Fabian Bosoer discusses how the ownership, exploitation, and allocation of natural resources has become the principal instigator of all conflict and negotiation in Latin America. And yet conflict is business for many people, and behind every one of the contentions, investments are being made and lucrative contracts being signed for weapons and security. In Bosoer‘s opinion, what distinguishes the inflammatory environment of Latin America now is the fact that all of the countries involved in deciding between unity and divergence are democracies. The question is what will they decide?
THE PUBLIC, PRIVATE, NATIONAL AND REGIONAL AVAILABILITY OF NATURAL RESOURCES is quickly becoming the main source of all conflict and negotiation, agreement and disagreement, alliance and dispute in Latin America.
And those who so fervently anticipated the end of nationalism and the breaking down of state borders, should ask themselves now why they were not able to envision where the neo-liberal utopia of privatization would lead us.
The land in Latin America has been privatized, as well as what is beneath the land, all for transnational exploitation in exchange for a transfer of capital, which far from creating productive investment and inclusive development, increases external debt, and widens the gap between the rich and the poor. This is the very present reality in Latin America today.
WHAT FOR WHOM?
Bolivia is a paradigmatic case of this situation. It has the second most important gas reservoir in the region, and yet only two percent of its population has access to natural gas use (in a country where more than sixty percent of people live below the poverty line).
These conflicts over possession, exploitation, and distribution of natural resources have a very direct and intimate relationship with the destiny of the nations and people of Latin America. How they will be resolved, and in whose benefit will decide the future of the continent.
CONFLICT IS BUSINESS
It’s an old truth dating back to the times of the Spanish invasion and the wars of emancipation, that conflict can be very productive. When the logic of the market stirs up national passion over economic issues, a very beneficial alliance can be made. That is why it is no surprise that among the principal antagonisms that are taking place in politics, ideology, and safety in the region (between the United States of George W. Bush, and the Venezuela of Hugo Chavez) there is a collusion of private interests for which the conflict is business.
The same logic is being followed in each one of the flowering contentions throughout South America: Buenos Aires versus Montevideo; Montevideo and Asunción versus Buenos Aires and Brasilia; Brasilia versus Caracas; Caracas versus Lima; Lima versus Santiago; Santiago versus La Paz; and La Paz versus Brasilia. And no matter what the cause of the dispute may be: abuse of the land, contamination of rivers, exploitation of ports or of resources under the soil, ownership of the land, construction of gas lines, or access to routes of commerce, behind closed doors business is booming. Important investments and lucrative contracts on infrastructures, weapons, and security are all being made, thanks to the growing hostility.
INTEGRATION OR BALKANIZATION?
Ex-Argentinean President Raul Alfonsin warned about the consequences of discord in the region, especially pointing out the foolishness of the dispute between Argentina and Uruguay over the construction of two pulp plants on the bordering river of both countries. This conflict, Alfonsin pointed out, is generating huge costs for Uruguayans and Argentineans while opening up opportunities for a third party. We should remember that the process of integration between our countries contributed to eliminating all reason for conflict, and has established a lasting peace to distinguish our region from other parts of the world (Clarin, May 4th).
At the very least, the conflicts now are different than in the time of the War of Chaco, seventy-one years ago. Now, all of the countries deciding the destiny of the continent, whether to unite or divide, whether to integrate or balkanize, are democracies.
But below the surface, many traps are being laid and terrains are being prepared for the next battles.
In this international game of musical chairs it is constantly unclear how close to get to your neighbors, and how far, before the music stops.