The devil’s workshop, Part 3

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Atilio Borón suffered through last week’s rightwing orgy at Rosario hosted by Mr. Busy, José Ma. Aznar and reported on it for Rebelión. Machetera translates.

“Men who wrote suggestive novels and wise essays in the past, in other words, people who were thinkers, limit themselves now to being dull spokesmen for the White House’s official discourse about the populist virus, without even the appearance or brilliance of parrots to whom they are sometimes wrongly and unfairly compared.”

An Intellectually Exhausted Rightwing

Atilio Borón – Rebelión

The ritual which took place recently in Rosario and was reported on for Rebelión by Miguel Bonasso, brought together the celebrities of rightwing theory and practice in the Americas. In reality, it was one more appearance for this type of Stone Age traveling circus which circulates throughout diverse Latin American countries preaching the empire’s neoliberal gospel, and had its baptism of fire in Madrid on the 4th of July, 2007, in the so-called “Fourth Atlantic Forum: A Meeting for Democracy and Freedom in Europe and America.” The same people, the same sponsors, the same rhetoric, the same babble spread throughout the region. They fell into line behind their house intellectual, the ineffable Mario Vargas Llosa with his son Álvaro, Jorge Castañeda, Carlos Montaner, Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, Enrique Krauze, Marcos Aguinis, Jorge Edwards, Arturo Fontaine and a plethora of “lesser right-thinkers,” as the ever lucid Alfonso Sastre would put it. In the political sphere the list started with José M. Aznar and went all the way to Vicente Fox, passing Jorge “Tuto” Quiroga, Bolivia’s ex-president, Francisco Flores, El Salvador’s ex, Osvaldo Hurtador from Ecuador, and Luis A. Lacalle of Uruguay, along the way. All of them deserving more than pleasant memories in their respective countries for their patriotic contributions to the general well-being of their people, especially the poor. From the United States came Roger Noriega, the sinister character with links to the Cuban-American mafia and the “strongman” in charge of the empire’s hemispheric affairs for a period of time under the presidency of George W. Bush.

The master of ceremonies for the meeting was Aznar, in his position as FAES President (Foundation for Analysis and Social Studies), a “think tank” connected organically with the Popular Party. Others, such as the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute and the Atlas Economic Research Institute, representing the most recalcitrant part of the U.S. rightwing, were also highly visible at the event and sent their most illustrious representatives. A previous article, also published at Rebelión (see Marcos Roitman, “Aznar and the FAES in Latin America,” Feb. 20, 2008.) described and analyzed with great clarity the nature of this conservative project. Faced with this we can hardly resist adding that just listing the names of these people and their institutions brings to mind an extraordinary Italian film from the seventies, directed by Francesco Rosi: Cadáveres excelentes (Excellent Corpses), which revealed the close ties between the political leadership, the ruling class and the Italian mafia at the time. The analogy couldn’t have been more on point as a reference to the ghostly attendees at this meeting, gathered under the theme: “The Challenges of Latin America.”

What was sought with this conclave? Three things. Let’s start with the most cyclical: an attempt to eclipse the great celebrations being prepared for mid-June in commemoration of the 80th anniversary of Che Guevara’s birth, in Rosario itself. As one might have expected, one thing that was not in evidence at the FAES meeting was dazzling brilliance. As such, the organizers of the June festivities can rest easy.

Second basic objective: the relaunching of a conservative force on a continental scale, capable of stopping the advances of the left and simultaneously, as a third objective, coordinating and intensifying the escalated attacks against Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales. This should mature in the creation of a new international rightwing, given that the Christian Democrats have not given greater signs of life and moreover, do not have the toughness and intransigence these times require. The pressure must be redoubled in order to avoid the repetition of situations in Latin America such as those which recently ended up with people like Chávez, Morales, and most recently, Correa being put into power in the region. Other countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Uruguay were about to follow the same nefarious path. If they didn’t do it, at least up until now, it’s because, as certain of the intellectuals gathered in Rosario pointed out, a mandate clearly opposed to neoliberalism and an electorate seduced by the siren song of populism was ignored by the new governors who, in a sudden and unexpected fit of rationality, abandoned their old-fashioned slogans of “populism” and “the state” in order to reconcile with the free market, foreign investment and a North American leadership maintaining and deepening the policies of the Washington Consensus put in place by their predecessors. In a word, they betrayed the popular will, something that was never even questioned as an example of low “institutional quality” by these so-called democrats. The problem of “institutional quality” is in Caracas, La Paz, or Quito, where irresponsible demagogues are fulfilling their electoral promises. The only case still in doubt is that of Argentina, but as has been written and most recently expressed in Rosario by various participants, the “fatal attraction” of populism in that country is too great and sooner or later it will end up joining forces with Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador.

