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Resource Nationalism: The Ramifications for America’s Future


By Richard Walker

The U.S. military recently penned a lengthy study, warning Washington that there is a growing threat emanating from Latin America and the Caribbean. As these countries look to seize control of their energy reserves, the Pentagon wrote, there is a burgeoning menace known as “resource nationalism” that will likely have a significant impact on the U.S. economy in the not-too-distant future.

The U.S. military’s Southern Command focused its attention on Latin America and the Caribbean at a time when the United States imports almost 35 percent of its oil from that region. And it is not just oil linking the United States to what constitutes one-sixth of the world’s landmass and 32 countries. More than 40 percent of U.S. exports are sold there, and many multinational corporations exploit cheap labor throughout Central and South America, too.

For the past century, Latin America has been a volatile part of the world, much of which has been due to foreign intervention. Since the days of the Monroe Doctrine, U.S. officials viewed the Western Hemisphere as an area where the United States can intervene at any time to protect what it identified as its own security. In some instances that led to the funding of campaigns to overthrow regimes not favored by Washington and its business allies. In certain cases, the United States was actively involved in promoting dirty wars under the guise of promoting security and democracy.

In documents throughout modern history, words like “security” and “democracy” were often invoked to advocate strategies dealing with drug trafficking, terrorism, illegal immigration and the rise of populist movements.

Missing from all of this, however, was acknowledgement of the growing disapproval of U.S. policies, which over the past 100 years have largely benefited internationalists, global financial groups and America’s corporate giants.

In addition there has been a rise in public debate over Washington’s financing of organizations that undermine democratically elected governments in the region. The State Department regularly provides money to groups such as the National Endowment for Democracy, which works to promote foreign candidates who are sympathetic to Washington while denouncing emerging leaders who are critical of U.S. policy. This has enraged common people throughout Central and South America and, more recently, has served as a rallying cry for a number of Latin American politicians, including Venezuela’s fiery populist leader Hugo Chavez.

Chavez wrested control of his country’s massive oil reserves from international oil giants, sending shockwaves through Washington and America’s oil industry. It was a stunning move for a small nation that produces one-fifth of the world’s oil supply. But what really got Washington’s attention was Chavez’s plan to double the taxes on multinationals operating many of his nation’s oil fields and refineries.

What worries globalists more is the fact that Chavez’s populist policies have struck a chord with other Latin Americans countries including Mexico, Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina and Ecuador. That is what now troubles the U.S. military.

U.S. generals at Southern Command believe an expanding program of energy nationalism, especially in countries that have become hostile to the United States, could lead to an embargo on exports to America—something Chavez threatened he would do if U.S. troops were sent to overthrow him. The Southern Command’s heightened concern about the nationalizing of energy was, the report noted, predicated on a belief that Chavez may, at some time in the future, follow through with his threats to cut off oil. But that may have been a smokescreen to hide their real ambitions.

On the one hand, they may well have been jolted into issuing a warning after the new populist government in Bolivia, followed quickly by Ecuador, moved to nationalize oil and gas just as Chavez had done. In Ecuador, oil fields in the hands of Occidental Petroleum were recently seized by troops and returned to government control.

But there was obviously something else underpinning Southern Command’s analysis—an admission that this was all about who controlled the oil with the implication being that control should remain in the hands of U.S. oil giants or governments allied to the United States.

The military’s take on the region could equally have been motivated by something that James Monroe never predicted—the growing presence of China in our backyard.

The Chinese desperately need energy and are prepared to spend outrageous amounts of money to buy up oil and natural gas resources in Latin America and Africa.

In 2002 the Pentagon was presented with several policy papers about China’s insatiable appetite for energy and how it might eventually target Latin America’s oil wealth. Those papers were ignored, but in 2004 senior figures in Southern Command returned to what they called China’s “emerging dynamic that must not be ignored.”

Lt. Gen. Bantz J. Craddock pointed to visits by Chinese military officers to the region. According to him, China’s growing interest in Latin America could not be ignored and would have to be considered within the overall U.S. military context of “engagement in the region.”

The Southern Command’s response to the problems of the region is to “contemplate beyond strictly military matters.”

What that means is anybody’s guess but it could be interpreted as an indication that the generals are advocating more intervention—not less. And that is a frightening proposition for the United States, which is already drowning in debt and stuck in a bloody quagmire in the Middle East.

(Issue #28, July 10, 2006)

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Updated July 1, 2006