[Marxism] Latin America's struggle for integration and independence

Stuart Munckton stuartmunckton at gmail.com
Mon Jul 28 04:09:45 MDT 2008

Latin America's struggle for integration and independence
Federico Fuentes, Caracas
26 July 2008

*Commenting on how much the two had in common — same age, three children,
similar music tastes — Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said to Mexican
President Felipe Calderon on April 11 that "perhaps we represent the new
generation of leaders in Latin America".*

 He added, however, that one difference still remained: Calderon had still
not become a socialist. "Being right wing is out of fashion in Latin America
… Join us, you are always welcome."

The election of Fernando Lugo as Paraguayan president seems to confirm the
idea of a new fashion for presidents. The former priest joins the ranks of
current Latin American presidents that includes two women (Cristina
Fernandez de Kirchner in Argentina and Michelle Bachelet in Chile), an
indigenous person (Evo Morales in Bolivia), a former militant trade unionist
(Lula de Silva in Brazil), a radically minded economist (Rafael Correa in
Ecuador), a doctor (Tabare Vasquez in Uruguay), a former guerrilla fighter
(Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua) and a former rebel soldier (Hugo Chavez in

"Each day the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean are electing
presidents that — look like our peoples and, its not just that we look like
them, we are the people, we come from the people!" Chavez stated on July 19
at a speech in Nicaragua to mark the anniversary of 1979 Nicaraguan
Revolution that overthrew the US-backed Somoza dictatorship.

He was standing next to Ortega — the first Central American president to
join the craze — who was a central leader of the revolution, winning
elections for president in 1984. Although the revolution was defeated by
US-backed counter-revolutionary forces that carried out a violent campaign
of terror, leading to a war-weary population electing a pro-US government in
1990, Ortega was re-elected president in 2006.

There is a good chance El Salvador could join the trend, with the left-wing
Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front — which waged an armed struggle
against the US-backed dictatorship during the ' '80s — ahead in polls for
elections early next year.

This phenomena of electing governments with progressive credentials of one
sort or another, along with the rise of militant anti-neoliberal social
movements throughout South America, has led many political commentators to
talk about a rising "pink tide" — a general swing to the left.

Rejecting neoliberalism

But in order to understand the dynamics in Latin America today, it is
necessary to go beyond broad sweeping statements, just as it is not enough
to simply analyse these governments through the prism of national politics.

While intervention in Latin America from the US is increasing in different
forms in a desperate attempt to retake the initiative in the region, the
drive towards South American unity continues to push back imperialism.

This is occurring despite some US successes, and with tensions between
competing tendencies among South American governments becoming increasingly

There are two phenomena increasingly complicating the situation. One the one
hand, a rise in conflict (such as between Colombia and Venezuela as well as
within Bolivia). On the other, growing social polarisation (as seen in
Argentina, Uruguay and Peru).

Since the late 1990s indigenous, peasant and worker-led social movements
have succeeded in getting rid of an increasing number of corrupt, pro-US
neoliberal regimes via the streets, turning the US's traditional backyard
into one big headache for Washington.

Leaving aside the ongoing example of revolutionary Cuba, at the turn of the
century only the Chavez government could be pointed to in the region as
willing to buck US-imposed dictates.

The deepening of Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution over the next few years,
where by the mass of the poor confronted and pushed back the capitalists'
offensive against the government, helped win Chavez the sympathy of millions
across the region. This included the likes of the Mothers of the Disappeared
in Argentina, who campaign for justice for victims of Argentina's military
dictatorship and who initially rejected Chavez because of his military

Five years after Chavez's 1998 election, while governments had tumbled
through popular insurrections in Ecuador and Argentina, only Lula in Brazil
had joined Chavez as an ally at regional presidential summits.

A historic leader of the Workers' Party, which during the '90s had been a
symbol of hope for much of the left in the region and internationally, by
the time of Lula's election many had become disillusioned with his
increasingly right-wing trajectory — confirmed by his government's policies

Brazilian social movements subsequently went into a period of decline.

A further five years on, the Latin American political map has radically
changed, with old and new left and popular parties winning elections on the
back of the massive discontent with polices that only enrich the mostly
foreign multinational corporations and the traditional parties that
implemented them.

