Latin America: reactions to “giant’s toppling”

Latin American leaders who came to New York the week of Sept. 22 for the annual opening session of the United Nations General Assembly suggested that the US and European countries should use economic models from the South to resolve the growing financial crisis in the North.

On Sept. 23 Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner recalled the arguments US advisers had used to promote neoliberal policies during the 1990s: “that the market solved everything, that the state wasn’t necessary, that support for state intervention was nostalgia from groups that hadn’t understood how the economy had evolved.” But now “the most formidable state intervention in memory was produced precisely in the place when they told us that the state wasn’t necessary,” she said, referring to a series of government bailouts of financial institutions in the US.

Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva emphasized the need for changes in the way multilateral organizations work so that they can confront the dangers of financial speculation and lack of equality among nations. He offered examples from Latin America, such as the current efforts of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) to support the government of elected Bolivian president Evo Morales. He noted that Brazil will be the site of the “first Summit of Latin America and the Caribbean.” He said no countries would be treated like protectorates at the summit, which would be “based on [the different countries’] own perspectives.” (La Jornada, Mexico, Sept. 24 from correspondent)

Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez Frias skipped the General Assembly, instead going to China on Sept. 23 for a three-day visit. “It’s more important to be in Beijing than in New York,” he remarked. In this visit to China—his fifth—Chávez met with Chinese president Hu Jintao, signed 12 economic agreements, including accords on the construction of refineries, and discussed the possible purchase of military aircraft. Venezuela now plans to increase its exports of crude oil to China from 364,000 barrels a day to 500,000 barrels a day in 2009; it currently exports 1.1 million barrels a day to the US. (LJ, Sept. 24 from AFP, DPA, Xinhua, Sept. 25 from AFP, DPA, Reuters, Xinhua) Chávez had remarked on Sept. 21 that the “financial collapse of global capitalism” was affecting those countries “that are strongly hitched up to the US economy. We’ve started to unhitch ourselves.” He added: “This doesn’t mean we’re invulnerable, because this is about the toppling of a giant.” (LJ, Sept. 22)

During the opening of the General Assembly, US president George W. Bush announced a new US economic plan for the hemisphere, the Pathways to Prosperity in the Americas Initiative. The US launched it with a meeting of leaders from the Americas on Sept. 24 in New York. The invitees were presidents Michelle Bachelet (Chile), Alvaro Uribe (Colombia), Oscar Arias (Costa Rica), Leonel Fernandez (Dominican Republic), Antonio Saca (El Salvador), Alvaro Colom (Guatemala), Felipe Calderón (Mexico) and Martin Torrijos (Panama), along with Peruvian vice president Luis Giampietri and Canadian ambassador Michelle Wilson. In an opinion column, former Cuban president Fidel Castro Ruz compared the new project to President John Kennedy’s 1961 Alliance for Progress and President Bill Clinton’s 1994 Free Trade Area for the Americas (FTAA), which “received its coup de grace in Mar del Plata [Argentina] in the year 2005.” (LJ, Sept. 27 from AFP, DPA; Prensa Latina, Sept. 27)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 1

See our last posts on Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela, and our special feature on the econocataclysm.