Monday, September 8, 2008

Iran-Bolivia Investment Deal

Perhaps amid the war cries and the warmongering, and amongst the condemning and condoning, the blockheaded blockaders and the desperate defenders of Bolivia will meet on one single point: is this the right time to introduce Mahmoud Ahmadinejad into the political mix? The energy sector is a violently dissentious issue in Bolivia - stirring US ambassador to Bolivia Phillip Goldberg to announce "US institutions should interfere in Bolivia's internal affairs." Subsequently energy is what Morales' undemocratic opposition want to target, with aims to interrupt oil exports into dependent neighbours like Brazil.

The timing from the perspective of the Iranian President is less ambiguous. There is the prospect of an Iran-Russia oil relationship. Dick Cheney, while in Kazakhstan, expressed considerable interest in building new export pipelines that bypass Russia from Central Asia. His central message, by symbolically avoiding a Russian visit, is to weaken the power of the nation, and highlight America's interests. Russia will look to relations with Iran as a prosperous investment.

As well as this possibility, Iran, keen to remain a chip on the North American shoulder, will try and drum up the support of other oil-rich, anti-imperialist nations. The oil and gas industry ties, established in September 2007, shaped by Morales and Ahmadinejad in Tehran are said to promote economic development and welfare for both nations. Their joint statement drawn up last Tuesday, declared importance to "political struggles against Imperialism."

The diplomacy with such an unsavoury political figure (to say the very least) like Ahmadinejad - whose reputation stands as being one of anti-Semitism, anti-women's rights, and not just homophobia, but one who denies the existence of homosexuality in his country - may initially cause grave concern for any ardent Morales supporter. But why, one might reflect, shouldn't Morales allow this investment deal? At least for now.

ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of our America), the economic model set up by Hugo Chavez to resist the relentless pursuits of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) is still in its early stages, and is still reasonably small (Honduras, in Central America, recently joined making a total of 6 countries). Investment from Iran, as well as the joint loan with Venezuela for a state cement company to ease profit concentration, is necessary until ALBA can assuage reliance from foreign investment. Iran may be politically virulent, but there is nothing to suggest that it will have any ideological influence.

Despite what some sceptics may say, such as Israeli commentator Isi Leibler, the commercial relations Venezuela has with Iran has not affected the political persuasions of either country. Liebler accuses Chavez of anti-Semitism on account of favourable comments made about him by Ahmadinejad, even after Chavez's recent talks with the World Jewish Congress where he condemned "all forms of anti-Semitism, discrimination against minorities and anti-Muslim sentiment." Liebler even appeals to Chavez's opposition to Israel's foreign policy though Chavez himself has stated "criticisms of Israel aren't meant to demonise Jewish people."

Bolivia is the poorest country in Latin America, and its left wing measures have made it possible for the country to keep up to 85% of its gas profits, making it possible to redistribute that wealth to provide the basic needs of its inhabitants, who were, before Morales' presidency, very much disregarded. With the limited choices of investors who are not at the beck and call of the US, supporters of Morales will just have to resign themselves to the fact that Iranian investment is a necessary evil. And lets hope a temporary one. To be sure, Morales is not a soft touch, he is a man of equality and will not be swayed by Ahmadinejad’s disreputable ideas.

If one still finds the deal disagreeable, then it is important to remember that it is precisely this kind of economic model - where a country has to rely on the ideologically unsound for investment - which, in the final analysis, Morales seeks to overthrow. As revolutionary as Morales is, and as much as his heart is in the right place with regards to the economy, unfortunately for him and his supporters, at this moment in history, this pocket of imperialist resistance exists within the global framework of neo-liberal capitalism and will have to, to some extent, entertain this framework in order to survive. Indeed, if this settlement alleviates some domestic economic pressure, for the time being supporters should view it as a small price to pay and conditionally vindicate it.

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