South America: Where the Left is Definitely Right!

--Srilata Swaminathan

As though the elections in Bolivia, Brazil and Nicaragua hadn’t given the US enough nightmares, the ones in Ecuador and Venezuela may prove to be the final nail in the coffin of not only the Monroe Doctrine form of neo-colonialism but the Washington Consensus as well! This region has seen 12 presidential elections in the past 13 months and except Columbia, Surinam and Paraguay all the other countries are now ruled by left or left-of-centre governments.
From the balcony of the Miraflores Palace in Caracas, capital of Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez Frias addressed his jubilant red-shirted supporters, dedicating his victory to Fidel Castro and hailing his election as a triumph of socialism of the 21st century. This distinction that he makes is important as he explains that the socialism of the 21st century is different both from 20th Century European Socialism and from the so-called ‘real Socialism’ which was unable to survive precisely because it was not real. He stressed the need to learn from past history about these two and move forward to build new socialism.
With the consolidation of Chavez’s position there are a number of developments that will be followed with keen interest. The first is ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) or the trade agreement that Chavez and Castro are trying to float in central and south America which is a direct alternative to the imperialist trade agreement CAFTA (Central America Free Trade Agreement) and FTAA (Free Trade Agreement of the Americas) being pushed through by the US. ALBA—as proposed by the Venezuelan government—provides a counterweight to the policies and goals of the FTAA emphasises egalitarian principles of justice and equality that are innate in human beings, the well-being of the most dispossessed sectors of society, and a reinvigorated sense of solidarity toward the underdeveloped countries of the western hemisphere, so that with the required assistance, they can enter into trade negotiations on more favourable terms than has been the case under the dictates of developed countries. Along with tackling poverty and other regional disparities it also attempts to identify the most crucial impediments to achieve a genuine regional integration that transcends the priorities of the imperialists and transnational corporations. ALBA is now supported by Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and, recently, Nicaragua.
The second development worth noting is the Bolivarian revolution (named after Simon Bolivar, the 18-19th century liberator who fought and freed Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Panama and Bolivia from Spanish colonialism) which is what the Venezuelans say they are pushing through is a mixed bag of tricks and allows Chavez to use a wide range of  devices from the nationalism and independence movements of  Simon Bolivar to strategies of socialism and even to using Jesus Christ, liberation theology and religion where necessary. The Bolivarian phrase also confuses his rabidly anti-socialist enemies at home and abroad.
On the night of December 18, 2006, when the red-shirted chavistas (Chavez supporters) gathered to celebrate their electoral victory, Hugo Chavez announced plans to dissolve the party, MVR, that he had formed in 2000 and that had brought him to power, in order to form a new ‘unique and unifying’ party called United Socialist party of Venezuela in the hope this will encourage all the 23 other parties that supported his regime to follow suit. This is to forestall the infighting among the various pro-Chavez groups and also to neutralise the domination of the MVR over its weaker factions and rivals. This new party will have to tackle the corrupt bureaucracy, corruption and other counter revolutionary problems which are a stumbling block to the socialist development of Venezuela.

On 26 November Rafael Correa won the elections to become President. Last year he served as finance minister for months in the rightwing government of his predecessor Alfred Palacio. During that time he took a very pro-people stand and was vociferous against US and imperialism. It was due to pressure by the US and the IMF that he was forced to resign.
Correa founded the Alianza Pais party and allied with the Ecuadorian Socialist Party in the elections. He is a political economist and studied in the US. He is staunchly nationalist and against any threat to Ecuador’s sovereignty and is keen to forge economic and other links, like Chavez, with countries of Latin America. His five key area of reform are: constitutional revolution, ethical revolution, economic and productivity revolution, education and health revolution, and dignity, sovereignty and Latin American integration revolution.
Like Venezuela, Ecuador too has rich oil reserves and he has promised reform of this sector which will mean confrontation with the MNCs who are presently exploiting the country’s oil and other resources. In an interview he stated, “Many of the oil contracts are a true entrapment for the country. Of every five barrels of oil that the multinationals produce, they leave only one for us and take four... That is absolutely unacceptable. We’re going to revise and renegotiate the contracts.”  He opposed the Free Trade Agreement signed between Ecuador and the US and also advocates reform of the financial sector, including limiting offshore deposits by local banks to no more than 10% of their holdings. Another bold move Correa has promised to make is to close down the US military base at Manta and jokingly stated that “We can negotiate with the U.S. about a base in Manta, and if they let us put a military base in Miami, if there is no problem, we’ll accept”.
Another issue which will put him on a collision course with the US is regarding the FARC guerrilla group in Columbia (borders Ecuador to the north) which he does not consider a terrorist organisation. Correa considers himself a humanist and a Christian of the Left (96.8% of the population are Christian).
The movements of South and Central America are different in the past ten-fifteen years as they are increasingly deriving their strength from the mass movements of the indigenous and marginalised people. Take Ecuador, the peoples’ movements have thrown out five different government in as many years for selling indigenous resources to MNCs, for pushing through the anti-people diktats of Washington, IMF, WB etc and for corruption.
Whatever the debate over what type of socialism is emerging one thing is for certain, whether in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador or Nicaragua it was an upsurge of the people, overwhelmingly the poor, the workers and peasants, women and tribals and unequivocally an anti-imperialist, anti-US and anti- MNC in nature! And, in any third world country, this kind of upsurge is definitely also one against their own ruling classes. In fact, one clear indicator of whether a regime is left or not is the knee-jerk reaction of the US - if they oppose it, it means that the regime is anti-imperialist and bad news for the US and good news for the peoples of the world!
Tariq Ali is correct when he juxtaposes Bush’s “Axis of Evil” with what he calls Latin America’s “Axis of Hope”! One can almost hear the tramp of thousands of feet and the enthusiastic chanting of the peoples of this region as they awaken, rise and march to one of their most powerful slogans-

El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!”
A People United Can Never Be Defeated!