Latin American leaders at the UN

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This past week we witnessed and confirmed something that we at "The America’s Report" denounced a long time ago: the expansion of the alliance between Chávez and his supporters in Latin America with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Whether in the past it was clear that the Bolivian president, Evo Morales, was following the Chavista blueprint in domestic politics by initiating a constitutional assembly and by promoting a revolutionary socialist regime, it was not at all clear as to what kind of foreign policy he would pursue. By the same token, Nicaraguan President, Daniel Ortega, who ran in the elections stating that he is "a changed man", was expected to follow a rather pragmatist foreign policy. This week these two leaders of small and impoverished nations clearly sided with Chávez’s foreign policy by openly supporting Iran and by making statements of hostility against US world leadership.

Indeed, during his speech at the United Nations General Assembly, President Morales criticized the concept of globalization as well as what he calls a "US policy of discrimination against indigenous rights in Latin America". Morales criticized US "policies of military and economic intervention" referring to the US intervention in the region in the fifties, sixties and seventies and in reference to the "Washington Consensus" that promoted neo-liberal policies in Latin America in the 1990’s. Literally following Chavez’ clichés pretty much like a parrot, Morales blasted the development of ethanol in Latin America promoted by the US and Brazil because; "it steals from the land food products to make automobiles run". Curiously enough, this statement reflects word-by-word Chavez’ emotional reaction to the US-Brazilian agreement last March for cooperation in the development of ethanol.   Last year Morales also nationalized the production of natural gas in Bolivia one day after a meeting he held with Hugo Chávez. All of the above confirms Morales’ undignified status as a "Chavez stooge".

Of course, the Morales performance did not end in mere rhetoric. A few days later in La Paz he hosted the embattled Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Together they signed an alliance of cooperation that had, on the one hand a symbolic component and on the other hand a very real one. Morales backed Ahmadinejad’s nuclear program joining Venezuela, Libya, and Cuba and moved to establish diplomatic relations with Teheran. This makes Bolivia into a de-facto international ally of Iran, joining countries considered to be rogue states. As such Bolivia runs the risk of isolation.

Bolivia and Iran signed an agreement on energy and industrial cooperation, which involved funding of $1.1 billion. According to this agreement both countries will cooperate in the areas of energy exploitation and exploration and in joint ventures involving petrochemical and hydroelectric development as well as hydrocarbons, mining, agriculture, infrastructure, science and technology.

The leader of Bolivia’s opposition, Jorge Quiroga, rightly criticized Morales stating that the Bolivian leader is following Chávez dictates. There is no question that the symbolic value of this alliance is more important because most likely Morales will become an instrument not only in the hands of Chávez but also in the hands of Ahmadinejad who is struggling to develop his nuclear program and to break his increasing international isolation.

The question is: what benefits Bolivia can extract from a technological cooperation with Iran? According to experts living and working in Iran, the state of technology and technological innovation in Teheran is precarious as it depends on international relations that are currently much deteriorated. Moreover, brain power has emigrated from the Middle Eastern country and state intervention in all areas has undermined an effective development of civilian technologies. This does not mean that Iran will not be able to complete a nuclear program, but civilian technologies including those where Bolivia seeks assistance are highly undeveloped except perhaps in the area of mining. Iran is definitely a semi-developed country (it was defined as such by the UN) despite the noise caused by its nuclear program. Most of its GDP is coming from petroleum, which constitutes 80% of its exports and almost half of its population is employed in the service sector.   Further sanctions against Iran are likely to worsen this situation.

Yet, according to some reports, Ahamdinejad is believed to be interested in mining because he is seeking Bolivian uranium to continue developing his nuclear program. This can place Bolivia in a very dangerous situation that this tiny and disadvantaged nation that is still struggling to get access to the sea may not be able to afford in the long run.  

In other words, Bolivia needs to engage in good relations with as many countries as possible and Morales’ actions are not helping this endeavor.  Morales’ goal of improving the situation of indigenous people in his country might be hard to achieve.  Moreover, his current actions will not only lead to losing status in the United States but also in the developed world, particularly Europe which is siding more and more with Washington, as is demonstrated in the new pro-American foreign policies of French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, and German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. International concern with terrorism does not make things any better for Bolivia.  Indeed, Morales’ alliance with Chávez and Ahmadinejad generates great concern in the US and among Latin American democracies but Bolivia will be the first to pay the price.

