Tragedy in Cochabamba

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The 42nd General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) took place in Cochabamba, Bolivia on June 4, 2012. Again the coming together of all the nations of the Western Hemisphere was effectively used by the Bolivarian countries to weaken the OAS Democratic Charter and reduce the influence of the United States.

As during the Summit of the Americas this past April, Venezuela and its allies in the Bolivarian alliance insisted on the inclusion of Cuba. One after another ALBA country helped put an end to the summit without any resolution. This is a continuation of the Bolivarian policy of sabotaging what they consider to be American-dominated traditional institutions. The Summit of the Americas and the OAS General Assembly belong to the same category.
Concurrently, new inter-American institutions are being created that exclude the United States and Canada.

What happened at the OAS General Assembly was another very sophisticated step. It went beyond sabotage. It is important to analyze every step in order to understand what actually happened in Cochabamba.

Bolivian president, Evo Morales opened the assembly by launching an attack on Chile. He demanded that Bolivia be given a territorial exit to the sea along with sovereignty over such territory. Chile has offered an exit to the sea to Bolivia but without conceding sovereignty over the territory facing the sea.

Morales’s intention was to internationalize an issue that was being conducted bi-laterally. Morales is supported by Chavez who has been inciting Bolivia against Chile for a long time. The idea was to create pressure on Chile by a coalition of the left, radicals and moderates alike, to take advantage of the historical revisionist mood prevailing in the region.

It is also important to point out that Chile stands as a “in your face” symbol to the Bolivarian countries since that country is where neo-liberal policies showed significant success. Neo-liberalism is strongly rejected by the ALBA countries.

The good news is that this attempt by Morales to internationalize its conflict with Chile was rejected by the majority of the countries. They supported Chile’s position that the issue must be resolved in bi-lateral negotiations.

However, that was only a start. In the same speech Morales attacked the OAS, itself, particularly singling out the Inter-American Human Rights Commission that he recommended eliminating. Morales made this demand because the Human Rights Commission has lately been used to challenge human rights violations in various Bolivarian countries. Most recently, a case of three journalists sentenced to long periods of incarceration in Ecuador was brought before the Commission whose members called on Ecuador to release the prisoners. As a result, the Ecuadorian president, Rafael Correa, agreed to release them but he still resented the fact that an international body interfered in his sovereignty.

The attacks against the Human Rights Commission were a joint effort by the Bolivarian countries. The Venezuelan ambassador accused the United States of using the Commission to destabilize left wing governments. But it was the Ecuadorian president, Correa, who launched the most vicious and anti-democratic speech. He accused the media, in general, and the OAS, in particular of being servants of American neo-colonialism.

The argument put forth by Correa and Morales was absurd and factually inaccurate as the Inter-American Human Rights Commission has placed more demands on the United States than on almost any other country. This is particularly true in regard to American judicial policy towards prisoners in Guantanamo Bay as well as the detention of illegal immigrants in the U.S. Honduras, Colombia and Mexico, three U.S allies, that are now fighting drug trafficking and the cartels have been reprimanded and pushed to adopt measures regarding human rights much more so than Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador.

Bolivarian countries also criticized what they called U.S-backed Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s). The absurdity of this argument is that among the NGO’s mentioned are Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch; two organizations that have often been unfairly critical of the United States and some of its western allies, particularly Israel.
What is more puzzling is that Brazil sided with the Bolivarian countries. Brazil’s reason for doing so was quite paradoxical given that Brazil is a country dominated by a left leaning government. Brazil resented the Inter-American Human Rights Court since last year it approved a request to stop the construction of a hydro-electric project conducted by a Brazilian company and opposed by local indigenous groups.

The bad news is that the incendiary anti-human rights speech delivered by Correa and Morales had some results. The OAS did not make changes to the role of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and resolutions put forth to demean the status of the commission were not passed. However, country members passed a resolution to study the possibility of making reforms to the Commission. This was rather a victory for the countries of the Bolivarian alliance.
Countries of the OAS also approved the “Social Charter of the Americas”. This is a document aimed at promoting economic development and eliminating poverty and inequality.
Whereas, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this resolution as its principles are in sync with the most urgent problems the region faces, there is an important element that should not be ignored.

This resolution which does not include any specific plans or strategy was introduced by Venezuela and its intention is clearly to have a document not in addition to the OAS Democratic Charter but the opposite. What the Bolivarian countries are most likely to do is to present their resolution as a competing document to the Democratic Charter by eventually prioritizing social issues above democracy and human rights. The attacks against the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights are not coincidental. For a long time, Bolivarian countries have seen democracy as a façade or an instrument of the upper classes or the oligarchy. As Bolivarian countries are more harshly criticized about their divergence from democratic practices, they stress their commitment to the social agenda “which is what really matters”.

In other words, Bolivarian countries may not have won all the battles but they have been able to advance their ideas a step forward as they did during the Summit of the Americas this past April. This, I believe, is part of a strategy inspired by the early 20th century Marxist thinker, Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci believed that the working class, in order to take over the reins of government and society, must first impose its way of thinking. Gramsci argues that the values, ideas, and attitudes of people create the necessary conditions before any new political force gains real power. As many people as possible need to believe in something as a pre-condition to any major political takeover. This is what Gramsci called “hegemony” because the majority of the people believe or accept the premises and thoughts of this new political force or revolution.

In that sense, despite the lack of success in some of the resolutions, the Bolivarian alliance is gradually but successfully advancing its political culture throughout the region. The fact that many intellectuals and governments are willing to tolerate the Bolivarian attack on democracy and the fact that the U.S. has been successfully demonized throughout the continent with little or no challenge at all shows that the relevance of Chavez’s death is diminishing. Moreover, Correa and Morales are rallying the region no less effectively than Chavez and will continue to do so after his death.

Robert Zoellick, former president of the World Bank has been quoted as saying “Chavez’s days are numbered… If his subsidies to Cuba and Nicaragua are cut, those regimes will be in trouble. There will be an opportunity to make the Western Hemisphere the first democratic hemisphere. Not a place of coups, caudillos, and cocaine – but of democracy, development, and dignity.”

Nothing could be farther from the truth. With all due respect to Mr. Zoellick, his statements are the result of a pure economic analysis and wishful thinking. Chavismo and Bolivarianism are not just about economics but they have conquered much political and cultural space; not just in their countries but also internationally. Bolivarianism will survive its master, Hugo Chavez, unless all those who oppose Bolivarianism organize an aggressive counter-cultural and political offensive; a real war of ideas. This does not seem to be happening.

The United States Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Roberta Jacobson, did not even read her speech during the Assembly due to delays caused by Morales and left the conference early. Her never-read speech was about human rights and freedom of expression. Witnesses claimed that the American delegation looked very lonely.


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