Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Defending Democracy in Latin America

Ever since the nationalization of the hydrocarbon industry on May 1st, President Evo Morales and Bolivian democracy have suffered a barrage of attacks from the media and the ruling class. Echoing the cries of neo-liberal pundits in the Financial Times and The Economist, George Bush launched the latest round of slander against the Morales government this week. At an address to the National Restaurant Association, Bush responded to a question about Bolivia and Venezuela, "Let me just put it bluntly - I'm concerned about the erosion of democracy in the countries you mentioned. I am going to continue to remind our hemisphere that respect for property rights and human rights is essential for all countries in order for there to be prosperity and peace.'' (I would like to pose the question: What the hell is the President of the United States doing at the National Restaurant Association while our soldiers are dying in Iraq and the economy is in a tailspin?)

Bush's comments come at a time when democracy in Latin America is at a unprecedentedly high levels. The governments of Venezuela and Bolivia seem to be the only two nations in the world who have the best interests of their people even partially in mind. The leaders of both countries - Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales - have been elected by far wider margins than almost any American or European leader in memory. The nationalization of major industries for the benefit of the people is in contrast to the actions of America, Great Britain, and China which have been involved in the complete privatization of public services. Democracy is about putting the benefits of people over those of private interests. Leaders like Bush who enjoy approval ratings of less than 30% generally fail to grasp this concept.

Bush's warning against human rights and property rights violations are absurd - nearly comical - at best. America has a human rights history that would make even the most brutal of dictators blush. Whether it's the systematic extermination of the Palestinians, American support for Sadam Hussein, or the funding of terrorists, the United States has every conceivable violation on its resume. Admittedly, Hugo Chavez has had a few run-ins with issues of free speech, but his hands are far cleaner than any American President.

The President is also throwing stones in the metaphorical glass house of property rights. Last summer, the Supreme Court ruled against Susette Kelo in the case of Kelo v. New London Development Corporation. In a landmark decision, the court ruled that the federal government could use eminent domain to seize land for the use of private corporations. To quote Sandra Day O'Connor, "The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the State from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory." Both Chavez and Morales have respected the rights of small property owners, while only expropriating unused land belonging to the extremely wealthy.

What this all comes down to is the capitalist version of democracy coming in conflict with socialist democracy. The capitalists intend to use democracy as just another tool for creating profit, while socialists like Chavez and Morales seek to create societies in which profit serves people.