November 24, 2010
Present this week at a conference in Latin America, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was accused by Evo Morales, the Bolivian president, of using all sorts of pretexts – narcoterrorism, anti-drug campaigns, guerrilla warfare, and so on – to destabilise left-leaning regimes there in favour of American-friendly conservatives. To substantiate his accusation, Morales referred to the recent American-sanctioned putsch in Honduras, where former president Zelaya lost his job because he dared to increase the salaries of his countrymen.
Thirty years of neoliberalism have sent social inequalities soaring in the Western world. The middle classes, from the US to most EU countries, have seen their incomes stagnate or diminish and attempted to compensate for this with bank credits. Maintaining standards of living on borrowed money, alas, cannot be a long term solution to the problem. At some point, borrowers are no longer able to repay their loans, as it is happening right now owing to sluggish economic growth. Banks are in danger of collapse, consumption drops dramatically and economic activity contracts even further. Governments are confronted with diminishing receipts, as they have to assist both banks and an increasing number of unemployed and/or debtors. This is why most Western countries, including the US, have ballooning budget deficits.
The worst-hit by such developments, however, are the poor. Lately they have become the target of conservatives in search of elusive budget savings. Eager to counteract calls for reduced military expenditure, for example, American conservatives advocate a dismantling of the welfare state instead. In the absence of a welfare safety net, the able-bodied poor are forced to join the ranks of the military in order to keep themselves housed and fed. In turn, the politicians representing the 1 percent of Americans who own 23 percent of America’s wealth need, in this situation, to fan a sufficient number of armed conflicts around the world to prune the ranks of the poor in the army just to make way for an ever-increasing stream of recently-impoverished persons. Via NATO, the same recipe can be sold to the US’ allies in Europe as a sui generis neoliberal “final solution” to eliminate poverty (that is, the poor). It is not coincidental, therefore, that the EU governments most interested in propping up NATO are those of conservative-led countries like Britain and even Germany, where recent austerity measures are squarely aimed at welfare entitlements and at the poor. In Romania, many of my former students have opted to risk their lives in Afghanistan, as enlistment in the army is one of the few alternatives a neoliberal-led country has in store for its less well-heeled youth.
Fortunately, a group of Latin American countries – Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and even Argentina – have chosen to reduce social inequalities and assist the poor. As their policies prove successful, they have become a danger to neoliberal governments in the Western world, where the gap between rich and poor is widening as we speak. This is why American conservatives, who practically own the US Defense Department even when the Democrats are in charge, are actively trying to enlarge the US Army’s footprint in Latin America. A similar drive is now on in Asia, where China also dares to use its money to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty…
Consequently, the ousting of neoliberal governments from power is emerging as an international security imperative. As social inequalities in the West are peaking, new redistributive tax policies must be put in place soon. Failing this, we can expect conservative politicians and their paymasters to involve their countries into even larger and more devastating military conflicts than is currently the case.Florian Pantazi