Uyuni, Bolivia- South America has become the site of perhaps the world´s most critical battle over the flavor of international commerce and the meaning of cultural identity in an era of rampant globalization. At present, all over the continent, nations are being forced to decide whether to join the “free-trade” tidal wave under the strong arm of GWB and the multinational corps, or to forge an alternative to neo-liberalist “imperialism” by creating regional and hemispheric alliances with which to challenge the USA. Globalization is a given. The question is how to respond to global markets and develop internally while retaining both traditional ways of living and control over national resources. In simpler terms: how to not get screwed by the big boys. The battle is being drawn in virtually every country in South America, causing internal and international conflict. Ecuador, Chili, Colombia, and Peru have all made, or are making, their deals with the US, but not without massive civil dissent and sometimes overt repression.
The other side, firmly and defiantly challenging US hegemony, is being led by the vocal rabble-rousing President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, and the indigenous champion of the Bolivian populace, President Evo Moralis. Together with Cuba, they have formed a trade alliance that they promise will stand proudly and effectively against the US cartel, and provide a vehicle for economic development and global trade independent of blood-sucking foreign investiture and multinational financing (read IMF and World Bank). Chavez is meddling in the affairs and elections of neighboring countries, trying to increase his brand of socialist-democracy throughout the continent. His open support of Ollanta Humala in Peru´s recent presidential election may have actually contributed to Humala´s defeat, as his opponent, Alan Garcia, was able to convincingly portray Humala as a puppet of Chavez. (Or maybe Garcia won because the name “Alan” was painted on virtually every visible space in the whole of Peru; on curbs, homes, trees, mountains; even after hiking hours up above the tree-line I would suddenly encounter a large boulder painted blue with “Alan” in big white letters.) Meanwhile, Evo Moralis is busy nationalizing the major resource industries of Bolivia (e.g. gas and oil) and redistributing vast tracts of farming land to the poor and indigenous campesinos. Continue reading