Globalization and the Americas

Globalization and the Americas is dedicated to understanding the major social, political and economic developments taking place in the Americas. The ever deepening process of globalization has ruptured the hemisphere’s frontiers, not only for international capital and trade, but also for the peoples of the Americas who migrate across national frontiers in ever increasing numbers in search of a better life.

The program’s activities range from investigative reporting trips to Latin America to participation in conferences and seminars to discuss issues related to globalization and the development of popular movements. We conduct research on the US empire and US foreign policy, including opposition within the United States to imperial wars and intervention in Latin America.

Globalization and the Americas releases news articles on important developments in the hemisphere that are often picked up by a variety of publications and web sites. It also publishes articles in selected journals, and publishes books on critical trends in the Americas.

At present the project is working on a book, The New Fire in the Americas: Popular Challenges to Failing States and a Faltering Empire. Its central thesis is that there is a new rebellion in the Americas, one that provides hope and inspiration in the midst of a world ravished by imperial wars. It is a fire that is burning on many fronts, with differing intensities, one that flares up at unexpected moments in unpredictable locations throughout the hemisphere.

Roger Burbach is coordinator of Globalization and the Americas, working with CENSA Associates Adam Sgrenci, Paul Cantor and Isabella Kenfield on the program.

Meet General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, General Augusto Pinochet’s Heir Apparent in Egypt

By Roger Burbach 07/26/2013

Last July 4, the day after the military coup in Egypt that toppled President Mohamed Morsi, the Wall Street Journal editorialized, “Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, who took power amid chaos but hired free-market reformers and midwifed a transition to democracy.” It appears the business newspaper is getting its wish.

The early actions of the de facto leader of the coup, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi are hauntingly like those of Pinochet. The brutal repression, with a civilian death toll surpassing a thousand, the proclamation of a curfew in Egypt’s main cities, the jailing and murder of journalists, the unleashing of the security forces, the round up of untold numbers of the opposition, and the demonizing and defamation of its opponents–these actions and others indicate that the supposed “transition to democracy” could take a long time in Egypt, perhaps even rivaling Pinochet’s seventeen years in power.

Pinochet’s coup on September 11, 1973 destroyed popular aspirations for a democratic socialist revolution. Today as Adam Shatz notes in Egypt’s Counter Revolution, “Cairo, the capital of revolutionary hope two years ago, is now its burial ground.” Both coups and their aftermath horrified much of the world and set the historic clock backwards.

Like Pinochet, al-Sisi often dons dark sun glasses and is seemingly inscrutable as he scowls at the cameras and the public. More importantly al-Sisi is cold and calculating in the mold of Pinochet. Both generals were appointed Ministers of Defense by the very civilian presidents they overthrew. Presidents Mohamed Morsi of Egypt and Salvador Allende of Chile thought they could trust their respective defense ministers to hold back the more reactionary sectors in the military. But such was not the case as they conspired with their fellow military officers to carry out the coups.

And once in power, both generals viewed with disdain the civilian forces that had backed their seizures of power. In Chile, Pinochet turned on the Christian Democratic party, imprisoning rank and file members that dared to question the regime’s actions, and attempting to assassinate one of its leaders. In Egypt it can be argued that the betrayal runs even deeper as General al-Sisi is turning his back on the the entire secular, pro-democratic movement that brought down the regime of Hosni Mubarak in February, 2011, and then mobilized en masse on June 30, 2013 to precipitate the final crisis of the Morsi government.

On August 14 when the army and security forces massacred over 600 civilians, the Nobel Laureate and Interium

Vice-President Mohamed ElBaradei, resigned, signaling that the secular democratic forces had no real role in the new government. Days later, ElBaradei was placed under investigation, facing possible charges of “betraying the public trust” for resigning from his post.

With the release of Hosni Mubarak from prison on August 22, Gen. al-Sisi is aligning his government with what is known as the Felool, the remnants of the Mubarak regime that includes the old politicians, business interests, the corrupt judges and Egyptian military officers. As Christopher Dickey and Mike Giglio point out in an article in the Daily Beast/Newsweek, after the Middle Eastern war of 1973, “The Army where al-Sisi made his career became less a war machine than a rigged slot machine that paid out rich dividends for its loyal officers and its American suppliers. … They have their own apartments, their own clubs, their own schools and stores. The Army has its own manufacturing empire and a vast construction business that frequently shuts out the private sector with little or no public accountability.” General Pinochet, his family and select associates also built up their own fortunes, but they pale in comparison to the loot accumulated by the military and the Felool.

