Sao Paulo Forum: High Spirits of the Latin American Left

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Wed Dec 11 21:08:36 MST 2002

04 Dec 2002 22:05
Spirits high as Latam left cheers new heroes

By Greg Brosnan

ANTIGUA, Guatemala, Dec 4 (Reuters) - After decades mourning its
martyrs, the Latin American left is cheering a handful of new heroes
thanks to recent presidential election victories in Brazil and

The triumphs of Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in October and
Ecuador's Lucio Gutierrez in November lent a party atmosphere to an
annual summit of leftists hoping a trend that began with Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez's 1998 win will spread throughout the region.

Many of the 700 delegates -- bearded ex-guerrillas and suited party
men alike -- at the Dec. 2-4 "Sao Paulo Forum" shared the conviction
that recent triumphs prove Latin America is wearying of free-market
policies they say have made many poorer.

"A different Latin America is possible," Paulo Delgado, a deputy from
Lula's Brazilian Workers Party, shouted to cheers of "Lula, Lula,
Lula" from the packed auditorium at the annual event.

Cheers of solidarity also sounded for former paratrooper Chavez, who
is battling to hold onto power since being ousted during a brief coup
in April.

"Lula, (Cuba's Fidel) Castro, Chavez, Gutierrez, their job is to
change the model and create an alternative in Latin America," said
German Rodas, a leader of Ecuador's Socialist Party, which supported
Gutierrez in his second round win.


During the 1960s and 1980s, Latin American leftists were
assassinated, tortured and "disappeared" as governments from Mexico
to Chile joined the Cold War against communism, often bolstered by
U.S. funds and military training.

Guatemalans were taught to hate and fear the left during a 36-year
civil war that claimed 200,000 lives before ending with 1996 peace
accords. Leftist leaders were killed en masse.

But even the poor host nation's fragmented left, which has fared
abysmally in post-war elections, has been bitten by the optimism bug
after Brazil and Ecuador.

"This has given us an enormous push," said former Guatemalan
guerrilla chief Rodrigo Asturias, who used the summit to announce he
would seek the presidency in November 2003 for the National
Guatemalan Revolutionary Unit, a former rebel group that is now a
political party.

During an interval, members of his party's youth wing and students
from El Salvador in red T-shirts waved banners and shouted "Chavez,
Chavez, Chavez!"

But violence during a three-day general strike in Caracas, where
protesters demanded Chavez accept a referendum on ending his rule
early, was a reminder even as they cheered that an election win is
often only the start of the battle.

Optimism still does not come naturally for some who experienced state
persecution and terror.

"People were sleeping, now maybe they'll wake up," said 64-year-old
corn farmer and former guerrilla Roberto Hernandez, about the left's
chances in Guatemala following.

"But some of us are still a bit scared."


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