April 24, 2010

The Global Economic Crisis: Riots, Rebellion and Revolution

When Empire Hits Home, Part 3

Global Research, April 7, 2010
As nations of the world are thrown into a debt crisis, the likes of which have never been seen before, harsh fiscal ‘austerity’ measures will be undertaken in a flawed attempt to service the debts. The result will be the elimination of the middle class. When the middle class is absorbed into the labour class – the lower class – and lose their social, political, and economic foundations, they will riot, rebel, and revolt.

Ratings Agency Predicts Civil Unrest

Moody’s is a major ratings agency, which performs financial research and analysis on governments and commercial entities and ranks the credit-worthiness of borrowers. On March 15, Moody’s warned that the US, the UK, Germany, France, and Spain “are all at risk of soaring debt costs and will have to implement austerity plans that threaten ‘social cohesion’.” Further, Moody’s warned that such ‘austerity’ measures increase the potential for ‘social unrest’:

"Growth alone will not resolve an increasingly complicated debt equation. Preserving debt affordability at levels consistent with AAA ratings will invariably require fiscal adjustments of a magnitude that, in some cases, will test social cohesion," said Pierre Cailleteau, the chief author.

"We are not talking about revolution, but the severity of the crisis will force governments to make painful choices that expose weaknesses in society," he said.[1]

In other words, due to the massive debt levels of western nations taken on to save the banks from the crisis they caused, the people must now pay through a reduction of their standards of living. Naturally, social unrest would follow.

This has not been the first or only warning of “social unrest” in the west, and it certainly won’t be the last.

The Economic Crisis and Civil Unrest

At the onset of the economic crisis, these warnings were numerous. While many will claim that since we have moved on since the fall of 2008, these warnings are no longer valid. However, considering that the western world is on the verge of a far greater economic crisis that will spread over the next few years, from Greece to America, a great global debt depression, these warnings should be reviewed with an eye on the near future.

In December of 2008, in the midst of the worst period of the crisis of 2008, the IMF issued a warning to government’s of the west to “step up action to stem the global economic crisis or risk delaying a recovery and sparking violent unrest on the streets.”[2] However, governments did not stem or stop the economic crisis, they simply delayed the eventual and inevitable crisis to come, the debt crisis. In fact, the actions governments took to “stem” the economic crisis, or delay it, more accurately, have, in actuality, exacerbated the compound effects that the crisis will ultimately have. In short, bailing out the banks has created a condition in which an inevitable debt crisis will become far greater in scope and devastation than had they simply allowed the banks to fail.

Even the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the most prestigious financial institution in the world – the central bank to the world’s central banks – has warned that the bailouts have put the global economy in potentially far greater peril. The BIS warned that, “The scope and magnitude of the bank rescue packages also meant that significant risks had been transferred onto government balance sheets.”[3]

The head of the IMF warned that, “violent protests could break out in countries worldwide if the financial system was not restructured to benefit everyone rather than a small elite.”[4] However, he is disingenuous in his statements, as he and the institution he represents are key players in that “small elite” that benefit from the global financial system; this is the very system he serves.

In late December of 2008, “A U.S. Army War College report warn[ed] an economic crisis in the United States could lead to massive civil unrest and the need to call on the military to restore order.” The report stated:

Widespread civil violence inside the United States would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities ... to defend basic domestic order and human security.[5]

Further revealed in the news release was the information that, “Pentagon officials said as many as 20,000 Soldiers under the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) will be trained within the next three years to work with civilian law enforcement in homeland security.”[6]

Europe in Social Crisis

In January of 2009, it was reported that Eastern Europe was expected to experience a “dangerous popular backlash on the streets” over the spring in response to the economic crisis:

Hit increasingly hard by the financial crisis, countries such as Bulgaria, Romania and the Baltic states face deep political destabilisation and social strife, as well as an increase in racial tension.

Last week protesters were tear-gassed as they threw rocks at police outside parliament in Vilnius, capital of Lithuania, in a protest against an austerity package including tax rises and benefit cuts.[7]

In January of 2009, Latvia experienced the largest protests since the mass rallies against Soviet rule in the late 1980s, with the protests eventually turning into riots. Similar “outbursts of civil unrest” spread across the “periphery of Europe.”[8]

This should be taken as a much larger warning, as the nations of Eastern Europe are forced into fiscal ‘austerity’ measures before they spread through the western world. Just as throughout the 1980s and the 1990s, countries of the ‘global south’, which signed Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) with the IMF and World Bank, were forced to undertake neoliberal reforms and harsh fiscal austerity measures. The people of these nations rioted and rebelled, in what was cynically referred to as “IMF riots”. What our nations have done abroad, in the name of ‘aid’ but in the intent of empire, is now coming home. The west will undergo its very own “IMF riots”.