Both generals had their good and bad patches with the United States. General Pinochet spent time in the United States, earning an appointment to a military mission to Washington D.C. in the mid-1950s, and then going on a prolonged tour of the United States in 1959, visiting military bases and institutions. The Nixon administration and the CIA collaborated with him in the 1973 coup but Pinochet’s human rights violations compelled President Carter to cut military and economic assistance.

General al-Sisi attended the US Army War College in Pennsylvania in 2006. This was in the midst of the Iraqi war, when it appeared the United States was loosing control of the region. Al-Sisi and other Arab military officers reportedly kept their own council at the college, determined to develop their own positions and policies in the conflict ridden Middle East.

Today al-Sisi is turning on the United States because of its cancellation of joint military exercises and its threat to suspend $1.3 billion in military assistance. He denounced the Obama administration’s early backing of President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, telling The Washington Post on August 3: “You turned your back on the Egyptians, and they won’t forget that.”

In its call for a Pinochet-like figure to lead Egypt, the Wall Street Journal proclaimed the new military rulers should employ “free market reformers.” It is here where the US and al-Sisi along with the Felool may find common ground if the regime succeeds in imposing its iron-handed rule on Egypt. We can expect little from the Obama administration other than rhetoric and token measures. Sooner rather than later it will work out a modus viviendi with al-Sisi and go on with business as usual.

In the 2000s the IMF and the World Bank along with the George W. Bush administration worked assiduously with Mubarak to open the country up to international trade and investment. The World Bank in September 2009 named Egypt one of “the world’s 10 most active reformers,” as it had done in four previous years. Less than eighteen months later, the Mubarak regime fell before a popular uprising.

It is impossible to predict where Egypt is headed. One thing is clear: Al-Sisi is a bloody tyrant bent on holding power indefinitely. Only the forging of a broad coalition of the Muslim Brotherhood and the secular forces that toppled Mubarak can stop the slide into the human tragedy that afflicted Chile for seventeen long dark years under Pinochet.

Communitarian Socialism in Bolivia

By Roger Burbach. April 5, 2010

When Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, was sworn in to a second term in January, he proclaimed Bolivia a plurinational state that would construct “communitarian socialism.” In an accompanying address, Vice President Álvaro Garcia Linare, envisioned a “socialist horizon” for Bolivia, characterized by “well-being, making the wealth communal, drawing on our heritage . . .” The process “will not be easy, it could take decades, even centuries, but it is clear that the social movements cannot achieve true power without implanting a socialist and communitarian horizon.”[1]

 During the past decade Latin America has become a scene of hope and expectations as its leaders and social movements have raised the banner of 21st century socialism in a world ravished by imperial adventures and economic disasters. Proponents of the new socialism assert that it will break with the state-centered socialism of the last century, and will be driven by grassroots social movements that construct an alternative order from the bottom up. There is also widespread concurrence that the process will take a unique path in each country, that there is no singular model or grand strategy to pursue.

 The new socialism has been characterized by a much slower and transitory process than the revolutionary socialism of the past century, which was based on the overthrow of the old regime, with a vanguard party seizing control of the state and moving quickly to transform the economy. A different scenario is occurring in Latin America where new governments take control politically, with the previous economic system largely intact. In Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, where the socialist discourse is the most advanced, constituent assemblies were convened to draft new constitutions that restructured the political system and established broad social rights. The process and pace of transforming their economies has become the task of the political and social forces acting through the new legislative assemblies and the “refounded states.”

 In Bolivia, the struggle for a constitutional assembly and a new constitution was particularly strife-ridden with the oligarchy, centered in the resource-rich lowland departments, engaging in an outright rebellion with the tactical backing of the US embassy. Little was heard of socialism in this period, in spite of the name of Morales’ political party, Movement Towards Socialism (MAS).

 Now, with the consolidation of the new political system and the plurinational state, socialism has been placed on the agenda. In a number of public addresses and interviews, Vice President Garcia Linare and Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca have articulated what they envision as the Bolivian road to socialism.

