(Translated by Eunice Gibson, a CSN Volunteer Translator)
by Fernando Arellano Ortiz*
Monday, June 30, 2014
Because of their geographical location, Latin America and the Caribbean represent the principal zone of security for the United States. That is why the concept of hemispheric hegemony that is being applied is a modern translation of the Monroe Doctrine “America for (North Americans) consists in “preserving the territory so as to allocate its wealth and to keep any others from doing so”.
The Mexican social science researcher Ana Esther Ceceña, Director of the Latin American Observatory of Geopolitics, has been analyzing in detail not only Washington’s strategies for political discipline at the global as well as at the continental level and the distribution and supervision of the world and its geopolitical balance, but she has also deepened her analysis of the strategy of “complete domination of the spectrum” deployed by the Pentagon. This strategy assumes a monopoly that is wide geographically and deep socially, so as to identify strategic nodes and lines of advance in the area. The goal is to apply security, defense, and occupation policies to create a scenario where there will be fewer sovereign nations in Latin America that are undertaking democratic and progressive proposals.
In that context, the countries that make up the Pacific Alliance (México, Colombia, Perú, and Chile, characterized by carrying out economic models with a neoliberal accent), are definitely serving as allies of the United States. They receive benefits in the form of assistance, and in the case of Colombia, Ceceña explains, Colombia performs some of the functions that previously were performed directly by U.S. personnel.
Besides that, the Mexican social scientist points out, this Alliance that is seen as intended to advance free trade, “is a concept that is specifically for territorial control, for certain processes and for certain assets. Very particularly, it is the territorial arm for that advancement, something that they have not yet firmed up with ALCA (Free Trade Area of the Americas), of a security corridor for the United States that would constitute a threat to other systems in the region.”
In order to analyze the threats that hang over Latin America, such as the process of social emancipation movements, and the possibilities for the advancement of progressive governments in the region, we talked with Ceceña. She was participating as a speaker in the International Seminar on Geopolitics and Extractivism in Colombia that took place May 13 and 14 in Bogotá, organized by the Podion Corporation and the THINK Institute at the Javeriana University.
Ana Ester Ceceña is an economist with a master’s degree in international economic relations from the National Autonomous University in México (UNAM is the Spanish acronym) and a doctorate from the Sorbonne University in Paris. She directs the Latin American Geopolitical Observatory, whose purpose is research on subjects related to the critical issues that Latin America confronts and disputes—the issues where it is remodeling its systems and the parts of its civilization on which hegemony and power relations are built in the contemporary world, from a complicated perspective that includes territoriality as a basic dimension of the organization of social life.
The United States and its all-encompassing vision of domination
“Faced with the decline of the great North American hegemon, is the only thing remaining for Washington the “domination of the whole spectrum”, as the Pentagon has defined it, from the military point of view?
No, the “domination of the whole spectrum” is really a complete vision that proclaims that no one can dominate something or have supremacy if it does not begin with awareness. The idea is that what is important is to transmit and universalize a worldwide vision, and that vision contemplates not just symbolic, ideological, cultural, but material aspects. That is the vision of the battlefield, of competition, the vision of progress that implies war, but a war that does not just have a military or warlike course, but rather it is an economic and cultural war.
Really the big accomplishment from the perspective of the think tanks in the Pentagon is that they have understood this, because they have also been defeated for these reasons, as happened in Vietnam and in other places where they had problems because they did not understand it. Now they are beginning to realize that everything has to go by the same route, that it is simply a process of domination, and because of that they have to monopolize all of the dimensions. To do that, they have to decide what the people will eat, what they will do for fun, how they will live, how they will think, how they will work, in order to articulate all of the capitalist message in the area of food, with genetically modified foods, with fast food or junk food, etcetera. That would constitute simultaneously a lifestyle and also a modification of their bodies, because they are occupying the territory of the body, which is the most intimate. There is at the same time an occupation of geographic and mental territories that they are working with, in all the areas at the same time. I believe that the hegemony of the United States is something that is being discussed, that is being disputed, and that in certain senses shows signs of deterioration, but has not yet been lost.
Since hegemony is precisely this universalization of a world vision and is not an imposition by force, although it is done with a forceful imposition, the American lifestyle is something that is very present and is not yet being lost, in addition because a Chinese lifestyle has not been invented; nor is there an Islamic world view that would substitute for the American way of life. As long as that is not happening, they have the conditions, using technology and all of their resources, to maintain their hegemony over the planet.
Now what is declining is the hegemony of capitalism, from my point of view. What is being questioned most forcefully today is the capitalist way of life, whether it be American or Chinese; I mean it is not the internal hegemon of the system, it is the hegemony of the system as a whole. And what we are seeing is the invasion of the indigenous people, of the environmentalists, those who are conscientious about one thing or another, who are concerned about the depredation and annihilation of life on the planet and are pushing for revolutions in thinking from something that seem to come from outside the system itself. It has nothing to do with whether the scheme is American, European or Asian. They are all predators and because of that there is a general questioning of the system. This decline does seem very clear to me and, and it seems to be aimed at the internal hegemony also.
