Isn't it ironic how when the tables are turned, what was once justified and merely
business becomes theft, murder and robbery? If one needs an example of this type
of incident, they need look no further than the recent decision by Bolivia to
nationalize its natural gas industry. Private corporations (and public ones historically
controlled by the owning state's elites) moved into Bolivia decades ago and connived
deals that essentially robbed the Bolivian nation and its people. Now that the
popular anti-corporate government of Evo Morales has turned the tables on the
previous owners by nationalizing the industry with no intention of compensating
the losing entities, those who stole the resource from Bolivia in the first place
are now calling it theft.
What we have here is a case of duplicity and hypocrisy. It's okay for
the corporations of the world (and the governments that work for them) to force
free trade deals down smaller and less powerful nations throats -- deals whose
only intention is to expropriate the weaker nations resources and people while
creating a market that makes locally grown products unprofitable for the locals
to grow or buy. This dynamic locks the less powerful nations in these
so-called trade agreements into a cycle of greater and greater impoverishment
and an accompanying destruction of their social and cultural fabric, leaving
them with an empty capitalist approximation of culture and no money to buy that
culture's trinkets. Bolivia's history is not unusual. Indeed, it is the history
of most nations in the Americas. However, the movement that Evo Morales represents
is tired of the rip-off and is taking back what was theirs to begin with.
In those countries where free trade deals won't work -- say Iraq or Iran --
that's where the murder comes in. Instead of robbing the people of these countries
with a fountain pen, the world's richest robbed (and continue to rob, in the
case of Iraq) them at gunpoint. After an initial massacre or two, there are
those in the countries under attack who throw their lot in with the invaders.
Backed by the invader's army, these men and women sell off resources that aren't
theirs to sell and stuff their part of the profits in their bank accounts. Then
they kill and imprison their countrymen that oppose the theft, calling them
traitors and worse on their way to the torture chambers.
Of course, the acts of betrayal described above can only be maintained by force
and intimidation, at least for a generation or two. By then, the thieves hope
their power will be firmly ensconced and their history will be considered the
one truth. If the books can be rewritten and the teller of the legends dispensed
to the museum of irrelevance, then the robbers have won. Their murder and theft
becomes the story of national pride and the gods of profit and exploitation
the national religion. Those who lived before and fell before the invaders and
their accomplices are dispelled to the category of savage -- romantic or otherwise.
Simpler men and women, they just had to make way for the tides of history. History
driven by the desire to destroy and conquer in the name of acquisition.
So, while the US media tries to compare the liberal-minded and popularly elected
Morales to the worst of the world's strongmen because his government wants to
renegotiate contracts with outside energy companies on terms favorable to the
Bolivians and not the corporations, Washington and its northern allies struggle
to intimidate Iran into conceding its independence in energy matters. It's not
that nuclear power is a good way to go, but any national leadership worth its
salt knows that long-term energy independence is essential to survival in the
world of the future. This is what the politicians in Washington claim to want
for the US, yet when the rulers in Tehran claim the same for the Iranians, they
are threatened with war.
The common denominator between Morales' Bolivia and Tehran is their insistence
that they owe those that have historically exploited their resources nothing.
Morales stated as much when he told the world that he would not provide compensation
to those companies that used to control Bolivia's energy industry. It is Morales'
contention that those corporations have already received such compensation over
the years that they have exploited trade deals that were very favorable to those
corporate groups. Even Petrobas, the Brazilian resource group that is calling
foul the loudest, has been party to this. It is important to remember that until
recently Brazil was a textbook case of foreign exploitation and rampant with
corruption and military repression. Social Democrat Lula's election has changed
that somewhat, but it takes more than an election or two to change a country
as manipulated by (and integrated into) the international capitalist system
as Brazil was. Despite the hopes of the US press, the debate between the Bolivian
and Brazilian governments over compensation for Petrobas' holdings in Bolivia
is not the beginning of the end of Latin America's recent rejection of northern
imperialism. It was primarily the previous governments of Brazil that robbed
Bolivia, not Lula's government. In all likelihood, most of those monies are
no longer in the Brazilian treasury, just like the monies made by pre-Chavez
Venezuela were taken out of the hands of the Venezuelans.
Indeed, to provide further compensation would be comparable to a robbery victim
signing over their bank account to the person who beat and robbed them after
the thief was arrested. Time and the force of arms were what legitimized the
theft of their resources in the first place, and their actions are a provocative
attempt to undo the lies that time created.
Ron Jacobs is a writer and library worker. He
lives in Asheville, NC