Oil and Politics in Latin America: Nationalist Movements and State Companies

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The support of Evo Morales allowed him to suggest he was moving towards state ownership when in fact he was planning to continue with private contracts for many decades yet. If they are to govern like Lula the centre left will have to deactivate popular resistance and win the confidence of the ruling class at the same time. The moderate policies and acceptable candidates coming from the MAS suggest that this is their objective. But the territorial integrity of Bolivia is also threatened by a tendency to balkanisation which coexists with the always latent possibility of a new popular insurrection.

In these circumstances, it is unlikely that the demobilising formula applied elsewhere in the southern cone can function in Bolivia. He began by making social concessions and introducing a very progressive constitution. His government has radicalised alongside the mass movement and in response to the conspiracies of the right. This dynamic distinguishes him from the other centre left governments because he acted against the bosses in December , the attempted coup April , the oil establishment December and the challenge of the referendum of August And there are many other features that distinguish the Venezuelan process.

His base is the mass movement and there is no sector of the capitalist class who see him as a potential ally. He does not just promise reforms but has initiated genuine land redistribution programmes, extended credit to co-operatives and provided health and education for the whole population.

And this makes him an exception among the centre left responses to imperialism. The explanation probably lies in the peculiarities of a Venezuelan army which had little contact with the Pentagon but was influenced by the guerrilla tradition, and in the weight of the oil-producing sector with its powerful bureaucracy, its conflicts with its customers in the US and the limited role of private enterprise. Bush cannot act in too barefaced a way while he is stuck in the Middle East quagmire. The country is divided into two camps by income, culture and skin colour.

There is much in common between the Venezuelan situation and Nicaragua in the s or Portugal after the revolution of Its oil income has allowed Venezuela to raise its public spending from 24 percent of GDP in to 34 percent in and to address the external debt without major difficulties. These special circumstances explain the vitality of the Bolivarian revolution compared with other regional centre left governments, but they also raise questions as to how far its experience can be generalised.

They echoed his rhetoric, but showed little will to build anti-imperialist regional organisations. In some senses, these associations would embrace businesses that already link a number of capitalist enterprises. That would require social transformations that no centre left government is willing to carry through.

In any event both Kirchner and Mesa have forged strategic alliances with Repsol to maintain privatisation. None of these moves challenges the exploitative character of oil production in the region. Petrosur could expose the profits of some providers but it will not be able to guarantee the energy provision that would make it possible for new industries to develop in the interests of the majority. The reserves for a regional bank do exist, but are controlled by the IMF. And while 50 percent of European Union exports are between member countries, in Mercosur that figure is only 11 percent.

Integration is vital to counter the tendencies to fragmentation already visible in Bolivia and Ecuador, for example. The presidential summits issue rhetorical calls to forge a South American Community, but do little practical about it. Transnational firms, on the other hand, have prospered and they are actively behind moves to ease capital movements in order to cheapen labour, rationalise subsidies and maximise the gains from tariff reductions.

But this kind of integration is of no benefit to the people. No official argument or mass mobilisation has been able to leap this hurdle. While capitalists retain their power the dream of Bolivar and San Martin cannot be fulfilled. Some analysts have argued that the process of integration will advance through the integration of nationalism and the centre left, on the assumption that Lula and Kirchner will later move to the left. And it is particularly revealing in the case of Lula, who has opted to follow in the footsteps of Blair and Felipe Gonzalez the former Socialist Party prime minister of Spain in the absence of any pressure from the right.

That would be credible if he showed any signs of opposing the ruling class; control of the state could be a step towards effective control of the economy if he had any intention of transforming the status quo. But today Lula is a close ally of the same capitalist groups that are behind Kirchner.

Obviously Lula is not Cardoso and Kirchner is not Menem — but that only tells us that each new government adapts to the changing needs of the capitalist class. Both governments have strengthened the mechanism of state control — but for whose benefit? The neo-liberals used the state to carry through privatisations and rescue bankrupt banks. This does not contradict the notion of an independent foreign policy, because every Brazilian government has tried to diversify its trade and China today is in the sights of every entrepreneur.

But he introduced the Fame Zero Zero Hunger policy at least, some will say, to eliminate hunger; yet the programme never had adequate resources and never got off the ground. Even the modest economic recovery of recent times cannot be ascribed to Lula, since every country in the region is experiencing something similar, the result of foreign investments. The resurgence of the Argentinian economy is often attributed to Kirchner — some even say there are signs of a redistribution of income, though there is no evidence for this. If deepening poverty has been halted in this new cycle, it is worth recalling that the same thing happened in the early s.

What is really significant about the recent period is how little unemployment and social exclusion figures have fallen, given the tax surpluses that the government has found to pay off the debt. And the vigorous advocacy of Mercosur by both presidents is not the sign of change their supporters might have hoped for; in fact they are solely concerned with defending capitalist interests in both countries and protecting the private interests that might be harmed by closer cooperation between Brazil and Argentina.

They have no plans to transform Mercosur into a project for integration from below and resisting imperialism. Others affirm that compromise with the IMF and the right is the only way of ensuring reform — but since Lula has adopted the programme of his opponents, those reforms are no longer on the agenda. Lula has changed sides, and the working class now needs to develop its own alternative. The spectre of the right is also used in Argentina, even though the capitalist class has much to be grateful to Kirchner for.

