Latin America Declares Independence
By Noam Chomsky
10/04/06 "IHT" -- -- Five centuries after the European
conquests, Latin America is reasserting its independence.
In the southern cone especially, from Venezuela to Argentina,
the region is rising to overthrow the legacy of external
domination of the past centuries and the cruel and destructive
social forms that they have helped to establish.
The mechanisms of imperial control - violence and economic
warfare, hardly a distant memory in Latin America - are losing
their effectiveness, a sign of the shift toward independence.
Washington is now compelled to tolerate governments that in the
past would have drawn intervention or reprisal.
Throughout the region a vibrant array of popular movements
provide the basis for a meaningful democracy. The indigenous
populations, as if in a rediscovery of their pre-Columbian
legacy, are much more active and influential, particularly in
Bolivia and Ecuador.
These developments are in part the result of a phenomenon that
has been observed for some years in Latin America: As the
elected governments become more formally democratic, citizens
express an increasing disillusionment with democratic
institutions. They have sought to construct democratic systems
based on popular participation rather than elite and foreign
A persuasive explanation for this has been offered by Argentine
political scientist Atilio Boron, who observed that the new wave
of democratization coincided with externally mandated economic
"reforms" that undermine effective democracy.
In a world of nation-states, it is true by definition that
decline of sovereignty entails decline of democracy, and decline
in ability to conduct social and economic policy. That in turn
The historical record also reveals that loss of sovereignty
consistently leads to imposed liberalization, of course in the
interests of those with the power to impose this social and
It is instructive to compare recent presidential elections in
the richest country of the world and the poorest country in
In the 2004 U.S. presidential election, voters had a choice
between two men born to wealth and privilege, who attended the
same elite university, joined the same secret society where
young men are trained to join the ruling class and were able to
run in the election because they were supported by pretty much
the same conglomerations of private power. Their programs were
similar, consistent with the needs of their primary
constituency: wealth and privilege.
For contrast, consider Bolivia and Evo Morales' election last
December. Voters were familiar with the issues, very real and
important ones like national control over natural gas and other
resources, which has overwhelming popular support. Indigenous
rights, women's rights, land rights and water rights were on the
political agenda, among many others. The population chose
someone from its own ranks, not a representative of narrow
sectors of privilege.
Given its new ascendancy, Latin America may come to terms with
some of its severe internal problems. The region is notorious
for the rapacity of its wealthy classes, and their freedom from
Comparative studies of Latin American and East Asian economic
development are revealing in this respect. Latin America has
close to the world's worst record for inequality, East Asia the
best. The same holds for education, health and social welfare
Latin American economies have also been more open to foreign
investment than Asia. The World Bank reported that foreign
investment and privatization have tended to substitute for other
capital flows in Latin America, transferring control and sending
profits abroad, unlike East Asia.
Meanwhile, new socioeconomic programs under way in Latin America
are reversing patterns that trace back to the Spanish conquests
- with Latin American elites and economies linked to the
imperial powers but not to one another.
Of course this shift is highly unwelcome in Washington, for the
traditional reasons: The United States expects to rely on Latin
America as a secure base for resources, markets and investment
And as planners have long emphasized, if this hemisphere is out
of control, how can the United States hope to resist defiance
Noam Chomsky is emeritus professor of linguistics and philosophy
at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His most recent
book is "Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on
Copyright © 2006 The International Herald Tribune
Click on "comments" below to read or post comments