Saturday, May 2, 2009

Change comes to the Americas

Change comes to the Americas

A tidal wave of change is spreading over Central and South America.  

Once there was the time such a process could not be imaginable without violent resistance by the United States: to radical change in its own ‘back yard’. 

One source refers to a “repressive process [under Ronald Reagan] “that killed more than 300,000” people.

Robert Parry elaborates on this appalling toll:” an estimated 70,000 or more political killings in El Salvador”, “possibly 20,000 slain from the Contra war in Nicaragua”, about 200 political "disappearances"  and “some 100,000 people eliminated during a resurgence of political violence in Guatemala.”

Some estimates paint an even more grisly picture: but it is suffice to say geo-politics and ‘Realpolitik’ during the Cold War comprised nothing short of an atrocity. 

Now, though, the Cold War is over.  While tension remains between Russia and the United States, no longer is there a tense nuclear stand-off: the world upon the precipice of nuclear catastrophe.

Randy Shaw – a journalist based in San Francisco – suggests a sea change in US demeanour to radical regimes in the Americas.

Here, Shaw mentions to “Cuba, and much of South America”;  “Bolivian President Morales”, and “Nicaragua’s Ortega,” and “other progressive leaders treated hostilely by [George] Bush. (Junior)”


Well may we also add Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez as a key part of this equation.


Cuba and Venezuela are the anchors for this process of change in the Americas.

We will consider both.



The Cuban revolution, in particular, has been feared by many in the United States as a ‘bad example’ for decades.   The revolution of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara began in the 1950s.  After initial failure,  Castro’s second expeditionary force waged a revolutionary war which saw his movement seize power.

The causes of the revolution were manifold. – but poverty and deprivation were at dire levels.

According to one source: there was “an average annual income per person of $91.25.”  Only “11% of Cuba drank milk, 4% ate meat, 2-3% had running water, and 9.1% had electricity. 36% had intestinal parasites, 14% had tuberculosis, and 43% were illiterate.” 

Despite invasion attempts, and sweeping economic blockade by the United States, and several attempts on Fidel Castro’s life, the revolution’s achievements were many.

Life expectancy has risen from  58.8 years to over 77 years old, and there is comprehensive, free and high quality education and health care.

And now Fidel Castro has ceased his position as head of state.  

In the wake of these developments,  Fidel’s brother, Raul Castro, is making cautious gestures of reconciliation to the ‘old enemy’.  (ie: the US)  

According to Raul Castro, new US President Obama is "an honest man," and  "a sincere man,"

And furthermore, the U.S. Senate recently “passed a bill that will ease restrictions against travel and medicine on Cuba.”

Raul Castro maintains: “we will not talk with the stick and the carrot”

But regardless – the Obama presidency does bring with it the hope of a new ‘understanding’ and dialogue in the Americas.


Hugo Chavez was elected President of Venezuela in 1999 - after a period of instability brought on by grinding poverty and lethal repression.

Since then, Chavez has survived an attempted coup in 2002 – backed by the United States.  Support amongst the populace – and from within the army – saw the coup attempt end in failure.

Since 1999, Chavez has nationalised his country’s petroleum industry – a crucial move in the redistribution of wealth and the defeat of poverty.  

Oil revenue was used to further  “citizen educational programs” and “[enhance] democracy.”   Public-financed television stations were handed over to popular control.  And new ‘popular forums’ were created – providing a voice for the poor; and trade unions grew in strength and prominence.

Chavez’s revolution has seen “price controls on around 400 basic foods”, and also nationalisation of  “telephone, electric, and cement industries”.   Furthermore, Chavez has seen  encouragement of co-operatives.”

Importantly, Chavez claims inspiration from Jesus.  Despite his avowed socialism, his creed is not that of religious repression some associate with Communism.   He heralds a ‘Bolivarian revolution’: drawing inspiration from the South American revolutionary leader, ‘Simon Bolivar’.  Ultimately, Chavez envisages a socialist ‘Bolivarian revolution’ – sweeping through the Americas.

Cuba and Venezuela: a special relationship

A strong relationship has emerged between Venezuela and Cuba: both of which seek the spread of socialism throughout the Americas.  An important aspect of this relationship has been trade in goods and services.  Critical for both countries has been the trade of Venezuelan oil for the services of Cuban doctors.

And furthermore, Cuba has sent between 30,000 and 50,000 “technical personnel” “including physicians, sport coaches, teachers, and arts instructors who offer social services.”

Crucially, Venezuela and Cuba are co-operating in laying  an underwater fibre-optic cable between the two countries – to provide ‘cutting edge’ internet access.  Such co-operation holds the promise of improve the quality of life of both countries’ peoples.


The process through which Leftist governments have been elected in South America is reaching ‘critical mass’. 


As Anastasia Moloney argues: countries electing such governments since the year 2000 include: Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador.  According to Moloney, this has left “roughly 75 per cent of South America's 382 million inhabitants living under a leftist government.”


While some of these governments are in the ‘mainstream’ of social democracy (eg: Brazil) , governments in Venezeuala and Bolivia are more radical in their socialism and ‘populist nationalism’.  

Venezuela is perhaps in the most strategically important position: able to fianace progressive redistribution of wealth through oil profits. 


While Venezuelan oil money is finite, though, there are nevertheless opportunities for a  progressive alliance fighting poverty and exploitation  throughout the Americas. 


Supposing the decades-old US economic embargo is lifted, Cuban doctors, teachers and other specialists could provide education, skilled labour and care throughout the region. 


With concerted effort, there are opportunities throughout the region to develop manufacturing, information and service industries: including social and co-operativist enterprise.   

The hope is that Central and South Amercia will develop and diversify in their own right – and no longer simply form the ‘Periphery’ of the United States economy.

Tristan Ewins

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