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Proletarian issue 15 (December 2006)
Upsurge of anti-imperialist nationalism in Latin America continues
Recent elections demonstrate the popular will for freedom and independence
Stalin summed up the principal features of modern capitalism in the following terms: “the securing of the maximum capitalist profit through the exploitation, ruin and impoverishment of the majority of the population of the given country, through the enslavement and systematic robbery of the peoples of other countries, especially backward countries, and, lastly, through wars and militarisation of the national economy, which are utilised for the obtaining of the highest profits” . (Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR, 1952)

This description, over fifty years old, very concisely and accurately describes the historical epoch in which it was written – the same historical epoch through which we are still living. Who can deny the fact that, even in the imperialist countries, there is a trend towards the “exploitation, ruin and impoverishment of the majority of the population”, manifesting itself in mass unemployment, wide-reaching privatisation and the dismantling of the welfare state? Who can deny the fact that the imperialists are continuing, and attempting to further, their “enslavement and systematic robbery” of the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America? Who can deny that imperialism is conducting wars and genocide in the interests of obtaining profit?

At the same time, the world communist movement is at a low ebb. It has still to bounce back from the reverses of the second part of the twentieth century, a period that saw a gradual turn to the right by most of the big communist parties, some preceding, but most following Khrushchev’s notorious attack on Stalin, and, by proxy, on Stalin’s policy of the defence and strengthening of working-class rule; the eroding of the socialist economy of the USSR; and, finally, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the people’s democracies of eastern Europe. All this has left the communists – traditionally the most stable and consistent fighters against imperialism – with a lot of ground to make up.

Nonetheless, so cruel is the exploitation, so glaring is the disparity, so despairing is the poverty and so reckless the inhumanity that characterises the rule of monopoly capital that the masses of the world, particularly of the most oppressed and downtrodden countries, have no choice but to resist. In the Middle East, secular Arab nationalism has been joined by a new style of anti-imperialist and anti-zionist resistance with a religious exterior (Hamas, Hizbollah etc).

In Latin America, meanwhile, the needs of the masses are being increasingly reflected in a new trend of anti-imperialist nationalism pioneered by Venezuela, calling for an end to US hegemony, for Latin unity, for political sovereignty of nations, for a more equitable division of wealth, for cooperation and genuinely ‘free’ trade between friendly nations, for nationalisation, for human rights and for social justice.

The record of Hugo Chávez’s government in Venezuela is impressive, and is a source of great hope, admiration and enthusiasm for Latin Americans. Unemployment has dropped significantly; literacy has improved dramatically; there are extensive programmes to make health care available to the poorest sections of society so that, for example, the infant mortality rate has already dropped considerably (work that has been aided greatly by thousands of Cuban doctors); a number of important industries have been nationalised; there is a focus on diversification from the oil-based economy; free land titles have been granted to thousands of formerly landless poor and indigenous communities, while unused estates and factories have been appropriated for improving the lot of the Venezuelan people.

Chávez’s Venezuela has used its oil wealth to great effect in its foreign policy, too, providing cheap oil to large numbers of third-world countries and encouraging them to choose an economic path based on national sovereignty and friendly cooperation between equals (as opposed to the path of subservience to the bloodsuckers of the IMF and World Bank).

As we go to press, the news is coming through that Chávez has won re-election in Venezuela, taking over 60 percent of the vote. Vowing to expand rapidly Venezuela’s social programme, Chávez told the hundreds of thousands of supporters gathered to celebrate his victory: “Today a new era has started, with the expansion of the revolution.”

We do not doubt that Venezuela will continue firmly along the path of militant anti-imperialism. Indeed, at his final campaign rally, Chávez reiterated his support for socialist Cuba in no uncertain terms: "This victory on 3 December, we're going to dedicate it to the 50 years since the arrival of the revolutionary boat Granma led by Fidel Castro to the coast of Cuba. Fidel, applause from Venezuela. Long live Cuba! Long live revolutionary Cuba!" (www.handsoffvenezuela.org)

Venezuela’s model of development is, for obvious reasons, becoming a pole of attraction to the downtrodden sections of Latin American society and to the forward-thinking sections of the intelligentsia. As reported in Issue 12 of Proletarian (June 2006), Bolivia has taken up this path, with the government of Evo Morales pursuing policies of nationalisation and of close cooperation with Cuba and Venezuela.

In this article, we detail further developments from the last few months that demonstrate a further expansion of this anti-imperialist nationalism in Latin America.

Ecuador

Ecuador, an Andean nation in the northwest part of South America, is a classic example of a naturally wealthy country whose cornucopia of oil and agricultural products has been ruthlessly plundered by US multinationals, enthusiastically abetted by successive ‘investment-friendly’ governments. Although Ecuador is South America’s third-largest oil producer (behind Venezuela and Brazil), 70 percent of its population lives below the poverty line – more than double the rate of five years ago. Ever more power and wealth is concentrated in the hands of the white minority, while the large indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian populations suffer disproportionately.

The question as to the direction to be taken by Ecuador was put squarely in the recent presidential elections. Of the two main candidates, one, Alvaro Noboa, is the richest man in Ecuador (and one of the richest in South America), a genuinely repulsive character whose companies have been singled out by Human Rights Watch for their contemptible treatment of workers and their use of child labour: “Ecuadorian children as young as eight work on banana plantations in hazardous conditions, while adult workers fear firing if they try to exercise their right to organize.” (‘Ecuador: Widespread Labor Abuse on Banana Plantations’, Human Rights Watch, 25 April 2002.)

Noboa, of course, favours the style of ‘free trade’ proposed by the US, which effectively consists of US multinationals paying off a few local crooks and politicians for the privilege of gaining unfettered access to markets, driving local competitors out of business and progressively subverting entire countries’ economies to the needs of US capital.

The other main candidate, Rafael Correa, comes from the new school of Latin anti-imperialism. He is close to Hugo Chávez, opposes any free trade deal with the US, has promised a complete overhaul of the oil industry – with a higher percentage of oil revenues going to Ecuador, and he has strongly hinted that his government would not honour external debts that it considered to be illegitimate. “Correa has proffered an alternative model that doesn't involve free trade with the United States and may imply renouncing the country's foreign debt in order to pay for an increase in social programs – a position that had Wall Street jumpy during the first round of elections in October.” (‘Ecuador's election stands as microcosm of South American politics’, Kansas City Star, 25 November 2005)

Correa has also pledged to shut down the US military base in Manta, where 400 US soldiers are stationed as part of the Eloy Alfaro Air Base (the Pentagon's only military base in South America). He jokingly told reporters: "We can negotiate with the US about a base in Manta, and if they let us put a military base in Miami, if there is no problem, we’ll accept." (International Herald Tribune, 16 October 2005)

Speaking at an election rally in early October, Correa, speaking in Quichua, said: "The political and economic elites have stolen everything from us, but they cannot steal our hope … We will take back our oil, our country, our future." (Cited in ‘Ecuador looks to the left in presidential election’, www.marxism.com, 12 October)

“When asked whether his election would add him to a roster of left-leaning leaders in the region, Correa said his party represents a new wave that also includes Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, Bolivia and Uruguay. The candidate said governments in those countries share the spirit of Simon Bolivar and a vision for Latin American integration that will stand against ‘the inhuman and cruel globalization of the 21st century’.” (www.marketwatch.com, 13 October 2005)

It caused great consternation in the ‘international community’ (and considerable amusement everywhere else) when Correa referred to George W Bush as "a tremendously dim-witted president who has done great damage to his country and to the world", and, referring to Chávez’s recent comment at the UN about Bush being the devil, said: “Calling Bush the devil is offending the devil – the devil is evil, but intelligent.” (AP, 27 September 2005)

After much hopeful speculation in the press that Correa would be roundly defeated by his more acceptable opponent, Correa emerged as the clear winner of the election, taking over 57 percent of the vote. This result demonstrates that the Ecuadorian people have had enough of the comprador stooges who sell off Ecuadorian assets and products for the sake of a few crumbs from the table of imperialist profiteers.

