By Chris Hedges, published on Truthdig, Oct 2, 2016
A decade ago, left-wing governments, defying Washington and global corporations, took power in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Venezuela, Uruguay, Bolivia and Ecuador. It seemed as if the tide in Latin America was turning. The interference by Washington and exploitation by international corporations might finally be defeated. Latin American governments, headed by charismatic leaders such as Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Ecuador, won huge electoral victories. They instituted socialist reforms that benefited the poor and the working class. They refused to be puppets of the United States. They took control of their nations’ own resources and destinies. They mounted the first successful revolt against neoliberalism and corporate domination. It was a revolt many in the United States hoped to emulate here.
Further below, two interviews by U.S. journalists with Ernesto Che Guevara in March 1964 and December 1964.
But the movements and governments in Latin America have fallen prey to the dark forces of U.S. imperialism and the wrath of corporate power. The tricks long practiced by Washington and its corporate allies have returned—the black propaganda; the manipulation of the media; the bribery and corruption of politicians, generals, police, labor leaders and journalists; the legislative coups d’état; the economic strangulation; the discrediting of democratically elected leaders; the criminalization of the left; and the use of death squads to silence and disappear those fighting on behalf of the poor. It is an old, dirty game.
President Correa, who earned enmity from Washington for granting political asylum to Julian Assange four years ago and for closing the United States’ Manta military air base in 2009, warned recently that a new version of Operation Condor is underway in Latin America. Operation Condor, which operated in the 1970s and ’80s, saw thousands of labor union organizers, community leaders, students, activists, politicians, diplomats, religious leaders, journalists and artists tortured, assassinated and disappeared. The intelligence chiefs from right-wing regimes in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and, later, Brazil had overseen the campaigns of terror. They received funds from the United States and logistical support and training from the Central Intelligence Agency. Press freedom, union organizing, all forms of artistic dissent and political opposition were abolished. In a coordinated effort these regimes brutally dismembered radical and leftist movements across Latin America. In Argentina alone 30,000 people disappeared.
Latin America looks set to be plunged once again into a period of dictatorial control and naked corporate exploitation. The governments of Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela, which is on the brink of collapse, have had to fight off right-wing coup attempts and are enduring economic sabotage. The Brazilian Senate impeached the democratically elected President Dilma Rousseff. Argentina’s new right-wing president, Mauricio Macri, bankrolled by U.S. hedge funds, promptly repaid his benefactors by handing $4.65 billion to four hedge funds, including Elliott Management, run by billionaire Paul Singer. The payout to hedge funds that had bought Argentine debt for pennies on the dollar meant that Singer’s firm made $2.4 billion, an amount that was 10 to 15 times the original investment. The previous Argentine government, under Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, had refused to pay the debt acquired by the hedge funds and acidly referred to them as “vulture funds.”
I interviewed Guillaume Long, Ecuador’s minister of foreign affairs and human mobility, for my show On Contact last week. Long, who earned a doctorate from the Institute for the Study of the Americas at the University of London, called at the United Nations for the creation of a global tax regulatory agency. He said such an agency should force tax-dodging corporations, which the International Monetary Fund estimates costs developing countries more than $200 billion a year in lost revenue, to pay the countries for the natural resources they extract and for national losses stemming from often secret corporate deals. He has also demanded an abolition of overseas tax havens.
Long said the neoliberal economic policies of the 1980s and ’90s were profoundly destructive in Latin America. Already weak economic controls were abandoned in the name of free trade and deregulation. International corporations and banks were given a license to exploit. “This deregulation in an already deregulated environment” resulted in anarchy, Long said. “The powerful people had even less checks and balances on their powers,” he said.
“Neoliberalism is bad in most contexts,” Long said when we spoke in New York. “It’s been bad in Europe. It’s been bad in other parts of the world. It has dismantled the welfare state. In the context where we already have a weak state, where institutions are not consolidated, where there are strong feudal remnants, such as in Latin America, where you don’t really have a strong social contract with institutions, with modernity, neoliberalism just shatters any kind of social pact. It meant more poverty, more inequality, huge waves of instability.”
Countries saw basic services, many already inadequate, curtailed or eliminated in the name of austerity. The elites amassed fortunes while almost everyone else fell into economic misery. The political and economic landscape became unstable. Ecuador had seven presidents between 1996 and 2006, the year in which Correa was elected. It suffered a massive banking crisis in 1999. It switched the country’s currency to the U.S. dollar in desperation. The chaos in Ecuador was mirrored in countries such as Bolivia and Argentina. Argentina fell into a depression in 1998 that saw the economy shrink by 28 percent. Over 50 percent of Argentines were thrust into poverty.
“Latin America,” Long said, “hit rock bottom.”
It was out of this neoliberal morass that the left regrouped and took power.
“People came to terms with that moment of their history,” Long said. “They decided to rebuild their societies and fight foreign interventionism and I’d even say imperialism. To this day in Latin America, the main issue is inequality. Latin America is not necessarily the poorest continent in the world. But it’s certainly the most unequal continent in the world.”
“Ecuador is an oil producer,” Long said. “We produce about 530,000 barrels of oil a day. We were getting 20 percent royalties on multinationals extracting oil. Now it’s the other way around. We pay multinationals a fee for extractions. We had to renegotiate all of our oil contracts in 2008 and 2009. Some multinationals refused to abide by the new rules of the game and left the country. So our state oil company moved in and occupied the wells. But most multinationals said OK, we’ll do it, it’s still profitable. So now it’s the other way around. We pay private companies to extract the oil, but the oil is ours.”
Long admitted that there have been serious setbacks, but he insisted that the left is not broken.
“It depends on how you measure success,” he said. “If you’re going to measure it in terms of longevity, and how long these governments were in power—in our case we’re still in power, of course, and we’re going to win in February next year—then you’re looking at, more or less in Venezuela 17 years [that leftist governments have been in power], in Ecuador now 10, and in Argentina and Brazil it’s 13.”
“One of the critiques aimed at the left is they’re well-meaning, great people with good ideas but don’t let them govern because the country will go bust,” he said. “But in Ecuador we had really healthy growth rates, 5 to 10 percent a year. We had lots of good economics. We diversified our economy. We moved away from importing 80 percent of energy to [being] net exporters of electricity. We’ve had big reforms in education, in higher education. Lots of things that are economically successful. Whereas neoliberal, orthodox economics was not successful in the previous decade.”
Long conceded that his government had made powerful enemies, not only by granting political asylum to Assange in its embassy in London but by taking Chevron Texaco to court to try to make it pay for the ecological damage its massive oil spills caused in the Amazon, where the company drilled from the early 1960s until it pulled out in 1992. It left behind some 1,000 toxic waste pits. The oil spills collectively were 85 times the size of the British Petroleum spill in the Gulf of Mexico and 18 times the size of the spill from the Exxon Valdez. An Ecuadorean court ordered Chevron Texaco to pay $18.2 billion in damages, an amount later reduced to $9.5 billion. The oil giant, however, has refused to pay. Ecuador has turned to international courts in an attempt to extract the money from the company.
Long said that the different between the massive oil spills elsewhere and the Ecuadorean spills was that the latter were not accidental. “[They were done] on purpose in order to cut costs. They were in the middle of the Amazon. Normally what you’d do is extract the oil and you’d have these membranes so that it doesn’t filter through into the ground. They didn’t put in these membranes. The oil filtered into the water systems. It polluted all of the Amazon River system. It created a huge sanitary and public health issue. There were lots of cancers detected.”
Long said his government was acutely aware that Chevron Texaco has “a lot of lobbying power in the United States, in Wall Street, in Washington.”
“There are a lot of things we don’t see,” he said of the campaign to destabilize his government and other left-wing governments. “Benefits we could reap, investments we don’t get because we’ve been sovereign. In the case of [Ecuador’s closing of the U.S.] Manta air base, we’d like to think the American government understood and it was fine. But it was a bold move. We said ‘no more.’ We declared it in our constitution. We had a new constitution in 2008. It was a very vibrant moment of our history. We created new rules of the game. It’s one of the most progressive constitutions in the world. It actually declares the rights of nature. It’s the only constitution that declares the rights of nature, not just the rights of man. We made Ecuadorean territory free of foreign military bases. There was no other way. But there are consequences to your actions.”
