Latin America's Quiet Defiance
By Dr Shireen M. Mazari

Of late, the citizens of the nuclear state of Pakistan are constantly being advised on how they must learn to live with US power since the US is the "sole super power" with almost annihilative destructive capability.
Well, if one has to learn to live with this militarily aggressive power, then the correct way can perhaps be shown by the states of Latin America, including Cuba. After all, these states have not only had to face a US propagating a pre-emptive interventionist doctrine -- the 1823 Monroe Doctrine -- and actually indulging in political murders and regime change for centuries before it unleashed this doctrine on the world at large. Yet Latin American states, with little or no military power, in comparison to the US that is, and certainly with no advantage of a nuclear deterrence, have managed to assert their identity and political yearnings through the development of a strong sense of national identity and people power.
Look at the present political map of these wonderfully passionate people, who have led the intellectual underpinnings of the developing world. While many militarily mightier developing states have wilted under the "with us or against us" threat issued by Bush in the aftermath of 9/11 -- and even India, once seen as a leader of the "Third World" has seen it as prudent to align with the US often against its former allies of the developing world -- the leadership of Latin America stands firm in its nationalism and periodic defiance of the US. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at the UN will be forever immortalized by his defiant speech -- which warmed the hearts of a rather subdued and seemingly terrorized post-9/11 Third World civil society. He is one of a range of often left-leaning, always nationalist Latin American leaders who are winning polls.
In Brazil, the Workers' Party leader, Lula de Silva, just won re-election last month and in Argentina we have in power a faction of the Peronist Justicialist Party, the Front for Victory headed by Nestor Kirchner. In 2004 Uruguay saw the electoral success of socialist doctor, Tabare Vazquez, while the leftist Alfredo Palacio will face a run-off election later this month in Ecuador. Bolivia saw the victory of a Chavez ally, Evo Morales, being elected in December 2005 and now we are truly seeing a historic development in Nicaragua with the impending victory of the Sandinista Front and its one-time revolutionary leader, Daniel Ortega in the just-completed elections. All this despite reported US intervention in many covert forms to try and prevent Ortega's return to power. No wonder the US embassy in Nicaragua has begun issuing accusatory statements of "anomalies" in the electoral process. Rather ironic coming from the Bush Administration! The US also continues to intervene covertly in Venezuela to try and ensure that Chavez does not succeed in the impending December elections.
But the people of Latin America have suffered tremendously at the hands of the US -- both politically and economically -- and one of the starkest reflections of this suffering is in Cuba. If ever a defiant nationalism put the mighty super power in its place, it was Cuba. While some may argue that the prevalence of the Soviet Union allowed Cuba this advantage, one would do well to recall the proximity of Cuba to the US mainland and its distance from what was the Soviet Union. Also, Cuba has continued to exist on its own terms post the disintegration of the Soviet Union -- which was accompanied by the collapse of so many regimes in Eastern Europe.
Not that the US has allowed Cuba any political and economic breathing space. Instead, not only does it continue to occupy a part of Cuban territory -- the now infamous Guantanamo Bay -- but it also continues to sustain an economic, commercial and financial embargo against this state, in total defiance of yearly UN General Assembly Resolutions. At a time when the US is seeking sanctions approval through the UN against North Korea and Iran, the international community would do well to remember US defiance of international opinion expressed repeatedly every year in the UNGA demanding an end to the embargo against Cuba.
The US imposed the embargo in February 1962, with Clinton expanding its content as late as 1999, making it the most enduring embargo in modern history. In February 2003, the UN voted for an end to this embargo and only three countries opposed it -- the US, Israel and the Marshall Islands. In 2005, one other country joined the US in opposing the UNGA resolution -- Palau. So, effectively, apart from Israel, no consequential state has supported the US on the Cuba embargo issue -- not even its loyal follower, the UK. Once again, later this month, the UNGA will put forward a resolution calling for an end to this most irrational and unjust US embargo against Cuba.
Despite the embargo, the US has not been able to undermine the Cuban revolution, its independence or its leadership. There was an expectation in the US that Raul Castro would not be accepted as Fidel Castro's heir and somehow this would lead to a revolt by the Cuban people -- but this was simply one more US pipedream. Of course the embargo has had an impact on Cuba with economic damages surpassing $86 million. Cuba has also been denied humanitarian aid and assistance, as well as medicines produced by companies in which there is a majority US share. So the Cubans have had to import from Europe at higher prices with some crucial medical aids simply not available in the case of US monopolies. The food sector has had to also pay a heavy price while Cuban intellectuals have been denied copyrights and royalties -- at a time when other developing countries are being punished for piracy.
Despite all this, Cuba has developed one of the best public health services and has established a global presence politically. With a strong nationalist belief, it found the capability to aid anti-colonial struggles in Africa and was able to provide the lead in humanitarian assistance in the aftermath of the earthquake in Pakistan and AJK -- alongside the NATO and US assistance. But Cuba has suffered as a result of its anti-imperialist stance.
Now, when the US is seeking support for UN action on Iran and North Korea, it is imperative for the international community, especially permanent members of the UN Security Council like China and Russia, to demand a quid pro quo from the US in the shape of the removal of the absurd embargo against Cuba. If the Cold War is over, the anomalies of this War must also go. The US needs to realize that it cannot continue to choose when it will be unilateralist and when it needs multilateralism. It has to abide by some basic international norms -- as its experience in Iraq and Afghanistan should have made apparent.
As for the rest of us, we should pay more heed to the Latin American experience. While no one deliberately seeks defiance of the US, it is not Washington but a cohesive nationalist strength that is the only guarantor of our sovereignty and freedom.
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad)

 


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