“Resistance to neo-liberalism, the economic model backed by the United States, is strengthening across Latin America. In Chile, Gabriel Boric’s election as President has come after a wave of protests against privatisation and the rising cost of living.”
By Tim Young, Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America.
This week, thousands of activists tuned in for an “Latin America’s 2nd Pink Tide,” an online rally in support of progressive movements across Latin America – with speakers from Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, plus contributions from Jeremy Corbyn and Young Labour Chair Jess Barnard. You can read the report-back or watch the meeting in full here:
Sam Browse of Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America opened the meeting which focused on how Latin America’s progressive social movements and governments are showing that a better world is possible, where social need comes ahead of corporate greed.
Resistance to neo-liberalism, the economic model backed by the United States, is strengthening across Latin America. In Chile, Gabriel Boric’s election as President has come after a wave of protests against privatisation and the rising cost of living, followed by the Constitutional Convention to replace the 1973 coup’s constitution. In Honduras, twelve years after President Manuel Zelaya was deposed by a coup, Xiomara Castro has recently triumphed in the Presidential election, (winning 51% of the vote, well ahead of her main rival who gained just 36.9%), and in Bolivia, determined resistance against the repressive coup regime of Jeanine Añez lead to landslide victory for President Arce and the MAS party.
Sam noted that hopefully this year would produce further gains for the progressive Left, notably in Brazil where Lula is challenging Bolsonaro for the presidency. He urged those attending to sign LFPLA’s statement on Honduras and to donate to LFPLA to enable events like these to be organised.
Guillaume Long, Former Foreign Minister, Ecuador
Guillaume recounted how the last three or four years in Latin America had been particularly difficult, with rising inequality and poverty. While the years 2000-2013 had seen 100 million lifted out of poverty (out of a total population of 600 million), the last few years had seen 30 to 40 million people consigned into poverty.
This has been accompanied by coups (whether military or by ‘lawfare’) as the Right’s strength led to a decline in the Left. But he expressed cautious optimism about the current situation as a recent tide of successes at the ballot box have been reversing these left defeats and punishing neo-liberalism. Citing the examples of Mexico, Argentina and Bolivia (where the coup regime desperately tried to avoid facing an election), he noted a new psychology as the snowball effect of these victories emboldened others.
Honduras exemplifies this growing strength. Xiomara Castro’s victory in a highly authoritarian and repressive country, where the twelve years since the coup of 2009 have seen extra-judicial executions and persecutions of the Left and social and environmental movements, is a really important sign. But he warned that we need to be aware of how this gain might be reversed, given Honduras’s susceptibility to US influence and right-wing coups. The buying off of a group of Castro’s Congress representatives is an indication of vulnerability, and therefore a clear message about the need for international solidarity.
In Chile, the poster child of neoliberalism, Boric’s victory on an anti neo-liberalism platform is highly symbolic, while it would be a major game-changer if Gustavo Petro were to win the Colombian presidency as the progressive Colombia Humana candidate in this year’s election, given Colombia’s size, economic importance and close relationship with the United States.
But the most significant election in 2022 is Brazil’s where Lula is poised to win against Bolsonaro, which would really change things dramatically. Guillaume foresaw that Lula would have to make some compromises on the domestic front. But regionally and internationally Lula clearly wants Brazil to recover its former position as an influential non-aligned state, and to reignite Latin American integration, giving more support to the regional bloc CELAC and the inter-governmental organisation UNASUR.
As a project this is not without difficulties, because the Left in Latin America is heterogenous – but there are commonalities such as defending sovereignty, opposing coups and espousing non-intervention, which are points of unity. These are critical given that in recent years we have seen coups replacing left-wing governments in Brazil, Honduras, Paraguay and Bolivia for example, with lawfare and aggressive media narratives often playing a role.
Guillaume ended by stressing that in these circumstances we need to be ready to act in defence of sovereignty and democracy.
Claudia Turbet-Delof, Wiphalas Across the World, Bolivia, focused on what has happened in Bolivia in the last two years or so, where heroic resistance to the repressive Añez coup regime, which deposed President Evo Morales in 2019, forced its leaders to hold elections. These led to a clear-cut victory for President Luis Arce and the MAS party.
Since then, Arce’s government has led the recovery of the economy, restored social and political rights, focused on the most vulnerable and started to seek justice for those killed, wounded, imprisoned and tortured.
Among key initiatives have been the Bonus against Hunger payments helping over 4 million people in the country, the reactivation of public works programmes, and the prioritising of health and education services in government budgets. As a result, unemployment has been cut from 12% to 5% and economic growth is estimated to be 5% for 2022. The economy will be further helped by the new policies of import substitution industrialisation and exporting semi-processed rather than raw lithium.
On health, the Arce government has vaccinated nearly 6 million people and started vaccinations for children, in contrast to the Añez regime whose neglect had left people dying in the streets.
But the extreme Right continues to mobilise and use violence in an attempt to oust the elected government. In response, in a mobilisation in defence of democracy by the MAS, trade unions and social movements, a March for the Homeland led by Morales and joined by the President and Vice-President reached La Paz on November 29 covering more than 180km over seven days, starting with 5,000 people but swelling to 1.5 million by the end.
Seeking justice for those brutally repressed during the coup’s existence, the Arce government has been pursuing the perpetrators, including paramilitary groups, of the many human right abuses that took place, including the massacres at Sacaba and Sengata. Añez’s case will be going to court soon.
Claudia ended by affirming that Bolivia would never go back to colonialism.
