Friday, December 11, 2015

Rough few weeks for left parties in three Latin American countries

The left in three South American countries have had a tough few weeks. The oligarchical alliance PRO/UCR won the Argentine Presidency and a majority in the Lower House of their Congress; new President Mauricio Macri was sworn in yesterday. The Venezuelan opposition won a majority in their unicameral Parliament in last Sunday's election, though chavista President Nicolás Maduro remains in power. In Brazil, the conservative opposition to President Dilma Rousseff is attempting a highly political impeachment against her to remove her from office.

But Erik Loomis (The Latin American Left LGM 12/08/2015) cautions against seeing this as anything like a disintegration of the current large left parties:

First, there’s little question that Chávez was doing a pretty bad job of leading the nation toward the end and Máduro is no better. They combined unworkable policies with a total reliance upon oil, placing the revolution completely at the whim of the international commodities market. Now, I’m not saying that economic diversification is easy, but no revolution based on a sole product is going to survive forever. Combining that with out of control corruption, a huge spike in crime rates, a massive black market, and an inability to provide basic social services and I’d say that’s a failed government. I’ve long criticized Chávez for being more concerned with sticking his thumb in America’s eye than picking up the trash on Caracas streets. The latter is real socialism, the former may be part of real socialism but it’s just posturing for the most part.

All that said, the Venezuelan opposition is horrible. Much of the Latin American right really longs for the Cold War when the CIA would just come in and overthrow Chavez or Morales or Correa and the oligarchs could retain power at the expense of the poor. There’s little reason to believe that anything the Venezuelan right is going to offer will end in a positive outcome for the Venezuelan people. Eliminating the corruption within the Máduro government by getting rid of it might sound good but if it’s to be replaced by a new government that is just going to rob the poor blind, I don’t see much benefit.

I’m also not all that sympathetic to arguments that this is a major crisis for the Latin American left. It’s not the 1980s and outside of Venezuela, South American nations are pretty stable with functioning democracies. Even in Venezuela, the voting system is fair and democratic and reflecting the actual views of the people at least as well as in the United States where 25 people are attempting to buy the 2016 elections. If Bachelet loses in Chile, it’s not the return of Pinochet. What’s happening in the other nations is that functioning two-party states are developing. That doesn’t mean that Argentine and Chilean conservatives are good people–again, many of them long for CIA coups–but it does mean that they are stable. It means that the Latin American left can compete for elections and win them fairly, but it also means they have to rule effectively. That’s harder in a nation like Venezuela than some others but I don’t think we do South America a service by thinking about all of this solely through the terms of Cold War-era Latin America.
I don't know about how well the trash-collection in Caracas is going. But Loomis is right about Venezuela's status as a petrostate. And that made them very vulnerable to falling oil prices recently. Even the level of criminal violence, which has been widely reported and at least acknowledged by Maduro's government, is related to their petrostate status, in that the attraction of jobs related to oil still brings large numbers of people from rural areas into cities, which makes it difficult for Venezuela to exploit their own agricultural potential. And it also thereby contributes in a major way to relative social instability in the rural areas.

Anything that's happening in Brazil and Argentina can be spun in the American press as a South American "trend," because those are the two most biggest countries on the map. But Colombia has a larger population than Argentina, and they have a moderately left-leaning government.

No comments: