Written by Daniel Edgar exclusively for SouthFront
After enjoying a period of relative inattention and neglect as the overlords of the US were occupied elsewhere, the countries of Latin America have been overwhelmed by the renewed onslaught of the neo-colonial US empire, determined to reclaim control over its ‘backyard’ following almost two decades of successive gains by populist national and regional independence movements that swept through the region and succeeding in breaking the shackles of the US’ political, economic, technological and cultural hegemony that prevailed throughout the Cold War and became even more entrenched during the 1990s.
The period of increasing assertiveness of national independence and development of autonomous forms of regional cooperation and integration, beginning with the election of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 1998, is frequently described by analysts as the region’s ‘second independence’, widely considered a worthy successor to the Wars of Independence fought against the Spanish during the 1810s-1820’s. The US has been extremely successful in achieving its objectives over the last decade, picking off the recently liberated countries and autonomous regional institutions one by one and re-establishing dominance over their governments and economies.
In some cases nationalist governments (in the old-fashioned sense of governments that valued and protected their country’s political and economic sovereignty and the welfare of their people) have been overthrown by ‘parliamentary coups’ tacitly or explicitly supported by the military leadership and US ‘diplomats’ (Paraguay in 2012, Brazil in 2016); in others the military has taken a more direct role (Honduras in 2009, Bolivia in 2019). In other cases, governments (used generally to refer to the Presidency and the controlling factions of the national Parliament/ Congress/ Legislative Assembly) have been elected that have abruptly extirpated all or most of the elements of the ‘national liberation’, social justice and regional integration projects elaborated by their predecessors (Argentina in 2015, Ecuador in 2017).
Some countries never deviated from their strict adherence to the US ‘orbit’ (Colombia, Chile, Peru, most of Central America), although they participated with varying degrees of enthusiasm in some of the incipient regional initiatives and institutions that explicitly rejected US tutelage and emphasized regional cooperation and integration based on the principles of equality, respect and mutual benefit (such as CELAC and UNASUR). While the most recent national elections in Mexico and Argentina appear to have bucked these trends and the newly installed governments have adopted more independent and socially responsive and inclusive policies, they have also been very careful not to antagonize or confront the traditional economic and land-owning elites, international ‘investors’ and creditors, or the US’ core interests.
While ‘leftist’ opposition groups and social movements have gained considerably in terms of strategy and strength in many instances, they have not been at all successful in decisively retaking control over State and economic functions and institutions from their staunchly neo-liberal and abjectly pro-US opponents, and have generally struggled to elaborate tangible and effective strategies for ‘full spectrum resistance’ to counter the US push to re-establish ‘full spectrum dominance’ with the collaboration of compliant political, economic and military elites in each country (often actively supported by a substantial portion of the middle and even ‘lower’ classes).
Conceptually, the strategies being elaborated by populist/ leftist/ national liberation/ social justice political organizations and social movements generally consist of one or more of several key elements: (1) Contesting control over the commanding heights of the State and the economy directly; (2) Delinking/ withdrawing both active and passive forms of support from regressive State and private sector institutions (civil disobedience, boycotts, etc.); (3) Developing alternative and autonomous political, economic and social spaces, projects and institutions to build and manage infrastructure, finance, essential services, land, agriculture, environmental, etc. strategies and functions directly in order to develop political, economic and social power, operational capacity and self-sufficiency at all levels (from the individual and household to the community, regional, national and international spheres of action) irrespective of State and elitist private sector policies and actions.
The massive protests in Chile are a clear manifestation of the former (contesting control of the commanding heights directly) as well as incorporating actions from the second element (civil disobedience and organizing boycotts of particularly destructive and exploitative elitist economic and financial structures and organizations, such as the campaigns against Coca Cola and Nestlé in Colombia), seeking to oust the perennial political and economic ruling classes and re-establish popular control over State institutions and the economy by rebellion en masse.
These actions are complemented by a diverse range of activities of the third type, such as founding community- and sector- based assemblies and committees to elaborate policies and autonomous projects beyond the control of the State and dominant private sector financial and economic conglomerates, establishing communal soup kitchens and food production systems, community-based financial services and enterprises of all types based on local and regional endowments and needs, and developing alternative media platforms and community radio to challenge the mass media’s control over the narrative and sources of information.
