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Thursday, March 16, 2006

The failure of Hugo-bashing

Mark Weisbrot writes in the LA Times about how W and Condi are losing in the battle for Latin American hearts and minds to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez:
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just last month called for "a united front" against Venezuela, continuing a long-term policy of trying to isolate the country. But Washington has been spitting into the wind. Venezuela's influence in the hemisphere has continued to rise while the U.S. has succeeded only in isolating itself more than at any time in at least half a century. It might be worth asking why.
The subtitle for that article, which I presume came from the LA Times and not from Weisbrot, says:
Despite U.S. efforts, the Venezuelan leader is winning friends across Latin America.
In fact, the "efforts" of Bush, Rice and company are helping Chavez to make friends. W and Condiliar rank somewhere between bird flu and kidney stones in popularity among people in Latin America, and with excellent reason. The Bushies continue to pursue the neoliberal agenda, whose main goal is to turn most of the world into economic colonies of our multinational corporations. Weisbrot:
With oil at nearly $60 a barrel, Venezuela has used its windfall proceeds to win friends in the hemisphere, providing low-cost financing for oil to Caribbean nations. When Argentina needed loans so that it could say goodbye to the International Monetary Fund, Venezuela committed $2.4 billion. Venezuela bought $300 million in bonds from Ecuador. Washington has historically had enormous influence over economic policy in Latin America through its control over the major sources of credit, including the IMF, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. Venezuela's role as a new "lender of last resort" has reduced that influence.

Chavez's opposition to the "Washington consensus" on economic policy has fallen on sympathetic ears in a region that since 1980 has suffered its worst long-term economic failure in a century. Over the last 25 years, income per person in Latin America has grown by a meager 10%, according to the IMF. This compares with 82% from 1960 to 1980, before most of Washington's economic reforms were adopted. And Venezuela's government has kept its promise to share the oil wealth with the poor. The majority of the country now has access to free healthcare and subsidized food, and education spending has increased substantially.