Hard lessons in fighting imperialism
By Dan Morgan, Chile
Latin America has suffered many blows lately. Resistance to neo-liberal policies and imperialism is still growing, but for the moment they are still dominant. Largely a producer of raw materials, the region was hit by the fall in commodity prices in 2015 and 2016. Reactionaries took advantage of the economic slowdown to get rid of progressive presidents in Brazil, Argentina and Chile, and to step up pressure on Venezuela and Nicaragua. So it’s a good time to look at a longer-term picture.
DIVERSITY OF THE REGION
Usually thought of as a whole, Latin America is very diverse. An exception to the rule of being exporters of raw materials is Mexico, because of its position (the curse of Mexico: so close to the USA, so far from God) and the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) it has a lot of industry, mainly closely integrated with US manufacture.
The seven countries of Central America, and the latin countries of the Caribbean are small(ish) and more easily dominated by the USA. The last military coup in Latin America was in Honduras, in 2009, to prevent a modest expansion of democracy.
Although politically dominated by the USA, to a large extent, our economic position in the world is changing significantly. For many countries, the first trading partner is now China, which is looking to the region to ensure supplies of raw materials, including food. Just a couple of examples: In 2015 Brazil, the region’s giant, exported 18.6% of its produce to China and 12.7% to the USA. At the same time 17.9% of its imports came from China compared with 15.6% from the US. The top exports to China are soya beans, iron ore and sugar. In 2017 exports to China rose to 21.8%.
For Chile the figures were: Exports to China 26.3% and the US 13.0%, with imports being 23.3% from China and 18.7% from the US.
Most Chilean exports to China are copper, so the situation in China is very important for us and the trade war with the USA has already had a negative knock-on effect. The increasing influence of China is of course not welcome in Washington, but a recent action made even me gasp at the crass bullying and hypocrisy of US imperialism:
The New York Times, 8th September 2018: “The United States has recalled three chiefs of mission from Latin American nations that cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of recognizing China. The move comes as American officials have expressed growing unease over China’s rising influence in the region.
The diplomats, who represent the United States in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Panama, will meet with leaders in Washington ‘to discuss ways in which the United States can support strong, independent, democratic institutions throughout Central America and the Caribbean,’ a spokeswoman for the State Department, [said] ….”
This is not only about trade. Chinese companies, state and private, are beginning to invest, and offer interesting projects for economic development – unlike Big Brother to the north. China seems only interested in economic relations, so far, and is happy to deal with countries both progressive and reactionary, however it will have a huge political influence.
The best news recently: the election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) as president of Mexico in July. A progressive with a clean track record as mayor of Mexico City, his one promise is to end corruption – or at least, fight it as hard as he can. No small thing when corruption and associated violence from the drug trade affects politicians, the judiciary, the police and armed forces.
The once progressive party the PRD veered to the right and is also affected by corruption, so AMLO left to form his own social democratic party, MORENA – Movement for National Regeneration in 2012. Mexicans were so tired of the state of the country that they gave the alliance around Morena a majority in the Chamber of Deputies and a near majority in the Senate, plus four state governors (Mexico is a federal state). It has no well-defined ideology but if the fight against crippling corruption has any success, its win is good news indeed. AMLO has also showed some sign of having an independent foreign policy.
Still a heroic stronghold of socialism, despite the economic blockade and isolation. The massive, grieving crowds who turned out for Fidel Castro’s funeral should have dispelled any doubt of this. In the current context Cuba is not as influential as before but if the new constitution, now being discussed by the people, succeeds in dynamising the economy, it may well again become a beacon for peoples suffering neo-liberal exploitation. Its advances in sustainable, organic agriculture should also become an attractive example.
On a more local level, the tremendous, generous solidarity of giving medical and other professional education to thousands of Latin Americans especially is also felt. A friend of mine, a Mapuche activist, has two daughters who are doctors thanks to this policy.
The Bolivarian Revolution is under attack by US imperialism and must be defended. The financial blockade does great damage. With no fear of the US reaction, however, China and Venezuela signed 28 cooperation agreements on 14th September. This will mean thousands of millions of dollars of very welcome Chinese investment in joint enterprises.
