<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Democracy Triple Play: Ecuador to Mexico to the OAS

The Smackdown of Condoleezza’s Agenda Came on the Week of Her Latin American Tour


By Al Giordano
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

May 1, 2005

MEXICO; MAY 1, 2005: For U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, her photo-op tour of Latin American nations last week was supposed to mark a comeback for flailing U.S. policy in the region. Instead – as she jet-hopped from Brazil to Colombia to Chile to El Salvador – the week brought a chain reaction of defeats for her government’s impositions on other lands and victories for the democracy that surges from below.

A quick review of the week’s hemisphere shaking events:

  • On Friday, April 22, Ecuador’s US-backed president, Lucio Gutiérrez, dissolved the Supreme Court to save two corrupt former presidents from prosecution. The people took to the streets (as Luis Gómez reported here), Congress rebuked him (Gómez redux), Lucio backed down. But for the Ecuadoran president it was already too late….

  • By Saturday, April 23, Lucio had to resign in disgrace and seek asylum in the Brazilian Embassy. Later last week, he slipped into Brazil, as the new president of Ecuador, Alfredo Palacio, came to power amid speculation that, having learned from the mistakes of his predecessor, he will bring Ecuador, now, into the “axis of good” led by Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil, in the growing coalition of South American nations – a veritable South American Union – no longer willing to take orders from above. “Ecuador could become the next member of the new left movement that is sweeping across South America if the local indigenous communities are allowed to help fill the country’s new political vacuum,” notes an April 21 analysis by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

  • Meanwhile, Mexico has spent recent days inching closer South to the pro-democracy axis as well. On Friday the 22nd, a judge threw out the federal government’s nuisance case against Mexico City Governor Andrés Manuel López Obrador, aimed to block the popular man they call El Peje from running for president in 2006. The Court told Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha to go back to the drawing board and prepare a better case, and rejected the maneuver by which the prosecutor called in political opponents of López Obrador to pay the governor’s bail against his will, so that Macedo and his boss, President Vicente Fox, could avoid the heat that would indubitably have come by putting the political superstar El Peje in jail.

  • On Sunday, April 24, the streets of Mexico City filled as never before (or, at least not since the 2001 Zapatista Caravan) as an officially estimated 1.2 million Mexicans marched silently (read Quetzal Belmont’s eyewitness report in Narco News) against the “desafuero” plot of President Vicente Fox against López Obrador. The Mexico City governor flipped the proverbial bird, big time, to the illegitimate authority of those that were persecuting him. He announced that, come Monday, he’d be coming back to work running the city, and the federal authorities were displayed as impotent before the nation and much of the world.

  • On Tuesday, April 26, Cuban President Fidel Castro threw his own oratorical gasoline on the fire when, during a four-hour public speech, he suggested aloud that Mexican President Vicente Fox will have to resign now that his coup plot has been exposed for what it was. Always a headline generator, Castro’s call was highlighted on front pages and on TV news in virtually all the Latin American countries. Like him or not, Castro still has the star power to introduce a media virus (that is to say, the idea that something like Fox resigning is possible) into the volatile hemispheric political climate.

  • By Wednesday night, April 27, Fox, surrounded by the bloodhounds of ridicule abroad and of surging democracy at home, forced his Attorney General to resign in disgrace, washed his hands of the desafuero plot, and in an eight-minute nationally televised speech announced that he would no longer stand in the way of any citizen (meaning López Obrador, whose public popularity has skyrocketed with each attempt to victimize him) to run for president next year.

  • Condoleezza Rice, by then in Colombia in a futile effort to tame uppity Latin America, must have felt the needle sticking in her. After all, it was Rice who, immediately upon taking office last January, had shifted gears from her predecessor Colin Powell’s grudging acceptance of Latin America’s democratic left turn, and had filed a bombastic State Department Traveler’s Warning in an attempt to tighten the screws on Mexico and instruct Fox to pursue the pre-electoral coup d’etat against López Obrador. When Fox began to lose his resolve to take the desafuero case to the ultimate consequences (the protests surged, in three short weeks, from a whisper to a roar, with one poll by the daily El Universal showing that 61 percent of Mexican citizens indicated their personal willingness to participate in a “civil resistance” campaign against the Fox government), Condi’s State Department tossed yet another silly travel advisory upon Mexico (Bill Conroy brought you the details as it was happening, via The Narcosphere). Compared to a population of 100 million that is about to explode, not even the United States seems so powerful anymore.

