By CLAUDIO KATZ
Mainstream media presented the Panama Summit as if it were the beginning of a new era of cooperation. They pondered the end of the Cold War and painted Obama as a model of detente, as opposed to the hawkishness of Maduro. They also contrasted the reintegration of Cuba in the region to the isolation of Venezuela and evaluated the encounter as another diplomatic success for the United States. This same balance sheet was presented both before and after the conclave, as if the meeting itself had not made any relevant contribution.
But this narrative failed to recognize that 33 of the 35 representatives present at the meeting rejected the accusation that Venezuela was a “threat to U.S. security.” They all demanded the repeal of the executive order, which blocked goods and restricted visas for citizens of that country. This demand was put forth in emphatic discussions that no friend of imperialism contradicted. Even Obama himself preferred to withdraw from the plenary in order to avoid questioning. The United States should have postponed its agenda in such a negative setting.
The script and the reality
Obama needed to win the struggle unleashed by the decree against Venezuela in order to retake the initiative of imperial hegemony. The consolidation of this domination was the initial objective of the first Summit (Miami-1994) and the previous launch of the ALCA (Quebec-2001). The shipwreck of this project in Mar del Plata (2005) determined the isolation of the giant of the North in the last summit (Cartagena-2012). The creation of new organizations without a U.S. presence (UNASUR-2008 and CELAC-2011) emphasized this retreat and encouraged the recognition of Cuba.
After 53 years David has finally beaten Goliath. The Empire could not break the Cuban Revolution, and Obama was forced to liberate the five fighters [the “Cuban Five”] he had held captive. Raul Castro initiated the country’s return to presidential meetings with a categorical call for the immediate repeal of the order against Venezuela.
All the theories that have counterposed Castro’s “new diplomatic realism” against Maduro’s “outmoded discursive radicalism” ignore the concerted leadership that both governments have assumed in the battle against the Yankee decree. The unanimity was accompanied by strong speeches from other leaders.
None of the rightist presidents (Colombia, Peru, Paraguay) were able to sustain the attack against Venezuela. Even the small Caribbean countries that Obama visited before the meeting rejected being stomped on by the U.S. State Department. The same occurred with Chile, Costa Rica, and Uruguay, which maintain great distance from the Bolivarian process….
All the figures of the anti-Chavez coup mentality arrived in Panama. They made a lot of noise, but had little impact on the Summit. They have become weak because of the failure of the last disturbance, and they were not able to respond with protests against the detention of the conspirators Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma.
The leaders of the Cuban counterrevolution also arrived en masse from Miami, wearing their new disguises as “representatives of civil society.” With this makeup, they restarted their project to restore the status of the island as a casino, brothel, or link to the drug trade.
The delegation of gusanos, including the murderer of Che, tested out all kinds of provocations. They promoted political clamoring, shouting matches in front of embassies, interruptions during press conferences, and conflicts with the guards. But they were not able to alter the political climate of the Summit.…
Attitudes and arguments
The contrast of projects that flourished in the Summit was signaled by a contrast of attitudes. Obama disembarked in Panama with a great show of planes, helicopters, and armored vehicles. This demonstration was out of proportion to the actual security needs of the politician. It only served to remind us that the destructive potential of imperialism is not a Hollywood fiction.
In contrast, Maduro immediately made his way to the working-class neighborhood of Chorrillos, to pay homage to the victims of the last invasion by the U.S. Marines (1989). He remembered the overthrow of a dictator who was appointed by the United States itself and he waved the Panamanian flag in a place that was forgotten by all the other functionaries.
Evo [Morales] adopted the same conduct during his stay. He proclaimed that “we are better off without the United States embassy” and he refuted the myth of pending U.S. “help” for Cuba. He emphasized that imperialism should compensate the island for the harassment it had imposed for half a century.
The question of the executive order against Venezuela dominated the Summit. Obama himself discounted the portrayal of this country as a “threat” and justified the decree as a bureaucratic formality. But he could not explain the reasons for maintaining this position.
