Recent elections in Latin America

John Dugger, Banner of Chile Will Win in Trafalgar Square, London.


The elections show the difficulty in transforming progressive proposals into majority support

I am asked to talk about the recent elections in Ecuador, Guatemala and Argentina. How to analyze these themes?

On August 20, Guatemalan voters elected Bernardo Arévalo as president of the Republic. Two North American academics, Shannon K. O'Neil (vice president, deputy director of Studies and core Nelson and David Rockefeller fellow for Latin American Studies at the Council of Foreign Relations) and Will Freeman (Fellow for Latin American Studies at the CFR and Ph.D in Politics of Princeton University) refer to Arévalo as “an anti-corruption candidate”. Bernardo Arévalo's austere campaign is a sign of the times, they say. And they say that, in Guatemala, money could not buy these elections. More and more candidates with more followers on Tik Tok are the ones who win. Not those with more resources.

I open a parenthesis to touch on a topic of great relevance in Brazil. Among the reforms that Arévalo's father, Juan José Arévalo, president of Guatemala between 1945 and 1951, tried to consolidate in the 1945 constitution, was the restructuring of the Army, with the suspension of the generalship, decreed with the triumph of the revolutionary movement of 1944 (in the scenario marked by the end of World War II), along with the effort to professionalize the army, a topic to which the constitution of that time dedicated an entire chapter.

An interesting experience, in circumstances very different from the current ones, but which perhaps deserves our attention. Who knows if the son will try to resume this initiative, in a country where the army played, in the Cold War scenario, a criminal role, mainly against the indigenous population of six million inhabitants, who represent 45% to 60% of the total population Guatemala, and which continue to be a very important factor in the life of the country.

I resume the thread of our conversation. American academics compared the campaign of Bernardo Arévalo with that of Daniel Noboa, in Ecuador, a member of one of the richest families in the country, the son of a businessman who ran for president five times, without success. The son would have been the surprise in these elections thanks to his good performance in the electoral debate (and not because of the resources spent on his campaign).

All this may be true, but it is difficult to accept the idea without any suspicion, especially knowing how, for example, millionaire American campaigns are (and Latin American ones too); any one of them requiring enormous resources, whether for mayor, deputy, or president.

Perhaps more realistically, I read in Citizenship mail a title that read: “Second round in Ecuador between progressives and millionaires”.

About Luisa González, the candidate of Citizen revolution, Rafael Correa's party, it was said that, as a woman, a single mother, she could open up the electoral spectrum to new voters. Luisa González is from Manabí, an electorally important province, and has an unexpected characteristic for a left-wing movement: she is evangelical. In the most common resumes, these are the candidate's outstanding characteristics. Naturally, also his affiliation with “Correism”.

It remains to be seen whether this time he will be able to add, to his 33% of the votes, what he lacks for an absolute majority in the second round. In the past elections, they could not, despite a similar vote, 32%, obtained by Correismo in the first round.

On the electoral situation in Ecuador, the website the earth is round published, on Friday, August 25, a well-informed article by Ecuadorian sociologist Francisco Hidalgo.

But all this is simple electoral calculations. Of course, very important, but I don't think this is the most important aspect for our conversation this afternoon.

I would like to put all of this in a broader context: that of our difficulty in transforming progressive proposals into majority support, faced with the resurgence of more irritating aspects of a right that, in my opinion, should not be easily divided into “extreme” , on the one hand, and another, more “civilized”, with which we could live together. I am not very fond of these definitions, although I am aware of the debate that inevitably arises when a society is faced with challenges posed by more radical groups and must choose a strategy to face them. A debate that can be summed up between a “democratic” option versus a “dictatorial” option.

These are contingency debates, always controversial, difficult to resolve, but inevitable. These debates cannot be resolved simply with general rules. Although these are indispensable, in these cases the specificity of each experience acquires particular importance.

I will stay here, therefore, at a more general level of discussion, trying to understand the difficulties that what we can call “progressive sectors” have (without going into further discussions about the definition) to present a political proposal that is attractive to the majority sectors of society.

How to leave the neoliberal world behind

And here, if you will allow me, I will refer, more than Argentina, to the Chilean case, where debates are intense, in the context of the 50th anniversary of the coup against Salvador Allende, which I will follow, in Chile, from September 8 .

