Reality check for Colombia…. and the US

By toni solo

On June 1st last, President Santos of Colombia announced in the most maladroit way that Colombia would seek to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He said he intended to seek an agreement with NATO to “begin a complete process of familiarization, of cooperation, with a view to joining that organization”. Subsequently, his Minister of Defence recanted, clarifying that “”Colombia cannot and does not want to join NATO” but merely sought closer cooperation. The meaning and background of this extraordinary episode indicates how fragile the influence of the United States has become in the region, even over long standing allies.

Various events bear on what Santos said and the subsequent recantation by his Minister of Defence. Over that weekend and the subsequent days President Xi Jinping of China was visiting the Caribbean, Costa Rica and Mexico, prior to meeting with US President Obama. Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Elias Jaua met with US Secretary of State John Kerry. The Organization of American States was meeting in Guatemala.

Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico were involved in joint talks as members of the US engineered Pacific Alliance in relation to the broader Asia-Americas Trans-Pacific Partnership. A delegation from Costa Rica, Chile and Cuba, has met over the last couple of weeks with the governments of Russia and of China. That delegation represents the governments of the joint pro-tempore presidency of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States.

Other events bear heavily on the matter. President Daniel Ortega has confirmed his government’s intention to go ahead with the Inter-Oceanic Canal across Nicaragua. This is relevant in light of the current visit to Britain and other EU countries by Colombia’s President Santos, whose government has still refused to accept the judgment of the International Court of Justice in Colombia’s dispute with Nicaragua over maritime territory in the Caribbean.

Colombia is also anxious pending the eventual outcome of the peace negotiations in Havana between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas. Also relevant is the recent decision by the nineteen Petrocaribe countries to develop a joint economic zone in the Caribbean and Central America. All these events are intricately related to two overall processes, one essentially regional, the other self-evidently global.

The first process is that the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean are becoming less and less dependent on the United States and its allies in almost every way. The regional economic blocs of Mercosur and the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA) and, in a different way, the Pacific Alliance countries, have broader and more fruitful policy options than ever. Apart from the obvious regional importance of Brazil, those Latin American countries are building complex and beneficial trade, finance and cooperation relations with powerful global actors like China, Russia and India.

They are also building significant economic, technological, trade and cooperation relations with other less powerful international partners like South Korea, Iran and Taiwan and with countries in Africa. Politically, Latin America is taking its own path in directions that help expose the Western pseudo-democracies as the corporate dominated oligarchies they have always been. The Western elites can no longer cloak their brutal domination of North America and Europe in the shreds of liberal electoral democracy.

Those countries’ chronic relative economic decline ever since the last years of the 20th Century marks a global rebalancing process. That is the meaning of the visit of China’s President Xi Jinping to the Caribbean and Mesoamerica and of the decision by Chinese capital, based in Hong Kong, to finance Nicaragua’s Inter-Oceanic Canal. President Xi’s meeting with President Barack Obama is above all else an opportunity for the United States to negotiate its relative decline on the best terms possible.

While China pivots into the Americas, expanding its relations to co-opt long standing US allies in the region, the United States government fumbles hopelessly. Its diplomatic, trade and military responses to the new global economic realities are just what one might expect from a deluded, narcissistic national polity incapable of shaking off the corporate dead hand choking the life out of the US economy and society. By contrast, based on a commitment to peace, self-determination, solidarity and cooperation, the vigorous response by the ALBA countries to the June 1st declaration of President Santos left no room for doubt.

Any move by Colombia to weaken Latin American unity in relation to the former imperial powers will face implacable resistance. If Colombia and the United States were seeking to try and reinstate North American and European influence in Latin America by the back door, they found that opening quickly closed shut. The unimaginative deadbeat NATO country governments and their regional allies will certainly continue trying to find ways of putting back the clock in Latin America. But, for them, time is running out.