The new crossroads of Latin America

Gabriela Pinilla, Delivery of weapons, Oil on copper, 28 X 50 centimeters, 2015, Bogotá, Colombia


The left needs diagnoses and programs, but no written document will solve the enigmas of the militant experience

The regional situation is marked by the traumatic scenario generated by the pandemic. Latin America has been one of the international epicenters of the infection, with two countries with the highest number of deaths per million inhabitants. The danger of facing a second wave of Covid-19 with few vaccines is now beginning to emerge.

The coronavirus has spread in fertile ground for the explosion of contagions, among impoverished sectors and those housed in houses without running water. Overcrowding made it impossible to meet the minimum requirements of social distancing and there were dantesque scenarios of selling oxygen, overcrowded hospitals and a shortage of beds.

This impact was most devastating in countries affected by the dismantling of public health systems. In Peru, the tests were totally ineffective due to the lack of primary care for infected people. The country most praised for neoliberalism leads the percentage of fatal victims.

Bolsonaro's criminal denialism multiplied the number of deaths in Brazil. The hallucinated president walked the beaches making speeches against social distancing, while those killed by suffocation accumulated in intensive care units. Bolsonaro hampered all aid measures and allowed the disease to spread uncontrollably among the lowest income strata.

This ruthless extremism coexisted in the region with improvisation, in all countries that downplayed the disease and introduced belated or ineffective quarantines. In Argentina, protection policies prevented the saturation of hospitals, deaths in the streets and burials in mass graves. But the death toll rose as the safeguards ran out. The campaign of erosion that the right led undermined all the precautions that the government did not know how to maintain.

Cuba showed how to avoid these hesitations. With a solidarity strategy of territorial organization, it guaranteed prevention and achieved a stable low mortality rate.

The big challenge now is to accelerate vaccination to ensure a decrease in infection. But Latin America has not had access to the much-desired vaccines. At the start of the international operation against Covid-19, three-quarters of vaccines were administered in 10 advanced countries. In 130 countries with 2,5 billion people, no doses have yet been administered, and South America has received only 5% of vaccines distributed worldwide.

Degradation in all areas

The economic and social impact of the pandemic has been as severe as its effect on health. It deepened inequality and seriously affected the 50% of the workforce that survives in the informal sector, who were forced to increase their family debts to counteract the brutal drop in income.

The digital divide has also widened, with dire consequences for those excluded from basic communication services. Only 4 out of 10 homes in the region have fixed broadband. This gap prevented distance learning from working and led to a missed school year for half of children and 19% of adolescents. [1]

The pandemic also precipitated a brutal economic meltdown. The estimated GDP contraction last year varied between 7,7% and 9,1%. Latin America suffered the biggest contraction globally in terms of working hours. This drop was double the international average, accompanied by a decrease in income of the same size. [2].

As the region has been going through a five-year period of stagnation, the coronavirus has accentuated a huge economic decline. Forecasts a few months ago pointed to the disappearance of 2,7 million companies, the loss of 34 million jobs and the incorporation of 45,4 million new poor people into the universe of the unprotected. [3]

To make matters worse, signs of recovery are weak. The region's growth forecast for 2021 (3,6%) is much lower than the world average (5,2%). If this estimate is confirmed, Latin America's GDP will not return to its pre-pandemic level before 2024. These disappointing figures will, in turn, depend on the supply of vaccines and the continuity of an economic recovery without the influence of new strains of coronavirus .

A quicker recovery will have to contend with the depletion of fiscal and monetary reserves after a year of massive government bailouts. The resumption of a cycle of massive debt is also not very credible. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) continues to make hypocritical aid speeches, but in reality it has limited itself to implementing derisory debt relief for some ultra-poor countries. It repeats the attitude it adopted in the 2008-10 crisis, praising regulation during the storm and fine-tuning its traditional demands for adjustment.

The coronavirus has not sensitized transnational companies either, which have dispensed with any humanitarian pretense, continued to demand payments and distribute profits. Latin American governments that signed international “investment protection” treaties faced new demands for huge sums during the health tragedy [4].

Thus, Covid-19 aggravated all the imbalances caused by decades of neoliberalism, a bet on the primary sector and indebtedness, as well as accentuated financial suffocation, trade imbalance, the decrease in production and the contraction of purchasing power. These restrictions will only begin to be resolved with another model and another policy.

Crisis in conservative leadership

The pandemic has been used by right-wing governments to militarize their administrations. In Colombia, Peru, Chile and Ecuador, states of exception were established with a growing role of the armed forces. Repression included virulent forms of state violence. The murder of a young juggler by carabineros in Chile and the massacre of young girls in Paraguay are recent examples of this barbarism. Every week the name of a Colombian social activist killed by paramilitary forces is heard.

Conservative restoration governments are determined to establish authoritarian regimes. They do not promote the overt military tyrannies of the 70s, but disguised forms of civil dictatorship. This new breed of institutional coup has a high level of regional coordination.

On the right, the division between extremist and moderate currents persists, but both groups join forces in decisive moments and promote a common strategy of banning the main leaders of progressivism.

