“Colonialism is not a machine capable of thinking, a body endowed with reason. It is naked violence.”
– Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
When the guns fell silent on August 12, 1898, the Old World colonial powers of Europe were confronted by a new reality. Spain, once a vast imperial power with territories the world over, had been brought to its knees by a neophyte to international conquest: the United States of America. Cuba, Guam and the Philippines (where fighting continued for some time) were all ceded to the US and a new paradigm for economic, social and political structure banished the European nations (with the notable exception of Great Britain in Guyana and Belize) out of the “New World.”
After barely a century of US power, we are again seeing the emergence of a new paradigm. This paradigm – which has a long tradition in some regions and is totally new in others – focuses on the elimination of state violence by colonial puppet regimes, the ending of foreign financial plunder and the advancement of new forms of regional and national solidarity. It is rewriting the protocols for international trade between developed, developing and underdeveloped nations. It was at the core of the Arab Spring and is now lighting its way through Latin America.
On December 2, 1823, US President James Monroe declared during his State of the Union address that the United States would no longer tolerate European colonial intervention in the New World (specifically Latin America). He stated that any such interference would be viewed as an act of aggression against the US and would be countered by military intervention. In short, Monroe established the unilateral aggressive power we now take for granted as the Rosetta Stone of neoliberal globalization: every nation in the Old World will be subject to the superiority of US power.
The Spanish American war was the first real test of the Monroe Doctrine; the result, after nearly five months of fighting and thousands of military and civilian casualties, was a complete shift in New World power and colonial structure.
Rather than following the paradigm of their Old World rivals through military occupation and the creation of colonial bureaucracies to manage regions, the United States chose to focus on creating conditions in Latin America that would be highly favorable to their business interests. Nowadays this means the interest of American multi-national corporations (MNCs). These conditions come at the expense of citizens’ health and well-being, freedom from corruption and state-sanctioned violence, involvement in their own governance and, perhaps most importantly, their right to be the architects of their own destinies. Instead, they have been fashioned into wards of indirect corporate colonialism, provided a pittance in exchange for abject servitude.
The dictates of the MNCs are achieved through the selective issuing of financial loans and aid to developing and under-developed nations. Strapped for cash and foreign investment, poorer nations accept the demands of the World Bank (the head of which is a US citizen, traditionally nominated by the current US president) and the International Monetary Fund (traditionally headed by a European citizen) to ensure that help arrives. These two institutions, whose initial goals (the elimination of world poverty and the stabilization of the world economy) were quite noble, have become instruments of the interests of the American and international MNCs in Latin America and abroad.
In fully-realized “Adam Smith Capitalism,” we should expect to see competition between MNCs requiring the re-investment of profits for continued research, development and growth. Instead, we see a stagnant mire in which huge corporate entities simply divide up the globe into their own zones of influence and put the wealth they earn directly and exclusively into the enlargement of profit. Canadian writer and philosopher John Ralston Saul has likened this current system to the mercantilism that existed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in which charters for the exploration of new lands and exploitation of their peoples and resources were granted by the rulers of European nations. These 18th and 19th century companies, such as the Dutch East India Company and the British East India Company, divvied up the spoils of exploration and subsequent colonization. It is darkly ironic that conservative pundits hold Adam Smith in such high regard when Smith was steadfastly against the huge charter companies and their colonial exploits during his time.
The situation created by this economic paradigm is occasionally made manifest in surreal and often violent circumstances. Farmers in Honduras, for example, cannot bring their bananas to market directly in their home country because of agreements in place between the government and the US-based United Fruit Company. Instead, the bananas must be exported to America after harvest and then re-imported to the country at which point they can legally be sold in the markets. During Angola’s decades-long civil war, American oil and gas conglomerate Chevron-Texaco paid for rebels to invade and seize resources from the tiny enclave of Cabinda at the same time as they paid the Angolan military to defend their rigs from those rebels in neighboring regions. In India, farmers who were long accustomed to buying seed that would regrow naturally, allowing them to produce seeds for subsequent crops, were sold genetically engineered seed that died off after one season. The “suicide seed,” developed and sold by the American-based Monsanto corporation, was designed to ensure that farmers would be required to buy new seed every season. In a nation where 60 percent of citizens make a living through farming or related industries, this practice has impoverished rural populations so deeply that many rural farmers see no way out – in 2009, 17,638 Indian farmers (or one farmer every half hour) killed themselves.
