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To the Rio Summit Participants and President Jagdeo
by Dr. Randy Persaud
Guyana Journal, April 2007


The Rio Summit in Guyana gives rise to serious thinking about the practices of foreign policy in this age of globalization. Kindly allow me to make a modest contribution in this regard.

The 1648 Treaty of Westphalia marked the official date of the modern state system. The fulcrum of this system is national sovereignty. Chapters VI and VII of the United Nations Charter, notwithstanding, national sovereignty refers to the absolute right of states to govern their own internal affairs.

That norm is all-well-and-good as an abstraction. But as lived history, national sovereignty has been massively compromised. In many ways, the Rio Summit is an effort by like minded states to pool their intellectual, economic, political, and moral resources, in ways that can reclaim their respective national sovereignty.

Sovereignty has been under incessant attacks since the days of the Cold War. During this sordid period of world affairs, the people[s] of Third World nations paid with their lives through proxy wars and massive internal repression for the benefits of stability in the West and the USSR. Think, for instance, of the number of democratically elected regimes toppled in Latin America and the Caribbean by the United States. Think of the military coups in Guatemala, Chile, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic. And, what about the campaigns of destabilization against democratically elected governments in Jamaica, Guyana, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Cuba? The region was even treated to invasions – Grenada and Panama. The dirty wars in places like Argentina and Chile are now legendary for the blood and despair that they inflicted on their populations, though still not denounced by those in Washington who want to build democracy through more invasions elsewhere.

One of the most powerful theories of international relations is the theory of ‘democratic peace.’ Pioneered at prestigious places like Yale University, it states in nomothetic language, that democracies do not go to war with each other. That might be the case, but it never stopped democracies from overthrowing other democracies. Big democracies also installed and protected dictators in the region as a matter of standard operating procedure.

The justification during the Cold War was global communism. Today, the language has changed but the practices of intervention continue.

Let us take a look at globalization. Globalization is often constructed as an inevitable, even natural development of history. There is a whole discursive system grounded in ‘There is No Alternative’ (TINA). Another version is that the world has become a global village. This is built around a particular fetishization of technology. The marvels of email and the internet are usually offered up as evidence of the supposed harmonious world in which we live.

We must not forget, of course, the language of all boats rising. This is the favorite mantra of the global liberals. The discourse here is grounded in the works of people like Francis Fukuyama, Hernando De Soto, and Lawrence Harrison, among others.

In contradistinction to the practiced answers given by the agents of globalization, we should be clear that globalization is not simply about capitalism where the price system works like an invisible hand. No. It is a specific kind of global capitalism; in Latin, it is mennum et tuum – meaning ‘what is yours is yours, and what is mine is mine; each should be left to enjoy his private property without interference.’

This legal dictum from the 17th century has now been married to a particular iteration of socio-economic ideology, namely, American-style personal responsibility capitalism. In its abstract form, this kind of capitalism wants any and all things to become commodities. The concrete expression of this is intellectual property rights, and the associated global institution, the WTO.

Globalization is about commodifying everything in the world. The process of commodification is carried out through historically embedded structures of political, economic, and cultural power. State power, as the political scientist Leo Panitch has argued, has been at the center of the making of the globalized world. It is not the Runaway World of Anthony Giddens.

Personal-responsibility capitalism is bent on destroying whatever is left of the social democratic infrastructure. It wants to destroy social democratic institutions. It wants to destroy social democracy itself. Society itself is in the scope of the new globalizers. Margaret Thatcher once said, “there is nothing like society; there are only individuals.” This is the social order that the globalizers want.

Those who follow along are rewarded; those who try to follow an alternative path are disciplined.

The only way to deal with that is through horizontal solidarity among peoples and states aimed at constructing a counter hegemonic worldview. The task of Third World foreign policy should be to do exactly this.

Nations in the Caribbean and Latin America have been finding their voices again. Many leaders are now embarking on bold new experiments at democratizing their own social orders. The response from Washington, as usual, has been to denigrate these efforts. It is times such as these, and at events such as the Rio Summit, that leaders must renew their solidarities and affirm their commitment to develop coordinated foreign policies. President Jagdeo has what it takes to offer this leadership.

Avoid strength; be patient; think innovatively.

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