SINCE World War II, the United States has been involved in the overthrow of 52 foreign leaders, some of them democratically elected. The common thread amongst these leaders has been resource nationalism: Lumumba, Nkrumah, João Goulart, Salvador Allende, Isabel Martínez de Perón and Gaddafi, to name but a few.
To this day, the leaders under the most pressure from America are not necessarily the most corrupt or undemocratic – they are resource nationalists. A roll call of some of America’s top enemies illustrates this: Hugo Chavez and his agrarian reform and pro-poor oil policies in Venezuela; Robert Mugabe and his land reform and indigenisation programme in Zimbabwe; Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his nationalised oil industry and quest for nuclear capability for domestic energy needs in Iran and North Korea’s Kim Jong II and his non free market system and “Juche” system of self reliance.
The reason for US pressure on these leaders is simple: the biggest threat to America's capitalist imperialist economic model is lack of access to foreign markets. Or put simply, resource nationalism.
If these leaders and their policies succeed, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and Iran would encourage other Latin American, African and Middle Eastern nations to follow suit, thereby hindering American access to 35% of the global market.
A prime example of how one nation's resource nationalism can reshape an entire continent to the betterment of the poor and the detriment of US corporate interests is Venezuela. Chavez has nationalised oil to promote free health care and education. He has also dished out land to the poor. These resource nationalist policies have seen poverty tumble from 70 per cent when Chavez took office to just under 20 per cent today. Venezuela now has the most equitable income distribution of any nation in Latin America.
Largely thanks to Venezuela's sharp reduction in poverty, unemployment and inequality, resource nationalism is sweeping across Latin America like wildfire. Unsurprisingly, Chavez has been singled out for an attempted CIA-backed coup in 2002 and has been demonised by western media left, right and centre.
Just recently, Chavez launched the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Thirty three Heads of State from across the Americas came together to mark the monumental occasion. The importance of this new institution in world politics cannot be overstated. The combined gross domestic product of the countries within CELAC makes it the third-largest economic powerhouse in the world.
CELAC is also home to the world’s largest oil reserves and the first and third largest global producers of food and energy, respectively. Most notably, America and Canada are explicitly excluded from CELAC. Clearly, Washington is losing control of Latin America.
For the West, whose ties to Arab dictators once gave it great clout in the Middle East, events in the region have also spun way out of control. By removing her veil of fear, the Arab Street is now able to stare down and overthrow the true dictatorship of the region - Washington. In fact western backed dictators have been toppled in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen; Syria is convulsing from civil war; and rebellion is smouldering in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan and Kuwait.
But it is Iran, the richest and oldest civilisation in the region, that has suddenly found a new prominence to match its craving for recognition as a regional power. By the time the Arab Spring is complete, Iran could emerge with a sphere of influence stretching from Afghanistan's eastern tip to the edge of the Mediterranean. A newly unshackled Arab street, and the Islamist governments they are electing, are moving closer to Iran's Islamism, anti-imperialism, anti-Zionism, pro-Palestine stance and inevitably petro-resource nationalism.
American animosity towards North Korea has next to nothing to do with her nuclear arsenal. On the contrary, North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is a direct consequence of years of American animosity. This 70-year-old aggression is about putting an end to North Korea's Juche ideology – a doctrine of self reliance, non-free market system and self-directed economic development. Clearly, this is a system that offers little opportunity for American profit-making at North Korea's expense. Hence the ridicule, sanctions and demonisation of North Korea and its leaders!
In Africa, Mugabe has also been singled out for economic sanctions and round the clock demonisation in the western media, we are told for human rights abuses. In reality, it is the Empire fighting back after Mugabe regained 42 per cent of Zimbabwe's land area – controlled by 4,000 farmers – and dishing it out to 400,000 black families, the vast majority of whom were poor.
The single biggest cause of Zimbabwe's economic nosedive has been an all-out economic war and embargo from the West. The single biggest incentive to slap Zimbabwe with sanctions has not been to promote human rights and freedom, nor has it been simply a ploy to bring about regime change. Sanctions are designed to send a clear signal to the continent's landless and economically disempowered that resource nationalism is not the way to go otherwise “you will end up like Zimbabwe”. It’s a signal that is principally aimed at the West's biggest prize on the continent: South Africa.
In South Africa, only nine per cent of the population are white, and yet this group enjoys 80 per cent of the wealth. ANC Youth League president Julius Malema was becoming too much of a resource nationalist, with popular appeal. His demands for nationalisation of mines and redistribution of land without compensation opened him to demonisation. Thus, at the behest of western capitals, the minority owned media discredited him, the black political elite silenced him and now the predominantly apartheid era judicial bench wants to put him out of circulation.
The west knows that if Zimbabwe's land democratisation is allowed to proceed without the hindrance of sanctions and thus succeed, every landless black from the Cape to Cape Verde will be demanding their fair share. If indigenisation redistributes income and gives a boost to employees and communities – as it is poised to do – workers and communities across SADC will demand their fare share.
The stakes are huge for America. A stubborn group of resource nationalist leaders – bent on putting their poor before profiteers – are a bigger threat to American interests than a headless and largely degraded Al-Qaeda or a seemingly peaceful, rising China.
Garikai Chengu is a research scholar at Harvard University's Faculty of Arts and Sciences