By Mike Whitney
Bush’s trip to Latin America has turned into another public relations disaster. Every time Airforce 1 touches down in a southern capital, the streets turn into battlegrounds between incensed protestors and fully-armored, truncheon-wielding Robo-cops. At the same time, Bush has to be whisked away in an armored-plated limousine to an undisclosed spider-hole in the Andean outback.
Is this any way to promote “free trade”?
How is Bush expected to change hearts and minds when he can’t even stick his nose beyond the small army of mercenaries which surrounds him 24-7?
Bush now faces stiff headwinds wherever he goes. He is the most unpopular president in modern times and no one is hoodwinked by his silly promises to help the poor and needy. It’s just a shabby excuse to mollify the public.
“We care about our neighborhood a lot," Bush purred in Brazil.
Latin America has withstood 2 decades of neoliberal policies and they’ve had enough. The continents are drifting further and further apart and it’ll take more than Bush’s bland assurances to bring them back together.
"I would call our diplomacy quiet and effective diplomacy,” Bush opined. “Diplomacy aimed at helping people, aimed at elevating the human condition, aimed at expressing the great compassion of the American people."
Blah, blah, blah.
Does Bush think these people are complete fools? They’ve lived under America’s boot-heel and they know exactly what to expect--death squads, coup d’etats, fixed elections, and corrupt government officials-- all made in Washington. They also know that Bush’s promises are just more hot air. After all, they’ve seen the footage of the poor, black people being shunted off to the Superdome without food or water following Hurricane Katrina.
Bush’s “Goodwill Tour” is a total fraud. It’s just a smokescreen for more coercion, meddling and gross exploitation. That’s why tens of thousands of protestors have poured out onto the streets burning American flags, waving posters of a Hitler-mustachioed Bush, and chanting “Gringo go home”.
Bush’s trip has been such a catastrophe that the politically-sensitive Google News has removed it as a headline story. The media would like to see the whole thing just disappear. Still, Bush’s handlers have decided to continue the fiasco; running from foxhole to foxhole behind a phalanx of flack-jacketed paramilitaries and low-flying Apache helicopters.
Whew……That was close.
Even worse, arch rival, Hugo Chavez has been shadowing Bush with his improvised “Anti-Empire” tour. The charismatic Chavez has put tens of thousands of cheering supporters on the streets while he throttles Uncle Sam with his fiery oratory.
“Those who want to go directly to hell can follow capitalism,” Chavez boomed to a standing-only crowd in Argentina’s soccer stadium. “And those of us who want to build heave here on earth will follow socialism.”
The contrast between Bush and Chavez couldn’t be greater. Chavez hale’s from a one-room mud-floor hut which he shared with his parents and 3 siblings. His hardscrabble upbringing and his years in the elite Paratrooper Unit of the Venezuelan Military prepared him for the political struggle he would face when he seized power and subdued Venezuela’s powerful oligarchy. On the other hand, Bush has been buoyed along by his family’s wealth and position which provided entree to the best Ivy League schools and baled him out of countless legal jams. (insider-trading at Harken, A.W.O.L. with the Texas National Guard) He spent his adult life bouncing from one failed business venture to the next until he washed up the front lawn of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave courtesy of 5 venal jurists on the high court. The rest is history.
The two men are polar opposites. While the Bush persona depends on a talented public relations team which casts him a one-part Bible-beating preacher and one-part plain-talking cowpoke; Chavez is unaffected and straightforward. His warm and gregarious manner has earned him friends around the world and strengthened support for his redistributive programs.
No wonder the corporate media hates him so much.
Chavez has taken on the most powerful institutions in Venezuela including the oil giants, the telecommunications industry, and the deeply-entrenched oligarchy. He’s set up free health care clinics and subsidized food programs for the poor, and created greater opportunities for education and upward mobility. More importantly, he’s reasserted the state control over vital national assets, particularly oil.
The people love him. Chavez won the last election with over 60% of the votes.