The third objective, as pointed out, was to redouble the attacks on Chávez and populism. In this sense, the interview granted to the press by the most prominent participants, Vargas Llosa, Castañeda, Aznar and Noriega demonstrated the advanced state of their intellectual senility. Reading the repeated lies and defamation directed by the first two against Chávez (and to a lesser extent, Morales) and their hysterical denunciation of populism as the greatest menace looming over Latin American democracies, induced a profound sadness. Men who wrote suggestive novels and wise essays in the past, in other words, people who were thinkers, limit themselves now to being dull spokesmen for the White House’s official discourse about the populist virus, without even the appearance or brilliance of parrots to whom they are sometimes wrongly and unfairly compared. What’s more, they speak without the substance that stems from a deep conviction about what is being said. They are officials, well paid to say these things, and they say them, but even they don’t believe what they’re saying. To sum up: a farce. Vargas Llosa repeating Bush’s discourse: “Populism is the greatest danger that we face in achieving modernity,” from which one might infer that between us, populism has more than two centuries of a vigorous and healthy presence, a real sociological miracle that deserves a novel as extensive as Conversation in the Cathedral, or The War of the End of the World in order to unravel the essence of this metaphysical phenomenon that since the beginnings of the 19th century has frustrated our relentless struggle to arrive at modernity. Another example, this time grotesque: Castañeda complaining that the current Mexican president, Felipe Calderón, persists in cultivating an anachronistic “anti-[North]Americanism,” from which one could infer that no-one should be surprised if overnight, Mexico decides to join the axis of evil that unites Havana, Caraca, La Paz and Quito. It’s amazing that these people don’t have a little more respect for their own intellectual past and for their own written work.

Of Aznar’s and Noriega’s presentations, the less said the better; simply that these are people who have trouble putting two ideas together, no matter how elementary. Their intellectual universe is extremely narrow; more like a universe that in reality is a tiny village where three or four “made in USA” cliches circulate to the exclusion of anything else. According to the ex-president of the Spanish government, Latin America’s dilemma is between “revolutionary populism in its craziest form, or liberal democracy.” In his presentations it was impossible to see the slightest glimmer of an attempt at analysis. Given the excellent quality of these presentations one can see that the event must have gone by practically unnoticed in Rosario and that the same rightwing press had to report figuratively on such a primitive gathering. If not, it was only due to the huge police operation put together to protect these zombies from “popular affect” and the ardent indignation of the student population of Rosario, which repudiated their presence in the city in many ways.

Among the intellectual luminaries sought to enlighten all of Rosario, the names of three authors stand out; those who wrote The Return of the Idiot (published last year in Argentina), a new contribution from the trio who eleven years ago put together the famous Manual for the Perfect Latin American Idiot, a catalog of trivialities, lies and fallacies about the causes of underdevelopment in our countries and that according to an incisive analysis by these authors is due to the sick Latin American affection for statism and strongmen. Its authors, Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, Carlos Alberto Montaner and Álvaro Vargas Llosa formed a production, introduced by Vargas Llosa, which demonstrated irrefutably that the rightwing no longer produces ideas, rather it simply accumulates occurrences, the most crude and simple level of intellect. In line with its antecedent, the new book is a distillation of prejudices, stereotypes and cliches cast out by exhausted and sterile minds. Trying to find a sophisticated theoretical argument in defense of neoliberalism in the style of Friedrich von Hayek, Ludwig von Mises or Karl Popper among its pages is a business doomed to failure. What it does have, on the other hand, is an accumulation of occurrences suitable only for feeding the most reactionary and recalcitrant spirits, and a profound contempt for what is known scientifically as “evidence,” or backup data for the experiences that pass for its theoretical argument.

The book’s central thesis promotes the neoliberal Bible according to which, the road to development is through free markets and the policies of free trade. Throughout its pages, contempt for the most basic data from the economic history of industrialized capitalism is outstanding. Why? There are two hypotheses. One, the most benevolent, woud say that this is due to the obfuscation provoked by its adherence to the superstitions of neoliberalism which leads to a failure to recognize that underdeveloped countries arrived at their condition by following policies that had absolutely nothing to do with the free market. Great Britain was ultra-protectionist and its state strongly interventionist until its undisputed primacy in the global market in the mid-nineteenth century forced it to begin to preach free trade to other nations, conscious that she would be the only beneficiary of a nascent international division of labor. Eduardo Galeano captured the trick behind this ideology very well when he said that in this international division “some specialize in winning and others in losing.” Now we know on which side our countries were left.

