Noam Chomsky’s breakthrough book review introduced the world of linguistics to generative grammar in the 1950s, but the intellectual and philosopher has always been political. In an interview with the University of Rochester, he said he wrote his first political article as a fourth-grader, but that the media only caught wind of his proclivities in 1967. So last year, when New Internationalist sought to find whether re-established United States-Cuba relations meant a change in how the US deals with other Latin American countries, it looked to Chomsky for his analysis.
He explained that in the last century or so, Latin American countries have broken free of imperial domination – aka the US – and there’s been successes and failures. “One result is the US is no longer in a position to run Latin America,” he said. “You can see it very clearly in hemispheric conferences. I mention the February 1945 conference, Latin Americans just did what they were told. There wasn’t any question about it. 2012, there was a hemispheric conference in Cartagena, Colombia, which is the one remaining, more or less, US ally. It could not reach any decisions. The reason was that US and Canada were totally isolated on all issues.” So while President Barack Obama’s credited with bringing Cuba out of isolation, Chomsky says the opposite is actually more accurate.
But on the heels on Global Witness’ On Dangerous Ground report, which found that Latin America is the most dangerous place for an environmental activist – especially those who are indigenous – the most pertinent part of this 30-minute chat is that Chomsky feels most hopeful about Latin America’s future because of the work indigenous communities have done in the last 10 to 15 years.
In countries with large indigenous communities, such as Bolivia and Ecuador, these groups have spoken out and even swayed elections. And while some may think of these groups as primitive, they are leading the way for the future. “That’s a tremendous step forward for the entire world,” he said. “It’s a kind of incredible irony that all over the world the leading forces in trying to prevent a race to disaster are the indigenous communities. I mean, anyone who’s not living under a rock, knows that we’re facing a potential environmental catastrophe, and not in the distant future. All over the world it’s the indigenous communities that are trying to hold it back.”
As the demand for natural resources like timber, minerals, and palm oil steadily increases, indigenous groups are at the forefront of battling goliath corporations that have money and power, as well as things like security and hitmen.
Watch Chomsky’s full interview below: