The Dialogue

20 Jul 2010 by Fausto Sicha, No Comments »

By: Fausto Sicha


 Karen; the library will be close in a few seconds and you don’t seem worried.

 Jeff; Karen, my dear classmate, I realized that it’s getting dark and it is time for me to leave.

 Karen; for the last three days I have seen that you do nothing except think with a pen in your hand.

 Jeff; I have been writing the truth and people don’t seem to like it. They have been giving me awful suggestions, – like for example, they have suggested me to open a different email account and send my articles without mentioning my name. Others have called me illiterate, a troublemaker, an idealist, and ignorant. Still others doubt that my years in school and the money that I have invested in education are of any value for me. Therefore I have been hesitant to write again.

 Karen; not a good thing to hear that from your own people, save your pen, it is time to leave, let’s walk together and talk, perhaps one day I can write down our conversation and that can be your latest article. But whatever you say, I would like you to be careful in choosing your words and in picking the person who you want to criticize tonight. Remember people judge us not for who we are but for what we say.

 Jeff; believe me, I have felt that, but I am not too concerned about it, as long as what I say is true.

 Karen; Latin America is an area of your interest; how about if we begin by talking about the Latin American Union? You believe in it, and I assume that is one of the reasons why they call you idealist.

 Jeff; correct, I believe in it. It is something that some Latinos have been asking for almost 200 years. It will empower our nations, it will strengthen our defense, it will energize our dying economy, it will allow us to freely move within the Union, it will help us to solve our endemic social problems; illiteracy, health, unemployment, and poverty.

 Karen; that is a noble dream indeed, but seems to me too utopian; I heard that it was the dream of Simon Bolivar, but nobody has done anything about it.

 Jeff; in the last few years Hugo Chavez has done a lot about it, therefore I disagree with your last statement. Besides Chavez’s efforts, history also shows that on many occasions the union was not only a desire but also a necessity.

 Karen; history? Refresh my memory.

 Jeff; the dream began with Bolivar in 1826. In 1830, Mexico focused in organizing Latin Americans against the U.S. in order to stop its stretching imperialism. In 1860, Domingo Faustino in Argentina promoted a political-military alliance in Latin America. In 1889, the Pan American Union was created, – its purpose, to expand commerce among the nations. On September 2, 1947 The Rio Pact was signed, – it was an inter-American treaty of reciprocal assistance signed by 22 nations. In 1948, the Organization of American States was created, with the hope that it will bring political and economic cooperation. On May 23, 2008 12 nations officially signed the creation of the Union and the dream of Bolivar was resuscitated once again.

 Karen; Not once have those efforts produced the desired outcome. The union is still far from existence.

 Jeff; but as long as there is life, the hope still remains. These years we have been waking up. We have come to understand that privatization is good for the multinationals, but not for our people. We are managing our natural resources, and we are creating our own financial institutions, therefore the hope that one day international financial institutions will stop dictating us economic and monetary policy still remains.

 Karen; I still think that the idea is too utopian, especially when the leftist governments have done little to help their people.

 Jeff; the leftist government as you call them have produced over the last few years their own consensus. They have strengthened Mercosur, – South America’s most important commercial alliance. They have created the Bank of the South, and eventually a single currency will be used in the whole region. They are promoting Petroamerica, they rightly believe that the energy sector will help us speed up the union.

 Karen; it is certainly possible to achieve one’s goals if there is an honest attempt to work together, however, in Latin America to ensure prosperity the governments must address poverty, increase productivity, invest in infrastructure,  and improve its chronically inefficient institutions.

 Jeff; they have began to address those issues. In 2004 the region’s economy expanded by 5.5%. In 2007, according to Michael Reid, most Latin American countries were better off than they had been any time in the last quarter of the century. In 2008, the Venezuelan economy is expected to grow by 8%. To make our institutions more efficient, constitutional assemblies in Ecuador, Venezuela, and Bolivia are changing the old bureaucracy, and elected officials are finally working for the benefit of their people. Furthermore, according to the United Nations, Venezuela is in its path in eradicating illiteracy. Today the Ecuadorian government is promoting free education for all. In Bolivia, after the nationalization of some natural resources the Morales Government has made financial aid available for young school children, and we all certainly hope that a better economy together with a better education will help us reduce poverty.

