January 2017Policy

Trump's Puzzling and Under-Covered Excursion to Mexico

The failure of journalists to know history and bring it to light in their reporting contributes to the present state of American amnesia, as regards the advance and conquest of Donald Trump.

A good example can be seen in a recent front page Washington Post article reporting on Trump's efforts to reach out to Mexico's business elite to shore up US-Mexican economic ties, from which the US benefits substantially, particularly in the form of cheap labor.  According to reporters Rucker, Costa and Partlow, Trump met in Miami in late December with Carlos Slim whose estimated worth of $77 billion, the reporters accurately noted, figures prominently into Trump's intended "globalist cabal."

However, Trump's outreach to Slim -- and during the campaign, to Mexican President Nieto -- to strengthen bonds would be better understood within a bigger historical frame, one defined by the very beginnings of our age of neoliberalism (1970s to present).

After a progressive period around the world in the 1960s and 1970s, when women, labor groups and -- in our own nation -- racial minorities expanded their civil rights and with it prospects of gaining greater economic and political equality, business leaders became alarmed.  It bears mentioning that their alarm was not without reason, as they had witnessed years of successful and often aggressively won progressive gains achieved through effective leadership on the Left that often included a decidedly anti-capitalist message.

Neoliberalism, by contrast, is an economic ideology that advocates deregulation and expansion of the market economy, including the lifting of barriers to trade such as tariffs and government subsidies to national industries and re-establishing anti-labor mechanisms.  Neoliberal policies are implemented both within nations and internationally, the latter most notably through policies of the World Bank and Inter Monetary Fund, both of which have required governments to "restructure" their economies and social systems in order to receive funds for development.  Restructuring has always benefited the private sector and harmed the public sector where education and social services are administered.

The corporate elite set about righting the threat to their dominance saw by working through established business networks.  In Latin America, that was through Chambers of Commerce, which held meetings both within and across national borders in the early 1970s to define a strategy for reasserting their dominance over public policy, governance and economics.  The US business leaders and government (at that time under President Nixon) were full partners in these plans.

In Chile, for example, it is now well known that US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger helped to guide untold amounts of US funding into Anti-Allende media campaigns.  The outcome was seen on September 11, 1973, when democratically elected socialist President Salvador Allende was overthrown by General Augusto Pinochet in a bloody coup.  Pinochet shored up his power by murdering thousands and re-establishing a brutal and pro-capitalist state.  Restored to US entrepreneurs in the process, among other things, was the ownership of US copper companies like Anaconda and Kennecott, the nationalization of which had been started earlier but completed under Allende.  These companies thus were able to resume extracting the precious metal for export, paying the workers in their open pit extraction process little more than slave wages and taking profits out of Chile for their own aggrandizement.

The smoothly greased Latin American chambers are still alive and well.  The Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America and the Caribbean (AACCLA) boasts of boosting employment in Chile 119,600 jobs in the last six years alone.  The association, more than 100 years old, represents 20,000 companies in 24 nations and over 80% of US investment in the region (emphasis added).  There is no attempt to hide the deep and extensive connections between US business and the Latin American business community -- in fact, this association is pranced out as the first proud accomplishment!

There is an ugliness of more than one kind in these cozy arrangements, the most obvious seen boldly in the four blonde, fair-haired representatives pictured on AACCLA's website home page.  Latin America, a region known for its dark-skinned indigenous and mestizo people, still has a political economy that the leaders of the Lat-Am business community wants to advertise as largely under control of the colonial European minority.

That is not all that is happening in Latin America these days.  Writing for Al-Jazeera, Columbia University professor Hisham Aidi reminds us that Latin America experienced a "leftist tsunami" beginning in the late 1990s, caused by neoliberal reforms of earlier years.  This wave of economic populism was seen in Hugo Chavez's election in Venezuela in 1999, followed by Lula de Silva, ;in Brazil, Nestor Kirchner in Argentina, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua.  Morales expelled the US ambassador and USAID, and Correa refused to renew a lease for a US airbase in Ecuador, Aidi says.  Lula and Bachelet took a more moderate route of forging relations with the US but they, too, sought a new era to counter economic inequality and US intervention.

Aidi's thoughtful article is well worth reading to gain a better historicized and nuanced view of US-Latin America relations.  He recognizes the Left's failures, for example, in Venezuela, with Chavez's and Maduro's policies that stifled private-sector initiatives.  And, he brings out the mismanagement of public funds that also caused rightist surges in Argentina and Guatemala. Most important, he emphasizes that understanding US-Lat-Am politics today requires also understanding the connections of these two regions to a third, the Middle East, where left-leaning Latin American governments have always tried to counter US diplomacy.

In 2003, for example, the majority of South American nations voted against the invasion of Iraq.  However, shifts to the right in some of those nations can be seen in, for example, Colombia's deployment of troops to Afghanistan in 2009 to support the US military against the Taliban, and more recently, the sending of hundreds of Colombian troops to Yemen to help Saudi Arabia put down the Houthis.

As Trump ascends to the White House, the need for solid journalism has never been greater, and the need for those of us on the Left to seek it out will continue to require us to supplement the mainstream media's reporting with more progressive accounts.  Most important, the need for historical and critical writing will be essential if we are to understand the shenanigans of this new administration with a longer, more accurate view.

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