Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 07:01:58 AM EST
What is really behind the growing tensions between the governments of the United States and Venezuela? From what I have read in the mainstream press, this may be turning out to be another classic example of missing the forrest for the trees. In this diary, I would like to highlight several articles that should aid in sketching out that forrest. (By the way, I realize the title may be a "tad" misleading, but that was just to get your attention!)
From the diaries - whataboutbob
While the mainstream press has recently focused on the protests following the non-renewal of the licence of a local TV station, that might be characterized as a distraction from the real issue. You can actually find some good indications of what the real issue is behind the US-Venezuela discord, in some corners of the mainstream media:
Taken together, economists and others who track the country's affairs say, the investments signify an effort by Venezuela to curb the reach of the U.S. government, whose influence has waned in Latin America. For Chávez, the goal is nothing less than to kill the so-called Washington consensus, the economic prescriptions championed by the International Monetary Fund and the U.S. Treasury, which press governments to limit spending, raise interest rates and open their economies to foreign trade and investment.
Backing such economic principles as privatization and trade liberalization, the consensus rooted out bloated bureaucracies and helped tame hyper-inflation. Yet even those countries that have run their economies along Washington consensus lines have generally seen disappointing rates of economic growth and deepening poverty. The electoral success of such leftist leaders as Chávez, Ortega, Bolivia's Evo Morales and Ecuador's Rafael Correa is in part the result of the failure of previous policies to generate growth and raise incomes, economists say.
A couple of years ago, Julia Sweig, the Council on Foreign Relation's top Latin American expert minimized the "threat" (I prefer the term "challenge") of Chavez to the US:
Experts say that while Chavez is an annoyance, he is not as serious a threat as critics claim. Most of Washington's retorts to Chavez's insults are part of what Sweig calls an ongoing "rhetorical tit for tat" between Caracas and the White House.
That was before Evo Morales and Daniel Ortega were elected Presidents of Bolivia and Nicaragua, respectively. In more recent times, Sweig's tone has noticeably changed:
What is the United States to do?
A good first step would be immigration reform. Roughly fifty million Latin Americans reside in the United States, forty million of which are legal residents. Mr. Bush, to his credit, has taken a rather pragmatic approach to this issue. He favors a guest worker program and, most importantly, a path to legalization for the ten million or so immigrants who reside in the UnitedState illegally. Unfortunately, many in Congress disagree. As such, getting a comprehensive immigration reform bill through Congress is unlikely, even with the Democrats now controlling both houses.
That's a pity, too, as there is little else the United States can realistically do to placate critics like Mr. Chávez as long as he's talking about investing $2.5 billion in Nicaragua to build an oil refinery. U.S. foreign aid to the entire region totals a mere $1.6 billion, most of which is earmarked for fighting drugs in Colombia. The next best way to contain the growing influence of Mr. Chávez, however, would be to empower moderates throughout the region, such as Mexican President Felipe Calderón. Immigration reform would go a long way toward achieving this end.
But it's not nearly enough. At some point, the United States must tackle the core problem of the region: Latin America's persistent poverty. Mr. Chávez, for his part, has been addressing the issues surrounding this simple fact for six years now. Meanwhile, the Bush Administration continues to pursue market reforms, privatization, and free trade agreements, without realizing that Latin Americans are increasingly blaming all three for their plight. A shift in strategy is desperately needed to reassure the region that this is not the case.
Well, given that immigration reform has since failed, I would expect the Bush administration to ramp up the "cold war" card. As a colleague here at my university wrote in a local daily (my translation - any errors are mine, Emilio!):
The debate on the Free Trade Area of the Americas (ALCA) and the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) has acquired an ideological tone that has obscured the economic logic that underlies it. The debate about these alternative models of insertion into the new economic world order has morphed into a re-edition of the ideological clash of the cold war, with added shades derived from the emerging discourses on terrorism, neoliberalism, globalization y and socialism from the 21st century.
I think my colleague has hit the nail on the head. He asks what is behind these two competing projects, (the ALCA and the ALBA)?:
The simple answer is that in political economy, there aren't good and bad projects; only projects that benefit some groups and affect others. Hence, the support for one or another alternative depends on who or whom will be the winners and who will be the losers in the ALCA and the ALBA. Both treaty proposals articulate alternate ways of inserting oneself into the new golbal economy.
The ALCA promotes free trade between nations and the free movement of private capital, while the ALBA promotes regulated and subsidized commerce as well as the strict regulation of transnational corporations. It is a new formulation of the old debates between free trade and protectionism; between "laissez fair" and statism. These problems arise in the debate between the classic and neoclassic economic doctrines, today manifested as neoliberalism and structuralism.
That is as far as I'll go into what is an academic discussion. For those interested in delving into that can of worms, I welcome you to cross the Atlantic and take my course next semester!