John Pilger: America's New Enemy
- The Rise Of America's New Enemy
By John Pilger
11/10/05 "ICH " -- -- I was dropped at Paradiso, the last middle-class
area before barrio La Vega, which spills into a ravine as if by the
force of gravity. Storms were forecast, and people were anxious,
remembering the mudslides that took 20,000 lives. "Why are you here?"
asked the man sitting opposite me in the packed jeep-bus that chugged
up the hill. Like so many in Latin America, he appeared old, but
wasn't. Without waiting for my answer, he listed why he supported
President Chavez: schools, clinics, affordable food, "our
constitution, our democracy" and "for the first time, the oil money is
going to us." I asked him if he belonged to the MRV, Chavez's party,
"No, I've never been in a political party; I can only tell you how my
life has been changed, as I never dreamt."
It is raw witness like this, which I have heard over and over again in
Venezuela, that smashes the one-way mirror between the west and a
continent that is rising. By rising, I mean the phenomenon of millions
of people stirring once again, "like lions after slumber/In
unvanquishable number", wrote the poet Shelley in The Mask of Anarchy.
This is not romantic; an epic is unfolding in Latin America that
demands our attention beyond the stereotypes and clichés that diminish
whole societies to their degree of exploitation and expendability.
To the man in the bus, and to Beatrice whose children are being
immunised and taught history, art and music for the first time, and
Celedonia, in her seventies, reading and writing for the first time,
and Jose whose life was saved by a doctor in the middle of the night,
the first doctor he had ever seen, Hugo Chavez is neither a
"firebrand" nor an "autocrat" but a humanitarian and a democrat who
commands almost two thirds of the popular vote, accredited by
victories in no less than nine elections. Compare that with the fifth
of the British electorate that re-installed Blair, an authentic autocrat.
Chávez and the rise of popular social movements, from Colombia down to
Argentina, represent bloodless, radical change across the continent,
inspired by the great independence struggles that began with SimOn
Bolívar, born in Venezuela, who brought the ideas of the French
Revolution to societies cowed by Spanish absolutism. Bolívar, like Che
Guevara in the 1960s and Chavez today, understood the new colonial
master to the north. "The USA," he said in 1819, "appears destined by
fate to plague America with misery in the name of liberty."
At the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City in 2001, George W Bush
announced the latest misery in the name of liberty in the form of a
Free Trade Area of the Americas treaty. This would allow the United
States to impose its ideological "market", neo-liberalism, finally on
all of Latin America. It was the natural successor to Bill Clinton's
North American Free Trade Agreement, which has turned Mexico into an
American sweatshop. Bush boasted it would be law by 2005.
On 5 November, Bush arrived at the 2005 summit in Mar del Plata,
Argentina, to be told his FTAA was not even on the agenda. Among the
34 heads of state were new, uncompliant faces and behind all of them
were populations no longer willing to accept US-backed business
tyrannies. Never before have Latin American governments had to consult
their people on pseudo-agreements of this kind; but now they must.
In Bolivia, in the past five years, social movements have got rid of
governments and foreign corporations alike, such as the tentacular
Bechtel, which sought to impose what people call total locura
capitalista - total capitalist folly - the privatising of almost
everything, especially natural gas and water. Following Pinochet's
Chile, Bolivia was to be a neo-liberal laboratory. The poorest of the
poor were charged up to two-thirds of their pittance-income even for
Standing in the bleak, freezing, cobble-stoned streets of El Alto,
14,000 feet up in the Andes, or sitting in the breeze-block homes of
former miners and campesinos driven off their land, I have had
political discussions of a kind seldom ignited in Britain and the US.
They are direct and eloquent. "Why are we so poor," they say, "when
our country is so rich? Why do governments lie to us and represent
outside powers?" They refer to 500 years of conquest as if it is a
living presence, which it is, tracing a journey from the Spanish
plunder of Cerro Rico, a hill of silver mined by indigenous slave
labour and which underwrote the Spanish Empire for three centuries.
When the silver was gone, there was tin, and when the mines were
privatised in the 1970s at the behest of the IMF, tin collapsed, along
with 30,000 jobs. When the coca leaf replaced it - in Bolivia, chewing
it in curbs hunger - the Bolivian army, coerced by the US, began
destroying the coca crops and filling the prisons.
In 2000, open rebellion burst upon the white business oligarchs and
the American embassy whose fortress stands like an Andean Vatican in
the centre of La Paz. There was never anything like it, because it
came from the majority Indian population "to protect our indigenous
soul". Naked racism against indigenous peoples all over Latin America
is the Spanish legacy. They were despised or invisible, or curios for
tourists: the women in their bowler hats and colourful skirts. No
more. Led by visionaries like Oscar Olivera, the women in bowler hats
and colourful skirts encircled and shut down the country's second
city, Cochabamba, until their water was returned to public ownership.
