The Center Left regimes and their Left intellectual supporters represent a sad epitaph on the radical generation of the 1970\’s and 1980\’s: they are a spent force, lacking critical ideas and audacious proposals for challenging imperialism and capitalist rule
Several years ago I asked an editor of a leading US business journal (Forbes) about a Mexican President (Echevarria) who was speaking at a Leftist conference commemorating Chilean President Allende.
He answered, ‘He talks to the Left and works for the Right’.
A factual review of the performance of the recent ‘Center Left’ Presidents in Latin America fits very well with the comment of that Forbes editor, and goes contrary to much of the opinion of the European and US Left.
What is ‘Left’: Method
Prior to any discussion of the ‘Center-Left’ regimes in Latin America today, it is important to review exactly what it means to be left – from a historical, theoretical and practical perspective. The method for determining ‘What is left’ is based on analyzing the substance and not the symbols or rhetoric of a regime or politician. The practical measures include budgets, property, income, employment, labor legislation, priorities in expenditures and revenues. The key is to focus on the present social referents, social configurations of power and alliances – not the past – given the changing dynamics of power and class politics. The third methodological issue is to differentiate between a political campaign and the policies of a political party in power, as there is a well-known enormous discrepancy between them.
What is Left: Criteria
Historically and empirically there is a consensus among academics and activists as to what constitutes criteria and indicators for defining Left politics. These include: 1. Decreasing social inequalities, 2. Increasing living standards, 3. Greater public and national ownership over private and foreign ownership, 4. Progressive taxes (income/corporate) over regressive (VAT, consumption), 5. Budget priorities favoring greater social expenditures and public investments in jobs rather than subsidies to exploiters and foreign debt payments, 6. Promoting and protecting national ownership of raw materials over foreign exploitation, 7. Diversification of production to value added products as opposed to selling unprocessed raw materials, 8. Subordinating export production to the development of the domestic market, 9. Popular participation and power in decision-making as opposed to elite decision making by businesses, international bankers (IMF) and political elites, 10. Consultation with mass movements in selection of key cabinet ministers instead of local and foreign business elites, 11. Adoption of anti-imperialist foreign policy against support of free-markets, military bases and imperial wars and occupation, 12. Reversing prejudicial privatizations against extending and consolidating privatizations, 13. Increasing the minimum wage against excess foreign debt payments and 14. Promoting labor legislation facilitating trade union organization, a universal free public education and health services.
With these criteria in mind we can proceed to analyze and evaluate the contemporary ‘Center Left’ regimes to determine whether ‘New Winds from the Left’ are sweeping Latin America.
Brazil- President Lula 2003-2006
Lula, even prior to his election, signed a letter of understanding with the IMF (June 2002) to pay the foreign debt, to maintain a budget surplus of 4% (up to 4.5% subsequently), to maintain macro-economic stability and to continue neo-liberal ‘reforms’. Upon election he slashed public employee pensions by 30% (and bragged that he had the ‘courage’ to carry out IMF ‘reforms’ where previous right-wing presidents failed).
Agrarian policy was directed toward financing and subsidizing agro-business exports, while the agrarian reform program stagnated and even regressed. Lula’s promise to his ‘ally’, the Landless Workers Movement (MST), to distribute land to 100,000 families a year was totally disregarded. Under the previous Center-Right President Cardoso regime 48,000 families received land each year compared to 25,000 per year under Lula, leaving over 200,000 families camped by highways under plastic tents and 4.5 million landless families with no hope. To ‘promote’ capital investment, Lula introduced labor legislation increasing the power of employers to fire workers and lowering the cost of severance pay.
Social programs in health and education were sharply reduced by over 5% during the first three years, while foreign debt creditors received punctual (and even early) payments of $150 billion dollars – making Brazil a ‘model’ debtor. Past privatizations of dubious legality of lucrative petrol (Petrobras), mining (Vale del Doce), and banks were extended to public infrastructure, services and telecommunications – reversing seventy years of history – and making Brazil more vulnerable to foreign owned re-locations of production.
