Document on Latin America, agreed by CWI International Executive Committee
The following document – produced by the CWI’s Latin American comrades – was discussed, amended and agreed at the recent meeting of the CWI’s International Executive Committee. Comrades from the CWI’s Brazilian, Bolivian, Chilean and Venezuelan sections attended the meeting.
In the last period of the end of this first decade of the 21st century we have witnessed a growing political movement to the left in most of Latin America, movements which are products of the crisis of the traditional elite, its neoliberal policies and the crisis of western, especially US, imperialism.
At the same time, the thrust of China as an emerging global power and the resurgence of Russia as a major player in the global geopolitical order, has led countries with an anti-Western imperialist rhetoric, to lean on these powers to balance the hegemony of the US in the region.
The region experienced a decade and a half of relative stability and prosperity which partially lulled the “Andean volcano” of class struggles, which had erupted for decades, looking for alternatives to neoliberalism. However, the complexity and depth of current crisis of capitalism, which has not yet recovered from the crisis of 2008, are starting to hit with more power in the region, just as some governments’ “great allies”, Russia and China, also face a difficult situation in their economies and a political and social crisis. This whole picture adds different elements to serve as triggers for a new stage of struggle but also of possible defeats for revolutionary processes in Latin America.
The vast region, one of the richest in the world, is also the most unequal, and is going through a period of deep contradictions. On the one hand, governments more in favour of the free market and pro-Westerners are beginning to have problems not only with the economy, but also on socio-political issues. Colombia, Mexico, Chile, and Peru, for example, are social time bombs, for democratic demands and a more equitable distribution of wealth.
On the other hand, left-leaning anti-West governments, allied to Russia and China are passing through a dual crisis: on the one hand, the impact of the international capitalist crisis which shows that the system is on a world scale and that there are no national solutions. On the other hand, we see the wearing out and failure of the reformist attempts made by a Left which has taken the road of a mixed economy, where state intervention in the economy is coupled with private investment.
These policies have been accompanied by populist social programmes which have not been maintained due to their high vulnerability and dependence on the economy and prices of raw materials.
There are deep contradictions in all of these processes, for example in Venezuela, which has stagnated. We see how following the death of Chavez, we have entered a turning point, when the leadership of “chavismo” has shown dangerous signs of a shift to the right, putting at risk the enormous social and political gains achieved by the workers and poor.
On the other hand, there is a prolonged crisis in some countries, in which the collapse of the establishment has practically rendered them “failed states”, as is the case in north-central America, such as in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Narco-mafias, paramilitaries and imperialist intervention by the US in its war on drugs have deepened the social and political crises in these countries and opened up an agenda of radical revolution to end the extreme violence, poverty and inequality which rural workers, indigenous peoples and all of the poor and oppressed suffer.
In general there is in the region a geo-political dispute between Western powers and emerging ones for hegemony of Latin American markets, especially related to the extraction of raw materials and mining, and the sale of manufactured products. This dispute is clearly shown in two regional political and economic blocs. On the pro-Western front supported by the US and EU there is the “Pacific Alliance” with Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Panama and Chile, and on the other hand there is MERCOSUR-Alba led by Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Uruguay, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua
This dispute between apparently antagonistic blocs, in fact takes place within the limits and logic of capitalism. It has great weight in the politics of the region and in one form or another conditions the class struggle and balance of forces.
An example of the contradictions of these two blocs which seem to have different visions, one defending the free market and the other a protected, regulated market is the recent meetings which have taken place between the two blocs in order to find ways of collaboration. This is also a reflection of what is happening in Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil.
Another key item on the agenda is the influence of China, which cannot be overestimated, as well as the loss of influence of the US which cannot be underestimated. To think that one power has totally displaced the other would be a mistake in calculations.
The dispute between China & Russia vs US & EU for the region
Many reformist analysts from the opportunist left in the region, have announced that the region is liberating itself from the domination of the US, which has lost its leadership in the region. This could be considered true in general terms if we look at the political map of the beginning of this century and how it has changed, with more nationalist regimes with a hostile rhetoric towards the US and EU. However, in reality this is not the case.
It is true that the US does not have the same hegemony in the region as in the past, but this does not imply that it has lost its capacity for intervention. John Kerry said one year ago that the Monroe doctrine was finished, but this does not mean that the US has given up on the idea of having hegemony in the region. It is only a recognition that they are now not the only ones who want to be masters of their “back yard”, as there has arrived another power with which they have to contend.
The US is still a determinant factor in the region. An article from El Pais in November 2013 on this question, signed by the academic Juan Gabriel Tokatlian, gave some figures and information which are significant. According to him, the US has deepened its intervention in the region, but through other means. For example, they have closed down the “School of the Americas” where they trained bloody dictators, but have maintained a new form of military aid through the so-called war on terror and on drugs.
Between 2009 and 2011, almost 200,000 Latin American soldiers have been trained or received technical assistance from the US. Moreover, even if its attempts to legally maintain 7 mlitary bases in Colombia has failed, it has reactivated the IV fleet in the Caribbean which had been deactivated since 1950. Another revealing fact is that between 2009 and 2014, US military aid to the region was over $17 billion, the biggest investment of any country in a foreign zone. CEPAL revealed in 2012 that 24% of US multinational investments were in the region.
This context reveals that the US is very far from losing its hegemony in the region. However, it is now not alone, with the presence of other countries such as China and Russia, which changes the political situation. All of these factors should be considered rigorously by revolutionaries, as they have an effect on the balance of forces and the class struggle in the region.
Colombia is a reflection of the contradictions in the region, with an economy which is growing in the last years from a macro point of view, with important foreign investment. However, the armed conflict still continues as it has for more than 50 years old, claiming more than 200,000 victims and displacing more than 5 million people. Moreover, social indicators are all negative, in contrast with the positive macro-economic indicators.
0.4% own 61% of the land, many of which are landlords liked to the drugs trade and paramilitaries. The black and indigenous communities own only 2% of the land. This also shows us a great deal about the armed struggle in Colombia, but also about the strike of small agricultural producers, one of the biggest protest movements for decades.
