Latin America: Final day of CWI Latin America school

Vital preparation for struggles ahead


Saturday was a full day of discussion on the situation in Latin America, starting with a general discussion about major developments of the past period and the new situation unfolding in the context of the global economic crisis. Separate discussions were organised to pay special attention to the developments in Brazil, Chile, Venezuela and Bolivia.

Andre Ferrari from Sao Paulo introduced the discussion explaining that Latin America, which has not yet fallen into a recession like the advanced industrialised countries, will not escape the world economic crisis.

The IMF has predicated a growth in Latin America of only 1% in 2009 while the UN says the crisis will increase the level of poverty in the region by 15%. Already the signs of a deepening crisis can be seen despite the claims to the contrary of some government leaders like Lula who has said Brazil will not be affected by the crisis.

Brazil has lost over 600,000 jobs. Mexico, dependent on oil exports and money sent from immigrant workers in the US back to their families Mexico, is feeling effects of the falling oil prices and the recession in the US.

Patricio from Chile spoke of the risks of a deflation trap and the enormous impact that falling commodity prices worldwide would have on export economies like Chile. Clearly the Latin America cannot sustain growth while the advanced industrialised world is in a recession.

Revolution and counter-revolution

The deteriorating situation can only intensify the instability and class conflict that has marked past period. The economic crisis of the late 1990s led to the collapse of neo-liberal regimes and a decade of mass struggle against neo-liberal policies.

Since the late 1990s, the masses of Ecuador have brought down 3 presidents. Argentinean workers responded to factory closing with industrial occupations. An attempt to privatise water in Bolivia in 2000 was met with mass struggle.

There has not only been resistance to the neo-liberal agenda but also struggle which has put future of capitalism in question, with the rise of left-populist governments in Venezuela and Bolivia. While challenging US imperialism and resting on the support of masses, Chavez and Morales still attempt to mediate between interests of workers, peasants and poor and those of capitalists and big landlords

In Bolivia the mass support for the new constitution, which guarantees employment, education, and health care and high stand of living for all, represents a clear victory for Morales. This could open up a revolution situation in Bolivia.

However, Morales has not used his mass support to further the movement and take control over the land, gas and other resources necessary to provide for the measure guaranteed by the new constitution, but instead has made concession to the right.

In Venezuela, the situation has changed. The recent referendum defeat followed by local elections in Venezuela has opened up the space for a strengthening of the right-wing forces. Although the local elections were not an overall defeat for Chavez, the right has won control over important provinces rich in natural resources.

The social programs of the Chavez government sustained by oil revenue are also threatened by the rapid fall of oil prices. Facing a deepening economic crisis, the masses of Venezuela may push Chavez to take far more radical measures nationalising important parts of the economy, but this is not certain.

While these processes of revolution and counter-revolution have begun to unfold in Venezuela and Bolivia, struggle in the rest of the region has not been as advanced.

Intensified class struggles inevitable

Recent growth has provided a relative stability to some neo-liberal governments despite the attack on workers and peasants and the capitulation to imperialism. However, the economic crisis and a general radicalisation taking place in the region as a whole has brought this stability to an end.

Lula’s government in Brazil has maintained high popular support with basic social programs that have helped create the illusion that Brazil could raises the living standards to level of the industrialised world. These illusions cannot be maintained as the effects of the economic crisis deepen. It was noted that the mood has already changed significantly since October, when the world economic crisis took on a new dimension.

There are many signs of a broader radicalisation developing in Latin America. In 2006, a teachers’ strike in Oaxaca, Mexico lead to a broader revolt against the regional government. There were also mass demonstrations against the election fraud that put Calderon in power. Obrador, defeated in the election is now considering a split from the PRD which is moving towards a coalition with the Calderon government, raising the question of a new left formation in Mexico.

In Peru, there have been mass mobilisations of public sector workers and mine workers. In recent elections, Ollanta Humala, a new left figure supported by Chavez, contested the very unpopular government, indicating a rise in support of left ideas. Celso from Chile reported on his recent visit to Peru where high participation in meetings reflected a new mood developing amongst workers.

Central America has also seen signs of radicalisation. In El Salvador, the pro-US government was challenged by the FMLN, a left formation in the past based on guerilla struggle and influenced by the Sandinistas. Another sign of growth in left ideas and pressure from below is the move by the Honduras government to join ALBA a trade alliance between Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia.

Even in countries like Columbia and Chile, used by the US as a counter weight to the government of Venezuela and Bolivia, have seen mass mobilisations and new struggles develop. In Chile, the student rebellion in 2006 shook Chilean society and had a significant impact on the workers. In Columbia, the country most closely tied to the US in Latin America, has seen mass marches of peasants and decline in popular support for the government.

There was also some debate about the semi-imperialist role that Brazil plays within Latin America, exploiting, for example, the gas resources in Bolivia or the hydroelectric resources shared with Paraguay. Nonetheless, Brazil does not play an independent, imperialist role but acts also in the interests of US and European imperialism. Brazil sent troops to Haiti, for example, when the US military was too tied down in the Middle Eastern conflicts.

This discussion on Latin America took place during an important time with the economic crisis and world events of 2008 developing at a rapid pace. The beginning of 2009 also marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution of 1959. Although a genuine workers democracy was not created in Cuba the revolution marked a definitive break with US imperialism and overthrow of capitalism in Cuba.

Markus from Brazil explained that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had provided important economic support to Cuba, parts of the economy, such as tourism, were opened to private markets. Support from Chavez had slowed and even reversed this process, but with Raul Castro now in power who hopes to liberalise the economy along similar lines as China, the threat of capitalist restoration may be posed more sharply in the next period.

However, in the context of the world economic crisis a restoration of capitalism in Cuba would be a very uneven and difficult process. Sascha from Germany raised the question of how socialist must prepare for this situation. It would not only mean that socialist call for a workers democracy in Cuba but a struggle to defend the planned economy would be necessary, possibly forming a block with the wing of bureaucracy that supports the planned economy without adopting to it politically.

In general, the new situation in Latin America raises many important questions for socialists. Internationally, Latin America has been at the forefront of class struggle. The world economic crisis is now creating the conditions for Europe, the US and other countries to begin to catch up to Latin America, but it will also intensify the battles between mass struggle and reactionary forces in Latin America.

The discussion on Latin America was really just the beginning of a discussion to analyze the situation and develop perspectives. It was also the beginning of a process of preparing the CWI and other socialists for a new period of social and political unrest, heightened class struggle, and of revolution and counter-revolution in Latin America and around the world.

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March 2009