debt to provide
cut price energy and transport infrastructure for
corporate business to be paid for by local taxpayers.
The rules for all this will be made multilateral,
stripping away national sovereignty over energy and
transport policy. Making formal obeisance to environmental
sustainability the transport plan prioritises "corridors"
and "nodes" that "stimulate integration"
completely ignoring the transport needs of communities
excluded from these business-friendly "corridors".
it comes to paying for all this the private sector
baulks. Why should they pay out when the region's
poverty stricken tax base can be made to pay anyhow
- deepening their poverty even more? As the PPP paper
on transport policy puts it, "The concession
to private entities of investment, construction, maintenance
and operation of public infrastructure is a policy
that the PPP countries encourage, although to date
successful experiences of this type are few."
"participation" - late may as well be never
of the policy documents reveal a schizophrenic appreciation
of what "participation" and "consultation"
mean. The PPP bureaucrats have a dim understanding
that such processes exist and need to be mentioned.
But the hollow period between word and deed is emphatic.
example, PPP documents talk about the need for environmental
impact assessments before accepting projects. Yet
they are already implementing far reaching electrical
energy integration and highway construction projects
for which there has been virtually no consultation
with people affected by them. Examples abound, from
Usumacinta in Mexico to Lempa on the Salvadoran-Honduran
border to Bocana de Paiwas in Nicaragua and down into
the Darien Gap in Panama.
authoritarian and elitist policy-making renders self-evident
the reason why the interests of indigenous peoples
in the Isthmus have been neglected. PPP began life
under the woe-begone Zedillo government in Mexico
in the mid-1990s and was taken up again with renewed
vigor by Vicente Fox in 2000. It was only in 2002
that members of indigenous peoples' groups began to
"participate" in the PPP - mainly as passive
recipients of "training".
indigenous peoples of the region are the Palestinians
of Central America. Their rights to their lands are
being pulled out from underneath their feet. When
they resist, coercive push all too often turns to
violent shove, applied by whatever means necessary.
people outside Latin America that reality is embodied
most vividly by the Zapatista movement in Chiapas.
A sharp reminder of the ruthless enemies they confront
took place on April 10th this year in Pasté
near Zinacantán when 35 indigenous Zapatista
supporters were wounded when they were ambushed. The
incident was the culmination of an intimidation campaign
that has displaced over 400 indigenous people from
their homes in the area.3
on terror" and "war on drugs"? They
mean "war on the poor majority".
corporate infrastructure integration plans and "free
trade" deals being implemented from Mexico to
Colombia take place in the context of US foreign policy
public relations campaigns like the "war on drugs"
and the "war on terror". Indigenous peoples
and impoverished rural workers and their families
bear the brunt of these murderous fictions. In practice,
in Colombia for example, the United States and big
multinationals have signed up major drug-dealing paramilitary
bosses by proxy.
have always been a consistent source of income for
US-supported anti-Castro Cuban groups, as they were
for the CIA-run Nicaraguan Contra. In Colombia the
government and military continue to protect major
narcotics dealers like Salvatore Mancuso because individuals
like him and Israeli-trained death-squad leader Carlos
Castano mobilise thousands of paramilitaries as crude
muscle to protect US and European corporate interests.
Occidental Petroleum, Harken Energy, BP-Amoco, Repsol
are all companies that have benefited from paramilitary
violence. In the process, over many years, these murderous
forces have displaced millions of Colombians from
their rural homes.
Petroleum's involvement in abuses against the Warao
people in Colombia has been well reported. So has
the violence against trades unionists raising questions
about the involvement of multinational companies like
Coca Cola, Drummond (the US coal company) and Nestlé.
In April this year, Amnesty International published
a report criticising the US and Spanish governments
as well as Occidental Petroleum and the Spanish energy
giant Repsol. Amnesty denounced their training and
financing of Colombian army units notorious for human
rights abuses in the oil rich Arauca province.4
no surprise that the US and British governments offer
assistance to Colombia's President Uribe. Nor that
allies like Mexico and Honduras are happy to deal
with him at the same time that they denounce Cuba
for human rights abuses. George W. Bush and Tony Blair
tolerate drugs dealers and mass-murdering terrorists
in Colombia at the same time as they mislead people
about the war on terror and the war on drugs and offer
implausible apologies for systematic human rights
abuses in Iraq.
allies follow their lead. When Ricardo Maduro the
president of Honduras visited Colombia last year he
welcomed President Uribe's enthusiasm for integrating
Colombia in Plan Puebla Panama. Colombia is already
advancing plans to integrate its energy system with
Panama's. At the time Maduro was cosying up to death-squad
patron Alvaro Uribe, he was getting ready to denounce
Cuba's alleged human rights failings in Geneva.5
coming Contra war against Venezuela
now, the US military, the Colombian government and
military and their paramilitary allies are gearing
up for a Contra-style war against Venezuela. Over
recent years they have built up a network of armed
rural workers they call "soldier-campesinos"
in states bordering Venezuela, establishing rural
cooperatives covering large extensions of territory.
This policy provides land and fighters designed expressly
to serve both as a buffer against opposition guerrillas
inside Colombia and as a springboard to mount incursions
into Venezuela. Colombian writer Gloria Gaitan6
has written about one such cooperative called Colanta.
Gaitan links that development to calls for independence
by some Venezuelan states controlled by anti-Chavez
opposition forces such as the resource rich state
week's incursion by a group of over 100 Colombian
paramilitaries into Venezuela to attack a military
base was part of this strategy. The Venezuelan army
broke up the plan and captured fifty five of the invaders.
Most were reservists in the Colombian army. Brought
into Venezuela in military uniform they were discovered
on the farm of one of the leaders of the Venezuelan
opposition Coordinadora Democratica. They had been
training there for over a month.7
incident is a clear sign that the US government and
their stooges in the Venezuelan opposition are working
together with the Colombian army and their paramilitary
allies to foment a Contra style war in Venezuela.
They may even hope to Balkanise Venezuela so as to
provoke a crisis demanding intervention by the US
under cover of the Organization of American States.
The beauty of this strategy for the US government
is that its main stages have virtually been budgeted
for already - no embarrassing trips to Congress asking
for more money, like in Iraq.
the signs are of an intensification of the low intensity
conflict against Venezuela and Cuba and an acceleration
in both the infrastructure and "free trade"
processes through the rest of 2004 and into 2005.
Inevitably that will mean more repression, death and
destruction for vulnerable communities throughout
the region. It's what the Thing does best.
3. "Violence Returns to Chiapas Communities",
By Alex Contreras Baspineiro, Narco News May 6th
4."AI denuncia a EU por abusos en Colombia"
Madrid, 21 de abril, Associated Press
5. November 14th 2003 Honduran President's Office
6. "Colombia: Estrategia paramilitar",
Gloria Gaitan, April 25th 2004, Argenpress, www.rebelion.org
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