The right uses the devices of the lawfare to disqualify adversaries and capture governments. It obstructed the candidacies of Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Evo Morales in Bolivia, extending to other countries the mode of action used to remove Lula from Brazil, and coordinated parliamentary, judicial and media coups to remove opponents, in operations that tried to invalidate the mandate from AMLO in Mexico or Cristina Kirchner in Argentina [5].

Fraud functions as a complement to this proscription. It is being used in Central America, failed in Bolivia and was imagined in Chile to manipulate the Constitution. With equivalent mechanisms, numerous changes were consummated in Peru in the face of each collapse of the political system.

These operations to constrain progressivism have the explicit support of the armed forces. In Bolivia, the military coup happened again and in Brazil, the details of the insurrection that the military leadership was preparing, in case Lula participated in the presidential race, became known.

In Brazil, the participation of the judicial class and the hegemonic means of communication in the coup was also verified. Judge Sérgio Moro's behavior was as brazen as the lies spread by Rede Globo. The mainstream media assumed unprecedented importance in shaping the agenda of the ruling classes across the region.

The US embassy also maintains its traditional importance in the architecture of conspiracies. The US directly supported the coup in Bolivia and is currently intervening in Ecuador to place its candidate in the presidency.

In addition to this, the right has also revived primitive speeches and delusional campaigns against communism, for example warning against Chinese fantasy conspiracies and denouncing hidden socialist goals in well-known figures of the establishment.

The conservative ideology has the important support of the evangelical churches that have expanded fighting against the contesting variants of Christianity (for example, liberation theology). They entrenched themselves in campaigns against abortion, incorporating all the myths of neoliberalism. They sponsor presidents, ministers and deputies and have gained enormous influence by replacing the State in helping the most vulnerable. [6].

But the conservative project of returning to power that followed the progressive cycle is affected by the erosion from which its main figures suffer. Sebastián Piñera rules almost alone, Jeanine Añez is trying to escape the courts, Álvaro Uribe has spent several weeks under house arrest and Lenin Moreno is packing his bags. A similar misfortune is experienced by Juan Guaidó – left without accomplices – or Mauricio Macri, who fantasizes in solitude about an unlikely return.

The defeats suffered by the right in the last round of elections (Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Bolivia) confirm its difficult moment. In Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso recently lost half of the votes cast in the previous election.

But this crisis of the right is not synonymous with the decline of neoliberalism, a model that persists with more devastating experiences. Its managers are promoting the “shock doctrine” to implement, in the post-pandemic period, new privatization policies, trade liberalization and labor deregulation. The experience of 2009 confirms that neoliberalism will not disappear by the mere presence of the crisis or by the increasing regulation of the State. Its removal requires a popular mobilization.

In the short term, the continuity of the conservative wave of return to power is subject to the fate of its two main figures. In Colombia, Iván Duque finds himself in a conflict with Álvaro Uribe that has undermined the homogeneity of the right-wing bloc, all of this in a context of resurgence of social struggle and consolidation of the alternative figure of Gustavo Petro.

In Brazil, Bolsonaro's fate raises very different predictions. Some analysts stress that he continues to command the political system, stressing that he maintains control of Congress and uses new welfare measures in social policies to seduce, with greater public expenditure, disadvantaged voters. On the other hand, another stream of analysts highlights the crushing defeat of the far-right candidates in the recent state elections, highlighting the prevailing indignation over the management of the pandemic and stating that the establishment is already preparing a centre-right replacement. In any case, the level of popular intervention will determine what happens in the future.

Continuities and possible changes with Biden

Trump's defeat introduces an increased degree of difficulty to the right in the region, with the retrograde figures (Mike Pompeo, Elliott Abrams) who managed the latest conspiracies in Latin America leaving the US State Department.

Bolsonaro has no reference, Álvaro Duque is trying to build new support networks and the Lima Group is adrift. It will no longer be easy to repeat the imperial contempt for the region, with provocations against immigrants or disrespect for commitments in the management of multilateral organizations (BID).

On the other hand, the assault on the Capitol, instigated by Trump, also affects the Latin American right, as it pulverized the arguments used by Washington to intervene in the region and undermined the authority of the US State Department to maintain the lawfare. Furthermore, the scandalous electoral process in the United States also makes it difficult to contest elections in hostile countries. The OAS's criticism of the elections in Venezuela now contrasts with its silence in the face of the fascist occupation of the US Congress.

Biden will try to overcome these obstacles through a policy of domination with good manners. He will seek to bury the bad manners and disrespect of his predecessor, in order to renew alliances with the establishment Latin American. His background leaves no doubt about his foreign policy: he supported Margaret Thatcher in the Falklands War, supported the crimes of Plan Colombia and concealed DEA operations in Central America.

During the election campaign, Biden used the same slogans as Trump to seduce reactionaries in Miami, having already stated that he will recognize the ghost presidency of Juan Guaidó in Venezuela and not pronouncing on when he will revoke the classification of Cuba as a terrorist state.

Biden will look for tricks to reduce China's presence in Latin America. It will seek to find regional partners for US multinationals that are moving factories from Asia to locations closer to the US market. It will also try forms of hemispheric coordination for the new businesses and companies that the digitization of work provides.