In 2013, a peasants strike paralyzed 19 cities and blocked the main streets in 9 out of 32 counties in the country. It mobilized more than 300,000 people. The strike movement gave strength to the workers in the cities and students who expressed their solidarity but also protested against precarious work, and for basic democratic rights. At the same time, there was another great movement, of the small-scale miners who are those who really sustain the mining industry in Colombia. These 2 movements provoked a crisis for President Santos, whose approval ratings fell, with 70% rejecting his government.
The movement was mobilised against the free trade agreement which the government signed with the US and EU, damaging national production and these small producers, further damaging the living standards of these sectors.
These strike movements are changing politics in Colombia. It is not an accident that after 50 years of war the government and the guerrillas of the FARC and ELN are looking for a political solution. Over 50% of the population are pessimistic about this process, given their past experiences. However, it shows that there is a growing pressure from below which is looking for a progressive way out, without repeating the mistakes of the past. This was shown by the “Patriotic March”, a broad movement of diverse forces which through its campaign for peace, fights for reforms to end inequality.
In this context the Presidential elections took place in 2014, when Santos looked for re-election and the left stood two candidatures, which did not get into the second round but showed the process of accumulation of forces which oppose the liberal-conservative two party system which has ruled in Colombia since the colonial era.
Santos was defeated in the first round, scoring only 25% support, but in reality the whole system was defeated, as the abstention rate was the highest in 20 years, at almost 60%. Fortunately for Santos, his most important opponent was Zuluaga, from the right-wing party of ex-President, Uribe, who has adopted a hardline reactionary position against the peace process and relations with Venezuela. Uribe’s strategy failed, as the fear of the people over an escalation of the armed conflict and of hostile relations with its principal economic partner, polarized the elections in the second round between “war and peace”, temporarily hiding the political agenda which the social movements had put on the table during 2013.
Even the Left (Polo Alternativo Democrático, la Marcha Patriótica and the communist party) adopted a position of indirect support for Santos, including even the FARC guerrillas. In Venezuela, the Maduro government also changed its rhetoric and supported Santos, as the victory of Zuloaga would have made even more unstable the situation.
This was a complicated situation for the left. Though Santos remains a bourgeois representative, is was clear that the victory of Uribism through Zuluada would represent a step backwards in the peace process. For the majority of Colombians, peace is the main issue after 50 years of war.
It is correct to support the initiatives of the broad Left forces, while being careful to not to sow illusions in them, or in the negotiations between Santos and the guerrillas. It is crucial to continue to fight for the building of independent political platforms of the workers and oppressed. However, this process will require various stages of development.
The electoral dispute between Santos and Zuluaga reflected a situation which also exists in other countries of the region – that of a choice between the lesser evil or abstention. In Colombia, abstention was the correct position for the Left, basing itself on the demands of the people which only they themselves can win. Santos won the election, but the process remains open. It is clear that the ruling class does not have full control in Colombia and that new generations are emerging from past defeats as social contradictions are sharpening and deepening.
From a dogmatic Marxist point of view, the movements, strikes, peasant and miners’ protests, as well as the pro-peace movement, are not the revolution, and do not put forward a rounded-out Marxist programme. However, to underestimate the power and base of these struggles would be a mistake. It is key to have a sensitive orientation to these sections of workers – miners and peasants as well as to the students in order to build a revolutionary alternative force in Colombia. However, this will be a complex process.
Cuba: “Rectify or sink”
Raul Castro opened the 6th congress of the Cuban CP with this phrase in April 2011, the first post-Fidel congress. This marked the beginning of what the bureaucracy has called the rectification of the socialist model, which has opened a debate in the Cuban left, and internationally about the possibility of capitalist restoration on the island, after more than 50 years of revolution and economic blockade.
Since then, the Cuban bureaucracy has not been easily able to implement reforms, without irreversible consequences for the gains of the revolution’s golden era of the 60s and 70s. The governing caste in Cuba is confronted with the classic dilemma of reform or revolution, with pressure from both sides – from the old generations to preserve the model from the 1960s and the new generation which demands modernisation and flexibilisation of the social and political system.
At this crossroads the governing caste knows that the road to counter revolution led by the Miami right-wing exiles is no longer a threat but a reality, because the capital and US support which these reactionaries enjoy allows them to benefit from the new market reforms and penetrate the Cuban economy legally, speeding up a process of capitalist restoration.
Raul Castro was conscious of this when he said “to promote a mixed economy to save the socialist system maintaining the gains of the revolution..” and added”..this is the last stage of the historic generation”. He made it clear that the Cuban regime supports a gradual change of model without generating big traumas which could threaten its power.
However, the intentions of the Cuban governing caste do not depend only on themselves. In April this year, the chief of the Latin American unit of the World Bank, Augusto de la Torre, said about the changes on the island, “we all know that Cuba is in a process of opening up” and added “ it seems to me that the modernisation of the Cuban economy is very serious”. These affirmations say a lot about what is happening on the island. In the same interview, he said that the situation in Venezuela was worrying, in terms of the impact it could have on the opening up of Cuba.
Venezuela has been a saviour for Cuba during the last decade, through economic cooperation and below-cost oil sales. For example, in 2012, we interviewed a self-employed Cuban taxi driver in Havana, and asked him about the importance of Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution for Cubans and he said that thanks to them, in Havana and all of Cuba the blackouts ended, as well as the extreme rationing of petrol and diesel.
This shows that if there is a change of government or of policies in Venezuela, which is now what is developing, Cuba and its leaders would have serious problems and would have to decide to accelerate the changes or stagnate and maintain the model as it has been for the last years.
This has led the Cuban bureaucracy to look for other international allies, and it has moved towards the BRICS. Recently during the tour of Putin and Xi Jinping in the region to attend the meeting of the BRICS with MERCOSUR and CELAC, the Cuban regime took advantage of their presence to announce platitudes and support to these growing powers, along with Brazil.