Brazil’s exports increasingly took on the profile of a primary producer; exporters of iron, soya, sugar, citrus juice, and timber expanded while its industrial sector stagnated due to the worlds highest interest rates of 18.5% and the lowering of tariff barriers. Over 25,000 shoe workers lost their jobs due to cheap Chinese imports. Brazil, after Guatemala, remained the country with the greatest inequalities in Latin America. Lula’s pro-agro-export policy led to accelerated exploitation of the Amazon rain forest and deep incursions into Brazilian Indian territory, thanks to budget cuts in the Environment and Indigenous Affairs Agencies.
In foreign policy, Lula sent troops and officials to occupy Haiti and defend the puppet regime resulting from the US orchestrated invasion and deposition of elected President Aristide. Lula’s differences with the US over ALCA were clearly over US compliance with ‘free trade’ and not over any defense of national interests. As Lula stated, ‘Free trade is the best system, providing everyone practices it’ – meaning his opposition revolved around US subsidies and protection of agriculture.
Lula’s key economic ministers and central bankers were dominated by right-wing bankers, corporate executives and neo-liberal ideologues linked to the IMF and multinational corporations occupied the Finance, Economy, Trade and Agriculture Ministries and the Central Bank.
While Lula opposed the US-sponsored coup against Venezuela in April 2002 as well as other extremist measures and spoke for greater Latin American integration via MERCOSUR, in practice his major trade policies focused on deepening his ties outside the region – with Asia, Europe and North America.
The empirical data on all the key indicators demonstrate that Lula fits closer to the profile of a right-wing neo-liberal politician rather than a ‘Center-Leftist’ President. Intellectuals and journalists who classify Lula as a leftist rely on his social, trade union and occupational background, twenty to thirty years earlier and his theatrical populist symbolic gestures.
Argentina – President Kirchner (2003-present)
Under President Kirchner Argentina has grown at a rate of 8.5% per year, substantially increased export earnings, reduced unemployment from over 20% to approximately 15%, raised pensions and wages, re-negotiated a portion of the private foreign debt and rescinded the laws granting impunity to military torturers. Compared to Lula’s ultra-liberal policies, Kirchner appears as a progressive leader. Looked at from a leftist perspective however, the regime falls far short.
Kirchner has not reversed any of the fraudulent privatizations of Argentina’s strategic energy, petroleum and electrical industries. Under his regime profits of major agro-industrial and petroleum sectors have skyrocketed with no commensurate increases in salaries. In other words, inequalities have either increased or remained the same depending on the sectors. While Kirchner has financed and subsidized the revival of industry and promotion of agro-exports, salaries and wages have barely reached the level of 1998 – the last year before the economic crisis. Moreover while poverty levels have declined from their peak of over 50% in 2001, they are still close to 40% — for a country which produces enough grain and meat to supply a population six times the size of Argentina.
Kirchner’s central banker and economic and finance ministers have long-term ties to international capital and banks. While economic growth and some social amelioration have taken place, much of it can be attributed to the favorable world commodity prices for beef, grains, petroleum and other prime materials. In foreign policy Kirchner, like Lula, opposes ALCA because the US has refused to reciprocate in lowering its tariff barriers.
Kirchner’s foreign policy is hardly anti-imperialist: Argentine troops occupy Haiti at the behest of the US and engage in joint maneuvers with the US. While Kirchner repudiated the law of impunity, no new trials and punishments have yet to be meted out. While Kirchner opposes US attacks on Venezuela, he supports the US proposal to refer Iran to the Security Council of the UN. While unemployment has declined, one out of six Argentines is still out of work. The unemployment relief remains at $50 per family per month. While nominal salaries have increased, growing inflation of over 10% has reduced real earnings for the majority of public employees.
The structures of socio-economic power remain in place – in fact Kirchner has played a major role in restoring and consolidating capitalist hegemony after the mass popular uprisings of December 2001. He has neither redistributed property, income or power – except among the different segments of the capitalist class. His criticism of Washington only extends to the most extreme interventionist measures which seek to prejudice Argentine big business and convert it into a powerless client: hence Argentina’s opposition to the State Department’s attempt to form an anti-Chavez bloc. Kirchner’s rejection is based almost exclusively on the facts that Argentina receives petrol-gas at subsidized prices, has secured a major ship-building contract and has signed lucrative trade agreements with Venezuela to market its agricultural and manufactured products. With regard to Cuba, Kirchner opened diplomatic relations but has maintained his distance. While on excellent diplomatic terms with Chavez, he shares none of his redistributive policies.