 Karen; you mentioned nationalization, – that scares me, it scares foreign investment, and it always polarizes a nation.

 Jeff; Let’s analyze the facts and see how much they scare you. In Bolivia, before Morales came to power, around 18% of revenues from the energy sector were for the state, and the foreign companies kept 82% of the revenues, today those percentages have been reversed, does it scare you that the state now has a higher income? In Bolivia, mineral exports increased from $547 million in 2005 to $1.1 billion in 2006; do you know what percentage of that amount went to the State? 1.5%. Scary, isn’t it? Should I go on?

 Karen; you have not addressed my other two concerns.

 Jeff; foreign investment is one of your concerns. Companies from Iran, Russia, the European Union, China and other states have been heavily investing in the region. China for example has negotiated more than 400 investment and trade deals with Latin America, and it has invested more than $50 billion in the region.

Polarization is your last concern, but Karen, be honest with me and look into my eyes when you respond to my questions. Did you really think that there was unity in Bolivia when the indigenous people have been oppressed and discriminated for 513 years? Do you think that unity in Mexico helped the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI) hold power for 70 years? Do you think that the Samoza government in Nicaragua held power for so long because there was unity in the nation? Karen, my dear friend, do you really believe that the Isaias family in Ecuador who owned more than 100 companies have been uniting the country? Do you think that in Ecuador we had 19 constitutions because unity allowed us to understand each other? Do you believe that the former owner of Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), or the owner of Venevision, Gustavo Cisneros has the same interests that you and I do? Based on their interests, what do you think; have they been polarizing or uniting the Venezuelans?

 Karen; in an interrogation like this, it is my constitutional right to remain in silence if I choose to. But you can go on. Now that you mentioned Venezuelans tell me something about the dictator Chavez, the one that calls Bush the devil, the one that recommended that Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice find a husband, the one that calls Uribe, the president of Colombia, peon del imperio.

 Jeff; the dictator Chavez as you called him has done more than nicknaming people. For example the dictator has won 12 international recognized elections. I assume that you call him dictator because he closed RCTV, but the same dictator has created more than 270 community radio stations. The same dictator has not prosecuted a single person who participated in the April 11, 2002 U.S. sponsored military coup in more than 6 years. I will go on if you answer me this question. What do you think the dictator did to the owners of the TV and radio stations that on the day of the coup, aired ads as public announcements calling him to leave office, ads that were actually sponsored by the oil industry? And do you know what these TV and radio stations did when the people of Venezuela managed to bring him to power? What you are thinking might be correct; they aired cartoons for children.

 Karen; I don’t have an answer, but I still want you to keep talking.

Jeff; you want me to go on about the dictator?

Karen; not really, it would be good if we can talk about Colombia for example. You know the country has been an example of democracy, it has kept good economic and military ties with the U.S., and it is determined to end drug trafficking.

Jeff; the country that you call an example of democracy is known as the kidnapping capital of the world. In the year 2000 for example, 50% of the kidnapping in the world happened in Colombia. That country, in the 21st century, is home to the biggest humanitarian catastrophe on the whole continent. More than 2 million of its 36 million inhabitants have become refugees.

I assume that you were referring to “Plan Colombia” when you mentioned good military and economic ties with the US, but Karen, such aid has been of little value to the poor. Today, 80% of the rural population in Colombia lives beneath the poverty line. Uribe, the undeclared president of the Paramilitaries, came to power promising a military solution to the Colombian problems. – What an irony, it would be like you and I devising a plan to eradicate illiteracy by killing everyone that doesn’t know how to read. Uribe calls today human rights defenders cowards and spokespersons of the guerrilla groups. Uribe has violated the agreement set in the “Plan Colombia”. Today, he refuses to extradite paramilitary members who are convicted of mass killings, torture and drug trafficking, and the good neighbor of the north continues to pour its $2.2 million a day of military aid. Today, Colombia receives the third largest amount of economic aid from the U.S. And what do you think thousands of Colombians are doing in Ecuador? Do you think they are spending part of the money on a long vacation in the south of their border? Do you think they were bored and therefore decided to visit their neighbors?

