Change, Does Anything Change: The Progressive Wave and the Libertarian Response?
The strong right-wing offensive of recent years in Latin America failed to stabilise a new situation; social and cultural fascisms grew but did not (yet) achieve a new hegemony, and the “democratic” imposition that US president Joe Biden intended for the region was shipwrecked at the Los Angeles summit, while progressive proposals speak of a new wave in favour of the peoples.
By Aram Aharonian
Historically, the anti-establishment and anti-traditional parties discourse was a banner of the left, as it was marginalised from national power, but today it is also taken up by the “libertarian” ultra-right against the stagnant traditional parties of the vernacular right.
In the region, a new progressive wave is emerging in Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Honduras – each with its own tonality – now Colombia and perhaps Brazil with Lula, which could replace the late neoliberalism and initiate a new cycle with a greater role for the state and concern for the great majorities.
A trend that, as former Bolivian Vice-President Álvaro García Linera points out, is a path that, like the waves of the sea, involves high and low tides, but one of progress towards a region in which democracy ceases to be the privilege of a few and becomes the constant feature of the social and political life of our America.
For the enthusiasts, the cycle that they wanted to see ended with the parliamentary coup against Dilma Roussef in May 2016, has become a first phase of what seems to be affirming itself as a trend in the region, the advance of a democratic proposal with social justice and national sovereignty.
The failure of the ninth Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles exposed the US government’s inability to demonstrate how to manage ‘its backyard’. It was a major diplomatic setback for the US and its president since several heads of state in the region ruled out participation. The result was widespread disappointment in a region whose economies have been severely affected by the pandemic and now also by the war in Ukraine.
The meeting focused on sharing responsibility for managing migration flows. Washington now wants migrant-sending countries to accept new rules of the game and cooperate in stemming the migrant surge. But Central America, whose majority of leaders did not attend the summit and which produces most of the hungry migrants, has been left out. It has no major commitments to make. Many believe it was the last Summit of the Americas.
During the last decade, the United States and the vernacular right managed to dismantle their own consolidated institutions to try, in this situation, to boost the integration process, as was the case when the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac) and the expanded Southern Common Market (Mercosur), including Venezuela, were still in place.
Today, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) clearly answers to Washington, as does the Organisation of American States (OAS). The latter coordinates the actions of US intelligence and security agencies, as an institution to broker its agenda with the rest of the Americas, which even promoted the suspension of Russia as an observer of the organisation until it withdraws troops from Ukraine.
Since the emergence of anti-neoliberal governments in Latin America, the region has become the epicentre of the great political struggles of the 21st century and, at the same time, a seesaw, where governments install themselves and are defeated, return and experience great instability, some reassert themselves, noted Brazilian sociologist Emir Sader.
Recently, Colombia has elected a centre-left government, and this has become the greatest hope for change for the forgotten, the despised by a white political elite. Today, the main challenge for Gustavo Petro’s government will be to convert this symbolic capital of representing change into concrete public policies, to make the progressive option credible, after the rapid disillusionment with the new Chilean government.
The main challenge, as the elected vice-president Francia Márquez has repeated before the emboldened crowds of nobodies, will be to move from resistance to power. But to do so – given the dependence on the United States and a right wing that never sleeps – it will have to avoid endless ambushes and build a new popular hegemony, points out Carlos Fazio.
In Brazil, the ultra-right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro announced the name of retired army general Walter Braga Netto, former defence minister, as his running mate for the 2 October elections, when he will face the progressive former president Lula da Silva and his centrist running mate Geraldo Alckmin.
While for Lula democracy is the vital component of governability, for Bolsonaro the end of democracy is the fundamental presupposition not only for the kind of governance “from the bayonets” he advocates, but also the key to the continuity of the military power project and the plundering and privatisation of the country.
But we must keep an eye on the provocations that will continue to follow, such as the ‘private’ visit, perhaps in return for favours, of the neoliberal Uruguayan president Luis Lacalle to his Colombian counterpart Iván Duque, just days before he leaves the government. Anyone would think it was a provocation to the next president. At least the Uruguayan Foreign Ministry put a stop to Lacalle’s desire to decorate Duque.