Nicaraguan President, Daniel Ortega, used the stage in the UN General Assembly to launch an attack against "imperialist global capitalism". He also called the US "the worst tyranny in the world". Ortega went a step further, blaming natural disasters and hurricanes like Hurricane Felix that recently devastated Nicaragua, as the result of "aggression against mother nature carried by the greediness of imperial capitalism". He stated that regardless of who is the President of the United States (be it Democrat or Republican) he/she would always be mere "instruments of the empire". "Empires, he added have a "short life in history" and sooner or later they will collapse." The US is more oppressive and violent today than ever, Ortega pointed out. Then he proceeded to reinforce a third world discourse by pointing out that the world is dominated by a minority of dictators that try to impose an economic order, subjugate African and indigenous peoples and expropriate land that "does not belong to them". Ortega blasted European immigrants to America for taking away property from the natives as well as for imposing their own foreign culture. This is why the West is the worst dictatorship on earth. Then, he moved to defend Iran’s nuclear program, which Ortega not only supports on the grounds of "being used for peaceful purposes" but also stated that he sees nothing wrong even if Iran wants to have a nuclear program for military purposes. Ortega went on to ask "What is the right of the only country that launched an atomic bomb on the innocent populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to demand from another country to abstain from developing nuclear technology?"

These words put Ortega not only at odds with the interests of his own nation but also portrayed him as being as unreliable as he was in the past. The man who declared during the elections that he is not the same that he was 20 years ago and who was defeated in three prior democratic elections has come back as a radical associated with Chávez and Ahmadinejad. Hurricane "Felix" showed how much the country needs international help and neither Chávez nor Ahmadinejad can help Nicaragua face this difficult situation. Such an impoverished country is now associating with two isolated countries whose promise of financial or other type of aid may not have a long-term effect. Indeed, the Nicaraguan daily "El Nuevo Diario" conducted a poll via Internet asking people if they agreed or not with Ortega’s speech. The poll indicated that 78% of the population opposed it. By the same token, 50 out of 92 members of Nicaragua’s National Assembly rejected it as well. This body also blasted Ortega for not raising awareness of those affected by "Hurricane Felix" and instead, promoting nuclear proliferation. The statement by the representatives of the national assembly also states (contrary to Daniel Ortega) that Nicaragua is interested in good relations with all the countries in the world and that they are grateful to those countries that have provided assistance.

Of course the declaration by the national assembly (which was blocked by the Sandinista legislators) speaks volumes for the value of these Latin American democracies. Evo Morales also confronts domestic criticism as his projects for constitutional reform continue to stagnate and raise animosity. As Morales was flirting with Ahmadinejad and being politically nursed by his fatherly mentor, Hugo Chávez, workers and indigenous representatives asked to dissolve the Bolivian constituent assembly accusing Morales’ party, MAS, of promoting violence and unnecessary dissent among Bolivians. These new "petty dictators" in Nicaragua and Bolivia reflect Chávez’ views but by no means the people’s will. This is why these two leaders along with the Venezuelan President and an embattled Rafael Correa in Ecuador, who this Sunday will see a vote on the constitutional assembly, are trying to shut down the voice of the people.   

The episodes of last week should reaffirm the principle, which the US and most Latin American countries have almost unanimously subscribed to in the last two decades:  it is only democracy that will counterbalance the power of fraudulent, authoritarian dictators. This is why the Organization of American States (OAS) with the help of the United States must make sure that democracy is not suppressed. Otherwise, it is an open gate for vicious elements such as Chávez and Ahmadinejad.

The OAS has done a very poor job in denouncing Chávez’ excesses and in protecting and monitoring democracy. On the other hand, the OAS has been very skilful in remaining attached to the principle of "not rocking the boat". They will pay a high price for this negligence.   As for the US, this is the time to become more active, leave the comfortable desks of Washington, DC and get to know and work with these heroic opposition forces operating in each of these countries and try to understand the realities of each country further.


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