Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Latin America: End of a golden age?

Franck Gaudichaud interviews Miriam Lang and Edgardo Lander

Translated from the Spanish text published in Viento Sur, January 23, 2018

Following their participation in the international symposium that we coordinated last June on “Progessive governments and post-neoliberalism in Latin America: End of a golden age?” at the University of Grenoble, France,[1] we thought it would be worthwhile going back over the Latin American context with the sociologists Edgardo Lander (Venezuela) and Miriam Lang (Ecuador). Both of them have a sharp critical view, very often at odds concerning the present scene, and both have participated actively in recent years in the debates on the initial balance sheets of the progressive governments of 1998-2015, in particular those of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Miriam’s case[2] and of the Transnational Institute in Edgardo’s case.[3]

For example, they have written probingly on such topics as the problematics of development and the state, neocolonialism and extractivism, the lefts and the social movements, and both have tackled the difficult issue of conceiving roads of emancipation at times in which humanity is going through a profound ecosystemic crisis of civilization, challenges that mean, inter alia, re-inventing the left and (eco)socialism in the 21st century. -- FG

Franck Gaudichaud: In the recent period there have been many debates concerning the end of a cycle of progressive and national-popular governments in Latin America, or rather their possible retreat and loss of political hegemony. What are your thoughts about this debate? From where you stand, can we say that this debate is going beyond the question of an end to a cycle? And what can we say about the present situation compared with the progressive experience from 1999 to 2015?

Edgardo Lander: This is indeed a very intense debate, especially in Latin America, because there had been many expectations about the possibilities for profound transformation in these societies beginning with the victory of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela in 1998. That was the point of departure of a process of political change that led to the majority of the governments in South America being identified with something referred to as progressive or left-wing in one of their versions. These expectations of transformations that will lead to post-capitalist societies posed severe challenges both in terms of the negative experience of the socialisms of the last century and in terms of new realities like climate change and the limits of the planet Earth that it was necessary to confront. To think about transformation today necessarily means something very different from what it meant in the past century. At a time when the discourse of socialism had practically disappeared from the political grammar in much of the world, it reappears in this new historical moment in South America. Based especially on the struggles of the indigenous peoples, some of these processes seem to incorporate in a very central way a profound questioning of fundamental aspects of what had constituted socialism in the 20th century. Centrally present in part of the imaginaries of the transformation were themes like pluriculturalism, different forms of relationship with the other networks of life, notions of the rights of nature, and conceptions of buen vivir that pointed to a possibility of transformation that could take into account the limitations of the previous processes and open new horizons to address the new conditions of humanity and the planet.

FG: So, we’re talking about the initial period, the beginning, in the early 2000s, when resistance from below was combined with the creation of socio-political dynamics more or less rupturist and post-neoliberal depending on the case, which also happened to emerge on the national electoral and governmental plane.

EL: Yes, in a period in which extraordinary hopes were developing that radical transformations were beginning in society. In the cases of Ecuador and Bolivia, the new governments were a result of the processes of accumulation of forces of social movements and organizations fighting neoliberal governments. The experience of the Indigenous Uprising in Ecuador and the Water War in Bolivia were expressions of societies in movement in which social sectors that were not the most typical in the political action of the left played protagonistic roles. It was a plebeian emergence, social sectors previously invisibilized, indigenous, peasants, urban popular forces, that came to occupy a central place in the political arena. This gave rise to extraordinary expectations.

However, over time severe obstacles appeared. Despite the high-flown rhetoric, important sectors of the left that had leading roles in those processes of struggle had not submitted the experience of 20th century socialism to sufficiently critical thinking. Many of the old ways of understanding leadership, party, vanguard, relations between state and society, economic development, relations with the rest of nature, as well as the weight of the Eurocentric monocultural and patriarchal cosmovisions were present in those processes of change. The historic colonial forms of insertion in the international division of labour and nature were deepened. Obviously, any project that aims at overcoming capitalism in the present world must necessarily deal with the harsh challenges posed by the profound crisis of civilization now facing humanity, in particular the hegemonic logic of endless growth of modernity that has come to overload the planet’s capacity and is undermining the conditions that make possible the reproduction of life.

The experience of the so-called progressive governments is occurring in times in which neoliberal globalization is accelerating, and China is becoming the workshop of the world and the major economy on the planet. That produces a qualitative leap in the demand for and price of commodities: energy resources, minerals and products of agro-industry such as soy. In these conditions, each of the progressive governments has opted to finance the promised social transformations via the deepening of predatory extractivism. This has not only the obvious implications that the productive structurerof these countries is not questioned but also that it is deepened in terms of the neocolonial forms of insertion in the international division of labour and nature. Also, the role of the state is increased as the major recipient of income from the rents produced through the export of commodities. Thus, over and above what the constitutional texts say about plurinationality and interculturalism, there is an overriding conception of the transformation centered primarily on the state and the identification of the state with the common good. This inevitably leads to conflicts over territories, indigenous and peasant rights, struggles for the defence of and acess to water, and resistance to megamining. These popular and territorial struggles have been viewed by these governments as threats to the national project presented, designed and led by the state as representing the national interest. To carry forward their neo-developmentalist projects in the face of this resistance governments have resorted to repression and are taking on increasingly authoritarian tendencies. Defining from the centre which are the priorities, and viewing anything that stands in the way of this priority as a threat, there is established a logic of raison d’état that requires the undermining of the resistance.