Defence of Venezuela is hard, however, there is a deep economic crisis, with hyperinflation making life very difficult, and inducing thousands to emigrate. Many young professionals are being lost. One thing must be clearly said – the crisis is not one of socialism. The Maduro government does not even control the banking system, a vital step for socialist transformation. The economy is dominated by capitalist firms, including monopolies, and the political answer to their sabotage, smuggling and corruption is weak. The Communist Party is small and with little influence, but continually calls for a revolutionary response to the crisis, and more power to the working class.
A problem for leftists in other countries is that Venezuela is portrayed as an example of socialism, and this has had negative effects including in the recent Chilean elections. A change in the balance of class forces in the United Socialist Party will be necessary for a positive outcome.
Daniel Ortega’s government is under sustained attack. The news of protests against him is repeated across the media, showing that this is a coordinated, planned attack by imperialism. For now the violence has ceased but, as in Venezuela, this is probably just a break. Ortega is shadow of his former self as president of the Sandinista revolution in the 1980s. To win elections he has largely abandoned the fight against neo-liberalism and made pacts with the Catholic church (absolutely no abortions are legal). But this is not enough for the most aggressive wings of imperialism. Nicaragua is still a member of the ALBA alliance with Cuba and Venezuela, and that won’t do.
Here all eyes will be on the elections in Brazil. Lula de Silva, the most popular president in history, cannot be a candidate as he is in prison on a trumped-up charge – receiving a flat as a bribe when there is no evidence that he, or anyone he knows, ever visited the place.
Dilma Rouseff, Lula’s successor, was impeached – a parliamentary coup d’etat - on another trumped-up charge. She has never been found guilty on any count, while the majority of the senators and deputies who removed her have been investigated and/or found guilty of corruption. The unspeakable Temer, who was her vice-president and replaced her, has a current approval rating of 6%, after an orgy of privatisations and regressive social laws.
The Workers’ Party (PT) had to register its fall-back candidate Fernando Haddad for president. Without Lula’s popularity, the PT has a hard task ahead. Lula and Dilma dragged over 30 million Brazilians out of poverty but never set about radical change, either economically or politically. Thus the impeachment of Dilma was possible. It says much for the maturity of the MST, the landless workers movement, that they have been in the forefront of the defence of Lula, as he did little to advance agrarian reform when president. The PT has learned some lessons and now promises more radical policies Its candidate for vice-president is Manuela D’Avila, of the Communist Party of Brazil (PC do B).
Cristina Fernández had similar politics to Lula. A weak candidate as successor was beaten by the demagogic businessman, Macri, with 51% of the votes. He set about neo-liberal reforms – privatisations, cutting social subsidies and services, cutting taxes for the rich, etc. Prices of energy and transport have rocketed. By abolishing the tax on exports (principally soya beans) imposed by Cristina, he caused a massive fiscal deficit. The neo-liberal policies failed to stimulate the economy, doing the reverse. The factories that remain from the once strong manufacturing base are now struggling. The national debt, that he was meant to control, soared and the peso sank from 17 to the dollar to 39 in less than two years. He called in the IMF for a bail-out, which will demand the usual extra cuts in social spending. In early September, after the currency fell 14% in one day, he was forced to re-introduce the export tax.
Most ominously, Macri has invited the USA to set up bases. Not military bases, oh no! These will be for ‘humanitarian aid’! One is in Neuquen province in the south, sitting on large deposits of oil and natural gas. This is also quite close to Chile – on both sides of the frontier there are indigenous Mapuche, fighting to regain some of the land they have lost.
There are repeated massive protests and strikes, notably by teachers, university teachers and other public sector workers. The opposition lacks unity and a class-conscious vanguard capable of uniting the popular forces. Cristina still has a lot of support but, as left-wing Peronists, she and her ministers were traditional politicians.Whilst investigations have uncovered no evidence of corruption against Cristina herself, others have been implicated.
The saddest case of all. The new president, Lenin Moreno (how his father must be spinning in his grave) was the Proud and Sovereign Motherland Alliance candidate to follow the left-wing Rafael Correa. No sooner did he win office, then he set about reversing all the gains of the previous 10 years, and by administrative means trying to block any future return to anti-imperialist policies. Ecuador has left the ALBA alliance and restored ‘security’ links with the USA. So much for Julian Assange’s safety, so much for sovereignty.
