Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Latin America moves left and forward

by Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero


The Foro de Sao Paulo (FSP), a forum that brings
together most of the Latin American left, had its 18th
meeting in the Venezuelan city of Caracas on July 4-6.
In attendance were representatives of practically all
of the Foro’s member organizations, including El
Salvador’s FMLN, Nicaragua’s Sandinistas, Guatemala’s
URNG (all three of them former guerrilla groups), the
Cuban Communist Party, Ecuador’s Alianza PAIS,
Uruguay’s Frente Amplio, Bolivia’s Movement Toward
Socialism and the Puerto Rico Socialist Front, as well
as leftist and socialist political parties from
countries like Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Dominican
Republic, Haiti, Barbados and Argentina.

The host country’s left pulled out all stops in
helping to organize the event. Countless youth
volunteers of the ruling party- president Hugo
Chavez’s PSUV- looked after every detail of logistics
and protocol, and the local communist party, the PCV,
was also out in force. There was also a substantial
number of observers and dignitaries from other parts
of the world, including Russia, China, Vietnam,
Saharaui, Lebanon, Palestine, France, Spain and
Greece. VIP’s included Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchú
from Guatemala, and writers Ignacio Ramonet and Atilio
Boron, who sat in places of honor near president
Chavez at the closing activity.

Brazil’s delegation, which included the ruling
Workers’ Party (PT) and the Communist Party (PcdoB,
now celebrating its 90 years), had a commanding
presence in Caracas. The PT was indeed the main
driving force behind the FSP’s founding, and the
meeting’s proceedings were presided over by the
extremely capable Brazilian political strategist
Valter Pomar, who is not only the Foro’s executive
secretary but also a member of the PT’s top

Currently one of the world’s leading economies, Brazil
has a gross domestic product dozens of times the size
of any of its neighbors’. The country’s political and
economic shadow looms over all South America. The PT
has won the last three presidential elections- in the
first two of these the winning candidate was former
factory worker and labor organizer Luiz Inacio “Lula”
Da Silva, and the current president is the former
guerrilla and political prisoner Dilma Roussef. It
must be regarded as the most important political
institution of the Latin American left and one of the
single most important political parties in the
hemisphere. Lula fully intended to come to Caracas but
could not do so due to health problems. He did,
however, send a video greeting in which he expressed
support for president Chavez’s reelection bid.

The FSP is definitely not to be confused with the
World Social Forum, which also began in Brazil.
Whereas the Social Fora are non-partisan, the Foro de
Sao Paulo is openly, brazenly and proudly partisan and
leftist. The terms of debate and discussion at the FSP
are far to the left of what most American progressives
would be willing to consider. In it there is open talk
of class struggle, anti-imperialism, wealth
redistribution, and yes, the dreaded “s” word,
socialism. Socialism is indeed becoming an
increasingly mainstream proposition all over the
world- except in the USA, where the word is still used
as an insult.

I must have been the only delegate in Caracas that
noticed the total absence of Americans, which says
plenty about the provincialism of most American
leftists and progressives. But on the other hand, it
was also evident that the Americans were not missed at
all, nobody bemoaned their absence. Latin America is
increasingly looking south. Only the right wing and
ruling classes are looking north for answers and help
in these changing times.

A little history

The FSP was founded in 1990, when the left was in its
worst moment. The collapse of the Eastern European
socialist bloc, the Soviet Union’s implosion,
Tiananmen Square, the Sandinista electoral defeat. But
the outlook was not all bad. After all, the
dictatorships in South America and the genocidal wars
in Central America were coming to an end, Haiti had
its first freely elected president, Mandela was free
and so was Namibia, apartheid ended, the Iran-Iraq war
stopped, and cold war conflict zones like Afghanistan
and Angola were cooling off. However, the new
post-cold war “democracy” was a hollow political
formality. The doctrine of neoliberalism reigned
supreme- all talk of social justice, labor organizing
and addressing economic inequality, or even merely
suggesting that another world was possible, was thrown
out the window. Leftists were jumping ship all over
the place, repenting of their past and repackaging
themselves into something more user-friendly.

Brazil’s PT, back then an opposition party, formed the
Foro as a rallying point for all the stalwarts who
refused to let the dream die, who insisted on
believing in socialism and on choosing the difficult
road, the one that leads to the rational society where
there are no oppressors or oppressed.

How have times changed since then! The FMLN, which in
the 1980's was an outlaw band of guerrillas that the
US was bent on stamping out, won the last presidental
election in El Salvador, the Sandinistas are back in
power in Nicaragua, in Uruguay the leftist Frente
Amplio has won its second presidential election in a
row and its current president, José Mujica, is a
former Tupamaro guerrilla, the Cuban revolution
survives, the people of Ecuador and Bolivia overthrew
neoliberal governments and rewrote their countries’
constitutions, and Venezuela’s president Chavez,
reviled by the corporate media, gets reelected again
and again.

Brazil is now practically a different country. The PT
has rescued the country from neoliberal stagnation and
turned it into the world’s sixth economy. The national
oil company Petrobras is the world’s second largest,
it is larger than Microsoft and Walmart. Brazil’s
government development bank, BNDES, is by far the
largest public sector development funder in the world-
yes, larger than the World Bank. Sao Paulo’s stock
exchange is the world’s second largest. The PT’s
political line is felt all over the world thanks to
Brazil’s activist foreign policy, which is forging
solid trade and diplomatic links not only with Latin
American neighbors but also with countries in Africa,
the Middle East, the Asia Pacific region, China and
India. Brazil is one of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia,
India, China, South Africa) countries, which together
are expected to outgrow the G7 economies by 2032.