The story of economic development for the United States was not all that different. One of the “Founding Fathers” of the North American nation, its first Treasury Secretary and editor of the influential Federalist Papers, was Alexander Hamilton. He not only consolidated domestic and external debts sourcing from the war for independence, but ignoring two centuries ahead of his time the stupidities of the recent idiots preaching neoliberal evangelism, he promoted the creation of a central bank and called for subsidies and protective tariffs to promote his country’s industrial development. Subsidies and protective tariffs still in existence today, as much in the United States as in Europe, despite the evil wishes of our pamphleteers who counsel our governments to abandon such policies and deliver themselves without delay to the delights of the markets. As John Williamson said, coining a phrase for which he would later become famous, “Washington Consensus” has to take into account that Washington does not always practice what it preaches. Neoliberalism is a discourse designed for consumption on the periphery, in order to perpetuate the situation of neocolonial dependency. In developed capitalism, however, this discourse is a folly with no credibility whatsoever and something to which no government pays the slightest attention. The most recent proof, of overwhelming force, was the way in which the central banks of Europe, the United States and Japan mobilized in a coordinated way to face the sub-prime mortgage crisis detonated in the United States. If these cynical governments had been consistent with the discourse they direct at everyone else, they’d have left the markets to face the crisis, producing bankruptcy for the banks and speculators and concentrating capital in the hands of the most capable. In other words, they should have had to honor the first rule of the neoliberal catechism which demands that the state not interfere in affairs that don’t concern it and that the market can resolve things best. This was their counsel when similar crises shook Argentina, for example, in 2001-2002. But now they did exactly the opposite of what they advised that country at that time.

But can fanaticism go so far as to ignore what a simple economic history buff knows from memory? No, and for this reason there’s a second, much less benevolent hypothesis for the trio who came to the meeting at Rosario. These authors, just like all the rest who participated in the event, are part of the empire’s enormous army of organic intellectuals whose strategic mission is to build and inculcate a false version of history and reality in our societies. In other words, they fabricate the necessary ideological climate to encourage the emergence of conservative political forces capable of capturing the support of a citizenry meticulously disinformed by the communication media which control big capital and preserve the hegemony of interests pertaining to imperialism and its peripheral allied classes. Hegemony that has been greatly strengthened by the rise of neoliberal policies. The rightwing military coup favored decades ago has been supplanted with plenty of success by the conquest of consciences. Its intellectuals are not as ignorant as they seem given that they do their job: deceiving common people by distorting information, disseminating half-truths that hide their lies and muzzling critical thought with white gloves (unless more forceful measures are called for). In exchange for this noble work they receive lavish reimbursement, influence, prestige and all the “official” recognition that capital’s mass media apparatus can bestow, and see their voices converted into the source of all knowledge and wisdom.

Fortunately, in a gesture that brings honor to Ciudad de Rosario’s Deliberative Council, various of the participants at the meeting were declared personas non gratas. Granted this distinction were Roger Noriega, El Salvador’s ex-president Francisco Flores, and Carlos Alberto Montaner who together with Marc Wachtenheim, Director of the “Cuba Program” at the Pan American Development Foundation (a CIA front group based in Washington whose website claims “proud affiliation with the Organization of American States”) entertained the audience with their delusions about a future transition in Cuba. Montaner was a particular embarrassment, showing exactly what Alejo Carpentier meant when he had one of his protagonists say that for certain people, the years bring on an outrage beyond repair. In the case of Montaner the outrage took the form of the stupid humor that permeates everything he says, even when he claims to be speaking very seriously. One example: when referring to the current Cuban situation he said, “Castro’s gonna die one of these days already and I hope it will be soon. He comes threatening every day…but never dies!” This was the height of his “analysis;” an anti-Castro regurgitation by the holy man who fled from “Castro’s tyranny” to seek refuge in the liberty and democracy prevailing in Franco’s Spain. The rightwing has reason to be worried about the “Battle of Ideas” proposed by Fidel. With intellectuals such as those who went to Rosario, the empire’s weapons are its only salvation.

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