The myth that the United States is not interested in Latin America has been disproved by the Trump administration itself, which promoted 180 business summits and 160 agreements and commercial exchanges with large capitalist groups in the region. Both Republicans and Democrats aspire to regain Washington's dominance over the continent, as a prelude to the desired regain of world primacy. This objective requires, first of all, to contain China's overwhelming presence in the region.

But Biden is conditioned by his predecessor's failure to do so. The Asian giant consolidated its investments and exports in all countries, without the United States being able to stop this avalanche. Even Bolsonaro – who initially hinted at wanting to cool down relations with the new power – had to back down, under pressure from Brazilian exporters.

Not even the signing of the new free trade agreement with Mexico (T-MEC) has weakened the Chinese presence. Asian companies continue to do business in Central America and lithium is the hot new activity in Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, constituting a test case to see if Biden can reverse the current difficulties of American companies. But the truth is that whatever deals Washington envisages will depend on the prevailing political context.

street challenges

The main threat facing the conservative resurgence is the renewed wave of popular mobilizations. The landslide victory of the MAS in Bolivia was a direct result of this mobilization, as the huge protests that took place there were reflected in the electoral results.

The army did not dare to repress the huge roadblocks that imposed the holding of elections and prevented the consummation of a new coup. The dictatorship was swallowed up by its own disastrous management of the pandemic and the festival of corruption that enraged the middle class.

MAS has once again shown a great ability to articulate direct action with electoral intervention and, in the euphoric atmosphere that surrounded Evo Morales' return to the country, a new generation of leaders is now taking up government action.

In Chile, too, the victory achieved in the referendum on the Constitution was the result of continuous mobilizations. The pandemic has not deterred a new generation of militants from taking to the streets, laying their bodies in front of police officers who fired into the eyes and threw protesters into the river, with dozens dead and hundreds maimed as a result.

Chile is now preparing to bury the legacy of Pinochetism and can crown the long struggle started by the penguins (2006), continued by the students (2011) and consolidated by different sectors of the population (2019-2020). The way is now open to advance towards a sovereign and democratic Constituent Assembly, which will bury the nefarious regime of inequality, private education and family debt.

In Peru, the recent explosion of street fighting has been more surprising and spontaneous. It channeled the accumulated popular discontent against the regime that since 1992 has ensured the continuity of neoliberalism through the rotation of presidents removed by Congress.

Young people, summoned through social networks, staged a revolt against the Fujimorists, Liberals and Apristas who disputed among themselves the cake of corruption. That shameless greed has led to five presidents in prison and one to suicide.

For several days, Peru experienced a scenario similar to that of 2001 in Argentina. The downfall of a lying president was precipitated by the murder of two students, and avenues were opened to fight for a Constituent Assembly.

In Ecuador, the protagonism of several popular subjects in the revolts was confirmed. The indigenous movement played a notable role in the uprising that brought Lenin Moreno to his knees (in October 2019), having first led the local resistance against the fuel increase and then commanded the march on the capital that imposed the annulment of the price hike.

This victory recalled the precedent of three presidents overthrown by the intervention of the indigenous movement (1997, 2000 and 2005). In the last insurrection, the indigenous movement imposed the revocation of a decree drawn up by the IMF, after occupying its premises. The successes achieved on the barricades were embodied in a political event that summarized the main demands of popular organizations.

The same tendency for street protests has also been observed in Guatemala, in the large protests against cuts in social benefits in the state budget. These demands have become central in a country torn apart by state terrorism.

In Haiti, another relentless battle has been unfolding since 2018. Massive mobilizations gathered a fifth of the population demanding the immediate resignation of the government. President Moisé established a de facto regime by extending the term of office. He has suspended Parliament, bypassed the judiciary and is supported by the foreign military occupying the country.

In addition, it encouraged criminal banditry to terrorize opponents and crush street fighting. The United States, France and Canada have acted with colonial arrogance to keep their puppet in a crisis that is neither eternal nor insoluble, but rather the consequence of repeated imperialist interventions in a country ravaged by the ruling class.

Thus, in different corners of the hemisphere, the same trend can be seen for the resumption of the revolts that convulsed Latin America at the beginning of the millennium. The right does not find instruments to face this challenge.

moderate progressivism

The last wave of presidential elections did not resolve the issue of the predominance of conservative restoration or center-left governments. There were right-wing victories in Uruguay and El Salvador and opposite-wing victories in Mexico and Argentina. In Bolivia, the left has won and an outcome is close in Ecuador.

During the current year the governments of Peru, Chile, Nicaragua and Honduras will be at stake and legislative elections will be held in El Salvador, Mexico and Argentina. The results will shed light on the possibilities for a restart of the progressive cycle. O establishment continues to express serious concerns about this possibility and the consequent rehabilitation of the geopolitical axis forged in the last decade around UNASUR [7].

But moderation is the predominant characteristic of the new figures of progressivism. This impression is very notorious in Alberto Fernández, López Obrador, Luis Alberto Arce and Andrés Arauz and is verified in the two representative governments of the new trend: Argentina and Mexico.

