Free trade disagreement

In theory, free trade is the free movement of labor and capital and the untaxed flow of goods and services across national borders. In theory, businesses trying to maximize profit without any government constraints will lead to a leveling of wages and a reduction in poverty, greater equality throughout the world, and the betterment of mankind.

It is rather odd, then, that the advocates of free trade are not the poor, like the 222 million people living in poverty in Latin America, the region with the greatest socio-economic inequalities in the world. The advocates of free trade always seem to be the rich and their representatives who, rather than simply advocate, impose this freedom on others.

The current U.S. representative of wealth and privilege, President Bush, traveled to Latin America this month to offer a choice between “two competing visions.” The first, he says, would bring “the blessings of trade to every citizen in this hemisphere,” and involves what he calls free trade and democracy.

The second “seeks to roll back the democratic progress of the past two decades” while “blaming others for their own failures to provide for their people.” The countries in this latter group “stand firm in the way of dismantling” protectionist safeguards “that isolate the poor” from the blessings of the market, he said.

The first choice is that of the U.S. The second is that of Venezuela, led by Hugo Chavez.

In this month’s talks the democratically elected president of Venezuela, who the U.S. has tried and failed to remove through legal and illegal means, won out and President Bush came home early.

Chavez was elected president in 1998 with 56 percent of the vote, and reelected in 2000 with 60 percent of the vote. U.S. government-funded non-governmental organizations, like the National Endowment for Democracy – whose board of directors includes Dick Gephardt, Wesley Clark and Sen. Evan Bayh – fund Venezuela’s opposition parties.

After meeting with the Bush administration for several months the opposition staged an unsuccessful coup attempt in 2002. After the unsuccessful coup the opposition organized a two-month national oil strike that nearly destroyed the economy. This also failed to remove Chavez, so the opposition organized a recall referendum in 2004, which Chavez won with 59 percent of the vote.

Chavez, Bush’s enemy of democracy, has implemented popular programs that include bringing the poor free medical care and incorporating into the education system 3 million people who had been excluded due to poverty. For the past half year Chavez has enjoyed a 70 percent approval rating.

Chavez’s victory at the talks was a disappointment for President Bush, who said he had hoped to “advance the cause of social justice and set a shining example for the rest of the world.” In the interests of free trade and democracy, he had set a shining example for the world in August when he signed the Central America Free Trade Agreement into law, which “signaled a narrow victory over strong domestic opposition within all participating countries,” according to Jane’s Intelligence Review, a publication of the world’s leading private intelligence organization.

And on the same days that President Bush was in Argentina touting the benefits of free trade, his top trade negotiator was in London negotiating a deal on imports of Chinese textiles. This textile deal reinstates “safeguard” quotas through 2008, to the benefit of “America’s ever-protectionist textile industry,” according to The Economist, the British financial magazine.

The liberal media failed to point out this kind of contradiction in the U.S. government’s steadfast belief in the marvels of the free market, and is baffled by the failure of free trade – a theory that, in reality, exists nowhere on earth – to reduce poverty. But the liberal media, like the U.S. government, continues to advocate imposing it on unwilling populaces. The editors of the Los Angeles Times, who dismiss this month’s mass protests of 25,000 ?” 40,000 people against another U.S. free trade agreement as “a lot of noise,” concluded that “the United States should continue to preach the merits of free trade.” Following Chavez’s victory, Newsweek expressed fears that if the U.S. does not do so, “the Venezuelan leader’s demonstrated ability to defy Washington and get away with it will only encourage fellow leftists” to do the same.

What would happen if other democratically elected presidents defied Washington, survived U.S.-backed coup attempts, carried out popular programs and enjoyed 70 percent approval ratings? How could U.S. businesses continue to exploit their labor, land and resources? These are questions for future talks, as the U.S. will continue to offer to impose “democracy,” “free trade” and other blessings on the poor.