In conclusion, Kirchner meets none of our criteria as a leftist. He is more clearly a pragmatic conservative willing to dissent from the US when it is profitable for his agro-business and industrial capitalist social base. At no point has Kirchner shifted any of the budget surplus now used to pay the foreign debt to fund the deteriorated health and educational facilities and to provide better salaries for personnel in those vital public sectors.
Uruguay – President Tabare Vazquez
Tabare Vazquez was elected by an electoral coalition (The Broad Front and Progressive Encounter), which included Tupamaros, Communists, Socialists and an assortment of Christian Democrats and liberal democrats. However his key appointments to the Central Bank and the Economic Ministry (Danilo Astori) are hardline neo-liberals and defenders of continuing previous budgeting constraints toward social spending while generously financing the agro-export elites.
During the Economic Summit in Mar de Plata (Argentina) in November 2005, while tens of thousands protested against Bush, and Chavez declared ALCA dead, Tabare Vazquez and Astori signed a wide reaching ‘investment protection’ agreement with the US, which embraced the major free market principles embodied in ALCA.
Astori, with Tabare Vazquez’ backing, has not only rejected re-nationalization of enterprise, but has proposed to proceed to privatize major state enterprises including a water company, despite a popular referendum vote which exceeded 65% in favor of maintaining state ownership. The Tabare Vazquez regime has taken no measures to lessen inequalities and has put in place a paltry ‘job creation’ and emergency food relief program which covers a small fraction of the poor, indigent and unemployed Uruguayans.
Meanwhile the government has laid down the royal carpet for a Finnish-owned, highly contaminating, cellulose factory which will prejudice fishing communities and perhaps even the important tourist facilities downstream. Tabare Vazquez and Astori’s unilateral signing off on the controversial factory has resulted in a major conflict with Argentina which borders the Uruguay River where the plant will be located.
The Tabare Vazquez regime has repudiated every major programmatic position embraced by the Broad Front (Frente Amplio) in its 30 years of existence: from sending troops in support of the occupation of Haiti, to privatizing public properties, embracing free trade, welcoming foreign investment and imposing wage and salary austerity controls on the working class. Tabare Vazquez, like Kirchner, re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba, but he avoids any close relationship with Venezuela.
Probable the most bizarre aspects of the Broad Front government is the behavior of the Tupamaros, the former urban guerrilla group converted into Senators and Ministers. Minister of Argiculture Mujica supports agro-business and foreign investment in agriculture while upholding the law on evicting landless squatters in the interior. Senator Eleuterio Huidobro attacks human rights groups demanding judicial investigations against military officials implicated in assassinations and disappearances of political prisoners. According to Huidobro, the ‘past is best forgotten’. He embraces the military and turns his back on scores of his former comrades who were tortured, murdered and buried in unmarked graves.
Bolivia – Evo Morales
Probably the most striking example of the ‘center-left’ regimes, which have embraced the neo-liberal agenda, is the Morales regimes in Bolivia.
Between October 2003 and July 2005, scores of factory workers, unemployed urban workers and Indian peasants were killed in the struggle for the nationalization of petroleum and gas, Bolivia’s most lucrative economic sector. Two presidents were overthrown by mass uprisings in 2 years for defending foreign ownership of the energy resources. Evo Morales did not participate in either uprising, in fact he supported the hastily installed neo-liberal President Carlos Mesa until he,too, was driven from power.
As President, Evo Morales has totally and categorically rejected the expropriation of gas and petroleum, providing explicit long-term, large-scale guarantees that all the facilities of the major energy multinational corporations will be recognized, respected and protected by the state. As a consequence, the MNC’s have not only expressed their support for Morales but have lined up to extend and deepen their control and exploitation of these non-renewable resources.