The president of the first country hoped to reverse the dismal legacy of Mauricio Macri with slight improvements compatible with the privileges of the powerful. Yet he faced the coronavirus woe against a backdrop of furious right-wing aggression and opted for hesitation and vagueness.

The conservative opposition blocked Alberto Fernández's project to nationalize a large bankrupt company and forced him to make concessions to the financial sector through pressure from exchange rates. In addition, Fernández also violated his election promise with a pension adjustment formula that reduces the impact of inflation. But, conversely, the president has resisted calls for currency devaluation and introduced a wealth tax that lays the groundwork for progressive tax reform.

The Argentine government is not implementing the adjustment demanded by the richest, nor the redistribution demanded by the popular sectors. It is trying to take a middle course, in which, on the one hand, it has evicted homeless families and, on the other hand, facilitated the approval of abortion. In foreign policy, he condemns and supports (depending on the occasion) the Venezuelan government and distances himself from the OAS, while strengthening ties with Israel.

Alberto Fernández is in the moderate quadrant of progressivism, without defining what kind of Peronism will prevail in his administration. Over 70 years, Argentine justicialism has included multiple and contradictory variants of nationalism, characterized, for example, by social reforms, right-wing virulence, neoliberal changes or reformist trends.

The current profile will be marked by the government's reaction to an opposition that sought to install chaos in order to judicialize (and paralyze) the political system. The level of popular mobilizations will also influence the course of government.

Mexico is the second example of this type of late progressivism. AMLO appeared after a tough confrontation between the PRI and PAN elites, which for several decades had been supported by the main economic groups. AMLO took advantage of the division of these elites – and the impossibility of repeating traditional fraud mechanisms – to reach the presidency.

López Obrador presents as positive achievements some democratizing initiatives in the investigation of the massacre of Ayotzinapa (the 43 students murdered by narco-criminals), the suspension of the construction of controversial airports and the cancellation of a reform that promoted the privatization of public education. Its strategy of major infrastructure works, to recover the energy sovereignty undermined by the importation of gasoline from the United States, is also an element to be highlighted.

But, in fact, regressive decisions prevailed to reinforce the trade agreement signed with Trump (T-MEC), maintain the contested project of the Mayan train and accept the army's active intervention to stop the flow of migrants to the North. This military involvement included the creation of a new National Guard to deal with the scourge of violence. Although it managed to lower the homicide rate, Mexico continues to be gripped by criminal violence that claimed the lives of 260.000 people. [8].

López Obrador shares the ambivalence of Argentine foreign policy. He distanced himself from the Lima Group, recognized Venezuela's sovereignty, and hosted Cuban doctors fighting Covid-19. But at the same time, he made an enthusiastic visit to Trump to ratify the free trade agreement.

AMLO's administration well represents the lukewarmness that marks the second wave of progressivism. His timidity in implementing transformations of any importance surpasses that of his colleague in Argentina. Although it is appropriate to place him in the universe of progressivism, AMLO is quite far from cardenismo and in a context marked by the weakening of the working class and the distancing of the anti-imperialist legacy.

Radical Progressivism

There are two governments in the region that come from radical tendencies that are different from conventional progressivism. Evo Morales and Hugo Chávez built convergent models, but at the same time distant from Kirchner or Lula. To what extent do his successors Luis Alberto Arce and Nicolás Maduro maintain this dynamic?

In Bolivia, the question will begin to be answered when the new leaderships within the MAS become clearer. At Luís Alberto Arce's debut, the initiatives anti lawfare have been outstanding. Trials against those responsible for the massacres perpetrated by the coup leaders have already begun, but it is not yet known whether there will be an effective purge in the army.

The main doubt lies in economic policy: will the government be able to resume the achievements of the previous administration? During the presidency of Evo Morales, a model of productive expansion with income redistribution was implemented, which placed the country in record growth and social improvements. The secret of these results was the nationalization of natural resources, within a framework of macroeconomic stability and coexistence with the private and informal sectors.

The direct management by the State of strategic companies was decisive for capturing the income generated by the highly profitable sectors. The State absorbed and recycled 80% of this surplus and made it mandatory for banks to direct 60% of their investments to productive activities.

With this regulation, “de-dollarization” was achieved, an increase in consumption and a multiplication of investment. Extreme poverty decreased from 38,2% (2005) to 15,2% (2018) and per capita GDP increased from 1037 dollars to 3390 dollars. The incomes of the middle classes increased along with the expansion of purchasing power, due to a program based on the nationalization of oil [9].

It remains to be seen whether this model will regain vitality in the new international context and whether the great burden of underdevelopment that characterizes Bolivia will facilitate this expansion. The government's first measures included an annual tax on large fortunes, as well as projects to make the local industrialization of lithium effective through agreements with foreign companies. The coup plotters had interrupted this plan in order to consummate the simple looting of natural resources. But the global direction that Luís Alberto Arce will take still does not seem to be defined.

Lights and Shadows

As in Bolivia, the right suffered an important defeat in Venezuela. The coup leaders, who held the government of Bolivia for a year, were never able to break chavismo. The Bolivarian process defeated all conspiracies generated by Washington.