One of those consequences was an abortive coup in September 2010 by members of the Ecuadorean National Police. It was put down by force. Long charged that many of the Western NGO’s in Ecuador and throughout the region are conduits for money to right-wing parties. Military and police officials, along with some politicians, have long been on the CIA’s payroll in Latin America. President Correa in 2008 dismissed his defense minister, army chief of intelligence, commanders of the army and air force, and the military joint chiefs, saying that Ecuador’s intelligence systems were “totally infiltrated and subjugated to the CIA.”
“There is an international conspiracy right now, certainly against progressive governments,” he said. “There’s been a few electoral setbacks in Argentina, and Venezuela is in a difficult situation. The media frames it in a certain way, but, yes, sure, Venezuela is facing serious trouble. There’s an attempt to make the most of the fall of prices of certain commodities and overthrow [governments]. We just saw a parliamentary coup in Brazil. [President Rousseff had been] elected with 54 million votes. The Labor Party in Brazil [had] been in power for 13 years. The only way they [the rightists] managed to get rid of it was through a coup. They couldn’t do it through universal suffrage.”
Long said that even with the political reverses suffered by the left it will be difficult for the rightists to reinstate strict neoliberal policies.
“You have a strong, disputed political ground between a traditional right and a radical left,” he said. “A radical left, which has proved it can reduce poverty, it can reduce inequality, it can run the economy, well, it’s got young cadres that have been [government] ministers and so on. I reckon that sooner or later it will be back in power.”
Corporate leviathans and the imperialist agencies that work on their behalf are once again reshaping Latin America into havens for corporate exploitation. It is the eternal story of the struggle by the weak against the strong, the poor against the rich, the powerless against the powerful, and those who would be free against the forces of imperialism.
“There are no boundaries in this struggle to the death,” Ernesto “Che” Guevara said. “We cannot be indifferent to what happens anywhere in the world, for a victory by any country over imperialism is our victory; just as any country’s defeat is a defeat for all of us.”
Cuba celebrates Fidel Castro’s 90th birthday, news compilation on New Cold War.org, Aug 14, 2016 (including birthday greeting sent to Fidel Castro by Vladimir Putin)
Russia cancels Cuba’s debt as Vladimir Putin begins state visit to Latin America, by Roger Annis, New Cold War.org. July 12, 2014
Interview with Che Guevara on the U.S.television program ‘Face The Nation’, Dec 13, 1964
Ernesto Che Guevara was interviewed in New York on December 13, 1964 by three U.S. journalists: Paul Niven and Richard C. Hottelet of CBS and Tad Szulc of the New York Times. Watch the interview at the screen below or at this weblink; Che Guevara’s comments are translated with English voiceover.
Che Guevra was in New York to attend a special session of the United Nations. He delivered a keynote address to that gathering on behalf of Cuba. Watch his address here, with English subtitles.
Ernesto Che Guevara interviewed by ABC Television‘s ‘Issues and Answers’ program on Sunday, March 22, 1964
This was the first interview by a major U.S. media outlet with Che Guevara. The complete text of the interview follows. The transcript was edited and prepared for the web in January 2005 by Walter Lippmann for his ‘CubaNews‘ email information listserve. The audio of the interview is available on YouTube.
Introduction by ABC: This is the first exclusive interview with Major Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, Cuban Minister of Industries, seen and heard in the United States. Feeling that a portrait of the man who has been called “The power behind Castro,” “The architect of the Cuban Revolution,” “The top leftist in Cuba,” and the man who may succeed Castro, would have meaning to the American people, ABC sent its cameras and Lisa Howard to Cuba for this filmed interview with Major Guevara in his offices in the Ministry of Industries in Havana.
Lisa Howard, ABC: How seriously is the economic blockade affecting the Cuban economy?
