Letter from troubled Latin America
By Dan Morgan, Chile
Hope is never lost, but the present picture in Latin America is not good in general, and very different from the sweeping leftward surge of a just a few years ago.
The crisis deepens, and a clear pro-imperialist strategy has now appeared. There is an economic war, created by the right-wing opposition with imperialist help in maintaining low crude oil prices. Venezuela, with the largest proven oil reserves in the world, is too important to the USA to give up easily. I suspect that the continual refusal of Saudi Arabia to cut production enough to lift prices has to do with pressure from its US ally to maintain the crisis in Venezuela. Is it too far-fetched to think that the deal made with Iran, to lift sanctions and thus increase oil supply, was also influenced by this factor?
So there are shortages of food and medicines, hoarding, the black market, galloping inflation, speculation and corruption in general. The violent protests organized by the opposition, are limited in Caracas, the capital, to an upper middle class area, but have no end. Although there is growing feeling against violence, the atmosphere of destabilization will have some effect.
Taking advantage of the discontent caused by the government’s inability to solve the economic problems, the right-wing scored a major victory in the December 2015 elections to the National Assembly (Parliament). The opposition MUD (Table of Democratic Unity) got 56% of the votes (7.7 million), and the Great Patriotic Pole 41% (5.6 million). This latter includes the PSUV ( United Socialist Party), with 52 seats, and the Communist Party, 2 seats. The results of the election of four deputies (MPs) in the Amazonas region were declared void by the Supreme Court (TSJ) because of irregularities but the opposition insisted on eating them. Thus the National Assembly put it itself in contempt of court, and its decisions have been ignored by the government since.
Faced with opposition violence and the deepening crisis, President Maduro repeatedly appeals for peace. In a surprise measure, on May first he called for elections to a new National Constituent Assembly (NCA) to write a new constitution. This promises peace, a solution to financial speculation, and a move to a new economic model. [i] It will at least buy time to try and solve the dramatic economic situation.
The MUD organized an unofficial ‘plebiscite’ on Sunday 16th July, demanding rejection of the NCA, and calling on the armed forces to support decisions of the National Assembly. They claimed 7.6 million votes but no check is possible, as the ballots were publicly burned the same day. This was followed by a call for a ‘civic strike’ on the following Thursday. This was said to be very partial by the government, apart from affecting commerce, but public transport was affected in opposition-held areas of Caracas. There were road blocks, an attack on the national television station, people burned alive, and armed attacks on police and barracks, including now the use of rifles.
Then, the Assembly illegally voted to appoint new judges on the Supreme Court. Their strategy seems to be be: Sabotage the 30th July elections, achieving a low voter turnout. Declare the NCA to be illegitimate, and the National Assembly (NA), its appointed Supreme Court, and Election Council to be the legitimate powers, and call for foreign intervention to back this up. The viciously neoliberal governments in Brazil and Argentina, the big powers in Latin America, would support them and a coup d’etat might follow, dependent of course on achieving significant support in the armed forces.
Is the political process in Venezuela revolutionary? Certainly, because a change in class power is at stake. The Communist Party of Venezuela has formed, with other left-wing forces, a ‘Popular Anti-Imperialist and Anti-Fascist Front’, which calls for a revolutionary solution to the crisis, power moving definitively to the working class and the people. It has called for unity with the PSUV. Maduro has said the judges ‘appointed’ by the NA to the supreme court will be arrested, a strong, positive move. The opposition called for a 48 hour civic strike for Wednesday and Thursday 26th and 27th July, just before the NCA election. These ever more violent protests have increased the desire for peace.
In any revolutionary process there are critical points, decisive for the future. I may be too sombre, but I have been reminded of the title of an article by Jorge Insunza, the Chilean communist leader, some months before the coup in 1973: ‘You must be a hammer or an anvil’. He was quoting from Georgi Dimitrov’s speech when on trial for his life in 1933 in Germany for the Reichstag fire. The great Bulgarian communist leader quoted in turn from the poem ‘Another’ by the renowned German poet, Goethe:
“You must either conquer and rule or serve and lose, suffer or triumph, be anvil or hammer.”
Dimitrov continued: “Yes, he who does not want to be an anvil, must be a hammer. The German working class did not realize the truth of this either in 1918, or in 1923, or on July 20, 1932, or in January 1933 ...”. Faced with an ever more intransigent and aggressive opposition, backed by imperialist money and plotting, it is to be hoped that the Venezuelan working class will choose to be hammer, and not anvil.
The NCA gives a good start. Elections took place on Sunday 30th July. The result – a massive vote of over 8 million, 41% of the total possible, despite the boycott with intimidation of the opposition. Note that the voting machines give a paper record for each vote, so claims of fraud are laughable. It was a vote above all for peace.
Many of the countries in Latin America have fallen in with the US State Department line of calling for an ‘end to violence, and dialogue’ implicitly and falsely blaming the government for the violence and crisis.
At the recent meeting of the Organization of American states (OAS) an attempt to censure Venezuela was defeated by the majority of Caribbean islands, who have received important solidarity from Venezuela in the form of cheap oil.
