Monday, November 07, 2005

“An embarrassing defeat” 

Its funny to read some of the spin some of Chavez’s opponents are trying around the recently concluded Hemispheric summit in Mar Del Plata Argentina. Somehow it is implied that the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas is still alive and kicking or that Chavez was put in his place by Mexico’s Vincente Fox, among other outlandish statements. Of course the reality is that Chavez successfully rallied other Latin Americans to avoid the imposition by the U.S. on its poorer neighbors of what would be highly unfavorable trade agreements.

Of course, when you avoid reading Venezuelan media or the right wing propaganda floating around on the internet it is possible to find very blunt accounts of what happened. Take for example what the most established business newspaper in the U.S., The Wall Street Journal, had to say:

Failed Summit Casts Shadow on Global Trade Talks

Mar Del Plata, Argentina – A failed summit of leaders of the Western Hemisphere dealt a blow to global trade liberalization and strengthened the influence of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a critic of the U.S. who favors protectionism and old style socialism.

The Bush administration had hoped to use the meeting of 34 heads of state to breath new life into negotiations on a long-stalled Free Trade Area of the Americas, a free-trade zone reaching from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. Instead, the meeting was so wracked by division that the diplomats drafting the final communique failed to reach agreement even on when to resume talks on the free-trade zone.

In handing Washington an embarrassing defeat, Venezuela was joined by the four countries of the Mercosur trading bloc, a customs union led by Brazil and Argentina and also including Paraguay and Uruguay. "We were five musketeers, kneeling, sword in hand,” to oppose the FTAA, Mr. Chavez said afterward. He condemned the U.S. free-trade model as a “perversion” that would unduly benefit the U.S., and instead pushed for closer trade ties among Latin American nations.

Mr. Chavez’s success at playing the spoiler role here reflects a harsh fact for the Bush administration: Washington can no longer have its way in setting the economic agenda in its own back yard or in a large part of the developing world. The rise of Mr. Chavez, and other more moderate leftist leaders in Latin America, reflects the disappointing results of the so-called Washington Consensus, a set of market-oriented policies like trade liberalization and privatization that the region and parts of Asia embraced during the 1990’s.


Mr. Chavez has become a beacon for those skeptical of the idea that free trade improves the lives of ordinary people, analysts said. “Chavez tapped into a discontent that has been brewing for some time,” said Charlene Barshefsky, who was trade representative under former President Clinton. “What he ignited was a combustible situation that was already smoldering.”


But the underlying strength of Mr. Chavez’s political position appeared to be reflected in the fact that many of the countries that nominally supported the U.S. position insisted that the views of Venezuela and Mercosur be accommodated in the final language. That appeared to be a direct rejection of Mr. Bush’s position.

“The man left beat-up.” Mr. Chavez, a former paratrooper, said of Mr. Bush. “Didn’t you see it?”

It could be said that defeating Bush’s agenda at this summit wasn’t that difficult. After all, anyone with eyes can see what a disaster the type of “free-trade” that Washington pushes is. Just take a look at what an ecological and human catastrophe the area around the Rio Grande is 10 years after the North American Free Trade Agreement was passed. And for all the misery created Mexico hasn’t even managed to progress economically. Add to that the complete debacle the “Washington Consensus” turned out to be throwing country after country into severe depressions and it is easy to see why if Chavez hadn’t shot down Bush as Mar del Plata someone else probably would have.

But having said that it does need to be recognized that Chavez not only resists the hegemony of the U.S., which Lula of Brazil and Kirchner of Argentina would have done anyway, he actually fights back against it. Chavez doesn’t just humor the gringos but then ignore their proposals as other more diplomatic leaders might do. Rather he tells them to their face that their proposals are no good and tells them to get lost.

Of course, this doesn’t go down well with the U.S. leadership which is accustomed to more submissive Latin American governments. It’s no wonder the U.S. is fine tuning its plans for getting rid of Chavez.

But Chavez’s foreign policy is now going from success to success. Anti-Venezuelan proposals at the O.A.S. were soundly defeated earlier this year. Rumsfeld and Rice have gotten no where trying to turn other Latin American governments against Venezuela. And now the U.S. is stung by this debacle. The significance of this is that the U.S. has been completely unable to isolate Venezuela and keep the “revolution” quarantined. Just the opposite has happened. Governments sympathetic to Venezuela are in place throughout Latin America with new ones on the horizon in Bolivia and Mexico. Three and a half years ago the Bushies were gleeful thinking they had gotten rid of Chavez. Now they are at a complete loss for how to stop him. That is quite a reversal of fortunes no matter the spin.


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