In the case of Bolivia and Ecuador this has led to a certain demobilization of the major social organizations as well as divisions promoted by the government in the movements, which has resulted in fragmentations of their social fabric and weakened the democratic transformative energy that characterized them.

FG: In contrast to this analysis, and particularly to what you say about raison d’état, militants and intellectuals participating in those processes as part of the governments and members of pro-government parties argue that in the last analysis the only way to pursue an authentic post-neoliberal course in Latin America was, first, to recover the state through the social and plebeian mobilizations that overthrew the old party-based elites, and after overwhelming anti-oligarchic electoral victories begin using the state (but with links to those below) to distribute and reconstitute the possibility of a “real” alternative to neoliberalism.

Miriam Lang: Before getting into that, I would like to go over again what Edgardo said, because the term “end of cycle” suggests somewhat that we are looking at the whole region in light of the Argentine and Brazilian experience where the Right has indeed come back. However, a more appropriate reading would be to look at how the project of transformation has changed during the years of progressive governments and why now we are in all respects in a different situation than we were 10 or 15 years ago, including in those countries where there are still progressives in the government, as in Bolivia or Ecuador. I am referring to what some call the transformation of the transformations and also the diversity of political tendencies that make up those governments, in which the transformative lefts are not in fact necessarily hegemonic but where the processes have become successful projects of modernization of capitalist relations and insertion in the global market.

FG: After all, you both have a clear critical position on the international division of labour, commodities, the use of extractivism, the problem of the state (often authoritarian and clientelist even today), phenomena that have certainly not disappeared and have even been consolidated in various ways under the progressive governments. But you do not mention here the balsas familia [family allowances], the big reduction in poverty and inequality, the incorporation of subaltern social classes into politics, the reconstruction of basic service systems, of public health, the spectacular growth of infrastructures, etc. during the decade-long golden age of the progressive governments. In short, if I can act as a spokesman for the logic of García Linera, the Bolivian vice-president, you would be those “coffee-shop critics” that he denounces[4] as not having a genuine empathy toward the popular sectors and their day-to-day living conditions. That is, to say the least, a classic argument of the progressive government supporters in their present debate with the critical left.

ML: Well, it depends somewhat on how each of us looks at the reality. If you look, for example, at the new constitutions of Bolivia and Ecuador, the transformation project delineated therein goes much further than the reduction of poverty. The previous social struggles, whatever they sought, went much further than a small distribution of income. In saying that I do not want to ignore the fact that the day-to-day life of many people has become easier, at least in those years of high prices for hydrocarbons. But we also have to look beyond the poverty statistics. We can say that so many people have risen above the poverty line, and that’s great, but we can also take a closer look and ask what type of poverty are we talking about? In Latin America poverty is still measured in terms of incomes and consumption; this measures to what degree a household is participating in the capitalist way of life and possibly it says a little about the quality of life of that household. What it does not reveal is the dimensions of the subsistence economies, the dimensions of the quality of human relations, etc. To what degree were people able to really express their needs according to their context? To what degree have these policies of redistribution of income strengthened or expanded territorially the logics of the capitalist market in countries where a large part of the population, because of the enormous cultural diversity that exists, still did not live completely under capitalist precepts?

We could say that this diversity of ways of life constituted a significant transformative potential in terms of horizons for overcoming capitalism. And if we look at the ecological conditions of the planet, many peasant, indigenous, Black or popular urban communities, instead of being labelled as poor or underdeveloped, could have been viewed as examples of how we can consume less and be more satisfied. However, what has happened is precisely what I call the “mechanism of underdevelopment”;[5] in the context of “ending poverty” they are told: your way of life, which requires so little money, is undignified, you have to become more like the urban, capitalist, consumerist population that has to manage money, and the form of exchange in the capitalist market, no other forms of exchange are valid. So-called financial literacy, which was part of the progressive anti-poverty policy, has helped financial capital to establish new credit markets among the poorest people and at much higher interest rates. And the famous introduction to consumption tends to occur in third-rate conditions. So in the end, we have populations that are indebted through consumption because needs have been generated for them that they may not have had in the past. So it depends a little on how we look at these things. It’s a problem of values and perspective, of how we want future generations to live. It’s not simply a question of democratizing consumption; the commitment was to build a world that is sustainable for at least five, six, seven generations to come, and I have serious doubts as to whether this form of erradicating poverty has contributed to those objectives.