Russia wrote off its debt with Cuba which dates back to the Soviet era, and China, Russia and Brazil have been awarded with control of the exclusive economic zones, such as the recently opened port of Mariel, where special laws apply which flexibilise labour conditions and provide free access to private investment with favourable tax rates.
Consistent with this, in June this year, a month before the visit of Putin and Xi Jinping, the Cuban government passed a new law on foreign investment that offers tax benefits on the island.
But these reforms cannot happen without resistance and without concessions to the workers and the Cuban people in general. In parallel, the Cuban bureaucracy has yielded in some aspects of fundamental democratic rights. It has ended the policy of criminalization of gay and other communities of sexual diversity, and has allowed for independent work and the emergence of small private businesses, such as restaurants, cafes, etc. It has relaxed foreign travel restrictions. However, these reforms have limitations, such as the lack of economic resources of the Cuban state, and the fact that they are still controlled by a heavy inefficient bureaucracy.
Sectors of the Cuban independent left and the comrades of Observatorio Critico, democratic socialists and intellectuals, among others, have expressed concerns about the reforms, saying that although there is a need to make corrections, these ones are limited and will end up benefiting only a minority as has been the case in the tourism sector, where only the multinationals and the bureaucracy have benefitted. There is a dangerous process of widening economic differences in Cuban society, ie the emergence of a middle class connected to the state bureaucracy which facilitates a full capitalist restoration to finish with the lasting achievements of the Cuban revolution, such as the education and health services.
At the same time, the question of democratic rights and the demand for more participation remain important. On this front there is a polarisation between the Miami right wing and those on the revolutionary left which have broken with the bureaucracy of the CP.
Cuba is at a crossroads, and it is clear that regional events will affect the development of its internal process. A new situation is opening up, with the reforms of the regime which open up many contradictions and threats, but also opportunities. There is a slow growth of movements and political ideas of the Left in opposition to the policies of the bureaucracy. This is significant when taken together with the movement for democratic rights, and the generational factor, with a new more pragmatic generation coming up against a more orthodox one. These factors will decide the future of the Cuban revolution.
We should be alert to these developments and coordinate solidarity actions and initiatives of the Left which develop in Cuba, with the perspective of correcting the errors but maintaining the drive to convert it into a healthy reference for the struggles which are to come around the world.
In 2005, Bolivia entered the radar of progressive leftist governments which confusedly raised the flag of socialism in the 21st century and employed a radical rhetoric against US imperialism and neoliberal capitalism. Since then, Bolivia has changed, not just because of choosing its first indigenous President, but because the traditional capitalist party system has been dislocated from power.
Recently there were elections, and Evo Morales was elected with an impressive majority; almost 60% of popular support. Surely this is not only due to his indigenous origin and affinity, but also to his reformist policies which have had a significant impact on the population.
Since the nationalization of oil in 2006, (in reality a renegotiation of contracts with the multinationals) in a limited way, and not under the democratic control of workers and the organized people, Evo and the MAS party have achieved greater control over state income, also helped by the boom in consumption of raw materials by emerging powers such as Brazil and China. To give an idea, whereas in the past, the Bolivian state made $300 million annually by exporting its oil and (mainly) gas, projections for 2014 are that it will make $6 billion.
This enormous amount of money has allowed the Bolivian government to develop its reformist politics, with a mixed economy with the participation of private capital with tax concessions and labour flexibility, with the simultaneous application of social assistance programmes that have had some success in an age of economic boom.
The growth rate of Bolivia is now one of the highest in the region in a time of economic slowdown and depression of important economies, like Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil. Evo has managed to lower poverty in these almost 10 years by nearly 18%. He maintains a favourable balance of payments between exports and imports, a very low unemployment rate and a significant increase in per capita GDP.
All these elements have created illusions in the population as demonstrated in the new triumph of Evo and the MAS, winning a Presidential election for the third time. Before 2005 he won-54%, after the referendum in 2009-64%, and now in the election of October this year 60%. But the Bolivian process is closely related and similar, in spite of their peculiarities and differences, to the Venezuelan process, and here the question of the perspectives and development of political strategies for the revolutionary left in the next period comes into play.
Like Chavez in Venezuela, Evo has based his popularity on increased state intervention in the economy, especially in the income distribution of oil and gas wealth in Bolivia which represents 54% of total exports. But the reformist model of Evo, like Chavez, and now Maduro has huge weaknesses and limitations. On the one hand, the dependence on exports of raw materials is subject to price diktats of the global market, dominated by the big powers. Already today we see that as the main product of the Venezuelan economy, oil prices have started to go down and put the Venezuelan economy into complications and seen a retreat of the social reforms.
To the fall and manipulation of the price of commodities, we must add the dependence of these countries on the growth of their main trading partners, China, Brazil, Russia, which are beginning to have problems in their economies. All this is combined in an explosive cocktail which will expose the model of the MAS in Bolivia as has happened in Venezuela.
But the process in Bolivia also has its own particularities. For example, the MAS party has been making political alliances with sectors of the Bolivian right and ultra right, and have incorporated right and far right leaders into the MAS, which has been denounced by the revolutionary left, for example our comrades in Bolivia.
Perhaps for this reason Evo had his first significant electoral results in Santa Cruz, previously the main bastion of right-wing opposition to Evo. This, coupled with the economic situation marks a bit difference with the Chavez phenomenon, which although it has also made concessions to a section of the bourgeoisie, has not made such deals in the political field. While Chavez remains plagued by a sector of the Venezuelan-right, in the case of Bolivia, it seems that a sector of the right has decided to pact with and join the MAS government.
However with these contradictions, the road will not be easy to build a left alternative in Bolivia, or capitalize on the contradictions of MAS, since the crisis of historical references and the recent past under reactionary neoliberal right-wing rule, leaves a large stamp on the consciousness of the workers and the people who, though not exactly, see these regimes as the lesser evil.
For example recently in a Venezuelan newspaper which covered the elections in Bolivia, published interviews with people on the Bolivian streets; and their testimonies were very indicative. “… I vote and support Evo, because we don’t want the governments of the past with those candidates on the right …”.
