December 13, 2015

Latin America: Tolling Bells of Alarm

R Arun Kumar

THE news coming from Latin America for the past few days is not encouraging. First, it was the defeat of the Peronist candidate Daniel Scioli in Argentina in the run-off for the presidential election. Then came the news of the moves to impeach Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and finally, the opposition victory in the legislative elections in Venezuela. All these events are certainly blows to the centre-left, Left, progressive governments in the continent and Left and progressive forces throughout the world.

Of course, it is not for the first time that the centre-left, progressive governments of the continent are under attack. In fact, right from the day one, they have been subject to various sorts of attacks to destabilise them. The nature and intensity of the destabilising attempts varied from country to country depending on where they stand vis-a-vis their stance towards imperialism and their means to achieve social transformation.




Days before the presidential electoral campaign gathered momentum, various surveys had predicted that Scioli, the candidate from the ruling, Front for Victory, would win comfortably as he was enjoying a double-digit lead over the opposition candidate. Not only did the gap narrow as the campaign progressed, but no conclusive result was achieved in the first round, forcing a run-off.

In the run-off election, right-wing opposition candidate Mauricio Macri won by securing 51.4 percent of the votes to Scioli's 48.6 percent. Peronists, to which Scioli belongs, were in power since 2003, when Nestor Kirchner won the elections in the background of sustained protests against neo-liberal policies. He was followed by the current president Cristina Fernandez, who won two terms as the president.

The loss in Argentina means a substantial shift back to the neo-liberal policies of the era before 2003. Already, president-designate Macri is on record, baring his intentions to introduce free market reforms, including greater privatisation and re-establishing links with international financial organisations like the IMF. He announced his desire to renew partnership with the US and roll back ties with countries like Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Recently he made a statement threatening to expel Venezuela from the MERCOSUR.




Eduardo Cunha, speaker of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies decided to allow impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff. She is accused of illegally manipulating government accounts to cover-up a widening fiscal deficit, while campaigning for her re-election in 2014.

Efforts to impeach Rousseff were in place since her re-election in 2014. Since then, many protests were organised against her, openly calling the military to launch a coup against the elected government. A section of the protesters even declared their desire to push back the country to a dictatorial rule.

The speaker of the Chamber, who had given the go-ahead for the impeachment motion is facing a certain disqualification from the Chamber. Investigations exposed his corruption and many believe that he had permitted the motion to blackmail the government and save his skin.

Whatever be his reasons for the decision he had taken, which are challenged now in the Courts (Court had refused to stay the impeachment process, ruling on a petition filed by the Workers Party; it is to hear another petition filed by the Communist Party, argued from a different angle), it is a difficult moment for Dilma and the forces supporting her government. For the impeachment motion to succeed in the Chamber of Deputies, it needs a two-thirds majority, after which, the motion is sent to the Senate. Given the composition of the Chamber and Senate, where the opposition enjoys the advantage of numbers, it is to be seen how the government will tide over this crisis.

President Dilma Rousseff has called on the public to the streets and fight for safeguarding democracy in Brazil. “For the sake of the health of our democracy, we must defend it (government) against this coup”. Leftist movements have responded to this call and have pledged to defend the government and democracy through mobilisations, and stated that they are now entering into a period of 'permanent mobilisation'.




The most biggest and severest of all the 'blows' received by the Left in the continent is the defeat of the PSUV in the legislative elections in Venezuela. Though this is only the second defeat for the PSUV in the 21 elections held in that country since 1998, given the time and circumstances, it assumes greater significance.

The right-wing coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) won 112 seats out of 167, giving them two-thirds majority. The ruling socialist coalition, the Great Patriotic Pole (GPP) led by the PSUV got 55 seats. Initial figures reveal that out of the 13.5 million votes cast, the opposition won nearly 7.5 million, while the ruling PSUV won 6 million votes or 43 percent. Given the polarised polity in Venezuela, this difference is quite significant. With this majority, the opposition will now have the power to block new spending for social programmes, approve or revoke enabling laws, remove ministers and the vice-president, convoke Constituent Assembly to rewrite the Constitution and remove magistrates of the Supreme Court.