EL: In the Venezuelan case, the use of the petroleum rent in a form that differed from how it had been used historically had huge consequences during the first decade of the Chávez government. Social spending came to represent something like 70 percent of the national budget. This public expenditure on health, education, food, housing and social security effectively signified a profound transformation in the living conditions of a majority of the population. Venezuela, which like the rest of Latin America has historically been a country of deep inequalities, not only reduced poverty levels quite significantly (measured by monetary income), but it also managed to sharply reduce inequality. The CEPAL [Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, ECLA, a UN regional commission] has pointed out that Venezuela came to be, along with Uruguay, one of the two least unequal countries on the continent. This was a very major transformation, and it was expressed in such vital matters as a reduction in infant mortality and an increase in the weight and height of children. These are not in any way secondary issues.

On the other hand, this was accompanied from the political standpoint by processes of very broadly based popular organization in which millions of people participated. Some of the most important social policies were designed in such a way that they required the organization of the people in order to function. The best example of this was the Barrio Adentro Mission, a primary healthcare service providing broad coverage to the popular sectors throughout the country, and made possible principally by the participation of Cuban doctors. It was a program that held out the possibility of other forms of understanding public policies in a non-clientelist way that required the participation of the people.

With Barrio Adentro, important steps were begun to transform the country’s healthcare system. It went from a medical system that was fundamentally hospital-based to a decentralized regime with primary services located in the local communities. From a situation in which, for example, a child who was dehydrated in a Caracas neighborhood in the middle of the night had to be transferred, outside the public transit schedule, to the nearest hospital, where the family had to deal with the tragic scenes in the emergency wards, to a situation in which the primary care module, where the physician lives, is a short distance from the child’s home and at any time one can knock on the door and be attended to.

Barrio Adentro was conceived as a project that required community participation in order to function. The doctor, alone, especially if he or she was a Cuban who did not know the neighborhood or the city, could only work with support from the community. This meant, among other things, conducting a census of the community, identifying the women who were pregnant, the children with problems of undernourishment, the elderly, and in general the people with special needs. This was a conception of social policy completely different from some gift from above because it made the community a co-participant in its operation. There was in this dynamic an extraordinarily rich potentiality.

FG: So, has this constituent potentiality, disruptive of the process, been exhausted? Is that what you are saying?

EL: During the years covered by the Bolivarian process not only has the country’s productive structure not been altered but the country has become more highly dependent on petroleum exports. The public policies directed to the popular sectors have been characterized at all times by their distributive character, with a very limited drive toward alternative productive processes to petroleum extractivism. This dependency on high petroleum revenues imposed severe limits on the Bolivarian process.[6]

The dynamic, motivating nature of the popular organizational processes of the public policies was exhausted for various reasons. First, because not all of the Missions (the generic name for the various social programs) were given the resources they had in such areas as the literacy program and Barrio Adentro. But also because the larger-scale organizational processes including the Communal Councils and Communes were processes in which there was always a strong tension between the tendencies toward self-government, autonomy, self-organization, etc., and the fact that almost all the projects that these organizations could carry out depended on transfers of resources from above, from some state institution. This has generated a recurrent tension between the political-financial control from above and the possibilities for more autonomous self-organization. These tensions have operated in quite varied ways, depending on the existing conditions in the location: whether or not local leaderships were present previously; whether or not the community had had experiences in organizing themselves politically prior to the Bolivarian process; and the political conceptions of the functionaries and militants of the PSUV (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela) responsible for relations between the state institutions and these organizations.

The fact is that there has been an extraordinary dependence on the transfer of resources from the state. Most of the popular base organizations had no possibility of autonomy because they lacked their own productive capacity. When the transfers of resources to these organizations declined with the onset of the present economic crisis in 2014, they tended to weaken and many of them went into crisis. Another factor in this weakening has been the creation of the Comités Locales de Abastecimiento y Producción (CLAP) as a mechanism for the distribution of highly subsidized basic food products to the popular neighorhoods. In practice, these have become clientelist organizational methods dedicated exclusively to the distribution of food and lacking any autonomy, and they tend to replace the Communal Councils.

The policies of Latin American solidarity and cooperation have also been highly dependent on petroleum revenues. To carry out international programs like the subsidized provision of oil to Central American and Caribbean countries, or the financial support to Bolivia and Nicaragua, and various other initiatives taken by the Venezuelan government in the Latin American context, it was necessary to guarantee an increase in oil revenues in both the short and medium term. When Chávez passed away in 2013, petroleum accounted for 96 percent of the total value of the exports, and the country was more dependent on oil than it had ever been.

