From 1919 to 1979, the Latin American industrial bourgeoisie and the popular sectors of urban workers, miners, and students (but not peasants and indigenous peoples) cooperated in the a developmentalist project, which promoted industrial development and concessions to workers’ demands to an extent that did not challenge the fundamental core-peripheral relation between the United States and its Latin American neocolonies. Inasmuch as these modifications were limited to space allotted by the neocolonial world-system, they did not involve the transformations that were necessary for the protection of the social and economic rights of the people. However, they were sufficient to attain the support of the majority of the popular organizations. The dynamics were similar to what was occurring with respect to moderate (but not revolutionary) governments in the newly independent nations of Asia and Africa in the post-World War II era.
When the world-system entered its long structural (and possibly terminal) crisis in the 1970s, the US power elite led the global elites in the implementation of the neoliberal project, designed to break the limited capacity of Third World governments to regulate their economies, thus rolling back concessions to the Latin America developmentalist project. The neoliberal project undermined imperialism, inasmuch as imperialism was based on a degree of cooperation with the national industrial bourgeoisie, which was responsible for social control. With the weakening of the national bourgeoisie and its turn to increasing subordination to international capital, and with the need for governments to make drastic cuts in social services expenditures, the national bourgeoisie and its political representatives could no longer present themselves with credibility as defenders of the rights of the people or the sovereignty of the nation. The popular indignation and rejection of the traditional political parties was not long in coming.
In the period of 1994 to 2011, Latin America and the Caribbean were transformed by popular movements and new political parties that stood in opposition to neoliberalism and in support of the true independence of the nation and the protection of the social and economic rights of the people. New political parties of the Left came to power in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and El Salvador. The new governments adopted measures designed to respond to the needs of the people and to control and protect natural resources. And they cooperated with one another, forming regional associations that have been guided by a policy of South-South cooperation and mutually-beneficial trade, seeking to break the core-peripheral relation with the United States.
From the outset, the Latin American Right has been opposed to the anti-neoliberal popular project, and it has used a variety of strategies to undermine it, including attempted military coups, regional secession, economic disruptions, and media ideological campaigns. The social base of the opposition is formed by the Latin American estate bourgeoisie, the middle class, and new urban residents, with the latter two sectors being vulnerable to the ideological distortions of the mass media, which remains for the most part under the ownership of the elite. Since 2012, the counterrevolutionary project of the Right has attained a degree of momentum, established by various factors: decline in the prices of Latin America’s raw materials exports, on which it continues to be dependent; the persistence of corruption, an endemic problem that the progressive and Leftist government have been able to reduce only partially; and the normal tendency of the people to blame the government for any unresolved problem, driven by idealistic hopes that expect more than is possible for any government, including one fully committed to the people.
The Latin American Right has turned increasingly to the strategy of the parliamentary coup, involving the removal of the president from office by the parliament under some pretext. The Right used the strategy with success in Honduras and Paraguay in 2009. Recently, the Brazilian parliament removed the President on a temporary basis. And in Venezuela, the parliamentary majority is invoking a recall referendum of the President. The strategy represents a significant advance over the military coup, inasmuch as the parliamentary coup has the appearance of legitimacy. No one doubts that the military coup is indeed a coup; but the parliamentary coup has provoked a debate between the Left and the Right, between those who are naming the coup and calling for its international denunciation, and those who claim that it is a question of a parliament exercising a legitimate constitutionally-defined function.
The specific situations in the four nations are significantly different. In Honduras, the president was brought to office as a candidate of one of the two traditional parties, and he therefore did not have support in the parliament for his efforts to deepen relations with the Latin American governments of the Left. In Paraguay, the elected president was a former Bishop, popular for his defense of the poor, who was elected as an independent. He too lacked parliamentary support for his progressive agenda.