With the election behind them, Correa and his team will now have to focus on obtaining and maintaining genuine political and economic power. The experience in Venezuela, where Chávez was removed in a coup and then restored to power a day later by the armed masses, demonstrates that no significant progress can be made without genuine political power, which, ultimately, “grows out of the barrel of a gun” . (Mao Zedong)

Correa must now take steps to arm the people, as the Venezuelans have done, for the defence against possible (even probable) US-sponsored coups. Ecuador must now follow in the footsteps of Venezuela, increasing the general level of preparedness of the masses, implementing wide-ranging reforms, forging strong ties with friendly countries such as Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia, and taking a hard line against the capitalist comprador class, which will lose no time in hatching plots for the overthrow of Correa and his comrades.

If Correa’s government follows this path, then Ecuador may well become a great bastion of progress and anti-imperialism in South America. If it doesn’t, it will quickly lose the confidence of the masses and will be easy pickings for graduates of the US’s notorious, gangster-training ‘School of the Americas’.

We wish Correa, his government and the Ecuadorian masses every success in their endeavours to forge a new Ecuador.

Mexico

Mexico is another country that has suffered greatly under the neo-liberal ‘free trade’ policies imposed by the US. Since 1982, the Mexican state has prostituted itself to the World Bank and the IMF, following the policies of ‘structural adjustment’ to the letter. State enterprises have been privatised; barriers to foreign investment have been removed; union activity has been restricted and repressed; public spending on health and education has been dramatically reduced; local producers have largely been squeezed out as a result of trade liberalisation; real wages and employment levels have decreased.

“The result is that the great majority of Mexicans for years have seen their standard of living decline, and more of them now live in poverty especially in the rural areas where farmers are unable to compete with heavily subsidized US grain and other food imports flooding the country since the NAFTA agreement ended agricultural import tariffs.” These problems were compounded when the collapse of the peso in 1995 led to a severe economic depression. (‘Courage and Resistance in Oaxaca and Mexico City’ by Stephen Lendman, www.informationclearinghouse.info)

The presidential election in July this year saw the Mexican working class and peasantry coming out in large numbers to register their growing discontent at the ballot box. Their candidate of choice was Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Obrador’s central campaigning slogan was ‘For the good of all, the poor are first’, and his main campaign focus was on interconnected economic and social issues: opposing tax increases for the poor, exerting greater popular control over public servants, introducing protectionist measures to stop the domination of the economy by US multinationals, opposing privatisation of the energy sector, promoting the welfare state, guaranteeing public health care for all, and expanding public services to the slums.

This contrasts sharply with the policies of the present government, led by spineless US hireling Vicente Fox, and with those of the other main contender in the election, Felipe Calderón, a ‘pro-business’ candidate who supports ‘free trade’ with (ie, unfettered exploitation by) the US.

The result, announced by the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) on 6 July, was a victory for Calderón, by a margin of 0.58 percent. However, Obrador and his supporters claimed that there were several irregularities, and immediately demanded a full recount.

Stephen Lendman, writing for the independent monthly journal Z Magazine, explains as follows: “The fraud uncovered so far showed the preliminary vote totals were manipulated to allow PAN candidate Felipe Calderon to be the winner. In addition, 3m votes were never counted at first and only in hindsight were 2.5m of them added to the totals. Further, 900,000 supposedly void, blank and annulled ballots were declared null, discarded and never included in the official totals; 700,000 additional votes disappeared from missing precincts; thousands of voters were denied their franchise in strong Obrador precincts; there was evidence of ballot stuffing; and in about one-third of the polling stations only winning party PAN observers were present allowing ample opportunity for vote manipulation as has happened routinely in a country known for its history of electoral unfairness …

“It was also learned early on that Felipe Calderon's brother-in-law Diego Hildebrando Zavala wrote the vote-counting software, and it was hacked during the electoral process.”
(‘Mexican electoral fraud wins round one – round two now begins’, 16 August 2006)

With the electoral commission refusing to call a full recount, Obrador’s supporters took to the streets of Mexico City, which saw demonstrations of as many as 2.5 million people in protest at the electoral fraud. Since then, Obrador and his supporters have maintained a 12-mile encampment in Mexico City, and have launched a campaign of peaceful civil resistance, including closing government offices, blocking Mexico’s stock exchange for a time, and surrounding the offices of foreign banks, causing them to close down for hours at a time. On 20 November, the 96th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution of 1910, a people’s inauguration was held to swear Obrador in as Mexico’s legitimate president.

