Tuesday, March 25, 2014

South America’s interests in the Ukraine crisis

The US-European Union intervention in Ukraine, and Russia’s response, are understandably the subject of much debate on the left. For a general overview of the events and issues, I would recommend in particular the following articles:

Ukraine Between ‘Popular Uprising for Democracy’ (Canadian Government) and ‘Fascist Putsch’ (Russian Government)” by David Mandel, a Quebec socialist and historian who has been involved in labour education in Ukraine for many years; and

Discussion: What stand for socialists on events in Crimea and Ukraine?” by Vancouver activist and journalist Roger Annis.

Much less attention has been paid to these conflicts in Latin America — surprisingly, given the danger they pose in particular to the attempts by progressive governments in the region to forge a united defense and international alliances in the face of Washington’s ongoing attempts to reassert its hegemony in the hemisphere.

The following article, featured in the March 23 issue of Bolivia’s leading daily newspaper La Razón, and published as well in other Latin American media, is an exception in its understanding of what the Ukraine crisis means for the continent and beyond. Of particular interest is its appeal for action by UNASUR, one of the continent’s new alternatives to the discredited US-dominated OAS. My translation from the Spanish.

Richard Fidler

* * *

By Jorge F. Garzón and Victor M. Mijares

La Razón, 23 March 2014

Latin American societies, more focused on the crisis in Venezuela, have been little more than spectators to the tragic events unfolding rapidly in Ukraine. While it might seem that what could happen in that distant region will have scant repercussions in the Latin American countries, we argue that in reality what is at stake are the principles and modalities of the emerging multipolar order. And dependent on those principles and modalities are the perspectives for the Latin American countries to develop and manage their future autonomously.

The actions of the contending actors in the Ukrainian crisis are not only calling into question the fundamental principles of international law, they are also propelling the international system toward a multipolarity based on “spheres of influence,” which is one of the worst imaginable scenarios for the developing countries.

On the one hand, the open support of the United States and the European Union for the demonstrations and mobilizations against the government of Viktor Yanukovich solely because he had refused to sign an agreement of association with the European Union flagrantly violates one of the principles that Latin American diplomacy sought to establish for a good part of the 20th century in such authoritative bodies as the OAS and the United Nations: the “principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states.”

The governments of countries like ours cannot allow themselves to live in constant uncertainty as to whether they will be destabilized by some big power solely because they refused to sign a proposed treaty or to follow a certain orientation in their foreign policy.

Russia, for its part, by occupying the Crimean peninsula has violated the principle of the territorial integrity of states. The precedent it establishes is dangerous and can adversely influence the calculations and doctrines of other regional powers having border problems with their neighbours. Although in our region there are no border problems that seriously threaten regional security, and it is hard to imagine something similar to what has occurred in Crimea, the Russian fait accompli can inspire similar actions in Asia and the Middle East (think about Taiwan, Kashmir or the Gaza Strip). A hostile international environment can, in the medium term, hamper the construction of a South American security community and divert valuable resources for development to the military arena.

Although it is not (yet) a principle of international law, the emergence of a “decentralized multipolarity” has considerably widened the margin of autonomy of the Latin American countries, allowing them to reduce their traditional dependence on the United States and to establish new political and trade links with a range of powers and extraregional blocs like China, the European Union, Russia, India, Japan and Iran. Latin American diplomacy has intelligently made the most of the spaces opened by this transformation of the international system in order to diversify markets, attract investment and gain unconditioned access to capital. However, Russia’s actions in its neighborhood and the scheme of the association agreements offered by the European Union, both demanding “exclusive alliances,” are undermining the foundations of this decentralized multipolarity and propelling the international system toward a multipolarity of “spheres of influence.”

In a sphere of influence, a hegemon claims the exclusive right to dictate the rules of the game for smaller states within the sphere, while simultaneously excluding the presence of other powers (remember the Monroe Doctrine). The weaker states within the sphere are powerless to establish significant links with the rest of the world, and remain subject to the caprice of the regional power or hegemon. A scenario of this nature would preclude the conditions that have allowed the Latin American countries to pursue the strategies of diversification and international influence that they have been so successfully implementing during the last decade.