The largest business confederation of Venezuela, Fedecamaras has already expressed its intention to petition the National Assembly to eliminate price regulations and conduct a revision of the Workers' Law passed under the presidency of Hugo Chavez. So, there is going to be a real struggle now in Venezuela, between: the working class to protect their rights; and the oligarchies who have gained a new jump in their step with this victory and are intent in winning back the privileges they had enjoyed before the Bolivarian revolutionary process.

President Nicolas Maduro, in his immediate reaction after the election results, stated: “We have lost a battle today but the fight for a new socialism has barely begun…We see this as a slap to wake us up to act...The struggle for socialism is just beginning – we are experts in starting over, we came from the streets, we are the people of difficulties...It’s not a time to cry, it’s a time to fight”.

Maduro also called for a “discussion and then come up with a plan of action”. A series of meetings in the 'week of discussions' are scheduled – a special meeting of all the organisations and parties that make up the ruling coalition; a meeting of the presidential councils of popular power: those councils that were elected by the bases to represent indigenous people, workers, youth, women, and other social sectors and finally a meeting of all PSUV delegates, to evaluate the situation, make plans, and create proposals.




It is really indeed a time for reflection for the entire Left contingent. While reflecting, we need to consider that though broadly categorised as representing 'pink revolution', all the progressive governments in Latin America are not of one hue. They need to be further sub-categorised into groups: the first comprising of Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, where the governments are trying to break with the neo-liberal policies with the help of popular mobilisations and the second consisting of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, which are trying to give importance to social issues without breaking with the neo-liberal policies. Marta Harnecker, in her recently published book, A World to Build, argues for such a categorisation.

Macri's election in Argentina pushes that country, considered to be implementing a toned down version of neo-liberal policies, to one that will be unapologetic about the implementation of these policies. Harnecker has an explanation for this: “the election of left candidates is tolerated by conservative forces, so long as they remain within the established institutional framework”. In these times of intense global economic crisis, the oligarchies in Argentina feel that the limited 'Peronist radicalism' too cannot be tolerated. In order to maintain and increase their profits, it is necessary for them to do away even with such symbolism and they did just that.

The global economic crisis exposed the limitations of almost all the governments in the continent to devise counter strategies to tide away the crisis. The effects are felt severely on these countries now, with China too changing its growth strategy. Together with this, the counter-strategy of the US to regain influence in the continent is also bearing fruit.

Venezuela is a glaring example, where there is an intense economic war imposed on the country by the global finance capital. Plunging oil prices tightened government's purse strings. The ensuing hardships tested the patience of the people, even of the committed Chavistas.

In all these setbacks to the progressive forces in the continent, the role of the media too cannot be ignored. As Harnecker states: “It is the media, that from the moment of defeat and even before, carries out the role of winning back the hearts and minds of those who made the 'mistake' of electing a leftist head of the state”. The media had used the economic hardships caused by global crisis to generate discontent against the government. On the other hand, popular movements had failed to counter this campaign against the government and mobilise people against the oligarchies who are trying to nail the progressive forces using the crisis as an opportunity.

The economic crisis, inefficiencies in the governmental delivery mechanism, failure to counter the media campaign and mobilise people against the attacks of the oligarchies and above all, failure to translate the understanding of Chavez (“people's problems cannot be solved quickly using the inherited bourgeois State apparatus”) into practice, cost the progressive forces heavily and led to these defeats.

To regain the lost ground, it is necessary for the Left and progressive forces to gain hegemony (in the real sense of the word) over the society. To achieve this, the Left should join forces and rally people once again. Maduro, likened the defeat in the elections to 'losing a battle' and urged the people to rise to 'win the war'. This indeed is the way forward for 'a world to build'.