Noam Chomsky–the renowned linguist and political analyst–was in New York Monday where he gave a press conference at the United Nations. Democracy Now! was there to capture Chomsky’s two-hour exchange with reporters. We play an excerpt of the press conference where Chomsky talks about the current political climate in Latin America. [includes rush transcript]
Noam Chomsky–the renowned linguist and political analyst–was in New York Monday where he gave a press conference at the United Nations. Democracy Now! was there to capture Chomsky’s two-hour exchange with reporters. Chomsky is professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is author of dozens of books, including his latest "Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy." We go now to an excerpt of Monday’s press conference. Chomsky was asked to give his take on the current political climate in Latin America.
- Noam Chomsky, speaking June 5, 2006.
AMY GOODMAN: As we end today’s show, we turn to Noam Chomsky, the renowned linguist and political analyst. He was in New York Monday, where he gave a news conference at the United Nations. Democracy Now! was there to capture some of his two-hour exchange with reporters from around the world.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Now remember, the U.S. is a global power, so you can’t just look at one region. You have to look at what’s going on everywhere. So if we go back, say, to the last intelligence projection of the Clinton administration, National Intelligence Council, year 2000, their projection for the next 15 years, they — just keeping to energy, but there’s a lot more. They took it as a matter of course that the United States would control Middle East oil. They don’t discuss that much. And then they say the United States, though it will control Middle East oil, because that’s a lever of world control, nevertheless it, itself, will rely on what were called more stable Atlantic Basin resources, meaning West African dictatorships and the western hemisphere. That’s what the U.S. will rely on.
Well, what’s been going on in Latin America since then significantly threatens that. For the first time in its history, first time since the Spanish colonization, Latin America is moving towards a degree of independence and also a degree of integration. The history of Latin America — Latin America is very sharply split between a tiny rich elite and huge poverty, and the rich elite have been the only active ones politically. They were oriented towards the colonial power. So that’s where they ship their capital. That’s where they have their second wealthy homes, you know, send their kids to school, this whole business. Very little integration internal to Latin America. I mean, even the transportation system shows that. It’s beginning to change. They are moving towards a degree of independence and towards a degree of integration.
And the United States is terrified. Just keeping to oil alone, it means that the energy resources — I mean, the major energy producer in the hemisphere is Venezuela. The U.S. kicked the British out under Wilson, Woodrow Wilson. It’s known as Wilsonian idealism. They kicked the British out as soon as the oil age began, because they knew that Venezuela had enormous oil resources. That meant supporting a bunch of utterly brutal dictators, while Venezuela became by 1928 the leading oil exporter in the world. It’s remained very high. Venezuela is now going towards independence, and the United States is frantic. That’s why you have this hysteria about Chavez. It’s not because he’s attacking anyone or anything like. It’s hysteria because he’s not following orders. It’s kind of like Serbia, but much more serious, because this is a big energy producer.
Furthermore, it influences others. The major energy producer in South America second to Venezuela is Bolivia. Well, you know what just happened there. They’re moving towards independence, as well. And, in fact, the whole region from Venezuela down to Argentina is pretty much out of control, not totally, but pretty much.
The U.S. in the past has had two fundamental mechanisms for controlling Latin America: one is violence, the other is economic strangulation. They’re both weakening. The last exercise of violence was in the year 2002, when in its dedication to democracy promotion the U.S. supported a military coup to overthrow the elected government of Venezuela. Well, had to back down, for one thing, because there was a popular uprising in Venezuela. But another reason was just the reaction in Latin America, where democracy is taken a lot more seriously than it is in North America and Europe and people don’t think it’s amusing anymore to have elected governments overthrown by a military coup. So the U.S. had to back down and turn to subversion instead, which is what’s going on now. That’s the last major use of violence.
And so, the U.S. is preparing for more use of violence. If you take a look at the number of U.S. military personnel throughout Latin America, the military bases, the training of Latin American officers, that’s all going up very sharply. In fact, for the first time ever, there are now more U.S. military personnel in Latin America than personnel for the major federal aid organizations. That never happened during the Cold War. Also military training for Latin American officers, and you know what that means.
Military training is being shifted from the State Department to the Pentagon. That’s important. The State Department is under congressional supervision, and there are conditionalities, human rights and democracy conditionalities. They’re not imposed very much, but they’re there, you know, and they have some effect. You switch it to the Pentagon, there’s no controls. Do whatever you want. And the whole region is surrounded by bases, and I suspect there will be secessionist movements coming along in Venezuela and Bolivia and possibly Iran. So the military option has by no means been abandoned, but it’s nothing like what it was before. I mean, in the past, you just overthrew governments, you know, didn’t think twice about it.
As for the economic option, that’s being lost, too. The most dramatic case, perhaps, was Argentina. Argentina was the poster child for the IMF. And following IMF rules, it led to the worst economic disaster in its history, totally collapsed. Then, violating IMF rules radically, they pulled out of it and have had rapid growth. And the international investing community and the IMF, which is a branch of the Treasury Department, couldn’t do anything about it, even the refusal to pay debt. And Argentina — in fact, the president of Argentina said, 'Well, we're ridding ourselves of the IMF.’ That means of U.S. economic strangulation. And worse, he was helped in that by Venezuela, which bought a large part of the debt. Bolivia is probably doing the same. Brazil had already done it. Well, you know, you rid yourself of the IMF, meaning the Treasury Department, that’s seriously weakening the measures of economic strangulation.
And it’s worse. A lot of these policies are gaining significant popular appeal. Just read a scholarly paper by a very anti-Castro Cuban American scholar, who reports — I don’t know where he got it from, but he said about 170,000 Latin Americans have been, in the last couple years, have been treated in Cuban medical facilities, and most of them restoring sight under Cuban-Venezuelan programs, where Venezuela pays for it and people — blind people, others who need medical care in the U.S. dependencies, where they can’t get it, of course — are sent to Cuba, where they come back seeing. They were blind. You know, okay, that has its effects on countries. Called Operation Miracle.
And within Venezuela, as far as — you can like it or hate it, but the interesting question is what Venezuelans think about it. Okay, well, a good knowledge of that. There’s extensive polls taken, Latin American and North American polls. It turns out that the popularity of the government has shot way up in the last — since 1998, and it now is the most popular elected government in Latin America; in fact, in the hemisphere, because this government is not popular. So it’s the most popular elected government in Latin America, and it keeps going up. Well, reasons not too obscure, but, sure, it’s driving the United States berserk. That’s why you have the constant hysteria from the government and the media about the terrible things in Venezuela and Bolivia.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky speaking at the United Nations yesterday. Noam Chomsky is MIT linguist. His latest book is called Failed States.