The fears of civil unrest, however, were not confined simply to the periphery of Europe. In January of 2009, a massive French strike was taking place, as “teachers, television employees, postal workers, students and masses of other public-sector workers” were expressing discontent with the handling of the economic crisis; as “A depression triggered in America is being played out in Europe with increasing violence, and other forms of social unrest are spreading.”[9]

By late January, France was “paralysed by a wave of strike action, the boulevards of Paris resembling a debris-strewn battlefield.” Yet, the ‘credit crunch’ had hit harder in Eastern Europe and the civil unrest was greater, as these countries had abandoned Communism some twenty years prior only to be crushed under the “free market” of Capitalism, leading many to feel betrayed: “Europe's time of troubles is gathering depth and scale. Governments are trembling. Revolt is in the air.”[10]

Olivier Besancenot, the leader of France’s extreme left “is hoping the strike will be the first step towards another French revolution as the recession bites and protests multiply across Europe's second largest economy.” He told the Financial Times that, “We want the established powers to be blown apart,” and that, “We are going to reinvent and re-establish the anticapitalist project.”[11]

In January of 2009, Iceland’s government collapsed due to the pressures from the economic crisis, and amidst a storm of Icelanders protesting in anger against the political class. As the Times reported, “it is a sign of things to come: a new age of rebellion.” An economist at the London School of Economics warned that we could expect large-scale civil unrest beginning in March to May of 2009:

It will be caused by the rise of general awareness throughout Europe, America and Asia that hundreds of millions of people in rich and poor countries are experiencing rapidly falling consumption standards; that the crisis is getting worse not better; and that it has escaped the control of public authorities, national and international.[12]

In February of 2009, the Guardian reported that police in Britain were preparing for a “summer of rage” as “victims of the economic downturn take to the streets to demonstrate against financial institutions.” Police officials warned “that middle-class individuals who would never have considered joining demonstrations may now seek to vent their anger through protests this year.”[13]

In March, it was reported that “top secret contingency plans” had been drawn up to counter the threat posed by a possible “summer of discontent,” which “has led to the extraordinary step of the Army being put on standby.” The report revealed that, “What worries emergency planners most is that the middle classes, now struggling to cope with unemployment and repossessions, may take to the streets with the disenfranchised.”[14]

As the G20 met in London in early April 2009, mass protests took place, resulting in violence, “with a band of demonstrators close to the Bank of England storming a Royal Bank of Scotland branch, and baton-wielding police charging a sit-down protest by students.” While the majority of protests were peaceful, “some bloody skirmishes broke out as police tried to keep thousands of people in containment pens surrounding the Bank of England.”[15] Protests further broke out into riots as a Royal Bank of Scotland office was looted.[16] The following day, a man collapsed and died in central London during the protests shortly after having been assaulted by riot police.[17]

On May 1, 2009, major protests and riots broke out in Germany, Greece, Turkey, France and Austria, fuelled by economic tensions:

Police in Berlin arrested 57 people while around 50 officers were hurt as young demonstrators threw bottles and rocks and set fire to cars and rubbish bins. There were also clashes in Hamburg, where anti-capitalist protesters attacked a bank.

In Turkey, masked protesters threw stones and petrol bombs at police, smashing banks and supermarket windows in its biggest city, Istanbul. Security forces fired tear gas and water cannon at hundreds of rioters and more than a hundred were arrested with dozens more hurt. There were also scattered skirmishes with police in the capital, Ankara, where 150,000 people marched.[18]

There were further protests and riots that broke out in Russia, Italy, Spain, and some politicians were even discussing the threat of revolution.[19]

As a debt crisis began spreading throughout Europe in Greece, Portugal, and Spain, social unrest followed suit. Riots and protests increasingly took place in Greece, showing signs of things to come to all other western nations, which will sooner or later have to face the harsh reality of their odious debts.[20]

Is Civil Unrest Coming to America?

In February of 2009, Obama’s intelligence chief, Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the economic crisis has become the greatest threat to U.S. national security:

I’d like to begin with the global economic crisis, because it already looms as the most serious one in decades, if not in centuries ... Economic crises increase the risk of regime-threatening instability if they are prolonged for a one- or two-year period... And instability can loosen the fragile hold that many developing countries have on law and order, which can spill out in dangerous ways into the international community.[21]

What this means, is that economic crises (“if they are prolonged for a one or two year period”) pose a major threat to the established powers – the governing and economic powers – in the form of social unrest and rebellion (“regime-threatening instability”). The colonial possessions – Africa, South America, and Asia – will experience the worst of the economic conditions, which “can loosen the fragile hold that many developing countries have.” This can then come back to the western nations and imperial powers themselves, as the riots and rebellion will spread home, but also as they may lose control of their colonial possessions – eliminating western elites from a position of power internationally, and acquiescence domestically: The rebellion and discontent in the ‘Third World’ “can spill out in dangerous ways into the international community.”

In the same month, the highest-ranking general in the United States, “Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ranks the financial crisis as a higher priority and greater risk to security than current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” He explained, “It's a global crisis. And as that impacts security issues, or feeds greater instability, I think it will impact on our national security in ways that we quite haven't figured out yet.”[22] Rest assured, they’ve figured it out, but they don’t want to tell you.

Again, in the same month, the head of the World Trade Organization (WTO) warned that, “The global economic crisis could trigger political unrest equal to that seen during the 1930s.” He elaborated, “The crisis today is spreading even faster (than the Great Depression) and affects more countries at the same time.”[23]

In February of 2009, renowned economic historian and Harvard professor, Niall Ferguson, predicted a “prolonged financial hardship, even civil war, before the ‘Great Recession' ends,” and that, “The global crisis is far from over, [it] has only just begun, and Canada is no exception,” he said while at a speaking event in Canada. He explained, “Policy makers and forecasters who see a recovery next year are probably lying to boost public confidence,” while, “the crisis will eventually provoke political conflict.” He further explained:

There will be blood, in the sense that a crisis of this magnitude is bound to increase political as well as economic [conflict]. It is bound to destabilize some countries. It will cause civil wars to break out, that have been dormant. It will topple governments that were moderate and bring in governments that are extreme. These things are pretty predictable.[24]

