Mass Anti-Bush Protests in Argentina Reflect Deepening Radicalism in All of LDatin America

by George Saunders


An anti-Bush counter-summit was held in Mar del Plata, Argentina, the first week of November to protest Bush’s presence at a summit meeting of leaders of most of the Western Hemisphere, called by the OAS (Organization of American States). For years the OAS has been dominated by the U.S., but that domination is no longer solid. Mass protests in country after country in Latin America, especially over the last decade, have challenged and defied the “neoliberal” (and “neoconservative”) policies of U.S. imperialism—especially the “structural adjustment” austerity programs demanded by the U.S. banks and investors behind the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and similar agencies or policies.

According to one report, the anti-Bush summit in Mar del Plata featured a huge banner showing Che Guevara’s image imposed over the flags of the Latin American countries. This is an expression of the strong desire for Latin American unity, and the revolutionary form that aspiration can take, because historically the region, divided into many relatively small countries, fell prey to the penetration and domination of U.S. and West European capital.

In the early nineteenth century Simón Bolívar led a revolutionary struggle against Spanish colonial rule, winning independence for his native Venezuela, as well as for what is now Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. Other revolutionaries, farther south, freed Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and Paraguay from Spain. Bolívar’s dream that all these former colonies would form a United States of Latin America and thus consolidate and strengthen their independence was not realized.

But Bolivar’s dream has been carried forward by a new generation of Latin American revolutionaries, especially those who led the socialist revolution in Cuba, particularly Che Guevara, who attempted to extend the revolution to the continent, in Bolivia. Those revolutionaries of the 1950s and ’60s have now been joined by a new generation whose outstanding representative is President Hugo Chávez, who has been leading a new “Bolivarian” revolution in Venezuela. (See the many reports we have posted on the Labor Standard web site about Cuba, Venezuela, and Latin America.)

Later in the nineteenth century, independence was won by revolutionaries in Mexico and Central America. Cuba was the last major Spanish colony to win its independence, but that was not until 1898, and Cuba immediately fell under U.S. domination, thanks to the Spanish-American War, featuring imperialist chieftains like Teddy (“carry a big stick”) Roosevelt.

Then, after January 1, 1959, when Cuba at last won its independence from U.S. domination, in a struggle led by Fidel Castro’s July 26 Movement against U.S. imperialism’s “man in Havana,” the tyrant Fulgencio Batista, the Cuban revolutionaries found that in order to consolidate Cuba’s independence they had to carry through a socialist revolution. Likewise, the deepening movement toward Latin American independence cries out for socialist revolution (à la Che Guevara) as the only means that can win and ensure that independence through the mobilization of the worker and peasant majority—ultimately with a United Socialist States of Latin America.

But a serious and thoroughgoing mass-based socialist revolution in the Latin American countries will inevitably have an impact on society in the United States. For one thing, out of self-defense, the Latin American revolutionaries will reach out for allies inside “the belly of the monster.” Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez, with their offers of aid to those stricken by Hurricane Katrina, and Chávez’s offer of cheap gasoline and heating oil to needy Americans, show that they have a good understanding of how to reach out effectively.

The world knows that there are substantial protest movements in the United States—the antiwar movement, the Black, Chicano, and Native American movements, the women’s movement, the labor movement, the student movement, the struggles of all who aspire to freedom, justice, and equality and reject discrimination and repression. These can be the natural allies of the liberation movement in Latin America.

Indications of the beginning of such a process are already evident. One expression of this was an inspired posting on the Internet November 4 by Atlanta-based journalist Joaquín Bustelo. See the link to Bustelo’s post on Stan Goff’s web site.

The summit showed how far the Latin American movements have advanced in the last few years. The summit outcome, as we have indicated, is really the fruit of mass protest struggles in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, etc. The advance of such struggles is highlighted especially in the article titled “First Latin American Gathering Of Worker-Recovered Factories,” by Jorge Martin, just posted on the Labor Standard web site.

And of course new turning points are coming, for instance, the elections in Bolivia, originally scheduled for December. Bourgeois and pro-imperialist forces in Bolivia are trying to call off the elections because a pro-worker, indigenous-led movement might win, bringing a Chávez-type government into office in Bolivia. But the mass movements that shut down Bolivia with general strikes in May and June of 2005 are threatening to resume their powerful struggle from below if elections are called off. Potentially the mass movement of the rural and urban poor, with a leading role played by Bolivia’s advanced trade union movement, could establish their own People’s Assembly as the governing authority in Bolivia, as they threatened to do in May-June..

