By James Petras
President Bush’s visit to Uruguay, Brazil ,Colombia, Peru and Mexico reflects the ‘two tracks’ of US empire-building – military intervention and political-diplomatic instruments.
Bush’s visit to Latin America at this time is an attempt to gain support from client electoral rulers at a time when he has lost the support of over 75% of US public opinion, and is rejected by overwhelming majorities in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Bush’s advisers and principal propagandists are counting on publicizing the friendly receptions by Lula, Vazquez, Uribe, Garcia and Calderon to counter the reality and public image of Bush as a mass murderer of the Iraqi and Afghani people.
Bush’s escalation of the war against Iraq and threat to bomb Iran has further marked his regime as the deadly enemy of humanity. When electoral politicians like Tabare Vazquez and Lula Da Silva embrace Bush, they provide a decorative mask to an imperial monster who has been exposed as the principal enemy of Latin America’s foremost anti-imperialist President Hugo Chavez.
Bush’s turn to a diplomatic approach toward consolidating imperial power in Latin America is the result of the failures and defeats of his military policies. The US attempt to conquer Iraq and Afghanistan by military force has failed: the resistance is stronger than ever.
The US invasion of Haiti and the overthrow of the elected President Aristide has failed to defeat mass popular resistance. Washington”s control over Haiti depends on the mercenary armies and officials of its client rulers in Uruguay, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Peru and Bolivia.
The Bush regime’s effort to overthrow President Chavez has suffered several major defeats. The mass urban uprising of April 2002 defeated the US backed coup. From December 2002 through January 2003 the Venezuelan workers and the Chavez government defeated the bosses’ lockout of the petroleum industry, which had been backed by US oil companies and Washington. The great majority of popular classes defeated the US-financed referendum to impeach Chavez in 2004.
With each failed effort, the prestige of Bush declined while Chavez gained the admiration of the vast majority of Latin America people. The ‘Chavez model’ of a generous social welfare state, a mixed economy based on a strong state sector, and direct democracy via neighborhood assemblies stood in stark contrast to the failed regressive and stagnant neo-liberal models in the rest of Latin America.
Moreover Chavez’ generous sale of oil at subsidized prices to the poor countries of the Caribbean, Central and South America undermined the appeal of rapacious US ‘free trade’ policies in the region. Venezuela’s extensive trade and investment agreements with Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia attracted support from sectors of the ‘national bourgeoisie’ and weakened US efforts to isolate the Chavez government.
In the Great Contest between Chavez and Bush, between national-popular welfare initiatives and the reactionary regressive neo-liberal status quo, there is no question that Chavez is winning and the US is losing influence. Bush’s visit to Latin American is an effort to recoup declining imperial influence by consolidating ties with both the rightist client regimes (Garcia in Peru and Calderon in Mexico) and the pseudo ‘center-left’ neo-liberal regimes of Vazquez and Lula. The purpose is to integrate these client regimes into the US economic and diplomatic orbit and to construct an anti-Chavez coalition. Given that Bush has no popular support in Latin America, he will only meet with client rulers behind closed doors with heavy security protecting him. Parallel to Bush’s visit, President Chavez will visit Argentina where tens of thousands of people will attend a mass public meeting to welcome him. The Chavez-Bush visits reflect the profound polarization in Latin America, in which the vast majority of the people and a few governments stand with Chavez while corrupt and discredited ‘ex-leftists’ embrace the emperor.
Washington’s clients, Vazquez, Lula, and Calderon will answer to their people who demonstrate in the streets that the governments who welcome Bush do no represent their opinions or interests. No government can claim to be ‘progressive’ which welcomes and signs military base and free trade agreements with the worst imperial President in US history.
The future of Uruguay and Brazil will not be determined by the ‘vende-patria’ agreements signed by the Presidents behind the closed doors of presidential palaces, but by the huge bellicose parliaments of the streets who demonstrate their repudiation of Bush and who affirm their anti-imperialist principles.
-James Petras, a former Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50 year membership in the class struggle, is an adviser to the landless and jobless in brazil and argentina and is co-author of Globalization Unmasked (Zed). His new book with Henry Veltmeyer, Social Movements and the State: Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina, will be published in October 2005. He can be reached at: email@example.com