CWI International Meeting: Illusion of stability in Latin America

Contradictions and new struggles define situation in region

Below we publish a report of a commission held at the International Executive Committee meeting of the CWI, on the situation in Latin America. More reports to follow.

Latin America gives the illusory appearance of a peculiar isolation from the international picture of stagnation, recession and economic crisis. Export-led economies, particularly Brazil, have benefited from the insatiable demand from China for the export of commodities, recording high growth rates.

Andre Ferrari from LSR (CWI in Brazil) introduced a discussion that pointed to the contradictions and imbalances, on which these illusions of continued growth and political stability are built. Economic growth has not come near to closing the obscene wealth gap common to every country or the appalling conditions faced by the majority. Brazil, while benefiting from partnership with China, has also run up huge debts.

The coming slowdown in China and the worsening of the crisis in Europe and the US will cut demand for exports and hit investment, making the region’s growth short term and is likely to lead to the rapid development of economic downturn. This will lead to a new period of turbulent class conflict upsetting the political continuity that has seen parties, leaders and governments rule for second and third terms in Columbia, Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela.

This has already been seen in Peru. The new government of Ollanta was elected on a promise of imitation of the pro-poor reforms of the first Lula government in Brazil and Chavez in Venezuela. But confronted immediately with a social movement in the mining sector, Ollanta enforced a state of emergency. Ollanta swung to the right even before the election. During the campaign, surrounded by Brazilian advisers or Lula, he “Lularised” himself or “De-Chavezised” himself.

In anticipation of the coming crisis, Dilma, replacing Lula as president in the PT government has abandoned expansionary state intervention and has a new program of fiscal adjustments that will bring cuts to social programs. But even before this has taken effect the boom in Brazil has not been able to prevent outbreaks of class conflict. Luciano, from LSR reported that as politicians have promised to take the largest economy in the region into the “first world”, the organised working class have responded by taking action to demand a share of the wealth generated by the boom. Strikes have disrupted the government’s infrastructure projects that aim at any cost (including environmental destruction) to provide access to the pacific ocean and the untapped markets of neighbouring states and prestige projects for the forthcoming world cup and Olympic games.

Strike movements have erupted from the heart of the state machine, as Rio’s fire-fighters (who are militarised and armed) took part in a mass strike with mass support from the population. Key sections of workers have been involved in struggle like the bank workers, teachers, petrol workers, construction workers and metal workers.

Morales and Chavez

Bolivia and Venezuela

The first decade of this century saw revolutionary upheavals across the region, mass movements propelled leaders and governments into power whose pro-poor reform polices of state intervention were the first to challenge the consensus of neo liberalism after the collapse of Stalinism. But the last few years have seen the regimes of Morales in Bolivia and Chavez in Venezuela move to the right, stalling the revolution and not decisively breaking with capitalism and landlordism.

This has allowed the forces of counter revolution to gain ground. CWI members in Bolivia reported that Morales, desperate for investment from Brazilian multinationals, in the wake of evidence that Bolivia faces economic crisis when gas reserves run out in fifteen years, has attacked the indigenous communities in which he built his base, attempting to sanction the building of a highway through protected rural areas. A movement of Coca farmers supported by the working class forced the MAS government back.

Venezuela has entered a period of uncertainty with the illness of Chavez and the increased support for the right wing neoliberal opposition in the wake of economic problems. William from Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in Venezuela) reported that increased investment in social programs and high oil prices could see the government re-elected in October. The unstable nature of Chavez’s health is a factor that could trigger a major crisis following the election, even if he is re-elected which seems most likely. Workers are unsatisfied with the bureaucratic organisations, political coalitions, parties and trade union federations that have been built to secure the regime’s hold on power rather than as vehicles of struggle for the masses.

The forces of the CWI in both of these countries gave critical support to the Chavez and Morales pro-poor reforms and policies of nationalisation, defending the social gains won by the pressure of the masses against attempts at counter-revolution and explained that to consolidate these it was necessary to break with capitalism. However, the failure to do this has resulted in both these regimes swinging to the right.

Now the task for Socialists in both these counties is the building of independent democratic organisations of the working class and poor, political parties and trade unions that are committed to fighting for the taking over of industry, banks, land and the economy under democratic public ownership. While the situation in Venezuelan is complicated by the regimes attacks on fighting trade unionists, there is widespread support for the idea of building a new political force based on the working class and poor in factory based unions in Bolivia reflecting the powerful socialist and revolutionary traditions in Bolivia compared to Venezuela. Workers’ organisations that were central to the revolutionary movement which brought Morales to power are now looking for a fighting alternative.


Chile lagged behind the revolutionary developments of the last period but now its social and political struggles are the most advanced in the region. Celso from Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in Chile) highlighted that the CWI’s perspective that the election of Pinera’s neo liberal government did not represent a shift to the right in Chilean society had been confirmed by the uprisings of the students and against gas price rises in the South.

The most significant struggles since the fall of the dictatorship saw students beginning with a mass movement for free education and against crippling debt and develop, gaining support from workers, culminating in a general strike in August and demanding the nationalisation of the copper industry. The movement against the gas price rises saw a town in south Chile taken over by workers and poor and run by a popular assembly (a tradition from the struggle against the Pinochet regime) until the government sent the army to intervene.

A theme of the discussion on Chile was the bankruptcy of the Communist Party which provided no leadership or strategy to the struggle of the students. Celso highlighted that this was reflected in the development of a strong “anti party” mood amongst the youth, a legacy of Stalinism and the dictatorship. There is however the need for a genuine Socialist force to develop as decades of neo liberalism mean capitalism and its institutions such as the church, parliament, political parties, police are increasingly losing authority.

Mexico, weighed down by the economic crisis in the US, faces the worst economic situation in the region. After more than a decade, the PRI looks likely to return to power as successive neoliberal government’s under Fox and Calderon have created a sea of discontent likely to bring forward tides of struggle of the workers and poor. Calderon’s war on drugs is in reality a civil war on the population in the north and any emerging social movement, provoking a movement of the families of those killed which is gaining momentum.

Alec Thraves (Socialist Party – CWI in England and Wales) reported on his visit to the recent conferences of the broad left party PSOL in Brazil. LSR the Brazilian section of the CWI plays a key role in a left bloc in the party opposing attempts by the right to form electoral alliances with pro-market and cuts parties. LSR is also struggling to build Conlutas into a fighting trade union centre across the country.

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January 2012