But the issue here is not one of socialist strategy. Kirchner is not leading a national bourgeoisie in a conflict with imperialism nor is he involved in a conflict which could lead to an insoluble crisis for capitalism.

Hostile forces, internal and external

And even if that were so, it would be wrong to abandon popular demands; pacts with the class enemy can only lead to a disarming of the oppressed and the kind of internal divisions that will destroy the revolutionary project. There are those who argue that the PT has not lost its identity under Lula.

But a party that serves the interests of the bankers, while it may preserve an electoral base, can no longer claim to represent the working class. But however these governments are characterised, there can be no justification for militants or activists to participate in either of them;5 to be part of the government is to collude directly in the application of policies directed against the mass movement.

There is no possibility of representing the people inside a cabinet dominated by the interests of capital, as the history of 20th century social democracy has clearly shown. Progressive ministers end up masking the realities — that is why Lula and Kirchner have appointed well-known figures to the ministries of justice, culture and human rights, leaving political and economic questions in the hands of the establishment.

In Argentina the suggestion is that Kirchner is a moderate because the movement did not exist in the first place. In both cases, commentators hypnotised by power have expressed no anger at the sufferings of the people. Instead there is talk of an unfavourable balance of forces — yet there is no mention of the fact that both governments have actively demobilised the movement, reinforcing the trade union bureaucracy through the CUT in Brazil and the Peronists in Argentina.

Any reduction in the levels of struggle, therefore, is not an objective fact but the result of government policies. Any discussion of a balance of forces assumes that both presidents have remained within the camp of the oppressed, whereas in fact both have placed themselves firmly alongside business in opposing social reforms. In these circumstances there can be no defence of Lula or Kirchner. Some argue that this is not the moment to discuss alternatives — when will the moment then be right?

War and Nation Building in Latin America: Crash Course World History 225

We need not await any further signs than the turn that the PT has taken. The danger now is not a premature break, but the effect of growing popular disillusionment. Venezuela has the same levels of inequality and underdevelopment as the rest of the continent: 80 percent of the population lives in poverty and three quarters of the population work in the informal sector of the economy. Any resolution of these problems must begin by going beyond the limits which frustrated all previous attempts at independent national development. Social welfare policies, the distribution of unproductive land and credits to co-operatives can initiate a gradual redistribution of wealth.

But it will take massive state investment to reverse the structural unemployment and deepening inequality of recent years. This demands a programme of industrial planning that will eradicate the privileges of the big capitalists and their allies in the bureaucracy. The people who pilfered the national oil wealth will not now become agents of development. The sacking of the management of the state oil company was a major step forward; the increased level of royalties and the reduction of dependence on the US market 50 percent of exports and eight refineries on US territory increase the level of economic independence.

But there is still manipulation, exploration rights given without permission, and suspect investments to be dealt with.


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Yet the main block on this process lies within the Chavez government itself, dominated as it is by an inept and opportunist bureaucracy which will happily change sides should the wind change direction. The Cuban Revolution followed the opposite path—and while Chavez has often expressed his admiration for Cuba he has not set in motion any break with capitalism as the Cubans did in the s.

The institutions of the Venezuelan state are undergoing a process of democratic radicalisation—although the system has not collapsed as it did in Nicaragua, the possibility of a revolutionary turn is there. It is a mistake to imagine that nothing is happening in Venezuela, and that a populist Chavez will not lead a social revolution.

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The formation of new trade unions and the growing self-organisation of the missions and the Bolivarian circles suggests that a radical change is already under way. Globalisation and unipolarity While it is widely recognised that the climate has changed in Latin America, it is often argued that globalisation has forced the left to retrench.

The reality is that the process that allowed a partial recovery of profit rates in some developed countries has also had a brutal polarising effect. Latin America has suffered deepening impoverishment, deeapitahsation and an increasing dependence on primary exports. The question is, can it recover the level of independence that would enable it to reverse that regressive process?

The theorists of the centre left insist that the solution is a model of regionally integrated capitalist production. But this project addresses only those niches that exist for opening up new businesses, without discussing the distortions that global accumulation has produced on the periphery— and neither do they acknowledge that no Latin American capitalism will be able to compete with the imperialist metropolises or reproduce their historical development. In any event it is difficult to imagine the space in which such a model could operate, given that its implementation would require anti-imperialist measures and a radical break with neo-liberalism.

The new presidents all began with anti-liberal declarations then moved to support the status quo. The only certain route to progress, then, is a radical anti-capitalism with a socialist perspective. But does the awful power of US imperialism not make any such option an impossibility7?

This power is not new of course; every 20th century national independence movement has had to confront it and on several occasions hasbrought the enemy to its knees. The very existence after 40 years of the-Cuban Revolution is testimony to that. The US has certainly built up its military potential and recovered its economic dominance in the last decade; but its leadership is unstable and it is facing resistance.

Oil and Politics in Latin America : George Philip :

Iraq bears witness to the limits of American power. US aggression is producing both financial and political crises which challenge its global dominance. There is a general impression that the fall of Eastern Europe removed an important ally of the left—but in fact it only supported those governments and movements that reflected its strategic interests.


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The Cuban leadership was fiercely critical in this respect. So the end of the Cold War had contradictory, and not always negative, effects on the region. If it left the left feeling disarmed on the one hand, on the other it removed the identification in the popular mind of socialism with totalitarian regimes. Economic Nationalism in Latin America.

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