The differences between these two experiences are numerous. In Venezuela, the ruling class rejected all attempts at conciliation or minimal coordination with the government, having sabotaged all its initiatives, following the script of hostility conceived by the US embassy.

This climate of permanent aggression prevented the emergence of an economic model similar to the one built in Bolivia. The US tolerated the autonomy of that small country, but did not accept the loss of the main oil reserve in the hemisphere. That is why they do not stop launching themselves against Venezuela.

This strategic nature of the imperial confrontation with Chavismo reinforces the defeat suffered by the squalid. Washington's support for Juan Guaidó is sinking and the latest coup attempt rehearsed with the escape of Leopoldo López has faded into oblivion. Military provocation operations continue with new regroupings of paramilitaries on the border with Colombia, but the plots lost effectiveness. The disgraceful failure of the landing of Yankee mercenaries was a heavy blow for the conspirators.

In addition, the right also failed to prevent last December's elections. The farce of parallel elections was inconsequential and a part of the opposition ran for official elections. With the majority of the party in power in the new National Assembly, Chavismo recovered the institution sequestered for several years by the coup leaders.

The puppet Juan Guaidó maintains US recognition, but he is on the defensive and is tarnished by numerous corruption scandals. He has lost his ability to mobilize and faces criticism from his own group.

But chavismo also faces serious problems. He won the last elections with a high percentage of abstention. Voter turnout of 32% was not the lowest of the Bolivarian era, nor did it reach the minimum levels customary in many countries. But this low turnout at the polls illustrates the tiredness that prevails in the population. The loss of one million votes by the ruling party took place against a backdrop of dramatic difficulties.

The economic crisis is huge. Gross domestic product has dropped 70% since 2013 under the shocking scourge of stagflation. Harassment orchestrated by imperialism and its local partners brought about a brutal collapse.

The country endured programmed and selective shortages of essential goods, along with systematic sabotage of the financing of the state oil company (PDVSA), prevented from refinancing debts or acquiring spare parts for the continuity of production. Crude oil extraction has dropped to an unprecedented level and international reserves have shrunk from USD 20 billion (2013) to USD 6 billion (2020). Currency depreciation has lost all possible parameters in the face of mind-boggling hyperinflation rates [10].

The obvious external determinant of this economic chaos does not explain everything that happened. The government has also been responsible for improvisation, powerlessness or complicity. It passively tolerated a productive collapse that contrasted with the enrichment of the boliborgia. It allowed the decapitalization generated by capital flight, which implied a brutal jump in the outflow of funds from 49.000 (2003) to 500.000 million dollars (2016).

Regime supporters ignored all critical chavismo proposals to introduce controls on banks, change the allocation of foreign currency to the private sector, encourage local food production, and involve the population in price controls. Corrupt people who overcharge imports, transfer currency abroad and profit from currency speculation were also not seriously penalized. The debt audit – to clarify interest payments to empire creditors – was ignored [11].

Recently, the relief introduced by the use of dollars to recover consumption was interrupted by the pandemic. The later decision to implement an anti-blocking law (in order to circumvent external asphyxiation with incentives for private capital) has been strongly criticized by left-wing economists, as it hampers exchange controls and encourages privatizations. Political reasons – which prevented Chavismo from forging an economic model similar to that of Bolivia – continue to influence the country.

Lately, there has been more and more criticism from radical sectors of Chavismo regarding President Nicolás Maduro's intolerance towards leftist critics. Some consider that the basic structures are being weakened in order to facilitate the business of wealthy groups. They propose an immediate change of course and a project to rebuild the economy based on the communes and popular participation [12].

an exemplary success

Cuba remains Chavismo's main ally and maintains its role as a reference in the radical bloc. Unlike Bolivia and Venezuela, it managed to consummate a revolutionary project, which has been maintained over several decades of adversity, isolation and plots. The continuity of the socialist process on the island is an enormous feat that has contributed to the continuity of the Latin American left. But the latest project to create a radical regional framework around ALBA has been severely affected by the crisis in Venezuela and the upheavals in Bolivia.

Despite the difficulties generated by the blockade and the economic aggressions of Trump, Cuba managed to sustain an economy devastated by the collapse of tourism and the shortage of foreign currency.

The management of political divergences without jeopardizing the continuity of the regime contributed to the cohesion of the population. Recently, the appearance of expressions of dissent between sectors of the arts (San Isidro Movement) has been widely publicized internationally. This fact confirms that Cuba does not live in isolation from the outside world and that the different currents of neoliberalism, social democracy and the left make their voices heard through different channels. This level of reflection and debate probably exceeds the Latin American average in terms of intensity and participation.

In this difficult scenario, the management of the pandemic and advances in the Soberana II vaccine have been particularly important. Once the clinical trials are concluded, there are already plans for its manufacture and vaccination of the population (and visitors to the island). It would be the first country in Latin America to produce the vaccine against Covid-19, confirming the immunization capacity developed against meningococcus. These successes crown a long experience of working in a country that has the highest number of doctors per inhabitant in Latin America.

