Bush�s trip to Latin America has turned into another public
relations disaster. Every time Air Force One touches down in a southern capital,
the streets turn into a battleground between incensed protestors and
fully-armored, truncheon-wielding RoboCops. At the same time, Bush has to be
whisked away in an armored-plated limousine to an undisclosed spiderhole in the
Is this any way to promote �free trade�?
How is Bush expected to change hearts and minds when he can�t
even stick his nose beyond the small army of mercenaries which surrounds him
Bush now faces stiff headwinds wherever he goes. He is the
most unpopular president in modern times and no one is hoodwinked by his silly
promises to help the poor and needy. It�s just a shabby excuse to mollify the
�We care about our neighborhood a lot,� Bush purred in
Latin America has withstood two decades of neoliberal
policies and they�ve had enough. The continents are drifting further and
further apart and it�ll take more than Bush�s bland assurances to bring them
�I would call our diplomacy quiet and effective diplomacy,�
Bush opined. �Diplomacy aimed at helping people, aimed at elevating the human
condition, aimed at expressing the great compassion of the American people.�
Blah, blah, blah.
Does Bush think these people are complete fools? They�ve
lived under America�s boot heel and they know exactly what to expect --d eath
squads, coup d�etats, fixed elections, and corrupt government officials -- all
made in Washington. They also know that Bush�s promises are just more hot air.
After all, they�ve seen the footage of the poor, black people being shunted off
to the Superdome without food or water following Hurricane Katrina.
Bush�s �Goodwill Tour� is a total fraud. It�s just a
smokescreen for more coercion, meddling and gross exploitation. That�s why tens
of thousands of protestors have poured out onto the streets burning American
flags, waving posters of a Hitler-mustachioed Bush, and chanting, �Gringo go
Bush�s trip has been such a catastrophe that the politically
sensitive Google News has removed it as a headline story. The media would like
to see the whole thing just disappear. Still, Bush�s handlers have decided to
continue the fiasco, running from foxhole to foxhole behind a phalanx of
flack-jacketed paramilitaries and low-flying Apache helicopters.
Whew . . . That was close.
Even worse, archrival Hugo Chavez has been shadowing Bush
with his improvised �Anti-Empire� tour. The charismatic Chavez has put tens of
thousands of cheering supporters on the streets while he throttles Uncle Sam
with his fiery oratory.
�Those who want to go directly to hell can follow
capitalism,� Chavez boomed to a standing-only crowd in Argentina�s soccer
stadium. �And those of us who want to build heaven here on earth will follow
The contrast between Bush and Chavez couldn�t be greater.
Chavez hails from a one-room mud floor hut, which he shared with his parents
and three siblings. His hardscrabble upbringing and his years in the elite
paratrooper unit of the Venezuelan military prepared him for the political
struggle he would face when he seized power and subdued Venezuela�s powerful
oligarchy. On the other hand, Bush has been buoyed along by his family�s wealth
and position which provided entree to the best Ivy League schools and bailed
him out of countless legal jams (insider-trading at Harken, A.W.O.L. with the
Texas National Guard). He spent his adult life bouncing from one failed
business venture to the next, then spent nearly six years as governor of Texas
before washing up the front lawn of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, courtesy of five
venal justices on the high court. The rest is history.
The two men are polar opposites. While the Bush persona
depends on a talented public relations team that casts him as a one-part
Bible-beating preacher and one-part plain-talking cowpoke, Chavez is unaffected
and straightforward. His warm and gregarious manner has earned him friends
around the world and strengthened support for his redistributive programs.
No wonder the corporate media hates him so much.
Chavez has taken on the most powerful institutions in
Venezuela, including the oil giants, the telecommunications industry, and the
deeply entrenched oligarchy. He�s set up free health care clinics and
subsidized food programs for the poor, and created greater opportunities for
education and upward mobility. More importantly, he�s reasserted state control
over vital national assets, particularly oil.
The people love him. Chavez won the last election with over
60 percent of the votes.