No doubt in Bolivia the process is open, but the rightward trend of MAS is in full swing. Its outcome will depend not only on the warring political forces in Bolivia but of how processes are developed in the region. The situation in Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela is key to this.
The CWI comrades in Bolivia, look to develop a strategy to expose the weaknesses of MAS and Evo’s policy, emphasizing the need for an independent organization of workers and sectors in struggle. The contradictions of the reformist model of the MAS, will soon enter into crisis and confrontation with its own popular base. Even in recent years, the MAS has had to confront the people and use repression just as did the governments of the right.
The crisis of leadership and lack of a political alternative on the Left intensified after the government, through the bureaucracy of the COB defeated the attempt to build the Workers’ Party (PT) which was an initiative of the combative miners’ trade unionists to argue for a socialist programme against the government and right wing, which would represent the political independence of the workers who denounced the limits of the “process of change”. This step backwards allowed the government to present itself as the only alternative to the right wing, which limited the electoral possibilities, maintaining the political status quo.
A sensitive approach towards the mass of workers and indigenous with illusions in the MAS government, avoiding the pitfalls of sectarianism, is essential for revolutionaries struggling in the country. At the same time, a revolutionary policy in this country will not be successful if it does not struggle consequently against obstacles which hinder the free development of the class struggle, first and foremost the bureaucracy of the unions and social organisations who are tied to the policies of the government. The search for political independence of the workers and popular organisations is a condition for the development of a new movement to fight for a political alternative at the head of the coming struggles.
Mexico and Central America
If there is a region at war with an explosive situation, this is the region of Mexico and Central America, which has been effected like no other by the interventionist policies of the US, with its war on drugs policy of the last decade.
The region has become a tinderbox of confrontation and escalating violence that makes life unbearable for the workers and the poor and oppressed. The “northern triangle”, composed of Guatemala, Salvador, Honduras and Mexico, has turned into one of the most violent and unequal regions in the world.
The murder rate is 50 per 100,000 inhabitants; and the murder of women has reached scandalous figures in these countries. Trade union and political activism has become a high-risk profession, with thousands of trade unionists and peasants’ leaders killed in these countries in the last decade.
The issue of land reform, equitable distribution of income and human rights, have become major political issues in the region. The situation is sometimes desperate shown by the migration of children and adolescents without their parents to the US in search of a “future”.
So far in 2014 more than 50,000 children and young people have tried to cross the border from Mexico to the US, this has forced the Obama government’s hand and the issue of Latino immigration has become a matter of strategic importance for the US ruling class.
It is a situation that reflects the depths of the crisis of capitalism that does not solve the problems of humanity. In Central America the parents of these children and young migrants pay between $5,000 and $10,000 to mafias, to bring their children safely to the US and the possibility of a better life.
However, only 15% of those migrating achieve some sort of asylum or other assistance. The rest either die trying or are held in “shelters” in the US until they are repatriated to their countries of origin. This dramatic situation led John Kerry to go on a tour of those countries seeking to reach agreements with their governments to stop this exodus.
But in contrast to this social tragedy, the predatory policies of big capital and imperialism in the region continue. Most of these countries have signed FTAs with the US which have deepened the social contradictions and stimulated the mobilizations and the Left, especially in the rural sector. This year there were large demonstrations in this sector in Panama, Guatemala and Honduras, which shows that despite such an adverse scenario in the objective conditions there is no alternative but to fight. But it is a fight that has elements of armed violence since the region has a strong paramilitary presence which is indirectly used by the ruling class to kill any “subversive” attempts of workers, peasants and people in general.
The last example of this could be seen in the self-defence of Michoacan in Mexico, where civilians were forced to defend themselves and organise to confront the drug cartels and paramilitaries given the failure of the security policies of the Mexican state .
In the region there are important revolutionary left forces, which pose the question of a socialist federation of Central American nations and advocate a revolutionary socialist programme. Engaging with these organizations, despite some differences, is important for the development of genuine revolutionary political forces in the region.
Equally, it is important to have a policy towards human rights organizations which unlike in many other countries in the region or of developed capitalism, are grassroots organizations in these countries, with strong social support and activists, some of them have even become a place of refuge for leftist activists up against a hostile landscape.
Central America does not have much economic weight except for Mexico, but its geopolitical position is key in the current dispute for the hegemony of the market, as is the case of the Panama Canal where much of world trade passes; and now China is trying to build a new trans-oceanic canal in Nicaragua, based on a 50-year contract, which is renewable for another 50 years and includes an investment plan of $40 billion. China, through its private companies, will have absolute control over this channel.
This poses another question on the political agenda the environmental issue, because of the environmental impact of a mega project like this which would affect the second largest lake in Latin America, the Cocibolca, and 25% of the humid forests of country.
This country today summarizes the situation across the region. After the disappearance of 43 students in the state of Guerrero, the government of Peña Nieto and the PRI can no longer try to separate out the situation of these students as an isolated event. The macabre disappearance of these 43 students was the straw that broke the camel’s back with the situation of siege and violence that exists in this country. The present conjuncture contains elements of a pre-revolutionary situation.
Since the government of Felipe Calderon, predecessor to Nieto, there have been officially over 120,000 disappeared, particularly in the migration process as we mentioned in the previous paragraphs on the northern triangle. The presidency of Calderon officially counted 102,696 homicides. During the current administration, the government has recognized the disappearance of 8,000 people, so the 43 students are the tip of the iceberg. But unfortunately these figures may be higher, since independent studies claim that in Mexico between 2010-2013, between 92 and 93% of cases were not investigated or reported.
Peña Nieto’s government which has just entered its second year in office, had focussed on economic reforms beginning with an amendment to the constitution that reverses the nationalization of PEMEX in 1938 by Lázaro Cárdenas. This reform involves the opening of the Mexican oil industry currently under state control to private foreign capital. The government justified it as a necessity to modernize PEMEX and to resume production levels which have declined in recent years because of delays in technology, but the reality is that the opening of PEMEX to a mixed process of privatization would be the icing on the capitalist elite’s cake in terms of their control over the economy and sovereignty of Mexico.