The government and the electoral commission have refused, in the face of convincing evidence, to call a recount. However, Obrador and his supporters show no sign of backing down. Obrador’s statements against the Mexican state have grown increasingly vehement, and perhaps betray a waning faith in the bourgeois parliamentary ‘democracy’ he hoped would install him as president. AP quoted him as saying:, “Nobody wants violence in our country, but there are people who give grounds for violence. There are a lot of people who say that, after 2 July the path of electoral politics is no longer viable.” (Cited in Workers World, 22 November 2006)

It remains to be seen how things will turn out. We can only hope that the protests and parallel governmental structures being set up by the PRD and others gain sufficient strength and support to be able to topple the unrepresentative and fraudulent government of Felipe Calderón.

Oaxaca

While all this has been going on, Oaxaca, one of Mexico’s poorest states, with a population of 3.5 million, has been the centre of a massive campaign of civil disobedience to bring down the right-wing state governor Ulises Ruíz Ortíz.

In May this year, a teachers’ strike calling for higher wages led to the occupation of many buildings and streets in Oaxaca's capital city. By October, the strike had grown exponentially, becoming increasingly political and spreading to many other sectors of society. Tens of thousands of protestors gathered in a permanent encampment in the city, which has been growing ever since, calling for the governor to resign, a call that has been echoed by Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos. The widespread campaign of civil disobedience included taking over the state-run television station and the town hall of Oaxaca’s capital.

The state has come down heavily on the protestors. On 27 October 2006, paramilitary forces fired on a crowd of protesters, killing three: Esteban Zurrita and Emilio Alonso Fabian, both locals, and Brad Will, a US tourist who had been videotaping the protest. All victims were reported to be unarmed. At least two more protesters were killed when about 3,500 federal police and 3,000 military police, with a backup of 5,000 army troops waiting just outside the city, removed protesters from the city’s central square. Numerous protestors have been detained.

Nevertheless, the state’s forces have not been able to dismantle the barricades, and the struggle is going from strength to strength. Discussions have started on the rewriting of Oaxaca’s political constitution, and it is surely just a matter of time before the governing bodies are forced to admit defeat.

The struggles in Oaxaca and Mexico City are inextricably linked – they are part of the same fight against neo-liberalism and for independence, social justice, and rights for the poor and indigenous people (about two-thirds of Oaxaca’s 3.5 million inhabitants are indigenous – the highest percentage of any Mexican state).

Obrador has spoken out repeatedly in defence of the people of Oaxaca: “Let us be alert, let us not leave the Oaxaqueños alone, let us continue to speak out until we oust the powers that be in Oaxaca and until the social and political crisis that confronts that state is solved by the democratic method.” (Speech at a meeting to support the people of Oaxaca, www.amlo.org.mx, 31 October)

Nicaragua

Another high-profile election held in Latin America recently was Nicaragua’s presidential election, held on 5 November. As with Mexico and Ecuador, the main contenders were prominent representatives of the neo-liberal right and the nationalist left. The nationalist left, in the case of Nicaragua, was led by Daniel Ortega, leader of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), president from 1979-90 and veteran fighter against the Contras, whose war against the government, planned and financed by the US, was characterised by the most brutal terrorism perpetrated against the population of Nicaragua.

Although his anti-imperialist programme is considerably less forceful than it was in 1979, Ortega is still part of the growing shift in Latin America away from privatisation, liberalisation and economic and political dependence on the US. As we reported in Issue 12 (‘Bolivia moves towards energy nationalisation’), one of Ortega’s election promises was that, should he be elected, he would immediately sign Nicaragua up to the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), a project set up by Cuba and Venezuela in 2004 to promote political, social and economic cooperation between Latin American countries. Bolivia joined ALBA earlier this year.