Currently, Chavez is demanding that foreign oil giants concede a controlling share of their business to the state. It’s a bold move that’ll put more power in the hands of elected officials rather than profit-driven CEOs and dodgy robber barons. One can only hope that the US Congress will eventually take similar action to “nationalize” the oil industry so there can be greater public control of the resources upon which all of our lives depend.
Chavez is actualizing a vision of a just and sustainable society where civil liberties are guaranteed for all and where people have the right to expect a minimal standard of living. His Bolivarian Revolution has spread across national borders and is unifying Latin America under various trade agreements. His plan for a cross-continent pipeline to the Pacific, so he can sell oil directly to China, has Washington politicos worried about meeting America’s future energy needs. His dream of a Latin American OPEC (which may include Russia and Iran) is also a matter of growing concern.
Chavez success depends to large extent on his approach to socialism. He is not rigid and ideological, but pragmatic and flexible. He applies socialism as a general principle which can be adjusted to the particular exigencies of Venezuelan society. So far, it seems to be working.
He also takes great pride in tweaking the nose of his Texas nemesis, George Bush—Mr. Danger.
The Chavez-Bush rivalry has been a positive development for anti-imperialists. It pits a compassionate social-revolutionary against a marble-hearted warmonger. It highlights the difference between an engaged and forward-thinking populist and a fatuous demagogue. Bush has not fared well by comparison.
Chavez was the first to respond to Katrina; offering to send doctors, medical supplies and fuel to compensate for downed oil rigs. Bush stubbornly refused Chavez’s help. Instead, he declared martial law and deployed mercenaries so he could treat traumatized hurricane victims like enemy combatants. His actions only added to the peoples’ suffering. Unsurprisingly, his public approval ratings sunk like a stone.
For the last few days, Chavez has been following Bush around the continent blasting him as a “political cadaver with a 600 word vocabulary” and lambasting him as a “drunken war criminal”. His relentless barrage has made Bush look timid and weak. “The Deciders” fragile ego has been badly battered and the overall goals of the mission have suffered. According to Bush, the trip was intended to “underscore the commitment of the United States to the Western Hemisphere and… highlight our common agenda to advance freedom, prosperity, and social justice and deliver the benefits of democracy in the areas of health, education and economic prosperity.”
More mumbo jumbo. Like Russian President Vladimir Putin said, “No one wants Bush’s Iraqi-type democracy”.
The real reason for the trip was announced in “Foreign Affairs” the quarterly policy-magazine of the Council on Foreign Relations. The article presented a “divide and conquer” strategy for isolating Chavez and the far-left Latin American governments while trying to strengthen ties with the center-left governments. It is essentially a battle plan that is strikingly similar to Bush’s Iraq strategy. (Sunnis vs. Shiites)
That’s why Bush will be handing out billions in foreign aid to America’s friends, while trying to chip away at alliances with Washington’s adversaries. Most of the money is expected to go to security forces, covert operations and democracy-corrupting NGOs.
Bush’s rhetoric may have changed, but US goals are forever the same. The administration is preparing for another century of intervention, exploitation and violence. If the sulfurous Mr. Bush had the manpower he wouldn’t hesitate to send his camouflage-garbed legions southward to recapture the entire continent. In fact, Caracas would probably resemble downtown Baghdad right now. Perhaps, that’s why his comments were received with such skepticism when he addressed an audience of Brazilian business leaders saying:
"I don't think America gets enough credit for trying to help improve people's lives. My trip is to explain as clearly as I can that our nation is generous and compassionate."
Bush is wrong. No one has contributed more to the endless cycle of grinding poverty in Latin America than the United States.
That’s why Chavez quickly responded saying, “Bush should be awarded a gold medal for hypocrisy…He’s just now discovered that poverty exists in the region."
Bush should take a minute and push his way passed the chain-link fences and armored vehicles and listen to what the people on the street are saying. It’s a different era now. Latin America has slipped out of the US orbit and it won’t be returning anytime soon. It’s not our “backyard” anymore.
It’s time to pack it up, Gringo, and go home.