Morales, through a not-too-clever semantic manipulation, claims that ‘nationalization’ is not expropriation and transfer of property to the state. According to Morales ‘new’ definition, minority state ownership of shares, tax increases and promises to ‘industrialize’ the raw materials are equivalent to nationalization. While the exact terms of the new contracts have yet to be published, all the major MNCs are in full agreement with Morales policies. The proof is that Petrobras, the primarily privately owned Brazilian oil and gas giant, is prepared to invest $5 billion dollars over the next 6 years in the exploitation of gas and petroleum and in the construction of a petrol-chemical complex. Repsol (the Spanish MNC), promises the invest $150 million dollars, Total (French MNC), BP (British MNC) and every other major energy and mining MNC is prepared to expand investments and reap billions in profits under the protective umbrella of Morales and his MAS (Movement to Socialism) Regime. No previous regime in Bolivian history has opened the country to mineral exploitation by so many MNCs in such lucrative fields in such a short period of time. In addition to oil and gas sell-offs, Morales has declared he will proceed to privatize the Mutun iron fields (60 square kilometers with an estimated 40 billion tons of iron with an estimated worth of over $30 billion dollars), following the lead of his neo-liberal predecessors. The only changes which Morales will introduce in the bidding is to raise the share of taxes Bolivia will receive from $0.50 (US cents) a ton to an undisclosed ‘but reasonable’ (according to the MNCs) amount.
Contrary to his promises, Morales has refused to triple the minimum wage. His Minister of the Economy has promised to retain the previous regime’s policies of fiscal austerity and ‘macro-economic stability’ while the increase in the minimum wage will amount to less than 10%. The Morales government raised the teachers’ base salary a meager 7%, but in real terms less than 2%. The teachers base salary is $75 US dollars a month, so their net gain under the new ‘revolutionary’ Indian president is less than $2 dollars a month (and this at a time of record prices for Bolivian raw material exports) at a time of a budget surplus, no less.
Evo Morales, the cocalero leader, declared his support for the continued presence of the US military base at Chapare, and the intrusive presence of the US Drug Enforcement Agency while reducing the areas of coca production to less than 1 acre for domestic medical uses, in keeping with US policy demands.
Morales’ appointments to the economic, defense and other ministries have been linked to the IMF, World Bank and to previous neo-liberal regimes.
Morales and his Agricultural Minister are opposed to any expropriations of any large landowners, ‘whether they are owners of 5,000, 10,000, or 25,000 or more acres as long as they are productive’. This has effectively put an end to the hopes of millions of landless Indian peasants for a ‘profound agrarian reform’ as promised by the Indian President. Instead Morales is promoting agro-export agriculture with generous subsidies and tax incentives.
Most indicative of Morales pro-big business policies was the February 2006 signing of a pact with the Confederation of Private Businessmen of Bolivia, in which he promised to maintain ‘macro-economic stability’ and the ‘international credibility’ of the country. This, in effect, meant curtailing social spending, promoting foreign investment, prioritizing exports, maintaining monetary stability and above all promoting private investors. Morales’ abject servility before the Bolivian capitalist elite was evident in his decision to re-activate the National Business Council which will analyze and take decisions on economic and political issues. Morales said, ‘I am asking the businessmen to support me with their experience.’ (Forgetting to add their experience in exploiting the labor force.) He went on to ask the businessmen to advise him on ‘ALCA, MERCOSUR’ on agreements with China, the USA’as to their benefits for the country’. The president of the Business Confederation, Guillermo Morales, immediately emphasized the importance of signing up on the free trade agreement (ALCA).
While Morales was signing a business pact he refused to meet with the leaders of FEJUVE (The Federation of Neighborhood Councils of El Alto), the biggest, most active, democratic urban organization in Bolivia which was most active in leading the struggle overthrowing the previous neo-liberal presidents and demanding the nationalization of gas and petroleum. Morales received 88% of the vote in El Alto, which suffered scores of deaths, and injuries in the run-up to his election. Morales named 2 ministers from FEJUVE, Mamani (Water Minister) and Patzi (Education Minister) without consulting FEJUVE which takes all decisions via popular assemblies. Both Ministers were forced to resign from FEJUVE in part because Patzi rejected the long-standing demand of creating a teachers college for the 800,000 residents of El Alto claiming it was an ‘unacceptable cost for the system’ (given Morales’ selective austerity budget). Equally reprehensible, Mamani has refused to expel the foreign multi-national Aguas del Illimani, which overcharges consumers and fails to provide adequate services.