In the history of the Venezuelan oil industry, the first decade of this century was the moment in which there were the best conditions possible for Venezuelan society to debate, think about, and begin to experiment with other practices and other possible futures beyond petroleum. It was a privileged moment for addressing the challenges of the transition toward a post-petroleum society, a conjuncture in which Chávez counted on an extraordinary leadership and legitimacy. He had the ability to give Venezuelan society a sense of direction, and, with oil prices as high as US$140 a barrel, the resources existed to meet the needs of the population and take, albeit initially, steps to a post-petroleum transition. But the opposite occurred. In those years there was a repetition of the intoxication with affluence, the imaginary of the Saudi Venezuela that had characterized the time of the first Carlos Andrés Pérez government in the 1970s.

No one in Venezuela thought it was possible to decree the shutdown of all the oil wells overnight. But government policies, far from taking steps, even timid and initial steps, to overcome dependency on oil, served to deepen that dependency. In conditions of an over-abundance of foreign exchange, with an end to any attempt to slow down capital flight, an absolutely unsustainable controlled exchange rate parity was established. This had the effect of accentuating the so-called Dutch disease, contributing to the dismantling of the country’s productive capacity.

The income distribution programs and the state political initiatives did improve the living conditions of the population and they helped to strengthen the social fabric, with plenty of experiences of popular participation. However, this was not accompanied by a project of transformation of the country’s productive structure. This marked the limits of the Bolivarian process as a project of transformation of Venezuelan society. It means that the broadly-based organizing processes that had involved millions of people were based on redistribution and not on the creation of new productive processes.

FG: Now, again referring to García Linera (as he sometimes summarizes more intelligently what other opinion-makers, followers, and what I call palace intellectuals are trying to say and write along these lines) – according to this Bolivian sociologist and government leader these tensions between state and self-organization, between government and movements, between the demand for buen vivir and extractivism, in the short term, are normal creative tensions in a long process of revolutionary transformation in Latin America. In his view, the radical left critics of the progressive processes do not understand that they are necessary tensions, and he alleges that they want to proclaim socialism by decree.

ML: One problem is that the progressive governments, to the degree that their members came from social movement processes and protests with a left-wing political identity, have taken on a sort of vanguard identity, as if they know what people need. So spaces for real dialogue and partnership with people of a diverse nature have been lost. And political participation has become a type of applause for whatever project the government leaders are proposing. That’s exactly where there is an impoverishment. There are many examples in European history that incline me to think this is an inevitable dynamic, one that we underestimate a lot. The lefts that come to lead in the state apparatus end up immersed in powerful dynamic characteristic of those apparatuses and they are transformed as persons, through the new spaces in which they move, because the logics of their responsibilities provide them with other experiences and begin to shape their political horizons as well as their culture. Their subjectivity is transformed, they embody the exercise of power. And then, if there is no corrective on the part of a strong organized society, that can complain, correct, protest, and criticize, that necessarily has to divert the project.

On the other hand, it is not so much a question of criticizing the time it takes to change things – because in this, I agree, profound transformations need much time, they need a cultural change and this can take generations. It’s a question of looking at the directionality that a political project takes, that is, whether it is going in the right direction or not, at its rhythm. And here I think the question of deepening extractivism and finishing off nature in a country simply cancels out other possibilities of future transformation. If we are closing off certain future options that mattered to us through more short-term calculations, or because of difficulties that occur at the time, then we cannot say it is a question of a temporary nature; it is a question of directionality. You can commercialize or decommercialize, but if you say first I am going to commercialize everything and later decommercialize, it doesn’t seem to me there is much logic. If you say I am decommercializing but I am going to take more time, however here they can see that I am taking steps in the direction indicated, that would be fine. So that way, I think there is a fundamental difference in the reading of the processes.

EL: In the critical debates on extractivism, one of the things I think is essential is, What do we mean by extractivism? If we think of extractivism simply as an economic model, or as Álvaro García Linera says as “a technical relation with nature” that is compatible with any model of society, it could be concluded that it is necessary to deepen extractivism not only in order to meet social demands but also for the purpose of accumulating the necessary resources to invest in alternative productive activities that can help to overcome extractivism. But if extractivism is undertood in broader terms, if it is understood as a relationship of human beings with nature, that it is part of a pattern of accumulation of global capital, a specific form of insertion in the world capitalist system and the international division of labour and nature, and that extractivism generates and reproduces some definite institutionalities, some state models, some behavioural patterns of the state bureaucracy; and if it is understood that extractivism generates social subjects and subjectivities, that it builds a culture, you necessarily reach different conclusions.

Suffice it to look at the hundred years of extractivism in Venezuela. We have established an extremely deep culture as a rich country, an affluent country. Since we have the biggest petroleum reserves on the planet we deserve to have the state satisfy not only our needs but also our aspirations as consumers. We imagine that it is possible to be a society with rights but not responsibilities. We deserve to have free gasoline. These cultural patterns, once they are firmly rooted in the collective imagination, constitute a severe obstacle to a possible transformation not only to overcome capitalism but to confront the crisis of civilization that humanity is now going through. These imagineries of ever-growing material abundance serve to sustain economist/consumerist conceptions of life that leave out a wide range of fundamental matters that we have to confront today. This blocks the possibility of recognizing that the decisions that are taken today have long-term consequences that differ absolutely from what is proclaimed in the official discourse as the future horizon for Venezuelan society.

