CWI world congress report (4)
Latin America: A continent in revolt
THE RECENT world congress of the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI - the socialist international organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated) debated the explosive developments in Latin America where the working class and rural poor are fighting imperialism and the effects of years of capitalist 'neo-liberal' policies. ALISTAIR TICE, Socialist Party delegate, reports. [This report back is the last in our series]
Andre Ferrari (Brazil) opened the session by explaining that neo-liberal policies of privatisation, de-regulation and welfare cuts had started in Latin America even before Thatcher came to power in Britain.
At the behest of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and US imperialism, these neo-liberal policies were rolled out across the entire continent during the 1980s and 1990s, leading to debt crisis, poverty and huge inequality.
Today, 215 million officially live in poverty. 41% of Latin America's population survive on less than $2 a day. Yet the richest ten Mexicans own $5.8 billion wealth, equal to 7% of the country's GDP!
It is this stark reality of the effects of neo-liberal policies that has provoked mass movements and a dramatic shift to the left across Latin America.
The 21st century opened with the Water Wars (against water privatisation) in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and the toppling of four presidents in two weeks in Argentina during the economic crisis of 2001-02. Such struggles have resulted in left-of-centre governments and presidents being elected over the continent.
Even where right-wing parties have held on to power, they face crises. The US-backed government of Uribe in Colombia, which under the cover of fighting 'narco-terrorism' has conducted a civil war against peasants and trade unionists, is now embroiled in a scandal over its links with paramilitary death squads and drug barons.
In Mexico, only a huge election fraud got the right-wing president elected but provoked, what one US newspaper described as, "a pre-revolutionary situation." There were mass movements, a million strong Tent City and a 500,000 delegate National Democratic Convention in support of robbed radical nationalist candidate Lopez Obrador.
At the same time, a near insurrection took place in the state of Oaxaca where a 70,000-strong teachers' strike grew into a generalised uprising of trade unionists, social movements and indigenous peoples.
Karl Debbaut, a visitor to Mexico on behalf of the CWI at the height of these movements, gave Congress a flavour of the struggles when he described the "expropriation" of a Coca Cola truck! Facing the police, women protesters asked them: "Have you fed your children this morning before you sent them to school?" and said "Join us. Your mother is already here!"
Unfortunately these struggles were not linked up and the Oaxaca uprising was brutally crushed but Mexico will never be the same.
Rami, from the US, explained that Mexican and Latino Americans are the fastest growing section of the US population and now the largest ethnic minority. The NAFTA free trade agreement has destroyed Mexican agriculture so Mexicans have flooded across the border for work. He described the Immigrants' Rights movement that swept US cities last spring and how Latinos are being further radicalised by events in Mexico and throughout Latin America.
Tony Saunois (CWI International Secretary) said that there were two trends in the shift to the left. In the Andean countries, especially Bolivia and Venezuela, and also Ecuador, pressure from the masses is still pushing the process in a more radical direction.
Whereas in countries in the Southern Cone, governments elected as left-of-centre had actually continued neo-liberal policies. The main example of this is Lula's presidency in Brazil. Lula, a former metal workers' trade union leader, aroused huge expectations when first elected in 2002 but as one Brazilian journalist put it: "Lula was elected to change the country but only changed himself."
With his policies of privatisation, education cuts and attacks on pensions, Jenny (Brazil) said that in the recent elections there was no real debate between Lula's Workers' Party (PT) and the conservative PSDB, only on how to 'manage' the capitalist state and economy. In fact, Brazil's second biggest banker declared: "There's no difference from a financial point of view... Both are conservatives."
Whilst Lula was re-elected as 'the lesser evil', Jenny said that the 7 million votes for Heloisa Helena, the candidate of the new left party PSOL, kept the left tradition and alternative alive. Socialismo Revolucionario (SR - CWI) comrades are campaigning within PSOL for it to be a democratic and class struggle socialist party, and not to become a top-down election machine with watered down policies.
Chile has long been held up by the neo-liberals as a model of economic success and political stability. But Celso described how last year's students movement, known as "the penguins" [because of the students' uniforms] dispelled that myth.
Only three months into the supposed left presidency of Michel Bachelet, Chile witnessed the biggest mobilisation for decades led by teenage school students, putting one million on the streets. Despite brutal police repression, the students with 80% public support, won big concessions on the education budget and fees and forced two government ministers to resign.
IT IS the Bolivarian countries that are the eye of the storm against neo-liberalism. Mass, near insurrectionary, movements in Bolivia in 2003 and 2005 overthrew successive presidents, bringing to power former coca-workers leader Evo Morales.
Under huge pressure from combative and confident trade unions and social movements, Morales' government carried out the partial nationalisation of the gas and oil industry.
Described as the first nationalisation of the 21st century this was a significant blow against the neo-liberal agenda. However the capitalists, landowners and right-wing parties are refusing to accept constitutional and agrarian reforms and are threatening to declare autonomy for the rich Santa Cruz state.
A rapid polarisation is taking place as witnessed in Cochabamba where a 'revolutionary government' was briefly installed. Morales is under pressure from contending class forces. His government could be pushed further left; the right wing might try to break up the country; there could even be civil war.
Whereas in Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, the radical nationalist president first elected in 1999, appears to be more in control of the process taking place. Fuelled by oil revenues, Chávez has funded social 'missiones' in health, education, housing and cheap food which have benefited the poor masses.
Last December he was re-elected with 63% of the vote and since his re-inauguration has talked of bringing about "Socialism in the 21st century", nationalisations and an explosion of communal power. He's even spoken approvingly of Trotsky (co-leader of the 1917 Russian revolution) and Trotsky's ideas of the 'Permanent Revolution'.
Johan Rivas from Venezuela pointed to the contradictions in the process of the Bolivarian Revolution. Whilst Chávez talks 'permanent revolution' he still appeals to the bosses' organisation (that supported the attempted coup against him in 2002) to join the "great national dialogue."
And whilst talking about "socialism from below", Chávez acts as a 'caudillo', like a missionary, handing down reforms from above, trying to reform the capitalist system not fundamentally change it.
Most debate focussed on which way the process would go in Venezuela. Can the masses establish independent workers' organisations to fight for socialism or will the counter revolution creep back due to frustration at the slow pace of change, bureaucracy, corruption and crime?
What is certain is that events in Latin America, especially Chavez and Venezuela, are having an effect around the world. The continent's shift to the left has broken Cuba's political isolation.
Delegates from neo-colonial countries explained how Venezuela was being discussed as the new model for the left. Chavez is popular in Palestine and Lebanon with posters and T-shirts describing him as the "best Arab", proving that 'socialism' not just political Islam can be seen as an alternative in the Middle-East.
Peter Taaffe (CWI International Secretariat) stressed how we shouldn't underestimate Chávez's effect with his talk of socialism and Trotsky, especially on radical youth who have only known 20 years of globalisation and neo-liberalism.
The CWI must popularise the genuine ideas of Trotsky, of revolutionary socialism, workers' democracy and internationalism.
We must find the resources to help build our small but significant forces in Latin America, where we can, in time, play a key role.
See the socialist, issues 472, 473 & 475 for other world congress reports and background articles on Latin America - also available on www.socialistparty.org.uk
For full world congress articles and resolutions see www.socialistworld.net
Thirsting for socialist ideas
"Things are indeed hopping right now in Cochabamba..." began an e-mail sent to the Congress from Adam in Bolivia. "The last week has been pretty exciting... today there was a much larger demonstration.
This time I came prepared with 90 pamphlets, which I thought would be enough. Once again, it was not. People were literally grabbing at me as I sold the last ones.
I have found that all I have to do is talk to people and soon a small crowd develops and many want to buy the pamphlet and find out more about the CWI...
When I ran out of the pamphlet, I then proceeded to hand out the cover leaflet... When I ran out of those, the crowd asked me to give a sort of impromptu speech talking about the CWI.
When I finished, people asked me to shout out my email address and phone number... Then they told me to go print more of the flyer covers..."