On the Chilean constitutional debate and the outcome of the September 2022 referendum, I published the article “The Chilean Constitutional Debate” on the website A Terra é Redonda.

It said that, seen 50 years away, Chile needed to resume the path of reforms interrupted by the dictatorship. Analyzing the topic more broadly, he asked me: what development project does the Latin American left need to carry out reforms that dismantle the neoliberal world? It seems to me that this is the essence of the challenge.

What, for me, is the neoliberal model? It is the model of a voracious and minority sector, whose objective is to appropriate as much of the country's wealth as possible. The main element to achieve this objective is the privatization of public companies by national and foreign business groups. In the Chilean case, mainly copper, which Salvador Allende nationalized and had defined as “the salary of Chile”. It is not difficult to find similar examples in Brazil. I cite the cases of Vale, Petrobrás and Eletrobrás. But these are just a few examples.

The destruction of union and political organizations that could oppose this project is also a permanent task of the neoliberal project.

As he recalled, many years ago, the distinguished leader of the conservative Chilean party National Renewal, Andrés Allamand, Deputy, Senator, Minister of Foreign Affairs in the government of Sebastián Piñera, in his book The crossing of the desert, what Pinochet offered the neoliberal right was the opportunity to apply, in a radical way, without restrictions of political power, the transformations demanded by the neoliberal model. “More than once, in the bitter cold of Chicago, the hardworking students who dreamed of transforming the face of Chile must have racked their brains with just one question: will someone who is in charge of this project ever win the presidency? Now [with the military coup] they no longer had this problem”, said Andrés Allamand.

The phrase allows us to introduce another theme: that of human rights. For me, it is perfectly clear that the violation of human rights was nothing more than a tool to achieve the political and economic objectives of an unscrupulous right. The main violation of human rights was this neoliberal policy.

If that's the case, it becomes particularly important to define a progressive proposal that is not limited to the accessory: in this case, human rights. A proposal that does not leave aside, that transforms it into its main demand, the dismantling of the mechanisms that allowed the assault on the public and private wealth of Chileans, such as the scandalous case of the AFP's, the “Administrators of pension funds”. It is not possible to go into detail here on this topic, which economist Marco Kremerman and the sun foundation, among others, analyzed in detail.

What I want to highlight here, because I understand that this relationship has not been adequately addressed, is the importance I attribute to this neoliberal policy and the mechanisms of destruction of popular political and social organizations. Any analysis of “human rights” disconnected from their political context only serves to make Latin Americans fight among themselves, with Washington looking on, applauding while sitting in the front row of the audience.

The United States, which, as we know, has not ratified any human rights instrument, including the Convention and the Inter-American Charter. Human rights systematically violated by illegal sanctions that Washington has applied against Cuba for decades, condemned practically unanimously, year after year, in the General Assembly of the United Nations. Sanctions imposed more recently on Venezuela, and which Washington applied to Chile during the Allende government.

As sociologist Felipe Portales said, in an article entitled “Chile: 50 years of neoliberalism" o extremely neoliberal model of society violently imposed by the dictatorship, was not fought, but legitimized, consolidated and deepened peacefully in the 30 years of “democracy”. That is, we were never able to recover the project from Popular Unit, a project built on the appropriation of national resources by the State and the stimulus to the political and social organization of the popular sectors.

Felipe Portales criticizes the model “which concentrates wealth in large economic groups, fundamentally financial, extractive and controlling the education, health and social security systems, supported by the State and with atomized popular and middle sectors and without any real power”.

We must learn from this lesson, even if we understand well the difficulties of transforming a general vision into practical policy, which responds to the needs of each particular case.

In Chile, very recently, a radio commentator bio bio, very popular and critical of the government of Gabriel Boric, Tomás Mosciatti, reminded us that “the government has not done anything about the offensive economic concentration that exists in the country”, a fact that, in his opinion, “attacks against the market”. Gabriel Boric and company – he continued – “have no idea who are the most needy, who are the poorest. For this reason, in the majority of the last two elections, it was the most disadvantaged sectors who voted against Gabriel Boric and his government”.

It is certainly not an opinion shared by everyone, least of all by the government of Gabriel Boric. But I think it's not too far from reality, nor does it fail to point to a fundamental problem.