Based on this gilded imaginery of a land of infinite abundance, large-scale mining in the so-called Arco Minero del Orinoco, for example, is deemed necessary. Through a presidential decree Nicolás Maduro in early 2016 decided to open up 112 thousand square kilometers, a territory the size of Cuba, 12 percent of the national territory, to the major transnational mining companies. This is an area that forms part of the Amazon forest (with the importance this has in the regulation of global climate systems); an area inhabited by various indigenous peoples whose territories were to be demarcated under the 1999 Constitution and whose culture, and their life, is now severely threatened; a territory in which a major portion of the basins of the principal rivers in the country, the principal sources of fresh water, a territory of extraordinary biological diversity, and in which hydro-electricity dams that produce 70 percent of the country’s electricity are located. All of this is threatened in an opening that has been initiated by a call for tenders issued to 150 transnational corporations. It is being designed as a special economic zone that cannot comply with fundamental aspects of the Constitution and laws of the Republic, such as the rights of the indigenous peoples and the environmental and labour legislation. And this is for the purpose of creating more favourable conditions to attract foreign investment. That is how decisions are being taken that are designing a country-wide project that may have consequences over the next 100 years.

FG: Another essential subject for discussion, as I understand it, is the geopolitical problematic, and in this case the advances in regional integration connected to the assessment of the new strategies of imperialism and its interference on the continent. Left critics (Marxists, eco-social activists, feminists, etc.) are often criticized for allegedly underestimating the impact of U.S. intervention or destabilization, and for focusing essentially on an internal critique of the processes and governments. That is what the Argentine sociologist Atilio Borón, among others, says: a number of his writings argue that we have to understand that, moderate as the progressive governments are, they have opened a new wave of integration without the United States, and that this represents a giant step forward in regional history from a Bolivarian perspective. So what do you think about the state of Latin American integration, what are the advances and the limits as of now in this regard?

ML: Ten years ago there were real initiatives and important and encouraging proposals at a global level coming from Latin America, in the sense that regional integration was posed in a different direction from that of the European Union in its neoliberal constitution, especially in the idea that the Banco del Sur was to promote projects of sovereignty and sustainability and not of development in classical terms. Another example was the SUCRE. Unfortunately, these initiatives have not prospered throughout the decade, above all because of resistance from Brazil, which obviously has an important role in the region and is much more oriented toward its partners in the BRICS and prioritizes its interests as a world power.

EL: In the end, Brazil agreed that the Banco del Sur as such should be just one more development bank...

FG: If we look now at the deep crisis in Venezuela, a subject, a drama that has polarized the intellectuals a lot (as of course Venezuelan society), that polarization was presented to us in translation around two international appeals. The first, with Edgardo’s active participation, originated in Venezuela: “Urgent International Call to Stop the Escalation Of Violence in Venezuela. Looking at Venezuela beyond polarization,”[7] that you both signed, the second, the response entitled “Who Will Accuse the Accusers?,[8] by the members of the etwork of Intellectuals and Artists in Defense of Humanity (REDH), which is quite hostile. One of the central arguments of the REDH members is that the crisis in Venezuela, in their view, is above all a product of imperialist agression and an insurrection of the neoliberal right as well as an “economic war.” They argue that we are in a regional context of a right-wing return, citing the [parliamentary] coup in Brazil, and that this obliges the left to close ranks behind the governments that are confronting this agression, setting aside “secondary contradictions.” The call that you signed, on the contrary says:

“we do not believe, as certain sectors of the Latin American left affirm, that we should acritically defend what is presented as an ‘anti-imperialist and popular government’. The unconditional support offered by certain activists and intellectuals not only reveals an ideological blindness, but is detrimental, as it – regrettably – contributes to the consolidation of an authoritarian regime.”

At this point, how do you read this debate, which was expressed in a number of other documents and exchanges that were sometimes clearly offensive on both sides?

ML: A short while ago a colleague told me that she thought geopolitical views tend to obscure the interests and voices of the peoples. And I don’t know if that is a secondary contradiction. It seems to me that the form in which this confrontation developed was very regrettable because it tended more to close off spaces for reflection than to open them. I think what we need at this point is precisely deeper thinking, spaces for debate and not for closure, if we are to find some solution to the Venezuelan crisis. And I have the feeling that the more alienated people are from the Venezuelan process the more need there is to affirm a sort of identity in solidarity, which is more a sort of anti-imperialist reflex that is fairly abstract, delinked from what goes on day to day in Venezuela. I think the solidarities that we need to build are different. They should not revolve around ourselves, our needs to affirm a political identity like a profession of faith, but be more a joint search for paths forward among concrete peoples. Solidarity should be with the actually existing people, who often do not have the same interests as the government.

