Luis Bilbao: The grand duel -- At the Fifth Summit of the Americas, a crucial battle is to be waged

By Luis Bilbao, translated by Gonzalo Villanueva for Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal. It was first published in America XXI.

[Luis Bilbao will be a featured guest at the World at a Crossroads conference, to be held in Sydney, Australia, on April 10-12, 2009, organised by the Democratic Socialist Perspective and Green Left Weekly. Visit for full agenda and to book your tickets.]

April 9, 2009 -- The time has arrived: to align with the North to engage in the futile business of saving capitalism, or define positions and accelerate towards South American unity, the complementary solidarity of the region's economies and authentic sovereignty towards the good life for all. That is the option for which there is no possible postponement.

The United States and its partners are attempting to attract key countries of the hemisphere to support its strategy, once again like neo-colonies clinging to the metropolis. That was the significance of the G-20 summit on April 2 in London, that is the intention of Washington for the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, 15 days later. In contrast, the countries of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) will meet on April 16 in Caracas, Venezuela to ratify a common line of action against the crisis and a response to imperial capital. The participation of all members of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in the meeting of ALBA is the last opportunity to present a united front before the destructive power of the global crisis is unleashed.

During the month of April a new global political map will remain outlined. On the 2nd in London and on the 17th in Trinidad and Tobago, the G-20 and the Fifth  Summit of the Americas will define the strategy with which the United States, the European Union, Japan and China, will face the collapse of the world order that has existed for the last six decades. The grand mystery is what place will Latin America and the Caribbean occupy in the quest for what will substitute. Nothing will be final, of course. Because the only thing constant at this moment is ebullition. The molecular transformation of the worldwide relation of forces passes beneath the surface at a speed different from that imposed by the collapse of the capitalist system. In a manner which the visible events – and above all the representation in the corporate media – have little correspondence with reality. Nevertheless, the role of each protagonist depends on the course of imminent history, prefigured by the overwhelming wave of workers dismissed from their posts around the world.

A feverish diplomatic activity of the US State Department and countless meetings at a presidential and ministerial level in America and Europe, with public and reserved meetings between the United States and China, shows the nervous movement of the chess pieces on the global board. Above all, with just two or three exceptions, the astounding size of the political figures involved, their lack of theoretical preparations to understand the current developments, their lack of emotional and even moral plasticity with which they rise on stage before an fearful and expectant world audience.

But the focus should be on another point: the attitude of China in relation with the redefinition of a global financial system, the location of the three Latin American governments – Brazil, Mexico and Argentina – embedded in the G-20 and the attitude that members of UNASUR will assume on the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago when they are face to face with the new representative of imperialism, Barack Hussein Obama.
In addition to fear and astonishment, the crisis produces changes until recently  unthinkable. The nervousness of the Chinese authorities is not the least of them, if one takes into account not only the proverbial imperturbably of that ancient culture, but above all the causes that provoke it. It is known that
Beijing has astral amount of stocks invested in US Treasury bonds (different information makes it oscillate between one to two trillion dollars). Coupled with the impact of the collapse of global trade has on China's economy, the risk, at the end of term, of an inevitable extreme devaluation or direct demise of the US currency, that creates a paradoxical situation of mutual dependence and collision between the two economies.

In recent weeks this has been expressed even in the military terrain, “the US ship USNS Impeccable violated international and Chinese laws and regulations”, said China's foreign ministry spokesperson, Ma Zhaoxu, alluding to a dark episode in which, according to the Pentagon, Chinese ships on Sunday March 8 made dangerous maneuvers around a unarmed US Navy ship in international waters in the South China Sea. In response Washington replied to China with no less forcefulness: “We will have to continue to operate while in international waters”, said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesperson.

This episode cannot be ignored, but within the G-20 is the dilemma of China against the highly developed capitalist world passes through another meridian: collaborating with the White House to rebuild the international financial system or create a subsystem (the hypothetical vertices are Beijing, Moscow and Tehran) and then join with other possible subsystems that would interweave  those economies subordinated and sharply oppose the imperialist economies. So far, the Chinese government seems to heading towards an alternative middle or third way: to agree with the United States for a new international currency exchange, that would replace the dollar. This is how Zhou Xiaochuan, president of the Popular Bank of China, prompted it: “the introduction of a supranational currency, stable and not tied to a particular country, would benefit the global financial system.”

