Crisis spreads to the ‘Switzerland of America’!

FRFI 169 October / November 2002

The dramatic run on the banks in Uruguay in August has put the country in nearly the same position as neighbouring Argentina.

From January to June, $5.7 billion fled Uruguay, 45% of bank deposits, much of which was Argentinean money. Central bank reserves fell $700m in the same period. In this ‘Switzerland of America’, half the 3.4 million population live in poverty and GDP has fallen since 1997 from 300m pesos to 270m in 2001. On 15 July, popular protests organised by trades unions against the privatisation of the state telephone company resulted in the death of two workers and the declaration of a state of


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The challenge to US imperialism

FRFI 170 December 2002 / January 2003

US imperialism faces a major crisis: it cannot accumulate the profits necessary to maintain its current position in the world. These are not simply the profits generated in the USA but the total profits generated by its exploitation of workers throughout the world. In addition, European investment throughout America in recent years has pushed the USA onto the defensive; it cannot lose opportunities for its own capital. Within Latin America there is the challenge from popular movements which has resulted in the election of Presidents Chavez in Venezuela, Gutierrez in Ecuador and Lula in Brazil. ALVARO MICHAELS reports.

US strategy to resolve this problem is straightforward. It has to re-establish its imperialist monopoly within Latin America, crush the popular movements and massively intensify the rate of exploitation. How will it achieve this? Through the 34-nation Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), the extension of the North American Free Trade Area. The FTAA removes all economic power from any state (except, of course, the USA): all state services have to be privatised, there has to be complete freedom of movement for capital to allow investment without restriction, state subsidies have to be ended and taxation on movements of all commodities abolished. In these circumstances the most productive and largest capitals will win, and they will be US multinationals. Through the FTAA the US hopes to restore its domination, exclude competing imperialist powers and further manipulate the continent in its interests alone.


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Latin America rises up against neo-liberalism

FRFI 170 December 2002 / January 2003

The RCG joined over 1,000 delegates from 41 countries attending the Second Hemispheric Conference of the Struggle Against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in Havana, Cuba, from 25-28 November. Representatives from social and political movements, trade unionists and analysts initiated discussion from the panel and workshops took place to establish continental exchange and unity for every sector, youth and students, rural workers, the indigenous movement, religious groups, trade unions, women’s groups, and environmental campaigners.

After in-depth discussion of the economic, political and social consequences of neo-liberalism, the conference drew up a ‘plan of action’ of immediate and concrete measures to develop the mass movement against the FTAA.


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Interview with James Petras: Neoliberalism and resistance

FRFI 172 April / May 2003

James Petras is a revolutionary, anti-imperialist activist and writer, who has worked with the Brazilian landless workers’ movement and the unemployed workers’ movement in Argentina. He gave this interview to Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! on 21 March 2003.

FRFI: What is the strategic importance of Latin America for the US, particularly in the present circumstances?

Well let’s deal with the phoney arguments that say Latin America’s percentage of world trade has been declining; its importance for the US economy as a whole, as a percentage of its world trade, has been declining, so it is not very important. These are generalised arguments with inappropriate comparisons. It is important to note that Latin America is the area where the US banks get the highest rates of return and where historically they have received the greatest part of their overseas earnings. Banks like Citibank and Bank of America have been enormously successful in transferring illegal funds from Latin America, amounting to tens of billions of dollars every year. In addition Latin America is the only region in the world where the US has favourable external accounts balance of payments, so it helps to compensate for the enormous deficits it has in Asia and even in Europe. From that vantage point, if the US did not have Latin America the dollar would be weaker and its external accounts would be in even worse shape than they are right now.


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Kirchner under pressure

FRFI 175 October / November 2003

With 60% of the population living below the poverty line, the intense squeeze on the poor and lower middle classes in Argentina leaves little room for manoeuvre by new President Kirchner who is attempting to regroup the Argentinean bourgeoisie. Since May he has sought favour with the US ruling class by releasing evidence on anti-Zionist bombings in August 1994 which killed 86 Argentineans. At the same time he has removed 58 generals in order to weaken US ‘coup capacity’. He then raised domestic support by revoking the 1986/7 laws granting immunity to 1,100 military and police for kidnap, torture, murder and other crimes committed during the dictatorship.


