Saturday, March 17, 2007
Thursday, March 15, 2007
“The grant of the foregoing Article [regarding the leasing of Guantanamo] shall include the right to use and occupy the waters adjacent to said areas of land and water, and to improve and deepen the entrances thereto and the anchorages therein, and generally to do any and all things necessary to fit the premises for use as coaling or naval stations only, and for no other purpose.” Article II of the Agreement Between the United States and Cuba for the Lease of Lands for Coaling and Naval stations; February 23, 1903.
Washington may be Losing its Right, let Alone its Political Ability to Maintain its Control over Guantanamo
The Bush administration has made several declarations expressing its willingness to help Cuba make a smooth transition to a Washington-approved “democracy,” achieved through a “soft landing.” This transition would take effect upon Fidel Castro’s death or complete incapacitation (taking note of the Cuba leader’s botched operation and subsequent reports of his fragile health). However, one complex issue that is only now being raised is the judicial basis for the U.S.-occupied naval base at Guantanamo.
The facility, which fell under a U.S. leasehold for more than a century has again returned to the headlines with the confession made by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, that he was the Al-Qaeda operative in command of the September 11 2001 operations. He admitted to the 9/11 terror attacks during a U.S. military hearing on Saturday, according to an edited transcript of the hearing released by the Pentagon on Wednesday. But even more ominous is the concern being voiced by at least one analyst close to the Bush White House that as result of several statements by relatively pro-U.S. Latin American leaders who stressed to President Bush their insistence that the U.S. should recognize the full sovereignty of Latin America nations, Washington could be faced with mounting demands throughout the hemisphere that Guantanamo – the symbol of 19th century gunboat diplomacy practiced by the Washington during the period– be returned to Cuba.
The Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, located on the southeastern tip of Cuba, reached a peak of notoriety after it was discovered that, in the post-September 11 world, it was being used as a detention center and torture facility. Individuals suspected of being terrorists were detained at Guantanamo, and were subjected to various forms of harsh treatment. Many detainees were imprisoned for years and were denied the protection granted by habeas corpu, if their alleged crimes had been committed in the U.S. In the beginning of 2007, with a change of regime in Cuba seemingly at least possible in the next year or so, it would be useful to question the continued presence of the American military on the island, and whether or not it would be wiser for Washington to systematically consider the orderly reversion of Guantanamo Bay to the present – or successor – government in Havana. It is important to keep in mind that the U.S. has never questioned that residual sovereignty over the bay always has rested with Cuba. In fact, State Department legal experts are reviewing their international law books in the now almost certainty that a serious movement arises throughout the hemisphere questioning the U.S.’s legitimacy in occupying Guantanamo under the present arrangement and whether or not it has been exhausted by the passage of time and the dramatic change of circumstances. At the very least, now we have a sharply anomalous situation where Cuba is “paid” a trifling annual rent from its most lethal enemy to occupy the facility in the Cuban nation.
Attention also should be given to the controversial speech given at the recent 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy, by Russian President Vladimir Putin: “Incidentally, Russia – we – are constantly being taught about democracy. But for some reason those who teach us do not want to learn themselves.” This was a barely concealed –if not a nominally indirect – message targeted at the Bush administration. A similar statement could be made about Washington’s self-glorification of its respect of freedom, sovereignty and international law, while it, ahistorically, holds on to a colonial relic like Guantanamo instead of returning it to Cuba. Around the globe, in the aftermath of World War II, there has been a steady devolution of former colonies and other dependencies to local control – the decolonization of Africa in the 1950s and 1960s; Britain’s return of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China in 1997; even the reversion of authority over the Panama Canal to Panama in 1977. Guantanamo is one of those few territories that continue to exist in the world from a time when imperial societies imposed their will on weaker states.
The Invalidity of the Cuban-American Treaty on Guantanamo Bay
The Cuban government could use the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (specifically articles 60 and 62) and the section dealing with the rebus sic stantibus clause (which is used in reference on Article 62 of the Vienna Convention) to make a cogent case for the devolution of its territory back to the Cuban nation. The fundamental change of circumstances, otherwise known as the clausula rebus sic stantibus, can be invoked to challenge the validity of treaties and lead to their termination. A 2003 lecture given by Dr. Alfred de Sayas, visiting professor of international law at the University of British Columbia, explains that it could be argued that the lease of a military base in a foreign country is conditioned on the friendly relations between those states, and that such pacts are terminated when a new sovereign government takes office that is fundamentally opposed to the alliance. Similarly the physical presence by treaty right of a hostile nation on Cuban territory is contrary to modern conceptions of sovereignty and of the sovereign equality of States. Indeed, as Dr. de Sayas argues in his lecture, it is an anomaly that the country that has imposed an embargo on Cuba for more than 40 years insists that it has a right to remain on its sovereign territory.
Moreover, the Guantanamo lease is right now 104 years old, which makes it only logical that it should be due for reconsideration by both governments. A 1967 article entitled “International Law and Guantanamo” (by Gary L. Maris in The Journal of Politics, Vol.29, No. 2, pp.263) declared that the legal term “lease” was not a disguise for the actual cession of Guantanamo to the U.S., but a relinquishing of jurisdiction over the area with the legal possibility of eventual recovery if the parties so desired or if conditions of the lease were not met. This makes it all the more necessary for Washington and Havana to discuss the Bay’s future.
Dr. de Sayas also explained that according to article 60 of the Vienna Convention, a treaty is voidable by virtue of a material breach of its provisions. According to the terms of articles 1 and 2 of the 1903 Lease Agreement, the use of the Guantánamo Bay territory was limited to coaling and naval purposes only, “and for no other purpose.” Hence, the repeated use of the territory as an internment camp for Haitian and Cuban refugees or as a detention and interrogation centre and prisoner of war camp and torture center is incompatible with the purpose of the treaty. Such actions by the U.S. would arguably bring about a material breach of the agreement justifying unilateral termination by Cuba in accordance with article 60 of the Vienna Convention.
The U.S. has also broken the agreement through another, though perhaps a less forceful, issue: the presence of commercial enterprises at Guantánamo, including a McDonalds. This constitutes a breach of the terms of article III of the supplemental July 1903 agreement between Washington and Havana over Guantanamo, which stipulates that “the United States of America agrees that no person, partnership, or corporation shall be permitted to establish or maintain a commercial, industrial or other enterprise within said areas.”
The U.S. obtained control of Guantanamo as the result of the 1898 Spanish-American war. In 1903, Theodore Roosevelt, using the Platt Amendment passed by the U.S. Senate, pressured the weak Cuban government (which the U.S. had placed in power) to lease Guantanamo Bay to the United States in what essentially appears to be in “perpetuity.” This was no great task as Cuba was, at that time, an entirely dependent regime largely being ruled from Washington. The then Cuban president was an American citizen named Tomas Estrada Palma, who was persuaded to grant a lease of 117 square kilometers of Cuban territory surrounding Guantánamo Bay to the U.S. on February 23, 1903. Construction of a military base immediately proceeded in order to eventually house a contingent of American troops and a naval flotilla.
From its inception, Guantanamo was viewed as the first line of defense against any attack on the Panama Canal, over which the U.S. also had obtained jurisdiction from a comparable act of legal legendemare. The move to integrate Guantanamo into the chain of U.S.-dominated military facilities was mainly inspired by the Canal, and was driven by a security perspective. How the U.S. obtained this base is a prime example of an imperial power taking whatever it coveted as a fruit of war. The negotiations that ended in Washington gaining de facto control of areas former under Spanish control in the Pacific as well as the Caribbean, were not so much the results of deliberations between two equal independent nations, but rather negotiations between a relative superpower and its proxy state. Even if Estrada wanted to, he was powerless to affect Washington’s insistence that the Platt Amendment regulating Washington’s access to Guantanamo would be incorporated into the Cuban Constitution in 1901.
In 1934, as part of a movement to multilateralize the application of the Monroe Doctrine under the Pan American Union – which was undertaken by President Roosevelt under his “Good Neighbor” policy – Cuba was allowed to expunge the Platt Amendment from its constitution but was persuaded to negotiate a new lease regarding Guantanamo Bay with Washington. The Cuban government at the time had all the attributes of a full-fledged U.S. protectorate, ken to Britain’s relationship with post-Ottoman Empire satrapies. One of the three Cuban signatories on the new lease was the island’s future dictator, Fulgencio Batista. Article III of the 1934 treaty explains that: “So long as the United States of America shall not abandon the said naval station of Guantanamo or the two Governments shall not agree to a modification of its present limits, the station shall continue to have territorial area that it now has.” It is all but unthinkable to believe that the U.S. will be in the mood to voluntarily pack its troops and equipment from Guantanamo and redeploy them, just as it would be a long stretch to believe that any American administration (Democrat or Republican), at the insistence of Castro, would return the base to Havana’s sovereignty, no matter how redundant it’s continued use might be. Nevertheless, some parallel exists with the manner in which Washington transferred its authority over the Panama Canal back to Panama or Great Britain’s return of the Suez Canal to Egypt in 1956. What is certain is that Guantanamo irredenta might become Latin America’s war cry against the U.S.