Even in May of 2009, the head of the World Bank warned that, “the global economic crisis could lead to serious social upheaval,” as “there is a risk of a serious human and social crisis with very serious political implications.”[25]

Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Adviser, co-founder of the Trilateral Commission and a key architect of ‘globalization’ warned in February of 2009 that, “There's going to be growing conflict between the classes and if people are unemployed and really hurting, hell, there could be even riots!”[26]

In early May 2009, the New York Times reported on the results of a major poll, suggesting, “A solid majority of people in the major Western democracies expect a rise in political extremism in their countries as a result of the economic crisis.” Of those surveyed, 53% in Italy and the United States said they expected extremism is “certain to happen” or “probable” in the next three years. That percentage increases to 65% in Britain and Germany, and is at 60% in France and Spain.[27]

Over the summer of 2009, the major nations of the west and their corporate media machines promoted and propagandized the notion of an ‘economic recovery’, allowing dissent to quell, spending to increase, stock market speculation to accelerate, and people’s fears and concerns to subside. It was a massive organized propaganda effort, and it had major successes for a while. However, in the New Year, this illusion is largely being derided for what it is, a fantasy. With the slow but steady erosion of this economic illusion, fears of riots, rebellion and revolution return.

On March 1, 2010, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan warned President Obama about civil unrest, saying:

When we can't feed our families what do you tell us? Thou shalt not steal? When survival is the first law of nature? What are you going to do when black people and poor people erupt in the streets of America? It's coming! Will you use the federal troops, Mr. President, against the poor?[28]

A March 8 article in the Wall Street Journal speculated about the discontent among the American people in regards to the economy, suggesting that it is “likely” that the economy has “bottomed” and that it will simply “trudge along” until November. However, the author suggested that given all the growing discontent in a variety of areas, it wouldn’t be surprising to see some civil unrest:

Now, contrary to what you may read in the New York Times or the Huffington Post, the ugliness could come from anywhere – the Left, the Center or the Right. Almost everyone in America thinks they’ve been betrayed.[29]

Clearly, the possibility and inevitability of riots in the United States, and in fact in many western nations becomes increasingly apparent. The middle classes will likely become the most angered and mobilized populace, having their social foundations pulled out from under them, and with that, they are overcome with a ‘failure of expectations’ for their political and economic clout. With no social foundations on which to stand, a class cannot reach high in the political and economic ladder, nationally or internationally.

As documented in Part 2 of this series, the middle class, for the past few decades, has been a class living on debt, consuming on debt, surviving on debt and existing only in theory. As nations collapse into a global debt crisis, the middle classes and the college students will be plunged into a world which they have seldom known: poverty. As documented in Part 1 of this series, the global social systems of poverty, race and war are inextricably interrelated and dependent on one another. As the middle class is absorbed into the global poverty class – the labour class – our nations in the west vastly expand their hegemony over the world’s resources and key strategic points, rapidly accelerating military involvement in every region of the world. As war expands, poverty grows, and racial issues are exacerbated; thus, the government asserts a totalitarian system of control.

Will the Middle Class Become Revolutionary?

In 2007, a British Defence Ministry report was released assessing global trends in the world over the next 30 years. The report stated assuredly that, “During the next 30 years, every aspect of human life will change at an unprecedented rate, throwing up new features, challenges and opportunities.”[30] In regards to ‘globalization,’ the report states:

A key feature of globalization will be the continuing internationalization of markets for goods, services and labour, which will integrate geographically dispersed sets of customers and suppliers. This will be an engine for accelerating economic growth, but will also be a source of risk, as local markets become increasingly exposed to destabilizing fluctuations in the wider global economy... Also, there will continue to be winners and losers in a global economy led by market forces, especially so in the field of labour, which will be subject to particularly ruthless laws of supply and demand.[31]

Another major focus of the report is in the area of “Global Inequality,” of which the report states, over the next 30 years:

[T]he gap between rich and poor will probably increase and absolute poverty will remain a global challenge... Disparities in wealth and advantage will therefore become more obvious, with their associated grievances and resentments, even among the growing numbers of people who are likely to be materially more prosperous than their parents and grandparents. Absolute poverty and comparative disadvantage will fuel perceptions of injustice among those whose expectations are not met, increasing tension and instability, both within and between societies and resulting in expressions of violence such as disorder, criminality, terrorism and insurgency. They may also lead to the resurgence of not only anti-capitalist ideologies, possibly linked to religious, anarchist or nihilist movements, but also to populism and the revival of Marxism.[32]

The report states quite emphatically that there is a great potential for a revolution coming from the middle class:

The middle classes could become a revolutionary class, taking the role envisaged for the proletariat by Marx. The globalization of labour markets and reducing levels of national welfare provision and employment could reduce peoples’ attachment to particular states. The growing gap between themselves and a small number of highly visible super-rich individuals might fuel disillusion with meritocracy, while the growing urban under-classes are likely to pose an increasing threat to social order and stability, as the burden of acquired debt and the failure of pension provision begins to bite. Faced by these twin challenges, the world’s middle-classes might unite, using access to knowledge, resources and skills to shape transnational processes in their own class interest.[33]

Is Revolution the Right Way Forward?

