US begins to lose its grip on its backyard
The decline of US imperialism
In 1964, Comrade Mao Tse-tung, in expressing his support for the struggle of the people of Panama against US imperialism, uttered the following words, which seem truly prophetic in the light of developments in the world today.
“Riding roughshod everywhere, US imperialism has made itself the enemy of the people of the world and has increasingly isolated itself. Those who refuse to be enslaved will never be cowed by the atom bombs and hydrogen bombs in the hands of US imperialism. The raging tide of the people of the world against the US aggressors is irresistible. Their struggle against US imperialism and its lackeys will assuredly win greater victories.”
Accustomed as most people are to thinking metaphysically, they see in US imperialism only an invincible enemy, with the strongest army in the world, by far the biggest arsenal, untold wealth and unlimited power, based on its ability to extract wealth from almost every country in the world. Historically and dialectically, however, US imperialism is in a process of decay which will ultimately lead to its downfall, just as surely as the almighty Roman Empire fell in its day. The decaying rubble will not be cleared away without strenuous efforts from the demolition squad, i.e., the victorious struggles of the downtrodden and oppressed people of the world and, more importantly, the new society free of exploitation and oppression cannot be built without further victorious struggles under the leadership of effective communist parties, but nevertheless it is day by day becoming clearer that the process of decay is escalating, and that small countries can expect to be able to resist effectively US imperialism’s super-exploitation of their economies and oppression of their peoples. And, of course, as various countries are able to resist super-exploitation, the process of decay of predator imperialism accelerates.
In a shrinking world market (those impoverished by imperialism can buy less and less), all the imperialist powers are desperate to increase profits, yet they are being drained by the very means used to safeguard their domination, and in particular by war. The war in Iraq is, thanks to the magnificent resistance of the Iraqi people, costing a fortune, to which must be added the not inconsiderable cost of trying to maintain occupation of Afghanistan. The result is that the US budget deficit, always high, has now reached levels that have been described as “scary”. Much as the US needs to expand its military adventures into, say, Iran, Syria and Venezuela, as a means of maintaining its economic domination over the world, it would put its economy – and its army – under even further threat of collapse should it do any such thing. If it does not go to war, however, these countries are free to take measures to counter US imperialist exploitation of their economies.
The super-exploitation of Latin America
We have already documented the steps being taken by Iran, much to US fury, in this direction. Equally important, however, are the initiatives being launched by Venezuela, hand in hand with Cuba, in America’s “backyard”, i.e., Latin America. Most of Latin America has mortgaged itself to imperialist banks in order to finance development that would make its agricultural produce and its raw materials extremely competitive in the world market. Projections on repayment of the loans assumed that prices would remain stable, so that these countries would become rich by virtue of being able to sell far, far more on the world market. What has tended to happen, however, is that prices of agricultural produce have fallen as a result of the increase in supply, while countries whose productivity in the relevant sectors fell behind the world norm – such as the USA with its textile industry and with agriculture, Japan with its rice cultivation, and Europe with its agriculture in general – took protectionist measures to avoid their own producers being driven out of business. The consequence of this has been that the efficient producers in, say, Brazil and Argentina, have been unable to expand, while prices have fallen, leaving them with large debt servicing obligations to imperialism. Fully aware of the massive wealth that the countries of the region are generating, the masses of the people have become restless throughout the continent as they see their standards of living deteriorating still further when they ought to be rising. Argentina produces 30 times the amount of food that it needs for its own people to eat well, yet its poor are starving and 5 years ago its middle class saw their savings wiped out. Venezuela, a major oil producer, was home to millions of poverty-stricken workers and peasants, without access to health services or education. Before the election of Hugo Chavez as president, Venezuela, notwithstanding its oil wealth, had 85% of its population living below the poverty line. Colombia’s inability to provide for the basic needs of the masses has given rise to a thriving revolutionary movement, and the same was true of Peru, though this movement has suffered setbacks since the capture of its leader. The aspirations of the people of Chile and Argentina were some 30 years ago drowned in blood on the orders of US imperialism, as the progressive movements in both countries were subjected to mass murder of their activists to eliminate the threat they presented to US imperialist looting in their respective countries. Both Ecuador and Bolivia have given birth to mass movements of protest against imperialist looting of national resources, and Bolivia has, in the shape of Evo Morales, the peasant leader, just elected a President who has campaigned on an anti-imperialist platform. The people of Uruguay, a third of whom have been pushed below the poverty line in a country which used to be considered the Switzerland of Latin America, have elected a left leaning president, Dr Tabare Vasquez – sickened to death as they are of economic stagnation and of the fascistic methods used to preserve this rottenness (Uruguay had an enormous number of political prisoners, and more than half its population has been either interrogated and/or tortured at some time). In Chile too, people have been using elections to express their desire for social reform that will favour the poor by voting for those who promise economic measures which will achieve that result.
