There is an unfortunate tradition amongst the Canadian Left to portray the Canadian state as being a victim of US imperialism. As we explained in a recent article, Canadian imperialism has “come of age” by playing a key role in the overthrow of Aristide in Haiti, and by Canada assuming command of the occupation of Afghanistan. In particular, Canadian imperialism has some key economic interests to defend in Afghanistan, such as the proposed Trans-Afghan pipeline passing through Kandahar province.
However, the financial interests in Afghanistan pale in comparison to the economic interests that Canada has in Latin America. According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), Canadian exports in goods and services totalled nearly $10 billion in 2005. More importantly, though, is that Canadian direct investment in Latin America has increased by 1000% in the past fifteen years – it now totals over $60 billion! (Figures are taken from DFAIT’s website at http://www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca/tna-nac/2006/6_06-en.asp)
With the wave of revolution that is spreading throughout Latin America, Canadian imperialism has much to fear. It is very clear that when push comes to shove, Canadian capitalists will expect their interests to be defended. We have already seen one notable example of this in 2005 when the Bank of Nova Scotia filed a $600 million lawsuit against the Argentine government for refusing to provide it with money during the financial crisis of 2001-02 (CBC News, 7 Apr. 2005).
The Canadian bourgeois media, especially outlets like the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail, are often described as the “voices of Bay Street.” Dutifully, they have tried to lobby public opinion against the revolutionary tide sweeping across Latin America by publishing one provocative story after another.
Not surprisingly, most of the attacks have been focused on Venezuela and the revolutionary government of Hugo Chávez. The corporate press went into overdrive at the end of April when three Canadian-born children were kidnapped and killed in Venezuela. Following the killings, the Toronto Star wrote that Chávez had “turned a blind eye to increasing corruption in the police force and a mounting death toll in his country under his watch.” The article went on to actually blame Chávez for the murders because of his “bellicose talk about the oppression of the poor and the ‘evil’ of the rich, creating a sense that it is open season on the wealthy.” (Toronto Star, 13 May 2006)
Since then, the insane attacks on Venezuela have increased. For instance, the Star published another article where it claimed that instead of fighting poverty, Chávez was busy with “vanity decisions of a leader consumed with hubris.” (Toronto Star, 8 May 2006) On the 10th of May, the Globe and Mail lumped Venezuela with Iran as a human rights abuser! Another heinous article insinuated that Chávez was a lunatic whose “over-caffeinated stream of consciousness can last seven hours on his weekly talk show”; labelling the Bolivarian movement a “cult”; calling the Venezuelan constitution, which is available to every worker or poor person, a “fashion accessory”; and accusing Chávez of provoking an “attack” on the US ambassador. (Toronto Star, 7 May 2006)
The Bolivian government of Evo Morales has now joined Venezuela on the Canadian imperialist hit-list. Many of the articles appearing in the bourgeois press are claiming that Bolivia does not have the capability of processing natural gas and that by nationalizing gas, the Bolivian government may be dooming the country. The Toronto Star warned, “In the past, countries that have abruptly nationalized their oil industries and booted out foreign companies with little or no compensation have rarely managed to meet earlier oil and gas production levels.” (Toronto Star, 5 May 2006) Another article claimed that “Morales’ leftist ideology and his alliance with Chavez are getting in the way of a coherent energy policy.” (Toronto Sun, 23 May 2006)
Capitalists have made it very clear that their interests are being threatened. At the beginning of May, Barrick Gold Corp., the world’s largest gold producer and based in Toronto, announced that they were shifting most of their investment away from Venezuela and Bolivia in favour of an area in Pakistan where it’s believed Osama bin Laden is hiding. Barrick Gold chairman Peter Munk stated that he would rather take chances in an area full of Al-Qaeda operatives rather than work with Chávez or Morales! (Toronto Star, 5 May 2006)
Ultimately, these actions and provocations have not escaped the eyes of the Canadian state. In the Embassy newspaper, which describes itself as “Canada’s Foreign Policy Newsweekly,” an article was published on the visit of Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales to Vienna – a visit which resulted in a stirring rally of over 5,000 and was organized by Hands Off Venezuela and the Austrian Marxists of Der Fünke. The article reads, “Fulfilling their version of the ‘Latin American revolutionary,’ the two leaders were vociferous provocateurs: they aimed to please the European radical Left, and snubbed the conventions of high-level politics. This behaviour would not amount to much more than a folkloric display, if it were not for the high price their peoples end up paying.” (http://www.embassymag.ca/html/index.php?display=story&full_path=/2006/may/17/vienna/)
The view from Export Development Canada (www.edc.ca) is not much better. The EDC is a Crown corporation which acts as a guide for Canadian imperialism. The EDC regularly produces economic forecasts and policy statements on every country in the world and comments on whether the country is acting in the best interests of Canadian capital. Not surprisingly, the folks at the EDC are not very big fans of the Venezuelan government. After Chávez’s 2004 referendum victory, the EDC commented that because of the “surprisingly” large margin of victory for the Bolivarian forces, “an improvement in the investment climate… is unlikely.” Recently, the EDC has warned Canadian oil companies about investing in Venezuela as a greater share of the profits is now being returned to Venezuela rather than flowing out into coffers in Toronto or Calgary.
Similarly, the EDC and Canadian firms have reacted very negatively to the nationalization of oil and gas in Bolivia and Ecuador. The Ecuadorian government’s decision to nationalize a piece of investment by Occidental Petroleum directly affected Canadian interests. Calgary-based EnCana Corp. stood to lose a significant interest, possibly in the tens of millions of dollars.
As Marxists, we understand that the Canadian state will not stand idly by and let the revolution build in Latin America. Canadian capitalists have far too much at stake. Moreover, as the United States and Britain continue to be bogged down in Iraq with no end in sight, its “junior” imperialist partners, such as Canada, will be expected to pick up the slack in dealing with “problem spots,” such as Venezuela. We have already seen this in Haiti and Afghanistan. There are many reasons for us to expect Canadian imperialism to get involved in Latin America. Just last year, the Canadian embassy in Caracas was caught red-handed in donating thousands of dollars to Sumate, an anti-Chávez front.
The Canadian workers and youth must begin to mobilize and send a clear message to Canadian imperialism: Hands off Venezuela and Bolivia! The best way to prevent foreign intervention in Bolivia or Venezuela is, in the words of Hugo Chávez, to build our own revolutions in the North. It is in the interests of workers and youth in Canada for the Latin American Revolution to survive; there are many lessons that we can learn from our comrades in Venezuela, for instance. In southern Ontario, workers are witnessing very profitable auto plants being shut down by General Motors and Ford; in Venezuela, when faced with closure, workers occupy their factories and demand their nationalization under workers’ control. Across Canada, working class youth are increasingly being shut out of post-secondary education because of cost and scarcity while in Venezuela, the government has continued to expand the Bolivarian University which provides free education for tens of thousands of poor students.
Anyone who calls themselves progressive, socialist, or Marxist needs to be prepared to take action once the Canadian state decides to intervene in Venezuela, Bolivia, or another Latin American country. Workers and youths must make their voices clear – Hands off Latin America!
- Perspectives for Canadian Workers — 2006 by Fightback editorial board (7 Jun. 2006)
- "Hands Off Venezuela" welcomes Chavez in Vienna by Hands Off Venezuela (Austria) (12 May 2006)
- Troops out of Afghanistan! Canadian imperialism comes of age by Alex Grant (4 May 2006)
- 2006: The Year of Latin American Revolutions — Important lessons for Canadian workers by Fightback editorial board (31 Dec. 2005)