Major Che Guevara: I can’t give you an exact figure of the effect of the blockade on Cuba, and, believe it or not, but the blockade has good and bad effects. Among the good ones is the development of the national awareness and the fighting spirit of the Cuban people to overcome -that all of our Cuban machinery was made in the United States, and that your secondhand machinery was dumped on us as well, and at a profit, and many of these lines of supply have been discontinued now, then you can realize what this blockade has put us up against and the effort required to counteract it. Figures cannot be given. I don’t know them. But obviously it has been a serious drawback. But at the same time, it has been a helpful lesson to us. It has taught us how to manage our economy in the future. I think this more or less answers your question.
ABC: Russia is pouring a great deal of money into the Cuban economy each day. Now what would happen to the economy of the island if that aid suddenly stopped?
Che Guevara: These statements of daily amounts are, I think, typical of the American way of thinking and the concept you have, of investment. It may in fact reflect somehow the idea of what Americans understand as “aid.” American aid to the countries of South America finally revert against the state receiving the assistance. In our case there has been what would be called aid, such as the writing off of certain trade debts, long-term loans, but granted on a purely commercial basis. As for the rest, it is the normal, natural trade between two countries. The United States is no longer the main import-export customer of Cuba. It is the Soviet Union.
Now if, with your questions, you are asking what would happen should Soviet aid stop, you refer to all our exchange, then I can answer the life of the country would be paralyzed because — for example oil, all of our oil, almost four million tons, comes from the Soviet Union, but that is not assistance, that is trade exchange on a basis of absolute equality and we pay for it with sugar and other products.
ABC: Would you assess for us how effective has the United States’ blockade been?
Che Guevara: I think that you are almost inviting me to leak confidential information to you. We have recognized the importance of the blockade, but we have also stated with the same calm that the blockade was not going to prevent us from advancing. But first of all it is difficult to be specific about it, and then it is not very appropriate, either. After all, in spite of your good intentions, we are still enemies. And the enemy should really only know generalities about the other party.
ABC: Cuba has recently purchased buses from London. You are negotiating for ships from Spain. I understand there is an economic mission in Switzerland, does this represent for you a fundamental change in the Cuban economy?
Che Guevara: I do not think so. I think there has been a change in the economic policy of some countries. There has been a certain breaking up of the so-called monolithic unity of the free world. There is more trade with Cuba now. Our commercial eagerness has always been on the same basis. In other words, merchandise is merchandise and it should be to the mutual buyer and the seller. And on that basis we have traded with the whole world, including the United States, even after we severed our relations.
The United States had used great pressure to stop certain goods being sold to us, and you know full well the debate that was held and the discussions that took place because Leyland sold us buses. But actually it is not we who have changed. Certain aspects of international politics have changed. I don’t know whether we have anything to do with that. I don’t think so. I don’t think we are that important.
ABC: Do you feel that these purchases represent a failure of the United States’ blockade?
Che Guevara: Yes.
ABC: A serious failure?
Che Guevara That depends on how it affects the American ego, that of the United States.
ABC: Major Guevara, do you believe that this trade with the West that you are now engaged in will continue and perhaps expand in the near future?
Che Guevara: I hope so. Naturally it doesn’t only depend on our wishes but also on the wishes of the people with whom we trade today. But I do have hopes that it will continue and that we will enter a new era as far as relations with Cuba are concerned. That the countries of Europe have realized the importance of having relations with all countries of the world and that Cuba is a good market, a market that is reliable, stable, and in one word, a permanent market.
So that everything leads us to hope that these relations will go on and that they will expand in the future. We are extremely interested in this. We have since closed deals for the purchase of complete plants with certain countries, with France, with England, with Japan. We feel that in the future we can continue this type of transaction and with greater security, because in the past there was’ always the fear, if trade relations were interrupted, how were we to obtain spare parts, but-especially England and France have maintained very good relations with us in this respect. They have guaranteed the supply of spare parts for the equipment we bought from them during the revolutionary stages.
This has also strengthened our confidence in the possibility of importing new machines and then, with first class technical equipment of the latest models, to build up a whole series of industries which we are now developing.
