Monday, September 28, 2009

ALBA: Latin American Integration for Political Sovereignty and Economic Independence

A Brief Overview of ALBA's Values, and 21st Century Sustainable Ideas

The dysfunctional, status-quo, market-oriented system has given Latin America nothing other than economic and social crisis for decades, focusing solely on foreign investment, and measuring national progress and living conditions by inaccurate growth rates. It is an unrealistic model of infinite growth, precisely at a time when we need to immediately and considerably check our consumption habits, and slow the exploitation of the planet. Evo Morales has said that "Mother Earth cannot be a piece of merchandise.... Under capitalism, we are not human beings, but consumers. Under capitalism, mother earth does not exist, instead there are raw materials."

As both an economic and a social alternative, ALBA will work to develop a completely different way of reshaping society, focusing instead on the development of human capital, namely through improved health and education. These social programs emanating from ALBA, known as missions, operate in many South American countries, even many which are not official members of ALBA. The Cuban 'Yo, Si Puedo' reading and writing campaign, for example, has wiped out illiteracy in Venezuela and Bolivia, Bolivia being the most recent announcing itself free of illiteracy in December 2008. 'Operacion Milagro', a program to provide free eye care procedures and restore eyesight has benefitted more than one million eight hundred thousand people in 35 countries across Latin America, Asia, and Africa. And, directly in the field of education, the formation of thousands of doctors, technical professionals, and engineers free of charge is strengthening the social and communal fabric of Latin America. The creation of Bolivarian universities in Venezuela to promote social embodiment, and the introduction of Indigenous universities in Bolivia are strong examples.

As a 21st century alternative, ALBA must encourage and support cooperative workplaces with democratic decision-making, and smaller-scale, local, and sustainable production and consumption. Financial and technical collaboration between nations will provide cohesion to existing state industries and newly-acquired ones, to strengthen industry in general, and to prevent the flight of foreign capital, and subsequent instability and unemployment.

ALBA, in contrast to other regional trade organizations, is putting forward cooperation in trade of goods and services for sustainable resources and food security, toward the goal of self-sufficiency for the continent. This begins with the development of local and national agriculture and industry to end foreign dependence. Most of Latin America, and especially South America, is an area where forests and rivers are plentiful, and where the land is extremely rich in natural resources, from a large variety of food crops, to natural gas, oil, and minerals. Despite this tremendous natural wealth, Latin America is heavily dependent on imports, namely food imports, a trend which must be urgently reversed; as Jose Marti has said, "a people that cannot produce its own food are slaves; they don't have the slightest freedom. If a society doesn't produce what it eats, it will always be dependent on someone else". Food sovereignty, by extension, will serve to protect traditional and indigenous culture, subsistence, and employment. In other words, if the peoples of Latin America wish to attain genuine and permanent independence, they must first and foremost break the economic chains of neo-liberalism. Capitalist globalization is attempting to turn Latin America into another cookie jar, and ALBA must be there as the necessary alternative to reclaim the continent's markets and resources, not in competition with the rest of the world, but in collaboration, to ensure that the economy serves as a tool for the prosperity of people, and not the other way around.

Ideologically, ALBA will help to build anti-imperialist solidarity in a tangible way, and not just in rhetoric. ALBA serves as an engine for the battle of ideas, as a means to disseminate the human values of love, truth, justice, equality, and community, to break with the invisible cage of selfishness and individualism, qualities which are inherent in the culture of capitalism.

One of the main components working in concert with ALBA will be the Banco Del Sur (or Bank of the South), which will serve as a necessary feature, for the time being, to counter the capital power of the traditional international finance and lending institutions. The Banco Del Sur will provide countries and people with an alternative to weaken the economic grip of, namely, the International Monetary Fund(IMF), The World Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank(IADB), and to minimize the influence of the World Trade Organization, at least in Latin America and the Caribbean. Typically the IMF, and the World Bank, etc. will hand out loans packaged with conditions of economic structural adjustments, trade liberalization, and privatization, and often with extremely high interest rates. The Banco Del Sur on the other hand will charge very low interest rates, and will be geared toward social programs and development. The original founding members of the Bank are Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Ecuador. One of the main tenets along with the initial idea for the bank is that each member is assigned one vote, regardless of the size of its financial contribution. On Sunday Sept.27, 2009 the second Africa South America Summit (ASA) took place on Isla Margarita, and in addition to expanding South-South solidarity across the Atlantic, the original seven Banco Del Sur countries concluded the formalized creation of the bank, with a start-up capital of $ 20 billion. Hugo Chavez even floated the idea of adding African countries as members in the future to expand the bank under the new name of BancASA. Chavez also announced intentions to create PETROSUR oil company, an intercontinental oil giant to serve the peoples of Africa and South America.

