As the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly begins its work this week, Latin America and the Caribbean face the possible threat of another lost decade similar to the 1980s. Back then, the US Federal Reserve under Paul Volcker raised interest rates to punitive levels, crushing US labor and deliberately destabilizing countries struggling to recover from the legacy of colonialism around the world. Now, since 2008, Western central banks have staved off outright economic depression by re-inflating asset values so as to fund speculation in global currencies and commodities by their criminal, but systemically important, partner financial institutions.
Together, these institutions and the Western central banks have jury-rigged global markets, helping to constrain options for major economies like those of India, South Africa and Indonesia, while destabilizing Western political and economic rivals like the Russian Federation, China and Brazil. In 2009, the United Nations General Assembly President, Fr. Miguel d’Escoto, formulated an initiative to address the failure of the global economic system then threatened with massive, prolonged global contraction. Attacks by the United States and its allies on the competence of the UN to reform international economic architecture were cut off by pointing out that the initiative was one by UN Member States rather than the UN itself.
“no one dared argue that the Member States of the United Nations lack the competency to discuss and make recommendations on the central institutions of our shared global economy and existence.”
This is worth bearing in mind as the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly gets going in New York under global economic circumstances similar to those in 2009. Indeed, much of the UN’s 2009 report could have been written just this week. For example: “Developing countries are being affected through falling export demand and prices, accompanied by reversals of capital flows and reductions in remittances. While developed countries have the fiscal flexibility to respond….. most developing countries have tighter budget constraints, and resources directed towards offsetting the impact of the crisis must be diverted from development.”
And, too, the same argument over the UN’s competence in global economic matters surfaced earlier this month in the UN General Assembly’s September 10th vote in favor of Argentina’s sovereign debt restructuring proposal. The vote vindicated Miguel d’Escoto’s 2009 efforts to promote international financial and economic reform. Argentina’s Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman noted, “It has been said that this was not the correct forum but it is the only forum that has changed world history because it is a democratic forum where every country has a voice and every country has a vote.” But Héctor Timerman’s optimism is by no means borne out by the UN’s record elsewhere.
It may well be the case that the UN system plays a positive overall role in promoting positive global policies for development and helping protect the majority world from the very worst economic and environmental depredation of global corporate capitalism and even more heinous military aggression by the Western powers. But the UN has a lamentable record of collusion with the United States and its NATO allies on the UN Security Council, Britain and France. Among the UN’s several unforgivable long term failures are its collusion in the Western supported genocide of millions of people in Africa’s Great Lakes region and its decades-long inability to protect Palestinian civilians from Israeli aggression.
Soon after its very founding, the UN waged war against the people of Korea and massacred over a million northern Korean civilians, totally destroying North Korea’s infrastructure. Even now the UN completely fails to restrain aggressive nuclear-armed US military maneuvers on North Korea’s frontier. In Iraq, all through the 1990s UN sanctions killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. In Haiti, the UN is directly culpable of human rights abuses, through its UN mission’s repression, including notorious massacres in Cité Soleil, and its lethal negligence in spreading cholera. On Iran, there has been obvious hypocrisy and cynicism in the UN’s treatment of Iran and Israel’s respective nuclear programs.
In Ivory Coast, in 2011 the UN mission there deliberately instigated civil war, validating flagrant, but unsuccessful, opposition electoral abuses and then participating directly in the overthrow of the country’s elected government. At the same time, the UN accepted ridiculous, false accusations based on NATO country media reports and phony NGO human rights claims against the Libyan Jamahiriya as the basis of its infamous Security Council Resolution 1973. Those UN outrages opened the way for neocolonial intervention in Mali and, later, the Central African Republic, where UN soldiers have once again committed crimes against the population they are supposed to protect.
In Syria, the UN apparatus effectively sided with the NATO powers’ terrorist war against Syria’s legitimate government. In Ukraine, the UN has favoured the NATO powers supporting the fascist Ukraine government’s military campaign against its own Russian speaking population in Donbass – exactly the pretext for NATO’s UN-supported aggression against Libya. In Yemen, the UN has effectively accepted a categorically illegal aggression, this time by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Gulf monarchies, also supported by Israel and the US.
Former UN functionaries put their complacent view of this reality very clearly.
In a recent interview with RT, former UN Under-Secretary-General Shashi Tharoor observed, “One can’t entirely prevent member states from doing what they judge best, and frankly, also, what they believe they can get away with. But they won’t do things that will risk provoking a wider confrontations. If there’s serious opposition from other states, other major states, then one state may hesitate to take this kind of action on it’s own.” Such candor suggests that UN mechanisms like the Security Council are in fact a destabilizing source of spurious legal pretexts for war and intervention rather than a mechanism defending world peace. That said, in less acute international disputes, the UN legal system does help defuse conflicts between neighboring States.