In the case of Venezuela, the economy was severely affected by the drastic reduction in oil prices, inasmuch as Venezuela is a major oil exporter, and its economy is dependent on the oil industry. In addition, many of the import-export companies began to stockpile or refuse to import food and medicine, producing a shortage in these necessary goods and a drastic rise in prices. At the same time, the corporate-controlled mass media continued their long-standing denunciations of the government, characterized by the repetition of false or misleading information. From the period of 1998 to 2012, the Fifth Republic Movement, which later became the Socialist Party of Venezuela, enjoyed for the most part an electoral majority of fifty to sixty percent. But as a result of the factors mentioned, the Socialist Party attained only thirty-five percent of the votes in the December 6, 2015 parliamentary elections, and the opposition obtained a parliamentary majority of nearly two-thirds. The Socialist Party remains the largest single party, and the opposition consists of a variety of parties that do not have a coherent program. However, the opposition does agree on its opposition to the presidency of Nicolas Maduro, and it has initiated a referendum for the revocation of the president. Some believe, however, that the referendum is not in the interests of the opposition, and that it will not proceed.
In Brazil, the Workers’ Party came to power in 2002 not as a party, but as the leader of a coalition of parties. During the fourteen years of Workers’ Party rule, the coalition has gradually fallen apart. At first, the defectors were parties of the Left, who were not satisfied with what they believed was an overly moderate government program, the specifics of which were shaped by concessions to the centrist coalition partners. With the fall in prices for Brazilian goods on the international market, and the ensuing economic problems, the principal centrist party of the coalition, the Brazilian Party of Social Democracy (PSDP), jumped ship and allied itself with the Right in opposition to the government. Now with a parliamentary majority, the opposition was able to obtain a parliamentary vote for the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, making vague charges of corruption. Many observers consider the charges to be farcical, inasmuch as the accusers are tainted by charges of corruption, and Dilma enjoys a reputation as an exceptionally honest political figure. But as a result of the parliamentary vote, Dilma has been temporarily removed from office, and the vice-president has formed an interim government. In this case, the vice-president is the head of the PSDP, who held the position as a result of its alliance with the Workers’ Party. Now aligned with the Right, he has formed a notably right-wing cabinet as interim President.
The Right also attained a victory in Argentina. In this case, the candidate of the Right won the presidential elections in a close vote, ending four presidential terms of the progressive governments of Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Kirchner. The narrow electoral victory of the Right was aided by the factors of prices, corruption, and popular idealism, mentioned above.
In the cases of Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina, the Right in power is overplaying its hand. It is not seeking to form a right-center coalition that would enable it to govern for a period of time; instead, it is taking extreme measures that are likely to alienate people with a centrist political orientation. In Venezuela, the Right-dominated parliamentary majority offers no program to respond to the economic problems, which its own sectors helped to create. Rather, it is focused on seeking to remove the president from office before the end of the term to which he has been elected. In Brazil, the government has formed a cabinet of the Right, ignoring that it is constitutionally an interim government whose leader faces charges of corruption. In Argentina, the president has negotiated an agreement with creditors of “vulture funds,” leaving the government with excessive debts; and the president has made drastic cuts in government employment.
But the Right must overplay its hand. It seeks a restoration of the neoliberal project and the return to rule by international capital and its national allies. With this agenda, it cannot make concessions to the center. It must take decisive action in defense of its particular interests. In times of crisis, the center disappears. It becomes a battle between the Left and the Right.
In overplaying its hand, as it must, the Right is revealing its true character as a promoter of the interests of international capital in opposition to the sovereignty of the nation and the protection of the social and economic rights of the people. As a result, there is a good possibility that the progressive and Leftist political parties will be able to discredit the restoration project of the Right, and recapture the ten percent electoral vote that it has lost recently.
The forces that defend neoliberalism and the neocolonial world-system do not have a constructive project to offer as the world-system experiences a multifaceted crisis. The alternative world-project emerging from the Third World, including the progressive project of the Latin American Left, remains the only possibility for the development of a just, democratic and sustainable world-system. These factors contribute to the possibility that the Latin American progressive and Leftist governments will be able to overcome the restoration project of the Right and to proceed with the consolidation of its project for truly independent republics and a better world.
For blog posts on the new political reality in Latin America since 1994, see the categories Latin American and Caribbean unity, South-South cooperation, Bolivia and Evo Morales, and Rafael Correa and the Citizen Revolution in Ecuador as well as a reading on Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela.