The day before the passage of CAFTA in the US Congress, we received word that the US government had called for a meeting in Puebla, Mexico to try to revitalize the talks towards the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, or FTAA. But the unprecedented wrangling, pork barrel politics, fake side deals, and massive political pressure - including "twisting arms until they break into a thousand pieces" - that Republicans had to employ to buy votes to pass CAFTA actually seals the fate against the future expansion of the NAFTA model to larger countries that would have real economic impact on the US. Nevertheless, the Bush Administration will undoubtedly attempt to use the CAFTA passage as a stepping-stone to the FTAA, albeit a wobbly one.
That's why our President will receive a tepid welcome when he travels to Mar del Plata, a beach resort on the coast of Argentina, for the Summit of the Americas this November 4th - 5th. The last Summit took place in Quebec in April 2001 with the express goal of advancing the FTAA talks; a fascinating history of the Summits is available at http://www.summit-americas.org/eng-2002/summit-process.htm. It is also likely that Bush will attempt to revitalize a proposal to "monitor the exercise of power" through the Organization of American States (OAS), a proposal which failed miserably at their meeting Florida this past June.
Quite a bit has changed since 2001 in Latin America, not the least of which is the derailment of the FTAA. But there's also the Argentine and Uruguayan economic crises that led to the election of progressive governments in both countries; the popular overthrow of US-supported neoliberal governments in Bolivia and Ecuador; the rise of Lula da Silva in Brazil; the expulsion of Bechtel from Cochabamba, Bolivia; the triumph of President Chavez in the referendum last year despite US government financial support for the opposition; the recent election of a Secretary General of the OAS who was opposed by the US; the increasing regional integration under the banner of the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas; and the burgeoning social movement networks such as the Hemispheric Social Alliance, COMPA, Via Campesina, and Jubilee South, to name a few.
Latin American social movements are preparing the largest mobilization of the year at the Summit, under the banner of "Bush out of our territory!" With themes of "No to the FTAA, free trade, debt, militarization and poverty" and "Yes to People's Integration: Another America is Possible," trade unions, women's groups, Indigenous peoples, anti-debt activists, farmers, church members, and others will organize a parallel People's Summit in Mar del Plata from November 1st - 5th. Crucial to the success of the People's Summit will be the participation of US social movement activists with whom Latin Americans can build long-lasting bridges of solidarity and strategy against militarism, free trade, and debt, as well as envision an alternative integration based on people's human needs, not corporate greed.
Years after the massive US interventions of the 1970s and 80s were ramped down, Latin Americans still resent US efforts to implement the Monroe Doctrine in the region - such as the tightening of the blockade against Cuba; support for the coup in Venezuela; the overthrow of President Aristide in Haiti; massive funding for the Colombian military and anti-peasant crop eradication programs; interference in national elections in El Salvador; corporate exploitation of Latin American natural resources; maintenance of IMF-mandated structural adjustment policies of privatization; failure to fully cancel the debt; and most recently, the passage of CAFTA. Latin Americans have also not been shy about voicing opposition to US military intervention in Iraq.
Argentina, host of the Summit, is still recovering from one of the worst IMF-imposed economic crises in modern history. The mass impoverishment of what was once a prosperous middle class led to the downfall of several presidents and a complete re-orienting of the Argentine economy. Factories have been taken over by their workers and transformed into cooperatives, and neighborhood assemblies model popular democracy. This resistance has been amply documented in engaging works like The Take, Naomi Klein's cinematic homage to Argentine economic self-recovery (http://www.nfb.ca/webextension/thetake/). The current President Kirchner has refused to pay half the country's debt, and has stood up for his country's interests in FTAA and WTO negotiations. Last year in Buenos Aires I marveled at tango in public parks, read the Collection Fictions of the world-famous poet Jorge Luis Borges, and followed footsteps of the weekly marches of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo.
Latin Americans have been far more successful that we in the US in electing democratic governments that represent the economic interests of citizens, not corporations, and at ridding themselves of governments that fail to deliver economic growth. Since we in the US continue to yearn for a vision, strategies, and tactics that could lead us to a similar victory, let's take a moment to learn from their leadership, and support their efforts to steer clear of US economic and military domination.
We have failed in our efforts to stop the expansion of NAFTA to Central America. Let us succeed in stopping NAFTA expansion to South America and the Caribbean, and join with our neighbors to the South in articulating a new vision for the Americas.
And who knows, we might even learn a few pointers from on how to get a better president.