This is particularly relevant to Latin America and the Caribbean where frontier and border differences inherited from the colonial era continue to complicate relations between nations. The most prominent current cases are Bolivia’s dispute with Chile over a sovereign route to the Pacific, Venezuela’s long standing claim to the Esequibo region, currently under Guyana’s jurisdiction, and Nicaragua’s territorial claims in disputes with Colombia and Costa Rica. But even in that regard, recently formed mechanisms like UNASUR offer a less arduous, costly and long drawn out procedure than the ponderous UN system for resolving disputes through the International Court of Justice.
UNASUR came about mainly as a reaction against heavy handed, but failed, US, Canadian and Mexican efforts to railroad Latin American countries into a regional free trade straitjacket – ALCA – during the 4th Americas Summit at Mar del Plata in 2005. After that decisive moment, resourceful, committed and determined leaders like Hugo Chávez, Nestor Kirchner, and Lula da Silva argued hard for a regional forum to resolve regional problems. As a result, the chances of an end to Colombia’s civil war have progressed greatly under UNASUR’s guidance in a way they never would have done within the neocolonial framework of the Organization of American States. That is also true for the peaceful resolution of the current frontier dispute between Colombia and Venezuela.
This regional approach to problem solving and conflict resolution may well make the UN progressively more irrelevant. That regional process is perhaps one of the few positive corollaries of the way in which, over the last few years, the Western powers have sidelined the UN to carry out aggressive direct and indirect military interventions and coups d’état. The US government is also working with its allies to sideline UN attempts to regulate international abuse of corporate power. The secretive, insidious Trans Pacific Trade Partnership, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trade in Services Agreement are, for all practical purposes, global governance initiatives of the North American and European corporate elites aimed at creating a de facto global economic regime rendering national sovereignty irrelevant and the UN impotent.
Recently, the US government and its regional allies have deliberately used diplomatic and economic measures, psychological warfare and internal destabilization to provoke and exploit damaging crises in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, El Salvador, Ecuador and Venezuela.
Even so, for the moment, it looks as though the progressive political movements governing Venezuela and Argentina are on track to overcome the current stage of US destabilization in those countries and win the December parliamentary elections in Venezuela and the October presidential elections in Argentina. But those internal political processes remain vulnerable to external manipulation of the global economy, especially the imminent threat of higher US interest rates.
The corporate elites running the US and allied governments are busy working out how to rearrange international economic fundamentals so as to stage and benefit from more successful attacks against vulnerable but recalcitrant sovereign governments. Against that clear strategy, the United Nations offers no defense. The only defense is determined regional and global combination between the targets of US and allied aggression, especially between Russia, China and Brazil. That strategy implies greater emphasis on multi-currency transactions to lessen dependence on the US dollar and also more urgency in developing vital auxiliary infrastructure like a payments clearing system similar to SWIFT, alternative international credit card processing facilities, commercial, aviation and marine insurance mechanisms, independent ratings agencies and so on.
Paradoxically, as the UN becomes institutionally less and less relevant, its foundational principles become more so: respect for self-determination, non-aggression and commitment to cooperation for development. In Latin America and the Caribbean, those principles are most successfully embodied in the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA) comprising Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Grenada, Nicaragua, St Kitts and Nevis, Santa Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Venezuela. ALBA offers a fundamental, practical example of how to combat Western corporate capitalism’s unending war of attrition against humanity.
ALBA emphasizes solidarity-based cooperation and complementary economic polices focused on social and productive investment, similar in many respects to the trade, investment and cooperation relations promoted by the BRICS countries. Brazil itself has demonstrated how social investment contributes dramatically to overall economic development by engaging more of the population in greater productive activity. ALBA has taken that lesson and applied it to the development problems of its member countries. It is a very good example of the alternative trade and financial arrangements Latin America and Eurasia are building to protect themselves from the corporate-monster controlled governments of North America and Europe.
For progressive governments in Latin America, working together closely is an urgent matter of survival. It would be a fatal mistake for such governments to cut back on the productive and social investment that has underwritten domestic political support among their countries’ majorities. Their best hope to avoid falling victim to the false imperatives of neoliberal austerity is close collaboration with China and Russia and developing regional autonomy through CELAC, UNASUR, MERCOSUR and ALBA. Given the shortcomings of the United Nations, those alliances are the only defense for Latin America and the Caribbean against the Western corporate elites’ determination to destroy the right of all peoples to sovereign economic development especially, in the case of the ALBA countries, development inspired by socialism.