Friday, October 20, 2006
Latin American Integration Noam Chomsky Interviewed by Bernie Dwyer
Bernie Dwyer: I am reminded of a great Irish song called "The West's Awake"
written by Thomas Davis in remembrance of the Fenian Uprising of 1798. It is
about the west of Ireland asleep under British rule for hundreds of years and
how it awoke from its slumbers and rose up against the oppressor. Could we
begin to hope now that the South is awake?
Noam Chomsky: What's happening is something completely new in the history of
the hemisphere. Since the Spanish conquest the countries of Latin America have
been pretty much separated from one another and oriented toward the imperial
power. There are also very sharp splits between the tiny wealthy elite and the
huge suffering population. The elites sent their capital; took their trips; had
their second homes; sent their children to study in whatever European country
their country was closely connected with. [commas better than semi-colons in
the preceding sentence.] I mean, even their transportation systems were
oriented toward the outside for export of resources and so on.
For the first time, they are beginning to integrate and in quite a few
different ways. Venezuela and Cuba is one case. MERCOSUR, which is still not
functioning very much, is another case. Venezuela, of course, just joined
MERCOSUR, which is a big step forward for it and it was greatly welcomed by the
presidents of Argentina, Brazil.
For the first time the Indian population is becoming politically quite active.
They just won an election in Bolivia which is pretty remarkable. There is a
huge Indian population in Ecuador, even in Peru, and some of them are calling
for an Indian nation. Now they want to control their own resources. In fact,
many don't even want their resources developed. Many don't see any particular
point in having their culture and lifestyle destroyed so that people can sit in
traffic jams in New York.
Furthermore, they are beginning to throw out the IMF. In the past, the US could
prevent unwelcome developments such as independence in Latin America, by
violence; supporting military coups, subversion, invasion and so on. That
doesn't work so well any more. The last time they tried in 2002 in Venezuela,
the US had to back down because of enormous protests from Latin America, and of
course the coup was overthrown from within. That's very new.
If the United States loses the economic weapons of control, it is very much
weakened. Argentina is just essentially ridding itself of the IMF, as they say.
They are paying off the debts to the IMF. The IMF rules that they followed had
totally disastrous effects. They are being helped in that by Venezuela, which
is buying up part of the Argentine debt.
Bolivia will probably do the same. Bolivia's had 25 years of rigorous adherence
to IMF rules. Per capita income now is less than it was 25 years ago. They want
to get rid of it. The other countries are doing the same. The IMF is
essentially the US Treasury Department. It is the economic weapon that's
alongside the military weapon for maintaining control. That's being dismantled.
All of this is happening against the background of very substantial popular
movements, which, to the extent that they existed in the past, were crushed by
violence, state terror, Operation Condor, one monstrosity after another. That
weapon is no longer available.
Furthermore, there is South-South integration going on, so Brazil, and South
Africa and India are establishing relations.
And again, the forces below the surface in pressing all of this are
international popular organizations of a kind that never existed before; the
ones that meet annually in the world social forums. By now several world social
forums have spawned lots of regional ones; there's one right here in Boston and
many other places. These are very powerful mass movements of a kind without any
precedent in history: the first real internationals. Everyone's always talked
about internationals on the left but there's never been one. This is the
beginning of one.
These developments are extremely significant. For US planners, they are a
nightmare. I mean, the Monroe Doctrine is about 180 years old now, and the US
wasn't powerful enough to implement it until after the 2nd World War, except
for the nearby region. After the 2nd World War it was able to kick out the
British and the French and implement it, but now it is collapsing. These
countries are also diversifying their international relations including
commercial relations. So there's a lot of export to China, and accepting of
investment from China. That's particularly true of Venezuela, but also the
other big exporters like Brazil and Chile. And China is eager to gain access to
other resources of Latin America.
Unlike Europe, China can't be intimidated. Europe backs down if the United
States looks at it the wrong way. But China, they've been there for 3,000 years
and are paying no attention to the barbarians and don't see any need to. The
United States is afraid of China; it is not a military threat to anyone; and is
the least aggressive of all the major military powers. But it's not easy to
intimidate it. In fact, you can't intimidate it at all. So China's interactions
with Latin America are frightening the United States. Latin America is also
improving economic interactions with Europe. China and Europe now are each
other largest trading partners, or pretty close to it.
