Freedom and Democracy or Hunger and Terror: Neoliberalism and Militarization in Latin America

Article excerpt

Introduction

IN LATIN AMERICA, THE PROCESS OF CONCENTRATING WEALTH WITH WEALTH AND poverty with poverty began 500 years ago, but it has dramatically accelerated in the last 25 years under neoliberal policies. Latin American countries that followed the free-market prescription and inserted themselves fully into the global economy in the expectation that freedom and democracy would ensue found such promises to be chimera fabricated by the preachers of market liberalization. Real freedom under neoliberalism is enjoyed only by capital. Large sectors of society are denied basic human rights and dignity, while local elites allied with transnational companies have grown stronger, as has the determination to eliminate all remaining barriers to capital's search for resources, cheap labor, and markets. As millions are born, live, and die in the wreckage left by neoliberalism's plunder, the elite version of democracy counsels the hungry to patiently wait for wealth to trickle-down to them. Such democracy offers citizens the freedom to choose whether to spend their income on clean water, medicine, or food, to sell their dignity, or to become an "internal enemy." The promise of democracy by those seeking to maintain their unchallenged privileges translates into increased repression and violence against those who stand up for social justice and the protection of life.

The neoliberal model is based on the assertion that poverty is best alleviated by opening societies to market-based competition, since an unregulated free market promotes economic growth and a democratic and just development process. Most Latin American countries have adopted this model and have experienced it for over two decades. Much evidence now suggests that this economic system produces poverty, aggravates existing poverty and inequality, impedes social development by turning human rights into commodities, and destroys sustainable livelihoods by granting corporations unprecedented rights and freedoms (Hristov, 2004). Fantu Cheru, an independent expert on the effects of structural adjustment policies (SAPs) on human rights, concluded that SAPs--a primary component of the neoliberal agenda--represent a political project of social transformation at the global level that aims to make the world safe for multinational corporations (MNCs). These policies reduce the role of the state in national development, erode the social welfare of the poor, and deny their economic, social, and cultural rights (Singh, 1999). Since it is unresponsive to the needs of the majority, the continued existence of neoliberalism requires a political counterpart capable of suppressing opposition to it. "The modern army of financial capital and corrupt governments advances in the only way it is capable of: destroying" (EZLN, 1998a: 12). This explains the emergence of war not between countries, but within them, waged by states against the poor (the majority of their populations). The weapons in such wars go beyond hunger to include military dimensions.

This article illustrates the coexistence of neoliberalism, militarization, violence, and repression in Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico since 1990. To a large extent, these three countries represent the relationship between economic, political, and military trends in the rest of Latin America. Their common characteristics are governments that are "economic vassals of the U.S." (Petras et al., 2004), "empire-centered" (neoliberal) policies that have greatly impoverished the working majority in each country, and a rich natural resource base (particularly oil). They also have social movements that have demonstrated long-term viability, increasing repression and violence directed by those with economic and political power and sanctioned by the state, and an increasing U.S. military presence. The following analysis is not a series of case studies, but illustrates local expressions of global processes that conceal class struggle and the pursuit of imperial interests. …