It is worth remembering that the Colombian presidential plane landed in Montevideo on the morning of 1 March 2020. Iván Duque and the Secretary General of the OAS, Luis Almagro, along with their advisors, were on board. The Colombian president was one of the few Latin American presidents who accompanied Lacalle at his inauguration ceremony and now, two years and three months afterwards, the Uruguayan will return the gesture to his far-right friend by accepting an invitation to visit him in Cartagena.
Meanwhile, the appeal to the Armed Forces made by the Ecuadorian Minister of Defence made it clear that the policies that provoked genocide in Latin America are far from disappearing. In the speech made by Ecuadorian banker and President Guillermo Lasso in the repression of the social outbreak, the old trick of the National Security Doctrine from the times of Operation Condor was once again brought to the table.
For former Uruguayan president José “Pepe” Mujica, the regional left must “communicate much more with the people” and confront the “lying narratives”. He believes that progressivism is returning to power in some Latin American countries with “less naivety” but with problems that “have worsened”.
We are all calling for change, but we are not clear about what determines a change of era. The pandemic has undoubtedly deepened the new social dynamics, while we wonder how changes in the productive structure influence society, whether there is a redefinition of conflicts.
At a quick look, we must add the growth of confidence in religions (evangelists, Pentecostals), the disbelief in science (anti-vaccine, terraplanists), the deepening of holy wars (Zionists, Taliban, among others), the relegation of rationality in the face of the ultra-right and fascistic sensationalism of Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, the Spanish Vox, the “libertarians” who resurface like mushrooms with ample funding from the north, among others…
And the great media operations for the imposition of collective imaginaries that facilitate the manipulation of the majorities, with the much-talked-about post-truth, fakenews, shitnews and a long etcetera, as well as the relative displacement of the great currents of ideas from the public-popular sphere.
Here come the libertarians
But the self-styled libertarian far right has also gained notoriety in recent years. The more the capitalist crisis deepens, the more FORCE the more radical positions gain strength. “There is nothing more unjust than social justice”, the Argentinian histrion Javier Milei never tires of repeating, for whom taxing companies is theft and a crime against humanity to infringe on the property of the rich.
Another characteristic is the so-called “Hispanism”, which defends the Spanish conquest and the massacres perpetrated on the indigenous populations of Latin America, and is therefore against movements for indigenous rights and self-determination.
For libertarians, there should be no such thing as free public health and education. But they are not only in favour of privatising everything and ending any kind of subsidy to the working classes: many of their ideologues also defend the idea of monarchy, the conservative values of the most retrograde Christianity, and therefore oppose abortion and the rights of the LGBT community.
They also oppose multiculturalism and are therefore anti-immigrant and close to racist positions. In Europe they are all anti-Muslim and are in favour of keeping migrant refugees from wars and famine in the Middle East or Africa in concentration camps. And for all this they provide extensive funding for think tanks, cover NGOs, all on behalf of the Atlas Network and its American and Euro-Western financiers.
Fake news, manipulated videos, ‘bots’, an international network of ultra-liberal or libertarian ‘think tanks’ (Atlas Network), this has been the campaign that Gustavo Petro has had to face in Colombia, as well as other progressive or left-wing candidates in their respective countries.
In addition to participating in the campaign against Petro in Colombia, these networks also massively retweet accounts from the Atlas Network such as Agustín Antonetti, Agustín Laje, Javier Milei, José Antonio Kast, Álvaro Uribe, María Fernanda Cabal, Vicky Dávila, Andrés Pastrana and in Colombia the magazine Semana, Fico Gutiérrez, the far-right candidate in the first round and Rodolfo Hernández in the second round.
The Atlas network is active in each process to encourage its main influencers to write articles and videos: Agustín Laje, of the Fundación Libre, or Juan Ramón Rallo, former director of the Fundación Juan de Mariana; or Mario Vargas Llosa asking people to vote for Rodolfo Hernández or Javier Milei visiting Colombia to seek the youth vote.
The “libertarians” are displacing the conservative parties that have become stagnant in so many years of formal democracy and dependence on Washington and the International Monetary Fund, while progressivism – far from revolutionary proposals, participatory democracy or the electoral road to socialism – is gaining ground in the region, which today shows a jigsaw puzzle that will be put together day by day, election after election, social outbreak after popular protest…
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