There is a resurgence of the right in Latin America but progressive social forces continue to score important victories and offer hope.
The 9 November 2016 election of Donald Trump in the United States was widely reviled as yet another global setback for progressive politics. That a person espousing such shamelessly bigoted views will shortly become president of the most powerful country on earth is a truly frightening proposition. However, we should be under no illusions that a Hillary Clinton presidency would have been anything to celebrate for Latin America, and her shameful record in supporting repression in the region, perhaps most infamously in Honduras – should not be forgotten.
This reactionary turn in Latin America has been building momentum for a few years now, with 2016 witnessing the politics of hate force itself upon societies with particular vehemence (see our opening article ‘Turning Tides’ on page 6 for an overview of this rightwing resurgence and the challenges facing left forces in the region).
In some countries, the right’s resurgence has taken place through the ballot box, as in the case of Argentina, where the US-friendly Mauricio Macri assumed the presidency in December 2015 after 12 years of centre-left government. There, those opposed to Macri’s rightwing agenda are uniting to resist the new government’s Washington Consensus policies (see our article on page 42).
It is worth remembering that the current form of rightwing capitalism – often referred to as neoliberalism – was first imposed on the region in Chile after the 1973 coup that brought Augusto Pinochet to power. The radical reversal of the social gains of Salvador Allende’s presidency involved brutal repression and a state terrorism which, as is the norm when we look at Latin America, was aided and abetted by the US government. Despite the proclamations of neoliberalism’s apologists about the relationship between capitalism and democracy, the reality is that neoliberal policies have rarely attracted electoral support, and have instead been implemented through force or subterfuge.
In Latin America’s largest country, Brazil, neoliberalism’s natural authoritarian shell is clearly present. Since Dilma Rousseff was removed from power in August 2016 in a judicial coup that made a mockery of the constitutional provisions for impeaching a president, the post-coup regime has been busy dismantling successive Workers’ Party governments’ progressive legislation. Again, as is the norm with the usurping of democracy in Latin America, powerful media elites played a critical role. Solidarity with the pro-democracy movement in Brazil is now crucial (see our articles on pages 10-14).
In Venezuela, a longstanding bastion of hope for many across the world, the death of Hugo Chávez in 2013 enabled the government’s powerful domestic and foreign opponents to intensify their campaign to put an end to the Bolivarian Revolution. While many of these opponents and their media sympathisers can hardly contain their delight at the hardships currently facing Venezuela, there are legitimate grounds for questioning whether Chavismo is nearing its conclusion (see page 24).
And while the media waste no opportunity to inform about the latest troubles in Venezuela, they conveniently neglect to report on various humanitarian crises taking place in western-friendly countries, such as neighbouring Colombia, where nearly 5,000 children have died in the past 8 years in La Guajira region as a result of thirst, malnutrition and preventable disease (see pages 31-36).
A beacon of light amongst the reactionary shadow currently traversing the continent has been the peace negotiations between the FARC and the Colombian government that culminated in the signing of a historic peace agreement in August. However, the shock plebiscite rejection of a deal to end the world’s longest ongoing conflict in October convulsed the dreams of millions. Yet the commitment to peace by both the FARC and the Colombian government persists, and the hope that peace will win through remains strong (see page 18).
Hope can also be found elsewhere on the continent: in Zapatista art festivals (page 46), in the recent presidential election victory of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua (page 47), and in countless other initiatives by people and collectives promoting societies where people can live with dignity. We have included some of these stories to show that the right’s continued advance is far from a done deal.
Finally, the first two issues of Alborada magazine offered a progressive take on some of the most important issues in Latin America today, reporting on the stories, people and movements from across the region. To continue this work we need your support. Our website (with online exclusives, magazine and multimedia content) situates Alborada at the heart of progressive English-language debate on Latin America, while our events and other projects aim to provide a platform for audiences to engage with the region. By supporting us, you play an important role in shaping this debate. We hope you enjoy the issue.
This article was originally published in Alborada magazine issue three (Winter 2016/17)