But the role of missions by Cuban health teams in different parts of the world has also been very important. In addition to the 30.000 health workers who already served in 61 countries before the pandemic, 46 international brigades were added to fight the infection. This “white coat army” has been nominated by many personalities for the next Nobel Peace Prize[13].

The left before the PT and Peronism

How to advance projects of emancipation and equality in a political scenario dominated by the opposition between progressivism and the right? This issue is at the center of debates between the reformist, autonomist and orthodox currents of the Latin American left.

The reformist current promotes strategies similar to traditional social democracy. It shares the demand for humanist goals, not referring to the impracticability of these goals in the current social regime. Along the same lines, it publishes proposals for models of regulated, inclusive and post-liberal capitalism. It calls for concerted development initiatives with large banks and transnational corporations, without assessing the previous failures of these attempts.

The reformist tendencies adapted their intervention to the current institutional framework, devaluing the opposition of the military, judicial and media castes to any significant popular transformation. They tend to devalue the influence of the coup and, instead of facing the right, they explore forms of cooperation that encourage the enemy and demoralize their allies.

The PT in Brazil is the main exponent of this erroneous view that seriously affected its passage through the government. The progress made during the PT government was not enough to contain popular disillusionment and Bolsonaro's rise. Disenchantment began with Lula and became generalized with Dilma, after several years of maintaining the benefits of the capitalist elite. The PT preserved the old structure of party privileges and accepted the constant primacy of the hegemonic media.

Due to this maintenance status quo, the PT first lost the support of the middle class and then the support of the workers. This erosion was manifest during the 2013 protests, when the right began to assert its control of the street. The right triumphed in this sphere before winning at the polls, confirming that power relations are defined on the ground and are projected, later, on the electoral plane.

Reformist currents tend to omit this evaluation and present the PT as a simple victim of right-wing artifices. They do not recognize that he abandoned popular empowerment and opted for passive support for the population based on improving consumption. When the economic recovery petered out, the right had an open path to seize the government.

But this trajectory does not define the future. The PT could regain centrality in the battle against Bolsonaro, or dissolve into a front dominated by its rivals, or be overtaken by a left-wing front. These three possibilities will depend on the intensity of social resistance and the role that Lula assumes (or manages to impose). The popular defeats accumulated during 2016-2018 influence a party that is no longer seen as the inevitable reference point for militancy[14].

Optimistic opinions highlight the emergence of two new figures with strong roots among youth and social movements (Guilherme Boulos and Manuela D'Ávila). They gained unprecedented protagonism, based on the alliance that two leftist parties (PSOL and PCdoB) formed with the PT. Pessimistic opinions devalue this evolution and emphasize the retreat towards the right, in a context of weak street mobilizations.

In any case, the advance of the left requires a balance between criticism and convergence with the PT. On the one hand, it is essential to discuss the mistakes made by that party, to remember that Bolsonaro was not the result of inevitable historical misfortunes anchored in paternalism and slavery. On the other hand, it is necessary to recognize the influence of the PT and the proven possibility of building a left-wing project while maintaining bridges with the PT. [15].

The challenges for the left in the other country that harbors an important variant of reformism are more complex. In Argentina, Kirchnerism is once again in the government and, contrary to what happens in Brazil, the right-wing opposition is marked by the legacy of Mauricio Macri and has failed to consolidate the social base that follows Bolsonaro. Furthermore, Cristina Kirchner left a past of conquests and not a legacy of disillusionment, and Kirchnerism rebuilt its foundations with other types of alliances and management modalities.

Peronism, once again, recycled itself in the face of the enormous failure of its liberal opponents and added a part of social movements to its traditional hegemony in trade unionism. Predictions of the extinction of justicialism were not confirmed, nor were expectations of transforming it into a radicalized force. Peronism maintains in its structure the conservative fringes that periodically regain leadership of that force.

The variable nature of this movement and its facets of progressivism and reaction have reappeared, under a government that oscillates between trampling and improvements. Understanding this plasticity of the main force in Argentina is an indispensable requirement for the growth of the left. If this duality is ignored, whether through simple approval or short-sighted sectarianism, it will be impossible to build a radicalized project.

It is just as wrong to accept the official discourse – justifying the eviction of Guernica or the cut in pensions – as it is to devalue the implementation of the wealth tax. The advance of the left involves raising its voice against the mistakes of the government and recognizing the improvements that it introduces.

Dilemmas of autonomism

Autonomism emerged with great enthusiasm in the last decade defending the struggle of social movements. He underlined the anti-systemic scope of popular protests and opposed projects based on any strategy to conquer state power. From this point of view, he equated progressive governments with their right-wing counterparts and considered them as two variants of the same domination by the powerful.

He also promoted a fierce criticism of chavismo, using arguments similar to those of social democracy. He questioned the violation of democratic functioning rules in Venezuela, ignoring US persecution, and placed that country's regime on the same level as the servile governments of imperialism. This attitude induced him to adopt confused positions in the face of the coup in Bolivia, which equated Evo Morales with the coup leaders and avoided active solidarity with the victims of the coup.

