The year 2015 ended with significant advances of the Right in South America. Mauricio Macri was elected President in Argentina, the opposition gained a majority in the Venezuelan parliament, and Dilma Rousseff is being hounded relentlessly in Brazil. Then there are the conservatives’ campaigns in Ecuador, and it remains to be seen whether Evo Morales will obtain a new mandate in Bolivia.What is the nature of the period in the region? Has the period of governments taking their distance from neoliberalism come to an end? The answer requires that we describe the particular features of the last decade.
A New Type of Protests
During the last decade explosions of popular discontent have become more infrequent. All of the governments count on using increased fiscal revenues as a significant buffer in the face of social demands. The Right resorted to welfarism, the Centre-Left improved existing programs without affecting powerful interests, and the radical processes facilitated conquests of greater importance.
Why is the Right Advancing?
Macri’s arrival in the presidency represents the first electoral overturn of a Centre-Left administration by its conservative opponents. This turn is not comparable to what occurred in Chile with Piñera’s victory over Michelle Bachelet. That was a substitution of government within the limits of the same neoliberal rules.
The Centrality of Venezuela
The outcome of the progressive cycle is at stake in Venezuela. What is happening there is not equivalent to what is going on in other countries. These differences are not appreciated by those who compare the recent triumphs of the Right in Venezuela and Argentina. The two situations are not comparable.
But the principal singularity of Venezuela is derived from the place it occupies in the system of imperialist domination. The United States has targeted this country, hoping to regain control of the largest oil reserves in the continent. It maintains a strategy of permanent aggression.
That is why the hegemonic news media hammer away day and night against this country, portraying a disaster that must be rescued from afar. The coup plotters are presented as innocent victims of persecution, omitting the fact that Leopoldo López was convicted for the murders that were committed during the guarimbas [violent street protests]. Any U.S. court would have handed down much harsher sentences for such outrages. The media demonization is designed to isolate Chavismo and encourage further condemnation of it by the Social Democracy.
This campaign had been unsuccessful until the recent election victory of the Right. Now they are resolved to dust off the plans to overthrow Maduro, combining the erosion in support promoted by Capriles with the violent removal favoured by López. They are trying to push the government into a chaotic situation in order to stage a repetition of the institutional coup perpetrated against Fernando Lugo in Paraguay.
Macri is the international coordinator of this conspiracy. He heads up all the challenges to Venezuela, while he criminalizes protest in Argentina. He governs his own country by decree but demands respect for parliamentarians in another nation.
Chavismo has faced major assaults because of the radicalism of its process, the rage of the bourgeoisie, and the U.S. determination to control oil production. The contrast with Bolivia is striking. There too a radical anti-imperialist government prevails. But the Altiplano lacks the strategic relevance of Venezuela and drags with it a much higher level of underdevelopment.
Up to this point the Right has been unable to mount a successful challenge for government, but a battle has now opened over the issue of Morales’ re-election. In any case, Bolivia does not confront the unpostponable decisions that Chavismo must now make.
It’s not enough to simply note the existence of an economic war. It must also be said that the government has failed to confront these abuses. Maduro has lacked the firmness that Fidel displayed during Cuba’s “special period.” The economic sabotage is effective because the state bureaucracy continues to uphold with PDVSA dollars a foreign exchange system that facilitates the organized embezzlement of public resources (Gómez Freire, 2015; Aharonian, 2016; Colussi, 2015).
This lack of control accentuates the stagnation of the distributionist model that initially channelled the oil rent into social welfare programs but failed subsequently to jumpstart the creation of a productive economy.
The current situation offers a new (and perhaps final) opportunity to reorganize the economy. This unavoidably entails cutting off the use of U.S. dollars for the smuggling of merchandise and entry of overpriced imports. This fraud enriches the bourgeoisified civil service and infuriates the people. It is not enough to reorganize PDVSA, control the borders or jail a few offenders. Unless the corrupt officials are removed altogether, the Bolivarian process will condemn itself to decline.
Chavismo needs to counterattack if it is to regain popular support. Various economists have developed detailed programs to implement an alternative management of the exchange rate, based on nationalization of the banks and foreign trade. Since there are no longer enough dollars to pay for imports and pay the debt, there is a need as well to look into auditing those liabilities.
Maduro has declared he will not surrender. But in the present delicate situation measures from above are not enough. The survival of the Bolivarian process requires building popular power from below. Legislation already exists defining the attributes of communal power. Those institutions [the communal councils and communes] alone can sustain the battle against capitalists who frustrate exchange controls and recapture surplus oil profits.
The exercise of communal power has been impeded for some years by a bureaucracy that is impoverishing the state. That sector would be the first to be adversely affected by a democracy from below. Maduro has now installed a national assembly of communal power. But the verticalist functioning of the PSUV and the hostility toward more radical currents [within Chavismo] impede this initiative (Guerrero, 2015; Iturriza, 2015; Szalkowicz, 2015; Teruggi, 2015).
Any boost given to communal organization will bring redoubled denunciations in the international media about the “violation of democracy” in Venezuela. That kind of propaganda will be spread by the likes of those who were behind the U.S. coup in Honduras or the institutional farce that overthrew Lugo in Paraguay.
These same personalities say nothing about the state terrorism that is rampant in Mexico or Colombia. They had to put up with Cuba’s membership in the OAS and CELAC, but they are not prepared to tolerate Venezuela’s challenge. Confronting that media establishment is a priority in the continent as a whole.
What the Rightists Conceal
The new situation in South America has emboldened the Right. It thinks its time has come and it promises to end the “populist” cycle and replace “interventionism” with “the market” and “authoritarianism” with “freedom.”
- A referendum will be held in Bolivia on February 21 to determine whether the country’s Constitution should be amended to allow presidential candidates to stand for more than two terms, thereby allowing President Evo Morales and Vice-President Álvaro García Linera to run for another term in office in 2019.
- The rejection by South American governments of the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas in 2005, at Hugo Chávez’s instigation, was a turning point in relations between the United States and most Latin American governments.
- BNDES, the National Social and Economic Development Bank.
- Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
- Levy is now the World Bank Chief Financial Officer.
- Palocci was a Finance minister under Lula, later a Chief of Staff in Dilma’s first government.
- PSUV – United Socialist Party of Venezuela, founded by Hugo Chávez.
- This may be overstated somewhat. For example, Bolivia’s MAS government did in fact reverse many of the privatizations of major industries carried out by previous neoliberal regimes. And Correa did repudiate a substantial portion of Ecuador’s debt pursuant to an independent audit of its foreign debt liabilities.
- Tipnis refers to Bolivian government plans to build a highway through a national park of that name; protest marches led to a provisional suspension of the project. Famaitina refers to a Canadian-based company’s plan to develop an open-pit gold mine in the town of the same name in Argentina; after vigorous protests by the community, the project was suspended in 2012. Yasuni refers to Correa’s offer to cancel plans to exploit hydrocarbons in a biologically diverse part of Ecuador’s Amazon if international funding could be found to compensate for the loss of potential state revenues; when such funding failed to materialize, Correa withdrew the offer. Aratirí refers to a proposed open-pit iron ore mine in Uruguay that has been widely protested.
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