instead of FTAA- what?
Chavez vs. the Free Trade Zombies of the Americas
CHAVEZ VERSUS THE FREE TRADE ZOMBIES OF THE AMERICAS
Greg Palast reporting from Caracas
Saturday, November 29, 2003
It's as if they were locked in a crypt for the last ten years. The
finance ministers of every Latin American nation last week signed on to a
resolution in principle to join the Free Trade Area of the Americas
(FTAA), the hemispheric expansion of NAFTA.
The walking corpse of Argentina's economy was there, as well as the
long-deceased body of Ecuador and several other South American nations
whose economies were long ago murdered and buried by the free trade and
free market nostrums of the World Bank and the IMF.
Yet on they came. Stiff-legged, covered in rotting bandages, the
official zombies marched to Miami to pledge, one and all, to sign on for
their next dose of free market poison.
Every nation but one: Venezuela, the single and solitary nation to say
"no thanks" at Miami's treaty of the living dead economies. Today, I met
up with Venezuela's chief FTAA negotiator. Victor Alvarez was saved from
zombification by his sense of humor. He noted that while the Bush
Administration was preaching free trade to their dark-skinned compatriots
south of the border, the USA itself was facing one of the largest
penalties in World Trade Organization history for raising tariffs on
steel products. He would have laughed out loud in Miami if it didn't hurt
so much: the illegal US trade barriers have closed two steel plants in
Venezuela's 'negociador jefe' Alvarez went through the well-known data:
in ten years of free market free-for-all, industrialization in
Venezuela dropped from 18% of GNP to 13%. And Venezuela fared best.
Elsewhere in Latin America, economies simply imploded. And NAFTA
created employment only in a fetid trench along the Rio Grande, the
'maquiladora' sweatshops which suck down wages on both sides of the
We finished our conversation as the President walked in. Hugo Chavez is
not one for subtleties. "FTAA is the PATH TO HELL," said Chavez.
He meant this in the deepest theological sense. What is at stake for
Chavez is Latin America's mortal soul. "I have seen children shot to
death," said the president, "not by an invading Army but by our own
Chavez was referring to February 27, 1989. While the Northern
Hemisphere was celebrating the impending fall of the Berlin Wall,
"another wall was going up," he explained, "the wall of globalization."
That day, the army massacred Venezuelans, young and old, during a
demonstration against diktats of the International Monetary Fund
imposed on that nation.
The President raced through a dozen more examples, from Bolivia to
Chiapas, Mexico, where the miracle of the marketplace came out of the
barrel of a gun.
FTAA is far more than a trade document. It's not just about fruit and
cars that we sell across borders. FTAA is an entire new multi-state
government in the making, with courts and executives, unelected, with the
power to bless or damn any one nation's laws which impede foreign
investment, foreign sales or even foreign pollution.
FTAA is revolutionary in the sense that governments are overthrown. And
the easiest way to do that, of course, is to convince governments to
overthrow themselves. Hence, the zombification process.
Chavez offers an alternative to FTAA. Following a numbing one-hour
discourse on the philosophy of the nineteenth century founding fathers of
South America (I could sympathize with this former history
professor's students), he dropped the Big One. Instead of ALCA [the
Spanish acronym for FTAA], he proposes ALBA, standing for the
Bolivarian Alternative for America. Named after his hero Simon
Bolivar, Chavez would create a "compensation" fund, in which the
wealthier nations of North and South America would fund development in
the poorer states.
If that sounds like an Andean pipe dream, he reminds us that the
European Union created just such a redistribution fund to jump-start the
economies of its poorest nations. (To the anger of the English, I should
add, who saw Ireland use the funds to zoom past their former lords to a
higher standard of living today.) If Chavez' proposal
appears at first to have a snow ball's chance in NAFTA hell, I remember
when, in fact, it was accepted gospel: John Kennedy's Alliance for
In those years when JFK's Alliance was promising northern capital for
southern development, a strange group of well-heeled and well-armed
revolutionaries in Chicago under Milton Friedman were plotting to
overthrow Kennedy's vision. They succeeded.
Over three decades, the Chicago Boys and their neo-liberal cohort have
ridden history's pendulum to the top, announcing that history itself has
come to an end in a free market consensus.
But when the pendulum swings back, the history professor in Caracas will
be waiting with his Bolivarian elixir to make the economic dead rise
Greg Palast is on assignment in Caracas for Rolling Stone Magazine. For
photos and more on Venezuela, go to www.GregPalast.com. Palast is the
author of, "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy" (Penguin 2003).
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