“Hitler” did New York and was received like, well, the new Adolf Hitler. Then he flew south and was received like a revolutionary hero. Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has seen the face of two radically different Americas. Call it a practical lesson in the new multipolar world order.
After the sparring at Columbia University and his speech at the United Nations, the Iranian president visited Bolivian President Evo Morales in La Paz and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Merida. Both countries are rich in natural resources, against the George W Bush administration’s hegemonic designs, and supportive of the Iranian civilian nuclear program. As such, they are configured as Iran’s key strategic allies in South America. From the point of view of the Islamic Republic, this is regarded as nothing short than a key geopolitical victory.
Ahmadinejad arrived in La Paz on a Venezuelan government plane. Iran and Bolivia swiftly established diplomatic relations and immediately agreed on a five-year, US\$1 billion industrial cooperation plan, plus a \$100 million plan to boost technology and trade. According to the Bolivians, the Iranians are very much interested in exploiting lithium and uranium in South America.
Then Ahmadinejad flew to Venezuela for a new flurry of bilateral agreements on joint projects in both countries. The rhetoric was epic. Ahmadinejad greeted Chavez as “one of the greatest anti-imperialist fighters”. Chavez answered in kind: “An imperial spokesman tried to disrespect you, calling you a cruel little tyrant. You responded with the greatness of a revolutionary. We felt like you were our representative.”
Ahmadinejad and Chavez have already met six times, in both Iran and Venezuela. Their economic and energy deals – on oil refineries, petrochemicals, the auto industry – amount to \$17 billion, and counting. Iranian diplomats were ecstatic. Chavez’ tacit support for the “peaceful use of nuclear energy” is considered “very important” – a counterpunch to the heavy pressure of the US and the European Union. The overwhelming majority of Latin American governments – including President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Brazil, who has very good relations with the Bush administration – regard Iran’s nuclear program as a totally legitimate path to generate electricity.
Naturally the Iran/Venezuela strategic partnership was widely denounced by the medieval Bolivian landowning oligarchy – which strictly follows White House cue cards and swears Iran is a terrorist state that wants a nuclear bomb. And there is nothing like “revolutionary nations” getting together to make the US industrial/military complex go nuts – with the usual ensuing apocalyptic rhetoric of an imminent communist-style “back yard” cross-border invasion.
This is especially so when someone like Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera regards Ahmadinejad’s visit as a “political project”. Morales’ and Linera’s MAS (Movimiento al Socialismo, the party in power) sees it as consolidating an anti-neo-liberal, anti-US-hegemony “alternative bloc”, even if Bolivia, Venezuela and Iran do not exactly share the same political ideology. What they do share is a lot of precious natural resources, between Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries members Iran and Venezuela, and Bolivia’s second-largest gas reserves in Latin America.
Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and eternal US nemesis Fidel Castro of Cuba also qualify for the “alternative bloc”. On Sunday, Correa, a US-trained socialist economist, captured a huge victory at the polls, with a new, truly representative batch of parliamentary members expected to follow the current corrupt, right-wing-controlled House and perform as a true constituent assembly.
The big picture
One does not need to be the invaluable Immanuel Wallerstein, professor emeritus at Yale and director of the Fernand Braudel Center in New York, to read the writing on the wall. Wallerstein argues that the Bush administration’s endless-war ethos has not only exposed all the limits of US bombs-and-bullets power but has also laid bare to the world US political impotence.
This is the real talk of the town in western Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Asia and Africa: US hegemony coming to an irreversible end, revealing, Wallerstein would say, “multiple poles of geopolitical power”. We are entering “a situation of structural crisis towards the construction of a new world system” – with no hegemonic power.
The multiple poles include the US, western Europe, Russia, China, Japan, India, South Africa, Iran, Brazil and the southern cone and, Wallerstein would add, “maybe South America as a regional bloc”.
South America already boasts a powerful regional economic bloc, Mercosur (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay as full members; Venezuela to be ratified soon). Mercosur could eventually gobble up the Andean Pact nations as well (Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia). Internal tensions are rife – even if most are now under leftist/progressive governments. But every actor now knows the name of the game is to push toward true geopolitical autonomy.
On one side it’s possible to follow major steps toward regional integration – such as Brazil and Venezuela discussing the implementation of a gigantic southern gas pipeline. On the other side it’s possible to detect familiar seeds of discord – the US doing all it can to keep Colombia as a client state.
In a recent interview to Venezuelan/American lawyer and essayist Eva Golinger, US author Noam Chomsky very much put it all in perspective for those not familiar with the extraordinary egalitarian push now at work in South America:
For the first time since the Spanish invasion, the countries are beginning to face some of the internal problems in Latin America. One of the problems is just disintegration. The countries have very little relationship to one another. They typically were related to the outside imperial power, not to each other. You can even see it in the transportation systems.
But there is also internal disintegration, tremendous inequality, the worst in the world; small elites and huge [numbers of] massively impoverished people, and the elites were Europe-oriented or US-oriented later – that’s where their second homes were, that’s where their capital went to, that’s where their children went to school. They didn’t have anything to do with the population. The elites in Latin America had very little responsibility for the countries. And these two forms of disintegration are slowly being overcome.
So there is more, there is a pretty close correlation between wealth and whiteness all over the continent. It’s one of the reasons for the antagonism to Chavez, it’s because he doesn’t look white.
Now it’s conceded that there is a move to the left, but there are the good leftists and the bad leftists. The bad leftists are Chavez and Morales, maybe [Argentine President Nestor] Kirchner, maybe Correa in Ecuador – they haven’t decided yet, but those are the bad leftists. The good ones are Brazil, maybe Chile and so on. In order to maintain that picture, it’s been necessary to do some pretty careful control of historical facts. For example, when Lula the good leftist was re-elected, his first act was to go to Caracas, where he and Chavez built a joint bridge over the Orinoco … it wasn’t even reported here [in the US], because you can’t report things like that, it contradicts the party line – the good guys and the bad guys.
Well, it’s not about good guys and bad guys. Most of all it’s about the old, arrogant, corrupt, sub-imperialist order, and the desire for a more just, equitable, continentally integrated order. Iran has seen which way the wind is blowing – and it’s rather toward Caracas and La Paz than toward the bright lights, the big city.