The struggle against imperialism in Latin America

The US and British invasion of Iraq, trapping US forces and helping to push up oil prices, has created a window of opportunity for Latin America’s revolutionaries and long oppressed masses. Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia are opening the road to profound social change for millions of people, and by so doing they are challenging US hegemony on the continent.

The Honduran elections in November 2005 started a year of polling throughout Latin America. With a dozen presidential contests and 13 legislative elections, the class struggles throughout the region present a new and major challenge to US and European imperialism. So far this challenge has been either superficially portrayed by the European press as an electoral swing to the left, or misrepresented as a destructive ‘populism’.

Years of long and bitter struggles have been waged by the workers and peasants of Latin America to obtain basic democratic rights. Aggressive US intervention for over a century has had severely damaging consequences throughout the region, creating mass poverty and wholesale misery. More recently, from the mid-1960s to the 1990s, the US promoted state terror against the working class and peasantry in all these countries: imposing unserviceable debt and then demanding the subsequent privatisation of state assets as repayment. The accumulation of capital is the accumulation of misery in Latin America and the Caribbean. Last year alone saw a rise in ‘official’ regional unemployment of 1.3 million – half the global increase – with 15-24 year olds three times as likely to be unemployed as adults. In Latin America 23 million workers have no jobs while 103 million work ‘informally’. Workers, a high proportion driven from the land, end up as casual labour, in petty trading, crime, prostitution and despair. A huge, poverty stricken reserve army of labour constantly grows in size. This total of 126 million is expected to grow to 153 million in ten years.

Two opposed trends
Thirty years of imperialist plunder, an accelerating scramble for profit, resulted in a severe region-wide recession between 1998 and 2002. Fighting against the misery, new mass movements forced the ruling classes on the defensive. The political circumstances of each country differ but two distinctly opposite trends express themselves with increasing clarity. Either ruling elites have renewed their offensive against the workers by conniving with the US; or these elites are presently suffering defeats, being forced to yield political power to new political parties representing the ever more confident and class conscious masses.

Struggling between these two opposed paths we find most Latin American countries, each wracked by chronic class conflict, where the wealthy ruling groups violently defend their share of global plunder through their control over the region’s resources and oppression of the poor.

The first trend, openly pro-imperialist, is seen most clearly in Colombia. After 1998 the murderous ruling class agreed to an even closer embrace by the US to secure itself against the rebellious poor and especially against the revolutionary organisations, the FARC and the ELN. The victory of President Uribe’s party and allies in the legislative elections in March is witness to the propertied elite’s continuous and open use of terror, financed by the US and the narcotics industry. Uribe’s ‘strong-man’ agenda combines a rush to complete the ‘free trade’ pact with the US, imposing the IMF’s new demand for a reduced minimum wage, whilst centralising control over the use of force against the rural and urban poor. Millionaires resentful of his sell-out to the US are his only effective legal ‘opposition’, but having fixed the law to allow it, Uribe will be re-elected President on 28 May.

The second, opposite, democratic revolutionary trend, we now see most clearly in Venezuela. After eight years a new, and since the December 2005 elections, dominant, political party – the MVR – has been built around the demands of the poor. It has forced the ruling economic elite on the defensive. Its leader, President Chavez, will be re-elected President in December 2006. He fights to transform the conditions of the masses through a break with US imperialism. Central to this process is a new radically democratic constitution around which are grouped democratic nationalists, anti-imperialists and socialists. In Bolivia, the demand for a constituent assembly was part of Evo Morales’ landslide election victory in December 2005. In Peru it is central to Ollanta Humala’s campaign.

President Chavez is making every effort to construct an alternative economic framework for the peoples of Latin America, to end the unceasing interference of US multinationals. The importance of the Venezuelan workers’ successful struggle against the privatisation of the oil industry became clear as Venezuela was shown to possess oil reserves at least as great as those of Saudi Arabia. As part of the attack on US hegemony in Latin America, ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) presently made up of Venezuela, Cuba and, since April, Bolivia, has been established. This mutual assistance programme aims to stop the continuous under-development and imperialist exploitation of Latin America. Amongst the dozens of new ‘south-south’ agreements initiated, Cuban expertise has helped 1.5 million Venezuelans to read in two years through Mission Robinson. Meanwhile, Cuba receives oil from Venezuela, denied for over 45 years by the vicious US economic siege. Bolivians have now joined this regional programme.

In April President Chavez declared the intention of Venezuela to withdraw from the Andean Community of Nations (CAN) because Peru and Colombia have decided to sign pro-US ‘free-trade’ treaties. Colombia will cease to buy 900,000 tonnes of soya a year from Bolivia, importing instead from the US. Colombia and Peru have thus broken the CAN integration agreements of 1983, and a common external tariff of 1995, signed with Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia. Any attempt to compromise with this defection would fail, and Chavez has no choice but to reject it. Venezuela’s withdrawal will have a great affect on the other states, especially Colombia and is designed to dissuade Ecuador, Peru and Colombia from completing their negotiations with the US. The EU immediately withdrew its own offer of a Free Trade Agreement with CAN, to bring pressure on Venezuela.

