Latin America in Perspective: Between Successes and New Challenges
LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN, 4 May 2015
Movements against governmental fiscal austerity, are they part of the global movement for a culture of peace?
After the lost decades of the 1980s and 1990s that saw Latin America falling into extreme poverty, mass unemployment and the explosion of public debt, the continent has since raised its head and has become an ambitious laboratory experiment for new social and economic policies. Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina … austerity cures imposed on some countries in the region by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank have been abandoned in favor of stimulus policies where the state has taken up a key role in managing the economy.
While some Latin American countries regain their dignity and sovereignty, in Europe, it is the opposite: austerity has wreaked havoc. Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Greece … no country is spared. While the GDP is collapsing, poverty, unemployment, and exploding debt continue to increase. The anti-social austerity policies have provoked popular uprisings that have shaken the powers that be. The parties of the radical left, Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain (who say they want to follow the directions taken by Ecuador or Argentina about the burden of debt), are leading in the polls and producing alarm in Brussels and the financial markets. In addition, there are countless associations, unions, political parties and alternative media in Europe who are applauding the Latin American success. There is a new euphoria in the European radical left, which contrasts with the vision of reactionaries, grotesque, crude and misleading, wanting to ensure that things do not change.
In the past, many Latin Americans looked admiringly at Europe. And even today, Europe is fascinating. This regard towards the old continent comes from many factors: cultural, historical, economic. Some want to know their “motherland” such as Spain and Portugal. Others, such as Argentina, want to go to Italy, the land of their ancestors. Finally, some associate Europe with its history, its great culture and architecture.
But lately, things have started to reverse with regard to Europe’s economic attractiveness. While there are still some Latin Americans trying to reach Europe to better their social and economic conditions, the situation has changed in recent years. The political changes that occurred in many countries of the Bolivarian continent slowed the mass exodus that characterized the years 1980-1990 and early 2000. The innovative economic and social policies driven by some countries of the region in order to bring their people a more dignified life have prompted many people to stay in their country rather than emigrate. Especially now that the story has turned around and today it is Europe that suffers austerity policies. The high levels of unemployment experienced by Spain and Portugal have made those countries less attractive. The Europe that once dominated and had been so contemptuous of its former colonies is now sick and now longer inspires. The situation is so dramatic that many Latin American citizens, including Argentinians, who emigrated in the early 2000s to escape the terrible economic situation have decided to return home.
History is being reversed slowly but surely. Thus, the devastation caused by austerity policies in Europe coupled with the fabulous success of social policies in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador as well as the considerable weight of emerging countries such as Brazil have enabled Latin America to attract sympathy and admiration of those in Europe who are fighting for an alternative economic system and a multipolar world in which each country would play its partition so equal in the community of free nations. Of course they are not trying to copy or emulate the Latin American experience in Europe, but they are inspired and follow the example of countries are achieving significant growth rates, a significant decline in their debt, a dramatic decrease in poverty, and in Venezuela and Bolivia the outright elimination of illiteracy.
In a lecture spoken in French in November 2013 at the Sorbonne, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa remarked that “Europe endebtedness reproduces our mistakes,” alluding to the mistakes South American neoliberal governments like Carlos Menem in Argentina and Carlos Andres Perez in Venezuela. The revolutionary and progressive direction taken by some countries in South America for about fifteen years have been quite a snub to those who proclaimed the “end of history”. The evils affecting Europe are the same that plagued Latin America 20 years ago. However, thanks to courageous Presidents determined to put an end to this situation, things have changed a lot. A reconquest of popular sovereignty, new economic policies, new vision of politics and democracy … Overcoming a past symbolized by exploitation and plunder, described as a violent continent ruled by dictatorships, considered with Africa as the continent where poverty reigns, Latin America has since changed Europe, and more generally the West should take inspiration instead of trying to destabilize it through an old tool always in fashion: imperialism.
Latin America, a threat to the dominant ideology
The least we can say is that the transformations that have taken place in Latin America have not been emulated across the Atlantic. Although the European radical left has praised Latin American transformations, the major parties of the European governments and the media have engaged in a continuous war against the rebellious Presidents of the subcontinent.