  • Fox, under siege in Mexico, was surely looking south and paying nervous attention as the head of his counterpart Lucio Gutiérrez rolled and bounced on the sharp rocks of disgrace from Ecuador into Brazil. Vicente Fox, having an Ebenezer Scrooge moment, could not help but see his own mustache painted on that face (see Dan Feder’s sharp analysis comparing Mexico’s Fox to Ecuador’s Gutiérrez, describing how both had promised, but failed to deliver, change to calcified political systems).

  • Condoleezza’s puddle-jumping from Bogotá to Brasilia to Santiago to San Salvador had taken on a new urgency two weeks prior, on April 11, when the 34 member countries of the Organization of American States (OAS) deadlocked in a 17-17 tie between Washington-backed candidate for OAS chief, Luis Derbez from Mexico, and the Brazil-and-Venezuela backed candidate from Chile, José Miguel Insulza. And here is where the story of last week takes an even bolder new turn…

Standing with Washington in the OAS internal battle were Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Peru (ask not for whom the bell tolls, Alejandro Toledo, the bell tolls for thee…), Bolivia, Paraguay, the seven Central American nations, and a handful of tiny Caribbean island and seafront countries that were backing Mexico’s obedient Derbez.

But the counterforce had achieved parity in recent years: Standing together, for the first time, against the US-picked OAS candidate, the lion that now roars, Brazil (which had Condoleezza inside its lair as Marco Aurelio Garcia, Brazil’s Latin American point man, was gathering up the votes abroad to place her in checkmate), with Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay, and the grand majority of Caribbean islands (now enjoying discount oil prices from Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela).

The members of CARICOM, the Caribbean Community of Nations, after all, remain steadfast in refusing to recognize Haiti’s regime as legitimate, and Haiti remains expelled from CARICOM, one of the undercurrents that brought a Caribbean tide decisively into the OAS battle on the opposing side of the northern government that backed the Haiti coup.

Two more strange bedfellows joined the opposition coalition (no longer mere “opposition” because it has resulted victorious) in the conflict over who will lead the OAS: newly liberated Ecuador (what is the sound of a domino falling in the woods?), and Chile.

Chile has generally gone along with Washington on its Latin American agenda. So what happened with Chile? It’s very simple. The masterful foreign policy of Brazil’s government of President Lula da Silva wagered on a strategy of co-opting Chile’s OAS vote, by tapping a Chilean candidate to lead the Organization of American States. But it was not Chilean President Ricardo Lagos’ secretary of state who was drafted for the job. It was, rather, a former political exile (schooled in Mexico City and married to a Mexican), socialist, and interior minister from Lagos’ coalition government, José Miguel Insulza, who, truth be told, is more Lula’s candidate than Lagos’. But with a Chilean in the fray, Chile’s vote had to be cast for its favorite son. Most interestingly, Venezuela’s Chávez showed great enthusiasm for the Chilean Insulza, despite his bitter and public differences with Lagos.

Brazil thus spliced a brilliant coalition, bringing Chile and Venezuela together for the first time in recent memory (a harbinger, perhaps, of more cooperation to come: it is a presidential election season in Chile, after all, and the U.S.-backed coup of 1973 has not totally faded from memory). By backing a Chilean candidate, the opposition coalition virtually forfeited the vote of Bolivia, in a 126-years-cold-war, still, against all that is Chilean, because Chile, after all, took away Bolivia’s seaports. But the vote of Bolivia’s Mesa, when it comes to U.S. pressures, was not one that could be relied upon anyway when the going got tough. The Lula-Chávez gamble on Chile, instead, proved to be the charm.

The Organization of American States, founded in 1948, has long been a rubber-stamp for U.S. impositions in the region, dominated by autocratic governments and dictatorships: the very same countries – Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Venezuela, Uruguay… – that today are practicing more vibrant forms of democracy than are practiced in the United States with its cash-dominated electoral system and its Diebold Overlords.

Truth be told, Washington began to loose control of the OAS steering wheel in April 2002, when the OAS balked on recognizing the three-day coup regime in Venezuela. The control slipped a bit more in December 2002 when the OAS, for the first time in 54 years, directly confronted Washington by voting to defend Hugo Chávez’s government in Venezuela as an elected democratic republic from a US-authored resolution to damn it (a story I filed here in 2002 about that watershed moment in OAS history now provides context for what happened last week).

Condoleezza, entering Latin America last week, with the budget to bribe and the might to blackmail, went searching for just one more vote to impose Mexico’s Derbez as the new OAS chief. The victory was supposed to be consummated while she was down here, to emboss her image as an effective foreign minister. Had Lucio still been in power in Ecuador, he would have offered the easiest pickins. But by the time Condi’s jet touched down in Bogotá, Lucio’s head was bouncing somewhere alongside the Amazon, and Ecuador had slipped through her fingers.