The establishment of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) as an independent South American organization was possible precisely thanks to the spaces created by a flexible decentralized multipolarity. The member states of UNASUR would do well to recognize their own interests and attempt to influence or at least demonstrate their position concerning the serious nature of the affected international norms and the adverse effects on the international system. The UNASUR states should:

1. Condemn the interference of the foreign powers in the internal affairs of Ukraine and ask the interim government to call an election soon so that the Ukrainian people can decide their future entirely on their own.

2. Condemn any type of armed intervention as has occurred in Crimea and champion respect for the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

3. Reject the European and Russian aspirations to build “spheres of influence” and call for respect of Ukraine’s right to establish links with both blocs without being pressured to choose exclusively between them; and thereby to strengthen decentralized multipolarity not only as a foreign policy practice but as a principle of the new world order.

In our view these demands point to securing a system of coexistence that helps to reduce the actual tensions of a multipolar world and to preserve the political autonomy of Latin America. Beyond the ideological projects or short-term interests of each foreign ministry, a coordinated policy aimed at international decentralization is a regional geostrategic imperative.

Jorge F. Garzón is an internationalist and research fellow at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA).

Victor M. Mijares is an assistant professor of political science and international relations at Venezuela’s Universidad Simón Bolívar and a visiting research fellow at the GIGA.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Bogotá’s progressive mayor fights arbitrary removal from office

BOGOTÁ -- The elected mayor of this Colombian capital, Gustavo Petro, is fighting his destitution by state officials on trumped-up charges of poor administration and “interference with the free market” in the allocation of city government contracts.

The charges specifically target Petro’s decision more than a year ago to move garbage collection from a cabal of private companies to a public firm. An unelected official termed the Procurador ruled in December that Petro should be removed from office and excluded from politics for 15 years – the kind of sentence that had previously been meted out to other elected officials on such grounds as favouring negotiations with the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) or the National Liberation Army (ELN).

Petro is a former guerrilla of the urban leftist M-19 movement, which dissolved in 1990 and participated in drafting the 1991 Constitution of Colombia. He was a prominent senator for many years, a leading opponent of the far-right Uribe government, and in 2010 presidential candidate of the centre-left Polo Democrático Alternativo, a coalition that includes the non-FARC Communists, trade unionists and social democrats. Subsequently elected mayor of Bogotá, he sponsored a number of progressive measures, such as expanding healthcare benefits and defending LGBT rights.

The destitution order in December and since then has prompted many mass rallies in Bogotá’s central square, the Plaza de Bolívar, some of them attracting delegations of peasants, trade unionists and indigenous peoples from throughout Colombia. Petro has become a symbol of resistance to the national government of Juan Manuel Santos, a former Defense Minister under Uribe. His destitution is widely viewed as an attempt by the Uribistas to sabotage the current peace talks in Havana with the FARC, in which a major issue is whether former guerrillas will be allowed to participate in electoral politics in the future.

Petro’s attempts to fight his destitution in the courts have been unsuccessful. He now relies on hopes for victory in a recall referendum initiated some months ago by right-wing opponents, which he had previously opposed. The rightists have managed to postpone the referendum from March 2 to April 6 to enable them to mobilize their opposition to Petro.

The following is a video of Petro’s defiant speech at last night’s mass rally here. He announced that further mobilizations will be held in the lead-up to the April 6 referendum on his destitution, refuting claims in the media (which is almost universally anti-Petro) that he would resign his office in the coming week.


For those who can’t follow the speech in Spanish, here are some photos from the rally: http://canalcapital.gov.co/todos-los-programas/145-informativa/noticias-destacados/14192-imagenes-de-la-movilizacion-por-la-paz-y-la-democracia

For a good background article on current developments in Colombia, see “Colombia, a Society Tired of War,” by Raúl Zibechi: http://www.cipamericas.org/archives/11278# (Spanish text at http://www.cipamericas.org/es/archives/11237). The English text of Zibechi’s article has a few typos (“federal direct investment” should be of course “foreign direct investment”) but is quite readable nevertheless.