Control for What?

September 25, 2007

A few months ago, in early April, we brought a diverse group of NACLA writers to a conference center in Cuernavaca, Mexico for a three-day South-North dialogue on the nature of post-Cold War U.S.-Latin American relations. Thirteen panelists—J. Patrice McSherry, Kate Doyle, Alejandro Bendaña, Carlos Marichal, Arthur MacEwan, Carlos Salas, William Robinson, Elizabeth Cohn, Oscar Ugarteche, Winifred Tate, Jo-Marie Burt, Jesús Avirama, and Tim Weiner—and some 25 guests and naclistas immersed ourselves in discussions of the logic and consequences of Washington’s Latin America policies since the fall of the USSR. Attentive readers will recognize this as the theme of a three-part series of Reports that began last November, and will continue through early 2002.

The post-Cold War “moment,” of course, brings together a number of significant historical phenomena, chief among them the emergence of the United States as the world’s only superpower, and the imposition of a neoliberal model of development throughout the Americas. The attempt to define the nature of this historical moment—in shorthand, “globalization”—threaded itself through the three days of discussion.

The conference began with a panel on militarization and an implicit motivating question: With the disappearance of the “Soviet threat,” what accounts for Washington’s continued use of military force in Latin America? McSherry, stressing a two-century continuity in U.S. desires for hemispheric hegemony, spoke of Washington’s “post-Cold War security paradigm”—of the “new missions” that underpinned an old policy, now aimed at defending “corporate-driven globalization.” Doyle pointed out the emerging continuity from Clinton to Bush within that same doctrinal context. Bendaña, from a Nicaraguan perspective, also disputed the “newness” of U.S. policy in the region: “The interesting thing about U.S. policy in Central America,” he argued, “is not what’s new but what’s old. The motives have been what they have always been, before, during and after the Cold War: control.”

All this stimulated the principal ongoing debate of the conference: Control for what? What are the connections between U.S. intervention and the nature of globalization? What’s new in this post-Cold War moment? Robinson stressed the newness. “We are speaking of North American interests but we never define what those interests are,” he said. “Alejandro Bendaña tells us that those interests are control and hegemony, but the United States doesn’t want control of Central America or Latin America for its own sake, but rather to guarantee regional stability, in order to guarantee that there are regional mechanisms of social and coercive control. And those who have an interest in such stability, those who have an interest in such a North American guarantee of social order are not so much national as transnational groups.”

Indeed, the argument that the interests of transnational capital have replaced strictly national interests in the strategic visions of U.S. policymakers is at the center of current debates over globalization. The U.S. economy has become so thoroughly embedded in global capitalism, the argument goes, that despite the lingering presence of a jingoist policy backwater, the logic of transnational power and privilege has come to drive mainstream U.S. policy. “The United States,” argued Robinson, driving home the point, “is the prime mover behind a hemispheric structure, not to defend U.S. interests, but to defend all the classes that are benefiting from the economic model of global capital in Latin America.”

MacEwan disagreed. “I think the discussion of transnational classes is at best premature and at most not meaningful,” he countered, “because I don’t think it’s possible to see and define class without regard to a relationship to a state. Classes define themselves and emerge and act in relation to a state. We don’t have a transnational state. We have some institutions that operate internationally but they are extremely dominated by the United States—the IMF and the World Bank and so on—and while I think that it is certainly true that there are common interests between the U.S. government and its allies elsewhere in the world; between U.S. business and its counterparts elsewhere in the world..., I think it’s not correct to see them as one entity or one class or one group.”

So, accepting the premise that the United States aims to control its “backyard,” the further question remains: Control for what? To protect the interests of transnational capital? U.S. capital? U.S. privilege within the global system? Global security in the face of “rogue states” and drug dealers? There is much more to be said on the enormous question of class, state and U.S. intervention. It will occupy center stage in our upcoming November/December (Bush’s policies) and January/February (the Latin American response) reports, and will form the background of the rest of our work over the coming years.

There was, of course, much more said in Cuernavaca, and we will report on it in coming issues.

Fred Rosen is the editor and publisher of NACLA Report on the Americas.


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