 The vice-president–a member of an armed guerilla movement in the early 1990’s who

was captured and imprisoned for four years–now asserts that “in Bolivia we are working and betting on the democratic path to socialism. It is possible …because socialism is fundamentally a radical democracy.” He goes on to add: “The constitution provides the architecture for a state constructed by society and it defines a long path in which we participate in a process of constructing a new society, pacifically and democratically.”[2]

 Noting the uniqueness of the Bolivian process, the vice president states: “Bolivia is inserted in planetary capitalism, but it is different from other societies…community structures have survived, in the countryside, in the high lands, the low lands, and in some parts of the cities and the barrios that have resisted capitalist subjugation.” He adds, “This is different from American and European capitalism, and it gives us an advantage.”[3] David Choquehuanca in an interview elaborated on the communal roots that facilitate the construction of socialism: “We have always governed ourselves in our communities. This is why we maintain our customs, perform our own music, speak our own Aymaran language, in spite of a 500-year effort to erase these things – our music, our language and our culture. In a state of clandestinity, we have upheld our values, economic forms, our own types of communitarian organization, which are all being reappraised now. This is why we are incorporating into socialism something that has resisted for 500 years – the communitarian element. We want to build our own socialism.” He added: “In the communities, we always had our ulacas (assemblies), where debates took place. Those political spaces are being recovered. I don’t know if this can be called ‘the seeds of a people’s government’. What existed, what exists, is being reappraised, is beginning to be valued and developed. These are the times we’re in.” Choquehuanca also described the contemporary communities and the unions that exist both in and outside of them: “We organize ourselves in the communities. In Bolivia there must be around ten thousand communities, and in each community there is a union of campesino workers. Each union has a base which is associated first on a provincial level, and then on a departmental and national level. The national level is the Confederacion Sindical Unica de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia (CSUTCB). They’re not naturally existing organizations, but organizations that helped allow us to table our demands and participate in elections. There are various organized sectors with similar structures, such as the teachers, the miners, the indigenous groups, women, factory workers. And we have a mother organization which is the Central Obrera Boliviana (COB). These are the people’s organizations. President Evo Morales has called for strengthening them, since they are the agents driving this process of change.”[4] 

Some are skeptical of Morales’ commitment to socialism. Jim Petras, a Marxist scholar who has written on Latin American politics for half a century, asserts that Morales gives a “high priority…to orthodox capitalist growth over and above any concern with developing an alternative development pole built around peasants and landless rural workers.” This he says has led to “the increased size and scope of foreign owned multinational corporate extractive capital investments.”[5]

 Others from an ecological perspective like Marco Ribera Arismendi proclaim: “We´ve changed the discourse, but not the model.” A member of the Environment Defense League, one of Bolivia´s largest environment organizations, Ribera adds, “We had great hopes in this government to solve or make a change on these issues,” but it has instead followed an extractive industry model that is driven by transnational capital.[6]

 While it is true that Morales has not launched a full assault on capital, his government along with the other New Left governments in Latin America have ended the neo-liberal era in which the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank imposed free market policies, severely curtailing social spending, and enabling transnational corporations to gain unprecedented control of the region’s nonrenewable resources. Now many of these governments are using the state to exert greater control of the economy and are renegotiating the terms of investment in order to capture a greater portion of the revenue for social programs and to facilitate internal development and industrialization.

 Morales, soon after taking office in 2006, moved against the foreign-owned natural gas and petroleum companies to take 50% of the revenues, and to make the state-owned petroleum company the administrator and, in some cases, a co-investor. Similar deals have been made with transnational capital in the iron-mining sector, and the government is in the process of negotiating state-dominated agreements for the exploitation of Bolivia’s huge lithium deposits.

 Pablo Solon, Bolivia’s ambassador to the United Nations, who previously served as the representative on trade and economic integration issues, summed up the government’s policy: “We need foreign investment. The issue is the rules under which we are going to allow this foreign investment—how much they are going to leave for the country, how much they are going to have as profit, who is going to own it, the transfer of technology, the transformation of raw materials inside the country. Those are the key issues that Bolivia has synthesized into the words ‘When it comes to foreign investment, we don’t want bosses; we want partners.’ If they can accept that rule, they are welcome. We will no longer accept the relations that we had before.”[7]

The process of transforming Bolivia’s social and economic institutions will be the task of the legislative branch, which will be drafting over 100 bills to implement the provisions of the country’s new plurinational constitution. Of central importance is the empowerment of the indigenous communities and granting them the economic resources to construct communitarian socialism. The existing agrarian reform law will be revisited. According to Victor Camacho, the Vice-Minister of Land Issues, “we are going to re-territorialize the indigenous communities,” recognizing that the ancestral communal lands have been seized from the indigenous peoples since the conquest.[8]While advancing at a rhythm that reflects the country’s particular correlation of social and political forces, the Bolivian experiment is contributing to the advance of socialism on a global level. As Vice President Garcia Linares declares: “The society we have today in the world is a society with too many injustices, too much inequality…We have the seeds of communitarian socialism, badly treated, partially dried up, but if we nourish this seed in Bolivia a powerful trunk will grow with fruit for our country and the world.”