According to FEJUVE the Morales regime has failed to deal with the most elementary problem such as the exorbitant electricity rates, the absence of any plan to provide and connect households with heating gas and water lines. The major trade union confederations and federations (COB, Miners and others) have protested Morales’ refusal to abrogate the reactionary labor laws passed by his predecessors which ‘flexibilized labor’ ? empowering employers to hire and fire workers with impunity. In reward for his pro-business policies, Japan, Spain and the World Bank have ‘forgiven’ Bolivia’s foreign debt.
Morales has excelled in ‘public theater’ adopting a ‘populist’ folkloric style which engages the lower classes. He delivered part of his Presidential Speech to Congress in Aymara; he dances with the crowds during carnival; he declares a reduction of his presidential salary’ as part of an austerity program lowering living standards for millions of poor Bolivians. He announces a ‘plot’ against him by unspecified oil companies to rally support among his followers, while he prepares to sign away the country’s energy resources to the oil companies. Needless to say, neither the Defense or Interior Ministries were aware of the ‘plot’, nor was any evidence ever presented. But the non-existent ‘plot’ served to distract attention from his energy sellout. While Morales has spoken of his dear friend Hugo Chavez and embraced Fidel Castro, he has conceded US military bases and offices to the DEA and signed off multi-billion dollars of Bolivia’s energy and mining resources to the US, European and Brazilian MNCs. Morales has improved diplomatic relations with Cuba and Venezuela and secured social and economic aid but the economic foundations of his policies and the dominant economic institutions are oriented toward integration with the Western imperial countries.
The empirical analyses demonstrate that the Morales regime is following in the footsteps of his neo-liberal predecessors in terms of his big business outlook and his obedience with IMF fiscal, monetary and budgetary policies. His policies, appointments, institutional ties and big business beneficiaries link him closer to the Center-Right than to any ‘Left-Wing’.
A Note on Peru and Ecuador
At an early point in office the Left hailed the election of Toledo in Peru and Gutierrez in Ecuador, citing their plebian beginnings, their alliances with Indian organizations (such as CONAIE in Ecuador) or Indian origins (Toledo spoke Quechua and wore a poncho during his election campaign). Notwithstanding the fact that Toledo was a graduate of Stanford’s neo-liberal graduate program and a functionary in the World Bank, the Left hailed his opposition to the Fujimori dictatorship (with US backing) as a sign that ‘change would come’.
Indeed change did come in the form of intensified privatizations of mining, water and energy, subsidies for agro-mining exporters, lifting of trade barriers and declining living standards for the poor and middle class. For the last 3 years Toledo’s opinion ratings never exceeded 15% and mostly hovered below 10%.
Gutierrez once in office embraced IMF doctrines, extended support to the US’ Plan Colombia, backed the US military base in Manta, proposed the privatization of the state oil and electrical companies, jailed protesting trade union leaders, divided the Indian movement through selective funding and ties to right wing evangelical leaders and eventually was ousted in a popular uprising in 2005. The legacy of Gutierrez was a much-weakened Indian social movement (CONAIE), the discrediting of Pachacutik, its fraternal party, and a decapitated trade union movement.
It was only after the political damage was an accomplished fact that the Left belatedly recognized the reactionary nature of the Gutierrez and Toledo regimes, that they dissociated themselves from them and stopped referring to them as part of the ‘New Left Winds’.
The Unfortunate History of the Left Intellectual
Great majorities of Latin America – workers, peasants, unemployed and poor have – suffered grave consequences from their movements’ support for ‘Center-Left’ parties and coalitions. Much of the blame must fall on their immediate leaders, some of whom were co-opted, others deceived, manipulated or self-deceived. But part of the fault lies with Leftist intellectuals, journalists, NGOers, and academics who wrote and spoke in favor of the ‘Center-Left’ politicians and parties. They promoted their virtues, their histories and their promises; they lauded their opportunities, their plebian backgrounds, and their probity – in a vastly uninformed, uncritical and superficial manner.
