Faced with a deepening Iraq war crisis, rising domestic discontent and plummeting approval ratings, George W. Bush traveled to Argentina in early November.
If he was looking to polish his image, Bush picked the wrong destination. His presence at the fourth “Summit of the Americas” evoked international opposition. People came into the streets of Mar del Plata, a seaside city 200 miles south of Buenos Aires, in angry mass protests.
Just as significant as the protest was the defeat suffered by the U.S. government inside the Summit, which was sponsored by the Organization of American States.
The OAS is an institution that has been dominated by the U.S. government since its formation. But this summit was a setback for the U.S. government’s continued attempts to promote its rapacious Free Trade Area of the Americas.
The FTAA was first unveiled in December 1994 by then-president Bill Clinton at the Summit of the Americas in Miami. He proposed a 2005 deadline for its adoption by the hemisphere’s governments. His triumphant announcement is now only an echo and its demise is almost certain.
The previous year, Clinton had rammed through the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. Within a few years of NAFTA’s passage, the elimination of protective tariffs and agricultural subsidies for Mexican farmers has destroyed Mexico’s agriculture and forced the emigration of millions.
Similarly, if ratified, the FTAA would strip any protective economic measures by the signers, allowing the richest countries, especially the United States, to overwhelm the less developed countries.
Yet the U.S. government would not and does not play by the same rules. Heavy agricultural subsidies of tens of billions of dollars have given U.S. agribusiness an unmatched advantage. In 2004, the U.S. Agricultural Department paid U.S. growers $13.3 billion in subsidies. That figure is predicted to shoot up to $22.7 billion for 2005. (Nov. 9, 2005, New York Times)
Even without the latest free trade agreement, the last two decades of drastic neoliberal policies of economic austerity and privatization have created heavy indebtedness and poverty among the more than 560 million people of Latin America and the Caribbean.
More government leaders, faced with uncontainable opposition, have become reluctant to consider signing onto FTAA.
In Mar del Plata, Hugo Chávez declared with certainty: “Today the people of Latin America came with their shovels to bury FTAA. The FTAA is dead.”
Like the previous summits, the 34 countries that make up the OAS meet far from metropolitan cities to avoid inevitable mass demonstrations. That did not deter 50,000 people from turning out to demand, “Stop Bush.” Many came from Buenos Aires, the Indigenous areas in northern Argentina and other countries of the region.
A major part of central Mar del Plata was locked down, and there were extensive police checkpoints because of Bush’s presence. He is despised throughout Latin America as the main representative of U.S. imperialism. Signs and slogans comparing Bush to Hitler and denouncing U.S. genocide around the world were everywhere. An Argentinean newspaper survey during the summit gave Bush a 5 percent approval rating among those polled in the country.
United States attempt to isolate Chávez fails
Chavez speaks to crowd at Summit of Americas.
Photo: Gloria La Riva
The OAS summit’s two main official agenda points were the creation of jobs to lessen poverty and the “strengthening of democracy” in the region. The first aim was political cover for the heads of state to appear relevant among their populations, in the midst of deep economic and social crisis in the Latin American continent.
The second objective, “strengthening democracy,” had been heavily promoted by the U.S. government in recent months in order to try to isolate Venezuela—and by extension its close ally, Cuba—from the rest of the continent.
Yet, the head of state in the OAS who clearly had the greatest legitimacy in the eyes of the masses was Hugo Chávez. None of the others would have been able to appear before such a crowd with universal support.
In the spirited post-march rally of 50,000 people in the World Stadium, thundering cheers greeted Chávez as he entered the stadium. Bush, on the other hand, was the subject of great anger and disdain.
“Bush, fascist, you are the terrorist!” and “Bush, you rat; get out of Mar del Plata!” were some of the most popular chants.
Although Cuba was expelled from the OAS in 1962 at the behest of the U.S. government for declaring its revolution Marxist-Leninist the year before, the Cuban revolution’s standing among the peoples of the southern continent is perhaps at its highest level today.
Cuba and Venezuela united
Cuba and Venezuela’s strategic partnership is clearly posing an alternative alliance against U.S. imperialist plans, with new economic arrangements expressed through ALBA, the “Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas.” The initials contrast with the FTAA’s Spanish acronym ALCA.
Cuba’s 300-strong delegation to the People’s Summit and mass march received great support and solidarity. Singers like Silvio Rodríguez, athletes such as retired world boxing champion Teófilo Stevenson, artists, and representatives of mass organizations and the Cuban Communist Party were major attractions at the workshops and concerts.
During the protest, hundreds of participants congregated around the Cuban marchers, anxious to show their solidarity with the Cuban Revolution.
Among the popular cultural, sports and political figures who came from other Latin American countries were Bolivian Indigenous leader and presidential candidate Evo Morales, Argentinean soccer star Diego Maradona, Hebe Bonafini of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, Nobel Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel and Uruguayan folk singer Daniel Viglietti.
Although the OAS summit agenda called for jobs creation, the only country that came up with a concrete commitment was Venezuela, which pledged $10 billion to help combat hunger over the next ten years. Chávez challenged the other member states to do the same.
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