For Evo Morales, the necessity for socialism is global and urgent, given the state of the planet. “If capitalism produces crises in the financial system, in energy, in food, in the environment, in climatic change, then what good is this capitalism that brings us so many crises? … What is the solution? I am convinced that it is socialism, for some socialism of the 21st century, for others communitarian socialism.”[9]

  


[1]Garcia Linare: Bolivia deja el Estado aparente e impulsa el Estado Socialista, Arzobispado de La Paz, 22 de Enero, 2010, http://www.arzobispadolapaz.org/noticias/Nacional

[2] Garcia Linare Plantea Socialismo Comunitario Contra el Capitalismo, Jornadanet.com, 8 de Febrero, 2010, http://www.jornadanet.com/n.php?a=43340-1

[3] Bolivia Vira al Socialismo Comunitario y Comienza a Sepultar el Capitalismo, Cambio, Periodico del Estado Plurinacional Boliviano, 8 de Febrero, 2010, http://www.cambio.bo/noticia.php?fecha=2010-02-08&idn=14526

 [4] Bolivian Foreign Minister: Communitarian Socialism Will Refound Bolivia, Bolivia Rising, http://boliviarising.blogspot.com/2009/05/bolivian-foreign-minister-communitarian.html

[5] James Petras, Latin America’s Twenty First Century Socialism in Historical Perspective, The James Petras Website, http://petras.lahaine.org/articulo.php?p=1789&more=1&c=1

 [6] Juan Nicastro, Environment Continues to Suffer, Latinamerica Press, Febr. 11, 2010, http://lapress.org/articles.asp?art=6061

 [7] Jason Tockman, Bolivia’s New Political Space: An Interview with Ambassador Pablo Solon, NACLA News, Views and Analysis, March 15, 2010, https://nacla.org/node/6473

 [8] Victor Camacho, Vamos a Reterritorializar las Comunidades Indigenas, La Prensa, 16 de Febrero, 2010, http://www.laprensa.com.bo/noticias/16-02-10/noticias.php?nota=16_02_10_nego2.php

 [9] Evo Morales Defiende al Socialismo como la Solucion al Capitalismo y sus Crisis, EcoDiario, http://ecodiario.eleconomista.es/politica/noticias/1740280/12/09/Evo-Morales-defiende-al-socialismo-como-la-solucion-al-capitalismo-y-sus-crisis.html

Roger Burbach is Director of the Center for the Study of the Americas (CENSA) based in Berkeley, California. He co-authored with Jim Tarbell, Imperial Overstretch: George W. Bush and the Hubris of Empire.

Chile’s Social Earthquake

By Roger Burbach, March 8, 2010

Chile is experiencing a social earthquake in the aftermath of the 8.8 magnitude quake that struck the country on February 27. “The fault lines of the Chilean Economic Miracle have been exposed,” says Elias Padilla, an anthropology professor at the Academic University of Christian Humanism in Santiago. “The free market, neo-liberal economic model that Chile has followed since the Pinochet dictatorship has feet of mud.”

 Chile is one of the most inequitable societies in the world. Today, 14 percent of the population lives in abject poverty. The top 20 percent captures 50 percent of the national income, while the bottom 20 percent earns only 5 percent. In a 2005 World Bank survey of 124 countries, Chile ranked twelfth in the list of countries with the worst distribution of income.

The rampant ideology of the free market has produced a deep sense of alienation among much of the population. Although a coalition of center left parties replaced the Pinochet regime twenty years ago, it opted to depoliticize the country, to rule from the top down, allowing controlled elections every few years, shunting aside the popular organizations and social movements that had brought down the dictatorship. 

This explains the scenes of looting and social chaos in the southern part of the country that were transmitted round the world on the third day after the earthquake. In Concepcion, Chile’s second largest city, which was virtually leveled by the earthquake, the population received absolutely no assistance from the central government for two days. The chain supermarkets and malls that had come to replace the local stores and shops over the years remained firmly shuttered.  

Settling Accounts

Popular frustration exploded as mobs descended on the commercial center, carting off everything, not just food from the supermarkets but also shoes, clothing, plasma TVs, and cell phones. This wasn’t simple looting, but the settling accounts with an economic system that dictates that only possessions and commodities matter. The “gente decente” the decent people and the big media began referring to them as lumpen, vandals and delinquents. “The greater the social inequities, the greater the delinquency,” explains Hugo Fruhling of the Center for the Study of Citizen Security at the University of Chile. 

