War on Terrorism or Fight for Social Justice?
As the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center
covered the pages of every U.S. newspaper with solemn remembrances, Latin American
papers also marked the event but often in very different terms. In countries
throughout the region, the date brought the requisite mourning of innocent lives
lost. But there were also many reflections on the patent failure of the response
of the Bush government and on the adverse repercussions that the self-proclaimed
"War on Terrorism" has had on countries far removed from the frontline
Most Latin American media has been tough in its evaluations of the war. The
left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada editorialized: "The world today is
a much more violent, uncertain, unjust, and arbitrary place than it was five
years ago. This is a great triumph for the U.S. Republicans and a bitter defeat
for people of peace, understanding, and good will." Argentina's Página
12 noted the way President Bush "wants to again use the issue of insecurity
to improve his popularity" in the advent of difficult mid-term elections
for his party.
Clearly, what Bush called in his speech "the decisive ideological struggle
of the twenty-first century" has found little echo south of the border.
Latin American nations nearly unanimously disapproved of the invasion of Iraq.
Diplomatic and economic pressures to join what many view as Washington's war,'
attempts by SouthCom to establish greater military presence in the hemisphere,
and the formula of equating free trade agreements with security have not been
viewed as part of a common battle but rather as violations of national sovereignty.
The problem is that in many parts of the world, and notably in Latin America,
the war on terrorism as defined by the Bush administration is now seen more
as a cynical attempt to pack the global agenda with objectives that have been
on the back burner of the U.S. right.
Tragically, what could have been a global effort to disarm terrorist cells
and renounce violence as a means of resolving ideological differences has become
associated both with the militarization of society and with the human rights
violations characteristic of the past. For a region that well remembers that
past, and that still lives with its scars and its ghosts, the squandering of
U.S. moral authority following 9/11 and the detour to an agenda of global hegemony
over the past five years have left the United States with a tarnished image.
In fact, half a decade since the attacks, the strategy of the architects of
Bush foreign policy to use the war on terrorism for its own geopolitical objectives
has failed. The attempt to define the world based on a "struggle for civilization"
(Bush's phrase) is questioned in a region that is actively seeking its own definitions.
For most of Latin America, the pressing battles today take place on the globalized
home front, against enemies like poverty, injustice, and crime. These stem not
from an "Islamo-fascist" conspiracy but from fundamental inequities.
Haiti, the half-island whose claim to fame is that it consistently ranks at
the bottom of all social indices in the hemisphere, is a classic case. Since
its independence, the nation was saddled with a crushing debt to France and
the result has been cycles of violence and instability, fuelled by an economy
that has never been able to get on its feet. Correcting that inequity of the
past could save millions of dollars in stop-gap aid in the future.
The current Chilean miner strike provides a contemporary example of struggles
for fairness, one that presages more battles to come. Miners at the world's
largest copper mine have asked a simple question: Who should benefit from the
enormous profits generated by our nation's natural resources? Although the company
in this case is Anglo-Australian, the protest"along with recent student
demonstrations in defense of quality public education"constitutes one of
the first and most important indications that even in the region's "successful"
case of economic integration, growing inequities are producing a popular call
for regulation and reform.
Faced with the ultimatum from Washington of "you're with us or against
freedom", Latin America is responding by tracing its own paths and learning
from its own experience. While the United Status seeks to impose a Pax Americana
based on "free trade" agreements that generate greater inequality
and "freedom" that restricts individual liberties and international
law, social movements and progressive governments in Latin American countries
are building their own alternatives that erode the overwhelming influence of
their neighbor in the North.
Washington generally views all these measures of independence and inconformity
as a threat to U.S. dominance. But an enlightened foreign policy would welcome
them as evidence of a region coming of age and striving to resolve its own problems
in its own ways. This is a good thing for U.S. citizens as well. A relationship
of mutual respect between equals creates a stronger, more stable neighborhood
Laura Carlsen directs IRC's Americas Program, www.americaspolicy.org,
from Mexico City, where she has worked as a political analyst for two decades.