Latin America: Staring at Challenges

R Arun Kumar

IN the run-off for Chilean presidential elections held on December 17, right-wing, businessman Sebastian Pinera (representing the coalition ‘Let's Go Chile’) won securing 54 per cent of the votes. He has defeated centre-left ruling coalition (New Majority) candidate Alejandro Guillier. The run-off was called as the election could not be decided in the first round with no candidate able to secure the mandatory 50 per cent of the polled votes. With Pinera’s victory, Chile joins the list of South American countries with conservative leaders, Argentina, Brazil, and Peru.

Chilean elections were marked by low voter participation. In the first round, in spite of eight candidates contesting on various platforms, the voting percentage was less than 50 per cent. Even in the run-off elections, only 44 per cent had voted. Apologists of the low voter turnout are taking succor from the fact that these percentages are much higher than the 13 per cent in the primaries and the 43 per cent in the last presidential elections (2013). One thing that appears clear from these consistently low voter turnouts is the growing political apathy.

Disillusionment on politics is rampant among people. According to an opinion poll conducted just before the second round of presidential election, only 29 per cent of polled Chileans identified with either of the two major political coalitions and nearly half of them expressed their disinterest in politics.

Chile's center-Left parties have led the country in the past four elections, with the right wing and centrists winning once in 2010. In 2006, Chile had elected Michelle Bachelet, a candidate of the Socialist Party as the first female president of the country. According to Chilean constitution, no candidate is allowed to run for the office of president for two consecutive terms. So, Bachelet could not contest for re-election in 2010 and the candidate of her party lost the election to right-wing Pinera. He was followed again by Bachelet the current president, whose term ends in March 2018. Now, Pinera won the election once again replacing her as the president.

The policies pursued by both Bachelet and Pinera, did not differ much in terms of ensuring real gains for the people. Neither had mounted a challenge against Chile's free-market liberal model. Irrespective of the fact that both of them represented two opposite political groupings – in common parlance, Left and Right – people could not find much difference between these two, in terms of their adherence to neoliberal economic policies. One example is the refusal of both of them to nationalise private education system, reduce the tuition fees as demanded by militant student protests that took place during both the presidencies. Similarly, the working class, particularly the miners too were disillusioned because the governments of both the dispensations refused to accept their demands.

The Socialist Party in Chile is a classic Latin American variant of the social democratic parties of Europe. In Europe, most of the social democratic parties lost popular support as they had failed to demarcate themselves from the right-wing parties in their adherence to neoliberal policies. People in Europe, vexed with both the social democratic parties and the right-wing parties, either took to abstention from electoral process or voted for the newly emerging political formations who are advocating anti-establishment positions. Similarly, in Chile too, people are expressing their disappointment with the established Left.

The Socialist Party of Chile and its outgoing president Bachelet refuse to learn from their electoral defeat. Instead of self-critically reviewing the reasons for their defeat and their failure to tread a path away from neoliberalism, they sought to blame the ‘ignorant’ people for their failure to turn up to vote. They refuse to acknowledge that the people of Chile are simply not voting because nothing changes for them in any way, as any elected government is committed to neoliberal philosophy.

In this atmosphere of general political apathy, a new political formation on the Left had emerged this year, the Broad Front, whose presidential candidate, Beatriz Sanchez secured 20.40 per cent of the total vote in the first round. The Broad Front emerged from a series of protest movements headed by students and workers. This Front comprised of a diverse grouping of progressive, new-left, liberal parties and protest movements, including the Greens. Only two per cent of the votes separated this newly formed Front from the second placed Alejandro Guillier. This Front has got a crucial role to play in the lower chamber, for which elections were held simultaneously. In a fractured chamber, the Front had won 21 representatives, who will prove decisive in the legislature. The policies they pursue will decide the future of the Front.

HARD TIMES FOR ECUADOR

Ecuador is passing through difficult times. After Rafael Correa voluntarily retired from office and endorsed the presidency of Lenin Moreno, there is a marked shift in the political direction of the administration. Moreno has broken from Correa and is working to appease right-wing political and economic forces. Correa and his supporters have accused the new president of “betraying” the ideals of the ruling party Allianz Pais, which was founded by Correa more than a decade ago. Correa has called Moreno as a “wolf in sheep's clothing” and “traitor” to the principles of the Citizens' Revolution. Those supporting Correa ousted Moreno as the president of PAIS Alliance. The schism in the ruling alliance had a political reflection when Jorge Glas, who served as vice president since 2013 under Correa, was sentenced to six years in prison for corruption.

Glas claims he is innocent and that the accusations and trial are politically motivated. Glas has been in detention since October as he was charged of receiving bribes from Brazilian construction company Odebrecht in return for giving the scandal-ridden firm State contracts. Correa too vouched his support for Glas stating that he is “innocent”. Correa commented that the trial was full of irregularities and had served the objective of the betrayers who had colluded with the right-wing forces – ‘to seize the vice presidency’. He further stated that it is “the same script as with Dilma, Lula, Cristina. It's all a matter of time, and our people will react”.

It is clear from these developments that Ecuador is going through turbulent times and the US plan to destabilise is succeeding. Wikileaks had released a cache of documents detailing how the US is planning to oust the Left from State power and overturn the gains made through the ‘Citizens’ Revolution’, initiated by Correa. It now depends on the people of the country to rise and resist these attempts by mobilising all the popular forces.

VOTE THEFT IN HONDURAS

In the elections held in Honduras, the Left opposition candidate, Salvador Nasralla was denied victory. During the elections held on November 26, Nasralla, candidate of Alliance of Opposition secured more votes than Juan Orlando Hernandez in the first part of the count. But the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), reversed the results and declared the incumbent president Hernandez as the winner on December 17, with 42.95 per cent of the votes.

Majority of the Hondurans expressed their dismay with the result and accuse the government of committing fraud to stay in power by rigging the election. Even the Organisation of American States (OAS), sympathetic to the right-wing regimes in the continent was unable to outrightly deny that the elections were rigged. People are fighting on the streets to restore the legitimacy of the elections and against the threats to democracy. Nasralla, accusing the US of intervention wrote that the fight will continue “until those who decide in USA fall into reason that here JOH (Juan Orlando Hernandez) cannot govern with 90 per cent of the people against him”. The present political crisis in Honduras is in fact a continuation of the situation brought about by the coup instigated against the then elected president Zelaya by the US in 2009. US has been pumping in millions of dollars to influence the economy and social policies of the country through funding the right-wing forces. In spite of all such efforts, it had failed to stop the advance of liberal groups and was ultimately forced to intervene and rig the elections to ensure the victory of the right-wing incumbent president.

The role of US intervention in the recent political developments in Latin America is well documented. Almost all the progressive regimes in the continent are resisting US machinations. The failure of these regimes to ensure a radical departure from the neoliberal policies and in the implementation of alternative policies is also giving rise to discontent among the people. The global economic crisis is exposing the limitations in their political and ideological projects with many social contradictions coming to the fore. Unless they take remedial measures and build an alternate socio-political system against capitalism, it will be difficult for them to live up to the ideals they preach and retain peoples’ faith imposed upon them.

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