And this brings me to a self-criticism, Recently, I returned to Venezuela and had an opportunity to chat with some sectors of critical Chavismo, and it was only then that I learned how that camp has been transformed in recent years. And how complicated it is to express solidarity, in a critical and differentiated way, in the hyperpolarized scenario that exists today. The call that I signed at best should have been given more thought, more discussion before it was circulated, and I should have taken more time discussing it with the various sectors of critical Chavismo before signing it, precisely in order to be more coherent with my own thinking. While I continue to think that it is necessary to defend democratic institutionality and certain liberal values, as the call does, we have to broaden and deepen them while at the same time defending them as results of past struggles. And above all, I think that external agression can never justify the errors that are being made internally.

This polarization that has occurred in Venezuela and in other countries as well, which does not allow any grey shading beyond black and white, is very negative and very harmful to the transformation. It makes it very hard to express solidarity without causing damage on one side or another. As a feminist, I also feel that the form in which this whole debate is taking place is extremely patriarchal, plagued with simplistic binaries, agressive logics and self-gratifyng egos while what we should be doing is building links and other forms of doing politics, that is, accompanying ourselves in the search for alternative roads.

FG: In fact, it seems that a certain dialectic of critical thinking has been lost in this debate.[9] Concerning the polarization in Venezuela, the unconditional defenders of Maduro argue that the polarization is principally between the right wing allied with imperialism vs. the “people” and the Bolivarian government. This analysis is based, of course, on concrete aspects of the coordinates of the present conflict but leaves no space for understanding the tensions, differentiations, and contradictions internal to Chavismo as well as within the popular camp.

ML: There is a kind of artificial construction of a unity between government and people, as also occurred often in relation to Cuba, for example. That is, the Cuban people is one, and only one, and the one that speaks for the Cuban people is necessarily their government. As if there were no relations of domination and conflicts of interests in Cuban society. Between men and women, but also between state and society, or between Blacks, Mestizos and whites, or between countryside and city. From this perspective, which unifies government and people in a single symbolic bloc, nothing really emancipatory can arise. Finally, the challenge before us is reducing or overcoming these relations of domination, if I understand the task. In this dichotomous construction, polarization, war-like logics reappear, a cultural legacy that has been borne by the left since the Cold War, and that now in this historical moment has enabled us to avoid many of the things we need to learn. It is a legacy that was somewhat partially overcome by the ’68 revolt with its cultural impact on societies, but is now suffering a reactualization that I feel is quite distressing.

FG: Edgardo, on the military logic and the situation in Venezuela. How can an attempt be made to confront the Venezuelan crisis from below and from the left? Personally, I did not sign either of the international appeals, because I genuinely felt that neither responded at the time to the urgency of the situation, to the necessary denunciation of imperialist agression, the right wing and its openly coup-oriented sectors and, at the same time, on the other hand, was capable of issuing an open, clear critical analysis of the authoritarian drift of Madurismo; but away from not only the formal defense of the 1999 Constitution but also from the necessary recovery of the forms of popular power, the experiences of self-organization, the communal project that was still alive, notwithstanding everything, in the interstices of the process....

EL: Obviously, there has been a sustained offensive by the Empire, by the United States. From the beginning of the Chávez government there were attempts by the government of the United States to undermine this process for reasons that were both geopolitical and economic. We know that Venezuela’s oil reserves, and its gold, coltan, uranium and other abundant mineral reserves in the south of the country are essential for the United States, either for itself or to limit access to them for its global rivals. Since 1999, Venezuela has represented a point of entry for changes in the continent, and that is why the US also supported the 2002 military coup and the 2002-2003 business lock-out in the oil industry that paralyzed the country for two months, with the express intention to overthrow the government of President Chávez. We know that groups and parties of the Venezuelan far right have relied on permanent advice and funding from the State Department. The financial blockade and the explicit threats of armed intervention formulated by Trump can not in any way be taken lightly. There have also been important interventions by Uribism and Colombian paramilitarism. This type of aggression is part of the panorama of the current crisis in Venezuela, and no one from the left can avoid it or put it in the background.

Now the problem of the Bolivarian process is: What is it that we want to defend? and How should we defend it? Do we have to defend any government with a discourse confronting the United States? Or are we to defend a collective process of a democratic, anticapitalist and anti-imperialist nature that points to a horizon that responds to the profound civilizational crisis we are going through? Do we have to defend the increasingly authoritarian government of Maduro, or do we have to defend the transformative potential that emerged in 1999? Today, the preservation of power for the Maduro government, clientelism and the threats of cutting off access to subsidized basic goods (in conditions in which for a high percentage of the population this is the only way to have access to food) play a much more important role than the appeal to popular participation. And, in the background, a matter for debate is what do we understand today by the left? Can we think of the left without questioning what was socialism of the last century? When forces that sought to overcome bourgeois democracy ended up being authoritarian, vertical, totalitarian regimes. ... Today, in Venezuela, we have to ask ourselves if we are moving in the direction of deepening democracy or if the doors to direct participation of people in the orientation of the country’s destiny are closing.

