The challenges of the Latin American continent



The awareness prevails that neoliberal policies cannot meet the need for accelerated economic development, much less the urgency of eliminating extreme poverty and reducing social inequality.

“Any country or people that behaves well can count on our cordial friendship. If the nation demonstrates that it knows how to act with reasonable efficiency and decency in social and political affairs, if it knows how to maintain order and pays its debts, it need not fear interference from the United States. Chronic misbehavior, or impotence resulting in the loosening of the bonds of social civility, may require, in America or elsewhere in the world, the intervention of some civilized nation, and in the case of the Western Hemisphere, the accession of the United States. to the Monroe Doctrine, can force the United States to exercise international police power, even if reluctantly” (Theodor Roosevelt, speech delivered to the American Congress, on December 6, 1904. In: Pratt, WJ A History of United States Foreign Policy, P. 417).

As the third decade of the 11st century begins, leftist and progressive forces are being called back into government in several important Latin American countries. The most recent case is that of Chile, with the victory and inauguration of the young president Gabriel Boric – on March 2022, 1930 – leading a coalition of forces that brings together all the old parties and the new organizations of the Chilean left. Something unprecedented in the history of a country characterized by its extraordinary political inventiveness, since the times of its Popular Front government in the XNUMXs.

But before Boric, progressive Latin American forces had already won elections and taken over the government in Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru and Honduras. And it is most likely that this trend will be confirmed in Brazil, and even in Colombia, in the next presidential elections of 2022, at a time when awareness is growing throughout the Latin American continent that neoliberal policies cannot meet the need accelerated economic development, much less the urgency of eliminating extreme poverty and reducing social inequality. It is also a time when awareness is heightened that the old national-developmentalist model has exhausted its potential, after completing the agenda of the Second Industrial Revolution and losing US support in the late 1970s.

Even so, there is no easy answer, nor a simple solution to the current crisis in Latin America. In this context, Latin America needs to radically rethink itself in order to be able to redefine its development strategy, having clear its geographical location and its hierarchical position within the “Western Hemisphere”, where the dominant power has always been the United States, supported by Great Britain, from the time of the formulation of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823.

After the Second World War and until the 1970s, the United States sponsored a “developmentalist” project in its “zone of influence” that promised rapid economic growth and social modernization as a way to overcome Latin American underdevelopment. But after its crisis in the 1970s, and particularly in the 1980s, the North Americans changed their international economic strategy and definitively abandoned their developmental project and sponsorship.

Since then, they started to defend, city ​​and world, an economic program of neoliberal reforms and policies known as the “Washington Consensus,” which became the core of his victorious rhetoric after the end of the Cold War. A program that combined the defense of the free market with financial deregulation and privatization of the economies that had followed the developmental program coordinated by the State. This happened in the 1980s and 1990s of the last century, when neoliberalism became the hegemonic thought of almost all parties and governments in Latin America, including socialist and social democratic parties. Later on, in the second decade of the XNUMXst century, the United States further radicalized its globalist proposals aimed at its Latin and world periphery, now with a coup-like and authoritarian bias, and without any kind of social horizon or promise of a future with greater degree of greater justice and equality.

The failure of this new ultraliberal round is what largely explains the return of the left to the government of some of the main countries of the Latin American continent. A good time to reread, analyze and rethink the long-term history of the left and its experiences in government in Latin America.

In a very synthetic way, it can be said that everything started with the revolutionary proposal of Plan Ayala, presented in 1911 by the peasant leader of the Mexican Revolution, Emiliano Zapata. Zapata proposed the collectivization of land ownership and its return to the community of Mexican Indians and peasants. Zapata was defeated and killed, but his agrarian program was resumed a few years later by President Lázaro Cárdenas, a nationalist military man who governed Mexico between 1936 and 1940 and created the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which governed the country for almost the entire century. XX.

The Cárdenas government carried out agrarian reform, nationalized foreign oil-producing companies, created the first state banks for industrial development and foreign trade in Latin America, invested in infrastructure, implemented policies for industrialization and protection of the Mexican domestic market, created a labor legislation, took measures for the social protection of workers and exercised an independent and anti-imperialist foreign policy.