ABC: What would happen to the Cuban economy if this trade with the West were suddenly cut off?
Che Guevara: Nothing.
ABC: Now there will be a brief pause and in a moment we will be back with more Issues and Answers.
ABC: Major Guevara, much external evidence indicates that the Marxist system of economics simply doesn’t work. It doesn’t provide a bountiful life for its people. After 47 years of trial, the Soviet Union still cannot feed and house and clothe their people properly. Do you think it is possible that the Marxist system just doesn’t provide the proper incentive to create a really high level of productivity?
Che Guevara: You have a tendency to make declarations in the form of questions. And again, I have first to refute your declaration and then answer the question. You say that it has been proved that Marxism, or the Marxist system does not provide the people with what they need and insure their well-being. I think it is just the opposite. If we compare the United States’ standard of living with that of other countries then we must recognize that the other countries are lower, but when you speak of the American way of life and that of the free world, you’ve got to consider the 200 million people in Latin America who die of hunger, who die of diseases, who do not even reach adulthood, Who die as children, starving. All these people contribute to the economic greatness of the United States that exploits them in one way or another’. The same happens in Africa and it happened in Asia, as well. Marxism ends all that. At the same moment when we are being beseiged by American imperialism we cannot offer our people all the things we would like but we have given them all we could, all we have been able of doing, so far, and on equal footing, from Ministers to the lowest official of the government. And that is the main reason why the people continue to fight for their liberation.
ABC: But the United States government is quite aware of the problems in Latin America, and through the Alianza is trying very hard to lift the standard of living of the people throughout the hemisphere. Now if the ruling classes agree to make land reforms and tax reforms and if the living standards are raised, won’t the message of the Cuban revolution lose its effectiveness?
Che Guevara: Of course it would lose it right away. The message of the Cuban revolution has that meaning because through its own weight, imperialism can only carry out lukewarm reforms which do not go to the very root of the problems. If all of Latin America were freed from imperialist domination, then imperialism itself would face very serious problems. The foundation of imperialism is the domination of Latin American countries through unequal exchange, through the exchange of manufactured goods for raw materials, the taking over of key posts in the governments through the national oligarchies -subservient to imperialisms
Now if all this were to be changed, imperialism would have lost its strength. It, then, would face the general crisis of capitalism. In other words, the crisis from the working class within its own country.
Although this is not so imminent in your country because exploitation of the working classes is transferred to Latin America, Africa and Asia, but then the conflict would be directly within the United States. Obviously the message of the Cuban revolution would lose all of its importance, but it wouldn’t be needed either, because that is precisely what we desire for all our people in Latin America, and once that was achieved, there would be no further need to launch messages. It would have no meaning.
ABC: So in our desire for these reforms, we agree?
Che Guevara: True reforms, for the access of the people to power. Then we agree.
ABC: Major Guevara, do you feel this can’t come about through an evolutionary process or must it come about through violence and revolutionary upheavals?
Che Guevara: That, of course, depends upon the reactionary classes. It is they who refuse to give up power, to hand over the reins of power. Where the reactionary classes insist on holding on to power, outside of the will of all, the spark will break out and it may well set the whole of Latin America on fire, and the people will come to power,
ABC: Major Guevara, since the success of the revolution, the Cuban economy according to all reports has seriously deteriorated in every sector. Industrial output, the vegetable crop, the sugar harvest last year which hit a low of three and a half million tons. How do you account for this economic regression?
Che Guevara: Well, again that question is a statement. So the first thing that must be done is to refute the statement and then answer the question. You say that all aspects of the Cuban economy have deteriorated during the course of the revolution, and I say you are wrong. The industrial output increased since 1959 and it could have increased much more had it not been adversely affected by the sugar industry which has in fact decreased. The industrial output has increased at an annual rate of seven percent, of course, not counting sugar. And the increase for 1963 and the estimates for 1964 show an even higher rate. For 1963, it amounted to ten percent, and the estimates for 1964 will even be higher and the sugar output will also increase.
