Wednesday, October 15, 2008

In the Name of Capitalism

“An estimated five hundred babies were born inside Argentina’s torture centres, and these infants were immediately enlisted in the plan to re-engineer society and create a new breed of model citizens. After a brief nursing period, hundreds of babies were sold or given to couples, most of them directly linked to the dictatorship.”

Naomi Klein,
The Shock Doctrine

I’m currently on the last leg of the literary marathon that is Naomi Klein’s latest book, “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”. The foreboding undertones that ‘something’s gotta give’ have become a parallel narrative to the current state of economic meltdown. I delve deeper into reflecting on capitalism’s contentious trajectory over the last century and the virtues and intentions of the individuals responsible for plotting and enacting its materialization and its relationship to democracy.

Even before entering into WWI under false pretexts, the American corporation Bethlehem Steel was illegally profiting from the killing in Europe, waving an irresistible temptation under Woodrow Wilson’s publicly peace-loving nose. “Record profits in record time?” he must have thought. And with some coaxing from other corporate lobbyist who would profit from the war machine, the Yanks were in.

Next? Why not decade after decade of clandestine coup plotting, imperialist economic meddling and omniscient oversight of genocide in Latin America in the name of sowing the seeds of democracy through neoliberal economic reforms.

Post-Soviet reform packages in Russia (at least) kept most of the wealth in the country, albeit in the pockets of a tiny bourgeois clique, but the reconstruction effort in Iraq has effectively sidelined what you might call local industry and infrastructure potentialities, with profits vacating the region into the hands of Halliburton and the like.

War reconstruction as a business is not a new idea. The difference today is that the perpetrators are emboldened by their own success and the failure of the rest of us to effectively confront and dismantle the economic system they preach globally like gospel. Day by day and year by year, the covert becomes more overt and humanity continues to bleed in the name of unbridled capitalism.

Somehow, I suppose from a persisting sense of nationalism that I feel less pride for each day, I’ve been especially taken aback by Canada’s capitulation to the crisis-creating machine. Klein details how the aggressive lobbying to sink Canada’s sterling credit rating alongside the trademark media forecast of impending doom led to the financial crisis in 1993-94. The ensuing bullying from the neoliberal technocrats prompted the government to slash public spending on education and healthcare programs, a blow that we have yet to recover from.

With Harper back for another pillaging, emboldened by our apathy and ignorance, I fear that the next round of crisis won’t be so contrived, but rooted in a critical devastation to one of the many communities of living beings that are bearing the onslaught of capitalism’s externalities – namely, the poor and middle classes, and what’s left of the old-growth forests, the fish, the birds and the bees.

Stayed tuned for the next posting when I’ll have shaken my post-election depression and will write about something much more positive. Thanks for voting!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

As the Day Draws Nearer

With only one week left before I step off the plane in Caracas there's been a lot on my mind. Already having left Vancouver, most of my goodbyes have come and gone, with one lingering question: "What are you looking forward to the most?" Easy. Aside from escaping another rainy season in Vancouver and the imminent cold of a Montreal winter, I anticipate the new, "enlightened" perspectives that will be afforded by an extended and intimate experience within this controversial social experiment.

Before traveling to Cuba for a field studies program in Sustainable Agriculture, I was a fervent proponent of most aspects of the contemporary Cuban Revolution, and with whatever degree of conscientiousness, turned a blind eye to many of its failures and circumventions of human rights.

That was two years ago and my support for Cuba has changed, not in fundamentals, but some of my lost objectivity has been restored. Now more than ever, I continue to champion their national agricultural program and attribute their material shortcomings and the relative economic stagnation more to the economic sabotage of the US than the failings of their socialist policies, yet that which is deeply problematic, such as the restrictions of speech, movement and association remain as blemishes on the credibility of the regime.

But even these seemingly obvious issues are not easily reconciled. The people did, after all, democratically elect a revolutionary government with revolutionary social agendas. Adding the insidious nature of US responses to leftist movements throughout Latin America to that original democratic context, I understand the need to disallow unfettered opposition to a government who, at the end of the day, I truly believe holds the best interests of the people at heart.

The 2002 coup attempt against Chavez is evidence enough of what happens when a hostile opposition movement operates unchecked, in clandestine, to overturn democratic change. The entire charade was made possible thanks to the ability of the National Endowment for Democracy, a publicly funded US entity that actively supports the political success of right-wing governments who are sympathetic to the Washington agenda, to fund hostile opposition groups within Venezuelan borders, not to mention the total control of the overtly politicized media by traditional elite classes.

How does the dialogue begin to reconcile these issues? While Chavez truly is concentrating power in the executive and riding a wave of populism, is there any merit to the argument of benevolent dictatorship, especially when considering the hostility of outside forces and push to revert Venezuela to a subservient of the Washington consensus and its related neoliberal economic policies?

Furthermore, in acknowledging the abysmal failure of all previous regimes to tighten the gap between rich and poor, achieve some semblance of economic sovereignty and prioritize regional autonomy over slavery to the global capitalist agenda, shouldn't part of us want to be yielding and just see where he goes with this? After all, in the end doesn't it come down to the nature of one's intentions? Propaganda will always sound good, but what kind of society does a leader actually want to create and what type of power structure is he perpetuating and strengthening with his actions?

The more I read about Chavez and the more I discuss him and his policies with others, the less certain I am about my own oppinions. Wondering how this irresolution will evolve is among the most anticipated aspects of this journey.