To openly run on a platform of neoliberal policies, worse still on the
ticket of a traditional party, meant humiliating defeat for presidential
candidates in country after country.

In the 2005 Bolivian elections, for instance, all of the traditional parties
either polled below 10% or did not present presidential candidates. Morales
was elected Bolivia's first ever indigenous president with a historic 53.7%
of the vote.

Regional convergence, US decline

At the 2005 Summit of the Americas in Mar de Plata in Argentina, the
US-pushed pro-corporate Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) was
decisively defeated through a combination of mass opposition across the
region and the refusal of Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay
to back down inside the meeting.

US President George Bush reportedly turned to his Argentinian counterpart at
the summit's end and said: "I am a bit surprised. Something happened here
that I hadn't envisaged."

The arrival of new representatives within the different South American
trading blocs — such as Market of the South (Mercosur) and the Community of
Andean Nations (CAN) — began to impact on these institutions that had
operated in a neoliberal framework.

In many cases, they have become arenas for regular denunciation of US
hegemony and support for greater regional integration — although often
without a lot to show in the way of concrete steps forward.

In May, the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) was formed involving 12
countries. As a bloc, it represents the fifth-largest GDP in the world
(US$973.6 billion), is the biggest producer of food and has hydrocarbon
reserves to last 100 years.

The formation of Unasur marks a continuation of the dynamic towards regional
integration — representing in the political sphere what the defeat of the
FTAA represented in the economic sphere.

Its importance is even more apparent when considered in the context of the
counter-offensive launched by Washington since 2005. Using both the carrot
and the stick, the US has been furiously working to turn back this tide, as
evidenced by the continual "tours" by high level US government officials,
including several by Bush.

This has included working to sign up countries to individual Free Trade
Agreements (FTAs) to circumvent its defeat on a continental scale, offering
large agribusiness big incentives through its diabolical plan of turning
food into biofuels and intensifying its propaganda campaign against Chavez
as the most radical and consistent South American leader pushing liberation
from imperialism. The US have accused him of involvement in terrorism,
narcotrafficking and the trafficking of children. Former US defence
secretary Donald Rumsfeld even compared Chavez to Hitler.

The US scored some partial victories. Colombia and Peru's decision to sign
FTAs with the US resulted in Venezuela leaving CAN, while Brazil and
Paraguay are yet to vote to accept Venezuela as full member of Mercosur.

Competing currents

However, the decision to form Unasur confirms that the underlying dynamic of
convergence continues to gain ground. And yet, at the same time, tensions
between the different tendencies demonstrate the real challenges in
continuing to move forward.

The first thing to note is the right-wing, openly pro-US regimes that still
remain — the Colombian government of Alvaro Uribe and Peruvian government of
Alan Garcia. Both governments are part of Unasur, but do not hide their
opposition to the process and continue to align themselves with Washington.

With the gravitational pull too strong for them to not jump on board, they
continue to seek ways to undermine the process and do US imperialism's dirty

Clear evidence of this was the inability to stage the meeting for the
official founding of Unasur, scheduled to be held in Colombia last year.
Venezuelan foreign minister Nicolas Maduro decried on January 19 that these
delays "had to do with attempts to make sure that Unasur did not advance.
These projects always face obstacles from those who do not believe in the
union of South America because they continue to think that the future of the
continent is being vassals to interests of North American power."

With March 28-29 finally settled as the date for the official founding. it
proved impossible to occur in the aftermath of Colombia's illegal March 1
bombing on Ecuadorian soil.

The Bolivarian alternative

On the other extreme is the proposal for an anti-corporate integration
project that places cooperation and human solidarity at its centre.

This is spearheaded by Venezuela and Cuba and takes embryonic form in the
shape of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), a trading bloc
that groups together Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua. While Ecuador
is yet to join, it falls within the same camp.

Dominica has also joined ALBA for its own reasons, but does not fall into
the same anti-imperialist camp.

The economic motor of this unity process has been Venezuelan oil. Having
wrested control of its oil industry, PDVSA, from pro-US elites, Venezuela
has put the massive wealth it generates to attempting to tackle the needs of
the poor — resulting in a significant reduction of poverty rates. The oil
wealth has also funded productive projects, such as the
construction of basic industry and infrastructure.

