5:   Cross-currents

William Krehm

While President Bush is proclaiming the democratization of the world by higher military budgets, counter-currents are gaining momentum. These raise a troublesome question: can democracy prevail by merely increasing the clout of a lone overweening superpower?

Deep doubt on this is spreading into areas that Washington takes for granted. Thus, most of Spain’s former colonies are considered as almost protectorates by the US. That was the sense of the Monroe Doctrine and the conquest of the Philippines. Over the years, however, the Monroe Doctrine was kept fresh with more than a sprinkling of gunpowder. In Mexico there were the not always successful interventions into the civil wars of the early 20th century. In Central and South America during after World War II, Washington set up or supported particularly savage dictatorships. Agents for the purpose were trained in torture at a special school of the US army. In Panama.

Hate or Like Him — The World is Intrigued by Castro

The Latin American countries whose contribution in delivering vital raw materials to the American war machine at prices set by Washington, were denied the closure of that regime when victory was won. Instead, they were excluded from the Marshall Plan or some similar compensation. What came their way instead was brutal military action to enforce the continued low prices for their exports. Like him or hate him, it is no accident that Fidel Castro has been regarded by the Spanish-speaking world not without admiration for having stood up successfully to Washington. Without that he could never have survived the collapse of his Soviet backer.

That appeared centre stage in Spanish politics early in February when the local press reported that the Cuban Foreign Minister, Felipe Perez Roque, would travel to Madrid to advance the arrangements for a visit in 2006 to Cuba of the Spanish King and the president of the Spanish government. Significantly, the announcement was made by the president of the regional council of Andalucia, Manuel Chaves. Chaves himself back from a meeting with Castro, declared to the press that he had found him a ‘fascinating personality.’ For days there were half-denials and denials that anything had been definitely arranged. for 2006. but what emerged was a practical confirmation that the King of Spain and his Socialist chief of government were headed for a meeting with Fidel Castro. This added to the unpopularity in Washington of the Madrid Government that had already withdrawn its troops from Iraq.

As the ex-colonial power, against whom the legendary victories of the Latin America’s War of Independence were won, that proves the immense determination of Spain to live down its past and rally its former colonies around its current international policy. And given Spain’s highly successful experience within the European Union, that puts Spain in a unique position as bridge between Latin America and Europe for countervailing Washington’s unilateral urges. Not surprisingly the new Secretary of State, Condolezza Rice, gave Spain a wide berth in her recent European travels. The Spanish Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, did manage a 4 or 5 minute conversation with her at the recent Brussels NATO ministerial meeting, but the deepening chill was evident. Some 19 meetings of the Spanish monarch, president and Latin American heads of government have already taken place.

Spain as Bridge between Europe and Latin America

For all this a vast cultural and political preparation has been necessary. As never before, Spain has come to appreciate the richness of her own vast cultural heritage from a more peaceful Islam; and the sheer crassness with which the Pentagon handles such background. Thus its failure to prevent the looting and destruction of the irreplaceable museum treasures in Baghdad at the beginning of the war. That could hardly be lost on Spaniards who themselves are excavating their local equivalents with reverence. Such factors, as well as their share of Islamic and more local terrorism, all contributed to the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq once the new Socialist-headed government of Rodriguez Zapatero came to power.

Having itself settled the choicest portions of a rich, underpopulated continent with disillusioned emigrants from Europe, the United States developed a peculiar insensitivity to other cultures. And left a lone superpower by the demise of the Soviet Union, it fell victim to the temptations of this background. It has, moreover, succumbed to an aggressive commitment to unbounded economic growth. The very scale of its financial and military operations is seen by others as a menace. It has led to imperial plans in high-tech armament in heavens once reserved for the worship of an even Higher Authority. It is overplaying its privilege of churning out debt acceptable as money by an increasingly impatient world.

Today, in fact, the skies are darkening with chickens homeward bound. China has battened on technologies that it has out-maneuvered the United States to trade for leveraged access to its own low labour standards and vast underemployment.

The European Currency Unit is tending to become transformed into a barrier to Washington’s boundless ambitions. To this Spain is making a unique contribution.