As Andy Pollack has pointed out (and he will be writing about this in more detail), the summit was also a victory for the U.S. working class: (1) Because the rejection of the FTAA matches a key goal of the U.S. labor movement, opposition to phony “free trade” agreements that hurt workers both in the U.S. and in Latin America and elsewhere. The AFL-CIO leadership has sporadically mobilized in opposition to NAFTA, CAFTA, WTO, FTAA, and other signposts of corporate cartel-dominated trade agreements that in reality are anything but “free trade.” (2) Because the warm reception for Chávez is due to his reliance on the workers and peasants of his country, displayed most recently in the continent-wide meeting of worker-occupied factories (described in the Jorge Martin article mentioned above. It seems that the workers at Delphi, GM, etc., could benefit from connections with the network of such factories being set up. Very few workers in the U.S. have heard anything yet about those factories (although leaders of the Argentinian occupations spoke in New York this week to a small group of labor officials and academics). But publicizing their example—and reviving the memory of the Akron, Flint, etc., sit-down strikes and factory occupations—would be very timely right now.

To conclude this article, let me cite Joaquín Bustelo again. The following is a November 6 post by Bustelo to the Marxmail discussion group, edited slightly for Labor Standard:

That whirring sound you hear comes from the spinmeisters of the Bush administration trying to prettify the outcome of the Mar del Plata Summit of the Americas into something suitable for U.S. public consumption.

To briefly recap: Argentina, which was hosting the summit, set (as Lula put it) a 3-point agenda: “jobs, jobs and more jobs.” Or as the official conference slogan had it: “Creating Jobs to Fight Poverty and Strengthen Democratic Governance”

Bush went to Argentina empty-handed on this score and nevertheless wanted to get the Free Trade Area of the Americas negotiations, which had basically crashed and burned at a Miami ministerial level meeting two years ago, restarted.

Bush was met with a week-long alternate summit, a mass march and rally of tens of thousands [James Petras reports 80,000—G.S.] on Friday morning [Nov. 4] and violent street protests in the afternoon while President Nestor Kirchner welcomed the summiteers with a brief speech where he said Argentina wasn’t about to go down the road of “economic growth” without job growth. Been there, done that, and at the end people didn’t even have enough money to buy the T-shirt. It’s time to find another road.

The event was marked by an unusual amount of tension, reflected in the cancellation of multiple press briefings and even a banquet. Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela took a firm position that the conditions did not exist that would make it possible to have a fair FTAA. And thus no matter how many ways the Bushites and their Latin American acolytes tried to square that circle, and get the five to accept at least some nice-sounding noises about the FTAA in the final communiqué, the five wouldn’t budge.

But it also pissed them and lots of other folks off that Bush basically hijacked the meeting away from a discussion of job creation to a fruitless two-day wrangle over setting the date to negotiate over the FTAA, which was basically the U.S. demand.

That’s because Brazil has been very clear. It’s not going to let the Americans do to its agricultural sector what was done to Mexico, where Mexico dropped its tariffs and was invaded by an ocean of ultra-subsidized U.S. agricultural products. The U.S. said to Brazil and others in the FTAA, “So sorry, we’re going to talk about subsidies in the Doha round of the WTO negotiations. Not here.” So Brazil said, “Well then, there’s really no point in talking about an FTAA right now until we see what happens in the WTO with these subsidies.” That’s basically Argentina’s position, too.

In the end, a “compromise” was reached — the position of both the pro-FTAA and the anti-FTAA camps would be in the final statement. In other words, the United States was forced to accept having the final communiqué record the position of the five that until and unless the imperialist countries do something about their agricultural subsidies and other trade-distorting swindles, not only wasn’t there going to be a deal; they weren’t even going to waste their time talking about it.

This position is entirely reasonable. The United States has refused to engage on its monstrous subsidies to agribusinesses in the framework of FTAA talks. It claims it can’t, because it is already negotiating about the same thing in the Doha round of world trade talks.

But the U.S. still wants countries like Brazil and Argentina to eliminate their tariffs so that the ultra-subsidized U.S. corn, wheat, soybeans, etc., can nuke their rural economies, just as they have already done to Mexico and are now doing to Central America. In other words, areas in which the U.S. wants concessions from Latin America are on the table; but even in the same sectors of the economy and even the same specific commodities, the U.S. isn’t even willing to talk about what it might give.

In Latin America there is a rather vulgar description of such a deal which involves bending over and the lack of a use of Vaseline. And, not unreasonably, these five Latin American countries, with the clear sympathy of the majority of people in the region, invited the United States to apply that procedure to itself.

Comes now the Washington Post, to describe how well Bush did in Mar del Plata.

“In Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s version of Latin America, the leaders who concluded a two-day summit Saturday are poised to ignite a unified, region-wide socialist revolution that rejects U.S.-style capitalism outright.

