21ST CENTURY SOCIALISM IN LATIN AMERICA
by Michael Radu
August 26, 2008
Michael Radu, Ph.D., is Co-Chair of FPRI's Center on Terrorism, Counterterrorism, and Homeland Security. His most recent book is Dilemmas of Democracy and Dictatorship (Transaction, 2006); his Europe's Ghost: Tolerance, Jihadism and Their Consequences is forthcoming from Encounter Press.
21ST CENTURY SOCIALISM IN LATIN AMERICA
by Michael Radu
"This is a democracy. They call me a tyrant --
tyrants govern without laws. We're making laws, and
all those laws are for the benefit of the country."
With Washington now preoccupied with the coming presidential elections, and having been virtually asleep on Latin America
throughout the Bush administration, the strategic and
political map of that region is deteriorating dramatically.
A successful decades-long ideological and propaganda
campaign by an unreconstructed Marxist-Leninist Left,
centered upon the radicalization of racial politics and the ever present anti-Americanism and greased by high energy prices, led to the formation of a growing bloc of militant
"socialist" regimes in the region, most prominently
Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua.
These four countries' influence is spreading, mostly through what could only be described as bribes (i.e., oil subsidies) in the case of some Caribbean islands as well as Honduras;
the seeping out of racial policies from Bolivia to
neighboring Peru; and the dependence on Venezuelan economic aid that Argentina has willingly assumed. Meanwhile, an increasingly splintered and discredited Mexican Left has become more radical as its popular support wanes. Brazil, the regional superpower, plays an ambiguous role. Its military is worried about the security threat posed by Venezuela's massive weapons acquisitions, the activities of
the Colombian narco-Marxist FARC (Revolutionary Armed
Forces), and the general instability around its borders; Brazil's major companies are threatened in Bolivia, but its president uses rhetoric encouraging to the "progressive"
regimes in Caracas and La Paz.
The four leading "socialist" regimes followed a common script in their political and institutional evolution, with Venezuela as the original model. There, Hugo Chavez, a failed military coup leader, was freely elected in 1998 and has been reelected, increasingly less freely, ever since. He changed the constitution once--and tried, unsuccessfully, to
do so again last year--to institutionalize his total
personal, and mercurial, control over the military,
legislature and judiciary. That control now allows "his"
judiciary to disqualify popular opponents, such as Leopoldo Eduardo Lopez in Caracas and 271 others, from running in the coming November state and local elections, thus steadily limiting legitimate forms of opposition.
In Ecuador, U.S.-educated Rafael Correa simply dismissed the elected Congress, which was dominated by his opponents, wrote a new constitution giving him new powers, including the right to be reelected and control over the Central Bank, and making statism and hostility to free markets and private enterprise the law of the land.
In Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega was elected in 2006 with 38 percent of the votes, following promises that he would not repeat the totalitarian policies of his previous rule (1979-
90). With no congressional majority, Ortega rules by
presidential fiat--when he is not in one of his frequent foreign trips, flying in a jet he received from Moammar Khaddafi as a gift--and has returned to his old anti-Yankee rhetoric. Moreover, even as Chavez has apparently given up his support for FARC, Ortega is increasingly vocal in defending the terrorists, including giving asylum to some, and declaring his willingness to "mediate" between them and the democratic government of Colombia.
But it is in Bolivia that the Left's characteristics are most obvious-- and its future most in doubt. Bolivia is where the Left is most openly reactionary and racist. After his election in 2006 (with 53 percent of the votes), Evo Morales Ayma, former leader of the coca growers' trade union and the self-proclaimed "first Indian" president (a highly dubious claim) and his ruling Movement to Socialism (MAS), engaged in an openly race-based, if not outright racist, set of policies. Those included attempts to give legal autonomy to many Indian communities, making at least three languages official and equal to Spanish, and, in a typically Orwellian
twist, accusing all his opponents of being racists.
Presumably, those would include the governor of Chuquisaca
department, Savina Cuellar, an ethnic Quechua female
opponent of Morales, who was elected in a landslide in June.
Morales, and his (non-Indian) Marxist academic advisers strongly believe that capitalism, or "neo-liberalism," as they call the free-market system--which was never really achieved in Latin America--is dead or moribund. As vice president Alvaro Garc¡a Linera put it,
"In Bolivia, I think post-capitalism will be
grounded in the medium or long run in two forces: in
the force of modern industry and in the non-modern,
communal tradition. For Bolivia, and perhaps Peru,
perhaps Ecuador, perhaps Guatemala, it's
unimaginable to envision post capitalism without
taking into account the communal strength of the
indigenous communities. This is what makes us
different from other parts of the world."
This is a very old and long discredited Marxist idea, that premodern societies contained the seed of socialism because of their "communal" property distribution and alleged lack
of social class cleavages. However, what a German
theoretician in London could be excused for
misunderstanding, a Bolivian, cannot. As Mario Vargas Llosa pointed out, the Inca state whose history is assumed by Morales and other leftist "indigenistas" was in fact a totalitarian system, where the subject masses had no rights and their daily lives were controlled by the small elite in the capital of Cuzco. (It was precisely the resentment, and rebellion, of the subjects to the Incas' absolute control and oppression that made it possible for a few hundred Spaniards to conquer a huge empire.)
Nevertheless, Morales does see it as his "duty" to stir up Indian historic resentments in Bolivia and beyond. In his own country he engages in what could only be described a historical revanchism against "non-Indians," a dangerous
policy when virtually all technical, industrial and
financial skills are among mestizos or whites. Instead of promoting the development of such skills among Indians, Morales demonizes the skills themselves as evil "neo- liberalism."