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Miami Anti-FTAA protests brutally suppressed

FRFI 176 December 2003 / January 2004

On 16 November the trade representatives of every country of the Americas, with the exception of Cuba, met in Miami to finalise the treaty of the Free Trade Area of the Americas. The aim of the FTAA is to allow virtually unrestricted access by multinationals into Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean. Opposing this, thousands of demonstrators converged in the city and were met with brutal repression as the US government had provided $8.5 million for a massive paramilitary attack.


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Fifty years of struggle and repression in Guatemala

In June 1954, US planes bombed Guatemalan cities while US-funded mercenaries invaded from Honduras and the CIA bribed the Guatemalan army to turn against the democratically elected government of Colonel Jacobo Arbenz. Thus ended an unprecedented ten-year period of democracy and social reforms that began with the previous elected President Juan Jose Arevalo in 1945. HELEN BURNES reports.

The CIA coup was a response to legislation by Arbenz to expropriate the uncultivated land of the powerful US multinational the United Fruit Company (La Frutera – the predecessor of today’s Del Monte corporation) and redistribute it to landless peasants. The coup, codenamed Operation Diabolo (Devil), was ordered in January 1954 by US President Eisenhower. It was organised by CIA Director Allen Dulles and his brother John Foster Dulles, US Secretary of State. The Dulles brothers both had shares in La Frutera.

Arbenz had played a key role in the civilian-military uprisings in summer and autumn of 1944 to bring down the dictator General Jorge Ubico. In December 1944 professor Arevalo won Guatemala’s first ever free election. Describing his government as ‘spiritual socialism’, he began to democratise the political system, introduce moderate legislation to redistribute uncultivated land and double the number of teachers and schools, whilst carefully distancing himself from Guatemalan communists. After his election, Arbenz took over in March 1951. He deepened and extended the reforms, recognising the Marxist Guatemalan Workers Party, which infuriated a US regime already set into the frenzied anti-communism of the McCarthy era.


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Uruguay: Trick or treat?

On Halloween, 31 October, Tabaré Vázquez and his Frente Amplio-Encuentro Progresista coalition gained an overwhelming victory in the Uruguayan general election, receiving over 50% of the vote and taking an absolute majority both in the Senate and the House of Deputies.

The victory of the Frente Amplio is partly due to the great workers’ movements that have recently staged six general strikes. It also follows a referendum victory that prevented the privatisation of the national oil company (Ancap). Many Uruguayans used the general election to punish the right wing for their negligent and corrupt capitalist policies, particularly after the August 2002 banking crisis when the economy contracted by 11%.


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A new stage in the revolutionary process

Further major victories for President Chavez’s ruling coalition were made in the regional (state and mayoral) elections on 31 October. This follows the historic rejection, in the 15 August referendum, of an opposition demand that Chavez be recalled from office. The Bolivarian movement won in 20 of the 22 states where elections were held, including the Miranda State governorship and the office of Metropolitan Mayor, both of which were active against President Chavez in the defeated 2002 coup. It took hold of an additional 50 municipalities. ALVARO MICHAELS reports.

In its bitter frustration, the opposition has again turned to violence. State Prosecutor Danilo Anderson was killed by a bomb in his jeep on 18 November. Amongst other cases, he had pressed charges against six agents of the Caracas metropolitan police for killings during the defeated coup. He was prominent in an investigation into nearly 400 activists who supported the coup, and was preparing a case against army officers – some accused of bombings in Caracas and now sheltering in the terrorist bolt-hole Florida – who had declared themselves in open rebellion against President Chavez.


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Interview: building worker-peasant unity

FRFI correspondent in Bolivia Juanjo Rivas spoke with Jaime Solares, Executive Secretary of the Central Obrera de Bolivia (COB), just after the fall of President Mesa in early June. The COB was formed in 1952, and was nearly destroyed as an organisation in the 1980s when Bolivian governments implemented IMF and World Bank-dictated structural reforms. It is a significant component of the Bolivian anti-imperialist forces, and consequently it is important to consider Solares’ views. This is an edited version of the interview.

Can you describe the COB and explain its historic development?
The COB was founded in 1952 with the overall aim of socialism. It was created as a means for workers to confront a corrupt government and above all to confront imperialism. In 1985, the government imposed structural reforms that sought to destroy the revolutionary union movement, but they did not completely succeed. The fundamental aim was to destroy any political consciousness amongst the workers. The best union movement for the neo-liberals is a ‘yellow’ one that has sold out. After 1985, almost all the COB Executive Secretaries made an art of destroying trade union life. When I joined, the COB was on the floor. Now in Latin America a united union movement exists only in Cuba, Uruguay and Bolivia. This is a threat to imperialism. In Argentina and Venezuela imperialism has been able to divide the trade union movement.


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ALBA is the new Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas. Initiated by President Chávez, it is a model for integration aimed at solving poverty, unemployment and debt. It is the re-initiation of Simon Bolivar’s idea of a union of republics, presented at the Congress of Panama in 1826. It is based on economic complimentarity, co-operation, solidarity and respect for sovereignty. It is a social and political project, not a commercial one.

This ‘titanic task’, the construction of an anti-imperialist project, has already seen solidarity in a new oil agreement ‘Petrocaribe’. Venezuela sells oil to 14 countries at 40% discount, paid over 25 years at 1% interest, with three years’ grace, and paid in goods and services to assist the weaker states. Co-operation has seen Brazil and Venezuela sign a new oil agreement, alongside very many agreements in place between Cuba and Venezuela, the founding nations of ALBA. Additionally, a new Latin American TV station, Telesur, has been created to combat Yankee propaganda. Outside of ALBA, but consistent with it, Venezuela has prompted the formation of the South American Community of Nations (2004), an initiative to integrate South American countries.


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Latin America round-up

Chile: student uprising
In Chile, a series of strikes and occupations by students has become the first major crisis to be faced by President Michele Bachelet’s government. Student anger at inequalities in education had been simmering for years and protesters saw the opportunity to force Bachelet to implement the ‘social justice’ she promised during the elections last December. The protests began in Santiago in late April, sparked by the announcement of an increase in the fee students pay to sit university entrance exams. Sit-ins and demonstrations
spread across the country’s schools and universities, drawing students from public and private schools into a struggle to overhaul Chile’s unjust education system. Pupils from secondary schools also joined the strikes. Demands included free bus passes, free university entrance exams, a shortening of the school day, greater student representation in the education system and a guaranteed quality education for all.

The government initially condemned the demonstrations and refused to take the students’ demands seriously. Police brutality on their demonstrations did not deter the strikers and public support for them grew in the light of the security forces’ indiscriminate violence. After a national day of action supported by teachers’ unions and involving over 700,000 students on 30 May, Bachelet was forced to announce a series of reforms and an increase in funding. Student leaders rejected the proposals and a second day of action went ahead on 5 June. The national student assembly finally called off the protests on 9 June, agreeing to take part in the president’s newly-created advisory panel on education. Round One to the students.


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The fight for a United Socialist Party

President Chavez is determined to establish a new United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), dissolving the current governing party, the Movement of the Fifth Republic (MVR). He has offered open discussions on the new party’s constitution with all members of other parties presently supporting the government. In March the first groups of ‘promoters’ of the new party were sworn in; then 16,000 more activists began their task of motivating and registering members. A target of 70,000 promoters was set for 26 May; they will constitute socialist battalions. Discussions about the new party will be organised across the country. The State National Electoral Council has been asked to supervise party registration. At the end of June PSUV members will elect representatives to a Founding Congress to design its political programme: a socialism for the 21st century.

The December announcement shocked the three bigger parties that have worked with the MVR. Patria Para Todos and the Venezuelan Communist Party which won 590,000 and 340,000 votes respectively in the last elections, subsequently agreed to join the discussions which anticipate their organisations’ dissolution. However, Podemos, a ‘moderate’ left party that gained 750,000 votes, has rejected the idea. Chavez makes clear distinctions between socialists and liberal democrats so he has called on the electorate to recall two Governors, of Sucre and Aragua, leaders of Podemos now opposing the embryonic socialist party.


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Peru paralysed

On 11-12 July a national agrarian strike took place involving more than five million agricultural workers, small producers and craftsmen throughout Peru, demanding the rejection of a free trade treaty with the US. Whilst the action arose out of protests by teachers against new educational legislation, Peru has been reduced to a standstill by continuous strikes and protests against recently-elected President Garcia’s economic and political programme of handing over water, mining, and forestry resources to multinationals. The activity is without any recent precedent. 70,000 workers and students marched in Lima on 11 July, and opposition leader Ollanta Humala proposed the creation of a popular constituent assembly to agree a programme to displace Garcia. On 16 July, in Andahuaylas, 4,000 protesters clashed with police, who killed one man and injured dozens. This followed a pitched battle in Lima when 1,000 workers captured and then released nine police officers. In Puno workers overran the airport and railway station. Imperialism is facing a renewed challenge.

Alvaro Michaels

FRFI 198 August / September 2007


Climate of fear surrounds presidential elections

On 4 November, presidential elections in Guatemala resulted in victory for Alvaro Colom, an ex-businessman and Mayan priest. His success in the second round came after he courted votes from the ruling coalition Gran Alianza Nacional as well as former militiamen of the paramilitary Patrullas de Autodefensas Civil. This enabled him to defeat Otto Perez Molina, ex-general and former head of military intelligence who had led in the first round of voting at the beginning of September.

Molina has been accused of atrocities during a hideous 36-year-long civil war which resulted in the deaths of 250,000 people during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The indigenous Mayans were butchered in their tens of thousands in a campaign led by General Jose Efrain Rios Montt (who was also head of state in 1982-83) and his paramilitary allies. Thousands of socialists, workers, indigenous leaders and human rights supporters were slaughtered as US imperialism backed the local ruling class to the hilt, with Israel sending arms and advisers.


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Cuban doctors bring hope to Venezuela’s barrios

In recent months, Cuba has strengthened agreements made with the Venezuelan government, aimed at improving the living conditions of the Venezuelan working class through social projects ranging from free sports training to a massive literacy campaign. One of the most impressive contributions has been in health care, which the Chavez government aims to revolutionise by providing virtually free medical care via local clinics, with the help of thousands of Cuban specialists. Cubans are involved in similar campaigns from Honduras to Argentina; perhaps it is this solidarity that US Secretary of State Colin Powell was referring to in January when he hypocritically attacked Cuba for so-called attempts to ‘destabilise parts of the region’ and ‘create discontent’. JUANJO RIVAS reports on the Cuban internationalist mission in Venezuela.

In 1999 the Chavez government approved one of the world’s most progressive constitutions that challenges the problems of a country exhausted by poverty, foreign intervention, illiteracy, infant mortality and corruption. Fine words on paper have been backed by concrete programmes, including:


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Cuba and Haiti: socialism or poverty

FRFI 178 April / May 2004

Haiti is Cuba’s closest neighbour in the Caribbean. The two countries share a common history of sugar plantations, slavery and colonial exploitation. Both have had wars and revolutions to overthrow their colonial masters. The revolution in Haiti in 1804 against the French established the world’s first black republic. In Cuba the 19th century wars of liberation against the Spanish colonialists finally culminated in the revolution of 1959 that threw out the US imperialists and their puppets who had usurped the Spanish role. Yet the paths then taken by the two countries have been very different, as JIM CRAVEN reports.

In the late 1950s, conditions for the vast majority of both the Cuban and the Haitian people were appalling. Infant mortality in Haiti was 170 deaths per 1,000 live births and life expectancy was just 47 years. Cubans were marginally better off, with infant mortality at 60 and life expectancy 59 years. Only 3% of rural Cubans had running water; only 4% had meat to eat; health and education services were virtually non-existent.


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Cuba and Venezuela building a new movement in Latin America

FRFI 183 February / March 2005

On 14 December, Hugo Chavez, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and President Fidel Castro of Cuba signed a document to extend and modify the Integral Co-operation Agreement of 30 October 2000. Beyond the economics, this social programme sets the basis for continental action, mutual support against imperialism and cooperative trade between oppressed nations, within the framework of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). JUANJO RIVAS reports.

2005 is the deadline set by the United States for the implementation of the neo-liberal Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) – or its carbon copies on bilateral and regional levels. The FTAA aims to ‘denationalise’ the economies of Latin America, subordinating them to the dictates of foreign capital. By their example, Cuba and Venezuela have put themselves at the head of a hemispheric movement of resistance to imperialist interests, for the benefit of the poor and against the seemingly invincible might of market-based solutions.
The Integral Co-operation Agreement commits both countries to:


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