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Latin America’s new consensus

Greg Grandin, The Nation
Even as the United States wages a war in the Persian Gulf that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice describes as a central front in an epic “generational struggle” in defense of Western values and freedoms, another geopolitical threat has been massing on its southern flank. Over the course of the past seven years, Latin America has seen the rebirth of nationalist and socialist political movements, movements that were long thought to have been dispatched by cold war death squads. Following Hugo Chávez’s 1998 landslide victory in Venezuela, one country after another has turned left. Today, roughly 300 million of Latin America’s 520 million citizens live under governments that either want to reform the Washington Consensus–a euphemism for the mix of punishing fiscal austerity, privatization and market liberalization that has produced staggering levels of poverty and inequality over the past three decades–or abolish it altogether and create a new, more equitable global economy.

This year, that number is likely to grow. Latin America is in the middle of an election cycle that has already seen Evo Morales win in Bolivia and Michelle Bachelet, a single mother and socialist, win a third term for Chile’s center-left Concertación Coalition. On April 9 in Peru, Ollanta Humala, a nationalist former military officer backed by Chávez and Morales, came from behind to force a runoff. In the months ahead, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela will hold presidential elections. And with center-leftist Manuel López Obrador ahead in Mexico, the Sandinistas poised to make a comeback in Nicaragua and Chávez’s re-election all but certain, the Bush Administration is nervous.
(13 April 2006)
Long analysis. Control over oil and natural gas resources seem to be at the root of many of the political changes in the region. -BA

Venezuela tightens oil grip

Jens Gould, The Christian Science Monitor
The government last week seized the fields of two multinational oil giants.
CARACAS, VENEZUELA – Powering ahead with stringent nationalist reforms, Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela is showing multinational oil firms little mercy.

Tense relations between private firms and Mr. Chávez’s government escalated last week when the government seized fields operated by two European oil giants – France’s Total and Italy’s ENI – after the two companies snubbed government demands to convert their contracts to joint ventures with the state by April 1.

“This country does not allow itself to be blackmailed,” says energy minister Rafael Ramirez. “These two multinational companies resist adjusting to our law. Our sovereignty isn’t under negotiation.”

Sixteen companies – including Chevron and Shell – did agree to new terms giving state oil company PDVSA at least a 60 percent state stake, a success which analysts say could embolden Venezuela to demand a majority stake in more valuable projects in the country’s Orinoco heavy-oil belt. Heavy oil’s viscosity makes it more expensive to drill and refine than regular oil. However, high oil prices have attracted top companies to Venezuela’s heavy oil, which could boost the country’s reserves count to the largest in the world – ahead of Saudi Arabia.

“Chávez is in the driver’s seat because he has what everybody wants,” says Roger Tissot, energy analyst at PFC Energy consulting firm, about Venezuela’s heavy oil. “It’s not any kind of oil. It’s the oil of the future.”
(14 April 2006)

Michael Klare on “Blood and Oil”

Michael Klare, Cambridge Forum via Global Public Media
Nationally renowned expert on US petroleum policy, Michael T. Klare discusses his latest book Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America’s Growing Dependency on Imported Petroleum. Click here for other Cambridge Forum presentations.
(30 March 2006)
GPM points to the other Cambridge Forum presentations – a treasure trove of recorded talks, some on energy-related topics.