Sunday, 17 October 2010

Long Live the Miners!

So far from God, so close to the US.

The joyous moment that the 33 miners emerged from a collapsed mine in Copiapó served to disrupt the usual line of depressing events spoon-fed to us by the media. I recalled the words of Salvador Allende as I watched the events unfold "Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers!" It's not all poverty and war, famine and guilt-trips of the imperial past. However as easy it may be to view the events in Copiapó like this, fed to us on wide-screen TVs from our sofas in comfort. There is a bigger story unfolding in Latin America and not all of it is an uplifting masturbatory experience for our journalists either. The disaster that could have entombed those men is common in Chile, on average around 40 miners die every year due to the poor standard of working conditions. The dangerous conditions are a side-effect of a ruthless economic system that was imposed over the Chilean people by General Pinochet, who seized power in a US-backed coup of September 11th 1973 - a 9/11 forgotten outside of Latin America.

The General ruled Chile by state-terror and torture on an industrial scale, which included a network of concentration camps for unionists and dissidents, while degenerate politicians stood back and watched in Britain and America. At the same time Pinochet crafted an economic system drawn up by economists at the University of Chicago, it was based on a utopian vision of the free-market. The junta led by Pinochet swiftly chopped public spending down by 50% and in doing so destroyed Chile's fledgling welfare state, handing over hospitals, pensions and schools to the market. Regulations of business were quickly cut down and land reforms were reversed, for the benefit of logging companies and at the expense of Chile's indigenous population. At an enormous social cost to Chile there was an "economic miracle", never mind the thousands butchered and the millions dispossessed.

The current government in Chile is a direct result of Pinochet's reign, President Piñera is one of the billionaires who was enriched by the changes made under Pinochet. Piñera controls chunks of mining, energy and retail industries. The dominant party, the Coalition for Change, is partly a brain-child of Jaime Guzman, one of Pinochet's advisers who helped draw up the new constitution of Chile in 1980. 30 years on and Pinochet's constitution is still a constraint on the Chilean polity, shaping policy and containing policy-makers to the realms of the dictatorship formed almost 40 years ago. Officially Chile is a democratic society but it is still a long way from the vision of Salvador Allende, who had a democratic mandate to seek economic reforms that suited the people of Chile and not the ruling class. The status quo in Chile was not established democratically and has no mandate.

Chile is a vital country for the US in plans to reaffirm the Washington Consensus subvert the democratic reforms being pursued in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. Naturally Piñera is an ally of his Colombian counterpart Juan Santos and Alan Garcia, the President of Peru. Both Santos and Garcia are responsible for slaughtering campesinos (peasants) in their own countries supposedly as part of a campaign against terrorism. In reality Santos and Garcia have been committed to "social cleansing", in other words, the mass-killing of human beings unnecessary in the economy. Good company for a sycophant of the Northern hegemon. It was in 1823 that Secretary of State John Quincy Adams declared that the US was to dominate the Western hemisphere. Domination by the US has been a disaster for th region and it is only in recent years that independence seems a realistic possibility.

The Heirs of Revolution.

At the same time as all of this, a wave of emancipatory fervour is rushing across Latin America marking a major shift in the political trajectory of many countries. The nature of this revolutionary shift is not new. It's roots go back deep in history, to the wars of independence fought by libertadores like Simon Bolivar against the empires of Spain and Portugal. The revolutionaries of 18th Century France and 17th Century England would resurrect the ways of the dead to glorify the new cause. The French took up the names and slogans of the Roman republic, the English seized the language of the Old Testament. Similarly the revolutionaries of Latin America are draped partly as Christian radical, left-nationalist, communist and libertador. The heirs of past revolutions include Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, Lula da Silva and Rafael Correa among other leaders.

The most famous shifts witnessed were in Venezuela with the election of Hugo Chavez and Brazil with Lula da Silva. The leftward shift away from neoliberalism to democracy, welfarism and economic integration. Chavez was a highly popular leader in Latin America for over a decade and was keen to dismantle the system of exploitation and empower Venezuela's poorest citizens. Lula, on the other hand, did not confront and dismantle the neoliberal machine in Brazil, though he did make important changes in terms of welfare and foreign policy. Daniel Ortega returned to public office in Nicaragua 16 years after the Sandinista movement was decimated by the Contras, a terrorist group backed by the US. In Paraguay Catholic Priest Fernando Lugo was rushed into office by the grass-roots, bringing down a one-party state that had been in power for 60 years. It would appear that the United States is finally losing control of it's "backyard".

The most interesting instance of change in Latin America is happening in Bolivia where Evo Morales, an indigenous man of humble origins, was elected by a grass-roots socialist movement. Morales has called on developed countries to respect the Kyoto Protocol and make serious steps towards combating climate change. A new constitution has been drawn up, which stipulates a 5,000 hectare limit on the land an individual can own. Greater autonomy has been devolved to a regional level. Morales has criticised the "War on Drugs" and has been acting to distinguish between the uses of coca, since it is used traditionally not as cocaine but for medicines and tea. The teaching of indigenous languages has been introduced to schools under his government, the gas industry has been nationalised and there has been a 50% rise in the minimum wage.

The main exceptions are Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Chile, Colombia and Peru. In Mexico and Colombia the most recent elections were rigged to anoint people like Juan Santos. Since Brazil is no longer willing to be America's outpost of subversion, Colombia and Peru are replacing Brazil as a hub of American military might in the region. There have been serious attempts to stamp out democratisation. Last year in Honduras a cabal of politicians and generals overthrew Manuel Zelaya, and with the support of the Obama administration, installed Pepe Lobo as President. Most recently Rafael Correa was kidnapped by police whilst trying to negotiate with the striking police officers. It may have been a coup attempt but it's too soon to say. But overall it would seem that the US is losing total control as in 2002 a coup against Hugo Chavez failed when the people of Venezuela rose up against the authoritarian regime that had been installed by Washington. Democracy is not taken for granted in Latin America.

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