“But if the summit proved anything, it was that there is more to Latin America than Chávez.”

That’s the LEAD of the article—I kid you not. That dastardly dude Hugo Chávez, was on the verge of having folks like Vicente Fox join him on the barricades in a revolutionary overturn more earth-shaking than any since the October Revolution. But St. George the Bush slew that dragon.

“Instead of backing their Venezuelan counterpart’s rallying cry to bury a U.S.-backed proposal that would link markets throughout the Western Hemisphere, the leaders reluctantly agreed to discuss the proposal again during future talks. Cautious skepticism –– not Chávez’s tone of enraged dismissal — emerged as the strongest unifying force in a region exploring the possibility of greater independence from U.S. influence.”

One of the curious things about this “agreement” that the Washington Post talks about is that they don’t quote it. There is literally no reference anywhere in the story to the official document that issued from the event. Instead there is a recapitulation of some of the reasons why Latin Americans hate U.S. imperialism in general and George W. Bush in particular, all as a way of saying that, given this, Bush did OK.

The Miami Herald takes a similar tack: “Bush is bruised but not beaten in talks. President Bush faced harsh criticism from Latin American presidents over a free-trade proposal, but no clear winners and losers emerged.”

Remember, these are the imperialist-inspired “hemispheric summits” that Clinton launched under the aegis of “the Washington Consensus” for neoliberal globalization a decade ago in Miami. “The Spirit of Miami” would supposedly lead by 2005 to the biggest and most powerful trade bloc the world had ever seen.

And here we are, in 2005, and not only is there no free trade area of the Americas, but the “Spirit of Mar del Plata” has replaced the spirit of Miami. That spirit was expressed in the alternative summit and the big demonstration of tens of thousands of people repudiating Bush’s visit. But it was also clearly echoed in the official summit itself—and not just by Hugo Chávez.

U.S. policy not only generated misery and poverty but also a great social tragedy that added to institutional instability in the region, provoking the fall of democratically elected governments,” Kirchner said at the summit Friday. “We must create a kind of globalization that works for everyone, and not just for a few.”

Compare that to the halcyon days of the mid-1990s, when TINA (There Is No Alterative) was the watchword. Faith in the “free market” religion has collapsed throughout Latin America as working people have seen what it means in practice. And even bourgeois politicians (well, at least some of them) are smart enough not to parade before the people mounted on a horse that’s dead.

The Miami Herald quoted with a straight face this official U.S. assessment: “It turned out well,” said U.S. assistant of state for Latin American affairs Tom Shannon. “Chávez came to Mar del Plata to bury FTAA. Instead he resurrected it. He provoked a very deep debate among the leaders about FTAA.”

Sure. I believe it. The U.S. really wants a big debate about the FTAA. That’s why they’re always inviting Fidel to these summits. NOT.

All of the bourgeois press emphasized that the division was between the “big majority” (29 countries) and a “small minority” (5). None even mentioned that the five are really six, because Cuba is excluded from the talks, but it is part of the hemisphere, and there ain’t no way it’s going to join the FTAA. Nor is it mentioned that together the six represent 275 million of the 580 million Latin Americans (excluding colonial subjects). That is, the six anti-FTAA governments represent 47 percent of the region’s population, and in reality the bulk of the region’s economic muscle.

You can contrast the U.S. press coverage to the way it was covered elsewhere (in the British press, for example). “Bush faces Latin fury as popularity sinks at home” is the headline in the Independent (UK). The Financial Times (London) headline says, “Bush is single target of multiple complaints.” The BBC reports flatly, “No trade deal at Americas summit.”

The BBC quotes the typical U.S. spin (basically, that it was really good because no one torched copies of previous pro-FTAA summit declarations, at least not during the official sessions):

“The U.S. National Security Adviser, Steven Hadley, spoke of ‘real progress.’

“‘We went from a summit which was supposed to bury FTAA to a summit in which all 34 countries actually talk in terms of enhanced trade...recognizing there are challenges,’ he said.”

The Spanish news agency EFE, however, had a very different take:

“The ‘Spirit of Miami’ failed in Mar del Plata.

“Eleven years and successive fruitless meetings had to pass before the so-called ‘Spirit of Miami,’ which promised an Americas united by free trade, would fail in Mar del Plata, 11,500 kilometers to the south of the place where the ‘integrationist dream’ was born.

Miami and Mar del Plata, hosts of the First and Fourth Summit of the Americas, close the circle of a process that was initiated in 1994, when the political stage of the hemisphere looked very different from what it does today.”

We’ll see now what happens today in Brazil, where Bush will attend a barbecue thrown by Lula.