The experience of this entire period has demonstrated the ineffectiveness of any social transformation strategy that renounces State management. This instrument is essential to achieve social improvements, expand the radius of exercise of democracy and allow popular leadership in a long process of eradicating capitalism. Intervention in elections constitutes a relevant moment in this battle.

The traditional autonomist position of contesting elections has been replaced in recent years by opinions that accept participation in them. But the way in which this participation is promoted is as controversial as the promotion of former abstentionism. The ongoing dilemmas in Ecuador exemplify these problems.

The great novelty of these elections in Ecuador was the surprising result obtained by indigenismo, which managed to place its candidate Pachakutik – Yaku Pérez – one step away from a second round with the pro-Correa candidate Andrés Arauz. But if it is confirmed that the second round will be held with Guillermo Lasso, from the right, the most combative movement in the country faces a serious dilemma: it will have to decide what its position will be in the second round. This definition can only be postponed while the challenge of a set of ballot papers is resolved.

Yaku Pérez several times adopted positions favorable to Guillermo Lasso. He explicitly supported him in the 2017 elections, stating that he was “preferable to be a banker than a dictator”. He also invited him to form a front in the first recount of votes held under the auspices of the OAS.

This position is a consequence of the enormous conflict he had with the government of Rafael Correa, who was determined to expand mining extraction. That confrontation included 400 lawsuits against leaders of the indigenous movement and generated such a deep wound that Pérez characterizes the “citizen revolution” in the same terms (“a decade of looting”) as the neoliberal millionaire.

That animosity also extends to Rafael Correa's regional allies. Yaku Pérez repudiates Chávez, Maduro and Evo Morales with the same language that the right uses and even hinted two years ago his approval of the coup d'état in Bolivia [16].

Some analysts point out that Yaku Pérez represents the ethnic strand of indigenism, which promotes corporate claims in close connection with NGOs. This current reveals harmony with the neoliberal ideology, in its praise of entrepreneurs and the reduction of taxes.

On the contrary, the class current demands left-wing projects and promotes links with unionism. This current argues that urbanization had an impact on former agrarian communities, increasing the incorporation of indigenous peoples in the most impoverished segment of cities.

This second current – ​​contrary to any convergence with the right – could build bridges with the progressives of correísmo, who oppose the brutal confrontation of the previous government with indigenismo. This union of popular forces is essential to defeat Guillermo Lasso at the polls and to dispel any possibility of a repetition in Latin America of the ethno-community bloodshed that took place in the Balkans, the Middle East or Africa. [17].

In this context, several of the leading figures of autonomism hail the emergence of Yaku Perez as a third option that will allow overcoming the regressive policy of coreism. They devalue their convergences with Guillermo Lasso, saying that they will be corrected in the future[18] and they agree with those who, in Ecuador, see the Pachakutik leader as the architect of a new course, which will leave behind the false antinomy between two peers (Andrés Arauz and Guillermo Lasso) [19].

But these positions allow predicting (in the best of cases) an attitude of abstention that would lead to a conservative victory, should it succeed in thwarting the election of Andrés Arauz. Blind confrontation with coreism prevents one from seeing this simple fact. The total equivalence of Guillermo Lasso with Bolsonaro, Mauricio Macri, Sebastian Piñera or Iván Duque is evident and, therefore, the objective support for the reactionary project represented by them if they refuse to vote for Andrés Arauz in the next elections. A very sophisticated theoretical elaboration is not necessary to notice this corollary.

The struggle against extractivism is highlighted by the autonomists as yet another strong reason to place correísmo and the right on the same plane. The autonomists insistently claim the defense of water resources and the environment, without mentioning that this protection will only be effective if it opens paths for growth, industrialization and the eradication of underdevelopment. Otherwise, it will recreate stagnation, poverty and inequality.

If, for example, one defends keeping mining and oil deposits untouched (in order to preserve the ecosystem), it is necessary to explain where the resources will come from to make a process of productive expansion viable with income redistribution[20].

Bolivia provides the main experience for assessing this dilemma. It is a country very close and similar to Ecuador, the MAS leaders introduced the Plurinational State, respect for the languages ​​and customs of the communities and the proud claim of indigenous tradition. But at the same time they limited ethnic proposals, articulated a national project with other popular sectors and put into practice a growth model based on state management of the oil and gas business. The economic and social advances achieved by the Bolivian government would have been unfeasible with a purely anti-extractive project.

problems of dogmatism

If a second round of elections between Andrés Arauz and Guillermo Lasso is confirmed in Ecuador, all leftist currents will face a well-known dilemma: support the progressive candidate or opt for abstention, declaring that the two candidates are equal. The two-round electoral system has already imposed this definition in other countries (for example, in Brazil, with Fernando Haddad versus Bolsonaro) or forced to consider this possibility (Alberto Fernández versus Mauricio Macri in Argentina, Evo Morales versus Carlos Mesa in Bolivia).

Several currents coming from the more orthodox tradition of Trotskyism are often opposed to supporting center-left figures against conservatives. They denounce the affinities between two sectors belonging to the same bourgeois segment and criticize resignation in the face of the lesser evil. They also highlight the damage that support for reformism generates for the construction of a revolutionary project.