The attempt to privatize PEMEX and the violence which has broken out in the country, along with the years of accumulated inequalities and abuses of the working class has mobilized sections of the Left in Mexico, but they have still not matured enough to present a coherent viable alternative before the population.
The events of 26 September in Iguala, Guerrero state, marked a turning point in the country. The mobilisations have grown in the last months and what seemed to be only a regional conflict has spread throughout the country. There are national demonstrations taking place and there have been calls for a general strike. This mass movement is going over the heads of the traditional party leaders, of the right and “centre left” – the PRI, PRD and PAN – which have not managed to control the situation.
The disappearance of the 43 students has radicalized the discontent of the working class and poor people in Mexico. The demonstrations have already brought down the mayor and governor of the region where the disappearance of the students took place, and the threat that this effect reaches the national executive is real.
Nieto’s government is in a critical situation. There have even been attempts by government bribes to silence the parents of the 43 students, but the fact is, as we say above, that the 43 students are the tip of the iceberg. The situation in this country today is much more explosive than before, a social explosion of great magnitude would not only affect the Central American region, but also the US and the rest of South America which has historically seen as separate the processes in Mexico.
Again, the subjective factor of a revolutionary leadership is key. It is possible that the government manages to stabilize the situation somewhat, but things have started to move and will be hard to stop. It is true that there have been massive demonstrations and clear pre-revolutionary and revolutionary situations in the history of the class struggle in Mexico which did not materialize in the end. But today, the situation may be different. The global crisis of capitalism affects the ruling elites and gives them little room for manoeuvre, so a clear revolutionary situation in Mexico could not be ruled out in the short term. The learning of the lessons of the failed “Zapatista” uprising, as well as the failures of the PRD, and the formation of a new independent mass workers’ party, remain essential tasks in the country.
However it is still premature to draw conclusions. What is clear is that the situation is reaching its limits and something will happen in this important country.
Surely this country is a thermometer for the region, despite its apparent isolation from the rest of the countries in Latin America due to cultural and language issues. Its economic model has the same basis as the rest of the economies in the region: high dependence on exports of raw materials, subjection to the global market and a political class that rules under the logic of capitalism, as is the case with the PT.
Recently, there were elections in Brazil which were polarized between Dilma Rouseff from the PT an Aecio Neves from the PSDB. Despite the fact that they tried to present themselves as different during the campaign, the fact is that they both have the same neoliberal policies, of cuts to public spending, privatisations and gifts to business, bankers and agro-business.
Dilma, managed to win a close-run second round with a difference of 3 million votes or 51% to 48%. On the other hand between abstention, blank votes and spoiled votes there were more than 13 million people – 28%, reaching around 40% in cities like Rio de Janeiro – which can be considered as a third social bloc that could play an important role in the balance of power in next period. The country seems to have been divided in two between red and blue, “communists” and social democrats, in fact the first words of Dilma after her election referred to this. She said the country is not divided and that her administration will have an emphasis on economics and will call for dialogue and build bridges for national unity.
This post-election scenario may be the turning point for the end of one process and the beginning of a new one where social contradictions are emphasised. A turn more to the right by the PT in Brazil could represent a push for similar governments in other countries.
The traditional right-wing, the PSDB, grew in the last elections. This was the first time that the PT faced the real possibility of losing since Lula’s victory in 2002. The traditional right wing grew because of the economic situation, the slowdown in growth and the reduced margin of maneuver for populist and welfare measures. This growth of the PSDB is the responsibility of the PT which did not differentiate itself politically from the right wing, applying liberal counter-reforms instead of popular reform and attacking and criminalizing social movements.
But this does not mean that the right wing could not take power back. This is possible due to the crisis of revolutionary leadership, the absence of an alternative to the PT, able to capitalize on the growing discontent and defeat the right. This does not only facilitate the Brazilian right, but also the PT which, in a game between “the good, the bad and the ugly”, could manage to stay for some time in power.
The economic outlook for 2015 in Brazil and throughout the region is not very favourable. Estimates of the IMF, World Bank etc., claim that growth will be low and the Brazilian economy will grow less than 1%.
This combined with the global crisis which is already having repercussions in China and Russia and a recovery of the right will mark the struggles in the region, but especially in Brazil. The PT government may make broad alliances with sectors that were previously opposed to it, for example PSOL, an opposition party but whose leadership supported the PT in the second round.
But there is one factor that is not expressed in polls but on the streets. The protests during the last World Cup left a mark, reflected growing dissatisfaction and laid bare the contradictions and limitations of the model of the PT. The indications are that the PT will make alliance with sectors which drew up the political programme of the PSDB, making clear that there are not great differences between the two. For example, it seems that the Interior Minister will be Joaquim Levy. Agro-business and big capital will also be strongly represented.
The Brazilian left must draw up a balance sheet of the elections, draw the lessons and look for common bridges that allow them to articulate a broad united, force capable of challenging the leadership of the PT and the conservative PSDB.
In the first round, PSOL and PSTU won 1.6% of the votes between them, 1.55% for PSOL. One of the reasons for this was the campaign of Marina Silva. Marina Silva, despite not having many differences with Dilma and Aecio, she seemed like a political alternative for an important sector of the population during the June protests of 2013. Without her entry into the race, the PSOL candidate could have won 4 or 5%.
But in the case of PSOL, we must appreciate the fact that their votes doubled compared with the last election and in the case of regional elections in some cities it won a significant amount of votes which reflects the search by the electorate and Brazilian working class for an alternative. But we must also highlight the sectarianism of the PSTU, which stood their own candidate and refused a broader front of the left that would have allowed the Brazilian left to go further.
PSOL is certainly an important space for political action with the perspective of building a political alternative to the PT and PSDB polarization. But it cannot do so alone. The Brazilian working class which carries enormous weight in the country, is yet to appear fully on the scene. There have been expressions of its power in recent mobilizations, and these are sure to grow in the coming years with the deepening crisis. One example of these struggles was the strikes of refuse workers in Rio de Janeiro, bus drivers in different cities and the protests against the World Cup and for housing, by the MTST. A conscious policy towards different sectors, combining and uniting the class struggle in the favelas, the city, the country and the youth will be critical in this process.