Today, the Guntanamo Bay base (or “Gitmo” as it is commonly known by generations of U.S. military personnel) houses around 6,000 members of the U.S. armed forces and occupies 117 square kilometers of Cuban soil. For this huge piece of land Washington pays an annual rent to Havana of $4,085, the same figure which it has paid since 1934. An August 2004 article by the Armed Forces Press Service reports that the State Department sends a check to the Cuban government every July to pay for the base’s rent. However, in the same article, Navy Captain Les McCoy (a former commander of Gitmo) explained that Castro has only cashed one of the checks – in 1959, the year when he took power. Washington has used this one payment during the entire Castro era as the legal basis to say that Castro, by accepting the check, had agreed to the continuation of the lease. After Cuba had accepted that one and only check, Washington has continued to dutifully send the rent checks every year since, which the Castro government never again cashed.
Why the U.S. should [Not] stay in Cuba
Gitmo’s strategic importance increased during the Cold War, reaching its peak during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, when it was feared that Cuba would be used as a staging area for either an attempted Soviet invasion of the U.S. or the launching point for a surprise missile attack against the American heartland. However, as geo-strategically important as the island may have been in the past, advancements in military technology and the current status of global geopolitics makes “Gitmo” somewhat irrelevant in today’s political environment.
In comparison, today there is no bona fide threat to U.S. security coming from Cuba. Furthermore, a possible missile attack, akin to the one posed by the missile crisis of 1962, is similarly beyond the realm of possibility. If launched from Cuba, such an attack would be suicidal due to the overwhelming force available to the U.S. to stage a massive counterattack. Also, it is a near certainty that the Cuban military does not possess any missiles with which to launch such an attack, let alone the nuclear warheads to arm their weapons. In any future military scenario, the U.S. is far more likely to be attacked by one of its main trading partners and renowned human rights violator, the People’s Republic of China – who recently tested a missile that destroyed a satellite in space – than by Cuba’s increasingly hapless armed forces, whose strained economic conditions has demoted it to third-rate status. In a March 2005 article, Dan Gardner of CanWest News Service explained that Guantanamo’s “other key purpose—protecting the passage to the Panama Canal Zone—became moot when then-president Jimmy Carter returned the canal to Panama.”
Lately, another justification for the continued retention of Gitmo has been its use as a detention facility for suspected terrorists, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and before that, would-be Haitian and Cuban refugees hoping to enter the U.S. The prison at “Gitmo” recently opened a new wing, called Camp 6, constructed by the controversial U.S. military contractor Haliburton Co., at a cost of $30 million. These developments indicated that Washington policymakers apparently had no plans to relocate the facility anytime soon. In a recent interview on C-SPAN, as reported by Global News Wire’s Charles Stimson, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, took the position that:
It’s important during a time of war to have a place where, number one, you can take people off the battlefield and not allow them to go back to the battlefield, but also, exploit intelligence that they may possess […] Guantanamo today remains the key strategic intelligence platform in the war on terror.
But if the facility has proven to be useful, it also has turned out to be immensely controversial as well as symbolic of some of Washington’s worst mistakes, and the center where the most egregious human rights violations have occurred under U.S. auspices. In fact, the Bush White House could be correct in arguing that Cuba may be the scene of major human rights violations, they are just not committed by Cubans – as Bush asserts – but rather by Americans at Gitmo.
In spite of whatever important intelligence data may have been gained from using unorthodox means of questioning prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, it remains unproven if the same “effectiveness” in obtaining this information could not have been achieved by detaining the prisoners in another maximum security facility, located on U.S. territory, like a renovated Roosevelt Roads naval base in Puerto Rico (closed since 2004) or, less provocatively, some other site in the continental U.S.
Rationale for Returning Guantanamo to Cuba
Demonstrably, Cuba is no longer a security threat to the U.S.; therefore, there is little need to maintain a military base for which U.S. taxpayers have already spent tens of millions of dollars yearly, yet which serves no defensible strategic purpose other than guaranteeing a continuing U.S. presence that is deeply frustrating to Cuban authorities. Furthermore, the redeployment of Guantanamo personnel to some location in the continental U.S. could provide an important inflow of income to local suppliers surrounding the new facility. A possible model for this occurred last September, when the 554th Electronic Systems Group out of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base was tasked to supervise a $627.8 million contract awarded to Computer Sciences Corp., a California.-based company. The contract will help generate high-tech jobs as the company goes about configuring, installing and conducting training for the Expeditionary Combat Support System.
Another good reason for Guantanamo’s reversion back to Havana is that such an act would be viewed as an important gesture of goodwill and sound judgment stripped of any propaganda intent. As it is, Gitmo is a daily reminder to islanders that Washington continues to disrespect their country and their government. Returning the base to the Cubans, as President Carter did with the reversion to Panama of the Canal, could markedly ease tensions between the two governments and lead to an advance in constructive engagement and the orderly assessment of a long list of disruptive issues.
Fidel Castro has referred to Guantanamo in recurrent and often passionate speeches throughout the decades of his rule, describing the base as “a dagger plunged into the Cuban soil,” and proclaiming that it “is there just to humiliate Cuba.” During a recent one-day visit to Mexico (at a time when Fidel Castro’s health was on everyone’s mind), U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez declared that “”if we can be of help, we are ready to help in that transition [to democracy in a post-Fidel Cuba].” But if Washington is as committed as it claims to be to aiding Cuba after the demise of Castroism, a good starting point would be to return Gitmo, allowing a Havana government to have full control of all of its national territory for the first time in almost a century. Such an act would be interpreted as a manifestation of goodwill notwithstanding who would be occupying the White House or in charge of Havana.
A final positive effect of Guantanamo’s reversion would be that Washington would be able to rebuild its international credibility concerning hemispheric issues. Critics charge that while the U.S. denounces torture, insisting on the defendants’ right to a fair trial in the abstract, it has systematically violated its own declarations with its persistently shadowy use of the detention facility for extra-constitutional procedures. These types of contradictions have done grave damage to the U.S.’s credibility abroad. The closing down of what essentially is one more redundant U.S. base through a proceeding of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) should be a decision not influenced by radical rightwing Republican political operatives like Florida Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, but one which is determined by the facts on the ground. Cuba should have long ago regained control of a territory that has generated international outrage because of its use as a center for torture and psychological warfare under the supervision of U.S. military personnel as well as intelligence agents. Its closure and prompt reversion could not come at a better time.
Any kind of redeployment of troops or base closing must be approved by BRAC. This commission is charged with coming up with recommendations on how the deployment of this country’s military forces should be reshaped in terms of infrastructure and organizational charts. According to Donna Miles of the American Forces Press Service, the four previous BRAC rounds — in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995 - resulted in 97 major closures, as well as 55 major realignments of U.S. military facilities. The current 2005 recommendations, according to officials cited by Miles, represent the most aggressive recommendations ever proposed by BRAC, which will affect more than 800 installations and which features plans to move thousands of U.S. military personnel currently serving overseas to stateside facilities. It is certain that the subject of Gitmo was never brought up during these discussions due to the absolute veto almost certainly to be exercised by Miami’s Cuban-American leadership as a result of such a move. But speculation can be made on the number of U.S. being closed down whose existences are far less controversial than that of Guantanamo.
A Legal Limbo
The reasons why Guantanamo was chosen to serve as a detention center in the U.S. war against terrorism represent a bizarre set of legal issues and the political framework that surrounds them. Washington could have avoided such complications if it had sent the suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo to any other U.S. base abroad, like for example in Germany. But such a move could have angered the local authorities, to the extent of even alienating an important U.S. ally. In Guantanamo’s case, Washington does not care if it angers the Castro regime or not, which made the base into its obvious choice to serve as an illegal detention camp where it would be certain that no embarrassing questions would be asked. As Gardner explains, the U.S. interpretation is that “Cuba retains ‘ultimate sovereignty’ of the land on which the base sits, according to the lease, but the U.S. also has “complete jurisdiction and control. In effect, that means the American military is in charge of Guantanamo just as it is at Fort Bragg or any base in the United States. But at the same time, Gitmo remains foreign soil.” Lawyers for the suspects traditionally have argued that Havana’s sovereignty simply does not exist on a day-to-day basis but only as a residual, largely theoretical factor. Ttherefore, American courts should be prepared to disregard Washington’s arguments. In response to such a claim, the U.S. government has insisted on a strict and literal reading of the lease, which states that Cuba is sovereign, so American courts have no jurisdiction over any foreigners being housed at the facility.
Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that suspects held at Guantanmo could petition for a judicial review of their cases, to which Washington responded by staging a series of military trials that were widely interpreted at the time as being severely bias. In a related action, the Military Commissions Act, signed by President Bush last October, essentially denied the prisoners their right to habeas corpus. Will Sullivan, of the U.S. News & World Report, reported in a January article that: “when [Republican] Sen. Arlen Specter offered an amendment to the Military Commissions Act [in 2006 that would restore habeas corpus], it fell just three votes short of adoption. A batch of new Democrats would seemingly give the bill strong odds of passing, but Congress might have a hard time mustering the votes to overcome a possible presidential veto.”
Can Trust be Built between Washington and Havana that Could Lead to Gitmo’s Return?
As the world continues to wait for the latest news concerning the status of Castro’s health, the nature of a post-Fidel Castro Cuba is being debated and plans are being hurriedly prepared. As to how to constructively respond to the all but certain Raul Castro takeover of the island, Washington might want to use its de facto control over Guantanamo as a gesture for advancing good will or, at least, as a bargaining chip.
In the event of an electoral victory by the Democrats in the 2008 elections, there is likely to be a campaign component stressing the beginnings of a new inter-American relationship, which could consider returning Guantanamo Bay to its rightful owners. Such an act would be demonstrative of a more cooperative and goal-oriented Washington bilateral policy rather than the ideologically-driven orientation that has been common place for decades. Such a template for a new generation of policy with constructive engagement at its core is essential to facilitating even minimal dialogue between the two countries in the future. Reversion would be just the kind of gesture needed for both governments to demonstrate that they are capable of turning their energies to bilateral talks to each other as part of a “new beginning” campaign. Just as Washington is arranging to do now with North Korea (and is willing to do with Iran), there should also be a Havana-Washington constructive dialogue, with Guantanamo conceivably being thrown into the pot as a sweetener.
This analysis was prepared by by COHA Research Staff
March 15th, 2007
Word Count: 4100
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"IN TIMES OF UNIVERSAL DECEIT, TELLING THE TRUTH WILL BE A REVOLUTIONARY ACT." - George Orwell
“If the world is upside down the way it is now, wouldn’t we have to turn it over to get it to stand up straight?” - Eduardo Galeano
March 14, 2007
Sameer Dossani: Let's talk about the recently passed Iraqi oil law. It's well known that the law was drafted in the U.S. and then consulted on by very few Iraqis all loyal to Prime Minister Noori al-Maliki, then finally pushed through the Iraqi parliament. This law paves the way for regionalization and privatization of Iraqi oil. What's the U.S. economic agenda in Iraq and will it be able to carry that agenda out, given the disastrous nature of the occupation so far?
Noam Chomsky: It's not very clear. What you said is correct. The law was not even seen by the Iraqi Parliament until it was finished, so it's an inside job. Exactly what this entails is still kind of open. It allows for Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs) which have traditionally been a way of gouging the producer and ensuring that foreign corporations have control and make huge profits. It's quite different from other contractual arrangements in the region--it's what they used to have but they've since nationalized their oil production and countries set terms more in their own interest with the corporations that are moving in. This law is vague on that so it leaves it open.
As far as the U.S. economic interests I think we have to make a distinction. The primary interest, and that's true throughout the Middle East, even in Saudi Arabia, the major energy producer, has always been control, not access, and not profit. Profit is a secondary interest and access is a tertiary interest.
So in the years when the U.S. was not using Middle East oil at all, [the U.S.] was the largest producer and the largest exporter, it still had the same policies. It wanted to control the sources of oil and the reasons are understood. In the mid-1940s, the State Department made it clear that the oil resources of the region, primarily then Saudi Arabia, were a stupendous source of strategic power which made the Middle East the most strategically important area of the world. They also added that its one of the greatest material prizes in world history. But the basic point is that it's a source of strategic power, meaning that if you control the energy resources, then you can control the world, because the world needs the energy resources.
This was made explicit by George Kennan when he was one of the Middle East planners [in the U.S. State Department]. [He said that] control over Middle East oil will give us veto power over our rivals. He was specifically talking about Japan, in case Japan industrialized, it was devastated by the war still, we'll have veto power as long we control the oil. And that's been understood through the years. So in the early stages of the Iraq war [former U.S. National Security Advisor] Zbigniew Brzezinski, who's one of the more astute of the planners--he was not terribly enthusiastic about the war--said that if the U.S. wins the war, which means that it succeeds in imposing a client regime in Iraq, then the U.S. will have critical leverage over its industrial rivals in Europe and Asia because it will have its hand on the spigot.
And that is also understood very well at the highest level of the administration. So a few months ago, Dick Cheney said that control over [oil] pipelines can be "tools for intimidation and [blackmail]". He was talking about control over pipelines in the hands of others, so if our enemies have it, it's a tool of intimidation and coercion. But of course the same is true if it is in our hands. We're not supposed to think that because we're supposed to be noble, but the rest of the world certainly understands it. Yes, it's a tool of intimidation and coercion, whether it's the direction of pipelines or whether its control over the production or over the regimes in question, and control can take many forms.
So that's the primary concern--control. A secondary concern is undoubtedly profit for U.S.-based corporations and British based corporations and several others of course. And yes [in the case of the Iraqi oil law] that's a possibility. The Production Sharing Agreements and the other arrangements for long-term contracts at ridiculous rates, those are expected to be sources of immense profit as they have been in the past, so for example a couple of weeks ago Exxon-Mobil posted its profits for 2006 which are the highest for any corporation in U.S. history. That broke the record of the preceding year, which also happened to be Exxon-Mobil and the other energy corporations are doing just great--they have money pouring out of their ears. And the same with the corporations that link to them, like Haliburton, Bechtel and so on.
The material prize of oil production is not just from energy. It's also from many other things. Take Saudi Arabia or the [United Arab] Emirates. They have huge constriction projects paid for by petro-dollars which recycle back to Bechtel and other major construction companies. A lot of it goes right back to U.S. military industry. So these are huge markets for U.S. military exports and the military industry in the United States is very closely linked to the high-tech economy generally. So it's a sort of a cycle--high prices for oil, the petro-dollars pour back to the U.S. for major construction projects for high-tech industry, for development, for purchasing treasury securities which helps bolster the economy--it's a major part of the economy and of course it's not just the United States. Britain, France and others are trying very hard to sell them the same things and sometimes succeeding. There was a big bribery scandal in Britain recently because of efforts to bribe Saudi officials into buying jet aircraft and so on. So the basic idea of the energy system is that it should be under the control of loyal clients of the United States, and they're allowed to enrich themselves, become super rich in fact, but the petro-dollars are basically to cycle back to the West, primarily the United States in various forms. So that's a secondary concern.
A tertiary concern is access. That's much less of a concern. One of the reasons is that the distribution systems are pretty much in the hands of big energy corporations anyway and once oil is on the high seas, it can go anywhere. So access is not considered a major problem. Political scientists, when they make fun of the idea that the U.S. invaded Iraq to gain its oil, they point out is that the U.S. can get Middle East oil in other ways so therefore that can't be the reason. That's true, but it's irrelevant because the true issues are and always have been control and secondarily profit and in fact U.S. intelligence projections for the coming years have emphasized that while the U.S. should control Middle East energy for the traditional reasons, it should rely primarily on more stable Atlantic basin resources, namely West Africa and the Western hemisphere. They're more secure, presumably and therefore we can use those, but we should control the Middle East oil because it is a stupendous source of strategic power.
SD: The difficulties surround the occupation Iraq has deflected the U.S.'s attention away from other parts of the world, including Latin America. Recently, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and others such as Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Evo Morales of Bolivia, have been talking about regional trade agreements such as ALBA and, in the case of Venezuela, aid packages that are supposedly designed to actually benefit local populations as opposed to transnational companies. Critics claim that these policies are a) unsustainable, because they depend on revenues from Venezuela's oil wealth, and b) self serving for the government of Hugo Chavez. What is your response to these criticisms?