Jeremy Corbyn hailed the amazing electoral victory by the MAS in Bolivia and the contribution that Bolivia has made on issues such as inclusivity, COP26 and the non-proliferation treaty. Speaking from a conference on tax justice, he noted that the pursuit of economic justice was fundamental to the growth of the Left in Latin America, and that Gabriel Boric’s recent election owed much to that, mobilising a broad coalition including Indigenous people.
Boric has a huge electoral mandate but still faces a huge challenge, and it will up to us, Jeremy said, to give support and solidarity to each Left government as it is elected.
The challenge for Left governments is how to reduce inequality and poverty, and Jeremy reflected on the political strategy of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) to do this, countering the narrative employed by the IMF and other ‘leaders’ whose theories and prescriptions are prepared to tolerate poverty and inequality. When he met AMLO recently, Jeremy had been impressed by his calling a conference of Latin American and Caribbean countries to discuss trade and cooperation, which could help to reverse the flow of refugees seeking to escape poverty, as well as his move to set up a state-owned company to mine and sell lithium.
But to redistribute wealth, ‘tax haven economics’ must be challenged: transparency in economic transactions is needed, requiring a collective endeavour across the world.
Jeremy noted how the Peace and Justice Project he set up is committed to campaign for a society in which power as well as wealth is shared, challenging the skewed distribution of wealth and power at home and overseas, and the ways it manifests including tax dodging, privatisation, low pay, and restrictions on workers’ rights.
In Britain now, government trade deals need to be closely scrutinised to see if they are promoting fair trade and following environmentally sound practices.
This is all part of campaigning for a better world, where nations and international institutions end, not uphold, systems of exploitation, and human beings do not have to uproot their homes to escape poverty and repression. Our mindset must be inclusive. This is, he said, an exciting time to be part of, providing solidarity to Latin America but also holding the UK government to account as well.
He hoped that Lula would be successful in mobilising popular opinion in the same way as had been achieved in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia and elsewhere.
Sue Grey, Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America, explained for those unfamiliar with the organisation what LFPLA stood for. It was set up to build solidarity with progressive movements in Latin America, opposing external intervention that threatened national sovereignty. This work includes promoting petitions, statements and meetings as campaigning tools.
Currently LFPLA is supporting: a public statement on Honduras – calling for a massive show of solidarity with President Xiomara Castro; Brazil solidarity Initiative’s statement calling for international vigilance against Bolsonaro’s attacks on democracy and showing support for Lula; an upcoming Labour Outlook online meeting ‘Why Socialists Learn from Cuba’s Revolution & Latin America’s struggle’ on the 28th of February.
Jess Barnard, Chair Young Labour
Jess reported back from a Young Workers’ Party Congress she had attended in Brazil in December 2021. She recalled how in 2003 Lula had been elected President and introduced policies such as free education, expanded universities and public housing which had transformed life in Brazil and had been enthusiastically supported and campaigned for by the Workers’ Party.
Lula would have won the Presidential election in 2018 had he not been sentenced to nine years in prison on false charges in 2017. The Young Labour National Committee had voted to make Lula their president, and he had smuggled a letter to the YL from prison in appreciation.
Lula’s imprisonment had enabled Bolsonaro to win the presidency. His impact has been hugely damaging, leading to increased poverty, job insecurity, public services stripped to the bone, poor healthcare, increased deforestation, and racist police brutality towards Indigenous youth.
The Young Workers’ Party response has been to commit to building a serious movement among young people. At the Youth Congress, Lula had addressed a rally with an inspiring message, focusing on the need for active radical action, not rebelling in front of a computer screen.
Jess talked about what she had taken away from the Congress: a commitment to internationalism, to seek autonomy and freedom from imperialism, and the need to reflect on past practice and learn the lessons. The drive of the Labour Right against the Left in Britain shows how you must be ready, by building strength through intersectional organising, to push back against external forces. Education is a weapon in the struggle and fighting back is the way to win.
She ended by quoting Lula who said while in jail that “one day justice will be done and I will leave prison.” That time has come and he now has a 17-point lead over Bolsonaro. We must do all we can to support his campaign to regain the presidency.
Manuel Riesco, Chilean economist
Manuel thanked LFPLA for the opportunity to talk and especially thanked Jeremy Corbyn, whom he termed “a true friend we will never forget”.
Manuel reflected on the movement of forces in history and struggle (akin to a dance) between those who work for a living and those who are set above them, keeping part of what is produced for themselves. But from time to time, the working masses erupt and disrupt the dance.
19th century political economy taught us that these eruptions make history, not according to their desires but according to material circumstances, while early 20th century pollical science discovered that they do not move arbitrarily but follow what Manuel called ‘tides’.
In the case of Chile, there have been three major phases in the struggle or movement of tides. In the 1960s and early 1970s (before the 1973 coup), the workers and peasantry ‘moved’. This was followed by the counter-revolution by the Right and the establishment of the Pinochet dictatorship. Then the dictatorship was overthrown. A new phase started on October 18th 2019, creating a wave of protests originating in Santiago and spreading to all regions of Chile, leading over time to the Constitutional Convention and the election of Gabriel Boric.
Manuel expressed confidence that the tide would continue long enough to achieve much-needed progressive change.
- You can watch Latin America’s 2nd Pink Tide back in full on the Arise Festival YouTube channel here.
- Show your solidarity and support for President Xiomara Castro and progressive change in Honduras, please add your name here.
- Help build international support for Lula in his electoral campaign against Bolsonaro, sign the Brazil Solidarity Initiative’s statement calling for international vigilance against Bolsonaro’s attacks on democracy.
- Please join the upcoming Labour Outlook online meeting, Monday 28 Feb 2022, 18:30pm: ‘Why Socialists Learn from Cuba’s Revolution & Latin America’s struggle’.
- Tim Young is an activist for the Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America, you can follow them on Facebook and twitter.