The so-called “danger” of Venezuela is an unsustainable fantasy. The country has not invaded adjoining territories, it does not conduct wars with its neighbors, and it has been an active promoter of peace negotiations in Columbia. But on the contrary, the United States has developed enormous military bases in Peru, Paraguay, Colombia, and the Antilles, controls the seas from its Southern Command in Miami, controls the skies with the latest generation of radar, and nurses the arsenal that the British installed in the Malvinas [Falkland Islands].
Furthermore, the Pentagon shamelessly spies on the diplomats, functionaries, and presidents of the region, intercepts everyone’s e-mails, and keeps surveillance over strategic internet servers. Venezuela has not destabilized any government, while imperialism is the main agent of the parliamentary, judicial and police conflicts and coups of the last few years.
The United States has not renounced its past invasions. Nor has it been “more worried” about the Middle East, China, and Ukraine than about Latin America. The executive order against Venezuela is the first tentative step toward extending its reach [over the region].
The U.S. functionaries justified their aggression with denouncements of human rights violations. But they have not produced proof of any kind. They dictate lessons about democracy while hiding the most recent reports of CIA torture, the continuing use of Guantanamo, and the use of the death penalty in their own country.
The State Department further avoids any comparison between Venezuela and the rightist administrations in the region. No accusation against the Bolivarian government has the same impact as the assassinations in Honduras, the crimes in Mexico, or the persecutions in Colombia and Peru.
The U.S. economic delegation attempted to light up a little tropical Davos in Panama. They proposed that multimillionaires and Wall Street stars take part in the economic forums and presented the slogan of the Summit (“Prosperity with equity”) as a fulfillment of course. Neither did they lack any praise for the transnational companies that exploit the population.
The Yankee experts exalt capitalism while keeping silent about the suffering that this system imposes on all the dispossessed. They counterpose the disadvantages of the “populist” governments to the achievements of the administrations that are guided by the market, without speaking of the precariousness of labor in Peru, the retirement disaster in Chile, or the migrant tragedy in Central America.
The neoliberals showcased Panama as a model of success. They pointed to the skyscrapers that ring the city, while omitting mention of their financing by money laundered by narco-trafficking. They praised the growth of the isthmus, without mentioning the social segmentation and the “informal-sector” work of a population condemned to hard labor in construction and the hotel industry….
The limits of the counteroffensive
The United States attacks Venezuela in order to control the world’s largest oil reserves. This powerful nation actually uses its supply of crude oil from shale to destabilize the Bolivarian process, enabling the price of the fuel to depreciate worldwide.
The United States does not tolerate the extra-regional alliances that Chavez and Maduro arranged. Nor does it accept the will to resist the confiscation of petroleum such as was perpetrated in Iraq or Libya.
The confrontation in turn is trivialized by the analysts that present the conflict between Obama and Maduro as a “conflict of vanities.” They accuse the Venezuelan politician of exaggerating the dispute, in order to distract the population from their immediate needs.
With this type of stupidity they attempt to disguise the U.S. project to control the natural resources of Latin America. The appropriation of Venezuelan petroleum profits is the first step in a general recapturing of land, water, and minerals across the continent.
Obama is pushing this plan forward with a new combination of carrots and sticks. In this way, he is able to negotiate with Cuba without abandoning his belligerence. He will reopen the embassy on the island, but make strong demands [on Cuba] in order to lift the blockade.
The U.S. president took a photograph with Raul Castro, but he also met with the gusanos from Miami. He complemented his friendly rhetoric with the protection of the coup-minded politicians who guide Washington.
This policy repeats the strategy of negotiating with Iran without closing the door to a bombing campaign. The same arm wrestling that Obama pursues with the lobbies of Israel and Saudi Arabia he also extends to the ultra-right Cuban-Americans. His strategy is endorsed by Hillary Clinton and questioned by the Republican candidates for the presidency.
Both sides play the same game in the U.S. plutocracy, adapting their politics to the needs of the system. But whichever politician succeeds Obama will be obliged to contend with the same difficulties, in order to recuperate the lost territory in their own backyard.
