The governments of Latin America after Chávez

[Translation of an opinion piece from La Jornada of Mexico City for May 5, 2013. See original here.]

By Guillermo Almeyra

From the point of view of governments and institutions, the changes in Latin America brought about by the death of Hugo Chávez are important but not fundamental. The Venezuelan revolutionary process is weaker and its adversaries are therefore stronger, but if the leadership of the state and of the PSUV (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela) are determined, with the support of their bases, to radicalize and deepen transformation of the country, if they reduce waste and improve somewhat the distribution of food and goods, social change could take a new leap forward, since the current moderate recovery in consumption and production in the United States, Venezuela’s principal market, gives certain stability to the price of oil.

This is the basis, on the other hand, of the security offered by the Maduro administration to Cuba, ALBA (Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América — Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) and the Caribbean against the uproar of the Venezuelan Right about the “giveaway” of oil and financial support to Venezuela’s allies and against the same concessions of this kind that the right-wing Chavistas want to make to the anti-Chavista Right. At the same time, in Brazil, with next year’s elections impending, the Right does not seem to have either a clear candidate or the possibility of winning; the economy is somewhat better and the government enjoys the support of the transnationals, agribusiness and domestic large-scale capital, to which it has made considerable concessions, and it does not face strong social protests.

In Uruguay, on the other hand, there is the possibility that Tabaré Vásquez, the Right of the Frente Amplio, will be the new president, which would weaken the ties with Brazil (and with Venezuela), aggravate tensions with Argentina and strengthen a tendency to draw closer to the United States and to try to form a moderate block in UNASUR (Unión de Naciones Suramericanas — Union of South American Nations), but this change would be gradual and quantitative, not qualitative. The new Colorado Party government of Horacio Cartes, corrupt and on the Right, in Paraguay, is in turn closely tied to Brazil and cannot maintain opposition to the role of Venezuela in MERCOSUR (Mercado Común del Sur – Southern Common Market) or oppose the eventual entry of Ecuador and Bolivia.

As for Peru, the moderate Ollanta Humala is still under the rightist fire of Alan García and the Fujimoristas and has as well a border problem with Chile, which, together with economic growth, makes one think that he will stick to his policies for the immediate future. In Colombia, President Santos is keeping an eye on what happens in Venezuela, trying not to make a commitment to the Right of that country and to hold on to the border trade; with the other eye he is watching for the constant sabotage committed by Álvaro Uribe and the extreme Right, and tries to counter it with peace negotiations with the guerrillas and with vague promises of agrarian reform.

In Ecuador, Rafael Correa has secured his position in the face of the Right with his control of the assembly and left social opposition is weaker than ever, which gives him important room to maneuver toward an official “progressivism” of a social-christian nature. In Bolivia the Right is in no position to confront the Evo Morales administration which, on the other hand, finds opposition in the social movements but has managed some progress in general in the economy. Finally, what is most interesting on the continent is happening in Chile, where the indigenous struggles, the strikes and the continuing student movement for secular, state-run and free education coincide with the presidential candidacy of Michelle Bachelet (although it does not support her) and thus forces her and the Partido Socialista to move somewhat to the left. Therefore, for the near future, a more moderate UNASUR can be predicted, a retreat in the integrationist plans promoted by Chávez and an even more limited MERCOSUR, with abundant internal conflicts, in which Brazil will carry more weight than in the recent past and Venezuela less, but in which no dramatic changes are foreseen, despite the critical points of Venezuela and Argentina.

In effect, it all depends on which way the balance finally swings in the struggle for deepening the Venezuelan democratic process, for delivering real blows against capitalism, for building elements of autonomy and self-management, strengthening the communes and the germs of people power. In order to overthrow the oligarchical and pro-imperialist Right it is necessary to defeat the bureaucracy, the authoritarian centralism, the vertical decision-making. That is the challenge for the next period, and where Venezuela goes depends on the developments in that struggle, whether toward the pre-Chávez past or toward the construction of socialist elements. Argentina also is facing an important electoral process in October and presidential change within a year and a half. The 54 percent of the votes that Cristina Kirchner got are in the past and now the administration is satisfied with 35 or 40 percent, which would, in any case, permit it to be the first majority faced with a disperse opposition still to maintain a majority in parliament.

The presidential election seems complicated since it would be hard for the administration to obtain the parliamentary majority needed to revise the constitution in such a way as to allow a third term for Cristina Fernández and it does not have another candidate for now. In addition, the unpublicized economic adjustment provokes collisions with the unions and irritates an opposition as violent, primitive and implacable as the one in Venezuela, although less united. The key to the problem in Argentina is that legitimate social protest against corruption, authoritarianism and the decrease in real wages does not find a positive political expression. As I will try to analyze in the next article, what is fundamental therefore is the current degree and the future evolution of consciousness and organization in the social movements and the independence of an anti-capitalist Left from the confused national-popular movements, which have reached their limits.

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