Stand with social progress and democracy – Arise Festival says “no more Pincohet’s in Latin America”


“With the defeat of figures such as Bolsonaro in Brazil and Macri in Argentina, the ‘pink tide’ of advances in the 2000s have shown it has a long term legacy”

Guillaume Long, Former Ecuadorian Foreign Minister

By Ben Hayes, Arise Festival

The No More Pinochets in Latin America, Stand with Social Progress and Democracy session held as part of this year’s Arise Festival saw hundreds of activists come together to hear about the latest developments in the region and the role of international solidarity work.

You can read the report back or watch the discussion with Gawain Little, GFTU; former Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Guillaume Long; Nathalia Urban, Brasil Wire; Claudia Turbet-Delof, Wiphalas Across the World; and Dave McKnight, UNISON; in full below.

WATCH: No more Pinochets in Latin America | Stand with social progress & democracy

Chairing the seminar, General Secretary of the General Federation of Trade Unions Gawain Little emphasised the importance of strong international links in the current crisis, and praised the achievements of progressive forces in Latin America, often in the face of hugely difficult circumstances, as “an inspiration to us all”.

Former Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Guillaume Long reflected both on the reasons for optimism on the left and the challenges of the current period. Pointing to electoral victories for progressive candidates in Honduras and Colombia -operating in “some of the most adverse circumstances for any left party in the Americas” – coupled with the defeat of figures such as Bolsonaro in Brazil and Macri in Argentina, the ‘pink tide’ of advances in the 2000s have shown it has a long term legacy and is “here to stay as a feature of Latin American politics”.

Guillaume outlined some of the obstacles these governments are facing, including destabilisation attempts and dealing with legislatures which still contain a right-wing majority. He went on to emphasise the importance of regional integration to defeating “divide and rule” tactics and creating a broad alliance of administrations from different political traditions on the left, as well as promoting an alternative model for development which addresses the needs of society as a whole.

Nathália Urban, journalist with BrasilWire, discussed how, upon his return as President, Lula da Silva of the Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT) had not only inherited a country with huge economic issues and deep political and social divisions, but had to deal with a far-right attempt to attack government buildings and bring about a military coup to overturn his election just 8 days into his term. Despite these huge obstacles Lula has still already managed to deliver huge achievements.

In relation to economic policy, measures such as stopping planned privatisations in areas including mail and oil have delivered a record increase in GDP, and action is being taken to address homelessness by repurposing empty properties for use as social housing, reactivating the ‘My House, My Life’ programme and engaging with the Landless Workers Movement on land reform.

Nathália also outlined the government’s policies on the environment, including planning to stop deforestation altogether by 2030 and ensuring the rights of indigenous communities, having been ruthlessly undermined by the Bolsonaro administration, as well as commissioning an inquiry into the disastrous handling of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanking all those who have and continue to organise international solidarity, she concluded that the current course of Brazil was “towards a country that all citizens can be proud to say they live in”.

Claudia Turbet-Delof of Wiphalas Across The World outlined Bolivia’s history as the country to have experienced the most coups in the region – with its natural resources being a huge part of this. The most recent instance was the removal of elected President Evo Morales in 2019, which began a period of repression against popular movements, including the killing of 28 indigenous protestors. During the coup, Wiphalas Across the World helped to organise the Bolivian diaspora in support of democracy and self-determination.

After mass mobilisations eventually forced new Presidential elections, won by Luis Arce of the Movement for Socialism (MAS) party, what Turbet-Delof described as a “government of the people” was formed. She emphasised how crucial land reform has been to the progressive path the country has taken, with women having particularly benefited from these policies – and Bolivia enjoying the lowest food inflation rates of any Latin American country for the second year in a row.

Despite attempts at destabilisation from far-right groups and sections of capital, Bolivia’s GDP is also now the highest in its history. Calling for international support for their right to sovereignty, she concluded that “your solidarity with the Bolivian people will always be needed.”

Dave McKnight from UNISON’s North West region focused on the impact of US sanctions on numerous countries in the region – including the NICA Act targeting Nicaragua, as well as measures against Venezuela which are opposed by a majority of citizens both supportive of and opposed to the government. This included the Bank of England’s ongoing refusal to return Venezuelan gold worth billions.

Noting that the blockade of Cuba for over six decades has been estimated to have cost the country’s economy over $135 billion, he highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic “exposed the cruelty and inhumanity” of US policy”, he pointed to the recent letter from 20 members of Congress to President Biden calling for a reversal of Trump-era sanctions as an example of growing opposition inside the country itself. McKnight concluded with a call for the labour movement to stand up for self determination and against these examples of “economic warfare which should be opposed in the strongest possible terms”, urging viewers to affiliate their union branches to the relevant international solidarity campaigns.

Questions from those at home covered topics including upcoming Ecuadorian elections, the impact of the shift away from the dollar, the importance of more independent stances from Brazil and Mexico for other countries in the region, and countering disinformation.

McKnight emphasised the important role of promoting the resources provided by solidarity campaigns, and called for the labour movement to prioritise practical support- including backing the campaign to return Venezuela’s gold.

Urban outlined how the US has used it’s currency to target governments who do not go along with its policies, and discussed how Lula has prioritised “a new geopolitical order”. Discussing the elections in Ecuador, Long reflected on the use of ‘lawfare’ against former left President Rafael Correa, involving a conviction for “psychic influence”, and how neoliberal economic policies combined with repression against those resisting them has seen the current government’s approval rating in single figures- assessing that there was a “strong chance” of a progressive victory.

Closing the event, Little thanked all panelists and attendees- and encouraged participants to support the work of the various campaigns mentioned, including Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America.

LISTEN: No more Pinochets in Latin America | Stand with social progress & democracy

Featured image: Democracy Camp, at the Pôr do Sol amphitheater, in Porto Alegre, where former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was tried on January 24 de 2018. Photos by Anselmo Cunha under the Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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