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ALBERTO MAGNELLI – ‘Ardoise’ (1937)
INDEPENDENCE IN THE CONTINENTAL BACKYARD Latin America breaks free of the US
The US has lost ground in Latin America over the past decade,since the project to develop the Free Trade Area of the Americas flopped and since leftwing governments took power and used it with imagination and vigour. The US continues to try to block such emancipation by promoting more free trade agreements,and increasing military cooperation in the name of the war on terrorism and narcotics and the defence of market democracy
BY JANETTE HABEL
Africa says no – and means it
The unimaginable has happened, to the displeasure of arrogant Europe. Africa, thought to be so poor that it would agree to anything, has said no in rebellious pride. No to the straitjacket of the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), no to the complete liberalisation of trade, no to the latest manifestations of the colonial pact. It happened in December at the second EUAfrica summit in Lisbon, where the main objective was to force the African countries to sign new trade agreements by 31 December 2007 in accordance with the Cotonou Convention of 2000 winding up the 1975 Loméé accords. Under these, goods from former colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific are imported into the European Union more or less duty-free, except for products such as sugar, meat and bananas that are a problem for European producers. The World Trade Organisation has insisted that these preferential arrangements be dismantled or replaced by trade agreements based on reciprocity, claiming that this is the only way African countries can continue to enjoy different treatment. The EU opted for completely free trade in the guise of EPAs. So the 27 were asking African, Caribbean and Pacific countries to allow EU goods and services to enter their markets duty-free (1). The president of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade, denounced these strong-arm tactics, refused to sign and stormed out. South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki immediately supported his stand and Namibia also decided not to sign (bravely, since an increase in EU customs duties would make it impossible for Namibia to export or continue to produce beef). Even French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who made unfortunate remarks at Dakar in July 2007 (2), supported the countries that were most strongly
opposed to these agreements, saying he was in favour of globalisation but not the despoliation of countries that had nothing left (3). The EPAs aroused wide public concern. Social movements and trade union organisations south of the Sahara mobilised against them. And the revolt against them bore fruit: the summit ended in failure. The president of the European Commission, Joséé Manuel Barroso, was forced to back down and accept the African countries’ call for further discussions. He has promised to resume negotiations in February. This crucial victory is another sign that things are improving for Africa. In the past few years, the bloodiest conflicts have been settled, leaving only Darfur, Somalia and East Congo. Democratic progress has been consolidated and local economies prosper under the guidance of a new generation of leaders, despite social inequalities. Africa has another asset in the form of massive Chinese investments. China will overtake the EU as one of the continent’s principal suppliers and could beat the United States to become its most important client by 2010. The time when Europe could impose disastrous structural adjustment programmes is long gone. Africa has had enough. IGNACIO RAMONET TRANSLATED BY BARBARA WILSON
(1) The Caribbean countries agreed to initial an EPA with the EU on 16 December 2007. (2) In his speech at the University of Dakar on 26 July 2007 Sarkozy said the tragedy of Africa was that Africans had not really entered history and were not eager to embrace the future. See Anne-Céécile Robert, “Franççafrique Sarkozystyle”, Le Monde diplomatique, English edition, September 2007. (3) Le Monde , Paris, 15 December 2007.