Currently, Chavez is demanding that foreign oil giants
concede a controlling share of their business to the state. It�s a bold move
that�ll put more power in the hands of elected officials rather than
profit-driven CEOs and dodgy robber barons. One can only hope that the US
Congress will eventually take similar action to �nationalize� the oil industry
so there can be greater public control of the resources upon which all of our
Chavez is actualizing a vision of a just and sustainable
society where civil liberties are guaranteed for all and where people have the
right to expect a minimal standard of living. His Bolivarian Revolution has
spread across national borders and is unifying Latin America under various
trade agreements. His plan for a cross-continent pipeline to the Pacific, so he
can sell oil directly to China, has Washington politicos worried about meeting
America�s future energy needs. His dream of a Latin American OPEC (which may
include Russia and Iran) is also a matter of growing concern.
Chavez�s success depends to large extent on his approach to
socialism. He is not rigid and ideological, but pragmatic and flexible. He
applies socialism as a general principle that can be adjusted to the particular
exigencies of Venezuelan society. So far, it seems to be working.
He also takes great pride in tweaking the nose of his Texas
nemesis, George W. Bush -- Mr. Danger.
The Chavez-Bush rivalry has been a positive development for
anti-imperialists. It pits a compassionate social revolutionary against a
marble-hearted warmonger. It highlights the difference between an engaged and
forward thinking populist and a fatuous demagogue. Bush has not fared well by
Chavez was the first to respond to Katrina; offering to send
doctors, medical supplies and fuel to compensate for downed oil rigs. Bush stubbornly
refused Chavez�s help. Instead, he declared martial law and deployed
mercenaries so he could treat traumatized hurricane victims like enemy
combatants. His actions only added to the peoples� suffering. Unsurprisingly,
his public approval ratings sank like a stone.
For the last few days, Chavez has been following Bush around
the continent blasting him as a �political cadaver with a 600-word vocabulary�
and lambasting him as a �drunken war criminal.� His relentless barrage has made
Bush look timid and weak. �The Decider�s� fragile ego has been badly battered
and the overall goals of the mission have suffered. According to Bush, the trip
was intended to �underscore the commitment of the United States to the Western
Hemisphere and . . . highlight our common agenda to advance freedom,
prosperity, and social justice and deliver the benefits of democracy in the
areas of health, education and economic prosperity.�
More mumbo-jumbo. As Russian President Vladimir Putin said, �No
one wants Bush�s Iraqi-type democracy.�
The real reason for the trip was announced in �Foreign
Affairs,� the quarterly policy-magazine of the Council on Foreign Relations.
The article presented a �divide and conquer� strategy for isolating Chavez and
the far-left Latin American governments while trying to strengthen ties with
the center-left governments. It is essentially a battle plan that is strikingly
similar to Bush�s Iraq strategy. (Sunnis vs. Shiites)
That�s why Bush will be handing out billions in foreign aid
to America�s friends, while trying to chip away at alliances with Washington�s
adversaries. Most of the money is expected to go to security forces, covert
operations and democracy-corrupting NGOs.
Bush�s rhetoric may have changed, but US goals are forever
the same. The administration is preparing for another century of intervention,
exploitation and violence. If the sulfurous Mr. Bush had the manpower he wouldn�t
hesitate to send his camouflage-garbed legions southward to recapture the
entire continent. In fact, Caracas would probably resemble downtown Baghdad
right now. Perhaps, that�s why his comments were received with such skepticism
when he addressed an audience of Brazilian business leaders, saying, �I don�t
think America gets enough credit for trying to help improve people�s lives. My
trip is to explain as clearly as I can that our nation is generous and
Bush is wrong. No one has contributed more to the endless
cycle of grinding poverty in Latin America than the United States.
That�s why Chavez quickly responded, saying, �Bush should be
awarded a gold medal for hypocrisy . . . He�s just now discovered that poverty
exists in the region.�
Bush should take a minute and push his way past the
chain-link fences and armored vehicles and listen to what the people on the
street are saying. It�s a different era now. Latin America has slipped out of
the US orbit and it won�t be returning anytime soon. It�s not our �backyard�
It�s time to pack it up, Gringo, and go home.
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He can be reached at: email@example.com.