As the world has already experienced the greatest transfer of wealth in human history, the greatest social transformation in world history is soon to follow. The middle classes of the west, long the foundations upon which the consumer capitalist system was based, are about to be radically reorganized and integrated into the global labour class. As this process commences and accelerates, the middle classes will begin to protest, riot, rebel, and possibly revolt.

We must ask ourselves: Is this the right way forward?

History is nothing but an example that when revolution takes place, it can quickly and effectively be hijacked by militant and extremist elements, often resulting in a situation worse than that prior to the revolution. Often, these elements themselves are co-opted by the ruling elite, ensuring that whatever regime rises in the ashes of the old, no matter how militant or radical, it will continue to serve and expand the entrenched interests of elites. This is the worst-case scenario of revolution, and with history as a guide, it is also a common occurrence. To understand the nature of co-opted revolutions and entrenched elites, one need only look at the revolutions in France and Russia.[34]

While the righteous indignation and anger of the western middle class population, and in fact, the global population as a whole, is entirely justified, there is an extreme danger in the possibilities of how such a revolutionary class may act. It is imperative to not take violent action, as it would merely be playing directly into the hands of states and global institutions that have been preparing for this eventuality for some time. Nations are becoming ‘Homeland Security States’, setting up surveillance societies, increasing the role of the military in domestic issues and policing, expanding the police state apparatus and militarizing society in general. Democracy is in decline; it is a dying idea. Nation states are increasingly tossing aside even the remaining vestiges of a democratic façade and preparing for a new totalitarianism to arise, in conjunction with the rise of a ‘new capitalism’.

Violent action and riots by the people of these nations will only result in a harsh and brutal closing of society, as the state clamps down on the people and installs an oppressive form of governance. This is a trend and process of which the people should not help speed along. Violent acts will result in violent oppression. While peaceful opposition may itself be oppressed and even violently repressed by the state apparatus, the notion of a clamp down on peaceful protesters is likely to increase dissatisfaction with the ruling powers, increase support for the protesters, and may ultimately speed up the process of a truly new change in governance. It’s difficult to demonize peaceful action.

While people will surely be in the streets, seeking to expand their social, political, and economic rights, we must undertake as a global society, a rapid and extensive expansion of our mental and intellectual rights and responsibilities. We cannot take to the streets without taking on the challenges of our minds. This cannot alone be a physical change in governance that people seek – not simply a political revolution – this must be coupled and driven by an intellectual revolution. What is required is a new Enlightenment, a new Renaissance. While the Enlightenment and Renaissance were western movements of thinking and social change, the new global Enlightenment must be a truly transnational and worldwide revolution in thinking.

Western Civilization has failed. It will continue to insist upon its own dominance, but it is a failure in regards to addressing the interests of all human civilization. Elites like to think that they are in absolute control and are all-powerful; this is not the case. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Take, for example, the integration of North America into a regional bloc like that of the European Union, an entirely elite-driven project of which the people largely know little or nothing about. Elites seek to force the people of this region to increasingly identify themselves as ‘North American’, just as elites in Europe increasingly push for a ‘European’ identity as opposed to a national identity. While the intended purpose of this social reorganization is to more easily control people, it has the effect of uniting some of these people in opposition to these elite-driven projects. Thus, those they seek to unite in order to control, are then united in opposition to their very control.

As the ‘globalization project’ of constructing a ‘new world order’ expands, built upon the concepts of global governance, elites will inadvertently unite the people of the world in opposition to their power-project. This is the intellectual well that must be tapped as soon as possible. Ideas for a truly new world, a true human ‘civilization’ – a “Humane Civilization” – must be constructed from ideas originating in all regions of the world, from all peoples, of all religions, races, ethnicities, social groups and standings. If we are to make human civilization work, it must work for all of humanity.

This will require a global “revolution in thinking”, which must precede any direct political action. The global social, political, and economic system must be deconstructed and built anew. The people of the world do not want war, it is the leaders – the powerful – who decide to go to war, and they are never the ones to fight them. War is a crime against humanity, a crime of poverty, of discrimination, of hate. The social, political and economic foundations of war must be dismantled. Socially constructed divides between people – such as race and ethnicity – must be dismantled and done away with. All people must be treated as people; racial and gender inequality is a crime against humanity itself.

Poverty is the greatest crime against humanity the world has ever known. Any society that permits such gross inequalities and absolute poverty, which calls itself ‘civilized’, is only an aberration of the word, itself. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated:

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.[35]


[1] Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Moody's fears social unrest as AAA states implement austerity plans. The Telegraph: March 15, 2010:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/7450468/Moodys-fears-social-unrest-as-AAA-states-implement-austerity-plans.html

[2] Angela Balakrishnan, IMF chief issues stark warning on economic crisis. The Guardian: December 18, 2008: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2008/dec/16/imf-financial-crisis

[3] BIS, International banking and financial market developments. BIS Quarterly Review: December 2008: page 20

[4] Angela Balakrishnan, IMF chief issues stark warning on economic crisis. The Guardian: December 18, 2008: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2008/dec/16/imf-financial-crisis

[5] Military.com, Study: DoD May Act On US Civil Unrest. McClatchy-Tribune Information Services: December 29, 2008: http://www.military.com/news/article/study-dod-may-act-on-us-civil-unrest.html

[6] Ibid.

