Monday, September 28, 2009

The Alternate Economic Summit

The two-day meeting on Venezuela's Margarita Island this past weekend which mirrored the G-20 summit, addressed a wide range of concerns, from hunger in Africa to the economic crisis and demands for reming the United Nations. That's all well and good. However, having Hugo Chavez and Muammar el-Qaddafi take the leading roles is not.

One of them sees everything exclusively through the lens of anti-Americanism and self-promotion, while the other has frequently professed a desire to form a United States of Africa led by him - which is not about to happen for a variety of geo-political reasons. These are not the leaders of the South. Chavez has a proclivity for childish behavior coupled with clear tyrannical tendencies while Qadaffi is, well, himself.

Chavez has been struggling to grasp a leadership role outside of his small circle of supporters in South and Central America. However, his policy of nationalizing every major industry in sight is not widespread in the region, much less the world. Although he may be largely correct by blasting "...the empires of the North ...the empires of Europe, ...the U.S. empire..." for past economic and military colonialism, he is not the leader of any South/South reform movement.

The meeting also offered Qadaffi the chance to grandstand and rant - some of which was truly bizarre. Again. He exhibited his penchant for theater claiming (correctly) that "colonialism has stolen our riches." Unfortunately, colonialism of the type he refers ended some time ago and, in any event, I don't see him waxing sadly about Libyan oil and gas sales helped mostly through investment by those same former colonialists. He also wanted to reopen investigations regarding assassinations within the UN structure - JFK was mentioned.

His denunciation of the "politics of the club" used by some nations against others was not clearly translated though. Did he mean "club" as in weapon or "club" as in something he will never be allowed to join. If the first, then I suppose that the war in Iraq and the Russo/Georgian war fit the definition. So what?

Quadaffi then, clearly miffed, personalized the issue claiming to be humiliated by the fact that his delegation had to travel 20 hours to reach New York. Well, living in a tent is his privilege. Dropping it in places where he is not wanted, is not. I'm sure the Russians were amused when he pitched it in Red Square - but not for long. After complaining about the 20 hour commute, he called for more air routes between Southern Hemisphere nations - a policy which the beleaguered airline industry would likely not jump at immediately.

Both leaders demanded reform to the UN. OK, fair enough. But, Quadaffi went so far as to claim that the Security Council format is unsustainable because of the right of veto. Well, unfortunately the countries on the Security Council, which includes rotating membership from the General Assembly like Libya, prefer it that way. In any event, the entire concept of the Security Council was based on the major powers taking the permanent seats and not Zimbabwe or Burma. If anything, I can certainly agree the SC should be expanded to include as permanent members India, Brazil and Japan, for example. Beyond that, giving the Mugabe's of the world a chance to set international policy for the planet is laughable.

Others at this meeting, such as Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, were less flamboyant and far more pragmatic. She simply expressed hope that Africa will expand its potential to produce and export food and - more to the point - said her government was willing to provide technology and expertise to help.

Chavez, for his part, also promised investment in Africa. But, much like his promise to supply Iran with gasoline, this is more poor rhetoric than reality since his budget is in shambles due to his economic policies and low oil prices.

Given the recurrent attempts to hijack the under-privileged, under-served and under-represented southern part of the planet, perhaps it is time for the Non-Aligned Movement to reinvigorate itself. Formed during the Cold War, it seems to have lost its way after the collapse of the Soviet Union. After all, all of Africa, except Morocco, are members and so is Venezuela. The problem for Chavez and Quadaffi, but no one else, is that they do not lead the organization and will not likely have a say in its leadership for some time. But, it includes economic powerhouses - India and South East Asia - which could constructively lead an alternative non-political, economic program to the IMF (albeit on a smaller scale) if they really wanted to do so. But then it is politics, not economic development that motivates Chavez, so the Non-Aligned Movement would need to somehow work with or around his type.

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