The Summit confirmed the significant level of political autonomy that Latin America has achieved. But this higher level of independence coexists with the stagnation of all the projects for economic integration.
While new seats for regional organizations are inaugurated and a great rhetoric in favor of common action is unfurled, the main initiatives of economic contemplation languish. The ring of energy, the shared infrastructure, the shared management of resources, the coordinated exchange systems, and the funds for monetary stabilization remain simply proposals.
The perpetuation of Latin America’s insertion into the world arena as a provider of raw materials is not the exclusive responsibility of the right-wing governments. The same scheme for export specialization, intensive agriculture, open-air mining, and industrial factories can be observed in the administrations of the other side.
Nor is subscribing to free-trade agreements the patrimony of the neoliberal presidents alone. The government of Ecuador negotiated the same type of agreement with Europe, and Uruguay is discussing the implementation of similar treaties (TISA).
Furthermore, everyone agrees on individually forming agreements with China that aggravate primarization [the process in which underdeveloped countries focus on the export of raw materials—oil, mining, and agricultural products—in exchange for finished industrial commodities from abroad]. They accept agreements for basic exports and manufacturing imports that do not include obligations for productive investment or technological transfer. This position preserves the old breaks between countries that privilege the interests of their local bourgeoisie in external negotiations.
This adaptation to the neoliberal global order can lead to traumatic consequences if an adverse economic turn is confirmed on the international scene. Raw materials no longer increase, growth has stopped and the valuation of the dollar stimulates the outflow of capital. Certain governments begin to implement devaluations, which anticipate assaults on the living standards of the people.
More dangerous is the economic turn by various “center-left” governments. In Brazil they have already accepted the agenda imposed by the Stock Exchange, designated ministers selected by the large corporations, and prepared financial adjustment programs designed by the banks.
This course of adjustment to the establishment demoralizes the population and facilitates the rightist channelization of discontent. In some countries these tendencies are already insinuating themselves as a response to the frustrations generated by the vacillations of progressivism. We can also catch a glimpse of a coercive tendency of presidents who confuse popular demands with the right-wing destabilization.
The critical point for Latin America is not actually found in the resistance to the United States. The main problem takes root in the establishment of capitalist models that are adverse to the aspirations of the main population.
The significant political sovereignty that Latin America has achieved in the last few years is not sustainable with regressive economic orientations. Experience demonstrates that aspirations for autonomy decline with the consolidation of bourgeois power. Only the path towards a complete break with neoliberalism, [and the rise of] popular initiative, political radicalization, and confrontation with the capitalist class can pave the way toward achieving the Second Independence.
Joy at the other Summit
The mainstream media also did not register in Panama the occurrence of an important Summit of the People. In this activity, for three days, the social movement came together over an intense program of anti-imperialist debate.
In the inauguration of this event, it was very clear why Panama is not Miami. There were multiple demands that the Empire beg forgiveness for the 1989 invasion and offer compensation to the victims. In the workshops demands full of information were analyzed, such as the lifting of the Cuban embargo, the return of Guantanamo, Puerto Rican independence, and the end of the British occupation of the Malvina Islands.
The meeting reinforced the world campaign that gathered millions of signatures to demand retraction of the U.S. decree against Venezuela. In many cities on the continent this demand was accompanied by mobilizations and reinforced by the support of noted intellectuals.
The Summit of the People consolidated a tradition of meetings parallel to the presidential meetings. In contrast to the official meeting, the popular event was crowned with an important final declaration. In this closing session an explosion of enthusiasm broke out when the victory against Obama’s decree was revealed.
This climate contributed the best barometer to evaluate what happened in Panama. They achieved a diplomatic success that consolidates popular hopes in Latin America.
Claudio Katz is an economist and professor at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. His website is http://www.lahaine.org/katz. This article was translated from the Spanish by Socialist Action, and slightly cut for space. See the full article in the Spanish-language section of this website.
Photo: Obama put on a brave smile while posing with Cuban President Raul Castro (ctr.), but failed in getting support from countries at the Summit for U.S. attempts to isolate Venezuela.