Policies and practices like this form the basis or the indirect rule, or corporate colonialism, that the US paradigm has used in place of the direct administration of earlier forms of Old World colonial governance.
Over the past five years or so, large swathes of Central and South America have managed to find their way out of economic stagnation. This became possible in part due to US neglect of Latin American nations and economic blocs as trading partners during the George Bush years, as well as open resistance to the neoliberal IMF and World Bank policies of financial austerity, market deregulation and mass privatization. A number of nations in the region have elected populist leaders who promise deliverance from the poverty resulting from the institution of neoliberal economic policies. The administrations of Evo Morales in Bolivia, Dilma Vana Rouseff in Brazil and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela have sought to create civil societies in which all socioeconomic groups and classes have equal say in their governments’ decisions and policies. Each of these nations were afflicted with huge social and economic gaps between a tiny minority of the super-rich who have benefited from trade with Western (or Northern) nations and the vast throngs of desperately poor who have struggled to survive.
Change has not come easily or without bloodshed and failures, but the dichotomy of aristocrat and pauper endemic to certain Latin American nations no longer seems written in stone. This is not to say that economic and social inequality has vanished altogether; however, Western governments and their MNCs have begun to discover that Latin America is no longer a playground for their neoliberal experimentation. Populations in Bolivia, Brazil and Venezuela have the opportunity to effect change in their own lives rather than facing the fatalism of neoliberal globalization. New trading blocs, such as the left-leaning ALBA group (encompassing Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and a number of Caribbean nations), have been created and have allowed participant countries to grow at their own pace and foster relations with other developing-nation powerhouses. China has now replaced the United States as the number-one trading partner for Central and South America. The seeds of a paradigm of resistance have been planted.
The 2012 Summit of the Americas (held in Cartagena, Columbia, a model client-state of the US) provided a clear test case for this solidarity. Cuba has never been invited to the Summit because it was open only to members of the Organization of American States (OAS), from which Cuba has been excluded by resolution since 1962. In 2009, the 1962 resolution was annulled. This year, for the first time in the Summit’s existence, Cuba was discussed among members as a potential guest. While both the United States and Canada declared their objection to the inclusion of Cuba, the ensuing reaction on the part of the other OAS member nations was bold and demonstrative of the spirit of independence and resistance to foreign demands that is overtaking Latin America. The region rose up less in defense of Cuba than in opposition to what was perceived as inappropriate meddling by the US.
Frantz Fanon believed that the colonized subjects redeemed themselves only through violence. He saw the bloodshed of revolution as the only effective way to counter the institutionalized violence of colonialism itself. The new economic paradigm of peaceful revolution, redistribution of wealth and political realignment away from imported neoliberal practices is demonstrating that violence is not necessary for widespread and profound social, economic and political change.
The history of revolution and resistance in Latin America is long. The Bolivarian uprisings of the 19th Century wrested the colonies from their overseas masters, Spain and Portugal, and redrew Latin America into the multitude of nations we see today. The vehement support of Cuba’s inclusion in the Summit of the Americas by Latin American countries (though it was ultimately unsuccessful) can be seen as an affirmation of the revolutionary roots of that nation. Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara achieved in Cuba what few have been able to achieve in other nations – they revolted, and dethroned a brutal dictator who was supported largely by the United States through the indirect colonialism of multinational investment and corporatism. Cuba has, ever since, paid dearly for its success through an American-enforced trade embargo. Its inclusion in future Summits would constitute defiance against American political meddling, subterfuge and indirect colonialism. As Central and South American nations continue to forge trade alliances with regions other than the US, the ideological vacancy and profit-driven nihilism of Western MNCs becomes more and more apparent. This is not, of course, to say that links with China will be more egalitarian. However, the region now has sufficiently well-developed economic clout that can be used effectively to ensure that bargaining and the establishment of international trade will not be as exploitative as in the past. Cuba may have been the first nation to slip the chains of indirect colonialism but the actions of its regional neighbors indicate strongly that it will not be the last.
Cory Sine is a writer and photographer living in Squamish, BC. He has a number of articles published online with “Dialogue with Diversity” and spoke at the Fifth Annual Peace Festival in Ottawa in September, 2011.