Simply put, we proclaim ALBA for liberty, because self-sufficiency is self-determination.

The current brutal military coup in Honduras, which continues its attempts to cut down the peaceful resistance on a daily basis, has attacked not only Hondurans, but the Bolivarian movement as a whole. This aggression has reaffirmed with absolute certainty that the reactionary forces of the hemisphere will not tolerate social advancement, and will not go quietly, or peacefully. The relevance of ALBA suddenly becomes even more imperative, and undeniable.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

100 Days of Honduran Resistance - A Canadian Solidarity Perspective


On Saturday Sept.26, 2009 the Latin American Solidarity Network Toronto (LASN) held a day long teach-in, with panels on Honduras, the Venezuela-Colombia dynamic, and North American foreign policy in Latin America. Despite a modest turnout, the gathering was hugely successful with very enthusiastic interaction, and valuable dialogue, as inspiration was generated, connections were cultivated, and strong commitments reaffirmed. It really had the feeling of being a momentous, and very significant meeting, as many people pointed out during the discussion. Everyone dispersed afterwards having taken away something positive. It was a great exercise of solidarity building.

It was an important event for LASN which had just recently sent a three man delegation to Honduras to help with the resistance efforts, which have been sustained now for more than 90 days without pause, in response to the military coup of June 28th, 2009. The report back from the three companeros who had the opportunity to work firsthand with the resistance movement provided valuable insight to Toronto activists in helping to understand the important dynamic of what is taking shape in Honduras as we speak.

Honduras After 100 Days

One of the most consequential elements of the standoff at this time is that the balance of forces has been clearly established. After three months of confrontation a few things have occurred. The coup regime has shown persistence, and is unyielding despite significant international political pressure. The resistance movement has demonstrated even greater resolve, and even in the face of severe repression, the people have committed themselves to a decisive struggle. All Latin American governments have strongly condemned the coup-makers and have demanded the return of President Zelaya, the majority of them unconditionally so. The international solidarity community has completely and whole-heartedly supported the resistance, and will continue to do so until a conclusion is reached.

The military regime, not surprisingly, has come down hard on the resistance with the violent dispersal of daily mobilizations; water cannons, tear gas, beatings, live rounds have been common place, even reports of chemical weapons being used against the Brazilian Embassy where president Zelaya has taken refuge. Killings, injuries, arbitrary detentions, and disappearances have been daily occurrences. Not to mention the media has been silenced, internet access has been restricted, and curfews have been imposed since day 1. These numerous, blatant human rights violations have been documented and condemned by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, European countries, and even the Organization of American States (OAS), which is not always sympathetic to leftist causes to say the least. The U.S. government however, while mildly disapproving of the coup and quietly asking for the return of President Zelaya, has done so only behind the guise of the San Jose Accord, an agreement pushed and written by the U.S, with Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Costa Rican President Oscar Arias as the token conciliatory figure. The traitorous, watered-down San Jose accord is not even a mediated dialogue, but rather a one sided power-sharing deal which extends a gold-plated olive branch to the Micheletti regime, and sets a terrible precedent in Latin America by rewarding military coups instead of punishing them. Beyond labeling the situation in Honduras as a coup, and not even as a military coup, the U.S has done nothing concrete to reverse the coup, and has said nothing about the rampant human rights violations which have been condemned by so many other organizations worldwide.

All these factors lead us to an apparent stalemate.

However! Drawing from momentum, from international opinion, from the reports of those who have witnessed Honduras in transition from up close, and from the unshakable determination of the resistance, it would seem that the political initiative now lies in the hands of the Honduran people.

Most likely, if the coup had not taken place on June 28th, the people of Honduras would probably have been satisfied with President Zelaya's progressive reforms, and with the hope that the promise of the referendum on a constituent assembly, as proposed by Zelaya, would bring greater change in the near future. Roberto Micheletti, the de facto military president, has said that what is taking place in Honduras is not a coup, but a "constitutional succession". Perhaps it was not a good idea for the far-right to overreact. They are obviously uneasy, and very nervous about the Bolivarian process, but perhaps they would have been better off with a few liberal reforms, rather than with an entire people, infuriated, and ready and willing to take matters into their own hands.

