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Latin America, a bit of history and geography

sábado 26 de março de 2016, por , Leonardo Vieira

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Nowadays, coups against democracy are no longer military, but articulated by the judiciary, in alliance with globalized media and financial markets.

At around the 1500’s, the time of discoveries (more precisely, invasions, in indigenous peoples’ perspective) of the New World (the Americas), the two major powers of the Old World (Europe), Portugal and Spain, agreed in a treaty sponsored by the Pope to split the lands to be discovered and explored between the two. As a consequence, half of Latin America nowadays speaks Portuguese (Brazil) and the other half, Spanish (from California to Patagonia). 

This common past resulted in synchronized histories. Thus, political, social and economic processes tend to more or less spread throughout the region. 
Very early on, still as European colonies, Latin American countries assumed their present role as suppliers of commodities exploiting indigenous peoples and/or imported African slave manpower. Any attempts to break away from this fate (from the Haitian Revolution against slavery and colonialism in 1791 to the Cuban Socialist/Communist Revolution in 1959) have always been punished by violent repression or isolation so as to serve as exemplary deterrents.

Most countries became independent at around the same time, the early 1800’s: Mexico and Colombia (1810), Paraguay and Venezuela (1811), Argentina (1816), Chile (1818), Peru (1921), Brazil and Equator (1822), Bolivia (1825) and so on.
European descendents were conveniently left in place to pursue foreign rule, sometimes disguised as democracy (only white, male, landowners were eligible to government), other times through explicit dictatorships. Over time, vote became universal, but with the help of private campaign funding and the media, power remained in the same white, male, proprietary hands.

More recently during the Cold War, in order to avoid other socialist Cubas, or worse still, other communist Chinas (Brazil?), the United States made sure this part of the world remained its “backyard” by supporting a new wave of dictatorships wherever necessary: Guatemala and Paraguay (1954), Argentina (1962), Bolivia and Brazil (1964), Peru (1968), Chile and Uruguay (1973).

Redemocratization repeated the domino effect: Dominican Republic (1978), Nicaragua (1979), Bolivia (1982), Argentina (1983), Brazil (1985), Chile (1990)...
In order to fund industrialization and infrastructure programs in the 1960s and 1970s, many Latin American countries borrowed huge sums of money from international creditors at floating interest rates. When the world economy went into recession in the 1970s and 1980s and oil prices skyrocketed, so did interest rates in the United States and in Europe in 1979. This translated into a lost decade for the whole region.

The collapse of the USSR and the victorious Washington Consensus imposed neoliberal governments which once again flooded the continent. State-owned companies were privatized, public social expenditure decreased, financial services were deregulated and labor rights were slashed. The ensuing economic and social crises arising from these neoliberal policies eventually changed the tide once again and right-wing governments successively lost strength and popularity.

Progressive leftist governments mushroomed in elections throughout: Hugo Chávez Frías (1999) and Nicolás Maduro (2013) in Venezuela, Ricardo Lagos (2000) and Michelle Bachelet (2006) in Chile, Luis Inácio Lula da Silva (2003) and Dilma Rousseff (2010) in Brazil, Néstor Kirchner (2003) and Cristina Kirchner (2007) in Argentina, Evo Morales (2006) in Bolívia, Rafael Correa (2007) in Equador, Fernando Lugo (2008) in Paraguay and José Mujica (2010) in Uruguay.

Lula: “Nunca antes na história deste país…” (Never before in the history of this country...)

For the first time in 500 years of European and/or US dominance, workers, women and non-whites came to power. Through inclusive social policies, these progressive governments started to change the focus of the State and to redirect the rich resources of the land from the privileged few to the destitute many.

Corruption is the new communism is the new negro

However, winning the Executive power of state (Presidency and cabinet) did not suffice. In various degrees the other Legislative (House of Representatives and Senate) and Judiciary (Courts) powers remained in the hands of opposition. And if not enough, the 4th power (the media) has always represented and defended the same old interests of the ruling classes. They call for street rallies, distort and make up political and economic facts, single out corruption cases, and work in coordination with the judiciary to selectively enhance and speed up legal proceedings against progressive institutions and social movements, conveniently ignoring those of conservative colors.

Surely the recent defeats in Argentina (presidential), Venezuela (legislative) and Bolivia (referendum for re-nomination of the president) are explained in part by this inability to win the other powers.

And for the right, when old strategies for winning elections no longer worked and/or more traditional coup d’états and dictatorships were more difficult to support explicitly, new tactics emerged and evolved: Honduran president Manuel Zelaya was ousted by the Supreme Court and removed from office by Congress in 2009; Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo was speedily impeached and removed from office by Congress in 2012. 

Previous domination strategies had to become more sophisticated to better camouflage their real intentions. Nowadays, coups against democracy are no longer military, but articulated by the judiciary, in alliance with globalized media and financial markets.

The ongoing attempts in Brazil to impeach President Dilma and to arrest former (and future?) President Lula so as to derail his candidacy in 2018 and to destroy Brazilian leftist organizations (parties and social movements) are examples of this improved tactic. Nothing has been proven to link former president Lula or president Rousseff with any illegal doing, but the damage is done.

Brazil today

When PT, the Workers Party, came to power in 2003, favorable international conditions and inclusive policies allowed growth with social distribution for the first time in Brazil’s 500 years of existence. And everybody benefitted, including national businesses (e.g. many poor people bought refrigerators for the first time) giving the false impression that conciliation with dominant classes was possible (soon enough to be proved wrong).

Also, self-confidence boosted as a side effect. So much that we have since attempted a more independent foreign policy which includes: the defeat of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas in 2005 (though new and improved versions are again in the making!); increased regional integration with other Latin American countries independent of US influence (Mercosul/r, Unasur/l, Celac); and South-South political and economic relations with Africa and other continents (BRICS and the NDB). 

The international financial crisis of 2008 and the apparently paradoxical trillionaire rescue of private banking institutions (precisely the makers of the crisis) by governments with public money led to the ensuing regrouping and recovery of conservative forces. The subsequent outrageous and escalating concentration of wealth globally is more than proof of this.
Thus, similarly to previous attempts (Haitian to Cuban movements), this audacity too has to be curbed.

Só "os POVOS unidos jamais serão vencidos" 

As this chapter of history is still unfolding, making predictions of the outcome is impossible. Only a unified front of the left forces in the streets and a clear-cut side taking by the government will make things clear for the masses. We can only hope that this time around much better organized social movements (trade unionists, women, indigenous, black and mixed people, students, the landless and the homeless, among others) with international support can write an alternative ending…