LSR (CWI in Brazil) has been developing itself based on these perspectives. It has made some major steps forward opening new possibilities for the revolutionary left. Work within PSOL has provided LSR a valuable experience for the processes ahead. The electoral situation allowed us to agitate with a revolutionary programme and reach wider layers of workers and the poor and exploited people of Brazil. All this accumulated strength and experience will certainly play a key role in developing LSR as a force which attracts workers and young people in struggle.
The election, especially the second round, as in the USA, was not a turn to the right. There was a polarization between more progressive voters and the right wing. This polarization was not accurately reflected in the dispute between Dilma and the PSDB, which both represent the same project fundamentally. This polarization began in June 2013, with thousands on the streets. The most progressive sector was represented in the votes for PSOL, which doubled its vote compared to the last elections. Luciana Genro won 1.6 million votes and PSOL went from 6 to 12 representatives in parliament. Jean Willys went from 11,000 votes to 140,000. PSOLs highest votes for governor were for Tarisco (rio) and Roberio Paulino (Rio Grande do Norte), the latter from LSR, both with more than 8%. Paolo Eduardo Gomes went from 8,000 to 23,000. These were clearly socialist campaigns differentiated from the PT, the PSDB and the majority leadership of PSOL.
Brazil will be a key reference in the region, whose next moves will have weight in other political processes of Latin America, but as we have been emphasizing it will depend also on the class struggle on a global scale.
The Bolivarian Revolution is passing through a period of stagnation after the turning point that was the death of Chavez, which opened a whole new post-Chavez era where the contradictions of the “21st century socialism” model were laid bare. The right has not abandoned the reactionary road to regaining political power, and has once again tried to cut corners by means of violence when frustrated and defeated through elections, first against Chavez in 2012 and then Maduro in 2013.
The right-wing movement called “la salida” led by the most radical sector of the MUD alliance and the right-wing People’s Will party, (whose main leader Leopoldo Lopez is now in prison), Alianza Bravo Pueblo which holds the Metropolitan Mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma , and the “Independent” MP with connections to the most reactionary sectors of the political elite in the US, Maria Corina Machado; earlier this year spurred a mass movement based on middle-class youth which led to violence with elements of a possible civil war.
One example was the border state of Tachira (next to Colombia) which was practically under siege for nearly a month, under the control of the right-wing students with the open support of paramilitaries stimulated by more reactionary elites of Colombia and certainly with the support of the US state department. The demonstrations failed to reach the grassroots Chavista strongholds, but managed to wear down the government and force them to sit at a negotiation table with business leaders and right-wing parties.
These negotiations were, were set up by the Maduro government as a formula to seek a pact of peaceful coexistence between “democratic” sectors of the right-wing opposition and nationalist businessmen who want to invest and “help” develop the economy.
5 months of confrontation left an official death toll of more than 45 deaths and more than 2,000 arrested. This has deepened divisions in both the government and the opposition, which so far has paralyzed negotiations.
The MUD has entered a crisis of leadership and divisions between radicals who want to seek quick solution even stimulating discontent in the army to force a coup or resignation of Maduro. These are against the moderate faction which wants to stay within the democratic and constitutional game hoping to win a majority in the parliamentary elections of 2015 which could accelerate the fall of chavismo. For this they have developed a strategy of sabotaging the economy by promoting speculation, shortages of basic foods and smuggling to generate discontent among the base of chavismo and capitalize through elections.
On the government side the picture is similar, there is a crisis of leadership after the huge void left by Chavez. There are 2 large blocs that are now in the leadership of chavismo, the military who are not socialist even though they use it in the rhetoric and a civil sector coming from a the Left of the 80s and 90s, influenced by the reformist tendencies after the fall of the Berlin Wall. These two sectors have a common enemy that is not the moderate or democratic right-wing but the radicals on both sides who want to deepen the confrontation.
On the side of Chavez, the radical sectors are Left critics who have denounced the pact with a section of the bourgeoisie and demand more concrete action against the right and the capitalists. The government has criminalized them politically, dismissed them as outdated, dogmatic, infiltrates, entryists, Trotskyists, etc. Included in this sector are those who work within the PSUV-chavista bases, and other independent left groups on the periphery of the PSUV or in opposition to it.
This general picture of political confrontation marks this period, but will deepen further in the coming years due to the economic situation that will be key to the future of chavismo. Oil prices have begun to come down, still without threatening a collapse as some right-wing commentators predicted. However it has placed the government in trouble for its failure to resolve the large distortions in the speculative and parasitic economy, which ironically is stimulated by government, which has control over currency.
The government insists on implementing absurd measures of control, with a bureaucracy that has proved itself more and more ineffective, corrupt and counterrevolutionary. Initiatives organized by workers and control from below, taking companies that have been fraudulently closed by their employers and taking over the distribution of food, are isolated or militarized by the government, ending in failure and frustration for workers.
Moreover, the government which has characterized the economic situation as an “economic war” of the bourgeoisie against the revolution, ironically has given concessions to sectors of the capitalist right to work as allies of the government, but with no positive results for workers. In the last period layoffs have increased and basic workers’ rights have been violated as a result of the concessions that the government has given to employers.
The working class faces a chronic crisis of political-and trade union leadership. There is no strong independent representative federation and the struggles that occur are isolated. There is a growing exhaustion and demoralization among some sectors, especially in the public sector, which is crucial because this facilitates the counterrevolution even more.
Elements of criminalization of the struggles, violations of the democratic rights of trade unions and of collective bargaining contracts, are becoming the policy of the state. At the same time, there are as many as four different types of dollar exchanges, which generate inflation that is already more than 60%, the highest in Latin America and one of the highest in the world. This is stifling the purchasing power of workers.
The model of Chavismo has reached its limits and does not present alternatives beyond the same tired old proposals. The bureaucratic apparatus has so much power that every initiative carried out by the executive, regardless of how progressive it sounds, ends up having adverse effects. The problems with the health care system and safety are growing, the social situation parallels the crisis of the 1990s, with the haunting reminder of the “caracazo” of 1989, which left a deep imprint on the political history of this country and in the consciousness of workers.