>From a company with almost no presence in Latin America, PDVSA is helping
drive important plans for regional energy integration. Chavez has proposed
the creation of four regional oil companies to promote unity: Petrocaribe,
Petroandina, Petrosur and Petroamerica as a unifying project within the
framework of ALBA.

Through Petrocaribe, for instance, Venezuela provides discounted oil to 18
Caribbean and Central American nations, whereby those countries are only
required to pay 40% of the price Venezuelan oil upfront, with 25 years to
pay off the remainder as a low interest loan. As well as guaranteeing energy
security to impoverished nations at a time of escalating fuel costs,
Petrocaribe also promotes state-driven national development in the industry.

While different issues have impeded the full development of these projects,
PDVSA has signed contracts directly with numerous countries in the region to
build oil refineries, tankers, oil exploration and technical assistance.
Such a policy has been aimed at industrialisation in order to break
dependency on, and subordination to, the US.

This is combined, in alliance with Cuba, with regional health care and
literacy programs.

Possibly the most important part of the struggle for integration by the
anti-imperialist current has been the battle of ideas being waged.
Representatives of this bloc have regularly denounced capitalism, with
Chavez in particular opening up a continental discussion on socialism and
Latin American unity.

This ideological battle has helped encourage the struggles of millions from

In all the regional institutions this bloc has constantly hammering home the
need to create a real political union: a Confederation of Latin American

The Brazilian axis

It was, however, the third axis that was key to the formation of Unasur.
Faced with resistance by Colombia to staging the meeting, Brazil offered to
be the host nation.

Lula stated that Brazil "is the biggest economy, the most industrialised
country with the biggest [GDP]. Therefore, we have to be conscious of the
fact that the integration of South America depends on the actions of

Recalling that only days before he had met firstly with Chavez and Morales,
and then Garcia and Uribe, he said, "on one hand we have a photo with
presidents considered to be left, and on the other with presidents
considered to be from the centre".

"What is the role of Brazil? To be a kind of bridge, to make a connection
between all the political currents of South America, because, given it is
the biggest country, Brazil has to work towards creating a situation of
political, economic, social and cultural equilibrium."

The Lula government is the political representative of Brazil's capitalist
class, whose main interests lie in a process of integration for its own
benefit. It wants to negotiate with the US, but from a better bargaining

Integration, for Brazil, is the development of a regional capitalist system,
under the hegemony of the Brazilian bourgeoisie, that can become an
important bloc in the world system. Brazil's weight in the region leaves the
capitalist governments of Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and others with no
option but to follow its lead.

As a counterbalance, some have been working to sign up the other regional
economic power, Mexico, into Mercosur.

While PDVSA promotes integration through dialogue and cooperation to build
up other state oil companies to aid industrialisation, Brazil's nominally
state-controlled energy company Petrobras works to purchase other state
companies or sign contracts favourable to itself to supply Brazil's domestic

While not a systematic challenge to imperialism, such as represented by
ALBA, Brazil's project collides with the needs of the US. While Chavez
denounces imperialism and Lula seeks to negotiate a better deal for
Brazilian capitalists within its framework, both have worked to block US
plans in bodies like the World Trade Organization.

This is why Brazil was one of the first to propose a South America Defence
Council, along with positioning itself as peacemaker in bellicose clashes in
the region, such as through its leading role in the UN occupation mission in

When asked about what possible role the US would play in such a body,
Brazilian defence minister Nelson Jobim clarified that "we are under no
obligation to ask permission from the US to do this. And they also have to
understand our necessity to reach integration."

While Venezuela supported this initiative as a counterweight to US military
influence, Colombia announced at the Unasur meeting that it was not
interested in joining and the proposal was dropped. Uribe has since stated
his interest in the proposal.

Two new phenomena

Talk of a defence council also comes at a time when both the Argentine and
Brazilian governments have expressed discontent with the reactivation by the
US navy's Fourth Fleet — dormant since the end of World War II — to patrol
Latin America waters. Along with the increasingly aggressive policy of
Colombia towards its neighbours — and the push by the US-backed right-wing
opposition in Bolivia towards a violent confrontation — it forms part of a
new regional phenomenon.

Beginning with Colombia's massacre of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
(FARC) fighters within in Ecuadorian territory, a series of incidents point
towards attempts by Colombia, behind which stands the US, to find a way to
provoke neighbouring countries.