Worse still, Morales seems to believe that he has a right to propagate his racial notions among the Indian majority areas of neighboring Peru, as he did last year, and to publicly insult that country's president, Alan Garcia, for his successful free-market policies and good relations with Washington. In addition, with public support from Hugo Chavez, Morales makes no secret of his territorial claims to Chilean territory, and routinely engages in anti-American (and, lately, anti-European) diatribes. Moreover, true to his former occupation as a coca grower, he claims an imaginary Indian "tradition" as a pretext to allow a massive growth in drug production--especially in the Chapare region, which was never a coca producing area until the last decades.
At home, Morales (like Ortega) has convinced himself that his bare majority election gave him the right to change the face of Bolivia--a dangerous illusion, previously shared by
Salvador Allende in Chile, another revolutionary with
limited popular support. That is an opinion most obviously not shared by the (mostly mestizo or white) population of Bolivia's most productive, mineral rich and export-oriented departments--Santa Cruz, the largest, Tarija, Beni and Pando, all of which had autonomy referenda this Summer, approved by some 80%. These departments produce a majority
of Bolivia's GDP, most of its agricultural exports,
virtually all its oil and gas, and represent more than half of the national territory. In addition, the department of Chuquisaca is strongly devoted to making Sucre, its center
and the constitutional capital the real center of
government--away from La Paz, a Morales (and Indian)
What makes Morales' Bolivia a threat both to its own existence as a unitary state and to its neighbors is the artificial capabilities it receives from Venezuela--from military advisers to fund
s needed for populist measures seeking to gain votes, to political support. Similarly, Rafael Correa's Ecuador enjoys the help of Caracas in its anti-Colombian policies, as does Ortega. How far this bloc's influence goes was demonstrated by the Organization of American States (OAS) condemnation of Colombia for the March
2 bombing of a FARC camp in Ecuadoran territory. The fact that Ecuador cannot or does not want to control its own borders was not even mentioned, nor was the public support given by Chavez to the terrorists--who have since then apparently, and likely temporarily, withdrawn.
All of this has been made possible by the ambiguous position of South America's largest country, Brazil. On the one hand, President Lula meets his counterparts in Colombia and Peru on the common border and signs security agreements, and his military makes it clear that any FARC attempt to cross the Brazilian border will be met with force. On the other, Lula, a former Trotskyite, regularly meets and embraces the likes
of Chavez, Correa, and Morales, despite the latter's
repeated assaults against the property and interests of
Ecobras--his country's largest public enterprise--and
inability to respect its contractual obligations in
supplying gas to Sao Paolo.
President Chavez' recent massive military buying campaign in Russia and Belarus--especially the acquisition of submarines and advanced bombers--is clearly unsettling the Brazilian military, as is Caracas' intense friendship with outside powers, particularly Iran. While all this, and Lula's lame duck status, suggests a future change in Brasilia's behavior toward a less friendly attitude toward Venezuela, at this
point Caracas still has a free hand. Washington's
outsourcing of security matters to Brasilia seems to have been a massive error. Worse still, the Democratic majority in the U.S. Congress seems to be more anti-Uribe, despite the Colombian president's being the only important pro-U.S.
leader in the region, than willing to deal with the noxious influence of Chavez.
And then there is Argentina. For a long time that country-- or at least its elites--saw Buenos Aires as the natural rival of Brazil, but not anymore. The Kirchner regime--first
President Nestor Kirchner (2003-07) and now his wife
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner--has managed to bring a major global agricultural exporter to the level of domestic food
shortages, and a historically independent, albeit
mercurially so, country into dependency on Venezuela, after
Chavez bought Argentina's foreign debt. Argentina now
supports everything Caracas proposes, even if it is contrary to its national interest, as is Bolivia's failure to fulfill its gas delivery contracts to the country. For all practical purposes, today's Argentina is too dependent on Caracas to even defend its own economic interests, let alone act as an independent actor. The Kirchner faction of the Peronists is clearly more interested in staying in power than in having an independent--or rational--foreign and economic policy.
Nor is the problem going to remain contained. Paraguay has just elected a "progressive" former liberation theology bishop as president, and is thus another likely "socialism of the 21st century" adept. In El Salvador the next elections (2009) could well be won by the former Marxist terrorists of the Farabundo Marti Liberation Front--albeit with a civilian face (or frontman).
The expansion and development of the leftist bloc in Latin America goes beyond the region, promising to become part of a global problem. Venezuela already has close political, economic and military ties with Iran, and Bolivia has (mostly promised) economic ties with Tehran. Hezbollah, a long established, if discreetly, presence in the tri-border area of Brazil-Paraguay-Argentina, now has a public presence in Caracas. Considering the still ongoing massive Latin American emigration through America's porous borders, such presence is a growing problem--and not one taken seriously in Washington.
Over the past eight years, Washington has demonstrated a spectacular lack of interest, or effectiveness, in dealing with Latin America, if it even had a Latin policy. It doesn't matter whether that is due to the preoccupation with international terrorism or some dreams of permanent common interests and lack of a threat, is irrelevant. What is important, and real, is that the next administration will have to face, and pay for, the results of eight years of neglect - and the price is steadily growing.
 Sara Miller Llana's, Bolivia's vice president on
indigenous rights, coca crops, and relations with the U.S.
An interview with Vice President _lvaro Garc¡a Linera of the Movement Toward Socialism Party (MAS), Christian Science Monitor, March 27, 2007.
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