[7] Jason Burke, Eastern Europe braced for a violent 'spring of discontent'. The Observer: January 18, 2009: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/18/eu-riots-vilinius

[8] Philip P. Pan, Economic Crisis Fuels Unrest in E. Europe. The Washington Post: January 26, 2009: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/25/AR2009012502516.html

[9] Adrian Michaels, Europe's winter of discontent. The Telegraph: January 27, 2009:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/4363750/Europes-winter-of-discontent.html

[10] Ian Traynor, Governments across Europe tremble as angry people take to the streets. The Guardian: January 31, 2009: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/jan/31/global-recession-europe-protests

[11] Ben Hall, French workers stage strike in protest at job losses and reforms. The Financial Times: January 29, 2009: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/71c25576-eda6-11dd-bd60-0000779fd2ac.html

[12] Roger Boyes, World Agenda: riots in Iceland, Latvia and Bulgaria are a sign of things to come. The Times: January 21, 2009:http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article5559773.ece

[13] Paul Lewis, Britain faces summer of rage – police. The Guardian: February 23, 2009:http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/feb/23/police-civil-unrest-recession

[14] Geraint Jones, MI5 Alert On Bank Riots. The Express: March 1, 2009:http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/86981/MI5-alert-on-bank-riots

[15] Sam Jones, Jenny Percival and Paul Lewis, G20 protests: riot police clash with demonstrators. The Guardian: April 1, 2009: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/apr/01/g20-summit-protests

[16] Telegraph TV, G20 protests: Rioters loot RBS as demonstrations turn violent. The Telegraph: April 1, 2009: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financetopics/g20-summit/5089870/G20-protests-Rioters-loot-RBS-as-demonstrations-turn-violent.html

[17] ITN, Police 'admit contact' with man killed at G20 protest. In The News: April 6, 2009:http://www.inthenews.co.uk/news/health/crime/death-at-g20-police-silent-on-assault-reports-$1285968.htm

[18] Henry Samuel, Riots across Europe fuelled by economic crisis. The Telegraph: May 1, 2009: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/5258634/Riots-across-Europe-fuelled-by-economic-crisis.html

[19] Ibid.

[20] David Oakley, et. al., Europe fears rock global markets. The Financial Times: February 4, 2010: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/a124518a-11cb-11df-b6e3-00144feab49a.html

[21] Stephen C. Webster, US intel chief: Economic crisis a greater threat than terrorism. Raw Story: February 13, 2009:http://rawstory.com/news/2008/US_intel_chief_Economic_crisis_greater_0213.html

[22] Tom Philpott, MILITARY UPDATE: Official: Financial crisis a bigger security risk than wars. Colorado Springs Gazette: February 1, 2009: http://www.gazette.com/articles/mullen-47273-military-time.html

[23] AFP, WTO chief warns of looming political unrest. AFP: February 7, 2009:http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gpC1Q4gXJfp6EwMl1rMGrmA_a7ZA

[24] Heather Scoffield, 'There will be blood'. The Globe and Mail: February 23, 2009:http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/article973785.ece

[25] BBC, World Bank warns of social unrest. BBC News: May 24, 2009:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/8066037.stm

[26] Press TV, Economic Crisis: Brzezinski warns of riots in US. Global Research: February 21, 2009: http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=12392

[27] John C. Freed, Economic Crisis Raises Fears of Extremism in Western Countries. The New York Times: May 6, 2009: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/07/world/europe/07poll.html

[28] WBEZ, Farrakhan Warns Obama of Civil Unrest. Chicago Public Radio: March 1, 2010:http://www.wbez.org/Content.aspx?audioID=40331

[29] Evan Newmark, Mean Street: America’s Coming Civil Unrest? The Wall Street Journal: March 8, 2010: http://blogs.wsj.com/deals/2010/03/08/mean-street-americas-coming-civil-unrest/

[30] DCDC, The DCDC Global Strategic Trends Programme, 2007-2036, 3rd ed. The Ministry of Defence, January 2007: page 1

[31] Ibid, page 3.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid, page 81.

[34] For a look at the co-opting of the French Revolution by elites, see: Andrew Gavin Marshall, Global Power and Global Government: Evolution and Revolution of the Central Banking System. Global Research: July 21, 2009: http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=14464; For a look at the relationship between the Russian Revolution and powerful banking and corporate interests in America and Europe, see: Andrew Gavin Marshall, Origins of the American Empire: Revolution, World Wars and World Order. Global Research: July 28, 2009:http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=14552

[35] Rev. Martin Luther King, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence. Speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1967, at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City: http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45a/058.html

Andrew Gavin Marshall is a Research Associate with the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG). He is currently studying Political Economy and History at Simon Fraser University.

The United States and Latin America From The Monroe Doctrine To The War On Terror

By Grace Livingstone
2009, Zed Books
270 pages

Courtesy Of
The latin American Review Of Books

YOUR BOOK examines some of the worst aspects of US foreign policy towards Latin America over the past half century. Why do you feel this is necessary at this time?

The United States’ relations with Latin America (and with the rest of the world) reached a nadir under George W. Bush, but there is an opportunity now to re-cast that relationship with Barack Obama. I am cautious about how much Obama will really be able to change in Latin America, but at least he has a more nuanced tone and has called for a relationship of mutual respect.

In addition, as your readers probably know, a “pink tide” of progressive governments has been elected in Latin America. These governments are reasserting their sovereignty and demanding an end to US interference. In order to understand why their demands have resonance among the Latin American electorate, we need to know the history.

And finally, the Clinton administration declassified many official documents relating to Latin America making it possible to study what really happened.

