The Rise of Right-Wing Internationalism in the Iberosphere
EARLY in 2020, the leader of Spain’s right-wing party Vox, Santiago Abascal, went to the United States to attend the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) meeting. Abascal came to Washington, DC, along with Iván Espinosa de los Monteros, the deputy secretary of Vox’s international relations department. The two men spent time meeting the leadership of a range of right-wing think tanks, such as the Heritage Foundation and the International Republican Institute. They discussed the need to create a right-wing think tank in Spain and to deepen right-wing internationalism. Abascal and Espinosa de los Monteros returned home and – in July 2020 – created Fundación Disenso, a name already bristling with its strange politics. The reason Abascal used the word “Dissent” is that Vox and other right-wing groups have begun to make the case that the left – including the Communists – are using authoritarian means around the world to prevent the right-wing from putting forward their ideas.
Later in the year, Vox’s Dissent Foundation published the Madrid Charter: In Defense of Freedom and Democracy in the Iberosphere, with the Iberosphere referring to the Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America. This brief text warns about the rise of the left both in Spain and in Latin America. “The advance of communism poses a serious threat to the prosperity and development of our nations, as well as to the freedom and rights of our compatriots,” says the text. Spain is currently governed by a left of centre coalition (which includes the Communist Party of Spain, two of whose party members are ministers in the government); meanwhile, in Latin America, the victory of the left and centre-left in Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, and Nicaragua and the establishment of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (CELAC) is a significant challenge to the right. The Madrid Charter uses greatly exaggerated language – “yoke of totalitarianism” and “subjugating freedoms” – to whip up frenzy about the “threat of communism.”
In September, Vox and the Dissent Foundation used the Madrid Charter to launch a Madrid Forum, a platform to bring together right-wing groups into deepened collaboration against the left and centre-left. The Dissent Foundation claims that thousands of people from over twenty countries have signed the process, mostly leaders from a range of minor right-wing formations. Over the course of the past year and a half, people from the Dissent Foundation and from Vox visited several countries in Latin America and Portugal to sign up parties of the right-wing and right-wing politicians into their network. The Madrid Charter was signed by several important figures in the trans-Atlantic right-wing, including Eduardo Bolsonaro – the son of the Brazilian president and a member of Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies, José Antonio Kast – the leader of the Republican Party of Chile and a presidential candidate, Paola Holguín – advisor to Colombia’s right-wing former president Álvaro Uribe, and Grover Norquist – president of Americans for Tax Reform and a major figure in the US right-wing. Portugal’s fascistic party – Chenga – has signed up to this initiative, with party leader André Ventura signing up as one of the leading representatives.
The Madrid Charter lays out what brings these right-wing figures and movements together. Part of the region of the Iberosphere, says the Charter, “is being held hostage by totalitarian regimes inspired by communism, supported by drug-trafficking and third countries. All of them, under the umbrella of the Cuban regime and initiatives such as the São Paulo Forum and the Puebla Group, are infiltrating into the centres of power to impose their ideological agenda.”
These two groups – the São Paulo Forum and the Puebla Group – are important formations of the various left formations in Latin America and the Caribbean. The São Paulo Forum was set up in July 1990 by Brazil’s Workers’ Party (PT) at the initiative of Cuba’s Fidel Castro to discuss the possibility of a left project after the fall of the USSR; 48 parties and organisations from the region came to São Paulo for this meeting. It brought together a variety of the centre-left and left formations. When Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez died in 2013, the unity of the Forum began to fray. A raft of right-wing and centre-right governments – egged on by the United States and Canada – formed the Lima Group in August 2017 with an express purpose of overthrowing the government of Venezuela. The appearance of the Lima Group and pressure on centre-left and centre-right governments disrupted the unities of the Forum. Several attempts were made in the years since 2013 to refocus attention, the most significant recent one being the creation of the Puebla Group, founded in July 2019 at a meeting of various left groups held in Puebla, Mexico; the people and organisations who came for the meeting of the Puebla Group were not aligned with the process taking place in Venezuela. The left in Latin America remains fragmented around important questions, notably around the assessment of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela.
Neither the Forum nor the Group have developed a strong enough project to threaten the overall policy framework of US imperialism and neoliberalism. The right-wing exaggerates their strength as a mechanism to organise its own platform. Far more significant than the Forum and the Group has been the recent meeting of the CELAC in September 2021, where Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador suggested that CELAC replace the Organisation of American States (which has Canada and the United States). The Madrid Charter does not mention CELAC, which is a body that includes 32 countries from the hemisphere, including several countries currently governed by right-wing formations (such as Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, and Uruguay). At the CELAC meeting in Mexico, the right-wing were marginalised by left, led by Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro. It was enough to send a tremor to Washington, DC and across the Atlantic to Madrid. Former US president Donald Trump’s framework of the “axis of tyranny” (Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela) remains alive and well in the administration of current US president Joe Biden, with the entire architecture of the illegal sanctions regime firmly in place as well as military threats through “exercises” in the Caribbean Sea. Vox and the Dissent Foundation are part of this regime change operation, rooted in an anti-communist obsession.
In 2019, Trump’s lead strategist Steve Bannon relaunched The Movement in Brussels (Belgium). Bannon’s ambition is to organise the hard right inside Europe into a massive movement. Interest in The Movement drifted across the Atlantic Ocean. Eduardo Bolsonaro, a signatory of the Madrid Charter, signed up as Bannon’s agent in Latin America.
These men are seized with the great desire to be in power. Both Trump and Bolsonaro have used right-wing mobilisations to threaten democratic institutions to deepen or maintain their power. This includes Trump’s armies trying to seize power over the US government on January 6, 2021 and the less fertile attempt by Bolsonaro’s supporters to overrun Brazil’s Supreme Court on September 7, 2021; these follow a thwarted attempt in Spain led by old fascist military officers and Vox politicians to overthrow the centre-left coalition government and install a government of the hard right (nicknamed Operation Albatross). Brazil and Spain are the main beachheads for Bannon’s project, which – to be clear – has yielded few results to date.
The habits of the coup run through these men, whose commitment to democratic principles and institutions is limited. The Dissent Foundation and other such projects are designed to delegitimise the governments and movements of the left, painting them in the worst light and then offering regional support for the US-driven hybrid war. It is out of these kinds of gatherings that the Lima Group was formed to target Venezuela. No comparable gathering of the left (the Forum or the Puebla Group) has asserted such politics, since these are mainly about finding ways to strengthen cooperation and to learn from each other about policy initiatives that undermine both imperialism and neoliberalism. There are no two-sides to the developments in the Iberosphere: the left is trying to drive a project of collaboration and the right is building the armies of confrontation.