Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Nick Denton is in Brazil

He says Baghdad ... all seems very far away.

But actually, here's how it's going down in South America.

The Israel of South America is Columbia. A state which the US pumps large amounts of money and military aid into. Ostensibly this is part of the War on Drugs (Columbia's coke == Iraq's chemical weapons, dealers == terrorist delivery system.)

The Palestinians / "bad guy terrorists" are FARC, the old style leftist guerrilla movement who still control territory (where of course, all the coke is allegedly grown)

The oil is next door in Venezuela. Currently under control of Hugo Chavez. Chavez is no Saddam Hussain but he has had the audacity to inspire militancy in Opec and nationalize the oil company. That was enough for the US to try a regime change when the CIA backed an attempted coup.

The US probably thinks it can wait for Chavez to lose in the next elections, but is hedging it's bets by building up a military presence on the border in Columbia and building military bases in Brazil. These are very unpopular with the population here (in Brazil) , but the new government hasn't decided what to do about them. Lula is torn between Blairism : slick, media-friendly presentation, some minor reforms and big symbolic campaigns like his war against hunger (Fome); and a more traditional latin American inspiration from Chavez and Castro. At the moment he's steering a course between the two.

He brought in the US as a "friend of Venezuela" to help negotiations between Chavez and the strikers, but on the other hand he refused to declare FARC a terrorist organization banned from Brazil. He allows the Americans to have their base here (so far); but refused to support the war in Iraq.

Latin America is far more sensitive to US imperialism than the anglosphere or Europe. Chile, Argentina and Brazil have all had US backed rightwing military dictatorships within the last 30 years. (Remember that the US even tried to stop Britain going to war against the Argentinian Junta) So anti US feeling and cynicism is high. And Lula, a veteran of the anti-dictatorship movement is likely to be wary of US influence. On the other hand, the country is in hock to the IMF, and most believe that keeping the US sweet is essential to keeping the IMF credit line open. And if they don't ... well Argentina is a good lesson in not pissing off the IMF.

Brazil also has a growing oil industry in Rio and will allegedly be self-sufficent in oil within about 5 years. But it has an exploding drug trafficking problem in Rio too. The organized gangs have brought a large number of weapons into the city, which now has a mortality rate higher than Palestine! And they are increasingly coming into violent conflict with the police and authorities. Roughly once a month, as a show of strength, they shut down the city by threatening to kill any shopkeeper who opens shop, and taking out public transport with rockets. The Brazilian government responds with martial control, and the army on the streets.

How does this play out? South America is very different from the middle east and asia but some similar forces are at work. The war on drugs is as vacuous as the war on terrorism, and leads to the same category mistake of trying to use war against the governments of states rather than police work against networks of criminals within states.

Furthermore, the war on drugs has been spectacularly unsuccessful in anything other than moving weapons into the war zone and the hands of wealthy drug gangs. It's so unsuccessful that it raises the suspicion that that's actually what suits the US. In the short term it gives the US an excuse to extend it's power in the area : by selling miltary support to friendly governments, and making war against unfriendly ones.

In the long term, as with Afghanistan, countries are torn apart by civil war, they become candidates for invasion and reconstruction with pro-US governments. It also doesn't hurt the imperialists' aims that most of the population of the countries experiencing this, are so pissed off with the US, that they have long since become anti-American and therefore (incomprehensibly to the wide-eyed American public) hostile "potential dangers" to the US; and must therefore be repressed in the name of self defence.

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