Critics of your book - most probably in the US itself - will say that you have unfairly focused on the negative aspects of US policy towards Latin America at the expense of the positive. What would you say to them?

To a certain extent that’s true, but it’s a history that needs to be told. The US contributed to some of the darkest periods in Latin America’s history: the military dictatorships of the 1970s that were responsible for the “disappeared”; the brutal contra war in Nicaragua and the death squads in El Salvador, for example. These horrors are etched into the collective memory of Latin Americans, and before a new relationship can be built the White House needs to grasp what many Latin Americans hold them responsible for.

I also try to show in the book that in a more mundane way the US has been an obstacle to change. Latin America is not the poorest region in the world, but it is the most unequal. Historically a small elite has controlled most of the wealth. The US has traditionally allied itself with that elite, however repressive or reactionary it has been and in so doing has helped to undermine democracy and stunt Latin America’s own development. Even when the US government appears to be acting benignly, it has acted as a counterweight to reform, regarding upheaval, mass protest (and of course revolution) as a threat to stability and therefore its own interests even though in the US and Europe revolutionary upheaval or war has at times been the necessary precursor to change – eg the French Revolution or the American War of Independence.

You provide a very useful summary of US fear of communism and attitudes towards the Left during the Cold War: to what extent are Washington’s postures towards the Left in Latin America today similar or different?

Certainly during the Bush administration’s attitudes towards the Left were strikingly similar to those of the Cold War and, even now Bush has left office, the Pentagon and intelligence services are still very suspicious of the Left. The difference now is the attitude of other Latin American governments. In the old Cold War, the US successfully built a common front against Cuba – it was expelled from the Organisation of American States (OAS) in 1962, for example. In contrast, recently the OAS has acted more independently, condemning, for example, the short-lived coup against Hugo Chávez in Venezuela in 2002, much to the chagrin of Washington which had publicly welcomed the coup.

The Pentagon is particularly concerned about the “radical populists”: Chávez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. It differentiates them from the more moderate administrations of Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina. It regards Chávez as a particular threat not just because Venezuela is the fourth largest oil supplier to the US, but because he is building alliances both in Latin America and with Iran, Russia and China. One army publication warns that “Chávez and Venezuela are developing the conceptual and physical capability to challenge the status quo in Latin America to generate a ‘super insurgency’ intended to bring fundamental political and economic change in the region.” However, the strategy of isolating Venezuela in Latin America has so far failed. President Lula da Silva of Brazil or Michelle Bachelet [in Chile], for example, although running very different types of administrations, have been reluctant to criticise him.

Flaw in US democracy

Does your book, by highlighting efforts by Washington through, for example, the CIA, to intervene in the political process in sovereign republics, expose a flaw at the heart of American democracy itself? Put another way, would you say that this book is about the failure of the US democratic process to hold to account those who threaten democracy abroad?

Good question. What the intelligence services have done in Latin America is certainly at odds with the professed ideals of the American constitution. These operations are obviously clandestine and the public and the legislature cannot prevent them occurring beforehand, but have to trust that the White House, the military and CIA are acting in the national interest – which, in the case of supporting dictators or abetting torture, for example, is questionable. On the other hand, the US does have a far more reaching freedom of information entitlement than we do in Britain and, at times, Congress has reined back the executive – it cut off aid to Augusto Pinochet’s Chile for example, prevented Ronald Reagan backing Efraín Ríos Montt’s genocidal war in Guatemala. US democracy may be flawed, but its democratic institutions are certainly not worthless, indeed they have been admired round the world, not least in Latin America. Organised citizens and principled politicians can use their democratic rights to make a difference to foreign policy. Clearly a corporate lobbyist has greater access to the Oval Office, but ordinary citizens can and should make their voices heard.

You draw attention to the barbarities committed by Pinochet’s torturers, how the CIA has fought hard to keep its involvement in human rights abuses in Pinochet’s Chile secret, and that many documents remain classified. Are you, by implication, suggesting that in the continuing absence of those documents it is fair to conclude that the CIA was involved in those barbarities?

Although thousands documents relating to Chile have been declassified, large chunks of the information have been blacked out, leaving you to wonder what the government still has to hide.

Nevertheless public record already shows that Richard Nixon’s government welcomed Pinochet’s coup and gave his regime large amounts of aid. Two days after the coup the State Department issued a message to Pinochet stating: “The USG [US government] wishes [sic] make clear its desire to co-operate with the military junta and to assist in any appropriate way”.

Before Pinochet took power, the CIA tried to organise its own coup against Salvador Allende but failed, it then worked to encourage a coup within the Chilean military and spent millions of dollars on propaganda against the Socialist government. The CIA admits that it collected operational intelligence that would be necessary in the event of a coup – arrest lists, lists of key civilian installations and personnel that would need protection, and lists of government installations that would need to be taken over – but claims it did not hand operational intelligence to the Chilean military. We have transcripts of Henry Kissinger talking to Pinochet in 1976, three years after the coup, when details of horrific torture was known all over the world, saying “In the United States, as you know, we are sympathetic with what you are trying to do here… We want to help, not undermine you. You did a great service to the world in overthrowing Allende.”

Even without further revelations, I think it fair to say the CIA and the Nixon government were complicit in the atrocities committed in Chile.

Do you feel that there is any political momentum in the US to have CIA documents about its involvement in some of the darkest moments of Latin America’s recent history declassified; or does it remain so unaccountable to the American people that these will remain out of reach indefinitely?