To address your statement about drug trafficking, just like you, I also think that it should be eliminated. However, I differ in the approach how to do it.  Evidence shows that it is better to reduce the demand than to bombard the production lines. It is better to offer economic incentives to the impoverished population than to the military. It is better to invest in social programs and give citizens better living conditions than to buy guns to kill their own countrymen. How much of the almost $500 million a year that the U.S. provides do you think goes to be used in social programs knowing that 80% of that money is for military use?

Karen; afterr hearing you, I can’t understand why so much money is being wasted and why the U.S. keeps such a close relationship with the Colombian army.

Jeff; that the U.S. has kept a check in the Latin American armies is a long but relatively unknown story my friend.

Karen; be careful with your criticism now.

Jeff; some people believe that the School of the Americas (SOA), now known as Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation has been used by the U.S. to train military killers to maintain an unjust economic system. If we check some historic facts we should be able to agree or disagree with the critics of the School of the Assassins – sorry I meant Americas.

In El Salvador, 19 of the 26 officers convicted of killing Jesuit priests and two other people in 1989 were trained at the SOA. In the same country, 3 of the 5 officers who raped and murdered 4 U.S. women in 1980; 10 of the 12 officers cited for massacre of 900 civilians and 49 of the 60 officers that carry the worst atrocities during the Salvadorian civil war were students of the SOA. In Argentina and Chile, military dictatorships carried out SOA instructions and killed 60,000 people. The same thing happened in Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Central America where the good students and in some cases instructors managed to kill 270,000 people.

Karen; I lost my count; there is no point in adding to the list of victims anymore.

Jeff; then perhaps names would be easier to remember; according to many credible sources; General Hector Gramajo, and Colonel Julio Roberto Alpirez in Guatemala; General Luis Alonso Discua with Jose Valle and 18 others in Honduras; General and former dictator Manuel Noriega in Panama; the dictators Roberto Viola and Leopoldo Galtieri in Argentina; General and former dictator Guillermo Rodriguez Lara in Ecuador; dictator Hugo  Banzer in Bolivia; General Juan Lopez Ortiz in Mexico; over 100 of the 246 officers cited for war crimes in 1993 in Colombia are part of the alumni of the SOA. Are you ready to add some more?

Karen; I lost the count again, but your long list tells me that you agree with the critics of the SOA, and you already told me that bad news, is there anything else that does not involve numbers?

Jeff; the good news is that Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and other countries have pledged not to send students again to the SOA.

Karen; is Colombia on the list?

Jeff; no, the “Plan Colombia” is a school that has come to their house with tutors included.

Karen; the dialogue has been interesting although I do not agree with everything you said during our walk. But please try to answer the following questions. The U.S. relations with Latin America have not improved with the end of the Cold War in 1990. Do you think the new U.S. administration will change part of it or continue to be the same? Is there an incentive for the U.S. not to neglect the area any more.

Jeff; I would begin with the last question; by ignoring us for so long the U.S. has given China and Russia the opportunity to invest and have influence in the traditionally U.S. area of influence. Despite the new bilateral agreements with some countries from  Europe and Asia, South America is still a big market for the U.S., it exports about $150 billion a year to the south. Finally, the 39 million Latinos living in the U.S. have a purchasing power of $700 billion or 8.5% of the total U.S. annual purchasing power, the hope is that eventually Latinos will have more political influence and manage to draft better policies towards the areas where they came from.

To answer your other question, I have bad news, things seem like they will not change with the new administration. Today the 4 major issues that Latinos care about are not even being discussed; immigration is one, trade is next, Cuba is third, and if the area is of any interest for the U.S. it is doing nothing to protect the 220 million people that today live under friendly governments. The left as you like to call it has already 300 million people under their influence and the number will soon increase if nothing is done.

Karen; our walk has come to an end, should we continue talking even though it is dark?

Jeff; I feel we have talked a lot and that you will have trouble remembering everything.

Karen; don’t undermine my mental capacity, I have a good memory, and I also know that if this conversation was written and people actually read it, you will have increased the number of people who disagree with you.

Jeff; I have always welcomed disagreement and encouraged dialogue

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Follow Me!

Follow Me! Follow Me! Follow Me! Follow Me!