Patterns within Patterns

But there are patterns within patterns, and to ignore them would leave us unprepared for further surprises. We have been led to put absolute faith in the unique virtues of bigness. It began in financial policy, but tends to move into all other areas including world politics. As in economics, however, "larger" does not necessarily imply "better." Much of what society has done best was nested and nurtured within quite local limits. Sacrifice more modest structures to unlimited growth and you risk undermining the well-being of society itself. That is why growth and globalization must be accompanied with an active concern about keeping essential grass-root structures in a working state. And in this, too, Spain today provides some striking lessons. Many of these arise from the circumstance that apart from Spanish, three other regional languages are spoken in Spain – Catalonian, Gallego akin to Portuguese, and Basque definitely related to no other known tongue. With the restoration of democracy this has given rise to a considerable demand for the autonomy within the Spain of such local linguistic regions. This is taking place at the very time that the European Union is preparing the acceptance of another 15 nations into its midst.

Thus the Spanish rightist paper ABC (8/2, "Notas Clinicas" by Jon Juaristi) writes: "The introduction of the formula of ‘national communities’ into our political vocabulary of progressive revolution presently under way has raised confusion to a level that touches on semantic catastrophe." What is more, the already achieved settlement between the Catalan government and the central Spanish authority is being reopened by the Catalan leader Pulcercos under the stimulus of the aggressive position of the Basques in their current negotiations with Madrid. "The spokesman of the ERC (the Catalan political centrist party) threatens taking Catalonia out of Spain, and proposes a ‘friendly relationship with Spain’ as does the lehendakart (Basque chieftain) Ibarreche." There is thus a reshaping of the relationship between the peninsular cultures and peoples even as political consolidation proceeds. There is nothing inevitable or even absolutely useful in globalization and deregulation. If you take even consolidation on a national scale, let alone on an international one as sole criterion, you risk creating more problems than you solve.

That is a basic lesson of Canada’s surrender in accepting North American Free Trade Alliance that we may have to relearn as Europe is beginning to cope with it.

A further important point: To make possible education and public life in a second language and culture inevitable gives rise to substantial additional costs. These would include what should be considered investments rather than just current spending. There is no way of estimating the monetary loss when a language and a culture are allowed to disappear. And in our own case as a historic immigration country, a modest amount of education of the newcomers directed to preserving and developing their command of their ancestral tongue and cultural would not only enrich our domestic public life, but be of immense value in a world where globalization is being thrust down our throats. That means that access to cheap central bank financing must be allowed for financing such investments.1 Ottawa owes us comparative cost studies of the surrender of our money creation to our commercial banks that we had just bailed out of their gambling losses in 1991 and what it would cost to institute classes of European and Asiatic immigrants in their mother tongues. Has our Minister of Finance ever ordered research on the cost of educating an Anglo- or French Canadian to proficiency in Japanese or any other Asian language?

Obviously the European Union some of whose members are giving special attention to the needs of such minority cultures must consider a similar course. The current inflexibility of the European Union’s central bank is likely to be challenged by the cross currents that are beginning to appear in the world’s affairs.

The comparative benefit studies proposed would compare the cost to Canada of deregulating and subsidizing our banks to permit no less than three of the largest to feature in the settlements with the regulatory authorities in the US in connection with the Enron scandal alone, with a program of preserving and nurturing our aboriginal and immigrant cultures for domestic as well as trade benefits.

William Krehm

1. In Canada that would be a further argument for putting into practice an arrangement that is still in the Bank of Canada Act (Article 18(c)): "The Bank may buy and sell securities or guaranteed by Canada or any province." Since the federal government is the sole shareholder of our central bank, that means that the interest paid to the Bank of Canada by Quebec or any other province to preserve French culture or a native language and culture could be financed through the Bank of Canada, and the interest paid on that would return (less the Bank’s overhead costs for such financing) would end up with the federal government. All that is needed is an agreement with the provinces for a negotiated part of such dividends be passed on to the junior government in question.

-- from Economic Reform, March 2005