The Clinton administration has already declassified an unprecedented amount of information relating to Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua and other countries. This was in large part due to the efforts of campaign groups in the US, in particular the National Security Archive, a very impressive non-governmental organisation in the US which spearheads the campaign for the release of documents, then catalogues them and makes them available to the public. There are numerous organisations in the US pressuring the executive to release material, so no, I do not think these will remain out of reach to the public indefinitely.

You point to the fact that, under Bill Clinton, the chance to refashion policy towards Latin America was lost and that the region remained a low priority. Won’t this always be the case while the region poses no real security challenge to the US?

Yes, but there is a recognition in the White House that during the Bush administration, while US eyes where on the Middle East, Latin America turned left and drifted away from the US. The Obama administration has promised to re-engage with Latin America, although I agree that conflagrations elsewhere may push Latin America down the agenda of priorities.

‘War on Terror’

Have the “war on drugs” and the “war on terror” pursued by successive US presidents damaged Latin American democratic development - and, if so, how?

Undoubtedly. The “war on drugs” in my view was used as a pretext for continued military intervention in Latin America after the Cold War, when the threat of communism no longer seemed plausible. Since 1999, when the US left the Panama Canal Zone and removed its own large military centre of operations, the US has had to lease military bases from co-operative Latin American governments. All these new bases have been established on the pretext of combating drug trafficking. Strengthening the military when Latin American governments are trying to bring these institutions under democratic control has been unhelpful.

The US has viewed the drug issue as a purely military problem, when it is actually rooted in social and economic inequalities. More than 70 per cent of the world’s cocaine comes from Colombia, for example. Coca leaf is grown by very poor peasants who find it is the only crop from which they can make a living. US policy for the past two decades has been to fund heavily militarised planes to spray herbicides on coca farms. These herbicides have killed food crops and animals, there is evidence that they are causing human illnesses, particularly respiratory problems and skin complaints, and they may be doing long-term damage to the environment. The herbicide strategy is not even effective because, in the last twenty years, coca cultivation has risen by over 500 per cent in Colombia.

Similarly, today the US is very concerned about the drug-related violence in Mexico. Obama and [Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton have at least conceded that the demand for drugs in the West fuels that trade and that gun controls in the US need to be tightened, because most of the guns used in the Mexican gang wars come from the US – this is evidence of Obama’s new tone that I mentioned earlier. But the US needs to face the fact that both the neoliberal economic model in Mexico and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have led to a rise in landlessness, falling wages and rising male unemployment, leaving a pool of young men available for the drugs gangs. Although NAFTA allows for the free movement of goods and capital, people cannot move freely, so when these young men try to cross the border into the US to find work, they are deported back, leaving many with little option but to take the dollars of the gang leaders.

The “war on terror” was reminiscent of the Cold War and the activities of the Bush administration were certainly a threat to democracy. Bush brought back many figures from the Reagan years who were involved in Iran Contra. Cold War paranoia fused with the Bush Doctrine making a noxious ideological brew. The Bush administration supported the coup against Chávez in Venezuela, meddled in the elections of Nicaragua and Bolivia, trying unsuccessfully to prevent the election of leftwing presidents, and played a very dubious role in Haiti, working with allies of the old repressive military regime to oust the elected president. In contrast to the Cold War, however, many of their attempts at interference failed or backfired, because of the strength of the progressive movement in Latin America.

Does neoconservative support for President Alvaro Uribe in Colombia, which turned a blind eye to an intelligence report allegedly linking him to the Medellín cartel, recall US past support for unsavoury leaders provided they were allies?

The most obvious example is Panama’s Manuel Noriega, who was an informant for both the CIA and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), even though he had clear links to the Medellín Cartel. Noriega even used information given to him by the DEA to help drug traffickers who were his allies, while incriminating his competitors. The whole sorry tale is recounted in a congressional report which concluded: “It is clear that each US government agency which had a relationship with Noriega turned a blind eye to his corruption and drug dealing, even as he was emerging as a key player on behalf of the Medellín cartel.”

But, of course, the US has a history of supporting “friendly dictators”, such as the Somoza dynasty in Nicaragua; Jorge Ubico in Guatemala; Tiburcio Carías in Honduras; Maximiliano Hernández in El Salvador; and not forgetting, of course, Fulgencio Batista in Cuba.

In the 1950s the US government gave two of the most hated dictators in the region (Peru’s Manuel Odría and Venezuela’s Marcos Pérez Jiménez) the Legion of Merit. And what about Alfredo Stroessner, dictator of Paraguay for 35 years, to whom Vice President Nixon said on a visit to the country: “In the field of international affairs, I do not know of any other nation which has risen more strongly than yours against the threat of communism and this is one reason why I feel especially happy to be here.”

Have Latin Americans themselves done enough to hold the US to account for its interference in their countries? Is this now happening?

Traditionally, the Latin American elite has formed the government and has therefore been a willing ally of the US. It has been hard for the populations to hold the US to account although there is a deep vein of resentment against its interference. Today, many of the leftwing governments are strongly re-asserting their sovereignty; their right to follow their own economic models, and are demanding respect and end to interference. The mood is so strong it feels like a renaissance or a second wave of independence.

You incorporate a number of extracts from Latin American and Latino poetry and songs in the book. Why is such verse so good at illustrating or making political points?