The list of Leftist intellectuals covers three continents and reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of the Left: Emir Sader, Michel Lowy, Heinz Dietrich, Perry Anderson, Atilio Boron, Raul Zibechi, Frei Betto, Noam Chomsky, Ignacio Ramonet among others. All to one degree or another, over a longer or shorter time sang to the chorus of ‘New Left Winds are blowing in Latin America’. A close reading of their writings reveals that the Left intellectuals were more influenced by the text and rhetoric pf the ‘Center-Left’ personalities and parties and less by their class practices, economic policies, strategic political appointments and their elite linkages prior to and after being elected.
In general, the Left intellectuals were seduced by political symbols, political forms and identity politics (especially the presence of ‘Indians’ and women in positions of power) and not with the socio-economic content and class nature of their policies. They made much of the ‘Indian’, ethnic identity or social origins of the party or personality at the expense of their neo-liberal transformation, business elite reference groups, their current socio-economic elite associates. They played into the political gestures and theater: the promises to reduce Presidential salaries (Morales), ceremonies paying homage to past struggles (Tupamaros), weeping or ‘feeling’ for the poor (Lula) rather than the selling off of the strategic raw materials to foreign multinational corporations.
In part the Left intellectuals’ judgments were impaired by a nostalgic remembrance of years past – when they knew Lula as a trade union leader (25 years before), the Frente Amplio (resisting the military dictatorship in Uruguay in the 1970s), Evo (as the militant coca farmers leader in the 1990s), Kirchner (as a sympathizer to the Montoneros in the 1970s). Writing on the basis of out of date identities, the Left intellectuals failed to intuit, analyze or understand the vast transformation from left to right. Instead they invented a non-existent but hospitable ‘Center-Left’ which fit in with their wishes and desires to be ‘against’ the system while being part of it.
Not a few left intellectuals were impressed by the ‘Center-Left’s’ diplomatic gestures of friendship to Cuba and Venezuela, the warm reception of Hugo Chavez, even the occasional embrace of progressive leaders. No doubt they confused Cuba’s and Venezuela’s favorable diplomatic gestures toward the ‘Center-Left’ regimes (understandable from the view of state policies aimed at countering US pressures) as a general endorsement of their internal policies. Independently of the reasons for Cuban and Venezuelan support, the Left intellectuals invented a ‘common purpose’ with the ‘center left’, some even fantasizing a new ‘left bloc’ (Dietrich) based presumable on their policies deepening foreign ownership of strategic materials, widening social inequalities and promoting free trade.
Symbolic politics is visually accessible on the front pages of the mass media – it does not require a capacity to research, collect and analyze date. Insofar as the Left intellectuals substituted the ‘Symbolic Left’ for the real existing converts to Neo-Liberalism, they are at ease in accepting invitations to Presidential inaugurations, imbibing cocktails at receptions, enticed by their chance to be close to power – for many a new experience. The ‘Left Winds’ blow through the empty space between their ears.
There are powerful left-wing forces in Latin America and later or sooner they will contest and challenge the power of the Neo-liberal converts as well as their allies in Washington and in the multinational corporations. Sooner, in the case of Bolivia, where the scale and scope of Morales’ broken promises and embrace of the business elite has already provoked the mobilization of the class-conscious trade unions, the mass urban organizations and the landless peasants. The insurrectionary movements on whose back Morales rode to office are completely intact and their co-opted leaders replaced by new militants. The populist ‘gestures’ and ‘folkloric’ theater have only a limited time span for diversion in the face of the grinding poverty of class-conscious miners and the Indian militants in El Alto. The insurrectionary forces that brought Morales to power can also bring him down.
In the past 4 years over $3 billion dollars of US military assistance has been spent on Plan Colombia by the Uribe terrorist regime which includes 1,500 US Special Forces ‘advisers’ and yet not only have they failed to defeat the FARC (The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), they have suffered major defeats in late 2005-2006 in the face of a guerrilla offensive. Uribe may win re-election for President but he will at best rule only half of the country.