Argentina has led the way in terms of workers taking direct control of defunct or threatened industrial production facilities and other enterprises, and rural and Indigenous communities in many countries throughout the region have assumed responsibility for implementing the quarantine controlling movement through their territories by setting up check points and patrols. The situation has of course become much more urgent with the relentless spread of the Coronavirus: it is far too early to predict how the revised correlation of forces and external factors will play out.
In the specific case of the political and economic climate in Brazil and the international relations and activities of the Brazilian government, the country began to adopt policies that placed considerably greater emphasis on national sovereignty, social justice and reducing political and economic inequality following the election of Luiz Inacio ‘Lula’ da Silva in 2003. The country was also among the key protagonists pushing for the development of projects and institutions to build regional cooperation and integration.
These policies and activities were generally continued by Lula’s successor, Dilma Rousseff, who was elected president in 2011. Rousseff was ousted in a ‘parliamentary coup’ in 2016, impeached by the national Congress with the active encouragement of the military leadership. Her replacement, Michel Temer, immediately instigated an aggressive program of dismantling the political and economic projects and terminating the social justice programs adopted by his predecessors and asset-stripping and privatizing State-owned enterprises, infrastructure, services and resources.
Since the election of the current president (Jair Bolsonaro) in 2018 the government has continued to implement a fundamental neoliberal political, economic and social overhaul of the State and the economy, and adopted a posture of subordination to the US to a degree that is unprecedented in the country’s history (with the possible exception of the junta in the immediate aftermath of the US-backed military coup of 1964 – the video ‘Brazil in regional and global history’, available on youtube, provides a useful overview of key aspects of Brazilian foreign policy and how it has developed over time). Key figures from amongst the military leadership now form the nucleus of the government, to the extent that many commentators suspect that over the last couple of months Bolsonaro has been sidelined from taking any major policy decisions (this will be discussed in Part 2).
The Brazilian government (as well as powerful groups and individuals among the economic and land-owning ‘elites’) has also participated actively in the offensive against the few remaining nationalist governments in the region, in particular in the neighbouring countries of Venezuela and Bolivia (aspects of the latter are described by Priscilla Arroyo in “Bolivia. La relación de sojeros brasileños con movimiento político que participa del golpe contra Evo Morales”, 13 November 2019, Resumen Latinoamericano, and by Stella Calloni, “El club de amigos del golpe”, 17 November 2019).
Given Brazil’s growing reputation as a ‘pariah State’, a group of ‘eminent former Statesman’ recently issued a public statement calling on the Brazilian government to return to national policies and international relations based on reason, rationality and compliance with the fundamental requirements of the Brazilian Constitution and international law. The signatories are Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of the Republic and former Minister of Foreign Affairs; Aloysio Nunes Ferreira, Celso Amorim, Celso Lafer, Francisco Rezek and José Serra, former Ministers of Foreign Affairs; Rubens Ricupero former minister of finance, the environment, and former Brazilian ambassador to Washington; and Hussein Kalout, former special secretary for strategic affairs for the Presidency.
The public statement calls for the reconstruction of Brazilian foreign policy in the wake of the devastation being caused by the Coronavirus and the actions and declarations of the Bolsonaro government (“Brasil. Coronavirus: La reconstrucción de la política exterior brasileña”, republished in Resumen Latinoamericano, 8 May 2020):
“Despite our different backgrounds and political opinions, we, as former senior diplomats that have exercised high responsibilities in the field of international relations in various governments of the New Republic, express our concern about the systematic violation by the current government’s foreign policy of the fundamental guiding principles and laws for the conduct of Brazil’s international relations defined in Article 4 of the 1988 Constitution.
Innovative in this sense, the Constitution establishes that Brazil ‘is governed in its international relations by the following principles: I- national independence; II- prevalence of human rights; III- self-determination of the peoples; IV- non- intervention; V- equality between States; VI- defence of peace; VII- peaceful conflict resolution; VIII- rejection of terrorism and racism; IX- cooperation between peoples for the progress of humanity; X- granting of political asylum.