I think that Tomás Mosciatti is also not very concerned about those most in need, but he is certainly right in his criticism of the Boric government, one of the main references of the policy of defending “human rights” that placed him on the side of what is most important. reactionary in Latin America, on the occasion of the South American summit last May, in Brasilia, when he complained about Venezuela, without making any reference to the sanctions imposed by the United States on that country.

I think I can summarize this already long presentation with a sentence from Paulo Nogueira Batista about the Chilean government, a sentence that helps to understand this entire process, as well as our enormous difficulties in structuring an alternative that faces the neoliberal model: “Gabriel Boric is the left that the right likes.” A strand of the left “focused on the so-called 'identity agenda', that is, on issues related to gender, race and other aspects of identity, to the detriment of social and labor agendas”.

In my opinion, this sums up well the challenge of rebuilding an idea of ​​a nation that will only have a future if it puts an end to the mechanisms of destruction or weakening of every popular organization, and if it recovers the resources currently appropriated by powerful minority sectors, the foundation of the mechanisms that feed the enormous inequality that characterizes our societies.

A proposal

The rules of political organization for Latin America were established in Inter-American Democratic Charter, approved by the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) in September 2001 in Peru.

It is a document that enshrines liberal principles, the same ones that have served as the basis for virtually all dictatorships and for neoliberal models in Latin America, as is clear in the text by the Chilean conservative, Andrés Allamand.

The first paragraph of Menu affirms that the Charter of the Organization of American States recognizes that representative democracy is indispensable for the stability, peace and development of the region and that one of the objectives of the OAS is to promote and consolidate representative democracy, respecting the principle of non-intervention.

After this paragraph, what follows are the norms that regulate intervention in countries that decide to look for new models of political, economic and social organization, without the principle of non-intervention being respected or even mentioned again.

“In Pinochet's case, he was credited with Chile's miracle, a successful experiment in free markets, privatization, deregulation and economic expansion, whose seeds of liberalism spread from Valparaiso to Virginia,” wrote journalist Greg Palast, in 2006. Pinochet had died two days earlier.

Greg Palast opined that Pinochet had not single-handedly destroyed the Chilean economy. “It took nine years of hard work by the world's brightest academic minds, a band of Milton Friedman apprentices, the Chicago Boys. Under the spell of his theories, the general abolished the minimum wage, banned trade union bargaining rights, privatized the pension system, abolished all taxes on wealth and corporate income, reduced public employment, privatized 212 state industries and 66 banks, and reached fiscal excess”.

The relationship between this liberal economic policy and the most cruel violations of human rights is clear, not only in the aforementioned text, but also in the usual practices of Latin American dictatorships. The debate about Friedrich Hayek's support for Pinochet, whom the economist philosopher visited for the first time four years after the coup d'état, in 1977, is well known.

I will probably not be wrong if I say that the immense majority of Latin Americans have never read this Democratic Letter. Even less studied it. It is a document that establishes a political framework for the functioning of our societies and sanctions for those who leave this framework. Approved in Lima, Peru, on September 11, 2001, in a political climate very different from today's demands, it is necessary to discuss this liberal Charter and adapt it to the diverse political needs of our region. Create conditions to get out of this rigid framework imposed on the region.

This discussion would be an extraordinary opportunity to rethink our political order, to clarify fundamental aspects of that order. It could give a new impetus or work to the progressive forces, revive the political debate, today certainly lacking in renewed perspectives.

About this, it might be useful to see an article by Tarso Genro, published in A Terra é Redonda, on August 25th, with the title “Where is social democracy going”. He makes reference to a United Nations program, “Rebuilding the Welfare State in the Americas”, launched by UNDP in 1996, coordinated today by Jorge Castañeda, Gaspard Estrada and Carlos Ominami. I know little about Estrada's work, but I am sure that with Ominami and, especially with Castañeda, Vicente Fox's chancellor, this work will have no useful purpose. Nor do I see, in Tarso Genro's proposals, the necessary renewal of this debate.

Why not give that door a push and walk in with fresher ideas?

*Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR). Author, among other books, of Political crisis of the modern world (Uruk).

Lecture at the meeting of the Political Observatory of the Brazilian Commission for Justice and Peace of the CNBB.

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