In the past it often seemed as if there was nothing South America could do to resist its superexploitation. Resistance movements were stamped out by the murder of their activists, governments which resisted imperialist demands were replaced by US-inspired coups, and the alternative to not accepting the disadvantageous imperialist terms of business would have simply been not be able to trade at all! There seemed to be no choice other than to submit.
All this has changed, however, as a result of US imperialism being weakened in a number of ways.
War weakening imperialism
The most obvious is in its failure to subdue Iraq, notwithstanding the most horrendous and vicious of wars against it – leading to the failure of its main war aim, which was to secure control of a major reservoir of Arab oil, giving it major leverage over all the oil-dependent advanced economies of the world. This failure has encouraged those aspiring to independence to stand up to imperialist threats of war, since on the one hand US imperialism would find such a war difficult financially and militarily, which might be sufficient to avert it but, even if it did not, the heroism of the Iraqi people inspires others to feel that they too can be victorious against the military might of Señor Peligro (“Dangerman” – as Bush was dubbed by Venezuela’s president Chavez). “‘If Meester [Bush] is desperate enough to invade us,he will find himself in a 100-year war’, Mr Chavez … said. Behind Mr Chavez … was an enormous portrait of Guevara. In front of him were 25,000 people and banners telling Bush that ‘YOU are the terrorist’ and comparing him with Hitler for his policies in Iraq” (Phil Davison, ‘Demonstrators clashwith Buenos Aires police during President Bush’s visit to Argentina’, The Independent on Sunday, 6 November 2005).
Economic crisis weakening imperialism
The second cause of weakening is the general crisis of capitalism which is driving all the imperialist powers to despair and causing friction between them as each tries to alleviate its economic problems at the others’ expense. The contradictions between the imperialist powers enables emerging economies to some extent to be able to play imperialists off against each other to obtain a better deal.
Emergence of powerful new markets
The third cause is the emergence of major players on the world market – gigantic economies which US imperialism is unable to control, in particular China. China offers to the countries oppressed by imperialism an alternative market for their sales and purchases, making it much harder for US imperialism to hold them to ransom by threatening a trade boycott. It should be noted that Latin America is finding a ready market for its produce in China, which, for instance, imports massive amounts of soya products from Brazil. Venezuela has been busy negotiating with Colombia to build an oil pipeline to its Pacific coast. “That could increase Caracas’s oil exports to China at the expense of the US, which depends on Venezuela for roughly 15% of its foreign oil” (see Simon Tisdall,’Chavez the Bush baiter’, The Guardian, 25 November 2005). Venezuela is also doing deals with Russia (for the acquisition of armaments) and Iran (for the acquisition of tractors), and where Venezuela leads, other Latin American countries will surely follow.
Upsurge in the resistance of the dispossessed
Just as important, however, is the intensified resistance of the masses of the downtrodden people in all the various oppressed countries, who no longer blame their impoverished condition on lack of democracy or corruption in government, but have come to realise that their misfortunes are due primarily to the looting by imperialism – albeit that government corruption and lack of democracy are frequently used as aids to that looting. As The Independent of 6 November 2005 points out (Phil Davison, ‘Bush rebuked by the Hand of God’), “Anyone who has spent any time in Latin America recently knows Mr Bush is the least popular US president among Latin Americans in history. Five Latin American countries have voted in left-of-centre governments since he took office. From the indigenous people through the middle classes and even among the elite, Latin Americans increasingly seek not the American dream but the Latin American dream. They are disillusioned with what Maradona yesterday called ‘the American empire’.” When Bush visited Argentina in November on the occasion of the Summit of the Americas, he was greeted by hostile demonstrations everywhere he went, as people very clearly identified him with imperialism. Thus The Sunday Times of 6 November 2005, reports that “The two-day meeting in the Argentine seaside town of Mar del Plata was marred by violence that saw more than 1,000 masked youths rampaging through the streets smashing shop fronts, throwing Molotov cocktails and clashing with police in the name of defeating ‘Yankee imperialism’.” And this was just one of many demonstrations throughout Latin America.
Initiatives of Venezuela and Cuba
It is in this context that we should appreciate the efforts of Venezuela and Cuba to realise Simon Bolivar’s dream of a united Latin America that is able to turn its back on imperialism. One of the main reasons why the US and Britain went to war against Iraq was in order to monopolise the world’s supplies of oil, a monopoly which would hang like a Sword of Damocles over any country which tried to prise imperialism’s thieving hands off its economy. In the interests of Latin American independence, the Venezuelan government, headed by Chavez, is willing to use Venezuela’s substantial oil resources to break the imperialist monopoly. Indeed, Venezuela is supplying oil at knock-down prices to its Latin American allies with a view to encouraging them to break free of the imperialist embrace.
