The colonial era is over? Julian Assange and Chapo Guzmán
I am writing this about five hours before the Ecuadorian government makes an announcement on the asylum request of Julian Assange. Whatever decision is taken tomorrow morning, there is one clear loser — The United Kingdom.
Although the U.K. did, over the last few weeks, build goodwill with hosting the Summer Games, it clearly has lost that throughout Latin America today when British Foreign Office delivered a threat to the Ecuadorian Foreign Minister to “storm” the Embassy if needs be. While the British have been backtracking (claiming they were only clarifying options available to the British government under a vaguely worded and never enforced 1987 “Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act ” (which apparently has to do with closing foreign embassies that are violating local health and safety codes) they have the legal right to what amounts to the kind of actions only undertaken by “rogue states” — the best example being the Spanish Embassy Massacre of 31 January 1980, when a fire broke out at the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City after police and army units attacked indigenous peasant farmers and students who had taken refuge in the Embassy. 36 people died.
Ecuadorian Foreign Secretary Ricardo Patino, after meeting with President Rafael Correa said “We want to be very clear, we are not a British colony. The colonial era is over. The move announced in the official British statement, if it happens, would be interpreted by Ecuador as an unfriendly, hostile and intolerable act, as well as an attack on our sovereignty, which would force us to respond in the strongest diplomatic way.”
While war is the extension of diplomacy by other means, that doesn’t mean a shootin’ war, by any means, but the British are likely to pay a very high price for these intemperate claims: I would expect at a minimum that British Embassies throughout Latin America are going to be besieged and quite a few windows broken, and various Latin American (and probably other) states enacting policies and procedures designed to make life difficult for British passport holders (amazing what Immigration and Customs service types can come up with when they want) and I fully expect British-owned businesses (some of which — like HSBC — are already seen as “dodgy” to use Brit-speak ) might be in a zealous application of existing regulatory and oversight functions.
Although the “colonial era” is over, the neo-colonial era is still going strong. Perhaps. Proceso’s cover story on U.S. plans to “eliminate” Chapo Guzmán in a military strike (a la Osama Bin Ladin) is getting extensive coverage in the English-speaking media. According to Proceso, Mexican military authorities turned down the idea being pushed by Felipe Calderón, who, in turn, is selling what can only be invitation to foreign intervention to the Americans.
The far right-wing Latin American website, Fausta’s Blog, is skeptical based on the fact that there will be a change in administration in Mexico in December and “there’s the fact that the politicians in Washington are running for re-election. Who’s going to want to stir another hornet’s next now?”
Frankly, “stirring the hornet’s nest” isn’t likely to deter U.S. politicians looking for a short-term “win” and both U.S. political parties have been trying to sell the meme that narcotics exporters = terrorists for several years now. As I argued before the elections here, both U.S. political parties have a stake in selling the rationale for military intervention under the guise of fighting a “drug war”. That the Obama Administration has become enamored with drone attacks and “surgical strikes” makes it all the more likely that an intervention like this would be considered. Obama’s opponents would want to shore up their own national security credentials and are pandering to both a pro-military constituency, and an anti-Latin American one.While of course us armchair analysts will point out that just eliminating one so-called cartel leader does nothing to control narcotics exports in the long run, I have my doubts that controlling narcotics is really the point of a “targeted assassination” like this, anyway. Its more about national pride, and a psychological boost for the political establishment (no matter which of the two neo-liberal parties controls the White House) and an excuse to repeat (on a lesser scale) that mindless “We’re Number One!” cheer-leading that followed the news of Osama Bin Ladin’s execution without trial.
HOWEVER, “The colonial era is over”. Within the United States, of course, you’ll have the usual conspiracy thinking about why Chapo was not taken alive (and I’m not immune to wondering why “kingpins” don’t make it into courtrooms) and the tedious and rather pointless discussions of marijuana legalization … and maybe a couple of serious discussions of the “morality” of using drones and attacking other countries, but in Mexico, there will still be a bunch of dead Mexicans to deal with.
Although an intervention is possible (and I fear probable), and you’d be hard-pressed to find sympathizers for Chapo Guzmán outside of some rural communities along the Devil’s Backbone in Sinaloa and Durango, there would be huge repercussions diplomatically and otherwise.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say there will be a popular backlash to U.S. intervention, in which Chapo emerging as a posthumous bandit-hero symbol of resistance to Yanquí imperialism, but I wouldn’t discount the possibility. I would expect that — besides the usual mayhem that follows any shakeout in the management teams of the various gangster organizations — that U.S. interests will be seen as legitimate targets by those organizations. And, that a good number of Mexicans will just see it as logical response by the gangsters, and nothing which they should see as worth wasting time and effort to control
Diplomatically, within Mexico, and throughout Latin America, intervention is going to play very badly with the intellectuals and politically active… not just on the left, but from nationalists and anti-imperialists of all stripes. Whatever administration is in Los Pinos when (or if) this happens is going to get the blame, and even if a successful raid (i.e., only minimal “collateral damage”) will have to deal with admitting to allowing foreign troops to operate on Mexican soil. If there is a Peña Nieto administration, with even less credibility than the Calderón Administration suffered under, there will be massive responses… probably not just from the left, but from nationalists in general. Furthermore, violence that would be expected after the death of a crime chief would also be blamed on that President… who, would, by definition, be seen as a tool of the United States.
For their own survival, any administration here is going to have to respond as if it was taken by surprise, or duped, or “not fully informed”. In other words, to save it’s own skin, it will have to take diplomatic measures (and extra-diplomatic ones) to restore credibility with not only it’s own people, but with the rest of Latin America, and the world.