Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America, supported by a range of solidarity organisations & progressive groups and publications, held a meeting with international guests on the 18th August to build solidarity with struggles in Latin America against US intervention, neoliberalism, and the activities of the far right. Tim Young reports back.
You can also watch the video in full here:
Christine Blower, Labour peer and Vice-Chair of the Brazil Solidarity Initiative, was chairing and introduced the meeting by setting the context. Vital political gains have been made in recent times in Latin America which have been an inspiration to movements worldwide. But the major crises of the pandemic and the climate change emergency throw into sharp relief the need to change the way the world is currently ordered.
The first speaker, Francesca Emanuele, a Peruvian journalist and activist, updated the meeting on the Left’s recent Presidential election victory in Peru. The win by Pedro Castillo, a former teacher and union leader representing Peru Libre, a Marxist-Leninist party, was a shock defeat for the forces of the right which have dominated Peruvian politics for the last 30 years.
But the Right is not accepting the loss. Keiko Fujimori, the defeated right-wing candidate, made baseless claims of fraud which took six weeks to be rejected. The new government is now installed but is under severe pressures.
The Peru Libre party only has 37 of the 130 congress representatives and Castillo’s choice of leftist Cabinet members still needs to be approved. Already his Foreign Minister has had to resign over comments made in the past about the Shining Path guerrilla movement.
Right parties in Congress exploring the possibility of impeaching Castillo are seven votes short of the 87 needed to do so. Corporations are already gearing up to use their power to undermine the government, for example by creating food shortages and raising prices to create a swell of discontent against the new government.
The need for international solidarity to help the new government to survive and be able to implement its progressive policies is vital.
The next speaker, Gabriel Rodriguez, of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, which represents 20 million transport workers across 150 countries, explained how the left in Argentine had confronted the forces of neoliberalism in Argentina and put forward alternatives.
Two years ago, President Macri and his right-wing government had been defeated at the polls by a left-wing coalition with a very progressive agenda, despite Trump trying to help Macri win by engineering the biggest ever IMF loan to a country.
Within six months the new government faced the pandemic, with a debilitated medical system and a lack of cash – under Macri’s rule the IMF funds had ‘disappeared’, with him falsely claiming they had been used to cover inherited debt.
But the government has continued to implement its progressive agenda, including tackling the pandemic, as best it can in the circumstances, to look after the poor and vulnerable and provide hope for people.
Parliamentary elections are being held in November, with the opposition currently oscillating between blaming the government for the economic crisis by pretending the pandemic doesn’t exist, and opposing the pandemic but saying the government’s measures are not working.
From Bolivia, Camila Escalante, a journalist with Telesur and Kawsachun News, spoke aboutthe march of social progress under the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) government of President Arce.
The MAS secured a historic election victory in October 2020, kicking out the military-led coup regime with its racist, colonialist mindset. Luis Arce won the presidential vote with 55% of votes. Since then, his government has been acting on that mandate to implement a programme to rebuild Bolivia, kick-starting the economy by increasing people’s spending power and public investment.
But on the ground Bolivia’s social movements are needing to confront head-on right-wing fascist forces which are still attempting to destabilise the country and undermine the MAS government.
What these forces are responsible for is revealed in the human rights report by the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts recently handed over to President Arce before an audience of victims and families.
Its investigation over eight months found that during the coup regime 37 Bolivians were killed by gunfire, 800 people were injured, and over 1,000 citizens were unjustly detained. Acts of harassment and torture were committed, against mostly Indigenous people.
Camila referred to interviews she had conducted in El Alto and Senkata where massacres had occurred. What people had been saying then had been confirmed by the report. The international community now needed to know what the grass roots in Bolivia had been saying about the coup regime, the police and paramilitaries had been true.
Camila concluded by emphasising how Bolivia’s experience shows the importance of social movements. This is an exciting time In Latin America, with a wave of leftist governments being elected and potentially more to come.