The fundamental of this story, however, for the Latin American left, is that this program of public policies of the Cárdenas government became, after him, a kind of common denominator of several governments – “national-popular” or “national-popular”. progressives” – as was the case of Perón, in Argentina; from Vargas, in Brazil; Velasco Ibarra, Ecuador; and Paz Estensoro, Bolivia. None of them were socialists, communists or social democrats, not even on the left; and in the case of Argentina, it even had a strong rightist component, but its political proposals and positions in the field of foreign policy became a kind of basic paradigm that ended up being adopted and supported by almost all of the Latin American reformist left, at least until 1980.

Broadly speaking, it was these same ideals and goals that inspired the 1952 Bolivian peasant revolution; the democratic government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala between 1951 and 1954; the first phase of the Cuban revolution, between 1959 and 1962; the reformist military government of General Velasco Alvarado in Peru between 1968 and 1975; and the government of Salvador Allende, in Chile, between 1970 and 1973. In the case of Cuba, however, the 1961 invasion and American sanctions hastened the socialist option, leading Fidel Castro's government to collectivize the land and nationalize and central planning of the economy. The same model that would later guide the first phase of the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, in 1979, and the “socialism of the XNUMXst century”, originally proposed by the former president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez.

Today, however, the Latin American continent adds many of these challenges and projects from the past that have not yet been carried out, with a new agenda of problems imposed by the economic and geopolitical transformations of the international system, after the end of the Cold War, but in particular in the first two decades of the XNUMXst century, when China became the second largest economic power in the world and began to play a central economic role as a major buyer of Latin American exporting economies, and when Russia returned to occupy its place as the second largest military power in the world, with an increasingly active presence as a supplier of weapons and logistical and military support to several governments in Latin America.

In this new global and Latin American context, one thing remains true: the future viability of a more autonomous and sovereign Latin American alternative will continue to depend very much on the choices made by Brazil, which is currently as divided or more divided than the rest of the continent. , between two major political-ideological and economic alternatives that transcend the immediate political situation and should remain present and polarized even after Brazil overcomes the most dramatic damage caused by its current extreme right government.

On the one hand, from an economic point of view, there is the liberal proposal supported by the “markets” and by the large international national financial investors. If Brazil follows this path, it will have to maintain its secular condition of a peripheral and unequal society, exporter of raw materials, food and commodities, having as its best horizon to become a “luxury periphery” of the great purchasing powers of the world.

There is, however, the proposal, the capacity and the possibility of building a different and new path within South America: Brazil assuming the position of a “continental locomotive”, taking advantage of its energy and food self-sufficiency, and its excellent allocation of strategic natural resources to build a sustainable economy, with a new industry of high added value articulated directly with its own sector producing food and commodities of high productivity, and having as its central strategic objective the construction of a more homogeneous, egalitarian, sovereign and democratic society. Bearing in mind that none of this will be possible without the intervention and strategic guidance of a State strengthened by broad support from Brazilian society.

On the other hand, from the point of view of its strategic and military insertion in the new global geopolitical context, Brazil can continue to be a vassal country of the United States, entrusted by the North Americans with the military guardianship of its neighbors. Or it can assume once and for all the command of its own sovereignty, returning the military to their constitutional functions and carrying out a foreign policy whose central objective is to increase the country's autonomous decision-making capacity, through a skilful and determined policy. of complementarity and growing competitiveness with the United States.

In any case, one thing is certain: both in the economic and in the military-strategic disjunctive, the autonomous option points to a much longer and arduous path than the “natural” path of markets and strategic subordination to the US. For this very reason, the construction of this alternative sovereign, sustainable, egalitarian and democratic path presupposes the existence of a sufficiently strong coalition of power capable of sustaining, for a prolonged period of time, a clear project of geopolitical affirmation with the simultaneous construction of a new ideological hegemony in Brazil and Latin America.

* Jose Luis Fiori Professor at the Graduate Program in International Political Economy at UFRJ. Author, among other books, of Global power and the new geopolitics of nations (Boitempo)



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