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Written by Jim Jordal   
Thursday, 12 April 2007

TROUBLE IN LATIN AMERICA, PART ONE

By Jim Jordal

"For I know your transgressions are many and your sins are great, you who distress the righteous and accept bribes, and turn aside the poor in the gate."

Amos 5:12 (NASB)

The political-big business propaganda machine is again spewing invective against the rise of leftist native leaders in Latin America. This time it's Evo Morales, an indigenous Aymara Indian inaugurated as Bolivia's President on Jan. 22, 2006. Morales incurs American wrath with his promise to increase coca production (something we should oppose, but only as we offer an alternative way for Bolivia to earn foreign exchange). His other major sin is threatening to nationalize Bolivia's natural gas reserves; his country's only other real possibility for earning dollars.

Before Morales it was--and is--Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who earns American censure because he threatens as an OPEC member to destabilize a significant portion of our oil supply. But what really rattles the cage of the American energy industry much closer to home was his offer (through Venezuelan government-owned Citgo) of cheap fuel oil to poor families in New York City and Boston this winter, something U.S. energy companies refused to do in spite of their massive windfall profits after Katrina. He earns further truculence from the U.S. by making frequent loud statements concerning his nation's resistance to further exploitation by the U.S. and its rapacious multinationals.

Before we label every left-leaning Latin American political leader a threat to U.S. security interests, perhaps we ought to step back and ask what we did to bring this on. The rise of anti-American leaders in nations victimized by U.S. policy is no accident. Nor are their protests against our policies always without merit. Sometimes their only crime is to speak out for indigenous people oppressed by U.S. economic policy and their own self-serving leaders. It seems ludicrous to label lightly populated poverty-stricken countries as threats to U.S. security interests, but that's what we do. But whatever their threat, it is certainly not military or economic. How can economic small fry threaten the American colossus? How can a few untrained soldiers threaten the strongest military power on earth?

But it's another threat we really fear: that these poverty-stricken Latin American nations under bold, committed leadership may somehow escape their economic servitude to giant multinational corporations supported by exploitative U.S. policy. Even worse, they may encourage other oppressed, poor nations to do the same. With elections nearing, it's a possibility that left-leaning politicians may gain power in much larger and more threatening nations like Brazil and Mexico.

Bolivia is--next to Haiti--the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Some 30 percent of its people earn less than $2 daily, and income disparity between rich and poor steadily increases. Bolivia has historically been quite cooperative with International Monetary Fund (IMF) austerity policies aimed at enabling them to pay back their sizable international debt. But now it's clear that these policies, ostensibly aimed at reducing poverty, have in fact done just the opposite as Bolivia remains mired in debt and poverty, with seemingly no way out. And that's why they elect leftist leaders.

So why does Latin America have so much trouble with debt and poverty? We might trace the beginnings of these problems to the early 19th-century Napoleonic wars that so weakened Portugal and Spain that their colonies felt free to declare independence. The Portuguese were expelled from Brazil, and Spain lost all her American colonies except Cuba and Puerto Rico. The American desire to support these newly-independent nations--coupled with a desire to keep Europeans out of the Americas--prompted President James Monroe in his 1823 inaugural address to issue the famous Monroe Doctrine. This doctrine warned off European expansionists by declaring the Western Hemisphere off limits to European colonization, although it did promise that the U.S. would not interfere with their "existing colonies or dependencies" in this Hemisphere. Monroe acknowledged the independence of these new nations, and warned "we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny, by any European power in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States." Monroe also stated that "we should consider any attempt on their [European powers] part to extend their [political] system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety."

So the Western Hemisphere became an American preserve and the Caribbean an American lake. But unfortunately (for Latin America), we failed to promise not to meddle in their economic and political affairs ourselves. And so, freed from potential European competition, the U.S. began the mainly economic penetration of Latin American markets.

An unholy alliance of rich and powerful Latin American land barons, American corporations, and U.S. embassies--tolerated, if not supported, by a generally compliant Catholic Church--began the exploitation of South and Central America. Weak Central American countries became known as "banana republics" because of their fiefdom to the United Fruit Company. Others fell prey to coffee conglomerates. Some were victimized because of their rich mineral deposits. But all came to be considered somehow as "economic vassals" to the North American colossus. (Continued next week)