April 22, 2004

Resource wars in the 21st Century

"What's happening in South America these days?" Not something you ask yourself too often? Don’t worry you are not alone! For its size and economic clout South America remains largely ignored by most of the ‘West’ outside of Spain and Miami. It is a shame really as South America probably comes a close second to the Middle East in terms of newsworthiness.

So what is happening in South America and why would you (not) want to go there? Well let’s take a look in today’s La Nación, the San Jose daily in Costa Rica and see what might be fun.

Beginning with Peru: the indigenous coca farmers of the Amazon region are unhappy again and are blocking roads with felled trees and large rocks. Why would such a strange bunch be rioting you might ask? And more importantly why should one care?

Well if you were, like we are, driving through that region on your way from Manaus to Lima you too might have interest in such a story - but wait there is more. You see we were already wary of the Peruvian Amazon and not just for its roads! The Peruvian government received a sixty-day ultimatum this week from the Sendero Luminosa, the most mature and one of the last Maoist insurgent groups in the world. Haven’t heard of them either? Shining Path, same thing.

La Nación reported this week that the Peruvian government Sendero Luminoso’s ultimatum was received by the Peruvian government with peals of laughter. Seems the Peruvian government thinks that the Sendero Luminosa are little more than a band of raggle-taggle insurgents whose leader has been incarcerated for years and whose remaining delusional followers are simply lost in the oblivion of the Western Amazon. Mexico believed the same about the EZLN but it nearly managed to topple NAFTA. Time will tell I guess; sixty days, hmmmm… That would be late June. So what about these coca growing peasants? Maybe they’re more of a force to be reckoned with than one might think … Which brings me to Peru’s Southeastern neighbor, Bolivia.

La Nación also reported today that there were further huge marches and strikes in Bolivia. You see their new President; a certain Mr. Carlos Mesa, was in Argentina today to sign an agreement covering the sale of Bolivian gas to the Argentines to fuel the Argentine grid. Sounds like another resource war to me albeit an internal one for now? We seem to be having a lot of those right now, as fossil fuels get scarce and the SUVs larger!

The tough, short women in bowler hats are marching in the streets because they seem to think that they have a right to their own resources! They argue that the gas should be nationalized and the energy used for Bolivian industry so that they can spend the profits on themselves. What would ExxonMobil think -- never mind what would Brian Boytano do? Resource war it may be, but some say the real reason the Bolivians are angry is their lack of beaches. In a recent football match between Bolivia and Chile the Chilean players goaded the Bolivian team with chants of “Vamos a la playa”, “Let’s go to the beach!”. You see Bolivia doesn’t have any coastline any more since they lost their last war with Chile in 1879. And they want it back. When President Mesa traveled to meet with his counterpart Mr. Kirchner (both men recently replaced their deposed neo-liberals predecessors). Mesa had to enforce a clause in the deal that Argentina promises (scout’s honor) not to sell any of this juicy gas on to Chile. Methinks the trick of digging up an age-old enemy to deflect anger over a current issue may not work be working this time. Again time will tell.

So what about Argentina anyway? Well the economy is improving by leaps and bounds since it unshackled itself from onerous debt and broke from pegging their currency to the US dollar (thereby devaluating it’s currency by 80% relative). Since then, their currency has crept back up in value and its exports have resumed much of their lost vigor and competitiveness. There are still many questions about the economy and how Kirchner and Lula can work their “Buenos Aires Consensus” into a workable MERCUSOR. However with the obvious animosity to the FTAA and CAFTA present in Latin America (never mind Mexico) and what with Lula’s coup this week signing a trade agreement with China — the world’s great primary resource consumer — my money is on major improvements in both countries over the next few years.

Now that you mention it: What about Brazil? Are things still cool in the Americas largest country? Well yes and no. Just this week La Nación reported another little resource war in the indigenous reserves of the Amazon jungle. Seems a mass grave has been uncovered with tens of partially decomposed miner’s bodies killed by local tribesmen. The tribesmen didn’t like the fact that these ‘foreigners’ were coming on their land (albeit to prospect for gemstones which the locals don’t hold in much esteem) so they killed them all. The government is in somewhat of a tizzy with the situation as technically the indigenous warriors have a right to protect their land as a deeded reservation. Sure makes the arguments over gambling rights in the United States seem rather trivial.

So what about the US? What have they been up to in South America recently? Well the truth is that they have had their hands full trying to get their President re-elected (this time they hope by a majority) and spinning the bad news from those pesky Arabs. That is not to say that they haven’t paid attention to what is going on in Latin America, especially when it comes to the oil rich state of Venezuela.

Costa Rica, where I am writing this tome right now, just kicked out one of the co-conspirators of the recent coup against Hugo Chavez, the elected president of Venezuela. The only country to recognize the new coup president was the United States albeit his reign was less than 24 hours. The Costa Rican government gave him political asylum but he violated the terms of asylum by encouraging further coup activities. Maybe he was emboldened by the statements of Mr. Negroponte who recently described the democracy of Venezuela in less than democratic and friendly terms. Chavez is one of those feisty Latin leaders who seems to refuse to do what Washington tells him to do (what a cheek!).

When Hazel Henderson helped the Chavez government broker deals with five other countries providing goods and services for oil under barter agreements, she too invoked the ire of the real powers that be in New York. There is little an international banker hates more than a cashless deal. Where’s the percentage in that? Of particular interest to the US State Department was the deal that bartered Venezuelan oil for Cuban doctors!

Chavez is also ruler of the one American OPEC member nation and the only one so far to join Mexico in nationalizing its energy resources. No wonder he attracts the Bush junta’s attention with their focus on oil wars and their ExxonMobil ex-board members.

So it is all fun and games in South America -- now if I could only organize for passage of the vehicle to Caracas I could start to share in the fun too. Onward and southward …

Posted by Tony Phillips at 11:39 AM | Comments (0)