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Weakening the US stranglehold
Hugo Chavez’s 2006 international tour is a breakthrough against the isolation and division of those countries which refuse to accept subordination to the USA.
While Condoleezza Rice jetted between Middle East and European capitals marshalling support for the massacres in the Lebanon and Palestine, an envoy from a different America was also abroad. President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez, a leader who has declared his intention to advance the cause of socialism in the 21st Century, has made official visits to Belarus, Russia, Qatar, Iran, Vietnam, Mali and Benin.
Hugo Chavez: "Our revolution is peaceful but not unarmed."
While this tour will prove to be important for Venezuela’s economic development, its defence capacity, and its possible election (despite US opposition) as a temporary member of the UN Security Council, it has an even deeper international significance.
Since the defeat of Soviet socialism, the international power of the United States of America has been overwhelming. Countries which fell foul of the USA’s imperialist goals found themselves friendless, vulnerable to sanctions, military strikes and ‘regime change’. Rampant capitalism became compulsory; hundreds of millions of people were plunged into insecurity and poverty while profits for transnational companies rose astronomically.
This is still the dominant pattern. But Hugo Chavez’s 2006 international tour is a sign of the rise of an opposite tendency. It is a breakthrough against the isolation and division of those countries which refuse to accept subordination to the USA.
Pressure and discrimination
President Chavez’s itinerary included countries subject to pressure and discrimination by the world’s dominant capitalist powers posing as the ‘international community’.
Belarus is the only nation in Eastern Europe which successfully rejected the privatisation and ‘liberalisation’ of its economy after the breaking of the USSR. As a result, there is almost no unemployment there and the extremes of poverty seen in the rest of Eastern Europe do not exist in Belarus. Belarus is the subject of sanctions by the USA and EU. An attempt at a Western-funded ‘orange revolution’ in Belarus failed miserably earlier this year.
While shamefully violating the Non-Proliferation treaty by creating their own ever-deadlier nuclear weapons, and providing diplomatic cover, funding and technological assistance for Israel’s huge arsenal of nuclear missiles and bombs, the NATO nuclear powers are raising the stakes against Iran for its alleged development of pre-cursors to militarily usable atomic power.
Russia has for years been the target of manoeuvres aimed at isolating it from the nations which were previously its partners in the former USSR and wider socialist bloc, and surrounding it with US military bases and pro-US regimes. Russia’s application for membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has so far been blocked.
Despite its conciliatory international stance and the marketisation of much of its economy, Vietnam is also having its admission to the WTO delayed by the rich Western countries who are pushing for more.
Venezuela itself, having survived US-backed subversion including a failed coup and an employers’ lockout, is under military sanctions imposed by the US regime in the hope that as the country’s weapons become older and worn out it will be more vulnerable to a US-sponsored military incursion, or even a direct attack by the USA itself.
Vladimir Putin’s agreement to sell Venezuela weapons including Sukhoi-30 multi-role fighter jets, military helicopters and Kalashnikov small-arms was made in the teeth of intense diplomatic activity and warnings from the United States. On 25th July the USA publicly requested Russia to ‘review’ the deal.
Gazprom managers with Hugo Chavez
Of great significance also is the negotiation with the giant Russian gas company Gazprom of an arrangement which includes not only assistance in developing Venezuela’s gas production but also in building a pipeline which will span South America. This will reduce the continent’s dependence on the US-based transnational energy corporations.
President Chavez’s international tour builds on the strengthening of economic alliances between Latin American states. One great achievement is the creation of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), an economic bloc linking Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia on socialist principles.
Another is the admission of Venezuela to full membership of Mercosur, the Latin American trading union which includes Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. The US drive to institutionalise its exploitation of South America by herding countries into its so-called Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) appears to have run into the ground.
The empire fights back
The United States has already made good on its threats to Moscow. On 4th August the US State Department announced that it is imposing sanctions against two state-owned Russian companies, Sukhoi and Rosoboronexport. The official US pretext for this was that the companies were exporting arms to Iran, but as the Novosti press agency reported: “The Sukhoi aircraft maker has not sold a screw to Teheran in seven or eight years… In reality, the sanctions are an attempt to take revenge for the $3 billion in contracts for military-technical cooperation signed by Moscow and Caracas, Russian analysts say.”
The US sanctions have been invoked under the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, legislation which was passed in the 1970s as part of the USA’s Cold War economic ‘containment’ strategy, aimed at isolating the Soviet Union from Western developments in technology. This strategy, allied to the high costs of the arms-race, was ultimately successful in preventing the USSR from ‘catching up’ with the USA in industrial development. This demoralised the Soviet Communist leadership and paved the way for the defeat of socialism and the break-up of the USSR.
On 7th August, there was a further development. The USA announced a review of its Generalised System of Preferences, under which ‘emerging economies’ can export to the USA without being penalised by trade tariffs. Russia is likely to lose $1 billion annually as a result of this review.
But so far there are no signs of Russia reneging on its agreements with Venezuela.
Changing balance of power
The fact that a number of countries are now willing to refuse the USA the right to decide with whom and how they should trade and invest is a sign of a shift in global economic balances of power. A key factor in this is the rise of the People’s Republic of China as a centre of world manufacturing. The resurgence of Russia is largely consequent on the rise in world energy and mineral prices in the wake of Chinese industrial expansion.
China’s increasing role as a counterweight to the United States is part of the price that present and future US capitalism has to pay for its defeat of the USSR in the 20th Century. In the late 1970s, US administrations agreed to end most of the Western sanctions which held back China’s economic development, specifically the ‘ChinCom’ ban on Chinese access to new production technology and the political restrictions on capitalist countries’ trade with the People’s Republic; this was in return for China moving decisively into the anti-Soviet camp in the final phase of the Cold War.
Nickel production in Cuba
Rising China has already increased the freedom of action of the left in Latin America. The US administration knows that to boycott Venezuelan oil would be a pointless sacrifice because China is a ready alternative customer. Cuba’s nickel mining and refining industry, in need of technical re-equipping since the defeat of the Soviet Union, has embarked on a major joint investment project with China.
Of course, the United States will retain its choking grip on the world for many years to come. The USA possesses the world’s most advanced production technology and military equipment; China is far behind and will be reluctant to offer direct opposition to the USA until this gap begins to close. As China catches up technologically, the United States is likely to become even more militaristic and adventurous in its desperation to hold on to unrivalled global dominance.
But the US policies of direct bullying and divide-and-rule are no longer uniformly successful. As Venezuela is proving in practice, there is increasing scope, not just for independence, but for movements towards socialism - a system where people’s needs rather than corporate profits are the purpose of production.