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Miguel Tinker Salas say the new U.S. agenda is an old one, a free trade agreement; this time it’s the Trans-Pacific Partnership, many call NAFTA on steroids

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. On Friday the Summit of the Americas begins in Panama. The presidents are all gathering. Now joining us to talk about what to expect is Miguel Tinker Salas. He’s a professor of Latin American history in Claremont, California, at Pomona College. Author of The Enduring Legacy: Oil, Culture, and Society in Venezuela. And his new book just out is Venezuela: What Everyone Needs to Know. Thanks for joining us. MIGUEL TINKER SALAS, AUTHOR, VENEZUELA: WHAT EVERYONE NEEDS TO KNOW: Thank you. JAY: So what are, you think, the big beats here? We’ve already talked about the U.S.-Venezuela issue. What else is going to be a big deal at the Summit? SALAS: Well, I think Cuba. I think Cuba still is an unclear issue. It’s an unresolved issue. The U.S. wants to, quote-unquote, normalize relations while maintaining 50-year-old sanctions. And while having Cuba on the terror list in the U.S., a list which the U.S. itself created. I think the other overarching issue is whether the Summit really has a new beginning, or simply continues in the past tradition. The Summit began as an effort on the part of the U.S.– the first one was in 1994 in Miami, overseen by Bill Clinton — of using the Summit as a way of promoting Free Trade for the Americas. This is coming out of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and trying then to impose the notion of a Free Trade of the Americas for the entire region. And the actual Summits themselves, the evolution of Summits in 1998 in Chile, and then in 2000 in Canada, demonstrate the changes occurring in Latin America. By 2001, Hugo Chávez, President of Venezuela was at the Summit, and along with four or five other countries began to criticize the asymmetrical power relations between the U.S. and Latin America. Began to criticize uneven trade relations. By 2005, when the Summit is in Mar del Plata in Argentina, there was a consensus by Latin American countries to derail the Free Trade of the Americas, and Bush and Fox left — the President of Mexico — left the Summit in retreat, because there were now popular social movements and elected officials organized against the notion of Free Trade of the Americas that imposed a U.S.-Washington consensus on the region. So the Summit has evolved. In 2012 the issue became the drug war and Cuba, and many leaders said they would not attend the summit again. So in this Summit, there’s either a chance to re-found the Summits, or in fact it may fall into disrepair and be its end, if the issues of Cuba, the issues of Venezuela, the issues of drug war are not resolved. JAY: And how much does the Summit and this level of politics really matter to commerce? SALAS: Well, I think the Summits at one level are symbolic. In fact, they are these groupings of individuals, of leaders, but there’s now parallel People’s Summits as well that are taking place. So there’s week-long activities. In terms of commerce, there’s also a Business Summit that takes place on the site of the Summit of the Americas as well. So it’s very important in terms of what the U.S. would like to propose for the region. After all, it’s confronting China as a major competitor in the region. So the Summits became a way for U.S. interests, but now also for Cuban interests, for Venezuelan interests, to promote their own economies as well. So there is a commercial aspect to the Summits that is very important. And then the overarching aspect was again, as I mentioned, that the Summits themselves would be helping to promote the FTA, Free trade for the Americas. JAY: The change in U.S. policy, you have to give President Obama some credit. I know he was pushed by agribusiness, but agribusiness had previously been pushing both Obama and before him President Bush, and that partly, I guess, or mostly to do with American domestic politics and the issue of Florida. Could not get that policy changed. That being said, I still — and we talked about this a little bit in our previous interview — I, there’s so much at stake in terms of the size of the Latin American market that it’s a little weird that the Americans don’t pay more attention to foreign policy and the competition with China. And it’s such — it’s like one of the most lucrative massive markets on the planet. SALAS: Well it’s a resource-rich area. We know it has energy, it has agricultural products, it has hydraulic, water. But I would argue the U.S. is paying attention. Because behind the notion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership is an effort on the part of the U.S. to connect the countries that are part of the Pacific Alliance — Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Chile, to the Trans-Pacific Alliance, and to provide that as an alternative to the Mercosur, the common market of South America. To provide that as an alternative to UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations. So I think that the U.S. has another strategy, and that strategy is to recoup markets by promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership which Obama is trying to get fast-tracked through Congress right now without a debate, without a discussion. The most secretive negotiations for a free trade agreement that we’ve seen, for what most economists have called NAFTA on steroids. So I think that’s their principal strategy, and they were expecting countries like Mexico and Colombia to come to their aid around the question of Venezuela, but I guess again we see that they miscalculated. Misjudged. That although there’s an economic interest in the TPP, they are not willing to break from the solidarity that has been established in Latin America around the question of sovereignty and national determination. JAY: And how much does that level of political difference affect the American economic agenda? SALAS: Well, I think it hasn’t affected it to the extent that we now see a Pacific alliance trying to openly compete with Mercosur, and drawing the attention of countries like Uruguay and Paraguay who feel that in the context of Mercosur, the common market of South America, they have — they’re small players, and they need to leverage their position vis-a-vis Brazil, vis-a-vis Argentina, or the larger countries of Mercosur, the common market of South America. So I think that there’s some room to play. And I don’t discard the fact that the U.S. has been in negotiations with those countries, has been in open conversations. Biden has been traveling throughout the Caribbean and trying to counterpoise the U.S. initiative in the Caribbean, and now to Petrocaribe, which is Venezuela’s initiative in the Caribbean. So we do see, on various diplomatic fronts, on various military fronts, the U.S. attempting to recoup space that they have lost to China or to Venezuela in the region. JAY: And how much is Venezuela’s economic woe affecting these regional alliances? A lot of it was fueled by Venezuelan petrodollars. SALAS: Well, they were fueled by commodity exports. Brazil was effervescent. Its economy was growing. Today it’s contracting. The economic commission for Latin America, Cepal, the UN commission, has announced that they expect Latin American growth, which they projected at 2.2-2.5% to actually drop to 1% this year. So growth will be feeble. Growth in Venezuela is negative growth. The price of oil has declined, which means that some of the initiatives that they had in terms of regional integration, Bank of the South as an alternative to the IMF or the World Bank, or even Petrocaribe, will suffer as a result of the economic setbacks. It’s inevitable. JAY: So that does open up some space for the United States. SALAS: Undoubtedly it opens up space for the U.S., which I think that they are aggressively trying to cater to right now. JAY: All right, thanks for joining us, Miguel. SALAS: Thank you. JAY: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Miguel Tinker Salas is a professor of History and Latin American studies at Pomona College in Claremont, California. He is co-author of Venezuela: Hugo Chavez and the Decline of an Exceptional Democracy and author of Under the Shadow of the Eagles and The Enduring Legacy: Oil, Culture, and Society in Venezuela. His latest book is Venezuela: What Everyone Needs to Know.