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US Finds Anger in South America; Poverty Blamed on American Imperialism
Published on Saturday, August 31, 2002 in the Toronto Globe & Mail
US Finds Anger in South America
Poverty Blamed on American Imperialism
by Mike Ceaser
 

CARACAS -- Holding court before a small knot of passersby on Caracas's Plaza Bolivar, Rubio Eliut had just one thing on his mind.

"The United States government is antidemocratic like no other," yelled the unemployed security guard and fervent supporter of President Hugo Chavez. "Whenever [Washington] wants to interfere in another country, it does it."

Like many others in this country, Mr. Eliut is convinced the United States was behind an aborted coup that ousted Mr. Chavez for two days in April. Graffiti attesting to those suspicions have sprung up on the walls of many Caracas neighborhoods, just one example of a resurgence in anti-Americanism across South America.

The phenomenon, spreading across cultural, economic and nationalistic lines, is expressing itself in the form of popular resentment and, in the process, imperiling U.S. efforts to encourage free trade and privatization.

Take Bolivia, the star of Washington's campaign against narcotics because it has eradicated about 90 per cent of its illegal coca crop. The resulting growth in poverty has produced a nationalistic backlash -- rural coca-growing regions and urban universities are seething with anti-American sentiment.

Farmer Evo Morales harnessed these feelings recently by campaigning for president on a platform of free coca cultivation, the expulsion of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents and the shuttering of the U.S. embassy. After the U.S. ambassador compared him to Osama bin Laden and warned that his election would cut Bolivia off from U.S. aid, his support rose from the single digits in polls to nearly 21 per cent in the July 7 election -- good enough for second place.

In Peru, a similar coca-eradication program produced protests that forced the government to temporarily halt the program.

The continent's persistent economic troubles are helping to feed the anti-American sentiment.

During the past 20 years, many Latin nations have implemented International Monetary Fund-prescribed reforms designed to open markets, tighten budgets and privatize services, only to see economic growth slow down. Meanwhile, the continent's income disparity, already the world's largest, has widened and millions of people have become poor.

Today, more than a third of South Americans live in poverty and, in many countries, the richest 10 per cent control more than half of all income. And because the Washington-based IMF is widely viewed as an instrument of the U.S. government, the pain is often blamed on the United States.

Crowds in Cochabamba, Bolivia, burn a U.S. flag in a protest against the privatization of city drinking water -- even though the privatizing company was British. In Argentina, rioters pouring into the streets to protest against their country's disastrous economic situation target American-linked banks and fast-food restaurants.

The economic downturn has fed the populist surge by making the poor more evident, said Luis Pedro Espaa, director of the Institute of Economic and Social Investigation at Catholic University in Caracas.

"We have a very important economic inequality in Latin America," he said. "We had the same thing 20 years ago -- but 20 years ago our economy was growing."

In Venezuela, Mr. Chavez recently declared his country could ignore World Trade Organization rules. In regional giant Brazil, Workers' Party candidate Luiz Inacio (Lula) da Silva, a critic of globalization and free trade, is leading in the polls heading toward the Oct. 6 presidential election.

In early July, the previously unknown April 13 Revolutionary Movement staged a press conference in Caracas, where the group's hooded leader declared that it would defend Mr. Chavez's "Bolivarian Revolution."

Speaking before a row of fatigue-clad, rifle-gripping soldiers in a room decorated with posters of Che Guevara, Simon Bolivar and Hugo Chavez, he called U.S. President George W. Bush a "political target" as he denounced cultural imperialism.

Anti-Americanism in South America has a long history, however, and U.S. assistant secretary of state Otto Reich said recently he can recall it being worse, as recently as the 1980s, when leftist guerrilla wars raged in Central America.

© 2002 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc

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