For those attending unfamiliar with Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America (LFPLA), Sue Grey explained how it had been set up five years ago to complement existing work by solidarity groups and had focused on some key issues at the time, such as the impending coup against Brazil’s Dilma Roussef, struggles in Ecuador and the attacks on environmental and other activists by the right-wing regime in Honduras.
The campaigning organisation has shifted its focus to other countries and campaigns as political circumstances have changed, such as AMLO’s election in Mexico, the coup and fightback in Bolivia and the campaign against Bolsonaro in Brazil.
Claudia Webbe, MP for Leicester East and Vice-Chair of the Brazil Solidarity Initiative, stressed the importance of international co-operation, especially given how the UK government is increasing its nuclear stockpile in the arms race.
Claudia offered her full support to the Bolivian government in its journey towards socialism and welcomed Pedro Castillo’s election victory in Peru. But elsewhere she noted that right-wing governments still exist in Honduras, Colombia and Brazil and she pledged to stand with those fighting against those governments.
In Brazil in particular, the Black Lives Matter movement needs our support, as do those campaigning against deforestation and environmental destruction in the Amazon, LGBTQ activists defending their rights and trade unions fighting job losses and privatisation.
She noted that Lula’s release from political imprisonment and return to political life, becoming the most popular politician in the country, provides a progressive and hopeful alternative in Brazilian public life.
In the UK, there is a desperate need for a progressive foreign policy that particularly opposes inhuman sanctions applied to effect regime change. What happened in Iraq and Libya provides stark evidence of the damage Britain’s foreign policy has caused.
Claudia ended by noting that another world is possible and offering her solidarity to social movements in Latin America in their quest for democracy, equality and social progress against the forces of right-wing reaction.
Natalia Urban, a journalist with Brasilwire, provided up-to-date information about the growing resistance to Bolsonaro & the far-right.
She highlighted how Bolsonaro complete mishandling of the pandemic has led to over half a million Brazilians losing their lives to the virus. 52% of the population are currently insecure.
Politics are deeply polarised. While huge demonstrations are taking place across the country calling for Bolsonaro to go, neo-Nazi cells are now on the rise in Brazil, and Steve Bannon is calling on the global far-right to help Bolsonaro in the forthcoming presidential election.
Political violence is increasing, as paramilitaries are becoming more violent in their attacks against favelas and the poorest in the cities, while violence is taking place in the countryside as well.
As political parties are developing an alliance to support Lula in the election, Bolsonaro has set out to attack the electoral system and Brazilian democracy. He has threatened to depose the Supreme Court and take action against anyone who challenges him.
He also tried – but failed – to get the Lower House to pass a constitutional amendment to set up a mixed voting system with electronic votes and paper ballots.
Bolsonaro has also been reported to the International Criminal Court (ICC) by Indigenous groups over genocide and ecocide crimes.
Hope now rests with Lula and the social movements against the far-right and its intolerance. But it is not clear that Bolsonaro will allow the 2022 election to take place. The need for international solidarity is of the utmost importance.
Bernard Regan, Secretary of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, set out why it is essential to stand against the criminal US blockade of Cuba.
Cuba has been subjected to a comprehensive blockade for 60 years to which Trump added 243 further measures, particularly hitting its ability to purchases goods on the international market, as companies shy away from providing or transporting goods to Cuba for fear of being hit by sanctions levied by the US.
For example, the Ali Baba foundation recently refused to supply much-needed syringes for pandemic injections to Cuba, in case it received a US financial penalty.
In speeches to the UN General Assembly, Trump let slip that the US still holds to the Monroe Doctrine of rejecting any interference by external countries, regarding how the US asserts its interests in Latin America. Biden has intensified the pressure on Cuba and not repudiated a word of Trump’s assertion of this doctrine.
The blockade is still in place despite by condemned by the UN General Assembly in 29 annual votes, this year by 184 votes to 2, with 3 abstentions. This indicates the extent of sympathy across the world with Cuba.
But it is clearly not enough to vote against the blockade. The time has come to put words into action. Mexico, Russia and other countries have sent aid to Cuba, and Britain should do the same.
