Moscow’s state broadcaster Russia Today on Sept. 27 runs an interview with Bolivia’s President Evo Morales from the network’s Spanish-language affiliate, Actualidad, in which he called for Barack Obama to be tried for crimes against humanity and accused him of waging wars to secure US control of the world’s energy resources. “[T]hey arranged for the president to be killed, and they usurped Libya’s oil,” he said—but it was clear his comments really concerned Syria. “Now they are funding the rebels that fight against presidents who don’t support capitalism or imperialism,” Morales told Actualidad’s extremely problematic Eva Golinger. “And where a coup d’état is impossible, they seek to divide the people in order to weaken the nation—a provocation designed to trigger an intervention by peacekeeping forces, NATO, the UN Security Council. But the intervention itself is meant to get hold of oil resources and gain geopolitical control, rather than enforce respect for human rights.”
Morales of course invoked Obama’s comments in his UN address that the US “is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure these core interests” in the Middle East, including “the free flow of energy from the region to the world.” Added Evo: “I think that statement poses a threat to all countries that have energy sources, especially gas and oil… It is a direct threat. I am planning to meet with [Venezuelan] President Maduro and analyze the issue. I understand that this is a direct threat to Venezuela, because in order to secure his country’s energy needs, Obama can invade any country.”
OK, while Obama has not actually “invaded” any countries at all, the fact that the US seeks strategic control of the world’s biggest oil reserves is almost too obvious to warrant much comment. And indeed the International Criminal Court is already investigating possible US war crimes in Libya, and the UN has admonished the White House that its drone strikes may violate international law. So we have no problem with any of that. However, we have a big problem with mixing up the anti-imperialist critique with shameless shilling for dictators—and that is what Evo is doing. By covering for a regime that is committing massive war crimes, he squanders all legitimacy to call out those of the US.
Let’s clear up a few things about Libya, for starters. The circumstances of Qaddafi’s death actually loan little credence to the notion that “they” (meaning the US, presumably) “arranged” it. And as for the oil being “usurped”—we hate to tell you, Evo, but US firms led by ConocoPhillips returned to Libya in 2006 after the sanctions were lifted, and are actually facing more obstacles now—such as labor unrest in the freer atmosphere of the aprés-Qaddafi. Talk about getting it 100% backwards! Once he was again embraced by the West, the dictator had been more than happy to play ball with the oil cartel, and even if the US sought a better deal still as a fruit of the intervention, Washington has been clearly unable to control the actual direction of the Libyan revolution—and by that we mean the revolution of self-organized Libyans, not the new regime.
But the Syrian example is much more maddening. We have the perverse notion that the revolution is a mere imperialist intrigue. We have the more perverse notion still that the Assad regime, with its favoritism to the Alawites, bears no responsibility in “dividing the people.” And most perverse of all, we have the notion that this regime is somehow opposed to “capitalism or imperialism.” Assad’s bogus pseudo-socialism is capitalist to the core, and borrows much from classical fascism, which similarly appropriated anti-capitalist rhetoric in the service of propping up a capitalist class. Sober observers on the left have been warning for years that the Assad family dynasty is a corrupt kleptocracy that offers neither bread nor freedom. And opposed to “imperialism”? Not opposed enough to refuse hapless CIA abductees who were renditioned to Bashar Assad’s torture chambers. But certainly Assad has been far closer to the rival imperalist power, Russia—which even maintains a naval base on Syrian territory. Russia is of course a reduced and second-rate imperial power, but an imperial power nonetheless. Ask the Georgians.
How interesting that Evo’s comments come just as Bolivia has entered into a major hydrocarbons deal with Russia. EFE reported Sept. 13 that Bolivia’s Senate has approved a bill that clears the way for Russia’s Gazprom to explore for natural gas in the Azero bloc, in the lowland Santa Cruz-Chuquisaca region, with the French Total as a junior partner.
Inconveniently, Evo’s comments also come as Assad’s Russian-supplied warplanes have just dropped incendiary bombs on a school building in Aleppo. The death toll remains uncertain, but it is clear that many children suffered horrific burns. (BBC News, Sept. 29) A similar attack in late August left at least 10 children dead and scores badly burned. (Express, Aug. 30)
When the Syrian bloodbath was just beginning, Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, with presumably unintentional irony, pledged to support the fascistic Assad regime against what he called a “fascist conspiracy.” Similarly, Evo Morales, in cutting energy deals with China, has hailed Beijing as an “ideological ally“—an asburd betrayal of the Tibetans, who are struggling for autonomy within China as surely as Evo’s own Aymara people are struggling for autonomy in South America. We similarly asked after Evo’s meeting with Ahmadinejad last year if he had much awareness of the Kurdish autonomy struggle in Iran. It pains us to say it, but it seems more and more that Evo Morales has made his own peace with geopolitical realpolitik—even as he continues to talk the talk of indigenous rights and autonomy at home. Very sad.
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