NC: It's very odd criticism in the first place. Are U.S. aid programs sustainable? No, not if there's a depression or even a recession. Furthermore, U.S. aid happens to be about the lowest relative to the economy of any advanced society so there isn't much of it in the first place and it also can be withdrawn at any time and often is.
As for doing it for self interest, what do you think other countries provide aid for? They're perfectly open about it. Sometimes, there's something done for altruistic reasons maybe by Norway, but overwhelmingly, aid is openly presented as "in our interest", not just by the U.S. but by Britain and France and others. It is part of general strategic policies of controlling whatever part of the world you can. So, if in fact Venezuela's doing it for that reason, that just says, "yeah, they're just like us". So whatever that is, it's not a criticism.
What are the reasons? Well, they're complicated. First of all, there's a background. For the first time in 500 years since the Spanish conquest Latin America--especially South America--is beginning to move towards some sort of integration. Actually it's a dual type of integration. Part of it is international integration meaning the countries are becoming more integrated with one another. The traditional structure in LA has been that each of the countries is primarily oriented towards Western imperial powers. So [economies are oriented toward trade with] Spain, and in recent years mostly the United States, not with one another. That's even true of the transportation systems. They're designed for export of resources abroad and import of luxury goods for the rich within.
There's a very clear contrast with East Asia. East Asia is resource poor, Latin America is resource rich. You would have expected Latin America to have rapid growth, not East Asia, but it didn't. One of the reasons is that Latin America adhered very rigorously to the neo-liberal policies of the last 25 years, the IMF World Bank policies, and those are basically offshoots of the U.S. Treasury department. They adhered to the rules and they suffered severely--most of the population that is. The rich sectors did ok. East Asia just disregarded the rules and followed the same kinds of programs that the rich countries themselves, including the U.S., had followed to gain their wealth and power. So East Asia grew, but in addition to that, if you look at say imports and exports, Latin America exported raw materials, which is low income basically, and imported luxury goods for the wealthy. East Asia imported capital goods and moved up the ladder of industrial progress and ended up exporting high technology goods.
SD: What do you mean by "capital goods"?
NC: Machine tools, things that you can use for producing commodities, electronics, bio-technology and so on. I mean those are the high-value exports, not rice. I mean for the U.S., rice is such a low value export that agribusiness has to get about 40% of its profit from U.S. government subsidies, provided primarily since the Reagan administration, as part of their efforts to undermine markets--they love rhetoric about markets, but they greatly dislike the concept applied to us. And the terms of trade tend to decline for commodities, you know there's variation, but they tend to decline for primary commodities as compared with high value goods like industrial exports. So [economists like to talk about] this notion called "comparative advantage", you should produce what you're good at, but the way countries develop is by rejecting that principle and acting in order to shift their comparative advantage.
So let's take the United States. 200 years ago the comparative advantage of the United States was exporting fish and fur, and maybe cotton, thanks to slavery. If the U.S. had followed the principles that are dictated to the poor countries, we'd be a sparsely populated, pretty poor country, exporting primary resources. Instead, the United States violated all of the rules--the rules of the economists and the neo-liberal principles. It imposed extremely high tariffs on imports from Britain, textiles at first, later steel and others, and it had the highest tariffs in the world, the highest protection in the world in the 19th century. As a result, it was able to shift its comparative advantage from primary resource exports to manufacturing, finally high-tech technology and so on, and that goes on right until today. Only the poor countries are supposed to follow the principles that economists dictate. In the United States there's a state sector of the economy, which is the core of high-technology advanced production. That's where computers come from, and the Internet, and lasers, and containers for trade; civilian aircraft are mostly an offshoot of the military industry, right now moving on to genetic engineering, bio-technology, pharmaceuticals, and so on. Research and development--which are the risky, costly parts of development--those costs are imposed on the public by funding through the state sector and development in the state sector. When there are profits to be made it's handed over to private corporations and that's the basic structure of the advanced economy.
That's one reason why the U.S. simply can't enter into the free trade agreement--it just doesn't accept market systems internally. So going back to East Asia and Latin America, Latin America followed the rules and became impoverished; East Asia ignored the rules, and was able to grow and develop pretty much the way the rich countries had themselves. So one form of integration in Latin America is integration of the societies with one another, although the alternative is the more far-reaching version of this, but there are others. And the second form of integration is internal. Latin America at last is beginning to do something, not much, but something about the internal fracturing of the societies, which is extreme. Each of those societies is characterized by a very wealthy small elite, and a huge impoverished mass. There's also a pretty close correlation to race. The wealthy elite tends to be the white, Europeanized part of the society; the huge impoverished mass tends to be the Mestizo, Indian, Black part of the society. Not a perfect correlation, but it's very noticeable. And that's beginning to be addressed, in large part as a result of the pressure of mass popular movements, which are very significant in Latin America now more than any other part of the world.
It's in this context that the Venezuelan phenomenon surfaces. Venezuela is indeed now, under Chavez, using its oil wealth to accelerate these processes--both the international integration and the internal integration. It's helped countries of the region free themselves from U.S. controls, exercised in part through the traditional threat of violence, which has been much weakened, and in part through economic controls. That's why country after country is kicking out the IMF, restructuring their debts, or refusing to pay them, often with the specific help of Venezuela. In Argentina particularly, Venezuela bought about a third of the debt and enabled Argentina to "rid herself of the IMF" as the President [Nestor Kirchner] put it. The international integration is also proceeding, not just through Venezuela. It doesn't get reported here because it's sort of not the right story, but a lot of things are happening. So in early December for example, there was a meeting of all South American leaders in Cochabamba, Bolivia--which is right at the heart of Morales territory, Indian territory--and they proposed, they had constructive ideas and suggestions which could lead towards sort of a European Union type structure for South America.
The more extreme version of this, advanced version of it is ALBA, which you mentioned, the Venezuelan initiative, but there are others. MERCOSUR, which is a regional trade alliance is stumbling, but it exists. There are great barriers to integration, it's not an easy matter to dismantle 500 years of history, either internally or regionally, but there are steps towards it, and Venezuela is playing a significant role in them. In the U.S. there's kind of a new party line on this matter. The party line is that, OK, we admit the subcontinent is drifting to the Left, but there are good Leftists and bad Leftists, and we have to distinguish between them. The bad Leftists are Chavez, of course, Morales, and probably Correa, not certain yet, and Kirschner's also one of the bad ones. The good Leftists are Lula in Brazil, García in Peru, they don't know about Bachelet in Chile, and so on.
In order to maintain this propaganda line, it's necessary to suppress quite a lot of facts. For example, the Cochabamba conference that I mentioned, or the fact that when Lula was reelected in last October, his first foreign trip and one of his first acts was to visit Caracas to support Chávez and his electoral campaign, and to dedicate a joint Venezuelan-Brazilian project, a major bridge over the Orinoco river, and to discuss some other projects. Well that doesn't fit the story so, as far as I can tell, I don't think it was reported anywhere in the United States--I didn't check everything, but I couldn't find it--and many other things like that. I mean with any kind of propaganda, there's at least some thread of truth to it, but it's much more complex than that. There's a real will towards integration and popular pressure towards internal integration, which are very significant. It's worth remembering that these are steps toward reversing a 500-year-old pattern, and among other things, it's weakening the traditional measures of U.S. control over South America. So the kind of governments the U.S. is supporting now, including Lula, are the kinds of governments they might well have been overthrowing not many years ago.
SD: In Latin America, Venezuela is only one part of the general discontent that is driving governments away from the IMF. But in other parts of the world, notably Africa, the IMF and its neoliberal diktaats are as strong as ever, and the predictable result is that extreme poverty is still on the rise. Other countries -- for example India -- are not under this pressure but still are wildly pursuing neoliberal economic policies. What hope do you see for citizens and movements in these places? Are there lessons to be learned from the case of Latin America? How can we in the U.S. be supportive of struggles for economic justice in these places?
A lot depends on what we do. After all [the U.S. is] the most powerful country in the world and the richest country in the world and has enormous influence. These policies that you describe are not without reason called the Washington Consensus; that's where they emanate from.
Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America are the two areas of the world that most rigorously followed the neo-liberal principles, the orthodox principles of the Washington Consensus, and those are the two parts of the world that suffered most severely. And you're right, in Sub-Saharan Africa it largely continues. They simply do not have the resources, the capacities, the countries are torn to shreds as a result of history of imperial conquest and devastation, and they've not been able to put themselves back together again. Their hopes for revival after the the formal end of colonialism were pretty much shattered by Western intervention. So for example, the murder of [Patrice]Lumumba in the Congo, which is the richest, and potentially the most powerful country of the region, and the installation of the corrupt and brutal murderer Mobuto [Sese Seko] not long after, I mean that set off a chain of catastrophes which is still devastating the area and no sign of resolution.
