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Massive vote for social change
OVERSHADOWED BY the US elections, voters in Uruguay ousted the country's traditional capitalist parties and voted in Tabare Vazquez of Frente Amplio (Broad Front) as President.
Standing for the third time, the former Montevideo mayor won a majority of votes (51%), with the candidate of the ruling Colorado Party beaten into third place with only 10%. The victory of the Broad Front (a mish-mash of former urban guerrillas, ex-Marxists, social democrats and Christian Democrats) ends 170 years of uninterrupted rule by the two main establishment parties.
This election result confirms the political trend in South America to reject the previous decade-long failed policies of 'neo-liberalism' ie privatisation, labour deregulation, welfare cuts, etc which has driven vast numbers of workers, peasants and the middle classes into poverty.
Coinciding with Uruguay's election, voters in Venezuela's state and municipal elections overwhelmingly backed pro-Chavez candidates, who won in 20 out of 22 states. Venezuela's radical populist president Hugo Chavez emerged victorious in the recent opposition-initiated referendum (backed by the US government), which failed to secure a majority to overturn his presidency.
In Brazil's municipal elections, social democrat President Luiz "Lula" da Silva increased his Workers' Party votes and doubled the number of councils it controls.
However, 18 months into his term of office Lula has quickly adopted policies favoured by international capitalism and has attacked federal employees' pensions and cut social spending, etc. This has led to some disillusionment amongst his working class base, reflected in the PT losing control of the vast industrial city of Sao Paulo and of Porto Alegre.
In June this year left-wing political activists, including expelled deputies of the PT and CWI members in Brazil, came together to found a new broad socialist formation, PSOL.
Uruguay's workers and poor are desperate for changes that will benefit them instead of the wealthy capitalists and landowning class. Since 2002 the economy has shrunk by 15% and, officially, 30% of the 3.4 million population are in poverty. In the last ten years over 120,000 Uruguayans, mostly young people, have emigrated looking for work.
However, hopes that Vazquez will adopt socialist policies to deal with the economic and social crisis is wishful thinking. His finance minister Daniolo Astori is viewed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as 'a safe pair of hands'.
He is unlikely to default on the country's crippling foreign debt repayments and has signalled his willingness to work with the IMF. And although privatisation of public utilities, such a water, may be temporarily off the agenda, spending limits on welfare may cause future left-right splits in the Broad Front coalition.
The dire situation facing the masses in Uruguay and throughout South America necessitates the founding of new working-class parties armed with a socialist programme to alleviate poverty and end inequality. Workers' and peasants' governments based on socialist polices can break the constraints of capitalism and imperialism.
In The Socialist 13 November 2004:
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