These developments are eroding the means of domination of the US world system.
And the US is pretty naturally playing its strong card which is military and in
military force the US is supreme. Military expenditures in the US are about
half of the total world expenditures, technologically much more advanced. In
Latin America, just keeping to that, the number of the US military personnel is
probably higher than it ever was during the Cold War. There sharply increasing
training of Latin American officers.
The training of military officers has been shifted from the State Department to
the Pentagon, which is not insignificant. The State department is under some
weak congressional supervision. I mean there is legislation requiring human
rights conditionalities and so on. They are not very much enforced, but they
are at least there. And the Pentagon is free to do anything they want.
Furthermore, the training is shifting to local control. So one of the main
targets is what's called radical populism, we know what that means, and the US
is establishing military bases throughout the region.
Bernie Dwyer: It appears, from what you are saying, that the US is losing the
ideological war and compensating by upping their military presence in the
region. Would you see Cuba as being a key player in encouraging and perhaps
influencing what's coming out Latin America right now?
Noam Chomsky: Fidel Castro, whatever people may think of him, is a hero in
Latin America, primarily because he stood up to the United States. It's the
first time in the history of the hemisphere that anybody stood up to the United
States. Nobody likes to be under the jackboot but they may not be able to do
anything about it. So for that reason alone, he's a Latin American hero.
Chavez: the same.
The ideological issue that you rightly bring up is the impact of neoliberalism.
It's pretty striking over the last twenty-five years, overwhelmingly it's true,
that the countries that have adhered to the neo-liberal rules have had an
economic catastrophe and the countries that didn't pay any intention to the
rules grew and developed. East Asia developed rapidly pretty much by totally
ignoring the rules. Chile is claimed as being a market economy but that's
highly misleading: its main export is a very efficient state owned copper
company nationalized under Allende. You don't get correlations like this in
economics very often. Adherence to the neoliberal rules has been associated
with economic failure and violation of them with economic success: it's very
hard to miss that. Maybe some economists can miss it but people don't: they
live it. Yes, there is an uprising against it. Cuba is a symbol. Venezuela is
another, Argentina, where they recovered from the IMF catastrophe by v!
iolating the rules and sharply violating them, and then throwing out the IMF.
Well, this is the ideological issue. The IMF is just a name for the economic
weapon of domination, which is eroding
Bernie Dwyer: Why do you think that this present movement is different from the
struggle that went before, in Chile for instance when they succeeded in
overthrowing the military dictatorship? What gives us more hope about this
particular stage of liberation for Latin America?
Noam Chomsky: First of all, there was hope in Latin America in the 1960s but it
was crushed by violence. Chile was moving on a path towards some form of
democratic socialism but we know what happened. That's the first 9/11 in 1973,
which was an utter catastrophe. The dictatorship in Chile, which is a horror
story also led to an economic disaster in Chile bringing about its worst
recession in its history. The military then turned over power to civilians. Its
still there so Chile didn't yet completely liberate itself. It has partially
liberated itself from the military dictatorship; and in the other countries
even more so.
So for example, I remember traveling in Argentina and Chile a couple of years
ago and the standard joke in both countries was that people said that they wish
the Chilean military had been stupid enough to get into a war with France or
some major power so they could have been crushed and discredited and then
people would be free the way they were in Argentina, where the military was
discredited by its military defeat.
But there has been a slow process in every one of the countries, Argentina,
Brazil, Bolivia, all the way through, there's been a process of overthrowing
the dominant dictatorships - the military dictatorships - almost always
supported, and sometimes instituted, by the United States
Now they are supporting one another and the US cannot resort to the same
Take Brazil, if Lula had been running in 1963, the US would have done just what
it did when Goulart was president in 1963. The Kennedy administration just
planned a military dictatorship. A military coup took place and that got rid of
that. And that was happening right through the hemisphere.
Now, there's much more hope because that cannot be done and there is also
cooperation. There is also a move towards a degree of independence: political,
economic and social policies, access to their own resources, instituting social
changes of the kind that could overcome the tremendous internal problems of
Latin America, which are awful. And a large part of the problems in Latin
America are simply internal. In Latin America, the wealthy have never had any
responsibilities. They do what they want.