LAST WEEK was a pretty bad one for George W Bush and his neo-conservative administration-and not just because of events in London, Istanbul and Baghdad. Bush suffered a bad setback back home in Florida, the state where he secured his dubious victory in the 2000 presidential race.Miami last week hosted a ministerial meeting whose aim was to create the Free Trade Area of the Americas, better known in Latin America by its Spanish acronym ALCA.
This was supposed to be the next great step in the imposition of the neo-liberal Washington consensus on Latin America. It followed the creation of the World Trade Organisation and the conclusion of the North American Free Trade Agreement binding together the United States, Canada, and Mexico in the early 1990s.The Free Trade Area of the Americas was launched at a summit in Quebec City in April 2001. Attended by Bush and the other presidents of the Americas, the summit attracted massive anti-capitalist protests. But at that stage it seemed unstoppable.
Yet at the start of last week the Financial Times reported, 'Some believe that the most that can be achieved this week is a face-saving compromise that would avert a compromise potentially as damaging as the failure of the World Trade Organisation meeting in Cancun in September.' This prediction proved spot on. The Miami meeting ended early amid massive street protests. According to the Financial Times last Saturday, 'Many of the declaration's provisions were vague and its wording ambiguous.' The paper went on to explain, 'Under strong pressure from US companies, Washington had originally pressed hard for a comprehensive agreement, with strong provisions in areas such as investment, intellectual property rights, and government procurement.'
It backed down earlier this month after Brazil made clear that it was ready to let the meeting fail rather than meet US demands.'This is a remarkable outcome. When Lula of the Brazilian Workers Party was campaigning for the presidency last year, US trade representative Robert Zoellick attacked him for calling ALCA 'annexation'. Zoellick warned that under Lula Brazil could end up trading with Antarctica.Yet it is Zoellick rather than Lula, now Brazilian president, who has ended up isolated in Latin America. This reflects growing resistance to neo-liberalism and US hegemony-issues that are seen in the region as bound inseparably together.
Domination of the Western hemisphere has been a central aim of US global policy ever since 1823, when president James Monroe announced his doctrine warning European powers to stay away from the Americas.Since the US achieved the capability to implement this objective at the end of the 19th century, Washington has mounted military intervention after military intervention to keep Latin America supine. The blockade of Cuba and the war in Colombia are the most important contemporary examples of this policy.Today, however, Latin America is chafing under US domination.
This is illustrated by the fact that neither Mexico nor Chile, a member of the United Nations Security Council, supported the war in Iraq.When president Franklin Roosevelt designed the UN during the Second World War the Latin American governments were regarded as a block of safe pro-US votes. They were comparable to the Soviet republics incorporated in the Russian empire that were also given votes.No longer. Twenty years of debt-induced neo-liberal structural adjustment programmes have caused economic devastation throughout Latin America and hence growing popular resistance.
The Argentinian rising of December 2001 was probably the turning point. Since then we have seen a series of blows to the neo-liberal project, of which the most important were Lula's election to the Brazilian presidency and last month's rising in Bolivia.Brazil's victory in Miami follows the role it played along with other powerful Third World states in blocking the demands of the US and the European Union at the Cancun summit.
We shouldn't get too starry-eyed about powerful Third World states organised in the Group of 21. Domestically Lula has gone further than required under his agreement with the International Monetary Fund in cutting back public spending.
All the same, something big is happening. The Washington neo-cons aspire to what Anatol Lieven calls 'unilateral world domination through absolute military superiority'. But there are signs that the chokehold that the US and the EU achieved over the rest of the world at the end of the Cold War is beginning to weaken.
Alex Callinicos is the author of The New Mandarins of American Power (£13.99), and The Revolutionary Ideas of Karl Marx (£5.99). Both are available from Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop. Phone 020 7637 1848.