Radical politics in Latin America today

Photo: Steve Rhodes

On 28th March, 2017, Jeff Webber, the author of The Last Day of Oppression and the First Day of the Same (Pluto Press)  spoke at a Socialist Resistance forum in London. Webber described the 4 cycles of the New Latin American Left since the 1990s and critically analysed its successes and failures  from the beginning of the 1990s when it was at its lowest ebb during the height of the right-wing neoliberal offensive. Neoliberalism created privatisations of public resources, the decline of manufacturing, and the liberalisation of agriculture created it own opposition and the conditions that enabled the rise of this new left by the mid-1990s.

By the end of the 1990s, Latin America became the centre of struggle against neoliberalism. Hugo Chavez’s election in 1998 on a modest anti-corruption and anti-neoliberalism platform, the revival of Peronism, and the creation of a social left in Bolivia and Ecuador based within left Indigenous confederations and organisations. The social left based among Indigenous struggles found an expression in political form in the period between 2003-11 with the election of centre-left and left parties. Basing economic policy on the economic dynamism through a commodity boom and the high rents and prices of the extraction industries and trade with China enabled the use of revenue redistributed to the countries to create cash transfers for social investment. The fact that trade in extraction industries formed the basis of this redistribution, invariably conflicts with Indigenous communities which brought the Left to power arose. Moreover, dependence upon extraction industries and trade and the failure to develop environmentally sustainable industrial development.
The economic crisis of 2007-8 eventually led to delayed impact on Latin America in 2012; decreased demand from China and the fall of prices which impacted on the possibility of sustaining social transformation towards a more equal nature. Since capital itself was never seriously challenged, the decreased revenue could have led to these governments finally addressing the question of class by actually threatening the extraction industries. Instead, we see the beginning of the introduction of austerity programs by the governments of the centre-left which then enables the return to the old arguments of the right. We can see this in Honduras with the overthrow of Zelaya, in Brasil with the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff and the fact that Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela lost control over the Parliament.
This is clearly a serious setback, but so far while the right has been able to take power in many countries in Latin America, it has not fully rearticulated. Webber argues that what is needed is the rebuilding of a left that is independent from electoral cycles; to create a new transformational left.
Jeff Webber is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Politics and International Relations at Queen Mary University in London.

Dave Kellaway of Socialist Resistance also spoke at the same meeting as Jeff Webber. Using the analysis of Webber, Dave critically addresses the current situation in Cuba following the death of Fidel Castro. Discussing the transformations and developments that have transformed the economy in Cuba, he raises potential developments for further social, political and economic transformations.

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