In Brazil, the Lula regime and its control and co-optation of the class collaborationist labor confederation (CUT) has led to the formation of a new militant confederation ConLuta (founded May 2006). The MST’s critical collaboration with the Lula regime has led to a political impasse, internal debates and a sharp decline in support within and outside of the organization, hopefully leading to a political rectification and re-orientation toward class politics. The Brazilian left faces a ‘long march’ toward regaining its formidable presence. The case is similar in Uruguay and Argentina: the new ‘Center-Left’ neo-liberals unlike the old right have co-opted many of the leaders of the major trade unions and some of the unemployed workers groups through government posts, inclusion in Congressional electoral slates and generous stipends.
Venezuela under President Chavez stands as the major political figure representing a real governmental challenge to US imperialism. He has led the fight against ALCA and the US invasion of Haiti; he defeated a US-sponsored coup attempt and has demonstrated that social welfare, nationalism and political independence is viable in the Hemisphere.
But as in Cuba, Chavez faces not only US aggression from the outside but contradictions from within. Many officials in his party (The Fifth Republic), the state apparatus and sectors of the military are not in favor of his proposed Twenty-First Century Socialism. Between Chavez and the 10 million voters who support him is a political apparatus of dubious political credentials with notable exceptions. Likewise Fidel Castro has spoken of a profound internal threat from a ‘new class’ of rich emerging from the scarcities of the Special Period (1992-2000) and opening to tourism. He has called for a new revolution within the revolution. If there are ‘New Left Winds blowing in Latin America’ they come from Fidel’s call for a new revolution within the Left, from Chavez insistence that socialism is the only alternative to capitalism, from the new mass leaders in Bolivia, Brazil and elsewhere as well as from the advancing 25,000-member guerrilla movement in Colombia.
The Center Left regimes and their Left intellectual supporters represent a sad epitaph on the radical generation of the 1970’s and 1980’s: they are a spent force, lacking critical ideas and audacious proposals for challenging imperialism and capitalist rule. They will not fade away – they have too much of a stake in the current system. A new generation of popular leaders, self-didactic, and young intellectual-militants are emerging in the urban councils of El Alto, in the new class-oriented trade unions of Brazil, among the students joining the peasant fighters in the jungles of Colombia. They are the ‘Left Winds’ of Latin America.
By the commonly understood criteria of the Left, the Latin American regimes hailed by many intellectuals as ‘New Winds from the Left’ fail to meet the test: none pursue redistributive policies; most have implemented regressive budgeting policies, subsidizing big business and reducing expenditures for social policy; class selective austerity programs have been applied prejudicial to minimum wage earners and low-paid public employees in health and education; privatizations – legal and illegal – have been extended and deepened, even of lucrative publicly owned mineral and energy sectors; foreign investors have been given privileged access to local markets, cheap labor and privatized enterprises and banks.
While none of the so-called ‘Center-Left’ regimes can be considered ‘leftist’ there are some variations in the degree of conformity with the neo-liberal model. Kirchner has channeled some of the economic surplus in funding national capitalist development and supported some price controls on basic food stuffs and electricity rates, while Lula has been at the other extreme prejudicing national manufacturing with an overvalued Brazilian Real and exorbitant interest rates favoring financial capital.
Morales combines the extremist pro-foreign investment policies of Lula, especially in minerals and petrol with a policy of increasing tax rates on foreign-owned mining, gas and oil producers. While most provide troops for the US-sponsored occupation of Haiti, and continue to support US military bases in Bolivia and Brazil, they are unanimous in their opposition of US direct intervention in Venezuela. While most promote minimalist subsistence anti-poverty programs, none pursue structural changes in land tenure and public investments toward creating employment to get at the root of poverty.
The US policy designed and executed by one of the most extreme rightist regimes in recent Western history has led to some frictions, particularly in its attempt to impose non-reciprocal free trade agreements and a legal basis to punish electoral regimes for not conforming to US dictates. Within the framework of neo-liberal politics, these regimes face strong pressures from popular organizations and threats of renewed mass direct action. This in itself serves to pressure these regimes into making symbolic gestures of independence and opposition faced with the extremist demands from the ultra-imperialist Bush regime. It would be a mistake however to consider these regime gestures as a sign of a major left revival when in fact the credit is due to the mass movements outside the regime who demand more than symbolic gratification and a sharp turn toward substantial socio-economic transformations.