ABC: Major Guevara, when you were fighting in the hills of the Sierra Maestra did you foresee that the revolution would take so radical a turn?
Che Guevara: Intuitively, I felt it. Of course, the course and the very violent development of the revolution couldn’t be foreseen. Nor was the Marxist-Leninist formulation of the revolution foreseeable. That was the result of -a know it very well. We had a more or less vague idea of solving the problems which we clearly saw affected the peasants who fought with us, and the problems we saw in the lives of the workers. But it would be very long to recount the whole process of the transformation of our ideas.
ABC: There is a conviction in the United States that Major Guevara was one of the most radical influences in the revolution and that he pulled Dr. Castro to the left. What happened here was partially his blueprint. Does he accept or deny that?
Che Guevara: For a long time in the United States and in many other countries I have been given the honor of being considered the brain of the revolution, the cold mastermind, the leftist, the power behind the throne. Well, personally speaking I wouldn’t be bothered about this, but my honesty as a revolutionary, my innate modesty and honesty force me to confess that the top leftist in Cuba is Fidel Castro and that the greatest danger to the United States in Cuba is the danger of Fidel, and not me.
ABC: In the hills of the Sierra Maestra, when Fidel Castro said he was not a Communist, did you believe that he was not a Communist and that he would not become a Communist?
Che Guevara: I knew he was not a Communist, but I believe that I also knew that he would become a Communist. Just as I knew at that time that I was not a Communist but I also knew that I would become one within a short time, and that the natural development of the revolution would lead all of us to Marxism-Leninism. I cannot say that it was a clear or conscious knowledge, but it was an intuition, the result of an examination of careful assessment of the development of the attitude of the United States and the way in which your country acted at that time against us and in favor of Batista.
ABC: If something were to happen to Fidel Castro, what do you think would be the fate of the Cuban revolution and whom do you think would accede to power here?
Che Guevara: From your question I presume that you refer to something violent happening to him. Well, we can’t deny it would be a very serious blow to the Cuban revolution. Fidel is our leader, unchallenged and undisputed. He has been our true guide through a series of very, very difficult situations that Cuba has had to face, and at that time he gave proof of his stature as a world leader. I don’t think any of us has that stature., but we have acquired revolutionary experience in the years of fighting side by side with him. We become what we became through going through the same school with him, a school of courage, boldness, sacrifice, of determination to defend our principles, of analysis of the different problems. And I think that altogether we could, I think, limp on, even if something were to happen to him.
Now as to who would replace him, well that would have to be discussed at that time. We can’t indulge in that sort of “iffish” history now. -None of us have that sort of political aspiration, but logically, his brother Raul, not because he in his brother, but because of his own qualifications — he is the Deputy Prime Minister and naturally would be the one most suitable among us to follow the same path of the Cuban revolution.
ABC: Major Guevara, Dr. Castro has often expressed his desire to normalize relations between Cuba and the United States. Do you desire such a normalization of relations?
Che Guevara: If it is based on principles, yes. And I perhaps more than anyone else because industry is the one that suffers most from the blockade. Industry and transport are perhaps the sectors of production which are hardest hit by the blockade. Transport has more or less freed itself but not industry and therefore on the basis of principles and total equality, the normalization of relations would be ideal to us.
ABC: Are you optimistic about the possibility of a normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States?
Che Guevara: I think it is a difficult question to answer. We are watching. We are waiting. We are planning for either one road or the other, whichever is followed. It depends on a series of circumstances. The very characteristics of the American government. It also depends on how the American government is able to gauge the situation in the world. So far your government hasn’t given any clear cut idea that it does know how to weigh the correlation of forces in the world so that there are no clear ideas regarding the total normalization.
ABC: We will take a brief pause and in a moment we will be back with more Issues and Answers.
– – –
ABC: What would you like to see the United States do, as regards Cuba?
Che Guevara: It is very difficult to give a precise answer. It is somewhat unrealistic, as a question. Perhaps the most frank and objective answer would be: Nothing. Nothing in all respects. Nothing for or against us. Just leave us alone.
ABC: Thank you very much, Major Guevara.