Chavez, Fox and the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America

In what has become a vindictive exchange of words between Mexican President Vicente Fox and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, which on the surface appears to be an ideological battle over trade policy, is in fact rooted in the future development and economic integration of the Americas. Although the Venezuelan president’s words may have isolated him for the moment from the Fox administration, it is actually Fox, and his party, who may be isolated from the Mexican people and government with elections coming up in July of 2006.

The debate, which is by no means a new one, has returned to public attention following the Summit of the Americas in Argentina, where Chavez, members of MERCUSOR (the South American trade bloc), and thousands of people in the streets of Mar Del Plata, "buried" the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

Responding to Chavez’s ever-welcome brandishing of U.S. government policy as the primary arbiter of "savage neo-liberalism" at the Summit, Fox responded several days ago saying, "we have some Presidents, fortunately a minority, who blame other countries for all their problems."

Chavez, who is well aware of Fox’s vulnerability within Mexico’s congress, and amongst the Mexican people who have suffered the poverty of NAFTA, responded by calling Fox "a puppy dog of the empire" and warned the Mexican president not to "mess" with him. This culminated in the recall of ambassadors from each respective country and Fox demanding an apology from Chavez.

While Fox awaits his apology and tensions rise between Fox and Chavez, on Saturday November 19, 2005, Chavez and his followers thought it appropriate to hold a festive march and rally in the streets of Caracas. The theme of the rally was best expressed by the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans wearing their red shirts—with the name of Misions inscribed on them, this or that Chavista party, or the always reliable picture of Che Guevara—carrying Venezuelan and Mexican flags and signs with pictures of Pancho Villa or Emiliano Zapata side by side with Símon Bolivar with the writing "The people of Mexico and Venezuela are one." Similarly, the demonstration route was covered with graffiti such as "Onward Mexico, out with the FTAA" and "Bush is an imperialist assassin."

The rally’s purpose was quite clear and in accordance with the initial motive of Chavez; Venezuela is in solidarity with the people of the America’s (the Mexican people) and will fight against all those that espouse imperial neo-liberalism (Mexican government) of the U.S. and Washington Consensus.

Venezuela has been working to solidify relations with the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR) composed of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay—most of which opposed the revival of the FTAA at the recent Summit—along with other Latin American countries and the Caribbean. Chavez is attempting to define clear lines and push a further separation between those countries of the South who are complying with the neoliberal policies of the North (Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador for example) and those that have shown interest in Southern integration based on solidarity and mutual interest, ideally to become a part of Chavez’s vision of ALBA, a Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America, which involves progressive, regional economic and political unification. This is most evident through Chavez’s initiative to strengthen MERCOSUR which stands as an alternative to the FTAA, outside of U.S. domination. Some of the projects are for Southern energy integration; PertoCaribe and PetroSur, alternative information sources like the new independent TeleSur TV program, and the desire to create a bank of the South and eventual economic self-sufficiency. Chavez acknowledges that the future of the Americas and the possibility of a socialism of the 21st century is largely dependent on the strengthening solidarity between so called peripheral and semi-peripheral nations of the South against the imperial North, both making them more reliant on one another for economic development and increasing their global strength and self-determination.

A further effect that the integral hemispheric debate may have is the ousting Fox’s pro-corporate globalization party, the National Action Party (PAN) for the reformist center-left party Partido de la Revolución Democratica (PRD), Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who Chavez would surely try to convince to move more to the left, away from the Imperial North.

Chavez, along with Cuba’s Fidel Castro, has been pushing for ALBA and a unified, progressive Latin America. The loss of Mexico—a key player in U.S. imperial policy, and champion of neo-liberalism (NAFTA)—to the growing number of left-leaning governments all over Latin America, would be a true victory for the vision that Venezuela is pursuing. This vision includes a South America based on solidarity, dignity and autonomy and room for Mexican social movements like the Zapatistas. Such regional integration would be a decisive blow to U.S. hegemony and would be a step closer to creating a world free of imperial economic policies.

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