The Guardian 16 November, 2005

Bush faces wrath of Latin America

WT Whitney

George W Bush had rough sledding in Argentina last week. US officials had planned for free trade to be up and running throughout the Western Hemisphere by the end of this year. But the 4th Summit of the Americas, held on November 4-5 in Mar del Plata, decided otherwise. Outside, a march and rally of tens of thousands at an alternative People’s Summit rejected Bush’s agenda and called instead for "Latin American dignity".

The most that this year’s Americas summit could do was record that 27 nations would talk again next April.

Five nations — Argentina, Venezuela, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay — said they would wait for upcoming World Trade Organisation meetings before deciding on further participation. The five are members of the Common Market of the South (Mercosur), which is developing trade alternatives, especially with China and Europe. Cuba is excluded from the Americas summits.

Opening the summit, Argentina’s President Nestor Kirchner directly challenged Bush, saying, "There exists today empiric evidence of the failures" of the "free market" neoliberal theories Bush was hoping to advance.

Kirchner said, "Our continent in general and our country in particular are tragic proof that the ‘trickle-down’ theory does not work. The facts show that the market by itself does not reduce levels of poverty." He continued, "It is the state that should act to redress social inequalities".

Kirchner’s speech reflected the widespread hemispheric discontent with the neoliberal economic model. Of 512 million people in Latin America, 220 million live in poverty. According to UN reports, 96 million Latin Americans survive on less than a dollar a day.

The summit’s agenda was titled, "Creating Jobs to Fight Poverty and Strengthen Democratic Governance". That program was never spelled out. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez insisted that the final document include the "37 million poor" living in the US — a proposal that enraged the Bush team.

Chávez, a growing hero in the region for his stance against US imperialism and projection of a 21st century socialism, addressed some 25,000 people at an alternative "People’s Summit". He said, "We have come with a shovel, because the grave of the FTAA is in Mar del Plata."

Venezuela, along with other countries, is pushing alternative trade and economic models that are more equitable and pro-people than the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Along with the Mercosur alternative, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), set forth by Venezuela and Cuba, is gaining adherents.

Chávez listed examples of ALBA in action, citing the sale of Venezuelan petroleum to 14 Caribbean countries at a 40 percent discount and with an interest rate of one percent over 25 years, with the ability to pay off the debt with goods and services instead of cash.

Chávez promised $10 million from Venezuela for a newly announced Alliance Against Hunger plan, which proposes eradicating starvation within the next decade.

The People’s Summit culminated on November 4 with a mass march of some 40,000 through the city, under Che Guevara banners, to a giant stadium rally. The march was led by Diego Maradona, Argentina’s legendary soccer star, accompanied by Bolivia’s socialist presidential candidate Evo Morales, Cuban singer Silvio Rodriguez and Hebe de Bonafini, leader of the Argentine organisation of mothers of "disappeared" political prisoners.

Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon headed a 300-person delegation that included family members of the Cuban Five prisoners. Jordan Carriles, a Cuban marcher, told a reporter, "We are making a statement against hunger and poverty".

The People’s Summit issued a set of demands including: permanent suspension of FTAA negotiations; agreement to respect human rights, social needs and national sovereignty; and regional integration.

Marcelo Langieri, from the University of Buenos Aires, said the upsurge marks "a turning point in Latin American history — not only was the FTAA questioned, but also the neoconservative economic model and capitalism". Adding to the widespread rejection of the Bush administration in the area is the Iraq war, continuing torture revelations and its disregard for international law.

At Washington’s behest, Argentine authorities took extreme security precautions, deploying 8,000 troops and police, cordoning off 420 acres with steel wire, and placing sharpshooters on buildings. One US aircraft carrier stood offshore, and aircraft flew overhead. The Pentagon loaned missiles to the Argentine military. Several hundred demonstrators triggered a melee close to the summit headquarters, breaking windows and hurling debris at police, wounding five.

President Clinton set the FTAA process in motion at the first Americas summit in Miami in 1994. The third summit, held in Quebec in 2001, directed that implementation of free trade be centre stage next time.

People’s Weekly World

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