INSIDE THIS ISSUE
Defeat in Venezuela’s referendum gives Cháávez pause for thought page 2
Power in Iraq has devolved to local warlords and sectarian leaders page 4
The USCongress’s long failure to rein in the president page 5
Bush’s image controllers at work: tall tales,smoke and mirrors page 6
The spotlight falls on the grand old man of Italian politics page 7
Uganda’s evangelists inherit the earth and all its riches page 10
Democracy Now:a model of fearless, independent broadcasting page 12
Rappers,DJs and record companies lock horns page 16
Latin America is a lost continent according to the editor of Foreign Policy, Moises Naim. The president of the Inter-American Dialogue organisation, Peter Hakim, voiced the same concern when he asked: “Is Washington losing Latin America?” (1). Over the past decade the United States has suffered many setbacks in this part of the world. Voters, rejecting neo-liberal policies, have elected radical or moderate leftwing coalitions, claiming degrees of independence. In April 2002 the attempt to overthrow Venezuela’s president Hugo Cháávez failed. In 2005 the native movement brought Evo Morales to power in Bolivia despite US State Department efforts. Though it exerted pressure, the US was unable to prevent Daniel Ortega from being elected in Nicaragua or Rafael Correa in Ecuador (2). But despite growing hostility, most of the free market groundwork is still in place. The Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), launched by President Bill Clinton at the Summit of the Americas in Miami in 1994 to open up a huge market from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, failed to materialise. But US firms nevertheless invested $353bn in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2005, with their subsidiaries employing 1.6 million people. In 2006 US exports to the region increased by 12.7% and imports by 10.5%, according to the US commerce secretary, Carlos Gutierrez. Though the FTAA failed, progress was made through bilateral and multilateral agreements, particularly free trade accords (FTA). The US market is a powerful asset when bargaining: “Our country must find the strength it lacks on account of its size through its relations with all the countries in the world, and particularly the United States,” said the economy minister of Uruguay, which is tempted by an FTA with the US. One consequence would be a conflict with Mercosur, the South American common market, which would please the US. Latin America’s elites may see themselves as representing the centre left but they soon yield to neo-liberal pressures. The political content of the FTAs has gradually increased. A further step towards integrating the whole continent was taken in Waco, Texas, on 23 March 2005. The Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP) is a trilateral effort by the US, Canada and Mexico. “What is new about this agreement,” said legal expert Guy Mazet, “is that it adds the notion of security to the rationale of economic and trade processes, while institutionalising the power of business and the private sector to influence public policy” (3). The legal basis for an agreement negotiated without consulting national parliaments is open to question. “The private sector is using an
Janette Habel is a lecturer at the Institute of Latin American Studies in Paris
international agreement to exert greater influence over national policy,” Mazet added. The US writer Craig Van Grasstek has established that all the Latin American countries that joined the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq also signed up to an FTA with the US. The same applies to those – Colombia, Ecuador before Correa’s election, Peru, Costa Rica and Guatemala – who left the Group of Twenty (G-20) (4). The publication by El Paíísof the transcript of conversations between President George Bush and Spanish Prime Minister Joséé Maria Aznar in February 2003 (5) revealed the brutality of the pressure exerted by Bush on countries reluctant to support military intervention in Iraq: “[Chilean President Ricardo] Lagos should know that the free trade accord with Chile is awaiting Senate confirmation and a negative attitude about this could put ratification in danger.” Lagos’s successor, Michelle Bachelet, favours a strategic partnership with Washington. However, she would run the risk of sanctions if the Chilean Congress were to ratify the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court and refuse to guarantee the immunity of US soldiers before this jurisdiction. The US may suspend military aid, forcing Chile to pay the Pentagon a lot to train its pilots to fly the F-16 fighters it has just purchased. The US has suspended military training and aid programmes for Brazil, Peru, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Bolivia and Uruguay on the same grounds. The collapse of the Soviet Union boosted the credibility of US democratic rhetoric. Times have changed since Jeanne Kirkpatrick, then working for a conservative think-tank in Washington, criticised President Jimmy Carter for raising the issue of civil rights. In so doing, she argued, he was undermining non-Marxist authoritarian regimes although they were closer to US interests. With the boom in free market reform, it has become received wisdom that the discipline of the global market limits the risk of regimes becoming too populist. As the researcher William I Robinson has noted, it is possible to penetrate civil society waving the flag of democracy, although the aim may be to control it through consensual forms of domination (6). Drawing on the teachings of Antonio Gramsci, US strategists have realised that the real seat of power is civil society, providing it can be split into groups and communities with divergent interests. A consensus gradually emerged within the Organisation of American States (OAS) after 9/11 that defending democratic order went hand in hand with the right to intervene against threats to that order. The adoption (by acclamation) of the OAS’s democratic charter in 2001, under the wary eye of the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, confirmed this trend.
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