In the two days leading up to the riots, the government of Michele Bachelet revealed its incapacity to understand and deal with the human tragedy wrecked on the country. Many of the ministers were gone on summer vacation or licking their wounds as they prepared to turn over their offices to the incoming right wing government of billionaire Sebastian Piñera, who will be sworn in this Thursday. Bachelet declared that the country’s needs had to be studied and surveyed before any assistance could be sent. On Saturday morning the day of the quake, she ordered the military to place a helicopter at her disposal to fly over Concepcion to assess the damage. As of Sunday morning, no helicopter had appeared and the trip was abandoned. 

As an anonymous Carlos L. wrote in an email widely circulated in Chile: “It would be very difficult in the history of the country to find a government with so many powerful resources—technological, economic, political, organizational—that has been unable to provide any response to the urgent social demands of entire regions gripped by fear, needs of shelter, water, food and hope.” 

What arrived in Concepcion on Monday was not relief or assistance, but several thousand soldiers and police transported in trucks and planes, as people were ordered to stay in their homes. Pitched battles were fought in the streets of Concepcion as buildings were set afire. Other citizens took up arms to protect their homes and barrios as the city appeared to be on the brink of an urban war. On Tuesday relief assistance finally began to arrive in quantity, along with more troops and the militarization of the southern region. 

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on part of a Latin American tour that was scheduled before the quake, flew into Santiago on Tuesday to meet with Bachelet and Piñera. She brought 20 satellite phones and a technician on her plane, saying one of the “biggest problems has been communications as we found in Haiti in those days after the quake.” It went unsaid that just as inChile, the US sent in the military to take control of Porte au Prince before any significant relief assistance was distributed. 

Milton Friedman’s Legacy

The Wall Street Journal joined in the fray to uphold the neoliberal model, running an article by Bret Stephens, “How Milton Friedman Saved Chile.” He asserted that Friedman’s “spirit was surely hovering protectively over Chile in the early morning hours of Saturday. Thanks largely to him, the country has endured a tragedy that elsewhere would have been an apocalypse.”  He went on to declare, “it’s not by chance that Chilean’s were living in houses of brick—and Haitians in houses of straw—when the wolf arrived to try to blow them down.” Chile had adopted “some of the world strictest building codes,” as the economy boomed due to Pinochet’s appointment of Friedman-trained economists to cabinet ministries and the subsequent civilian government’s commitment to neoliberalism.  

There are two problems with this view. First, as Naomi Klein points out in “Chile’s Socialist Rebar” on the Huffington Post, it was the socialist government of Salvador Allende in 1972 that established the first earthquake building codes. They were later strengthened, not by Pinochet, but by the restored civilian government in the 1990’s. 

Secondly as CIPER, the Center of Journalistic Investigation and Information reported on March 6, greater Santiago has twenty-three residential complexes and high rises built over the last fifteen years that suffered severe quake damage. Building codes had been skirted, and “the responsibility of the construction and real estate enterprises is now the subject of public debate.” In the country at large, two million people out of a population of seventeen million are homeless. Most of the houses destroyed by the earthquake were built of adobe or other improvised materials, many in the shanty towns that have sprung up to provide a cheap, informal work force for the country’s big businesses and industries. 

There is little hope that the incoming government of Sebastian Piñera will rectify the social inequities that the quake exposed. The richest person in Chile, he and several of his advisers and ministers are implicated as major shareholders in construction projects that were severely damaged by the quake because building codes were ignored. Having campaigned on a platform of bringing security to the cities and moving against vandalism and crime, he criticized Bachelet’s for not deploying the military sooner in the aftermath of the earthquake.  

Signs of Resistance

There are signs that the historic Chile of popular organizations and grass roots mobilizing may be reawakening. A coalition of over sixty social and nongovernmental organizations released a letter stating: “In these dramatic circumstances, organized citizens have proven capable of providing urgent, rapid and creative responses to the social crisis that millions of families are experiencing. The most diverse organizations–neighborhood associations, housing and homeless committees, trade unions, university federations and student centers, cultural organizations, environmental groups—are mobilizing, demonstrating the imaginative potential and solidarity of communities.” The declaration concluded by demanding of the Piñera government the right to “monitor the plans and models of reconstruction so that they include the full participation of the communities.”*

*See Asociacion Chilena de ONGs Accion, La Ciudadania, Protagonista de la Reconstruccion del Pais. March 7, 2010, Published in Clarin, http://www.elclarin.cl/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=20384&Itemid=48

Roger Burbach lived in Chile during the Allende years. He is author of The Pinochet Affair: State Terrorism and Global Justice (Zed Books) and director of the Center for the Study of the Americas (CENSA) based in Berkeley, CA