With Mexico’s own government trembling from the consequences of executing Condoleezza’s desafuero plot against the Mexico City governor, the jig was soon up. With the OAS vote tied in four consecutive votes at 17 to 17, Mexico’s Fox, as he was backing down from the desafuero plot in Mexico City, sent Derbez to inform Rice that he was withdrawing from the OAS contest. And Mexico inched closer back to the Bolivarian América where its heart, its soul and its history rightfully places it.

Now the forces of reaction in Mexico from Fox’s own National Action Party, or PAN in its Spanish initials, and from the old PRI party, too, are calling for Fox’s head. The rug has been pulled out from all of them. As Mexican columnist (and harsh López Obrador critic) Carlos Ramírez lamented last week: “The only thing left for Fox to do is to hand the keys to (the presidential palace) over to López Obrador.” In other words: the right wing is out-shouting even Fidel in Havana in demands for Fox’s resignation.

The press spin after Condoleezza’s messy defeat in the Organization of American States last week was Orwellian: A Voice of America story went so far as to say that it was Rice who engineered the withdrawal of Derbez and the victory of Insulza, with vague, unsupported claims that she got concessions from Insulza regarding OAS’s stance toward Venezuela. This, after months of first throwing up a candidate from El Salvador against Insulza and, when that failed, backing Mexico’s Derbez. An AP story headlined that Rice was “pleased” with the result. Why make such a claim unless it is necessary to paint a pasty, smiley face over a resounding wound? The intentional simulation of the Commercial Media about events in Latin America continues to astound in its level of transparent stupidity.

And so, after this stormy week that was in April in América of 2005, the hemisphere welcomes José Miguel Insulza as the man who may turn out to be the OAS’s first truly independent secretary general. Time will tell.

Time will also reveal whether Ecuador’s new president, Alfredo Palacio, will comply with the public demands for new, more independent, course in that majority indigenous country, or whether his head will roll the same as the one before him.

(About Ecuador, the Miami Herald, a.k.a. Oligarch’s Daily, editorialized last Monday: “Street violence as a way of changing governments is an intolerable reversion to the discredited policies of the past in Latin America. It’s hard to feel sorry for President Lucio Gutierrez of Ecuador, the latest victim of the ominous slide of democracy that is roiling the Andes… Still, Mr. Gutierrez… was chosen in a free and fair election, and the only acceptable way to remove such a figure is by constitutional means.” This is utter bullshit on three counts: First, Gutiérrez was removed by constitutional means. He resigned. The Constitution provides for the process of resignation for any head of state. Second, he was not toppled by “street violence” – indeed, the marches and protests throughout Ecuador were largely nonviolent – but, rather, by his own anti-democratic dissolution by fiat of the Supreme Court, his own illegal ordering of martial law, and his own Congress’ rejection of the measures. And third, although this is obviously rhetorical and wishful thinking: Where was the Miami Herald to prattle about the sanctity of being “chosen in a free and fair election” during the coup attempts against Venezuela’s Chávez, or the successful coup against Haiti’s Jean Bertrand Aristide? The two-faced double-standard of the Herald is a mirror of Washington’s own decayed discourse about “democracy.” There you have it: the arrogance of power displays, once again, the impeccable reasons why it is being opposed so successfully and popularly from below in our América.)

Time will indeed tell about Ecuador and the OAS. But one thing that time has already told (“The tower bells chime,” sang Patti Smith. “Ding dong, they chime!”) is that Mexico has decisively turned the corner after almost two decades of obsequious fealty to the northern boot upon its neck, and the Mexican democratic renaissance has only just begun.

That Vicente Fox tried to obey and attempted a dirty maneuver, with the help of his former rivals in the predecessor PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party, which governed Mexico for seven decades prior to Fox), to remove Andrés Manuel López Obrador from his July 2006 electoral date with destiny, was a sign of Washington (and Condoleezza’s) ongoing muscle (and unmitigated gall) in the region.

But that just three weeks into the entire spectacle the unrest in Mexico (and the solidarity from Civil Society around the world) became so palpable as to force Fox – always a master opportunist, with his finger to the wind – to back down so rapidly indicates the most gigantic paradigm shift in our América since the 2002 defeat of the Venezuela coup: A Mexico reborn.

For the past five years, as each of these interweaving stories has germinated and grown, the international team of reporters at Narco News have investigated beyond the veneer and reported to you what was happening as it happened – and what was about to happen… before it happened.

That job – of Authentic Journalism reporting from Latin America – continues. But we are called to take on additional new responsibilities, and assume additional new costs and burdens, at this hour when human events provide us all with new opportunities. Two days from now I will thus report to you, kind reader, the roadmap of where we must go together, farther, and faster, as the new América we foretold five years ago has finally emerged on our beat.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America