New ways of looking at the world
Indeed, world visions like Sumak Kawsay and Sumak Qamaña (The Good Life in Quichua and Aymara respectively) have invaded Latin America, which you have treated in detail in a recent book by the Ecuadoran social science researcher Ana María Larrea. How would you define those new models of production or new epistemological models?
They are new ways of living, new ways of looking at the world, new systems of social organization, interconnected with nature. That is, a thought-out social organization that incorporates life in its entirety and not just as one single kind of life. That is what I am referring to when I say that there is a questioning of the system from outside of the system. The Sumak Kawsay is an epistemological questioning from within the system. What it does is dislocate the basic principles of the rules of the capitalist system. That is why it is important and why it can be seen and examined from the outside.
Those epistemological dislocations are speaking to us of the possibility of how a system arrives at certain conditions of entropy, of distension. It is losing its axis of cohesion. Immanuel Wallerstein has explored this theme, which is what allows the emanation of many different things. This makes possible new ways of understanding the world that sometimes come from thousand-year-old traditions or very distant cultural inheritances, but at the same time are a very current construct. We are not in any way trying to view the world as the Mayas viewed it. We take things from them, and we sometimes use practices that perhaps come from that culture, but that are a different thing today. There is some thinking that proposes a social order different from the capitalist order, that is based on what existed before this system but is aimed toward what will exist after it. And in that sense what it does is point out that capitalism is a historical moment. It is a process that has a beginning and can have an end.
Development, a capitalist concept
“Regarding the crisis of civilization we are faced with as the consequence of capitalism, could the disjunctive “development or life” be the title of one of your essays?”
Of course, because development is a capitalist concept. It is a capitalist method for understanding advance, going ahead. Development as a word can be used in many ways, but it is a concept that served as the cradle of capitalism, a way of saying that the human species was so important, so superior, so gifted that it was capable of dominating the forces of nature. And the mastery of nature is ultimately the denial of life. Or you might say, it is a way of imposing a certain kind of criteria that belong to the human species over other species and going about correcting them. It is what the genetic modifications do, for example. They are one of the most promoted and most played-out perversions in that system. Namely, they are correcting natural processes. That is what development means and it certainly also has many achievements.
Many achievements for capitalism, but a Colombian anthropologist like Arturo Escobar talks about the need for a post-development, in that “development”, in quotation marks, has simply been a device for using power to favor big transnational capital . . .
We are in a discussion with Arturo and many others about if we do find ourselves in a time of crisis of civilization it is also a civilization emergency to the extent that it is a moment that must be created. It is not that there are alternatives for civilization and that we should choose them. No, we have to create them. We have to invent them, give them names and formulate their concepts.
“But don’t you think that this plan has been advanced with tendencies like eco-socialism, eco-Marxism, and the cultures of the Amer-Indian peoples and ecologism?
Those have advanced a lot. The Sumak Kawsay, the Sumak Qamaña, the land without ills, in every one of the cultures that have survived capitalism, we find different ways of naming the same thing, which is this land, in summary, without evil. It is this place where we can establish the harmonious living. They are always like idealized places and because of that they are much criticized. They say that it is a utopia, something romantic that does not exist. No, it is a guide for action. There is always a horizon that implies principles of social organization. On the horizon of progress there is an organization in a manner that is capitalistic and is based on the competition that sets up the path to the achievement of progress. And when it is the competition that lays out the route, you are in a battlefield. I mean, competition is the denial of other persons. In return, in what is called, among other names, the land without ills, we are the way. It does not imply that we have to destroy others in order to prevail. Rather I have to work with others in order to gain strength. Strength is always in that articulation of visions, of efforts, of energies, and of consistency, inter alia. We are better, and certainly not just the sum of our parts. We are much more than that. This idea, which I’m telling you is a different epistemological path, is being explored by many thinkers in different parts of the world where this debate is going on.
Preventive war, today’s greatest threat
Fifteen or twenty years ago, Immanuel Wallerstein observed what he called the decline of the empire of the United States. It is evident that this process of decline is in full swing. Atilio Borón claims that right now it is in powerful death throes and Latin America will be the first to suffer and thus the extremely high level of militarization is understandable. There are 77 US bases that encircle the hemisphere right now. Is this whole military arsenal there to seize the natural resources of the Latin American countries?
And also to control insurgencies, in a very broad sense. The natural resources are there and they are reaching for them every day, but it is more important to control those who get in the way of achieving their goal. Controlling everybody that wants different systems or controlling communities that are getting organized to oppose the opening of a mine, halting everything that grows out of systematic thinking and that is trying to reject the mine. There are numerous military bases that are very important to guarantee a physical presence over the land, but that is not the only form of militarization or of appropriation. It is not the only way of making war.