Beginning with Venezuela and then followed by other countries that have started to stand up to the Western imperialist powers and multinationals, these countries have become recurrent targets of the European mainstream media. Le Monde, Libération, El Pais, La Repubblica etc., all these powerful media in the hands of wealthy businessmen did everything to give a disastrous image of the new experiences that mark Latin America. Journalistic ethics was dropped to make room for invective, lies and vile caricatures. The media were professionals at propaganda, trying everything they could to give a negative image of the Presidents Chavez, Morales, Correa … Often they have purposely ignored successes in economic and social policy of the countries concerned, preferring to treat their presidents as “dictators” or “populist”. At the same time, the imperialist powers have strongly supported the fascist opposition, first to President Chavez and now to his successor, Nicolas Maduro.
The same thing happens in other countries, with the North American financial support for the Bolivian or Ecuadorian oligarchy for example. We now know the fundamental role played by Western governments, including Washington, to destroy the socialist wave that is sweeping the continent of Bolivar. Why do they attack democratic and sovereign countries? Why are there so many media lies? This distrust of Western nations to what is happening in Latin America is due to the fear aroused by regional and international contagion of Latin American revolutions. The masters of the world economy tremble in the face of a possible “domino theory.” Of course such a change is still far away, but the violence with which the media and the Western powers attack certain Latin American nations speaks volumes about the danger they pose to the global economic and geopolitical order. After the disappearance of the USSR, the United States had become the masters of the world and could act with full impunity. The neoliberal economy was imposed everywhere and the “end of history” was declared. But the awakening of the peoples of Latin America came as a shock a system that believed itself to be all powerful and immune to revolts. The experimental attempts in alternative economic systems to overcome capitalism and the rise of emerging powers have given Latin America a new status and a new will in the world. Now, the continent has its say and is no longer submissive, at least in some countries, to the imperialism and neocolonialism of the United States and European Union. The continent struggles day after day to ensure its economic independence, its “true and final second independence” as the commander Chavez proclaimed.
The road is still very long and the fight against internal and external enemies will not happen without damage. The contradictions inherent in the process of change that affects the continent constitute major challenges for the future.
Challenges for the future of Latin America?
Difficulties, contradictions and challenges remain on the agenda. In this sense, if we want to help the process of change, if we want the revolution of the Latin American peoples to deepen and radicalize and to overcome not just the neoliberal system but the entire capitalist system, it is necessary take on these challenges and to take ownership of them.
Today, considering the desperate situation in Europe, we tend to idealize the Latin American process of integration. Yet the difficulties and contradictions inherent in the process do exist. They are natural and suitable for any process of social change. The countries of Our America more than ever need our solidarity and to be regarded as equals. A friendly attitude would therefore be to point out the risks and challenges that exist without the paternalism and arrogance so characteristic of the European colonial past. We need to facilitate conditions for the deepening of policies for the transition to a new post-capitalist paradigm to the Latin American socialism of the 21st century. The historical responsibility of the European Left should be that of interpreting what is the need of concrete solidarity at every moment, in a world dominated by misinformation and propaganda that grows every day before our eyes. Our goal is simple: to show the world a revolution in Latin America is working. Yes, it is a revolution that is abnormal and sometimes inconsistent, but still it is a revolution that seeks to upset the economic and political order that destroyed their continent. It is a revolution that represents hope and an alternative for all the South, a revolution that is currently contributing to widespread social progress. In this period of systemic crisis of global capitalism, Latin American social policies should inspire other parts of the troubled world, including Europe and North America, to overcome austerity, insecurity and social degradation. So yes, to acknowledge the challenges and contradictions of this process is a fundamental duty for all of us. We need to understand the features and thus be able to argue, demonstrate, in support of a solid foundation and knowledge, that yes, an alternative is possible, yes, the struggle against imperialism and neoliberal havoc is on, to build a world of peace and social justice. As we saw earlier, the situation and the socio-economic conditions in the countries affected by this process have certainly improved. Important political reforms have emerged in most of these countries, promoting increased participation of the population (including indigenous people) previously excluded from the life and political action, and now possessing a “political consciousness”, enabling them to have a major impact. Promoting interculturalism and plurinationality were also a reality, as evidenced by the introduction of the Plurinational State of Bolivia and its new Constitution.
A new development model: is it possible?