Russia had previously outlined this idea, without giving a precise form; soon after the Chinese formulation, Brazil also supported the proposal. What position would the EU adopt, associated in the misery with Washington, although equally interested in taking advantage against the United States? “It is the path to hell,” said the temporary president of the EU, the Czech Mirek Topolanek, referring to measures taken by US President Barack Obama. Europe fears, and with good grounds, that a policy of unbridled deficit such as the White House applies without any explanation dynamites the columns of the euro and would make disappear the common currency of the old continent. The EU could overturn the balance. But its indecision goes hand in hand with its fear of a traumatic denouement. The mystery would unveil itself before these pages are in the hands of the reader. In any case,  it is presumable the transience of the results that would be reached in London: no one can afford to push to a spectacular failure, and few imagine a consolidated net balance such as that reached at Bretton Woods in 1945: the US hegemony is over. And forever. It can no longer impose its will on the rest of the world. Although it can still prevent the European Union from deploying all the instruments it needs to collide head-on with Washington in the dispute over global markets. And above all, to maintain the capacity to draw key governments in the rest of the world to halt the unifying tendency with a anti-imperialist content, and, from there,  plunge into ruin the building of a multipolar world which would contain, with enormous potential strategic, a block with a anti-capitalist profile in South America, the ALBA.

What will UNASUR do?

Two forces of opposite direction and strength gravitate on the changing geopolitics of Latin America. Since 2000 UNASUR prevailed in leading a convergence, in gradual confrontation with United States. In 2005, during the Fourth Summit of the Americas in the Argentine city of Mar del Plata, the then head of the empire suffered a humiliating defeat. And the convergent trend  accelerated. But while this dynamic led to the birth of UNASUR, the United States launched its counteroffensive, aimed at recovering the initiative, to claim back the relationship of forces and lay the foundation to neutralize the revolutionary march already underway in different parts of the region. Four years later, Washington recorded scarce but significant victories, which places President Obama in a different situation to his predecessor from Mar del Plata. Furthermore, in Trinidad and Tobago, from April 17 to 19, the summit will take place on a world stage completely alien to 2005, created by the eruption an unexpected protagonist: the global crisis of the capitalist system.

If the first factor plays in favour of the United States, the second operates highly contradictorily, accentuating instead the centripetal and centrifugal forces in Latin America. As it loses ground due to the pressure of the crisis, Washington won a seemingly impossible position usurping the internal contradictions of the regional bourgeoisie, the vacillations of the self-titled progressive governments.

The State Department planned and carried out a formidable diplomatic blitzkrieg, aimed to annihilate resistance prior to meetings in London and Trinidad and Tobago. The US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton travelled to Mexico, where behind the facade of self-criticism assuming responsibility for drug trafficking and weapons, in reality the visit adjusted a plan to prevent a mass exodus of Mexicans to the United States, as a result of the widespread collapse of political order already foreseen by serious analysts. Meanwhile, the Pentagon recruited groups of commandos ready to be deployed to quell social uprisings not only in the interior United States, where the cauldron has begun to boil, but in countries critical to the imperial balance (Mexico, Peru and Colombia are at the top places on the list).

The husband of the secretary, former Democrat president William Clinton, occupied immediately the proscenium of a meeting of the InterAmerican Development Bank (BID) in Medellín, where the lee of a debate on the crisis brought redrafting figures across the continent, in preparation of inexorable political upheavals, which in many cases will be encouraged by US embassies to place their subordinates in executive positions.

Nothing is more eloquent of the internal turbulence in Latin America than the creation of a Regional Defense Council by the 12 member countries of UNASUR in early March, in Santiago de Chile. The creation of this new regional military body was followed a  few days later by an announcement that Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay would carry out in conjunction with the Fourth Fleet of the United States, the largest naval exercise ever undertaken in the hemisphere. “The Unitas Gold military exercise will take place between April 20 and May 5; it will combine a total of 15 warships, two submarines and more than a dozen aircraft from 11 countries in naval operations with the purposes of training and promoting maritime security and regional stability,” reported AFP. ``The Fourth Fleet has remained dormant for almost 60 years, but the United States Navy announced its restoration in April 2008 for a naval presence in the Caribbean and Latin America, which generated concern in some countries in the region. The Pentagon said it was an administrative measure that it is not related to military objectives.”

As if to underline that this excessive mobilisation of military forces “has nothing to do with military objectives”, German troops were invited to participate.