Sebastián Piñera was re-elected president last December winning 54% against a not very strong centre-left candidate, on a 48% turnout. He is having to use his veto to get key laws passed: he has no majority in Congress, due to the political reforms made by Michelle Bachelet’s previous government. But we have some social progress – at last legal abortion under certain circumstances. The slightly progressive tax reform of 2015 will be reversed, however, and go further, to create tax give-aways and loopholes for the filthy rich.
As Bachelet was decried for low economic growth, almost entirely due to low copper prices, so Piñera will benefit from high prices. The state copper company Codelco, a legacy of Allende’s 1971 nationalisation, made a profit of $2,900 million in 2017, six times what it was in 2016. The strong demand from China should keep the price high, although Trump’s trade war has caused a recent hiccup.
Codelco’s President predicts demand from China will stay strong, as it moves to electrify its energy sector, ending the use of liquid fuels. The move to sustainable development using renewable energy will mean more demand for copper. Codelco alone supplies 11% of world production, and Chile in total almost a third. Electric vehicles and so on also need lithium, and Chile has huge reserves of that mineral, too. A Chinese company is interested in building high-speed rail lines, which would be of great benefit, especially for mineworkers commuting between north and central Chile on their various week(s) on/week(s) off type shifts.
Here in the south of Chile we have the struggle by Mapuche communities to regain some of the land and rights they lost in the War of Pacification from 1860 to 1883. Forestry companies, that plant millions of hectares of non-native pine and eucalyptus, have had machinery and trucks burned. Elsewhere, there is resistance against hydro-electric plants that are imposed with no regard for the effects on local people, and no benefits for them. Not far from here last year, a woman resisting one such project was murdered and her death made to look like suicide. The government response is two-fold. This region, the poorest in Chile, is to get more public spending, on such things as basic infrastructure. On the other hand, a special police regiment was sent to Colombia for anti-insurgency training – returning as the ‘Jungle Commando’.
After 50 plus years of heroic guerrilla struggle, the FARC realised they had reached stale-mate with the government, and concluded a comprehensive peace agreement with President Manuel Santos. However, there is now a new extremist president, Ivan Duque, who is trying to sabotage it. The paramilitary forces, practised murderers of trade unionists, are now continually assassinating social activists including former FARC soldiers. The paramilitaries should also have been disarmed, but this has not happened. Duque has also frozen the peace talks with the other significant armed group, the Guevarist ELN.
The FARC were always accused of living off the drug trade. Coca growing in much of Colombia is so widespread that some contact was almost inevitable, but it is the big landowners who make money from cocaine production and export.
Maicao is an inland ‘free port’ close to Venezuela, and the city’s traders have made a lot of money from contraband in recent years. Much will have been from subsidised goods and petrol from Venezuela. In just five years, a chain of shops selling shampoo, perfumes and so on has grown up in Chile, with the name Maicao. In Villarrica, a town of 50,000 population, there is not one but two Maicao shops.
So hard lessons will have to be re-learnt before Latin America can be really free from the grip of imperialism. Not least will be the need for democratisation of the mass media. Despite social media, television above all has tremendous influence. TeleSur news has improved lately, but it cannot compete with the national broadcasters or CNN. Radical changes to the media and financial and productive sectors will be necessary to establish and consolidate really democratic and popular governments.
 ALBA-TCP is an alliance of anti-imperialist countries, aimed at mutual solidarity and Latin American integration. The acronym means Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America – Peoples’ Trade Treaty. As well as Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua, it includes six Caribbean islands.
 Originally a Maoist break-away from the Brazilian Communist Party in 1962, it led a guerrilla campaign against the dictatorship in the ‘70s which ended in disaster. Many of its leaders were massacred in 1976. It had an erratic history since then but takes part in international meetings of communist and workers’ parties. It has influence in trade unions, has some electoral success and has been allied with the PT for presidential elections since 1989.
 Of the 120 deputies 8 are communists, 20 from the generally left Broad Front. With socialists, democracy party, radicals, regional greens and christian democrats, they are a majority. The christian democrats seek to differentiate themselves from the left, but if an alliance can be formed from all the others it would be a formidable force for future elections.
 123 activists at least this year https://www.theguardian.com/.../2018/.../colombian-activists-face-extermination-by-criminal-gangs