The French in their regions of Africa did the same. One gangster after another, the French backed state terrorism, and did all sorts of things. And pretty much the British, too, in their regions. So [many African countries] have a hideous legacy to overcome, and it's very difficult, and they're not getting much support from the outside. But we should be doing what we can to support authentic liberation struggles within the countries.
It's too complicated to go into the history here, but it's worth remembering many of the things that happened. So for example, when the Portuguese empire collapsed in the mid-70's, the former Portuguese colonies had a chance, Angola, Mozambique, a couple other Portuguese colonies, might have moved towards some sort of independent development. But South Africa, with U.S. backing, would not allow it--remember that's apartheid South Africa. So for example in Angola, South African troops backed by the United States just invaded to try to throw out the elected government, and again, with U.S. support, supported terrorist movements, the Savimbi movement, to try to undermine the government, and they would have succeeded had it not been for the fact that Cuba sent forces to support the government.
That led to hysteria in the United States. You had [the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations] Daniel Moynihan saying 'the Russians are trying to cut our lifeline, our oil supplies to the Middle East', [Henry] Kissinger raving and so on, and it was all, believed to be or presented to be a Russian operation. In fact, we now know from excellent contemporary U.S. scholarship that it was a Cuban initiative--it was mainly Piero Gleijeses at Johns Hopkins University who's going through the archival material and has done outstanding scholarship. What happened is that Cuba entered on its own initiative and very selflessly--they never took any credit for what they were doing, it's still mostly unknown--but Cuban troops beat back the South African offensive, and not only did that prevent the re-conquest of Angola, but it also had extraordinary symbolic significance. Those Cuban troops were black, and that broke the kind of mythology of white conquest; it was the first time that black soldiers had defeated advanced white armies, South African with U.S. backing. And that was a very important, had a very important effect on all of Africa. For the South African whites it was a sign that their conquest was not permanent. And for blacks in South Africa and elsewhere in the region, it showed that you don't have to subordinate yourself to white power.
That breaking of the hold of the mythology of [white] power is extremely significant, not just in this case. The same is true with many other cases, slavery, the women's movement, all sorts of things. Just breaking the idea that you must subject yourself to overwhelming power, when that's broken, a lot collapses with it. So that was a very important step towards the liberation of Africa, and Cuba deserves enormous respect for this, also for never taking credit for it, because they wanted the credit to be taken by the African countries themselves. It's only now beginning to be known, and mostly only known in scholarly circles because you don't get front page stories in the New York Times about topics like this. And then Angola fell into total catastrophe, mainly because of the depredations of the U.S.-backed terrorist forces, which were horrendous, and now it's a horror story. Similar things were happening elsewhere. The United Nations commission on Africa estimated that in the former Portuguese colonies alone--Mozambique and Angola--about a million and a half people were killed by South African aggression backed by the Reagan administration, just during the Reagan years. That's a pretty serious catastrophe. They also estimated about 60 billion dollars of damage, and the French and Algeria and their regions elsewhere were doing pretty much the same. It's a hideous, ugly story, and sub-Saharan Africa has a long way to go to extricate itself from these centuries of destruction still continuing.
India is a complicated story; it has been independent since 1947. Before the British conquest back in the 18th century, India and China had been the commercial and industrial centers of the world. British conquest turned India into a poor, peasant society. [The British] built roads and infrastructure, but they were mostly for the benefit of the invaders, the export of goods and so on. There were hideous famines--Mike Davis has a wonderful book on this Victorian famines, huge famines that could have easily been prevented, right thru the British rule up to the very end in the 1940s. Since Indian independence, they resumed their growth and there were no more famines; it became a more or less governable society and was beginning to develop. In the 1980s, there was a significant increase in the rate of growth. In the 1990s, they instituted the so-called neo-liberal reforms on their own, I mean, that was not under IMF control, as you said, and since then there have been changes.
They're very highly praised in the West--you know, the Thomas Friedman-style adulation of the new India--and in fact growth has increased, and a sector of the society has become much better off, has been raised from poverty. But remember that means a sector of the society; the large majority of the society is deeply impoverished, maybe even harmed by the neo-liberal policies, the same policies that are responsible for the marvelous labs in Hyderabad and Bangalore - which are indeed marvelous, I've seen them and they're just like MIT - and there is increase in the wealth of that sector of society. Those same policies are undermining the large majority of the population, which is peasant-based. Also the government has withdrawn support for peasant agriculture, meaning cheap credits, irrigation, rural aid, assistance programs, and so on, and they've also kind of pressured the poor farmers to turn from subsistence crops to export crops--that's the advice of economists generally.
Mexico, for example, under NAFTA was supposed to turn away from producing rice for the population and corn, turned away from that to, say, producing flowers for export to the United States with "more valued added". In some seminar somewhere that might look good, but in the real world it happens not to work for very simple reasons. Commodity prices tend to vary quite a lot, and if there's like a natural disaster, say a hurricane or whatever, and you're producing flowers, they might be wiped out that year, just like the citrus crop has been pretty much wiped out in California this year because of the cold spell. Well if you're agribusiness, you can handle that. So wiping out the citrus crop in California may raise the price of oranges in the United States, but U.S. agribusiness is going to survive it just fine. However, poor farmers cannot, I mean a farmer can't tell his children 'don't bother eating this year' because cotton prices went down, or because a storm wiped out our flowers, and 'maybe you'll be able to eat the next year', you can't do that. So what you have to do is to try to get credit. Well with the government having withdrawn support for the vast majority of the population, you go to usurers, who charge you huge levels of interest, which you're not going to be able to pay, so then you have to sell off the little plot of land you have, and pretty soon you can't support your family at all, so you commit suicide.
And in fact the rate of peasant suicides has been rising [in India] about as fast as the adulation by Thomas Friedman for the marvels of the economy. The per capita grain intake for people in India has declined, the average has declined considerably, since the onset of the reforms. Manufacturing productivity has gone way up, manufacturing wages have gone way down. At the beginning of the so-called reforms, India was ranked around 124th or so in the UN development rankings, which measure infant mortality and so on. Since the reforms have been undertaken, it's actually declined--the last time I looked I think it was 127th, it certainly hasn't advanced.
Well, these are parts, I can go on, but these are the several aspects of the Indian development story. For some it's been very good, and for others it's been, at best, stagnation, at worst, a disaster. And remember, for huge parts of India, like say for women, life is kind of like under the Taliban. Careful studies of say [the Indian state of] Uttar Pradesh, which maybe has 160 million people, has found that they have about the lowest female to male ratio in the world and it's not because of female infanticide, it's because of the way women are treated, which would make the Taliban look pretty decent. And these are huge areas, and they're not getting better, many are getting worse. The same is true in China, it's harder to say about China, it's a closed society, I don't know the details, but it's probably quite similar. India's a more open society so there's a lot of evidence.
Going back to Mexico and producing corn and beans, I mean, why is there a vast increase in illegal immigration from Mexico in recent years? It's partly the predicted effects of NAFTA. If you flood, the worst is yet to happen but even the beginning of it, if you flood Mexico with U.S. agribusiness exports, which are highly subsidized--that's how they get their profits--then Mexican farmers aren't going to be able to compete. Then comes the economists' theory, you know, turn from producing corn and beans and rice to producing flowers and [other] export crops, and you have the mode I described, and people can't survive. So there's a flight of people from the countryside to the cities where there are no jobs because Mexican businesses can't compete with U.S. multinationals, which are given enormous advantages under the mislabeled trade agreements. And yes, you get a flight of population [across the border]. The price of tortillas, you know, the basic food for the poor, it's gone out of sight, people can't pay for it. If you're growing your own food, you can manage, or if there's a subsistence agriculture, yeah, you can kind of manage, but not when you abandon it.
Again, for parts of the population it's been a benefit, so the number of billionaires has gone way up, just like in India. India now ranks very high internationally among the number of billionaires, but also for peasant suicides, and for severe malnutrition and so on. These countries, which are pretty rich, [are in some respects doing worse than] the poorest countries. GDP per capita in India is below Bolivia. That's nothing to rave about, Bolivia is the poorest country in South America. These are several sides of the same policies.