Evidence that the US and its regional allies are seeking to provoke an armed
conflict can be found in a series of recent incidents, including: Colombian
soldiers illegally entering Venezuelan territory; the release of supposed
documents linking the Venezuela and Ecuadorian governments to FARC
"terrorism"; Colombia's willingness to allow the construction of a US
military base on the border with Venezuela; a new US base in Paraguay near
the Bolivian border and reinforcement of other regional bases; a US military
plane violating Venezuelan airspace; and the arrival of US troops in Peru.

Uribe has also held talks with the opposition governor of the Venezuelan
border state of Zulia, expressing his desire to deepen relations between
Colombia and the state.

At the same time, a wave of conflicts are sprouting as social polarisation
increases. Ongoing strikes in Peru, growing unrest in Chile, worker
mobilisations in Uruguay, rural strikes in Argentina and a multiplicity of
social struggles in Brazil — while often confused expressions of social
discontent — are likely to increasingly place these governments in difficult

This is already the case in Argentina (under threat from the right) and Peru
(from the left).

Social unrest is also affecting Mexico. Following the massive outpouring
against the 2006 electoral fraud that robbed centre-left candidate Andres
Manuel Lopez Obrador of the presidency, the struggle is now focused on
preventing the privatisation of the state oil company.

European Union

Into the mix, the European Union has been working hard to take ground lost
by the US, offering alternative development programs and opportunities for
further economic ties with Europe.

With the prices of natural resources skyrocketing, Latin America is becoming
a crucial region. Unlike Washington, which attacks Venezuela and tries to
pressure Brazil, the EU instead works behind the scenes to undermine Chavez
while offering support to Brazil. Brazil and Argentina look to the EU as
counterbalance to the US.

However, the recent approval by the EU of the racist anti-immigrant "return
directive", which could see undocumented immigrants jailed for 18 months
before being deported, has been met with united opposition by all Latin
American nations.

This is due to the huge number of Latin American families that depend on
members working in Europe and sending money home. The law represents a
serious threat to regional economies.

Bolivia and Venezuela have threatened to reply with a "return directive" on
capital from EU countries that apply the law, as well as cutting off oil and
gas exports.

All this helps explain the real significance of Unasur as well as the
obstacles ahead.

Socialist strategy

One of US imperialism's key objectives is to divide the pro-integration
currents, along with arming its remaining allies, in order to regain lost
ground. To impede this division is a crucial task for Latin American

This is something understood by Chavez, who seeks to utilise all openings
towards integration, whatever the limitations, while simultaneously
advocating and seeking ways to implement the Bolivarian revolution's
anti-imperialist program. Venezuela is both seeking to operate within
institutions like Mercosur and construct ALBA with those countries that are

For the regional capitalists, this convergence is necessary to put a brake
on the uncontrolled voracity of imperialism, in a context of growing demands
from ordinary people.

For socialists, opposition to US plans to divide the region is for
completely different reasons. While institutions like Mercosur can be
supported, it is not because they represent real alternatives to the FTAA
but because they can act as transitional forms towards a real confederation
of Latin American states — which would alter the relationship of forces away
from imperialism, creating a stronger basis for social change.

With Mercosur hamstrung by disputes between its members, the creation of
Unasur represents an advance as it moves the discussion to the South
American-wide stage.

In the meantime, it is necessary to transform the mobilisation of workers,
peasants, urban poor and other exploited and oppressed people — such as
indigenous peoples — into powerful movements for real social change.

Fundamental to this is the construction of political instruments built out
of these movements that aim to win power — which means not simply winning an
election but organising the mass of the oppressed to govern.

The struggle to construct the mass-based United Socialist Party of Venezuela
(PSUV), led by Chavez, is a powerful example of what is needed.

Importantly, the PSUV has already set out as an immediate challenge the
promotion of other such parties in the region. To this end, it seeks to
organise a meeting of regional left parties with the aim of constructing an
international organisation of the Latin American and Caribbean left.

[Federico Fuentes is from the Caracas *Green Left Weekly* bureau and edits
Bolivia Rising, http://boliviarising.blogspot.com.]

"The free market is perfectly natural... do you think I am some kind of
dummy?" - Jarvis Cocker

More information about the Marxism mailing list