Latin America - The End of an Era?

Is it the end of an era? This is the question that spontaneously occurs to you when you observe the accumulating excitement over the events in the Southern Cone of the American continent. From Venezuela to Tierra del Fuego almost all the governments in what has always been seen as “el patio trasero” (backyard) of US imperialism are lining up in defence of the Bolivian President Evo Morales against the underhand attempts, supported, if not actually incited by Washington, to destabilise his government. The facts are known. Bolivia is a country with a huge gulf in social inequality, and, in a paradox that only capitalism can apparently produce, has in its subsoil huge resources of primary products, especially gas. With the rise to power of the ex-cocalero, Evo Morales, leader of the MAS (Movimiento al Socialismo) the rich bourgeoisie of the Eastern parts of the Andean country - where the oil and gas, the best land and the main economic activities are all concentrated - have accelerated their actions against the central power, brandishing all the racist prejudices of the middle class, overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly concentrated in those areas, like a cudgel. Naturally, as in the case of the break up of ex-Yugoslavia or with the Lega Padana (1) people’s desire for liberty doesn’t come into the question. It is the rich bourgeoisie of the Eastern regions who oppose the nationalisation of “their” oil and the timid agrarian reform projects which might affect a part of their vast landholdings, as well as the mild social reformism started by the government thanks to the earnings from the high price of raw materials in particular hydrocarbons.

But besides the richest of the Bolivian bourgeoisie the other sufferers from this reformism are the multinationals - and not just North American - who have always descended on Bolivia and Latin America to pillage their resources. They have done this through the pitiless exploitation of the proletariat and the indigenous peasant masses who have been beaten into poverty for centuries. After Morales won a clear victory in the August referendum the big bourgeoisie, supported by the Yankee administration, unleashed armed bands against the central power almost in a test of civil war. They sabotaged an important gas pipeline, occupied the airport and other forms of communication, made armed attacks against state buildings and massacred the peasant supporters of “Evo”.

If the response of Morales internally has been, all things considered, very prudent right up to the proclamation of a state of siege in the regional theatre of conflict, on an international level it has taken on a more sensational aspect: the expulsion of the US ambassador provoked a type of chain reaction. Chavez immediately copied him chasing out the stars and stripes ambassador and once again threatening to cut off the oil to the USA but even in Ecuador, Paraguay and the two “heavyweights” of Latin America, Argentina and Brazil. people have taken to the streets to support Morales All of them, in unequivocable terms, have warned that they will not tolerate any intervention either from abroad - or instigated from abroad - aimed at overthrowing the “democratic order” in Bolivia or anywhere else. The Brazilian president Lula used especially harsh words - though in the usual “politicese” - against the USA, which sent its Fourth Fleet at this time to patrol the area of sea which bathes the shores of both Venezuela and Brazil, in whose territorial waters one of the greatest oilfield discoveries of the last few decades has been made. But the dreams of the boss of the “patio trasero” have not just been disturbed by this. At the beginning of this month Argentina and Brazil signed an economic agreement in which they will abandon the use of the dollar as a means of payment in their mutual trade. According to Lula this is the first step towards an effective economic integration for the continent, finally freeing it from the clutches of “gringo” capitalism.

Chavez, having already concluded a deal with Putin to get an enormous quantity of small arms is playing host to Russian warships and bombers on his own territory throwing down the gauntlet to the continued provocations of the USA. (2) Morales himself, a short while ago, deepened his ties to that other great gas producer and enemy of the USA, Iran, in order to go beyond economic cooperation and reinforce, according to official propaganda, the anti-imperialist front.

But this really brings us to the point. You can only talk of anti-imperialism if it is based on coherently anti-capitalist and therefore anti-nationalist positions. Chavez, Lula, Morales, etc. are moving more or less decisively against US domination but with a bourgeois democratic vision and the so-called “Bolivarian” (or Andean) socialism represents no more than nationalist reformism which never gets out of the capitalist framework. So the big project which is behind and in a certain way runs through this new scenario is the birth of a pole of Latin American imperialism. How (and when) it might come about is impossible to say because though USA imperialism is in trouble today it is certainly not dead and the thousand threads which link the interests of wide sectors of the Latin American bourgeoisie with the USA have not yet been cut. But above all because the other great protagonist, the proletariat (and the masses of the “Indian” poor), is in tow to national-reformism it is incapable of interpreting in an independent way its own class role, separated as it is from what are at present the almost non-existent communist vanguards.

But for how much longer?

(1) Italian political party led by Umberto Bossi which wants to split the rich North of Italy away from the poor South. It is currently one of the parties in the right wing coalition of Berlusconi.

(2) Venezuela has spent $4 billion on arms which equals 10% of the total world arms trade.