Poetry distills emotions, capturing the essence of a historical moment. I hope the poetry, as well as the songs and speeches, give the reader a sense of history and the atmosphere at the time – a human voice to balance the rather clinical and cold declassified cables and memos.

Your chapter on cultural attitudes towards Latin America and stereotyping is very interesting, and points out the influence of US media in the region but also the development of Hispanic programming in the US. Is culture one area in which Latin America is “fighting back”?

This is a complex area because although large television and multimedia corporations have emerged from Latin America that produce their own programming, most of them have formed alliances with the global media giants that we know so well – Sky, Time Warner, etc. Latin American corporations have joined the ranks of a global elite, producing rather safe, homogenous, corporate-friendly programming.

In Hollywood and US mainstream TV it is certainly true that the old stereotypes are being challenged (the sombrero-wearing bandit, the ominous drug lord, the corrupt, unshaven, porcine Mexican policeman) and we see more positive representations of Latin Americans on screen (Ugly Betty, Dora the Explorer – even Jennifer Lopez in Monster in Law, which may be dismissed as middle-of-the road junk, but shows that Latinas can now play roles in which they are not defined by their ethnicity and in which they end up with their American man – in contrast to the old Westerns when the gringo rode off into the sunset alone). This change is mainly due to the growing Latino community in the US which makes up 15 per cent of the population today and is forecast to make up 24 per cent by 2050. There are more Latino producers and directors, but it is also a marketing decision by the large companies that need to appeal to this growing audience.

Venezuela’s President Chávez has launched a new regional television station, Telesur - a sort of al Jazeera of Latin America - but I think it’s fair to say that it has not really moved on from a propaganda platform (perhaps fulfilling a necessary function for those who want to hear the point of view of the leftwing governments in Latin America in contrast to Fox News) but it is still pretty wooden and does not represent the type of cultural blossoming we witnessed in the very early years after the Cuban Revolution when intellectuals from all over the world flocked to the island.

Generally speaking, though, I have to say that Latin American literature and music has made a tremendous impact on both the US and the world in the post-war period.

It is often assumed that the growing influence of Latinos in the US will have a bearing on its foreign policy towards Latin America; but there is evidence to suggest that Latino voters, like everyone else, are preoccupied mainly with domestic issues. Do you believe Latinos will transform US foreign policy?

Latino voters have the potential to be a powerful voting block, but they have not really used that potential yet. The polls suggest, however, that the Republican party’s hard line on immigration (not that of George W. Bush himself) was one important reason why Latino voters switched away from the Republicans in the last congressional elections and in the most recent presidential election.

The attitudes of Latinos in the US can be very important on particular issues. For example, the Cuban American community in Florida and New Jersey has for almost 50 years prevented a rapprochement with Cuba.

Latinos vote on domestic issues, but when there is a foreign policy issue of particular relevance to their community, their votes can tilt the balance.

You conclude by drawing attention to the possibilities of change in the US relationship with Latin America under Obama. What is your assessment of his position following his first 100 days in office: do the signs suggest change is likely?

The most important difference is a change of tone. He has called for “mutual respect” and said there is should be “no junior partner” in the relationship between Latin Americans and the US. Latin American governments have welcomed this new, less arrogant tone.

Obama has said that he would be willing to talk to Venezuela’s Chávez (as well as other “rogue” leaders like Raúl Castro and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad), but I think it is more likely that he will try to form strong alliances with the more moderate leftwing administrations such as Brazil, while trying to isolate Venezuela within Latin America.

Obama has said he will continue the war against the FARC in Colombia and continue the Andean Counter-Drug Strategy. Some Democratic politicians have campaigned on the question of herbicides in the past, so there is a slim chance of change here. The Obama administration may put human rights conditions on aid to the Colombian military, which is by far the largest recipient of US aid in the region. But I don’t think the overall war strategy will change in Colombia because it is the Pentagon that is driving policy there.

Obama has called for a “new beginning with Cuba” and has already lifted restrictions on Cuban Americans travelling to the island and sending remittances back. This move had very little political cost, however, because the measures imposed by George W. Bush, were even unpopular with Cuban Americans. Obama has also said he is willing to engage with the Cuban government on a wide range of issues and low-level government discussions have already started.

I think Obama has a historic opportunity to mend relations with Cuba. Raúl Castro is clearly making overtures towards the White House and Obama has more freedom at home because he is not so constrained by the rightwing Cuban American lobby. The younger generation of Cuban Americans and the newer economic migrants from Cuba, who are less ideologically opposed to Castro, favour a more constructive approach. Obama should act quickly though, while he is still has such high poll ratings.

Many US companies are keen to invest in Cuba - indeed, if Cuba had had a market the size of China, I’m sure the embargo would have been overturned years ago, but the profits to be made just do not compare. Obama has said he will not lift the trade embargo unless Castro takes steps towards democratisation. There is a bill going to Congress this autumn proposing the removal of travel restrictions for all Americans going to Cuba. If this is approved, it could be the beginning of the end of the 49-year old trade embargo.

Obama has promised to renegotiate NAFTA, but this is highly unpopular with the Mexican government and many US corporations which have done well out of the free trade treaty, so I am not sure if he will fulfil that promise. It will depend on the strength of the protectionist lobby in the US. More broadly, it will be interesting to see if the US, the IMF and World Bank continue to promote neoliberalism in Latin America now that the US has clearly abandoned it at home.

Grace Livingstone is a journalist and the author of Inside Colombia: Drugs, Democracy and War