In Venezuela, in 1999 a Constituent Assembly (CA) was held with very high levels of participation, a referendum was organized to decide whether a CA was to be carried out, the constituent members were elected with high participation, the results were approved by a majority of 62% of the votes, enormous resources were spent to modernize the electoral system, establishing a totally digitized, transparent system with multiple control mechanisms, and audit. A reliable electoral system, virtually fraud-proof, as has been recognized by numerous international organizations and electoral experts around the world. But, in December 2015, the opposition wins the parliamentary elections with a large majority, and the government is faced with the dilemma of respecting these electoral results and remaining faithful to the constitution of 1999, or on the contrary, doing everything possible to remain in power, even if this meant ignoring the will of the majority of the population or sacrificing the electoral system that had conquered such high levels of legitimacy. It clearly opts to remain in power at all costs.

Step by step decisions are made that define an authoritarian drift. The holding of the recall referendum in 2016 is prevented, the election of governors in December that year is unconstitutionally postponed, the attributions of the National Assembly are not recognized and these are usurped between the Supreme Court of Justice and the Executive Power. As of February 2016, the President begins to govern by way of a state of emergency (“economic emergency”), expressly violating the conditions and time limits established in the Constitution of 1999. Assuming powers that under the Constitution are attributed to the sovereign people, Maduro issues a call for a National Constituent Assembly, and electoral mechanisms are defined to guarantee total control of that assembly. A monocolour National Constituent Assembly is elected, its 545 members are identified with the government. This assembly, once installed, proclaims itself supra-constitutional and plenipotentiary. Most of its decisions are adopted by acclamation or unanimously without any debate. Instead of addressing the task for which it was supposedly elected, the writing of a new draft Constitution, it begins to make decisions referring to all areas of public powers, dismisses officials, calls elections in conditions designed to prevent or make very difficult the participation of those who do not support the government. It approves what it calls constitutional laws, which in fact results in the abolition of the 1999 Constitution. They adopt retroactive laws, such as the decision to outlaw those parties that did not participate in the mayoral elections of December 2017. The participation of left-wing candidates different from those decided by the PSUV leadership is prevented. Meanwhile, the National Electoral Council fraudulently blocks the election of Andrés Velázquez as governor of Bolivar State. ...

What is at stake here is not the formal defense of the Constitution of 1999, but the defense of democracy, not a formal bourgeois democracy, but the opening towards the deepening of democracy that the 1999 Constitution represented. Without any single milestone defining a clear break with the democratic constitutional order created in 1999, that democratic constitutional order has been sliced ​​up step by step, successively, like a salami, until we find ourselves in the current situation, which is no longer recognizable.

FG: Then, in light of this very complex panorama where progressives experience brusque or gradual setbacks, where the critical or radical lefts fail to emerge as a massive popular force, where the actually existing replacement electoral forces are, at the moment, aggressive neoliberal rightists, even insurrectional in some cases, such as Venezuela, how can we think of concrete alternatives in this end to the hegemony of progressivism and the rebound of a late neoliberalism? From the perspective of buen vivir and ecosocialism, from criticism to the limits and contradictions of progressive governments, from popular or decolonial feminism, how are we to imagine utopias with concrete perspectives for Our America?

EL: In Venezuela, the only source of optimism for me at this moment is the fact that the crisis has been so deep and has impacted the collective consciousness in such a way that it is possible that the charm of oil, of rentism and of the Magical State as beneficient provider is slowly beginning to dissipate. All the left-right political debate in recent decades has operated within the parameters of the oil imaginery, within this notion of Venezuela as a rich country, owner of the largest oil reserves on the planet. Politics have revolved around the demands that different sectors of society make on the state in order to access these resources.

I am starting to see signs, still lamentably weak, of an acknowledgment that it is not possible to continue on that path. There is the beginning of an acceptance that a historical cycle is drawing to an end. People are starting to scratch their heads, and now what? I have had relations for years with what is the most continuous and most vigorous process of popular organization in Venezuela, CECOSESOLA.[10] This is a network of cooperatives operating in several states in the center and west of the country that links a wide network of agricultural and artisanal producers with urban consumers, as well as a splendid cooperative health center and a funeral cooperative. I have been impressed by the presence of topics such as the recovery and exchange of seeds in everyday conversations. The recognition of a before and an after the beginning of the current crisis.

Recently, when someone in a farming community came down from a nearby town, he was told to remember to bring back a can of tomato seed. That was an every day occurrence. These were seeds of imported, selected and hybrid tomatoes that did not reproduce, that were not necessarily transgenic but they were sterile after the first sowing. With the economic crisis, that access to seeds is abruptly cut off. Ancestral peasant practices are resumed. They begin holding meetings between farmers in which it is asked, who has seeds of what? Indigenous seeds that were only preserved on a small scale begin to be exchanged – potato seeds, tomato seeds, etc. This opens up new possibilities. We are going to wake up from this dream (which turned out to be a nightmare) and think about the possibility that we are somewhere else, in another country, in other conditions and life goes on but now it is taking a new path.

