ALBA and the moral poverty of the West
Tortilla con Sal, November 15th 2016
It may be an open question for future discussion among historians when exactly the decline of the Western powers began. Was it the Asian currency crisis in the 1990s? The wars against Afghanistan and Iraq? The consolidation of progressive governments in Latin America? The economic and financial collapse of 2007 and 2008, or the chaos of the misnamed Arab Spring of 2011? In any case, relentless and clear relative decline has led to the West’s current crisis of legitimacy expressed in last year’s destructive subjugation of Greece, this year’s Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s recent US presidential election win.
Few people living outside the Western corporate and alternative media bubble share the perplexity of Western liberal and progressive opinion about these outcomes. Western progressive opinion generally has always had difficulty processing effective self-criticism, let alone truly acknowledging as equals people with competing, incompatible rationalities. As the unquestionable beneficiaries of centuries of imperial conquest and neocolonial domination, most varieties of Western opinion tend to tolerate difference with a marked sense of superiority and from positions of relative power. They do so as the natural class allies, in global terms, of their own countries’ elites.
On both a personal and a political level this encourages both an inability to perceive that fundamental contradiction of their avowed beliefs and the resulting tendency to dismiss or try and co-opt the experience of other non-Western societies and cultures. So for example, progressive and liberal Western opinion generally tends to reject perceived trade offs between civil and political rights against social, economic and cultural rights. This has made it all too easy for Western elites, via their political puppets and their media propaganda apparatus, to demonize one foreign leader after another. At a very basic level, Western liberal and progressive opinion, like their governments’ aggressive imperialist rationale, operates on shifting double standards readily and constantly adapted to the needs of the moment.
This explains why liberal and progressive opinion implicitly supported extremist pseudo-Islamist terrorists attacking the Libyan Jamahiriya and the Syrian Arab Republic, or the Nazi shock forces in the civil war in Ukraine. Those obvious examples of liberal and progressive self-deception reflect a deeper feeling, encouraged by Western elites, that the experiences of small nations or societies with different rationalities are unimportant or even irrelevant. Consequently, almost all Western opinion finds it impossible even to frame the kinds of questions necessary to address their societies' damaging contradictions. The talk is all about constitutional and economic tweaks here or there to make their corporate capitalist electoral oligarchies right again. Meanwhile the rest of the world has practically given up on the West as any kind of trustworthy, competent partner.
That being the case, no one should be perplexed at the outcome of the US presidential and legislative elections. During the election campaign, liberal and progressive opinion in the United States applied the same imperialist criteria to their own people that they apply to people in countries they regard as unimportant or irrelevant. This was startlingly clear in the way the US media treated Donald Trump like one of the targets of NATO country regime change aggression. This has very little, perhaps nothing, to do with issues of right or wrong but a great deal, perhaps everything, to do with the fundamental capacity to successfully resolve otherwise debilitating personal and political contradictions derived ultimately from unacknowledged affinity to the rationality of the elites.
Similar counterproductive, self-destructive mindsets damage Latin America too. In Venezuela the right-wing opposition, incapable of managing their inability to accept democratic process they dislike, have deliberately sabotaged the country’s stability and security. What drove the coups in Honduras, Paraguay and Brazil was an insistence by the right wing elites on prioritizing their interests as the exclusive measure of their countries’ needs. The outcomes in Colombia’s peace process may still be unclear but at least the government and the FARC-EP developed sufficient trust and goodwill ultimately to seal an agreement. Nor is it an accident that Colombia’s peace agreement resulted from the ability of Venezuela’s Comandante Hugo Chávez and Cuba’s revolutionary leaders to convince both sides to talk in the context of the Patria Grande - a Greater Latin America.
Perhaps only the societies of countries whose peoples have fought themselves to a standstill are capable of acknowledging, without perhaps accepting, different, competing rationalities. That experience is deeply impregnated in the political practice of the main countries of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela and it shows up starkly the moral impoverishment of most Western opinion. Here in Nicaragua, after the catastrophic electoral defeat of 1990, the losing candidate in that presidential election, Daniel Ortega, famously said, “we will govern from below”. Famously? Not outside Nicaragua. But that is just one more example of the ignorance of Western liberal and progressive opinion that prepared the way for Donald Trump.
With plenty of contradictions of their own, the ALBA countries have the immeasurable advantage of the high caliber of their political leadership’s hard won moral wisdom. People in the West may scoff at that and in doing so confirm their own deep moral poverty, because all the ALBA country leaders are great moral educators. President Nicolás Maduro has more than vindicated the faith placed in him by Hugo Chávez under circumstances that would have destroyed a lesser person. Fidel and Raul Castro and their comrades have contributed hugely to development and stability nationally, regionally and even globally. Rafael Correa has successfully led Ecuador through an economic and political crisis which under any other leader would certainly have deteriorated into catastrophe.
Bolivia always used to be looked down on as South America’s poorest country, its indigenous population regarded as culturally quaint but also as a symbol of underdevelopment. Under the region’s first indigenous President, Evo Morales, Bolivia has developed tremendously, its economic performance putting its wealthier industrialized neighbors to shame. Evo Morales himself has given world class moral leadership defending Mother Earth and promoting inclusive democracy. In Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega and his partner Rosario Murillo have completely turned their country around not just economically but politically and morally too. Nicaragua has never known such prosperity, security and stability, despite the many difficulties that remain. President Ortega’s commitment to regional integration has been hugely positive for Central America's development.
None of this is of interest to people in the West whose media make sure they are almost entirely ignorant of the huge contribution of ALBA’s political leaders to development and to peace in Latin America. They never ask how or why Nicaragua and Bolivia have achieved superior inclusive economic growth to their neighbors. They never ask how Venezuela has managed to maintain its unquestionable contribution to regional stability despite its continuing political and economic crisis. The West is not interested in what makes Cuba a world leader in medicine and education despite almost 60 years of economic blockade. No one should be surprised that the moral poverty of people in the West about themselves and the rest of the world should have led them into their current intractable crisis.