Monday, March 13, 2006

Is it all over for US imperialism?

A short version of the following was posted on the R5L World Board, but as a result of extreme World Board chippiness no one had anything constructive to say on the matter. So, I've expanded it slightly and posted it here on my blog, which is probably a better place for it anyway.

Almost daily I read another example of how the US's neighbours appear to be fronting up to long standing agreements that by and large benefited the US but did little more than allow some form of flexibility for the much smaller partner. All over South America and in Canada there are examples of how the US is losing it's influence in it's own backyard as countries find ways of standing on their own two feet effectively. It's not really Guevara's vision of a United Americas, more a case of individual nationalist states finding the resolve to work things in their favour.

Evo Morales the Bolivian president is currently causing a huge thorn in the US's side by backing the indigenous Coca farmers in their production of Coca leaves the key ingredient in cocaine production. This is a pattern that is likely to be followed by the other major producer of Coca in South America, Peru.

Peru has an election coming up next month and it looks increasingly likely that the South American Socialist clique is set to expand and that the Coca producers of Peru will be freed up in the same way as they have been in Bolivia.

In the 80s the US in conjunction with the Peruvian and Bolivian governments burnt huge tracts of land and massively reduced the supply of coca leaves to Columbia where the major production of cocaine took place.

Obviously the US remain able to exert influence over Columbia on the cocaine production side, however they are helpless to be able to counter the production of the raw materials, as Morales is proving. His assertion is that the leaves will be used for the production of tea and other medicinal and lifestyle items which the US can do little about

In Peru, Ollanta Humala the Hugo Chavez (president of Venezuela) backed nationalist socialist candidate in the upcoming election is increasingly catching the imagination of the electorate. Humala is behind in the polls but Chavez seems to have the kingmaking magic touch at the moment. He's backed the new Chilean president Michelle Bachelet and Morales and appears to be playing a key role for Humala amongst the dispossessed of Peru, whilst seriously upsetting the incumbent right-wing government.

All of this though is a side show in comparison to the most recent Chavez inspired development in the Caribbean. Venezuela is an oil rich and self-sufficient nation producing 3,000,000 barrels of oil per day. As such Chavez has recently brokered the PetroCaribe accord something brought to my attention in an article by Darcus Howe in this week's New Statesman.

'Recently, 13 Caribbean governments signed what is called the PetroCaribe accord, which supplies them with 185,700 barrels of Venezuelan oil daily and defers payments for 30 per cent of the imports for 15 years at an interest rate of 2 per cent a year, the rate decreasing in proportion to the increase in the oil price on the world market. Chavez has gone further. He has also offered the islands a $50m grant for social programmes, which they have accepted.

Oil-rich Trinidad and Tobago did not sign the accord. Barbados, too, has not signed, perhaps fearing that its tourist economy could not survive US displeasure. On the other hand, the agreement has been hugely popular in the countries that have joined up, giving a sense that power is shifting in the hemisphere from Uncle Sam to Venezuela.'

Full article here.

If you believe that the US is an imperialist power, perhaps not geographically but economically you could see all of these developments as the beginning of the end. After all, all empires crumble when they lose control of their backyard.

Further evidence of this theory of crumbling US imperialism and loss of control in it's back yard could be pointed to, North of the US border where Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the decision upon his election to shore up defences in Canada's Northern Territories, a blatant reopening of the Arctic sovereignty debate. The issue is based around the long disputed North West channel that runs between Canada and the Arctic.

The reason it is likely to become such a hotly contested issue is down to global warming. Up until recently the channel has been impassable without serious ice breaking vessels, however as the ice melts, the channel will slowly become navigable. The navigability of the channel will cut the distance between Europe and Asia by 5,000 km, which has obvious benefits as the Chinese economy expands fuelled by FMCG goods that need to be transported by boat. Speed to market could potentially be cut by approximately half from 8 weeks to around 4 to 5

Since Canada's birth this icy desert and the Arctic channel have been claimed by Canada as sovereign land, a position the US have always disagreed with. The US have always contested that the channel is owned by Canada, this despite the 1988 Arctic Co-operation Agreement between the two countries an agreement brokered by Canadian Prime Minister Mulroney and U.S. President Ronald Regan where the U.S. promised to get prior permission before a U.S. government ice-breaker or aircraft crossed the Arctic.

For the US the agreement was always window-dressing as there was little benefit other than militarily to crossing the Arctic at the time, however in Canada there is a huge popular swell of opinion and pride amongst the Canadian population for it's sovereign rights over the waterway. If the passage becomes navigable that agreement may be sorely tested.

Harper has proposed the construction of a deep water port in the channel to dock Canadian subs and ice breakers and is also planning to replace what is largely a rag tag group of proud mounties with Canadian troops to defend the channel.

The issue may never rear it's head as a serious dispute. However, the action itself one of Harper's first in office comes from a Prime Minister who on the face of it should have been a much friendlier face to the US than the recently defeated left-wing government in Canada and for me is just another example that the US no longer has such a stranglehold on world affairs as they once did.


Six Years Late said...

Span I'd be really intersted in your thoughts on this little theory of mine. My interest in South American politics has only really been recently sparked so I'd like a view from someone who's lived there and i know you're not a Chavez fan.

Span Ows said...

As far as Chavez goes I'm very much not a fan BUT there's a but...

First things first: there is socialist and there is Socialist. Morales has already been accepted by the US because he's not a Socialist like Chazez. Morales is happy to deal with both as long as the people are treated fairly, if the US can broker an agreement re his coca production then there will be no problem (except when the gas companies revolt!!)

In Chile they have already stated that they are happy with what the US has done as a major part of Chilean growth and economic stability is because of the US, and they will not 'pull away'.

Argentina has been bribed with 1 billion of debt paid off by Venezuelan Oil and are being wooed (as are Brazil) by the plans (still plans but could be a major development) for a trans continental gas pipeline from Venezuela straight down the middle of South America. Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Argentina have all had 'gas wars' or major problems (between countries)so this could be a winner (one of Chavez the clown's better ideas)
Unfortunately Chavez has backed the wrong horse - I forsee Castro's death within a year or too maximum. Also the ridiculous "policy" (I think it IS a policy) of mentioning US Imperialism at every opportunity will backfire (Ven ambassadors and representatives now mention it when discussing something completely different). He also insists on vocal support of anyone who happens to be anti-US (i.e. Cuba, NK and now Iran)

However this strange foreign policy of the clown belies the benefits he has brought to the nations poor (not middle class but the poor, the ones always left out before. Education is one with illiteracy falling for the first time in decades, access to work and medical help are another two areas where his oil bonanza is paying off in public support - however, most of the middle/ business class including independant press, the Church even the Unions etc are against him. He is a dictator now in all name but he will need to be as internal security breaks down but a high percentage of the countries poor (and therefore a majority of the countries voters!) are well on his side.

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