Bernard concluded with a call to oppose the blockade, defend Cuba’s sovereignty and stand in solidarity with Latin American people’s struggle against neoliberalism.
Dr. Francisco Dominguez, Senior Lecturer in Latin American Studies at Middlesex University, focused on the effects of US sanctions on the region, including Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Sanctions have been levied by the US against Venezuela since 2016/7 – 431 measures in all to asphyxiate its trade and its oil industry. As a result, 40,000 people died in 2017/8 alone, and over 100,000 have died since, with sanctions affecting the poorest, weakest and most vulnerable.
But Francisco argued that we are winning, pointing to how Nicaragua had defeated a well-organised coup d’état in 2018, financed with $40 million from the US agencies USAID and NED which have a record of providing funds for destabilisation activity across Latin America.
US intervention in Nicaragua has been virtually non-stop since 1938, culminating in the US-backed Somoza dictatorship lasting for 43 years before being overthrown by the Sandinista Revolution in 1979. But even then the US financed and supplied weapons to the ‘contra war’ before the FSLN lost the election in 1990 and went into opposition, before regaining power in 2006.
The social progress made by the FSLN government since 2006 and before the coup d’état in 2018 was staggering. The elections on 7th November 2021 offers the country further opportunity to resolve political differences.
Turning to Venezuela, Francisco noted that the economy is weak but Maduro and the PSUV party are politically resilient, having seen off attempted coups and having secured the engagement of more moderate opposition members in elections again and in dialogue.
This has been aided by supportive developments in the US, such as the letter to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken by 17 Congress members, to lift US sanctions, end the politicisation of US assistance and engage in direct dialogue with the Maduro government.
It is open to politicians elsewhere to take similar stances and put pressure on the US government before Venezuela’s next round of elections on November 21st. In Francisco’s view, there are two key tasks.
First, it is urgent to isolate the US and its Latin American client supporters, Bolsonaro in Brazil and Duque/Uribe in Colombia. Second, regional integration is also urgently needed, to offer support to Castillo in Peru, to oppose US sanctions and to help any country in trouble.
Dr Dominguez closed by observing that resistance pays off – never, ever, give up!
The last speaker, Guillaume Long, former foreign minister of Ecuador, provided an overview ofthe challenges facing the continent.
He noted that elites in Latin America are extremely problematic for both development and democratic consolidation, since they prefer feudal structures and relations that maintain inequality, which leads to a lack of social cohesion.
Bearing that context in mind, he made four key points. First, when democracy is given a chance, people will and do vote for progressive governments. The Left needs to capture that enthusiasm with life-affirming agendas.
Secondly, solidarity works. It helps influence the agenda on the table and has a boomerang effect in Latin America. As examples, he cited the impact that a letter by 23 US Congress members on the Department of Justice’s meddling in Lula’s case had in Brazil, and progressive candidate Arauz being allowed to stand in Ecuador’s Presidential election because of international pressure.
Thirdly, he stressed the importance of regional integration and how it is not being served by the OAS under Almagro. It is outrageous that the OAS has given a seat to opposition legislator Juan Guaidό as the self-declared ‘interim president’ of Venezuela. There is a growing consensus that Almagro must be held to account and removed. There are rumours of corruption in the OAS – every Left victory brings one more vote to the table.
Finally, the Left needs to drive a wedge between our adversaries and maximise the tensions between them. A key focus for Latin America is the connection between the US, Bolsonaro in Brazil and Uribe in Colombia (for whom President Duque fronts). Uribe was behind Trump’s successful campaign in Florida, creating a big problem for the Democrats and tension between Uribe/Duque and Biden.
Success in driving a wedge into this grouping will increase the chances of bringing back a measure of Left hegemony in Latin America. It is worth fighting for: in Guillaume’s view, if there are not grounds for optimism, there are grounds for hope.
Christine Blower ended the meeting by thanking all the speakers and those participating, and urging everyone to get involved with the various solidarity campaigns.