But in recent decades, the facts have not confirmed these predictions. In no country has the decision to criticize the two main competitors equally resulted in the creation of major forces on the left. Experience has shown that progressivism is inconsequential in its battle against the right, but it is not equal to the main enemy of the Latin American peoples. Moreover, the lesser evil option is not invariably negative. In everyday militancy, results are always sought (trade union, social or political) that are far from the socialist ideal.

The vote for progressivism against the right simply helps to stop the conservative return to power, allowing economic abuses to be limited and violence against the oppressed to be contained. In this way, more favorable scenarios are created for the advance of the left and power relations more in line with this objective are constructed. This strategy is understandable to the majority of the population who never understand the complicated reasoning presented to justify abstention.

The electoral dilemma reveals the same problems of political intervention that arise when it comes to defining positions before ambiguous governments (AMLO, Alberto Fernández) or alliances between the left and progressivism (the PSOL with the PT). But Venezuela is the country where these dilemmas have given rise to the most heated controversies.

Here, it is not a simple electoral choice between pro-government and opposition parties that is at stake, but the permanent threat of a coup d'état to establish a regime of terror and surrender. This danger – noted by all analysts – is generally imperceptible to those who criticize Chavismo's tendency to cooperate with the right. They highlight these similarities of positions without explaining why imperialism and its vassals continue to foment countless plots. This position has numerous variants [21].

The most extreme currents present Nicolás Maduro as the main enemy and demand his resignation, in clear agreement with the right. They repeat the suicide committed by the left when it joined with the gorillas (alliances with anti-Peronism in Argentina in the 50s).

Other, more moderate currents avoid this alignment, but choose to criticize Chavismo and the opposition without taking sides in the conflict. They call for abstention in elections and spread abstract slogans. In other cases, this escape from the real conflict leads them to promote mediations between the squalid and chavismo, assuming an implicit neutrality in relation to the aggressors and victims of imperialist aggression. These behaviors make it difficult to influence real political processes and increase the situation of marginality.

Radicalization Strategies

Debates on the left do not only provide diagnoses of the Latin American scenario. They seek to develop analyzes aimed at facilitating political intervention in order to move towards the transformative objective. They seek to sustain the construction of a new society by building paths to resist imperial subjugation, eradicate capitalism and lay the foundations of socialism.

The militants of the left pursue this objective, rejecting the fantasies of productive, inclusive and humanist capitalism propagated by the leaders of progressivism. They also criticize the myth of a harmonizing management by the State in a society torn apart by inequality and exploitation. The realization of the common good requires overcoming capitalism.

Such a reaffirmation of principles is decisive for forging the socialist objective. But tactics, strategies and projects suited to the present time are also needed. During most of the XNUMXth century, this set of actions was centered on the revolution, as the culminating moment of popular uprisings.

This culmination could result from rising conquests, processes of insurrection or protracted people's wars. The triumphant revolutions consummated in scenarios of great warlike confrontation or imperial aggression were examples. Based on these assumptions, guidelines inspired by the successful experiences of China, Vietnam or Cuba were defined.

These projects were abandoned in most parts of the world after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But in Latin America, this desertion was limited by the permanence of the Cuban revolution, the irruption of the progressive cycle and the impact of the radical processes in Venezuela and Bolivia. This scenario allowed for major changes without revolutionary ruptures, under political systems more complex than the classic dictatorships of the 60s and 70s.

This context allowed for the maturation of new radicalization strategies that value the achievements of progressive governments, without accepting the limits they impose on popular action. These anti-capitalist policies do not define in advance the direction the battle for a new society will take. They avoid this predetermination of temporalities or sequences of an unpredictable transformation. They allow experience to reveal what achievements will precede the realization of the socialist objective.

These advances will come from parliamentary actions and street battles, but it is not possible to predict what kind of combination will link both processes. The best way to integrate both dimensions is through the construction of Gramscian political hegemonies and the preparation of Leninist revolutionary actions.

This type of policy has numerous protagonists in currents, parties and movements in Latin America. They all stress the priority of anti-imperialist resistance against US aggression, stressing that, in order to recover sovereignty and design alternative projects, it is necessary to build a bloc of countries to contain imperialism. This structure would also allow for joint economic negotiations with extra-regional powers such as China, in order to improve trade and reverse the primacy of the primary sector in the economy.

In Latin America, the left is built on daily struggles that reject austerity and promote income redistribution. In the current situation, this action implies reviewing the suffocating weight of the external debt. There are many proposals for pardons and restructurings, but audit and suspension of payments remain the most appropriate options for implementing this review. Another issue of equal importance is that of a tax on the great fortunes to counteract the collapse of tax revenues with equity criteria.

The left needs diagnoses and programs, but no written document will solve the enigmas of the militant experience. The will to fight is the main ingredient of this intervention, in open opposition to skepticism and resignation. The numerous examples of this characteristic among today's young people augur promising times for the entire region.

*Claudio Katz is professor of economics at Universidad Buenos Aires. Author, among other books, of Neoliberalism, neodevelopmentalism, socialism (Popular Expression).

Translation: Paulo Antunes Ferreira protocols for

Originally published in the magazine Viento Sur.


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