The path to a new design / development paradigm has already started with the introduction (at the normative level and in speeches) of the natural element (Pachamama, Madre Tierra in Spanish) as a leading character in development strategies. This is a revolution not to be underestimated. Despite what Marx wrote about the relationship between capitalism and destruction of nature, past socialist experiments have not emphasized, for clear historical and strategic reasons, the need to put nature at the center of policy development. That is to say the dominant design remained fundamentally anthropocentric instead of biocentric. The most significant advances in this direction can be observed in Ecuador and Bolivia, where the introduction of nature’s rights in the constitution is a pioneering new. However, because of the dependence of the extractive economy, these advances and the speeches remain on the drawing board. But at least they are being considered. Words and laws will have to be translated into tangible and effective policies if the change process is to achieved, including the emancipation from the capitalist system, economic integration within the Latin American Progressive Bloc, creating Latin American supranational institutions in key sectors of the economy and the implementation of a national economic strategy based on economic diversification.
But all that glitters is not gold. Hierarchies and power structures inherited from previous periods (colonial and neo-colonial one) are still in place. In the opinion of Francois Houtart, Belgian sociologist, the Latin American process is now a post-neoliberal processes but not yet post-capitalist. For him, the post-neoliberal character is achieved with the reconstruction of the State, recovery of its roles broken free from the hegemonic interference watchdogs of international finance capital: the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. However, at present, we can not speak of it as a post-capitalist transformation. Latin countries (except Cuba) retain economies with capitalist exploitation of the labor force although, unlike in the neo-liberal countries, redistributive policies have improved the workers’ living conditions. In Venezuela the transition has gone further, deepening the Bolivarian revolution has helped to create new forms of organization within companies and self-governing socialist communes.
In addition, in all these countries (except Cuba and Venezuela to a lesser extent) multinationals continue to dictate the law to concerning the extraction of natural resources, oil and mining products. In Ecuador, Chevron is still very influential in the mining policies of the Amazonian oil. In Bolivia, despite major nationalization wave in mining and hydrocarbons, initiated by the Morales government in 2006, multinationals are still there, powerful, aggressive, as usual, trying to pollute ecosystems and enslave local populations. To the east of the country, still under the control of the white oligarchy of the country, Monsanto dictates the law in the vast soy plantations. It is needless to discuss the cases of Brazil and Argentina, as they are further back in the process of structural change.
Origin and nature of these contradictions
It is often asked, why, despite the discourse of political actors in these countries, does the process fail to take off? We believe that this question is poorly worded. The process is not failing to take off. The process is, by its very nature, something that advance in stages. This leads to inevitable contradictions, “a creative tension within the revolution” , as it is called by the Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera. There are inevitable tensions that “on one side, threaten the continuation (of the revolution); on the other, allow to imagine how to move to the next stage”. As we wrote in an previous article of Investig’Action, “to overcome this contradiction, the first step will be democratization and then the appropriation by the society through legal arbitration. You have to push a vanguard guarantor of the common interest. Initially, the object should be to reduce inequalities through redistribution of wealth. The second stage would be the gradual transformation of the people into a collective entity”.
These contradictions will be more marked in the case of countries such as those in Latin America entering the 21st century with characteristics to consider. Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela, for example, were probably the countries most devastated by the neoliberal policies of Western colonialism, the World Bank and the IMF, in agreement with the Western powers. Any remaining fabric of industry was annihilated, indigenous peoples were deprived of their rights, poverty was at catastrophic levels (in 2005 Bolivia was, after Haiti, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere) … One of the most painful legacies of the neoliberal period, which we do not often mention, is undoubtedly the total dependence of the economies of these countries on exports of non-finished products (including crude oil, mining, gas and other hydrocarbons). We must also consider the fact that this dependence is also evident from the side of the technological and administrative knowledge. This fact implies that when they entered the game, the Latin American progressive presidents have found themselves in a state of (total) dependency on international markets and the “game” of international trade in raw materials. To quit this game from one day to another would have meant the inability of these countries to finance their social policies and to support their spending in general. Consequently, in the short-term, maintaining links of progressive countries with international capitalist system is a necessary condition for survival.
The Latin American integration process and the road to socialism of the 21st century are part a long, complex process, tempered with barriers and inevitably contradictory. It is precisely because of these difficulties, which in addition are accompanied by an intensification of imperialist machine on a global scale, that we have the responsibility to monitor and support the movement for emancipation from the old system. It concerns the future of all of us, of all people who struggle for peace, freedom and social justice.
The Culture of Peace News Network (CPNN) is a project of the Global Movement for a Culture of Peace, initiated by the United Nations, where readers exchange information about events, experiences, books, music, and web news that promote a culture of peace. CPNN is owned and managed by the Culture of Peace Corporation, based in Connecticut (USA) and composed of youth teams, including:
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This article is part of the “Journal of Our America # 1″ , to read the Journal click here. Source: Investig’Action.
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