Remember that when NAFTA was enacted in 1994, another policy was enacted. In 1994, Clinton militarized the border in Operation Gatekeeper. Now previously, that had been a pretty open border. The border, of course, was established by conquest, like most borders. And there were similar people on both sides, people who would cross the border to visit their friends and relatives and that sort of thing. Now the border was militarized in 1994. OK, maybe it's a coincidence, more likely I think it's because the Clinton administration understood that their glowing predictions [about the benefits of NAFTA] were for propaganda, and that the likelihood was that there would be effects in Mexico which would lead to substantial flight, immigration, joined by people fleeing the wreckage of Central America after Reagan's terrorist wars there. And yes, now you have what they call an immigration crisis. These things are connected, you can't look at them in isolation.
Sameer Dossani is the Director of 50 Years Is Enough: U.S. Network for Global Economic Justice.
Noam Chomsky is emeritus professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His most recent books are Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy and Interventions, forthcoming from City Lights.
March 15, 2007
Anyone following the news in recent times cannot be unaware of the wave of progressive change sweeping Latin America and the Caribbean. For many lonely years Cuba held high the torch through its exemplary programs to provide universal health care and education, both gratis, along with world class cultural, sports and scientific achievements. Although you won´t find a Cuban today who says things are perfect, far from it, probably all would agree that compared with pre-revolutionary Cuba there is a world of improvement. All this they did against every effort by the United States to isolate them as an unacceptable example of independence and self-determination, using every dirty method including infiltration, sabotage, terrorism, assassination, economic and biological warfare and incessant lies in the cooperating media of many countries. I know these methods too well, having been a CIA officer in Latin America in the 1960´s. Altogether nearly 3500 Cubans have died from terrorist acts, and more than 2000 are permanently disabled. No country has suffered terrorism as long and consistently as Cuba.
All through the years, beginning even before taking power in 1959, the Cuban revolution has needed to have intelligence collection capabilities in the U.S. for defensive purposes. Such was the fully justified mission of the Cuban Five, jailed since 1998 with long sentences after conviction for various crimes in Miami where they had no chance for a fair trial. Their sights were exclusively set on criminal terrorist planning in Miami for operations against Cuba, activities ignored by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. They neither sought nor received any classified U.S. government information. Their cases are still on appeal, and will be for years to come, but their completely biased convictions rank with the legal lynching in the 1920’s of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, the anarchist immigrants, as among the most shameful injustices in U.S. history. Freedom for the Cuban Five should be the cause of everyone for whom fairness, human rights and justice are important, both in the United States and around the world, joining in the activities of the 300 Free the Five solidarity committees in 90 countries.
Current U.S. policy with its means and goals can be found in the nearly 500-page 2004 report of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba together with an update published in 2006 that has a secret annex. A fundamental goal, the same in 2007 as I remember it was in 1959, is isolation of Cuba to keep this bad example from spreading, and the current policy if successful, would mean no less than Cuban annexation to the U.S. and complete dependence, in fact if not in law, as Cubans rightfully claim. Other fundamental goals from 1959 are still, nearly 50 years later, to foment an internal political opposition and to cause economic hardship in Cuba leading to desperation, hunger and despair. It is no exaggeration to call these goals genocidal.
Yet, U.S. economic warfare of nearly 50 years against Cuba hasn’t worked even though the Cubans who keep book estimate its cost at more than $80 billion. After the Cuban economy’s free fall in the early 1990’s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, it began to recover in 1995. By 2005 growth was 11.8% and in 2006 it was 12.5%, the highest in Latin America. Some sectors have surpassed their development levels of the late 80’s, before the collapse, and others are nearly back. Cuba’s exports of services, nickel, pharmaceutical and other products are booming, and try as it may, the U.S. has not been able to stop this.
In the end U.S. efforts to isolate Cuba have also totally failed. In September 2006 Cuba was elected, for the second time, to lead the Non-Aligned Movement of 118 countries, and two months later, for the 15th consecutive year, the United Nations General Assembly voted to condemn the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba, this time 183 to 4. In 2007 Cuba has diplomatic or consular relations with 182 countries. Havana meanwhile is the site of seemingly endless international conferences on every imaginable theme with thousands of people from around the world attending. And not least, Cuba in recent years has been hosting more than 2 million foreign tourists annually at its world-class resorts. Far from isolating Cuba, the U.S. has isolated itself.
More than 30,000 Cuban doctors and health workers are saving lives and preventing disease in 69 countries, many in the most remote and difficult areas where few or no local doctors will go. Meanwhile 30,000 young foreigners from dozens of countries are studying medicine in Cuba on full scholarships. All were selected from areas lacking doctors, and all are committed to return to these areas in their home countries to practice.
In education the Cuban literacy program known as “Yes I can” has been adopted in nearly 30 countries on five continents where thousands more Cuban volunteers are teaching. Through this program, in Spanish, Portuguese, English, Creole, Quechua and Aymara, some 2 million people have learned to read and write, most of whom continue their education afterwards through a variety of other programs.
Thanks to these international assistance programs, Cuban prestige and influence, and international solidarity with Cuba, have never been greater. It was to defend these worthy programs that the five Cubans, unjustly convicted, went to Miami in the 1990’s.
Then in 1999 came Hugo Chavez, the U.S.’s latest worst nightmare in the region, admittedly following the Cuban example in Venezuela, with its enormous income from petroleum, to establish what he calls a Socialism for the 21st Century with a foreign policy of regional integration under his innovative Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, ALBA, excluding the United States altogether. The program is already underway through institutions such as Mercosur in trade, Petrocaribe, Petroandino and Petrosur in the energy sector, the Banco del Sur in finance, and Telesur in electronic media.
Another program under ALBA is Operación Milagro (Operation Miracle) for offering free eye surgery to people unable to afford it for cataracts, glaucoma, diabetes and other vision problems. It began in 2004 as a joint Cuban-Venezuelan effort to bring Venezuelans by air to Cuba cost free for operations. Within two years 28 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean were participating, and operations restoring sight numbered 485,000 of whom 290,000 were Venezuelans. Jet liners loaded with patients come and go from Havana everyday, but by early 2007 thirteen modern eye clinics were being built in Venezuela, and several had already performed thousands of operations there. Other clinics were being established in Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras and Haiti, all with Cuban planning and staffing. The ten-year goal of Operación Milagro is to restore sight to 6 million people of Latin America and the Caribbean, and the program is expanding to Africa.
The Cuban example of so many years, and now Venezuela, have also recently inspired the peoples of Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Nicaragua to elect progressive leaders. Most have rejected the 1990´s “Washington Consensus” and the neo-liberal model along with determined U.S. efforts to establish a hemispheric free trade zone. All are developing grassroots social and economic programs, each in its own way, aimed at improving the quality of life for all, especially the long-excluded majorities of their populations where this injustice prevailed. Although achievements in Cuba continue to shine, the torch of revolution in the region has effectively passed from the towering figure of Fidel, ailing at eighty, to Chavez, a military man and teacher inspired by Simón Bolívar and José Martí.
Reflecting on these new hopes for hundreds of millions in such a vast region, one cannot avoid recalling the old professor, Próspero, addressing his class for the last time in Ariel, the classic essay by José Enrique Rodó, still read by students in Latin America. In borrowing from The Tempest, and urging his students to follow the soaring spirit of virtue and good, represented by Ariel, and to reject the crass materialism of the U.S. personified by Calibán, Próspero drew a contrast between Latin American idealism and the United States that is as valid today as in 1900 when the essay first appeared.
While Latin America is fast moving in progressive directions, almost unimaginable less than ten years ago, in contrast the United States, at least since the Reagan era, has been moving step by step toward a Fascism for the 21st Century. And the pace has quickened in the last six years of Republican government under George W. Bush with passage of the Patriot Act under emergency circumstances just after the attacks on the Twin Towers in September 2001, and then adoption in 2006 of the Military Commissions Act, both with substantial support from Congressional Democrats. Other legislation supports this trend.
The U.S. Federal Government now has legal powers to secretly monitor one´s communications, whether by telephone, ordinary mail, e-mail, or fax, plus your bank accounts, credit cards, the web sites you visit, and the books you buy or read in libraries. Torture, secret prisons, kidnapping, and jailing indefinitely without trial or recourse to courts through habeas corpus---all are now legal. So is “extraordinary rendition” whereby U.S. captives are delivered to other governments where they will likely be tortured and possibly assassinated. Investigations by the European Parliament have identified around 1200 secret CIA flights carrying these people through European airports to secret prisons. To qualify for this treatment, anyone in the world, U.S. citizens and any others, only need be designated by the government as an “illegal enemy combatant” whose only definition is someone who has “purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States.” Hostilities or a hostile act can be interpreted as almost anything that opposes U.S. policies, from a speech expressing solidarity with Cuba to a picket line protesting the war in Iraq. If an “enemy combatant” ever gets a trial, it will not be by a jury of peers but by a U.S. military court that can use hearsay and evidence obtained under torture.
