Gordon Campbell on Hugo Chavez, and the TPP

Column – Gordon Campbell

Hugo Chavez has been an example of how much a Third World nation can achieve when it takes control of its natural resources from the US and its corporate allies, and uses them to benefit its own people and the region.

Gordon Campbell on Hugo Chavez, and the TPP

by Gordon Campbell

Hugo Chavez has been an example of how much a Third World nation can achieve when it takes control of its natural resources from the US and its corporate allies, and uses them to benefit its own people and the region. By the adroit use of Venezuela’s oil revenues, Chavez succeeded in exporting his revolution throughout South America and Central America in ways that had consistently eluded Fidel Castro. Some of those who benefitted from his leadership will be at his funeral.

The current leaders of Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Argentina have all been directly inspired by Chavez and by his refusal to bend to Washington. Not to mention his vision of a system of economic and trade alliances in opposition to the US-sponsored systems that have dominated the region for so long. Even his regional opponents – such as Colombia – finally had grudging reason to be grateful to Chavez, for his role in brokering peace initiatives with its FARC rebels. Peru’s leader Ollanta Humala won the presidency in 2011 on a Chavez-like platform, but has since tried to steer an uncertain alternative course. In recent years, Chavez has become the yardstick against which the entire region is now measured. That’s the kind of transformation South America hasn’t seen since the days of Chavez’ hero, the liberator Simon Bolivar.

Late last year, Lula, the equally charismatic ex-President of Brazil – and a former trade unionist whose successful period in power in Brazil was yet another indirect beneficiary of Chavismo – praised Chavez for his domestic and regional achievements. However, in this Caracas newspaper story, Lula had also urged Chavez to think seriously about the process of succession.

[Lula] judged that the fact that the Venezuelan Constitution allows unlimited reelections is detrimental for democracy. “That is why I did not want a third term in office, because I would have wanted a fourth term in office, and then a fifth term. And in democracy, the alternation in power is an achievement for humanity, and therefore, it should be maintained,” said Lula.

Lula added that Venezuela has made “great improvements,” since President Chávez took over and that “poor people have gained dignity” ever since. He also praised Chávez’s role in Latin America. “Before, even toilets were imported from the United States, now (Venezuela) imports from Argentina, Brazil, and other countries. Venezuela started looking at Latin America, that is why I advocated the entry of Venezuela into the Common Market of the South (Mercosur),” Lula highlighted.

Overall, the main beneficiaries of Chavez’ 14 years in power were the ordinary people of Venezuela. In the process of sweeping aside the old and corrupt politico-economic elites, Chavez understandably made enemies at home and abroad. Yet by directing Venezuela’s oil revenues to the benefit of the poor, he raised the country’s living standards and gained a fierce, devoted allegiance that enabled him to go back to the ballot box again and again, and win elections. To the Americans, this must have been particularly galling. Not only did the coup attempt against Chavez in 2002 (that the US had openly aided) backfire spectacularly on Washington. The historical reality is that their own puppet dictators in the region – the Somozas and Trujillos – could never have withstood the level of regular democratic scrutiny that Chavez invited. As recently as late last year, Chavez was still winning elections against the well-financed opposition from the latest representatives of the old elites.

The media reaction to his death has been instructive. We’ve seen a lot of coverage of the “loved by some, loathed by others” variety, which seeks to imply those two sides existed in balance. They didn’t. Yesterday’s CNN headline “Chavez Empowered The Poor, Divided a Nation” was a classic of this kind. Evidently, the prior chasm that existed between rich and poor in Venezuela didn’t really count with CNN as a country divided. Only by upsetting that particular applecart, had Chavez “ divided” the country. Such coverage must be pretty insulting to the majority of Venezuelans. (Think of how Americans would have felt in November 1963 if they’d read: ‘Loved by some, loathed by his opponents, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a charismatic yet divisive figure at home and abroad. Some wept at the news of his death. Others openly celebrated the news, saying that with the exit of this controversial figure, Americans now have a fresh chance for liberty’ etc etc)

Under its Constitution, Venezuela has to begin a fresh round of elections 30 days after the death of its leader. Chavez – and his legacy – are likely to dominate those elections, to an extent probably sufficient to enable his chosen successor Nicolas Maduro to defeat Henrique Capriles, who was the opposition leader that Chavez beat last year. Then the hard part will begin, of managing Chavismo without Chavez.

TPP: loved by some, loathed by many

The latest round of the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations has been taking place this week in Singapore. In the shadow of these talks, Barack Obama has re-affirmed his commitment to the TPP, and stated his intention of seeking the Trade Promotion Authority that he will need to get any finished deal through Congress. None of which will be easy. US dairy lobbies have recently joined forces with other groups opposed to the TPP and sent a letter to Senator Max Baucus and seven other key members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. (Baucus, BTW, is a Democrat in a Red State up for re-election next year in a very tight race. He can’t afford to ignore the farm vote.)

New Zealanders should be interested in at least one key paragraph in the lobbying letter:

“New market access for New Zealand’s monopolistic dairy sector would be especially damaging to U.S. dairy farmers and those who produce and process nonfat dry milk, butterfat or cheese,” the letter states. To make sure the U.S. dairy industry won’t be decimated by the TPP, the letter urges Congress to adopt new trade policymaking procedures rather than reinstating so-called “fast-track” authority.

Fonterra is being widely seen, in other words, as a major stumbling block to New Zealand getting anything from the TPP by way of greater dairy access to the US market – which is the main rationale for the concessions that New Zealand has been gearing up to make on health and IP issues and on foreign investment protections. With that in mind, the finale of the letter – which calls for far, far greater transparency about the whole TPP process – is something New Zealanders would readily support, Rather than re-instate Trade Promotion Authority, the lobbyists called for policy making procedures that:

‘Require that, prior to continuing negotiations, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative publish all negotiating texts, consult with all committees of jurisdiction and interested stakeholders, and provide a thorough and public trade balance assessment, and other analyses of how a proposed [TPP] trade pact would impact the U.S. dairy industry;

Provide trade negotiators with mandatory negotiating objectives that guarantee that U.S. goals regarding food safety, food sovereignty, conservation, elimination of currency manipulation and worker right are met; and include a process by which a majority of the Congress must vote to certify that the pact is in the public interest and that the negotiating objectives have been met before the pact can be signed and negotiations formally concluded.

The TPP’s potential impact on the U.S. dairy sector, the letter concludes, is far too important to adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach towards the pact’s negotiation. Exactly. New Zealand should be asking for all of the above from its own negotiators, and from the Key government.


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