Latin America’s left at the crossroads

Source: Al Jazeera

Leftist governments in Latin America are facing resistance not only from the right, but from their own bases, as well.

The triumph of left-leaning former army officer Ollanta Humala in Peru’s presidential elections this past June has observers wondering if Peru could be the latest “Pink Tide” country in Latin America. The so-called Pink Tide refers to the ambiguous turn to the left in recent years in several Latin American countries. The neo-liberal model that has changed the face of the continent’s political economy and devastated the poor and working classes over the past two decades has come under challenge by these nominally left governments, whose populist and redistributional policies, however, may now be reaching a crossroads.

At his victory rally after winning the presidency, Humala has promised to tax mining profits and generate social programmes for the poor. “We’ve been waiting a long time for a government that really cares about the poor,” he said. International investors have previously pledged more than $40bn over the next decade to develop gold, silver, copper and other mining operations in rich Andean and Amazonian lodes. No longer will the government cater to a Lima elite that sells transnationals these mineral riches that comprise 65 per cent of Peru’s export earnings, said Humala. “This has got to change, and it’s for this change that I am here. That is why I got into politics.”

Humala faces pressure from below to carry through on these commitments. For several weeks during the Peruvian electoral campaign thousands of indigenous people blocked an international border between Peru and Bolivia in protest over a planned mining project on the shores of Lake Titicaca, which straddles both countries. The outgoing Peruvian government granted a Canadian mining company rights to build a silver mine near the lake that local communities say will poison the lake, their principal source of water. The indigenous have promised to sustain and expand their mobilisation.

Pink Tide governments

Pink Tide governments have faced increasing popular protests as well as challenges from a resurgent right. The most serious of these challenges took place in Ecuador last year, in an abortive coup d’état against President Rafael Correa. In Venezuela, just days before the putsch in Ecuador, the anti-Chavez right made major gains in mid-term elections. And in Bolivia, workers and indigenous communities have launched several mass strikes over the past year in protest over the policies of President Evo Morales. These events underscore the conundrums of the projects of popular social change proposed by the Pink Tide governments and the social movements that brought them to power. These governments are now coming up against the limits of redistributive reform within the logic of global capitalism, especially in the wake of the global crisis that exploded in 2008.

The Ecuadoran Right and the US would certainly like to see Correa removed from power. He has closed the US military’s Mantra air base in Ecuador – declaring that “We can negotiate with the US about a base in Mantra if they let us put a military base in Miami” – successfully defaulted on $3.2bn of foreign debt that had been found to be illegitimately contracted, joined the Venezuelan-led Bolivarian Alliance for Our America (ALBA), and declared his allegiance to “21st-century socialism”.

However, Correa has also moved steadily away from the mass social base of indigenous, trade union, and popular organisations that brought him to power. The powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) publicly stated its opposition to the coup and to the right-wing and imperialist forces behind it. But it also declared that “a process of change, as weak as it may be, runs the risk of being overturned or overtaken by the right, old or new, if it [the government] does not establish and progressively deepen alliances with organised social and popular sectors”. The statement charged the government with attacking popular sectors such as the indigenous and workers’ unions who have mobilised against transnational mining, oil, and agro-industrial companies, while “not weakening in the least the structures of power of the right, or those within the state apparatus”. Correa’s policies in favour of “the most reactionary sectors and emerging business interests” emboldened the right to attempt a coup.

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