These powers reminiscent of the Nazi regime are not just a global U.S Sword of Damocles waiting to fall on perceived enemies. The full range of repression has been going on since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 with plenty of evidence coming from the prisons and concentration camps of Bagram, Abu Graib and Guantánamo as well as from testimony of various released innocents swept up in the process. It is an on-going worldwide application of fascist power in a non-defined, nebulous “war on terrorism” that has no end or geographical limits. Since September 2001 the Bush government has given one specious reason after another for what it believes are the motives of Islamic terrorism, never admitting that it is a reaction and resistance to U.S. imperial policies, starting with U.S. support for Israel’s continued occupation and colonization of Arab lands and Israel’s refusal to return to its borders before the Six-Day War in 1967.
By 2006 the U.S. had designated some 17,000 people around the world as “enemy combatants,” according to press reports. Combine this repression with gargantuan contracts to private U.S. firms, as in Iraqi security and “reconstruction,” along with forcing the Iraqi government, always with eyes on the prize, to contract highly prejudicial 30-year “production sharing agreements” to American and British oil majors, excluded from Iraq before the invasion, plus historic lows in trade union power, and you have the marriage of government and corporate power that Mussolini, who invented the word in 1919, described as the essence of fascism. The one bright spot are the recent indictments of 13 CIA people in Germany and 26 others in Italy for kidnapping and other violations of their laws. They will never be brought to trial, of course, but the indictments are refreshing developments.
Protection of terrorists who serve U.S. interests is still another feature of American Fascism of the 21st Century. There are many examples, especially among Cuban exiles, but two stand out from the others: Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles. Both have long, well-documented pedigrees as international terrorists, but one of their joint crimes was historic: the first bombing in flight of a civilian airliner in the Western Hemisphere. It was Cubana flight 455 that on October 6th, 1976 exploded just after takeoff from Barbados killing all 73 people on board.
Bosch and Carriles, both of whose CIA careers began around 1960, planned the bombing in Caracas and provided the explosives to two Venezuelans recruited by Posada. These two were discovered, convicted, and sentenced to long prison terms. Not so with Bosch and Posada who were protected by then-Venezuelan President Carlos Andrés Pérez who has his own history of working with the CIA. Although they were both arrested and tried separately in Venezuelan courts as the intellectual authors of the crime, neither was convicted.
Bosch was found not guilty and released in 1988, returned to Miami but was arrested for an old parole violation. The Justice Department then ordered his deportation as an “undesirable” and as “the most dangerous terrorist” of the Western Hemisphere. But Jeb Bush, son of then-President Bush, persuaded his father in 1990 to quash Bosch´s deportation order. Since then Bosch has lived freely in Miami where he gives television interviews in which he makes every effort to justify terrorism against Cuba.
For his part Posada´s trial in Venezuela never ended because in 1985 he escaped from prison, fled the country, and soon turned up in El Salvador working in the CIA´s Contra terrorist operation against Nicaragua. When this ended he stayed underground in Central America and from the early 1990´s organized more terrorist operations against Cuba. In 2005 he was arrested in Miami for illegal entry to the U.S., and although he admitted to the New York Times to terrorist bombings of hotels and other tourist facilities in Cuba, in one of which an Italian tourist died, he has only been indicted for lying to the FBI and in his request for naturalization. The Bush administration refuses to certify him as a terrorist so that he can be tried as such, at the same time ignoring Venezuela’s extradition request as a fugitive from justice, alleging absurdly that he might be tortured there. His treatment suggests that he will eventually be pardoned by Bush, perhaps on Christmas Eve of 2008 just before leaving the White House, just as his father on Christmas Eve of 1992 pardoned former Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger and various CIA officers for crimes in the 1980´s Iran-Contra scandal, thus precluding their trials scheduled to begin the following month.
One need not dwell on the obvious. The conviction of the Miami Cuban Five for their anti-terrorist efforts, in contrast with the official protection of terrorists like Bosch and Posada, speaks volumes on the U.S. as the pre-eminent state sponsor of international terrorism.
The major disguise used to cloak this U.S. program of worldwide aggression from the 1980´s to the present has been “promotion of democracy,” a hypocritical claim used ad nauseum by Presidents, Secretaries of State and others that has never fooled anyone. It has always been clear that the “democracy promotion” programs of the National Endowment for Democracy, the State Department, the Agency for International Development and associated foundations and agencies are nothing more that attempts to foment and strengthen internal political forces in countries around the world that will be under U.S. control and will protect and cater to U.S. interests. Their origins are in the CIA’s political operations starting in the 1940´s, and they have included the overthrow of democratically elected governments and the institution of unspeakable repression as in Brazil in 1964 and Chile in 1973 to name only two of many examples.
To be sure there has been, and is, important and worthy resistance in the U.S. to this developing fascism both within Congress and among private organizations and individuals. But it has been mostly isolated attempts of a defensive and rear-guard nature, with little mention in the corporate media. Bills have been introduced in Congress to ease or end the economic blockade of Cuba, to amend the worst of the repressive laws, even to impeach Bush and Cheney, but they seem unlikely ever to prevail or become law. The two parties, actually competing branches of a one-party state, have simply adopted ever more extreme measures to maintain their monopoly of power.
Even the judicial system, once perhaps the last hope for enforcing the Constitution, has been riddled with neo-conservatives who ignore it. Take only the appeal of the Miami conviction by the Cuban Five. The original three appellate judges of Atlanta´s 11th Circuit issued a compelling 93-page unanimous decision upholding the defense position that no fair trial of self-admitted Cuban agents was possible in Miami´s prevailing anti-Cuban atmosphere and that the trial venue should have been moved. Nevertheless the other 10 judges of the Circuit voted to hear another appeal en banc and then unanimously overturned the first decision with only two of the original three judges voting against (the third had retired). That 10 of the 13 Circuit Court judges would uphold Miami as a place where Cuban agents could get a fair trial is a good example of how morally and intellectually corrupt the federal judiciary has become.
So these are grim days indeed for the United States and by extension for its allies, starting with its junior partner, the U.K., and extending through NATO. There have been other periods of shameful repression in the U.S., like the years following World War I, but never with a global reach like this.
Predictably U.S. prestige around the world, what there ever was of it, has disappeared, replaced by contempt and scorn. Testimony to this is the repudiation of Bush and what he stands for expressed by so many thousands in the streets protesting his presence as he currently travels around Latin America attempting to lure five countries away from regional integration. What a contrast with the enlightened, idealistic, and progressive social and political movements now flowering in Latin America!
Havana, March 2007
Philip Agee, 72, was a CIA secret operations officer in Latin American from 1960 to 1969. He is the author of the best-selling Inside the Company: CIA Diary (Penguin Books, 1975) plus other books and articles. Deported in 1977 by the U.K and four other NATO countries, he has lived since 1978 with his wife in Hamburg, Germany. He travels frequently to Cuba and South America for solidarity and business activities, and in 2000 he started an online travel service to Cuba: www.cubalinda.com.
"IN TIMES OF UNIVERSAL DECEIT, TELLING THE TRUTH WILL BE A REVOLUTIONARY ACT." - George Orwell
“If the world is upside down the way it is now, wouldn’t we have to turn it over to get it to stand up straight?” - Eduardo Galeano
Former "Al Qaeda" number 3 man, Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, is reportedly confessing to a number of terrorist attacks at his Military Commission trial (Combatant Status Review Tribunal in Pentagon "Newspeak") in Guantanamo Bay. He claims responsibility for 9/11 "A to Z." He also claimed he planned the 1993 World Trade Center van bombing, Richard Reid's attempted shoe bombing of a trans-Atlantic flight from Paris to Miami, the Bali bombing, an attack on an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa, Kenya and an attempted missile attack on an Israeli passenger plane at Mombasa airport. Mohammed also claimed that he was behind attempted attacks on the Library Tower in Los Angeles, the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Empire State Building in New York, the New York Stock Exchange, the Panama Canal, NATO headquarters in Brussels, Israel's port of Eilat, nuclear power plants in the United States, U.S. embassies in Indonesia, Australia, and Japan, Israeli embassies in Australia, Azerbaijan, Philippines, and India, Big Ben in London, and London's Heathrow Airport. He also claimed that he was behind plots to assassinated Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, Pope John Paul II, President Jimmy Carter, and President Bill Clinton (why is it that Democrats are always targeted by these terrorists?) Left off the list were the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya (Mohammed must have been on vacation then) and the USS Cole (that was Sudan's doing according to a Federal judge in Norfolk, Virginia).