… The Federative Republic of Brazil will seek the economic, political, social and cultural integration of the peoples of Latin America, with the objective of forming a Latin American community of nations.’
It is sufficient to compare the stipulations of the Constitution with the government’s foreign policy to verify that current diplomacy contradicts these principles in letter and spirit. National independence cannot be reconciled with subordination to a foreign government whose admitted political program is to promote its interest above all other considerations. It subverts the independence of the government when it declares itself to be an ally of that country, assuming as its own an agenda that threatens to drag Brazil into conflicts with nations with which we maintain relations of friendship and mutual interest. Furthermore, it departs from the universalist vocation of Brazilian foreign policy and its ability to dialogue and build bridges with different countries, developed and developing, for the benefit of our interests.
Other examples of contradiction with the provisions of the Constitution are support for coercive measures in neighboring countries, violating the principles of self-determination and non-intervention; voting at the UN for the application of a unilateral embargo in violation of the norms of international law, the equality of states and the peaceful resolution of conflicts; the approval of the use of force against sovereign states without authorization from the UN Security Council; the official approval of political assassinations and the vote against the resolutions of the Human Rights Council in Geneva to condemn the violation of these rights; defending the policy of denying Indigenous peoples the rights guaranteed in the Constitution, and showing contempt for issues such as discrimination based on race and gender.
Apart from flagrantly violating the Federal Constitution, the current orientation imposes costs on the country that are difficult to repair, such as the collapse of external credibility, the loss of markets and the flight of investments.
Admired in the environmental area since Rio-92 (‘the Rio Summit’) as an inevitable leader on the subject of sustainable development, Brazil now appears as a threat to itself and others due to the destruction of the Amazon and in the worsening of global warming. Brazilian diplomacy, recognized as a force of moderation and balance at the service of consensus building, has become a subordinate complement to the most aggressive unilateralism.
In Latin America, from being a leading protagonist of the regional integration process we began to support interventionist adventures, giving precedence to the interests of extra-regional powers. We have renounced the ability to defend our interests by collaborating with the United States to deport Brazilian workers in inhumane conditions, and by deciding for ideological reasons to withdraw all Brazilian diplomatic and consular personnel from Venezuela, one of our neighboring countries, leaving our nationals residing there powerless.
In Western Europe, we gratuitously confront important partners, such as France and Germany, in all fields. The current fight against diplomacy distances the country from its strategic objectives, by antagonizing the very nations that are essential for the implementation of the government’s economic agenda.
The extremely serious health crisis provoked by covid-19 revealed the irrelevance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its counterproductive role in helping Brazil to gain access to medical products and equipment. The racism and sectarianism of the government’s inexplicable attacks against China and the World Health Organization, together with the lack of respect for science and the insensitivity to human lives shown by the President of the Republic, have made the government an object of international contempt and disgust. At the same time, it has created obstacles to the (provincial) governors’ efforts to import products that are desperately needed to save the lives of thousands of Brazilians.
To salvage Brazil’s foreign policy we must return to compliance with constitutional principles, rationality, pragmatism, a sense of balance, moderation, and constructive realism. In this reconstruction, it is imperative that the Judicial Power, guardian of the Constitution, and the National Congress, representative of the will of the people, fulfill their roles in ensuring the constitutionality of diplomatic actions.
To respond to the wishes of our people and the real needs of Brazil, foreign policy must have broad support in public opinion and participation in its elaboration by all sectors of society. It also requires the commitment of our diplomatic corps: to a State policy and not to factional ploys which are aimed at exacerbating and exploiting the prejudices of a reactionary minority. We offer our decisive support and solidarity to our diplomats who have been humiliated and constrained by positions that clash with the best traditions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The reconstruction of Brazilian foreign policy is urgent and indispensable. Leaving behind this shameful page of servility and irrationality, let us place at the centre of diplomatic action the defence of independence, sovereignty, dignity and national interests, supported by values such as solidarity and the search for dialogue, through which diplomacy has helped build the heritage and pride of the Brazilian people.”
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
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