For the revolutionary left, the panorama is hard and complex. There is not a situation of open civil war or military intervention like in Ukraine, Syria, Kurdistan, etc. But there is a low intensity war that is psychologically killing the population little by little. The long queues to buy food and even basic things for personal hygiene, the escalated violence that is not limited to murder but includes the torture and dismemberment of victims, the exhaustion of 15 years of promises of a new system, a new society that never appears, are all negatively impacting on the consciousness of the masses.
All of these elements have added to the fragmentation and atomization of the revolutionary groups, and the growing confusion within the sectors that are critical of Chavismo, which are unable to differentiate between socialism and political populism and don’t recognize the need for an independent working class force.
At this time, all the social and political forces are regrouping for 2015, and for the parliamentary elections in particular, the results of which will say a lot about the future of the Bolivarian revolution. For revolutionaries like Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI), the challenge continues to be to intervene in the struggles defending a genuine socialist program and denouncing the limitations of the government and its false socialism along with the hypocrisy of the right. But at the same time, it’s necessary to prepare for a possible process of defeat, of setbacks, which may not be as traumatic as similar historical processes, like in Nicaragua during the 1990s o Chile in 1973. Nonetheless, a defeat would effect the process of reorganization of the left for the period of struggle that is coming.
For that reason, it is necessary to pay attention to possible ruptures inside the PSUV and within Chavismo in general. It is possible that in the next period, new left formations will appear that try to utilize Chavez’s progressive legacy, which will continue to be a point of reference in the country. This, however, should not be overestimated. Without a doubt, Chavez left an important impression on the consciousness of workers and the poor, but without a doubt this can change significantly depending on the progress the class itself makes towards a revolutionary approach.
Already this year there were attempted ruptures within the bases of Chavismo and the coming together of new structures that are responding to the current crisis. The experience of the CPR, where the SR CIT played a central role, contains lessons and can serve as a reference. However, this process could be too slow compared with the violent rhythm of change and events as they develop. For that reason, a realistic short term perspective is that Chavismo will stagnate or move to the right or there will be a national unity government including sections of the “democratic” right.
For example, currently as part of the results of the dialogue after the mobilizations of February and May, a process of negotiation was initiated between the PSUV and the MUD parties, to elect new members to the judicial and electoral bodies, the TSJ and CNE. This will consolidate, at least for the moment, the polarization in the PSUV and MUD.
But drawing a determinist conclusion that the prospect of a revolution is already lost would be a mistake. The contradictions will continue unabated and no reformist or right wing policies can resolve them. The end to the Venezuelan crises will come without a doubt with the triumphant democratic socialist revolution.
Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and Paraguay are in socio political situations similar to those analysed in the previously mentioned countries, although each country has its distinct characteristics.
In Uruguay, a relative political stability continues under the Frente Amplio (Broad Front) which is headed towards its third government with the possible election for the second time of Tabare Vasquez who began the governments of this left coalition before the arrival of today’s president, Pepe Mujica.
In Uruguay the government has carried out a very “pragmatic” policy, presenting itself as an ally and partner of the Mercosur-Alba bloc, etc. but at the same time it held negotiations with the pacific alliance bloc and signed free trade agreements with the EU and the current Israeli government. Similar to Venezuela, it has resorted to importing food and meats in response to the internal economic predicament it is experiencing.
But this country is not immune to the processes going on in Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina and the international crisis. Like Bolivia, its relative stability will very possibly be affected by the next round of struggles in the region.
Paraguay continues to suffer from the aftermath of the military coup two years ago, similar to Honduras. In both countries, there is grave persecution of left activists, assassinations and violent repression, which have made the news in the last period.
This country continues to be one of the poorest in the region and the left has been seriously weakened by the dictatorial military regimes and right wing governments. The return of the Colorado Party after it was kicked out of power after 70 years of hegemony by the coalition, PLRA, Partido Liberal Radical Autentico and the Patriotic Aliance for Change, which won the presidential elections in 2008 with Fernando Lugo as its candidate, was a setback for the country. But the situation left a number of lessons for the revolutionary left. 1. There is no solution or guarantee that progressive and reformist governments will save our country from crisis and 2. That the United States will not be willing to lose its hegemony in the region nor permit the expansion of “socialist” or left leaning government to the point of becoming an irreversible phenomenon that affects its geopolitical interests.
The Paraguayan left is living through hard times right now. The resistance movements in the country should be supported by internationalist revolutionary left organizations, to be able to reorganize, learn the necessary lessons and recover the lost terrain and continue advancing. The lessons of events in other countries will also be crucial.
Chile has been experiencing significant changes for six years now. Chilean society and workers have begun to see through the lies of the neoliberal model, which has widened the gap between rich and poor, with Chile as one of the most unequal countries in the world today.
This condition of profound inequality combined with the fact that the Chilean economy is extremely connected to the rhythm of the global economy, which is in crisis, is mobilizing workers and society in general, as they are unable to live a decent life with their incomes.
The privatization of the economy and basic services in Chile, puts workers in a chaotic situation in the face of the collapse following the international crisis, and which will continue to bring workers out onto the street to struggle for the most basic demands.
This has been the case not only with the most recent right wing governments in Chile, but also of the current “Concertacion” government led by President Bachelet. Political instability has characterized these governments in the face of demands for increased democratic rights. In Chile, the constitution of Pinochet’s military dictatorship is still in effect. This situation poses the question of building new points of reference on the political agenda as well as the need for mobilizations and popular organization as strategies of struggle.
SR-(CWI in Chile) not only predicted the current situation which the country is experiencing, it also made use of its small forces to build a very important layer of militants who are up to the task of building a revolutionary working class alternative. As a result, after decades of historical setbacks resulting from the tragic defeat from the coup of ’73, the demand for a workers’ party and to unite the student struggle with the copper workers, the mapuches, and other sectors in struggle, is growing stronger by the day.
