As America moves right, the hemisphere moves left

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The United States is again its own worst enemy in Latin America. With no
small amount of arrogance, American business interests deployed wantonly
into Latin America since the late 1980s, bringing with them the long arm of
international lending and banking institutions. The leading concept
unleashed was an anti-debt crusade, meaning that after decades of corrupt
loans to military regimes, the people had to pay for it.

With spartan plans drafted in plush northern offices, U.S.-led economic
teams severely squeezed the safety nets out of the life of country after
country until the populations, large and small, have begun to say no.
Everybody seems angry at the U.S. Sometimes this is shouted forcefully,
even violently; most of the time these days it comes through the power of
the ballot box of democracy, which is not so easily manipulated anymore in
the age of the World Wide Web.

In the Andean nations, populations of Aymara, Quechua, Amazonian tribal and
other ethnicities of indigenous people are organized to the hilt; in
Bolivia recently, one more president fell to the pressure from below, which
continues to galvanize the Indian masses and articulate the message that
economic misery for hard-working families is not tolerable. It is not a
tidy movement after 500 years of repression, but increasingly it is
building its ranks complete with professional bases. Generally throughout
the region, an independent direction for government and civil society is
starting to take hold.

Latin America is not so illiterate anymore; it was always smart enough to
know when hunger turns to starvation and to know the difference between
mayhem manufactured by U.S. policy and that of revolutionary (sometimes
terrorist) forces bent on taking power by force of arms. But Latin America
today is increasingly educated and the discourse in its high schools,
universities and political forums is rich with historical bases, economic
data and a serious dedication to improving the economic lifeblood of their
countries.

The great opportunity of U.S. business to shine in Latin America in the
decade after the demise of the Soviet Union by providing the highest
example of fairness and genuine mutual development for its Southern
Hemisphere neighbors, evaporated in the lingo of "free-enterprise" as the
moral equivalent of all known social philosophy. U.S. free enterprise
thinkers gleefully imposed their dictums even as indigenous people, still
favoring the production of the earth through gardens, forests and waters,
could see that increasingly all of nature's bounty formerly shared by the
people of particular places, was now to be inventoried and sold to private
hands that could do "as they pleased" with the last of nature's resources.
It got worse and quite inhumane under the guise of "short term pain/long
term gain," when the short term turned long and the gain very slow in
coming for the people of Central and South America.

A dreadful poverty has been made more acute by the destruction of regional
farming bases throughout the hemisphere, largely resulting from the
globalization of agriculture under policies intensely driven by northern
markets. Austerity regiments that undermined food security for large masses
of people; privatization schemes that threatened access to drinking water
and other vital resources; credit and banking structures that squeezed out
the middle business sectors, including indigenous-based agricultural
enterprises - this is the background to the election of several
socialist-leaning presidents in the region. In countries that invited the
neo-liberal technocrats from Washington, Japan and Europe, large sectors
welcomed the idea of "free trade"; several, such as Argentina, Chile,
Uruguay and Brazil, enjoyed professional and well-educated populations. Yet
in country after country, the economic losses of the privatization schemes,
coupled with the drastic de-subsidization of agriculture and local
industries in favor of externally-driven, highly extractive and gigantic
resource deals, wreaked havoc on the majorities of their people.

The path to social change in Latin America was once thought to be violent
revolution. The Cuban revolution of Fidel Castro drew the line in the sand
to American power in the region but spent itself leading charges against
the behemoth while its own people endured serious privations. With the fall
of the Soviet Union, Cuba was left hanging by a thread. Now, after 45
years, up and down confrontation and negotiation with the governments of
the region and after surviving a consistent blockade from the U.S., Cuba is
these days enjoying a comeback of sorts in the eyes of other Latin American
countries - not for its thick-skinned advocacy of violent revolution from
the 1960s to the 1980s or for its moribund economy that restricts free
enterprise, but for its attempt to build and maintain a fundamental social
safety net for its citizens.

Country after country in Latin America have not only re-opened relations
with the Cuban government of Fidel Castro - most recently Uruguay, the
latest of Southern core countries to elect Socialist leaders - they have
all tilted left in their politics to secure internal dialogues with their
own seriously dissatisfied populations. After 15 years of down-the-throat
market logic and policy from the U.S., several major countries representing
upwards of 270 million people, including Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile
and, most prominently, Venezuela, have consistently moved from the roster
of quietly supportive U.S. allies to embark on their own alliances and
dialogues of independent political and economic approaches. The European
Union and China have both become growing economic partners to watch, as
these generally left-of-center governments appeal to their civil societies
yet maintain fiscal discipline. The reawakening of nationalist fervor and
positions followed a perceived assault on national sovereignties by
international trade agreements that ultimately satisfied the interests of
limited sectors within their societies. Said a Mapuche elder last year
about his native country: "In Argentina they have sold everything, even the
rivers, the mountains; if they could bottle air and sell it, they would
privatize it and put it up for sale."

Not long ago, if the slumbering giant of Latin America reared an eye to its
suffering condition, U.S. power soon dictated other potentials. The Chilean
armed coup of 1973 against the democratically-elected government of
Salvador Allende, killed and replaced by Dictator General Augusto Pinochet
at the instigation of President Nixon's own Henry Kissinger, only updated a
method dictated numerous times, from the toppling of duly-elected President
Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala (1954) to the many interventions in Nicaragua,
Cuba, Dominican Republic, Panama, etc. - all of which caused untold
suffering and violent deaths. This is not a pretty history and there was a
time when it could be hidden behind a veil of historical amnesia; but not
anymore, as the world is too educated, too well-connected. Attempts at
coups and assassinations, while still in use, become increasingly difficult
to hide, particularly against democratically elected governments.

Education is a very big factor. Adult literacy is at its highest peak ever:
Venezuela, population of 26 million, literacy rate of 94 percent; Brazil,
population of 185 million, 86.4 percent literate; Argentina, 40 million
people, 97 percent literate; Chile, population of 16 million, 96 percent
literate; Uruguay, 3.6 million, 90 percent literate; and so on.
Increasingly educated and professionalized people, larger than the
population of the U.S. with even more impressive natural resources, ports
and lands, are unwilling to follow blindly anymore.

A new approach from the U.S. is required to regain a position of respect
and affection in the region, because saber rattling, economic punishments
and sanctions have run their course. Thus far, this country has not shown
much capacity to assess these changing conditions.