The countries of the ALBA – the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America – have rejected the recent threats of intervention by the government of the USA. Apart from Venezuela, they are: Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and the islands of St Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Granada, Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, St Kitts & Nevis. Suriname and Haiti are also observer nations.
Cuba is in the process of discussion of a new economic model, which aims to protect its economic independence. Bolivia has the highest economic growth rate in the continent this year, and continues to improve social welfare and reduce poverty.
Ecuador has also suffered from low oil prices but is now recovering. The right wing there also made a push for the recent general elections, with the mass media as usual having the most impact. However, Lenin Moreno was elected in the run-off with 51%, having got 39% in the first round. Lenin is the successor to Rafael Correa who, in 10 years as president, achieved remarkable social and economic success, having inherited a country almost in bankruptcy and chaos. Lenin Moreno is another Latin American politician whose name reflects the influence of communist parties on the continent. There are several Vladimirs. He seems to be very different, however, and even Correa, no hard-liner, has criticised him for being too conciliatory with the rabid opposition.
Nicaragua – since 2007 - under President Daniel Ortega again, is probably the most stable of the Central American countries, with economic progress and social gains, at the cost of giving up the aim of moving to socialism.
After 53 heroic years, and several attempts to win a peace agreement, the guerilla army FARC-EP has finally been able to disarm and pass onto political struggle. President Santos fought hard against his predecessor Uribe to achieve this, and now the agreement is not being properly fulfilled by the Colombian state – whether with Santos’ connivance, or by state forces opposed to the agreement, is not known. The situation is not easy by any means: political violence in Colombia has been almost continuous since 1948, and many leaders of previous guerrilla groups were assassinated after peace agreements. Murders of trade unionists, social and political activists are common and the means to stop these are difficult to find.
President Macri, after wining just 51% of the votes against a weak candidate chosen as the successor to Cristina Fernández, has now reversed many of the progressive policies of Cristina and Néstor Kirchner before her. This has been helped by the weak political base; Peronism is such a diverse movement. Now it seems to be re-organising, and forming alliances with more solid and left-wing movements. There have been successful strikes against Macri’s policies – opposition to them is massive, and what is needed now are the political alliances to defeat them firstly at the ballot box.
Here in the continent’s giant, the situation is similar. The fraudulent impeachment of Dilma Rouseff for non-existent corruption, by the wholly corrupt Congress, has been followed by the imposition of vicious neoliberal policies. The reaction is developing but the obvious opposition leader, Lula de Silva, may be prevented from standing next year as president by a recent conviction for corruption – followed by the freezing of his assets. He will appeal but the reactionary supreme court may well uphold the decision. Another Workers’ Party (WP) candidate might be found but would not have the popularity of Lula. The WP itself is far from free of corruption, and a long furrow needs to be ploughed to develop other, more consistent socialist forces.
The elections in October this year will be hard fought. There is much feeling against the traditional political parties, because of the revelations of illegal financing of them all (nearly) by big business. The right-wing press and a lot of posts on Facebook hammer away at this, and the centre-left will suffer as right wingers do not worry about it.
The Communist Party, with 6 deputies in congress, has had a significant impact in improving the policies of the ruling coalition, the New Majority (NM) but has suffered electorally because of its association with the others.
The main candidate for the NM is an independent, a senator but a former journalist. The hope is, he will suffer less than a party political candidate. He is against Sebastián Piñera, the devious former president, a teflon man who shrugs off the evidence of his shady business dealings. A new political movement has also arisen, due to the revulsion against the traditional parties – the ‘Frente Amplio’ (Broad Front). This is a varied alliance of left-wing, green and liberal parties and movements and has got a lot of publicity from ‘El Mercurio’ the consistently right-wing and pro-imperialist daily. Its candidate, Beatriz Sánchez, will split the progressive vote but probably not achieve going to the second round of voting.
These elections, for Congress also, will be the first under new rules: perhaps the biggest gain of this parliament has been the prohibition of companies financing politics, and the end of the binominal system. There will now be a limited form of proportional election, with at least 3 deputies or senators elected from each constituency.
[i] The 9 objectives of the NCA, as given by President Maduro, are: 1) To restore peace, 2) Develop a new economic model, a post-oil economy, 3) Give the Social Missions constitutional status, 4) Strengthen the judicial system to tackle corruption, impunity, speculation, etc., 5) Recognise the new forms of democracy like the ‘Comunas’, 6) Defend Venezuelan sovereignty against foreign intervention, 7) Promote pluriculturalism, to overcome racial and social hatred, 8) Recognise youth rights, including to a first home, and 9) Preserve biodiversity and promote ecological culture.
"There is an economic war created by the right-wing opposition with imperialist help in maintaining low crude oil prices. Venezuela, with the biggest proven oil reserves in the world, is too important for the US to give up easily...the continual refusal of Saudi Arabia to cut production to lift oil prices has to do with pressure from its US ally to maintain the crisis in Venezuela."