Every year since, people have fought a water or gas war: essentially a
war against privatisation and poverty. Having driven out President
Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada in 2003, Bolivians voted in a referendum for
real democracy. Through the social movements they demanded a
constituent assembly similar to that which founded ChAvez's Bolivarian
revolution in Venezuela, together with the rejection of the FTAA and
all the other "free trade" agreements, the expulsion of the
transnational water companies and a 50 per cent tax on the
exploitation of all energy resources.
When the replacement president, Carlos Mesa, refused to implement the
programme he was forced to resign. Next month, there will be
presidential elections and the opposition Movement to Socialism (MAS)
may well turn out the old order. The leader is an indigenous former
coca farmer, Evo Morales, whom the American ambassador has likened to
Osama Bin Laden. In fact, he is a social democrat who, for many of
those who sealed off Cochabamba and marched down the mountain from El
Alto, moderates too much.
"This is not going to be easy," Abel Mamani, the indigenous president
of the El Alto Neighbourhood Committees, told me. "The elections won't
be a solution even if we win. What we need to guarantee is the
constituent assembly, from which we build a democracy based not on
what the US wants, but on social justice." The writer Pablo Solon, son
of the great political muralist Walter Solon, said, "The story of
Bolivia is the story of the government behind the government. The US
can create a financial crisis; but really for them it is ideological;
they say they will not accept another Chavez."
The people, however, will not accept another Washington quisling. The
lesson is Ecuador, where a helicopter saved Lucio GutiErrez as he fled
the presidential palace last April. Having won power in alliance with
the indigenous Pachakutik movement, he was the "Ecuadorian Chavez",
until he drowned in a corruption scandal. For ordinary Latin
Americans, corruption on high is no longer forgivable. That is one of
two reasons the Workers' Party government of Lula is barely marking
time in Brazil; the other is the priority he has given to an IMF
economic agenda, rather than his own people. In Argentina, social
movements saw off five pro-Washington presidents in 2001 and 2002.
Across the water in Uruguay, the Frente Amplio, socialist heirs to the
Tupamaros, the guerrillas of the 1970s who fought one of the CIA's
most vicious terror campaigns, formed a popular government last year.
The social movements are now a decisive force in every Latin American
country - even in the state of fear that is the Colombia of Alvaro
Uribe Velez, Bush's most loyal vassal. Last month, indigenous
movements marched through every one of Colombia's 32 provinces
demanding an end to "an evil as great at the gun": neo-liberalism. All
over Latin America, Hugo Chavez is the modern Bolivar. People admire
his political imagination and his courage. Only he has had the guts to
describe the United States as a source of terrorism and Bush as Senor
Peligro (Mr Danger). He is very different from Fidel Castro, whom he
respects. Venezuela is an extraordinarily open society with an
unfettered opposition - that is rich and still powerful. On the left,
there are those who oppose the state, in principle, believe its
reforms have reached their limit, and want power to flow directly from
the community. They say so vigorously, yet they support Chavez. A
fluent young arnarchist, Marcel, showed me the clinic where the two
Cuban doctors may have saved his girlfriend. (In a barter arrangement,
Venezuela gives Cuba oil in exchange for doctors).
At the entrance to every barrio there is a state supermarket, where
everything from staple food to washing up liquid costs 40 per cent
less than in commercial stores. Despite specious accusations that the
government has instituted censorship, most of the media remains
violently anti-Chavez: a large part of it in the hands of Gustavo
Cisneros, Latin America's Murdoch, who backed the failed attempt to
depose Chavez. What is striking is the proliferation of lively
community radio stations, which played a critical part in Chavez's
rescue in the coup of April 2002 by calling on people to march on Caracas.
While the world looks to Iran and Syria for the next Bush attack,
Venezuelans know they may well be next. On 17 March, the Washington
Post reported that Feliz Rodríguez, "a former CIA operative
well-connected to the Bush family" had taken part in the planning of
the assassination of the President of Venezuela. On 16 September,
Chavez said, "I have evidence that there are plans to invade
Venezuela. Furthermore, we have documentation: how many bombers will
over-fly Venezuela on the day of the invasion... the US is carrying
out manoeuvres on Curacao Island. It is called Operation Balboa."
Since then, leaked internal Pentagon documents have identified
Venezuela as a "post-Iraq threat" requiring "full spectrum" planning.
The old-young man in the jeep, Beatrice and her healthy children and
Celedonia with her "new esteem", are indeed a threat - the threat of
an alternative, decent world that some lament is no longer possible.
Well, it is, and it deserves our support.
First published in the New Statesman - www.newstatesman.co.uk
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