Colombia’s first president Simón Bolívar liberated six countries from Spanish colonial rule. He deservedly earned the popular title The Liberator. Bolívar’s great vision of an independent Latin America, united and equal amongst the nations of the world, was sadly already falling apart by the time of his death. In a perverse reversal of history, Colombia’s latest president Álvaro Uribe Vélez is preparing to surrender not only his own country’s sovereignty, but to sacrifice the independence of the Andean region and subjugate it to the demands of the US empire, thereby breaking the prospect of continental unity.
The US strategy to dominate Latin America and the Caribbean is structured through the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).* As the battle for and against the FTAA unfolds, and as widespread popular opposition becomes more pronounced, the fight to stop Uribe the Destroyer has become an urgent issue for all independent Latin Americans. This is because he has formed a key alliance with the USA to help it expand NAFTA south of Mexico. Right-wing forces have the initiative in Central America (still traumatised by the Reagan/Bush inspired wars of the 1980s), in Colombia and in Chile. Chile and Colombia have emerged as the two Trojan horses for US aggression against South America. Their ruling classes are not just vende patrias but vende continentes.
Chilean President Largos concluded a free trade agreement with the USA that will come into force in 2004. The only other countries who enjoy the same commercial terms are Mexico and Canada under NAFTA, and Israel and Jordan. The agreement is not so much about free trade (Chile already has very low tariffs, and its exports to the US are unlikely to increase greatly) as the free operation of US capital. Controls on capital movements have been lifted, the country’s mineral wealth has been fully opened up to US corporations. The essence is to guarantee the profitability of US multinationals investing in Chile. In other words, the agreement is a prototype for what the USA is seeking on a broader scale through the FTAA. Moreover, this agreement reverses Chile’s momentum to regional economic integration with Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay through Mercosur. It is a modern reformulation of that classic colonial mainstay, divide and rule.
Chile’s economy is already one of the most open in Latin America. So the agreement is not simply an increase to make it yet more open, rather it will change the meaning of Chile’s openness to US investors. It is a commitment to qualitatively change the power balance between US capital and the Chilean working class. US corporations will have the right to insist that the Chilean state does whatever is required – break strikes, remove environmental controls, exempt taxes – to ensure their profitable capital accumulation. A legal framework endorsing the right of multinational corporations to untrammelled super-exploitation, a spectre that was meant to be buried with the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, has again reared its ugly head with this bilateral accord. This is not free trade, it is monopoly capitalism in every sense.
Through Uribe, Colombia is caught in the grip of a similar process, the external dimension of which is causing increasingly tense relations with its neighbours in the Andean group.
Since 1990 one fifth of Colombia’s agricultural land has gone out of production. Soya, cotton and sorghum crops have dropped by 60% to 80% because ‘free trade’ means imports from the US and EU at state subsidised prices. The loss of domestic foood production is a massive crisis in Colombia. There is a protectionist wing and a neo-liberal open market wing within the propertied classes. Initially the government held that agriculture should be protected with import tariffs at the highest limit allowed within WTO rules. The US government threatened to withdraw access to its markets if Colombia insisted. An emergency meeting with Uribe persuaded the agriculture and foreign trade ministers to accept the US position. Colombia’s backdown broke an earlier accord with Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela to stand up to US pressure.
With international coffee prices at rock bottom, traditional producers have started planting coca bushes in with their crop, and Uribe has promised a fumigation campaign. The monster is eating its young.