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Free markets do not ensure political freedom

We write to take issue with Pankaj Vaish's recent column ["Third World countries edging toward freer markets," Sept. 22]. Vaish implies that recent world history has been shaped by a struggle between two economic systems, that of "capitalism" and that of "socialism." His analysis is flawed by an inability to separate economic from political issues.

For example, Vaish cites the Tiananmen Square massacre as evidence that "the big communist giants" might not yet be converted to the free market. On the contrary, although the pace of its economic reform has slowed, China is by no means reverting to a completely centralized economy and has, as Vaish himself points out, sought to "convey a sense of normalcy to those foreign investors." In 1980 the government of South Korea killed perhaps thousands of citizens in the "Kwangju incident," yet that nation has committed itself to the course of corporate capitalism. One must surmise that "free markets" are no guarantee of political freedom or human rights.

Vaish's account of the rise of Third World socialist movements is vague. "The origins of these [socialist] policies," he writes, "perhaps lie in the historic experiences of these former colonies." Indeed, the colonials' experience was quite uniform: that capitalism unfailingly allied itself with the imperialistic policies of the Western powers. Although he rightly criticizes Third World independence movements for putting in place "stifling" Leninist "bureaucracies," he fails to acknowledge the historical context in which these movements developed; namely, that many moderate reform movements were crushed by greater or colonial powers.

Consider for example the claim that, "although involuntarily at times, many less developed countries. . . have gradually trudged along the path towards freer markets throughout this decade." Absent from this analysis is the history of US political hegemony in, say, Latin America during the latter half-century. The examples of Chile and Guatemala serve as an indicator perhaps of what the author deceivingly refers to as "arm twisting."

In 1973 the popularly-elected president of Chile, Salvadore Allende, was assassinated during a coup largely funded by the Central Intelligence Agency, International Telephone and Telegraph, and Anaconda Copper. It should be noted that attempts to instigate a popularly-supported coup in Chile by destroying the Chilean economy were unsuccessful but not for want of effort. The Nixon Administration's National Security Decision Memorandum 93 outlined the plan to bring Chile to its knees by crippling the country's economy. Having isolated Chile internationally and completed the near destruction of its economy but failing to reach its goal of inciting a popular coup, the United States, in the guise of the CIA and free market giant ITT, did what has become the rule when dealing with less-developed countries. They turned to the military. The rest is painful history.

A similar situation occurred in 1954 in Guatemala when the popularly-elected President Jacobo Arbenz Guzm'an instituted a land reform program. Guatemala seized land owned by the United Fruit Company. However, none of the seized land was cultivated, and United Fruit was compensated at the rate it had assessed the land for tax purposes. United Fruit, incensed by Arbenz's "bad faith" turned to US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother Allen Dulles, director of the CIA. The United States removed Arbenz by resorting to psychological warfare, attacks from the air, and by mounting a small invasion from neighboring Honduras. The net result of this intervention was a succession of military dictatorships, civil war, and an estimated 80,000 deaths (most victims of right-wing terror).

These two examples illustrate what has become the modus operandis of the right wing in US politics: paint any democratic attempt at social reform in developing nations as a blatant move towards Stalinistic dictatorship.

Vaish's analysis of Third World political economy can be reduced to the following: they are beginning to realize the error of their ways and should have listened to the wiser powers that be long ago. While we welcome any liberalization of Third World markets which will ultimately lead to their prosperity, we believe that any fair examination of the historical facts demonstrates that the Third World has been listening closely all along and has acted in a manner which reflects what it has heard.

Stephen J. Fromm G->

Patrick McDonald G->