`Progressives' in Chile

In the same vein, US Vice-President Joseph Biden visited Brasilia, where he met with Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio da Silva and then went to Viña del Mar, located in Chile within close proximity of Santiago, where a meeting of ``progressive’’ presidents took place on the March 27 and 28. With Chile’s Michelle Bachelet as host, the attendees included the presidents of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil -- Cristina Fernandez, Tabaré Vázquez and Lula -- who held intensive discussions with Biden, the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Jens Stoltenberg of Norway, in addition to the Spanish president José Luis Rodríguez.

It is important to underline the fact that the Latin American leaders and members of UNASUR and Mercosur participate in these meetings in which political leaders of imperialism adjust their politics for to the crucial meetings in London and Trinidad and Tobago. Beyond all value judgments, it is an indication that the divide-and-conquer strategy of Washington regarding Latin America can be seen as a weak strategic success but of significant tactical value.

These inconsistencies are not harmless. Excited about the prospect of occupying a place in the inner sanctum of world power, Brazil subordinated in recent months -- precisely during the weakest period of imperialism -- its role as a leading force in UNASUR. Translating this strategy to internal politics, after his meeting with Biden, Lula explained that the workers should resign their demands, because now it was a matter of saving the equilibrium of the system. For his part, the Argentine foreign minister Jorge Taiana and the country's ambassador in Washington, Héctor Timerman, explained that  [Argentine President Cristiana] Fernandez’s meeting with Biden was “highly satisfying”. According to his interpretation, “the most important thing is that we think the same about how to deal with the crisis. The President and Biden agreed that the credit agencies should help raise global demand and that this does not conflict with the claims of some European countries, which is about improving the system of control of funds. Both can and should be done at once”, said Taiana.

“A millimetre of difference in theory is equivalent to one kilometre in practice”, said a political thinker a century ago. The presidents from the south expressed their satisfaction with having agreed with Biden and Brown on issues such as reform of the IMF and the need for subordinated countries to have a voice and a vote at the meeting of the powerful.

ALBA or 21st century capitalism

The day after the reunion of progressive presidents, the Argentine newspaper La Nacion, a fierce opponent of the government, titled its front page: “Agreement on the global crisis with United States and United Kingdom. Cristina Kirchner was aligned with those countries to submit proposals to the G-20.”

Without the need to guess, before the two meetings take place it is clear that the strategists from the North have pointed to a victory, which consists of attracting key countries to the imperialist clique disguised under the name of G-20. There the most powerful will affirm a strategy to tackle the global crisis. It is congruent that those who understand the global conjuncture as a mere passing crisis are happy to be invited to the conclave, even if it does not seem sensible to assume that the decisions will benefit the neo-colonies.

Among a host of different reasons, the evasive behaviour against the strategic responsibilities of UNASUR become an erroneous interpretation of the world situation. Even for governments that do not define themselves in favour of socialism in Latin America, it should be clear that the depth and extent of the crisis excludes any possibility of a painless medium-term plan for the global crisis, which is just the first step. At a cost of untold suffering of their peoples, these governments committed to collaboration in rebuilding of  the existing system will in the near future comprehend that 21st century capitalism can only take shape in the form of massive unemployment, collapse of the purchasing power of the workers, the annihilation of the welfare state, destruction of democratic institutions and the advance of fascism, repression, famine and misery.

Many of the intellectuals of the system and the rulers they advise do not have the necessary instruments to interpret the current situation. But ignorance is no excuse when people seek and find their response to the devastation of the crisis ahead, which is only beginning.

Against this panorama and against the escalation of presidential and ministerial meetings to prepare the Summit of the Americas on April 16, the countries of ALBA will meet in Caracas. There, the countries will agree on a common policy to act together on at the summit the next day. As is known, a meeting of  ALBA last November established a joint strategy against the crisis, which in addition to planning depending on the needs and possibilities of each country, decided to create a common currency, the Sucre (Unitary System of Regional Compensation) and the affirmation of the Bank of ALBA. Also in counteroffensive to the imperialist strategy, in mid-March, after some delay,  the prospect of a Bank of the South was consolidated. Following this line, in contrast to the reunion of progressive presidents, it is hoped that on April 16, on the eve of the Summit of the Americas drafted by Washington, all the members of UNASUR will turn out -- especially Argentina and Brazil -- to agree on a plan that rings in a united and strident voice, against the imperialist agenda of rebuilding.