Recently, Venezuela was successful in leading a Latin American rejection of US proposals for a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which was an important attempt by the United States to deepen its penetration of the Latin American market, dismantling what remains of protected economic activity in exchange for little. The main driving force for persuading Latin American countries to join up had been the fear that they would lose the little they have unless they did as US imperialism asked. But now Brazil and Argentina have been emboldened to demand an end to US restrictive practices, which have hitherto inhibited imports of agricultural produce from those two countries into the US market, before they are willing to sign up to the FTAA. This the US government could not concede, and the result has been that at the Summit of the Americas held in Mar del Plata, Argentina, in November, which aimed to promote the setting up of the FTAA, talks ended in deadlock. The FTAA project has had to retire indefinitely to the back burner since without the area’s two largest economies, it has little value. Not only that, “In Washington”, says the Financial Times, “talks between the US and Colombia, Ecuador and Peru to draw up free trade agreements are encountering snags”, while “Negotiations with Colombia, one of the US’s main allies in the region, have stalled.” (Andy Webb-Vidal, ‘Venezuela farmers wary of outcome of Mercosur talks’, Financial Times, 23 November 2005).
Venezuela, collaborating closely with Cuba, is also leading the way in combating mass poverty. It has insisted on imperialism paying a fairer price for the oil it extracts from Venezuela. It has carried out land reform that has redistributed underused land to the peasants, away from latifundia of over 20,000 hectares for the benefit of those who work the land. Projects have also been set up very successfully to bring education and health care to the Venezuelan masses, as well as workers’ co-operatives designed to take industry out of the hands of compradors and diminish the latter’s power base. Richard Lapper reports in the Financial Times of 3 November 2005, “Twenty thousand doctors and paramedics – about a quarter of the Cuban medical establishment – are staffing clinics throughout Venezuela. Cuba is involved in the administration of Mercal, a subsidised food programme … If Latin America is to break free from the imperialist stranglehold, measures such as these are absolutely essential since only they can secure the loyal support of the masses of downtrodden people who have been suffering most from imperialism’s ruthless super-exploitation of their countries. Indeed, in the elections just held in Venezuela at the end of Chavez’s first term, so overwhelming was his popular support that his opponents declared their unwillingness to participate. As far as they were concerned, an election in which the popular masses had been mobilised to vote on the basis of the benefits they had gained from Chavez’s presidency, was an election which was “fixed”.
What Chavez is endeavouring to implement in Latin America, now that the biggest enemy of all humanity, US imperialism, is otherwise distracted, is the vision of Cuba’s national hero of the Cuban independence struggle of the 19th century against Spain, José Martí. Chavez is drawing from that revolutionary tradition to propose La Alternativa Bolivariana para las Americas (ALBA), a free trade area of Latin American countries from which the US would be excluded, for the promotion of economic, financial, commercial and trade-linked cooperation, and which would seek to build up the broadest solidarity among the people of Latin America and the Caribbean by striving to eliminate social inequalities, promoting the quality of life of the masses of the people, and encouraging them to participate in order to shape their own destinies.
Meanwhile the Bolivian masses have risen up several times in protest at the looting of their natural gas reserves, the second largest in Latin America, by imperialist multinationals, and at being charged astronomic prices for water by imperialist-owned water utility companies.. They have overturned two governments that were seen as too compliant to imperialist interests. Morales has won the election because he is willing to go further than his opponents – who have already raised taxes on gas production from 18% to 50% under pressure from the masses. Morales has vowed to nationalise the industry altogether, much to the consternation of the multinationals which at present loot it, including Repsol, British Gas and Total. As President he can be expected to be an enthusiastic supporter of the Cuba-Venezuela initiatives.
There are certainly contradictions between those who are opposing imperialist fleecing of their countries, which the US will try to exploit in order to frustrate the creation of a stable Latin American trading bloc from which it is excluded, or at least on which it is unable to impose its unequal terms of trade. Many sectors of the national bourgeoisies of these countries are unhappy at the idea of sharing their wealth with the poor, and most of them are still frightened about what US imperialism might do to them. However, the downtrodden poor of the region have seized the Bolivarian initiatives with great enthusiasm, have been offered hope in the place of relentless suffering and despair, and they will continue to press their governments in the direction of breaking free from imperialism and in uniting for mutual benefit. The Latin American people have demonstrated recently, both in Argentina and in Bolivia, that they are more than capable of forcing government to resign if they do not fulfil the obligations they have undertaken to the people. Imperialism continues to radicalise the exploited both by its determination to enhance its super-exploitation, by its refusal to dismantle its own anti-free trade measures with which it protects its domestic producers and by the sheer barbarism of its military aggressions. All in all, therefore, it is probable that, notwithstanding all the dirty tricks in the book and out of it that US imperialism is likely to play in its endeavour to keep the golden goose of Latin America in its own grasp, the people of Latin America and their allies in the Caribbean are going to be able to establish permanent measures to protect themselves from super-exploitation. We wish them well in their endeavours.