In response to Ortega’s victory, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said: "Latin America is leaving forever its role as the backyard of the North American empire. Yankee go home!" (‘Ortega wins Nicaraguan election’, BBC News Online, 8 November 2006)

The Guardian of 8 November reported:

“Latin American leftists leaders congratulated Mr Ortega on his win. Mr Chávez has tried to help Mr Ortega by shipping discounted oil to energy-starved Nicaragua.

“During a congratulatory telephone call with Mr Ortega, Venezuela's leftist leader said his victory boosted what he called the rising power of the left in Latin America.

“‘We're happy here. We're very proud of you,’ Mr Chávez said during a televised speech yesterday as he called Mr Ortega by mobile phone.

“Mr Ortega could be heard replying with praise for Mr Chávez's leadership. ‘You are showing us the path,’ he said. ‘Long live Venezuela!’”


Conclusion

The turn towards the path of anti-imperialism in Latin America is of tremendous significance for the working people of the world. For too long, this region has been a bulwark for US imperialism, providing it with markets, cheap labour and political support. The tide is now turning, and this is a great step forward for progressive humanity.

First, every avenue of investment and exploitation that is closed to monopoly capital results in imperialism becoming a fraction weaker and the working class and downtrodden masses becoming a fraction stronger. Second, the presence of resource-rich anti-imperialist countries like Venezuela means that third-world countries with fewer resources (or less developed resources) can get help building their economies without having to go to the IMF or the World Bank. The global hegemony of monopoly capitalism is being seriously challenged.

The pace of progress shows no sign of letting up. Chávez looks set to win another massive majority in the Venezuelan elections in early December; Lula has recently been elected with a clear majority to a second term in Brazil; Argentina and Bolivia have just signed a $20bn deal for the export of Bolivian gas to Argentina; and the people of Bolivia have come out in their tens of thousands to demonstrate their continued support for President Evo Morales, whose government is facing rumours of a US-backed coup d’état.

In Venezuela, the government is consistently taking up the cause of the working class against the local and foreign exploiters. Over 10,000 Venezuelan workers are blockading Coca-Cola bottling plants and depots in a dispute with the company over large numbers of unpaid pensions and severance payments. The capitalist press has been shocked to note that the workers have been supported in their action by the Venezuelan government:

“‘This blockade is just the prelude to Coca-Cola being nationalised and turned over to the Venezuelan state,’ Nixon Lopez, a workers' leader, told the BBC.

“‘We're showing the world,’ he added, ‘that no multinational company can just come here to humiliate Venezuelan employees.’

“The protesters are being backed by a special commission in parliament.

“The committee, consisting of leftist MPs, is looking at taking control of the firm if it refuses to hand out the missing payments.

“This isn't the first time lawmakers loyal to President Chávez have threatened to take over the assets of big international companies here.

“President Chávez has himself spoken of seizing Venezuela's biggest phone company in a similar case to the Coca-Cola dispute.”
(‘Venezuela workers in Coke dispute’, BBC News Online, 24 October 2006)

Countries such as Cuba and Venezuela are also spearheading a revival of the Non-Aligned Movement, which consists of 118 countries, mostly from the developing world.

Member states of the NAM include DPR Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, Vietnam, Iran, DR Congo and Zimbabwe. At the 14th conference of the NAM, held in September this year in Havana, more than 50 heads of state and leaders from over 100 third-world countries, among them Iran and Venezuela, rejected US use of the ‘axis of evil’ label and supported Tehran's right to nuclear technology for peaceful use. Chávez commented at the conference: "American imperialism is in decline. A new, bi-polar world is emerging … The non-aligned group has been relaunched to unite the South under its umbrella." (Cited in news.com.au, 17 September 2006)

The NAM could well turn into an important power base against US, European and Japanese imperialism.

We congratulate the people of Latin America on their recent victories, and we hope that they will remain vigilant in defending these victories. Let nobody ever forget the fate that befell the government of Chile’s President Allende, whose economic programme was not altogether dissimilar from that being put forward by today’s anti-imperialist leaders, and whose regime was overthrown by an extremely bloody, US-backed coup in 1973, after it had failed to arm itself or make any preparations for imperialist attacks following his election.

The imperialists will fight for every inch of exploitable territory; we must be prepared to defend every inch of liberated territory.


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