As we have seen, a new political reality has emerged in Latin America since 1994, characterized by: popular movements in opposition to neoliberalism; the emergence of self-proclaimed socialist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua; the emergence of progressive governments in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay; the increasing prestige of socialist Cuba; and the establishment of regional organizations of solidarity and cooperation, such as ALBA and CELAC. What has occurred can be understood as a popular revolution, inasmuch as political parties that seek to represent the interests of the popular sectors, and not the interests of one or more sectors of the elite, have taken power.
From its outset, the post-1994 Latin American popular revolution has generated a counterrevolution, composed of those who have economic interests or ideological motives to bring down the revolutionary project. The primary social base of the counterrevolution is the Latin American estate bourgeoisie, which has an economic interest in the preservation of the global core-peripheral relation, by virtue of its role in exporting raw materials to the core. Import-export trading companies also have interests in the preservation of core-peripheral trade. In addition, the privately-owned media of communication tend to be opposed to the popular revolution, inasmuch as socialist and progressive patterns of thought historically have expressed the idea that the media of communication ought to be under public control rather than in private hands. In addition, the middle class and new urban residents, influenced by the ideological messages of the privately-owned media, are participants in protest actions organized by the counterrevolution.
Since 2012, the new counterrevolution of the Right has been able to reverse the momentum that the Left enjoyed in Latin America from 1994 to 2011. The more favorable situation for the Right has been rooted in three factors: (1) the decline of prices for Latin American raw materials exports, on which the region continues to depend, in spite of the revolution’s long-range goal of breaking the core-peripheral relation; (2) the problem of corruption, which is a persistent problem in all governments, and which the progressive governments of Latin America have been able to reduce but not eliminate; and (3) the tendency for the people to have expectations that are unrealistically high with respect to revolutionary processes, and a related tendency to blame the government for the persistence of any problem. Commentators have identified four strategies that have been used by the Right in its recent upsurge: an electoral strategy of vague promises in defense of popular interests, economic warfare, ideological distortions and attacks of the government through the mass media, and the parliamentary coup d’état.
The electoral strategy of the Right is to form new political parties and make vague promises of change, formulating a discourse that sounds progressive. This is combined with aggressive and distorted attacks on the government in the mass media, owned by corporations that support the counterrevolutionary project of the Right. This strategy for the most part has not had success in obtaining sufficient electoral support to remove the progressive governments, but it was successful in the presidential elections in Argentina in November 2015, taking advantage of the term limits that precluded a third presidential term for popular and progressive President Cristina Kirchner. Mauricio Macri, of the rightist party Cambiemos (Let us change), defeated Daniel Scioli, candidate of the Front for Victory (the party of Kirchner) by a vote of 51.32% to 48.68%. Once in office, Macri ignored his vaguely progressive promises and adopted neoliberal polices; such as eliminating government protection of the national currency, cuts in government employment, and settling the “vulture funds” conflict in a form favorable to foreign capital. These measures have provoked popular protests (see “The Right takes power in Argentina” 1/4/2016).
In the case of Venezuela, the electoral strategy of the Right was combined with economic warfare. The Venezuelan economy is dependent on the importation of food, medicine and other goods, and the importing companies launched a campaign to reduce importation and to horde goods, creating shortages and price increases, in an effort to discredit government economic policies. In conjunction with a sharp drop in petroleum prices, the strategies of vague electoral promises, economic warfare and a media anti-governmental propaganda campaign were successful in creating the conditions for a victory of the Right in the parliamentary elections of December 2015. The Rightist parliamentary leaders then launched a campaign to end the presidency of the constitutionally-elected President Nicolás Maduras, before the completion of his term of office. The United Socialist Party of Venezuela has organized popular demonstrations in defense of the constitutionally-elected president, who was able to successfully host the Non-Aligned Movement in September 2016 (see “Economic war in Venezuela” 1/7/2016; “Political polarization in Venezuela” 1/8/2016; “Economic and media war against Venezuela” 6/9/2016).
In Brazil, the central strategy has been the parliamentary coup d’état. The Workers’ Party came to power in 2002 as the leading force in a progressive coalition of parties. It enjoyed fourteen years of rule, under presidents Luis Inácio Lula and Dilma Rousseff, during which time a number of progressive domestic programs were enacted, and the nation played a leading role in the process of Latin American unity and integration, particularly with respect to the formation of the South American Union of Nations (UNASUR). But with the decline of raw materials prices, the Workers’ Party Coalition feel apart. The second largest party in the coalition, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), broke with the coalition and established a political alliance with the Right, thus converting the Workers’ Party into a minority in the parliament, and positioning Michel Temer, Vice-President of Brazil and head of PMDB, to assume the presidency, if the elected president were to be removed from office. Under these political conditions, the Brazilian parliament, on August 31, 2016, voted to remove President Dilma from office, on the basis of unsubstantiated charges of corruption. The vote was declared by the socialist governments of the region to be an illegitimate parliamentary coup d’état (“Parliamentary coups of the Right in Latin America” 5/23/2016; “Parliamentary coup d’état in Brazil” 9/2/2016).
The resurgent Latin American Right, however, has no viable project to offer. Thus far, it has indicated its intention to return to neoliberalism, adopting measures that include privatizations, reductions in social programs, and greater opening for foreign capital. But the people previously rejected the neoliberal project. The resurgent Latin American Right did not express its neoliberal intentions, and there is little indication that the people desire to return to it. The politicians of the resurgent Latin American Right appear to be opportunists rather than true leaders. They do not appear to be seeking to develop a sustainable political project; some may be playing a short-term political game in order to further enrich themselves.
Inasmuch as the Latin American Right lacks a viable political project to propose, there is a good possibility that the popular revolution in Latin American will recover or retain its majorities and proceed toward the construction of an alternative, more just, democratic and sustainable world-system.
Key words: counterrevolution, Right, Argentina, Venezuela, Brazil