Arab-Latin American Cooperation: Shared Interests

By Martin Saatdjian – Venezuela

The recently held summit of Arab and South American leaders in Doha, Qatar, took place during a very critical historical moment for humankind.

Social, environmental, food, and economic crises have grown in their intensity in the past few years, making it harder for developing countries to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of overcoming poverty, eradicating hunger, preventing diseases, avoiding military conflicts, and the like.

In addition to this dull view of world affairs, major international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), predict a sharp decline in economic activity in the entire world because of the financial crisis that has affected the most industrialized and developing countries.

The meeting of the Arab and Latin American countries could be interpreted that both regions have found a common ground on where to discuss and make agreements to increase their economic ties, and to boost mutual cooperation.

Furthermore, Arab and South American countries hope to create a united front against the foreign powers that have always had a grip in the socioeconomic order of Arab and South American countries.

Even though it is premature to observe concrete results, the summit is the first step of establishing political dialogue between Arab and South American countries.

The Arab-South-American cooperation could eventually breed a solid understanding between both regions and real cooperation that would allow the possibility to complement each other’s economic growth.

They could share technological and industrial knowledge, create financial tools to weather the current economic slowdown, and reach similar other mechanisms of collaboration that would ultimately strengthen their unity and solidify their independence.

Two Divided Regions Seek Unity

Even though both regions are different in language, culture, and religion, their similarities are quite many.  They share common history of colonial domination and rule; but at the same time, they share desires of progress, real independence, and a history of resistance.

This comparison is taken by Zbigniew Kowalewski — a well-known expert on Latin America’s politics — affirmed that "Latin America has extraordinary particularity on the world scale — which it shares with the Arab world — of being divided."[1].

The history of occupation had denied these two regions their own path to socioeconomic, technological, and cultural development.

Nationalist efforts in both areas have been crushed while "puppet" regimes have been militarily and financially supported by the hegemonic powers to secure their access and control to the two regions’ natural resources.

Arab and Latin American societies have been prevented their own industrial and scientific development that could eventually compete with —and possibly weaken — the economic, military, and technological oligopolies of the most advanced industrialized countries.

After World War I, Arab countries were militarily captured and dominated by the British and the French empires.

The eventual "independence" of Arab countries was followed by the partition of the Arab world that these two European powers considered best for their geopolitical interests in the region.

Every major military confrontation that took place in the Arab world during the second half of the 20th century, and throughout the current one, is a direct or indirect consequence of the division of Arab countries drawn by the English and French colonial rule.

The colonial partition of the Arab world has undermined Arab unity, even to the present day.

The rise of the United States as a global power during the 1950s displaced the dominant British influence in the Middle East, especially when its own economy became highly dependent on the importation of oil.

In the language of the US State Department, the Middle East was considered as "a stupendous source of strategic power and one of the great material prizes in world history." [2] 

Thus, this new dominant power in the region would make sure that these countries remain weak and fragmented.

The United States consistently opposed Pan-Arabism and nationalist movements of unity in the region, and military intervened to forestall any serious Arab unity.

Just similar to Latin America, some Arab countries have persistently resisted the American presence in the region.

The Case of Israel

The US support of Israel has worked well for the US interests in the region. Washington has provided economic and military support to a country that not only consistently violates international law, but also disrespects common values of understanding, dialogue, friendship, and human rights.

Although it was opposed by Arabs and even some Jewish scholars, the creation of Israel has become the greatest obstacle to a secure and stable Arab world.
 
As such, Israel maintains a network of financial supporters and lobbyists to pressure their governments to maintain and strengthen financial ties with Israel.

According to Stephen Zunes — the chair of Middle East studies at the University of San Francisco, "Total US aid to Israel is approximately one-third of the American foreign-aid budget, even though Israel comprises just .001 percent of the world’s population and already has one of the world’s higher per capita incomes." [3]

Similarly, this applies to US military aid to Tel Aviv.

As it appears, Israel is the de facto sixth permanent member of the United Nations Security Council with veto power carried out by the United States.
 
This US support has allowed Israel to be the only state possessing Weapons of Mass Destruction — nuclear indeed.

Latin America and the United States

Contemporary Latin America’s history is not largely different from that of the Middle East.

It provides a great example of what was once claimed by the Italian statesman Niccolo Machiavelli "divides and conquers".

Long after independence, hero Simon Bolivar secured South America’s "rupture" from colonial rule.

Yet, the path to development in South America has been sabotaged by the lack of unity and military conflicts between neighboring nations.  Most of such conflicts were instigated by foreign forces in the region. 

The United States claimed itself to be the dominant power in Latin America through the "Monroe Doctrine".   Bolivar miraculously had envisioned the dominant role that the United States would play in the continent.