Perhaps Chile is not changing at that same rhythm as in other countries, but it will not be isolated from regional processes. As elsewhere, the subjective factor and how struggles develop on a global scale will have an impact.
There is already an alternative political agenda in the street that demands a constitutional assembly, the nationalization of the copper industry, free basic services like education and health care, sovereignty and control over pension funds, agrarian reform, and recognition of the mapuche nation’s rights. These demands are now not only those of small left groups like in decades past. Rather, these demands are part of a broader political program that is defended by many sectors of Chilean society, which are clamouring for change. This will be a central element of the period to come in the class struggle in Chile.
In this key country in the region, the political situation is as complex as elsewhere. It has enjoyed economic growth thanks to the favourable situation in the prices of raw materials in the market. This situation allowed Kirchnerism to have a cushion in order to carry out some reforms and better wealth distribution, despite maintaining fabulous profits for capitalism. But this situation has ended.
The general situation in Argentina does not escape the crisis in the region. The loss of purchasing power by workers, linked to inflation, has produced important discontent among sections of the working class, which has put pressure on the union bureaucracy to struggle for better conditions. This provoked the split last year between the CGT and the government (allies since the beginning) opening up a climate of instability for the government. This crisis produced some splits within the government and also strengthened the more conservative sector of Peronism (the ‘Frente Revovador’ of Presidential candidate, Massa) which won a strong election result and is the favourite to win the Presidential elections next year.
Argentina, with Kirchnerism, had its period of economic and political stability like other countries in the region, but with the sharpening of the international crisis, the limitations of its political proposal became apparent, compounded by the continued effects of the neoliberal governments which left the country mortgaged and subjected to the international financial markets as a result of its foreign debt. The government, despite its rhetoric against the so called vulture fund has maintained a policy of payment of the debt to international speculators. The crisis of the Argentinian economy linked to the payment of the debt is a blow to the workers which have not substantially increased their income in the last decade of growth. It has now entered into a political crisis that is reminiscent of the crisis of 2001.
The panorama is still unclear in this country. The lack of leadership within Kirchnerism after the death of Nestor K and the impossibility of Christina’s re-election has led to a purge within Kirchnerism. The main contenders for succession tend more toward confrontation than unity. The revolutionary left has also begun to show signs of reorganization with the appearance of the FIT, which showed the real potential that exists to raise an independent alternative of the working class and sectors in struggle.
But the FIT, which important sectors of left activists sympathized with and had illusions in, will find it hard to transcend the sphere of the electoral alliance and plant deep and strong roots in the broader movement of Argentinean workers. It has already suffered a recent crisis after its impressive electoral results, because of internal disputes among the leading figures of its three primary organizations, the PO, PST, and “Izquierda Socialista”. This crisis is a bad sign and a confirmation of the need for the FIT to grow and convert itself into a political instrument of the working class and the exploited in Argentina.
Next year there will be elections and there is a possibility that Kirchnerism will lose or at least emerge with a weakened government and divided congress like in Brazil. This situation opens up big possibilities and challenges and the CWI should make every effort to follow the situation and develop a base there.
As we have tried to broadly illustrate, there is a complex and changing panorama in the region, with countries that are currently stable likely to enter into situations of instability and increased conflict, like in Bolivia and Chile, and countries suffering from stagnation and the danger of a move to the right, like in Venezuela, Argentina, and Brazil. And there are countries that appear to have already entered into a period of instability with an uncertain future, like Mexico, Columbia, and parts of Central America.
At first sight, it would appear that a process of change is taking place in the region with a polarization between a liberal sector and another more conservative sector, leaving the revolutionary left on the sidelines. But this is a false image of the region; the movements just underneath the surface which are the product of profound social and political contradictions make this analysis absurd, as shown by the events in Mexico and the process in Venezuela at the end of the 90s.
The revolutionary left in the region not only has the challenge of reorganizing and managing to build broad platforms that offer an alternative to the current situation. At the same time, it must make enormous efforts not to commit errors that allow it to fall into the trap of social democratic and bourgeois democratic electoralism. The combination of the bourgeois democratic demands and revolutionary socialist tasks are key to the whole process today more than ever, but the lack of leadership and organization is the greatest weakness. The recent efforts of PSOL in Brasil, FIT in Argentina, PT in Bolivia, and the Patriotic March in Columbia serve as an indication of what to do and not to do. There are important lessons that must be learned from these experiences of political organization of the working class. From these and other experiences, a lot can be learned about future struggles.
2015 will be a year when the economy is of primary importance in nearly every country in the region, which will put the nationalization of strategic resources on the agenda. The redistribution of wealth, workers’ and basic democratic rights, the question of the right to basic health and education services, the land question, and sovereignty are issues that will appear in upcoming struggles. As revolutionaries we must be prepared as much as possible to be able to intervene and help the movement advance to the left, towards the possibility of a genuine socialist revolution.
In the context of this whole general analysis, for the forces of the CWI in Brazil, Chile, Bolivia, and Venezuela, as well as for the entire region, there will be many difficulties, but also opportunities.
The recent interventions of the CWI sections with the experiences of the PT in Bolivia, the proposal for a new party in Chile, the rich Venezuelan experience, and of LSR in Brazil with PSoL, are examples of the potential of what can be done and what can be built in spite of the difficulties.
However, they are not nor have they been sufficient. The political makeup of the region is beginning to change once again, and possible pre-revolutionary situations or defeats such as in Venezuela are possible perspectives. In every scenario we are obliged to prepare ourselves to give a political response.
The years to come will be a challenge for the CWI on a global scale and in the national contexts of our sections. Even more complex times will soon emerge and the danger of pitfalls as well as opportunities are just around the corner.
The CWI has a history of struggle spanning 40 years, when it has established a presence throughout the entire world and has had important successes with small forces, made a difference and become a point of reference. This entire inheritance is an objective confirmation of what this organization is capable of achieving. For that reason, we must continually and profoundly self-examine and revise the work of building in Latin America, the forms, and methods that allow us to continue advancing and do what needs to be done within the objective reality that is imposed upon us by the capitalist system we are fighting against.