NYT: Latin America's Leftists Say Adios to Revolution

Colombian Labor Monitor xx738 at SPAMprairienet.org
Sun Aug 1 16:01:38 MDT 1999

                        The picture of Comandante Raul Reyes warmly
                        embracing an icon of American capitalism was
                        surely a staged gesture to show reasonableness,
                        and it made the front pages of virtually every
                        newspaper in Latin America.
_____________________   ==============================================

Sunday, 1 August 1999

                Latin America's Leftists Say Adios to Revolution

        By Clifford Krauss

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay  --  If looks alone were what mattered, Jose Mujica
could still play a Tupamaro rebel in some new Costa Gavras film about
Uruguay's desperate revolutionaries. Never mind that this one-time
guerrilla is now a member of Congress who monitors the budget of the same
military that once tortured him. True to his old style, Mujica still
chain smokes, rarely shaves and wears grubby, carelessly fitted blue
jeans to the office.

But listen to what the 65-year-old had to say in an interview not long
ago: "Since the Soviet experiment proved to be a colossal failure, the
left is still searching for answers to today's social problems  --  but
through the system and not through some utopian notion that does not
exist in reality."

Such thinking  --  the acceptance of democratic pluralism and compromise,
mixed with hefty dollops of self-criticism and the rejection of old
doctrines and platitudes  --  is helping the left re-emerge as a winning
force not only here, but in much of the rest of Latin America.

Former Marxist guerrillas already participate in governing coalitions in
Venezuela and Bolivia, and they field mayors in many cities and towns in
El Salvador. Polls indicate that Tabare Vasquez, the Uruguayan socialist
candidate, could do well in the presidential election in October, at
least in a first round of voting. More moderate Social Democrats stand a
good chance of taking power in Argentina in a coalition with centrists.
And Ricardo Lagos, a Socialist Party presidential candidate, is running
strongly in Chile, where elections are scheduled in December; if he were
to win, he would become the first Socialist Party president in Chile
since Salvador Allende, who was elected in 1970 and deposed in a coup in

As in Europe, the left in Latin America is doing well with voters in part
because it has shucked old ideological trappings and moved toward the
center. But here the changes are more abrupt; this is, after all, a
region known for its polarized, muscular and often murderous style of
politics. The belligerent style of the old left is fading in South
America's most modern countries, even while guerrilla forces of varying
sizes continue to struggle on in Colombia, Peru and Mexico, where
establishing order has been complicated by drug trafficking. The idea
that politics is an alternative to violence  --  and not that violence is
a mere extension of politics, as Mao and Che Guevara preached  --  is
growing in acceptance.

Even Fidel Castro says the days of armed struggle in Latin America are
over. In his case and perhaps the cases of others, this may be more a
change of tactics than a change of heart. But even if so, it is a
reflection that the world itself has changed. Castro's Cuba no longer has
the wherewithal to support revolutionary insurgencies. And even before
the Cold War was over, the United States began shifting its favor away
from repressive right-wing military regimes.

In most Latin American countries, this has brought about a less polarized
climate in which leftists have far more space to operate than they had a
generation ago. Then, they were being cut down in the streets or spirited
out of their beds by goon squads, never to be seen again.

To be sure, centrists and economic conservatives were the first
beneficiaries of the move away from military government in the 1980s. But
today most of Latin America is in a recession, with unemployment rising
and the gap between the rich and poor growing, and many voters are
looking for alternatives. Latin voters also seem to be angrier than ever
about corruption in government, an issue that has hurt traditional ruling
parties. When the left draws closer to the center, it looks more and more
like an attractive option.

"The Berlin Wall has fallen and the left has changed," said Jaime
Estevez, a Chilean economist and a leading adviser to Lagos. "The
Socialist Party under Allende was like an Eastern European party, and
many Chileans felt threatened by it. Nixon and Kissinger supported the
coup against Allende, but it is very simplistic to say they were the sole
cause of the coup. Now we are a Western European-style party and only the
most politicized on the right feel threatened."

Lagos, a mild-mannered Chilean Socialist running in a coalition with the
Christian Democratic party, is leading strongly in the polls.

"It's a new world," Lagos laughed as he described his career. He was on
his way to Moscow as Allende's ambassador to the Soviet Union when Gen.
Augusto Pinochet overthrew Allende's elected government 26 years ago with
support from Washington. Now Pinochet is under house arrest in London
awaiting possible extradition to Spain to stand trial on charges of
crimes against humanity, and Lagos has cordial relations with the U.S.
Embassy in Santiago.

Lagos said the Socialist Party had changed not only because the Cold War
had ended, but because few people in the party liked what they saw when
they were in exile in places like East Germany and the Soviet Union
during the 1970s and 1980s. Places like Sweden and Spain, according to
Lagos, "were far more agreeable" for those in exile.

"What's our work now?" Lagos asked rhetorically. "Without affecting
investment, savings and economic growth, we need to produce a society a
little more just with less of a social gap and more equality of opportunity."

"A little more just" is hardly a call to man the ramparts  --  but it is
the kind of phrasing leftist politicians use these days to calm voters.
The political pitch is different from country to country, of course, and
some on the Latin American left have still not dropped the old oratory.

In a recent interview with the Argentine daily Clarin, Jorge Briceno, the
military commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or
FARC, threatened the United States for increasing its military
involvement against Colombian drug trafficking and, by extension, against
the guerrillas.

"We're not Yugoslavia," he said. "If the United States intervenes it will
be another Vietnam."

But even in Colombia, the left is reaching for new messages and symbols.
In July, another leader of the FARC held a summit in his jungle
headquarters with none other than Richard Grasso, president of the New
York Stock Exchange. The picture of Comandante Raul Reyes warmly
embracing an icon of American capitalism was surely a staged gesture to
show reasonableness, and it made the front pages of virtually every
newspaper in Latin America.

Grasso invited Reyes to make a tour of Wall Street. The guerrilla leader
is said to be thinking the invitation over.

        Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company
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