Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Axis of Example: Latin American Renegades and the Threat to American Hegemony

In recent months, China has been courting investment and energy-related deals with a number of South American nations. The nations the Chinese have been dealing with -- Venezuela under Hugo Chavez, Cuba under Fidel Castro and Brazil under Lula de Silva -- represent a collective thorn in the side of US foreign policy, and their increased connection to China threatens to make this minor irritation into a major challenge:

Ever since the Monroe Doctrine, the US foreign policy of economic exploitation & economic colonialism has been tried, tested and exhibited to the world from their own back yard: Central and South America. The US has used the tools of right-wing governments, military coups and unrest, the "red menace", lopsided trade deals, loan programs and currency speculation to exert de facto control over most of the region: Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Chile, Argentina and others. Cuba, under Fidel Castro, has long posed a serious challenge to US policy around the world by demonstrating the possibility, even the advantages, to standing up to US hegemony. His Cuba--while certainly not without difficulties--provides an example of what can be done if the heavy hand of US interest is shed off. In the process, he threatens the expansion and maintenance of post-war US colonialism by demonstrating that another option is possible, even preferable. While his efforts and successes are regularly derided in the US media, Castro's Cuba has provided larger real standard of living increases than any of the Central American nations suffering from an overdose of US aid. The vast majority of those virulently anti-Castro immigrants to the US base their views on the privileged positions they chose to abandon, not on some grounded critique of the relative merits of Castro's policies. This is not an endorsement of state-communism, but rather an illustration that it does not take a very good system--even communism will work--to improve upon the situation of those nations experiencing ongoing economic colonialism by the US. It would take hundreds of pages to adequately support these claims, but fortunately Noam Chomsky's Understanding Power provides an outstanding, authoritative and meticulously-documented review.

This, of course, is all old hat. More recently, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, and to a lesser extent Lula de Silva in Brazil have decided that their nations will be better off following the Castro model than the Bush/American model. While pundits in the American press are mostly critical of these moves, they have been solidly validated by recent popular-votes in both nations.

Enter China. China has long attempted to establish an alternative sphere and system of power from the US-dominated world system. These new market-socialist, and more importantly independent, moves from Latin America seem an obvious fit for China's mix of state-capitalism and socialism, and in the last few months we have seen China take the first tentative steps in formalizing this geopolitical alliance. Venezuela appears set to sell off their Citgo subsidiary and redirect 800,000 barrels of oil a day to China. China will fund infrastructure programs to diversify their overseas holdings and win political influence. It is too early to visualize just how broad and how deep this alliance could become, but it represents a potential competing pole to the current uni-polar US hegemony. Especially with the inclusion of an independent oil supply (Venezuela has the most substantial reserves in the Americas), the new Chinese/Latin cooperation could signal a critical challenge to US foreign policy--and a challenge to entrenched hierarchy always promises to be interesting to follow. China is setting up an Axis of Example for nations and peoples that would like to throw off the American economic yoke. This example could be a powerful tool in the expansion of Chinese influence around the world -- perhaps even in their own backyard, as a tool to influence Indonesia, as I suggested recently in "China, Australia and the Indonesian Power Play". An Indonesia composed of various groups tired of seeing their resources and potential skimmed off and sent to far-away America seems ripe for the picking for the strategy of inciting revolution-by-example.

1 comment:

Don said...

Brazil's Lula emulating Castro? Nah. He's no more following Castro (or Chavez) than Jaques Chirac is.

Lula is playing his own game. One difference between Lula and Chavez is that What Brazil is doing makes sense economically and therefore has a chance to work in the long term. Brazil isn't dependent on a limited natural resource which is at historical highs and is bound to fall soonere or later Like Chavez is. Brazil is developing it's industry and has become a major player in the aircraft market, for example.