Even if militarization has that very visible aspect of the bases, the hidden militarization that is contained in changes in rules and regulations and the changes in the society’s mentality are much more important. All of that security-focused mentality that has penetrated everywhere and where these panopticons are being established, where there are rooms everywhere, and this idea of Big Brother that makes people afraid. There is always a power that can repress and I think that is really the great danger that is confronting our continent, more than the military bases. All of this is part of the idea of domination of the complete spectrum that comes in large measure from the uncertainty left over from Vietnam. What led to their defeat in Vietnam and which they do not understand, because the enemy was tiny, a virus, what is called asymmetrical, but they did not understand it because they never considered it. Now they are starting to consider what is tiny and invisible, but in this manner. Since they do not understand us very well, they declare preventive war that tries to control everything before considering the possibility that the people will react. That is the real threat that exists today.
How do you analyze what is going on in Latin America if you keep in mind that, as you have pointed out very well in one of your recent essays, Washington has been able to penetrate the southern arm of Plan Colombia with Peru and Paraguay and the northern arm with Mexico, in order to control Central America? Will the United States be able to exhaust the progressive governments and the resistance movements that have arisen in Latin America?
No. Not at all. They won’t stop with just wearing them out. Rather, they are going to hit them really hard. They might overturn any one of those governments all of a sudden. Overturning a government has to do with its visibility. It’s very easy. It’s right there. Disarming a social movement is very difficult and if you succeed in striking it, it reproduces itself by spontaneous generation, because it is there, defending its own, its land, its convictions, its sense of reality. While there is life, there is a fight for life and there is creativity, and while there is creativity the bringers of death cannot win.
The Pacific Alliance: a strategy for territorial control
How is the Pacific Alliance conceived in the sense that the megaprojects of transnational capital such as IIRSA (1) and the Puebla Panama Plan (now the Mesoamerican Project) are behind it ? (2) and of course the hand of Washington is there—is it possible to accept the concept of accumulation by expropriation that David Harvey talks about?
I believe that the accumulation by expropriation that Harvey talks about exists everywhere. The Pacific Alliance is a specific concept for territorial control in a certain region of the world, with certain systems and certain riches. Very particularly it is the territorial arm for advancement, which they were not able to accomplish with ALCA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) in a security corridor for the United States that constitutes a threat to other systems in the region. If one observes attentively, the Pacific Alliance passes through the middle of the countries belonging to ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America). It is trying to break open the territorial articulation. What they are trying to do there is obvious besides the creation of a specific market. But above all, it is a vision of control and of the complete re-ordering of land use, not just for the production and sale of goods but also to change the rules of the game, even geographic-political concepts that come from the 20th century, and because for plans of domination, they are not the best plans for the 21st century. According to the perspective of the Pacific Alliance, why continue to maintain these countries of the region really if it is much more effective, when you consider, for example, from the point of view of IIRSA, to join together in a different way because this project of Integrating the South American Infrastructure is pointing toward other frontiers.
Mexico’s terrible experience with the TLC with the United States and Canada
The Free Trade Agreements signed by the most recent neoliberal governments in Colombia have ended up destroying the agricultural sector and are seriously threatening the survival of industry in this Andean nation. Given the experience of your country, Mexico, with the free trade agreement signed twenty years ago with the United States and Canada, what is your assessment of these?
Twenty years of the North American Free Trade Agreement (TLCAN is the Spanish acronym) plus the years that it took to prepare for it (which are very important because that is where they changed so many rules of the game) have eliminated the possibility of collective land ownership in Mexico. They eliminated communal possession, the possibility of subsistence farming, allowing the huge estates to enter with their monocultures that brought as a result the widespread clearing of the land. Besides that, they ruined the little national industry that existed, breaking up the production apparatus. The “maquilas” (factories assembling or producing for export), which are the most fragile and endangered industries that exist, spread everywhere. Even in terms of employment, this was a heavy blow because what the “maquila” brings with it is a labor regime in which there are no 30-day contracts. Rather they are only 28 days, so as to avoid seniority, union rights, and the health and safety of workers. This whole situation has produced a series of illnesses for the workers in the “maquilas” and there is no way to guard against that because there isn’t any kind of legal protection. To that you have to add the breakdown of rural and semi-rural communities, not just because of the change in land ownership but also because there has been a decline in employment opportunities. That has produced an exodus of workers to the United States, breaking up communities so people ended up entering all kinds of illegal dealings. That has permitted violence to prosper and created a kind of no-man’s-land but at the same time with well established landowners. That is to say, there is a lot of confusion, a lot of unleashed and selective violence to create panic, to create a sensation of horror, and thus to be able to have firm control of the land and the people. All of which tends to create a social re-ordering and the functioning of another type of business, another type of business system and power relations that have changed land ownership in Mexico completely.
*Interview published at www.resumenlatinoamericano.org
(This translation may be reprinted as long as its content remains unaltered and the source, author and translator are cited.)