Tomorrow, Mohammed may claim responsibility for the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson, Avian flu, the sinking of the Andrea Doria, and the Challenger and Columbia disasters.
There was apparently a proposal at the recent America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) meeting in Washington to invite Israel to join the United States as the 51st state. Delegates rejected the idea after they learned that Israel would be limited to only two U.S. Senators.
"IN TIMES OF UNIVERSAL DECEIT, TELLING THE TRUTH WILL BE A REVOLUTIONARY ACT." - George Orwell
“If the world is upside down the way it is now, wouldn’t we have to turn it over to get it to stand up straight?” - Eduardo Galeano
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
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.
"Viva Chávez, abajo Bush", gritaron con insistencia miles de pobladores que acompañaron, a pie, en bicicleta, en motocicleta, a la comitiva oficial desde que salió del Aeropuerto Internacional Toussaint Louverture
Long live Chavez, down with Bush!
Bet Dubya wishes he could get a reception like this:
Marluce Melo y Maria Luisa Mendonça*
Recientes estudios sobre los impactos causados por los combustibles fósiles contribuyeron a poner el tema de los biocombustibles en el orden del día. La aceleración del calentamiento global es un hecho que pone en peligro la vida del planeta. Sin embargo, hay que desmitificar la principal solución que actualmente es difundida a través de la propaganda sobre los supuestos beneficios de los biocombustibles.
En contrapunto a esta idea, la profesora Madre-Wan - Ho, de la Universidad de Hong Kong, explica que: "Los biocombustibles están siendo considerados erróneamente como 'neutros en carbono'. Se ignoran así los costes de las emisiones de CO2 y de energía de fertilizantes y pesticidas utilizados en las cosechas".
Un estudio del Gabinete Belga de Asuntos Científicos muestra resultados semejantes. "El biodiesel provoca más problemas de salud y ambientales porque crea una contaminación más pulverizada, libera más contaminantes que promueven la destrucción de la capa de ozono".
La soja es presentada por el gobierno brasileño como el principal cultivo para obtener el biodiesel. "El cultivo de la soja despunta como la joya de la corona del agronegocio brasileño”, afirman investigadores de la Empresa Brasileña de Investigación Agropecuaria (EMBRAPA, en portugués).
En este contexto, el papel de Brasil sería suministrar energía barata a los países ricos, lo que representa una nueva fase de la colonización. Las actuales políticas para el sector son sustentadas en los mismos elementos que habían marcado la colonización brasileña: apropiación de territorio, de bienes naturales y de trabajo, lo que representa mayor concentración de tierra, agua, renta y poder.
Se estima que más de 90 millones de hectáreas de tierras podrían ser utilizadas para producir biocombustibles. Además, la "eficiencia" de nuestra producción se debe a la disponibilidad de mano de obra barata y hasta incluso esclava. Esas características son difundidas por órganos gubernamentales y por algunos intelectuales, que fabrican la idea de que la producción de agroenergía traería grandes beneficios.
"Nuestro país posee la mayor extensión de tierra del mundo que todavía puede ser incorporada al proceso productivo", afirman investigadores de EMBRAPA. Ellos estiman que la producción de biomasa "podría ser el más importante componente del agronegocio brasileño". En relación a la expansión de la producción de etanol, concluyen que hay la "posibilidad de expansión de la caña de azúcar a casi todo el territorio nacional".
Brasil produce actualmente 17 mil millones de litros de alcohol por año. Según el - Banco Nacional de Desarrollo Económico y Social (BNDES, en portugués), serían necesarios más de ocho mil millones de litros solamente para atender el mercado interno. Por lo tanto, el Banco prevé que Brasil deberá expandir su producción a otros países. Con la pretensión de controlar el 50% del mercado mundial de etanol, el BNDES estima que Brasil debería llegar a producir 110 mil millones de litros por año.
"Sólo en la región del ´cerrado´, pueden estar disponibles, en los próximos años, para plantaciones de granos, más de 20 millones de hectáreas", revela un informe de la – EMBRAPA. En el Noreste, según los investigadores, "solamente para la papaya hay un área de tres millones de hectáreas apta par el cultivo". Ellos afirman también que "La Amazonia brasileña posee el mayor potencial para plantaciones de aceite de palma en el mundo, con un área estimada de 70 millones de hectáreas".
Sin embargo, este producto es conocido como el "diesel de la deforestación". La producción masiva del aceite de palma (como es conocido en otros países) ya causó la devastación de grandes extensiones de bosques en Colombia, Ecuador e Indonesia. En Malasia, el mayor productor mundial de aceite de palma, el 87% de los bosques han sido devastados.
Brasil puede también cumplir la misión de legitimar la política externa del gobierno estadounidense. En una visita a Brasil, en febrero de 2007, el subsecretario de Estado, Nicholas Burns, afirmó que "La investigación y el desarrollo de biocombustibles pueden ser el eje simbólico de una asociación nueva y más fuerte entre Brasil y Estados Unidos". Los dos países controlan el 70% de la producción mundial de etanol. Recientemente, en respuesta al impacto de este tema en la sociedad, el gobierno Bush anunció que pretende reducir el consumo de petróleo en 20%. Según Burns, "La energía tiende a distorsionar el poder de algunos Estados que nosotros creemos tienen un peso negativo en el mundo, como Venezuela e Irán". (Folha de S.Paulo, 7 de febrero de 2007).
La expansión de la producción de bioenergía es de gran interés para empresas de organismos genéticamente modificados, que esperan obtener una mayor aceptación del público difundiendo los productos transgénicos como fuentes de energía "limpia".
"Todas las empresas que producen cultivos transgénicos - Syngenta, Monsanto, Dupont, Dow, Bayer, BASF - tienen inversiones en cultivos concebidos para la producción de biocombustibles, como el etanol y el biodiesel. Tienen, además, acuerdos de colaboración con transnacionales como Cargill, Archer, Daniel Midland, Bunge, que dominan el comercio mundial de cereales”, explica Silvia Ribeiro, investigadora del Grupo ETC de México.
Según Eric Holt-Gimenez, coordinador de la organización Food First, "Tres grandes empresas (ADM, Cargill y Monsanto) están forjando su imperio: ingeniería genética, procesamiento y transporte, una alianza que va a encadenar la producción y la venta de etanol. Y añade que otras empresas del agronegocio como Bunge, Sygenta, Bayer y Dupont, aliadas a la transnacionales de petróleo como Shell, TOTAL y British Petroleum, y también a las automotrices como Volkswagen, Peugeot, Citroen, Renault y SAAB, forman una sociedad inédita que espera grandes ganancias con los biocombustibles.
Experiencias de los pequeños agricultores en el Noreste dedicados a la siembr de la papaya demostraron el riesgo de dependencia hacia las grandes empresas agrícolas, que controlan los precios, el procesamiento y la distribución de la producción. Los campesinos son utilizados para legitimitar al agronegocio, a través de la distribución de certificados de "combustible social". La expansión de la producción de biocombustibles pone en peligro la soberanía alimentaría y puede agravar profundamente el problema del hambre en el mundo. En México, por ejemplo, el aumento de las exportaciones de maíz para abastecer el mercado de etanol en Estados Unidos causó un aumento de 400% en el precio del producto, que es la principal fuente de la alimentación de la población.
Silvia Ribeiro alerta que "ahora son los automóviles, no las personas, los que demandan la producción anual de cereales. La cantidad de granos que se exige para llenar el depósito de un camión con etanol es suficiente para alimentar una persona durante un año".
Discutir sobre las nuevas fuentes de energía debe llevar, en primer lugar, a descubrir al servicio de quien estará esta nueva matriz. La construcción de una nueva matriz energética debe tener en cuenta quien será el beneficiario y a qué propósito servirá.
La mayor responsabilidad por el calentamiento global la tienen justamente las grandes empresas que destruyen los bosques y contaminan el medioambiente, las mismas petroleras, automotrices, agrícolas, entre otras, que pretenden lucrar con la bioenergía.
- Edivan Pinto y Marluce Melo son miembros de la Comisión Pastoral de la Tierra Regional Nordeste de Brasil. Maria Luisa Mendonça integra la Red Social de Justicia y Derechos Humanos.