Within the other Andean states the same historic struggle is unfolding, especially in Bolivia. In Venezuela and Bolivia the ruling elites have been unable to prevent the electoral breakthrough of the masses into the seat of state. Both have their first indigenous leaders. Che Guevara’s portrait now hangs in the Bolivian Presidential office. On 1 May, Bolivia reclaimed its national right to the use of its hydrocarbon resources. The US immediately cut off 96% of its military aid to provoke the military against Morales. It also refused to sell any more arms to Venezuela. A sharp confrontation now exists between the masses, with their new leaders, and the local economic elite working for global businesses.

National independence or imperial servitude?
Torn between these two opposing trends, we see the political struggles of the other states. In Ecuador, despite dollarisation, the end of even a semblance of financial independence from the US, massive and widespread demonstrations by workers and poor peasants continue against the current Free Trade Agreement negotiations with the US, which unelected President Palacio will try to force through before the October 2006 elections. This May the US oil multinational Occidental was expelled from Ecuador in a government effort to appease the mass movement.

In the 1980s the criminal US leaders terrorised Nicaragua for ten years to force out the legitimate Sandinista government. It is now furious that Ortega’s Sandinista Party is likely to win in November. It pleads for the two main opposition parties to unite, despite previous refusals, and has announced the withdrawal of all its current bribes to the Nicaraguan business class if Ortega wins.

In Peru, with run-off elections at the end of May, the ruling classes have shamelessly resurrected a corrupt ex-President, Alan Garcia (1985-90), to confront Ollanta Humala, who is appealing to the mass of the poor. When in office Garcia used 2.2 million % inflation over five years to starve the poor, and supervised the 1986 Lurigancho massacre of Sendero Luminosa political prisoners. Garcia has offered to create a regional front to oppose President Chavez’s internationalism. The outgoing President, Toledo, has rushed to sign a ‘free trade’ pact with the US which will worsen the poverty endured by 60% of the people, while huge quantities of gold, silver, copper, tin and zinc are trucked out of the country.

In Chile and Argentina, the workers were subject to the most notorious of the recent dictatorships, but their heroic struggles forced the national bourgeoisie to reassert a fragile political independence from imperialism. Each government firmly holds down its own working class, but in Argentina workers’ protests have threatened the elite and President Kirchner has alerted the IMF to the dangers to imperialist interests of further pushing its financial demands. This has created his reputation for independence from foreign influence and the ‘free trade’ agenda. He directly addresses middle class concerns, for example redressing crimes of the dictatorship and exposing the particularly corrupt period of the Menem government to the courts, in order to check-mate his political opponents. However the state treats the dispossessed and especially the pickets’ movement with an iron fist. In October 2005, 32 prisoners were killed in an uprising over visiting hours in a prison in Magdalena.

In Chile the military’s crimes under Pinochet are still ineffectively investigated. Profit remains in the driving seat. In the south the remaining indigenous peoples are robbed of their land for corporate profit. ‘All the Lands Council’ leader Aucan Huilcaman was forced off a plane at Santiago International Airport when he was about to fly to Bolivia to attend Evo Morales’ inauguration ceremony. Signing a trade agreement with the US presents the country with the fate of Mexico – becoming a US economic province. Whatever the outcome of Mexico’s July elections, the Congress will be split three ways since no significant mass struggle has arisen in the urban heartlands.

Since 2002 the EU has been busy in Paraguay consolidating its influence. Uruguay, pressed by the US, is on the point of breaking with Mercosur and negotiating a free trade agreement with the US. Left-wing parties that supported its election now oppose the Uruguayan government for failing to improve the workers’ conditions. Although the minority Brazilian government re-established diplomatic links with Cuba, and has agreed, along with Argentina, to major contracts with Venezuela, this is only an attempt by the national bourgeoisie to face oil and gas shortages and moderate the influence of US imperialism over them. This tells us no more about socialism than does the willingness of Argentina and Brazil to sign $20 billion of trade deals with China.

These states’ economic development is avowedly capitalistic. In Brazil 40 million people suffer hunger. In Sao Paulo two million people live in slums, 15,000 sleep on the streets and yet there are 39,289 abandoned buildings. The conflict between Argentina and Brazil over water beneath their common border illustrates the antagonism of capitalistic development. Brazil has reacted negatively to Bolivia’s reclamation of its own hydrocarbon resources.

Such behaviour contrasts with the goals and agenda of the Bolivarian treaty governments, which are socialistic and repress the market mechanism. The western liberal notion that a ‘pink’ or social democratic trend is evident in Brazil or the other Mercosur countries (Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay) is plain ignorance.

President Chavez has declared:

‘Injustice and inequality are losing: it is now up to us to define the formula of unity for victory. We need unity of all our currents. While respecting the right to autonomy of the movements, including the green movement and the various political and national movements, all of us should get together in a victorious offensive against imperialism...Time is short. If we do not change the world now, there may be no 22nd century for humanity. Capitalism has destroyed the ecological equilibrium of the earth. It is now or never!’

Alvaro Michaels

FRFI 191 June / July 2006


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