In 1815, Bolivar wrote in the Jamaican Letter that "the United States appears to be destined by providence to plague America with misery in the name of liberty."

Bolivar dreamt and fought for the creation of a "Patria Grande ": a great nation of different Latin American countries, most of which he liberated and briefly united under the "Republic of Grand Colombia".

In 1830, differences and internal political conflicts divided the Grand Colombia (Today’s Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela).

Since then, Latin American path to unity has been Utopia.

For much of recent history, and especially during the Cold War, the United States has made sure that Latin American countries remain in a condition of dependence, while it has secured consistent access to the region’s natural resources.

During the Cold War, every single popular rebellion in Latin America, except that of Cuba, was crushed by the United States.

Even to the present day, not every South American country has fully been free from US interventions.

Nevertheless, democratically-elected nationalist and progressive political forces in Latin America have displaced the long-rooted American influence, thereby providing an opportunity for a needed unity.

In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez promoted major political and economic changes that alarmed the anti-nationalist oligarchy, most of whom had governed Venezuela as a colonial base for US interests.

For much of the 20th century, the United States had secure, consistent access to Venezuela’s oil reserves through American multinational oil companies.

The Venezuela’s neo-liberal governments grant them concessions for the exploitation and production of Venezuela’s oil, which were extremely harmful to Venezuela’s national interests.

Today, the entire energy sector has been recovered through the enactment of a series of nationalist laws, giving the control of oil back to the Venezuelan state.

As a result, greater income earnings from the exportation of oil have allowed the Chavez’s government to expand a network of social programs to the benefit of the poorest people in the country.

In addition, it has allowed the government to prioritize the energy needs of Latin America countries, thus proving a major incentive to seek further integration within the region.

However, the United States has maneuvered against those nationalist policies, and it backed a failed coup d’état against Chavez in Apr. 2002.

According to Bill Vann of World Socialist Web, "There can be little doubt that Washington is deeply involved in instigating the disruptions in Venezuela."

Opportunity for Arab-Latam Unity

The Arab and South American Summit has allowed a unique opportunity to identify areas of common interest for both regions; it provides an environment to coordinate economic policies in the midst of the global financial turmoil.
 
For the exception of Colombia and Peru, every country in South America has elected nationalist-left-leaning governments, which lay the ground for regional unity.

The main priority in the foreign policy of most South American countries has shifted towards regional and South-South integration, as recent events have demonstrated.

 Although political differences still remain, South American countries created UNASUR (Union of South American Countries).

 This renowned political will in the region has allowed the creation of various mechanisms of integration based on the spirit of solitary and cooperation.

In fact, the Summit of Arab and Latin American countries was an initiative of the progressive government of Brazil’s President Lula Da Silva, with the support of different countries in the region and the Arab world.

Considering the current events in the Middle East, revived feelings of greater unity could also flourish in the Arab community.

Similar to Latin America, the United States is highly disliked for its war on Iraq and its support for Israel.

It should not be a surprise that Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez has become exceptionally popular among Arabs, mainly for his coherent condemnation of the Israeli atrocities in the Gaza strip, his affection of the Arab people, and his respect for Islam.

The brutal Israeli war on Gaza has created feelings of humiliation in the Arab world; these sentiments could eventually create political changes that should be favorable to the Arab unity.

In addition, the current financial crisis could lead to sweeping political changes in the Arab world.

The Arab and South American Summit has allowed a unique opportunity to identify areas of common interest for both regions; it provides an environment to coordinate economic policies in the midst of the global financial turmoil.

Although both areas have achieved remarkable economic growth in recent years, their economies are still dependent on access to or denial of technology and the financial tools from the most industrialized nations.
 
Considering that nine of the 12 OPEC members were present at this meeting, the summit also provides an opportunity for the defense of the price of oil and for the creation of independent financial mechanisms, especially during the current crisis.

This could potentially provide immediate solutions for the benefit of Arab and South American countries.

However, perhaps the most important aspect of this summit is that it has provided an opportunity of a debate between Arab and South American viewpoints and has allowed history to decide which side would best fit the aspiration of independence and unity of its peoples.

– Martin Saatdjian is third secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. He writes in economics and political science for numerous publications including Zspace and Venzeuelanalysis.com. (Published in IslamOnline.net, May 12, 2009).

Notes

[1] Kowalewski, Z. (2005). Socialist Revolution and Latin American Unity. Available at: http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article763

[2] Chomsky, N. (2002) A Modest Proposal. Available at: http://www.chomsky.info/articles/20021203.htm

[3] Zunes, S. The Strategic Functions of the US to Israel. Available at: http://www.wrmea.com/html/us_aid_to_israel.htm

[4] Vann, B.  Venezuela: Is the CIA preparing another coup?   Available at: http://www.wsws.org/articles/2002/dec2002/vene-d11.shtml

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