And then there’s the regional initiatives. The
governments of Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela teamed
up with civil society activists in trashing then US
president George Bush’s proposed Free Trade Area of
the Americas and replaced it with the Bolivarian
Alternative of the Americas (ALBA). And in the last
couple of years, under the initiative of Hugo Chávez,
the region’s countries are grouping together as the
Community of Latin American and Caribbean States
(CELAC), which explicitly excludes the US and Canada.
When was the last time that the US progressive media
even mentioned this last development?

Caracas 2012

The Caracas FSP meeting took place in a context of
upbeat optimism in the face of these substantial
advances. But there is also concern and precaution
because of the actions of an implacable enemy that
refuses to give up. Only two weeks earlier Paraguay’s
president Fernando Lugo was overthrown by the
country’s right-wing and oligarch-dominanted
legislature. The coup d’etats in recent years in
Honduras, Venezuela and Ecuador- only the first of
these successful- were fresh in the memory of all
those present. The meeting’s final document, the
Caracas Declaration, stated that “The Honduras coup
and the overthrow of Fernando Lugo indicate that the
right is willing to use violent means or the
manipulation of institutional means to overthrow
governments that do not serve its interests.”

All over Caracas, in every street corner, there is
overwhelming evidence that the presidential campaign
has started. It is a totally polarized country. Its
public life has no room for the dilettante or the
undecided. The tension in the streets is palpable. The
Paraguay coup and the even more recent massive
electoral fraud in Mexico, courtesy of the right-wing
PAN party, are making the mix more volatile. Opinion
polls agree that Chavez has a solid advantage over his
rival, the reactionary Capriles-Radonsky, in the
upcoming October elections. But the left has taken for
granted that Venezuela’s right wing is and always will
be a bad loser. According to the Caracas Declaration,
“The right already considers the victory of Chavez to
be a certainty… (it’s) preparing the conditions to
refuse to accept the result… Faced with this
situation, the Foro de Sao Paulo calls on all
progressive and leftist forces to support Venezuelan
democracy, and to reject the right wing’s attempts at

The meeting’s participants were emphatic in condemning
the starring role of right-wing news media in the
subversion against progressive governments and against
the region’s leftward trend (If you think Bill
O’Reilly and Glenn Beck are bad, you should see what’s
on Latin America’s right-wing television). Quoting the
Caracas Declaration again, “The right wing has
unleashed a broad media campaign operated
internationally through powerful communications
consortia… Major corporations develop destabilization
plans and behave as factors of power, capable of
placing themselves above the public powers that
emanate from universal suffrage. Large media
enterprises defy democracy and its institutions on a
daily basis. This is perhaps one of the biggest
challenges that leftist governments face:
democratizing communications”.

The Caracas Declaration also included expressions of
solidarity with the Haitian and Paraguayan people in
their struggles against oppression, with the Colombia
peace process, and with presidents Correa of Ecuador
and Morales of Bolivia. The document also declares
support for Palestinian self-determination, for the
release of Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar
Lopez, who has been incarcerated in the US for 31
years, opposition to military intervention in Syria
and Iran, and has statements on other issues such as
the environment and discrimination against women. With
regards to decolonization, it calls for the return of
the Falklands islands to Argentina, the
self-determination and independence of Puerto Rico,
the decolonization of the French and Dutch Guyanas,
and support for the brave struggle of Northwest
Africa’s Saharaui. Valter Pomar presented Ecuador’s
chancellor Ricardo Patino, who was in Caracas heading
his country’s delegation, with an FSP declaration
calling on his country to give asylum to Wikileaks’
Julian Assange.

A long way to go

But let’s not fool ourselves. There is still plenty of
work to do in Latin America. The process of change is
riddled with contradictions, as any process of social
change would be. The region still has a long road to
go towards socialism. And the failure of the FSP and
leftist governments to address environmental issues in
any meaningful way is nothing short of alarming. As
much as Bolivian president Evo Morales and the new
Ecuadorian constitution may talk about the
environment, mother earth (pacha mama) and right
livelihood (sumak kawsay), the fact is that Latin
America’s leftist revolution runs on oil and natural
gas. Fossil fuels are an indispensable source of
foreign exchange for Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador and
Bolivia, and dependence on their export is increasing.

The agribusiness model of farm production,
incompatible with ecology or food sovereignty, is
running amok in South America- and among the
pesticide-drenched monocultures, Monsanto’s
genetically engineered Roundup Ready soy is king. The
construction of mega hydro dams in the Amazon jungle
(like the controversial Belo Monte project) and of
super highways linking Brazil to the continent’s
Pacific coast continue apace. Contrary to popular
perception, bringing greens and reds together is not
an easy task. One can argue that is has never been
successfully done yet (the insights of social
ecologist Murray Bookchin could really come handy

It would be a huge disservice to uncritically worship
and glorify the leftward surge and progressive
governments of the new Latin America and sweep their
failings and inconsistencies under the rug. But it
would be equally unhelpful and unfair to dismiss them
out of hand for “not being leftist enough” or for
being environmentally destructive. It’s a fine line to
walk. Ultimately, it is better to embrace these
movements and work within them to try to steer them
into the right path than to oppose them and bark at
them from the sidelines. The latter course of action
would play right into imperialism’s strategy.

Carmelo Ruiz Marrero is a Puerto Rican author,
journalist and environmental educator. He is also a
research associate of the Institute for Social
Ecology. His blog on global environment and
development issues is at
http://carmeloruiz.blogspot.com/search/label/eng. His
Twitter feed is @carmeloruiz.


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