Capitalist motivated military reactions to social progress have a tendency to take things too far, to take things beyond the point where people will just let things slide, or forget about it, either out of fear, or simply because time elapses. By doing this, they are instead fueling the fire they wish to extinguish. To a degree, western democracy now has become synonymous with injustice, and repression. In Latin America, many of these so-called democracies have introduced laws against "terrorism". In El Salavador, the fascist ARENA party has used this law to suppress social movements fighting against the privatization of water. In Chile, allegedly Latin America's most exemplary democracy, the government of Michelle Bachelet has used an "anti-terrorist" law against the indigenous Mapuche people in their struggle. In Colombia, a similar law is used regularly to ruthlessly expel indigenous communities and campesinos from their traditional lands, to make room for monoculture crops. And, most recently the APRA party government of Alan Garcia in Peru has also made use of a law against "terrorism", in June, 2009, to put down indigenous protests against the granting of exploration and exploitation contracts in the Amazon. These perverse reversals of justice, often coinciding with legislation required by free trade agreements, are all carried out to honor neoliberal commitments.

Naomi Klein has written about cultural warfare, or genocide saying that it is “part of a system....with clear intent not of attacking individual persons but of destroying the parts of society that those people represented” or a “clear and deliberate region-wide strategy…to uproot and erase the left,” a declaration of war against an entire culture. The same historical pattern seems to be repeating itself in Honduras today; curfews, arbitrary detentions, shootings, killings, disappearances, restrictions on all freedoms, including media and the right to organize. Pinochet's Chile, or any other of a number of military dictatorships that have terrorized Latin America in the last 60 years, have far more similarities than differences to the current regime in Honduras. What these historical precedents have in common with Honduras' current regime, is the criminalization of protest.

What they are attempting to carry out is an attack against a social vision, against an alternative culture, they are telling people that they are not allowed to fight for social justice, that they are not allowed to stand against capitalist and neoliberal domination. When mass violence and human rights violations are required to maintain a government, or a system, whether that system be religious, economic, or political, any such attempts to derail social movements amounts to cultural warfare. There comes a point when it is no longer just a struggle for certain elements of social justice, but literally a fight for your very existence, a fight to preserve and save a way of life, and the people of Honduras, it seems, whether it be within the context of humanity's fight, or within the context of ALBA, have realized this to the fullest extent.

Che Guevara has aid that "there is nothing better to give solidarity to a people than a U.S backed invasion," and the same can be said about a U.S backed military coup. The failed 2002 coup attempt in Venezuela proved exactly that. The June 28th coup, it seems, has really brought the various social forces of Honduras together in unity. The resistance at this time is rallying behind the slogan of the reinstatement of President Zelaya, but what is most significant is that they have decided for themselves, that a true emancipatory process has begun. The resistance has already declared some districts liberated. To borrow from the brilliant vice-president of Bolivia, Alvaro Linera Garcia, perhaps Honduras is preparing to go through its own "point of bifurcation"; when a decision is made by a people to physically take the revolutionary process to the next level, in one concrete, discernible, and definable action. The people of Honduras at this point, have to either take that route, or understand that they will be forced to tolerate further injustice if they do not make the commitment.

The conclusion is that the Honduran people, and by extension the peoples of Latin America and the world, are reaching a decisive moment in their history, a crossroads in the struggle. Another possibility if the conflict does not head acutely in one direction or the other, would be a behind the scenes U.S. brokered power-sharing deal which will simply squander the efforts of the resistance to the capitalist abyss of stagnancy and regression, and will force the Honduran people to head down the road of unjust neo-democracy. So Honduras cannot rely on the rhetoric and promises of the international political community, and they also cannot rely on the simple reinstatement of president Zelaya. It doesn’t really matter if Zelaya is reinstated, because the struggle is not about a presidential face, it is not about symbolically removing or reinstating a token figurehead. Overthrowing the coup at this point must mean eliminating the School of the Americas influence in the country, permanently, and dismantling the corrupt, right-wing elements of the military. There will be no change unless their capacity for repression is removed.

The resistance’s organizational structure for its regional and national assemblies is very highly developed and efficient, a well-oiled union and dialogue of diverse social movements in solidarity, comparable in some ways to the process which took place in Oaxaca, Mexico, from June to November of 2006, with the A.P.P.O (Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca), a model which has been considered one of the highest forms of organized resistance. For Honduras, perhaps the answer to managing their country and their communities after the dust settles, is simply a slight variation of their instinctive response to the coup’s repression, the rebellious popular power in motion they have created as their means of struggle. Fidel Castro has said that “ history has demonstrated that great solutions have only emerged from great crises.” For resistance movements all over the world during transitory or emancipatory processes, it can be said that the question is not simply about taking power, but about knowing what to do with that power. The people of Honduras with their high level of organization, and with their political maturity throughout this confrontation, have clearly proven that they are in fact ready and willing to take on the responsibility of creating a permanent and meaningful solution.

Solidarity with the Honduran People!