FG: Miriam, what Edgardo says is interesting but he describes, for the moment, very small embryos of popular power, which may seem inoperative in the face of immense regional challenges, financial globalization, world chaos. ...

ML: Of course, that is, it depends a little from where you are looking at it. I think that here, for example, in Europe, what we have to do is start to become aware of the effects that the intensive consumption lifestyle, which everyone assumes is completely natural, cause in other parts of the world. It seems to me that the scale of destruction that this causes, not only in environmental terms but also in the social fabric, of subjectivities, is much more important than what is assumed in Europe, where it all remains practically invisible, camouflaged by consumer environments that are pleasant and anaesthetizing.

EL: Or the belief that the standard of living of the North does not depend on extractivism in the South.

ML: Some of us call this the imperial way of life, which automatically assumes that the natural resources and cheap or enslaved labour of the whole world are for the wealthiest 20 percent of the world population who live in the capitalist centers or the middle and upper classes of the peripheral societies. And if it’s cheap, that’s good. It provides a sensation that the planet is going to collapse ecologically and socially because of the enormous quantity of gadgets that are produced, which nobody really needs except “the markets” for everything that capitalism suggests as artificially constructed needs. So, here in the capitalist centers there is a very important task of reducing the amount of material and energy that is expended. For example, the movements around degrowth have a good perspective in terms of cultural transformation, where because of the discomforts with neoliberalism that you mentioned before, people rediscover other non-material dimensions of the quality of life, and also the wealth of self-production of clothes, or honey, or other things.

FG: Yes, here in France too, there are currently a lot of alternative rural networks, collective self-managed experiences, areas to defend (ZAD), alternative currencies, etc. but they are still very small.

ML: Of course, they are small networks for now, but the important thing is to transmit to more people these imaginaries of different kinds of well-being, so that the change is made not by force, or not by the crisis, but by the desire itself. So that people can feel, experience in their own flesh that there are other dimensions of the good life that can easily compensate for having less materially, and that a decrease does not have to be experienced as a loss.

EL: Nor as a sacrifice to stop having things. ...

FG: In fact, here, there is more and more talk about the necessary conquest of a cheerful sobriety and voluntary austerity in the face of consumer waste. It is an interesting, powerful concept that can be connected to buen vivir and ecosocialism.

ML: I feel every time I go to Europe that there is a lot of discomfort with this super-accelerated lifestyle that prevails here. I have many friends who get sick, if not physically, they get sick psychologically, from stress, depression, burnouts, panic attacks. The dimensions that this acquires are hidden quite systematically in the dominant discourses that continue to associate wellbeing with economic growth, and much more so in what is perceived from the global South. Seen from Latin America, here in the central countries, everything is necessarily a wonder. Then, to visualize these discomforts and make visible the other forms of life that already result from them, would be an important step. Because in the South, curiously, everyone believes that it is better to live in the city, while in Germany or Spain, on the contrary, there is an increase in the numbers of ecological communities that go to the countryside. In other words, it would be a step to help break this hegemony of imitative development, which forces the South to repeat all the mistakes that have already been made in Northern societies, such as clogging cities with cars, for example. But some of these errors, as in the division of labor between men and women here in the North, are being overcome also by the new generations, Now, from my generation on down, it has become more normal to share the tasks of care not only in the couple but beyond the couple, perhaps in the building, in the community where a reduced space for coexistence, can be generated.

This is also another important element, building community against forced individualization, both in the countryside and in the city. I do not mean the community understood as the small ancestral peasant village, fixed in time, but political communities in movement, which incorporate their tasks of care as collective tasks and then reorganize life around what life reproduces, and not around what the market or capital demands. And I think we should make visible all the efforts that are already being made in this sense, where people live relatively well, both in the North and in the South. In the South, in part, they will be ancestral communities, but there are also new ones, while in the North they are usually newly constituted. It’s about changing monolithic thinking and looking at the things that exist, you do not have to invent everything from scratch.

For example, there is a view that urban suburbs are hell, in the global South above all. But if you are going to look closer, there are many logics there that are absolutely anti-capitalist, the logic of not working, of giving priority to fiestas, of exchanges not mediated by the logic of money. ... Maybe it’s not the model. Anyway, there is no model and there should not be, that is very important to emphasize. We are not, after 20th century socialism, going to have a new unique recipe which we will all enroll in and follow, but rather it is a question of allowing that diversity of alternatives, so that they can be built from each culture and context, from the people who are involved in them. Buenos vivires in the plural.

We also have to generate a culture of alternatives that allows us to err, to make mistakes, to learn from mistakes. These spaces of social experimentation in which we say good we are going to try that, it does not work, we are going to try something else, but in cohesion and without competing, according to the principle of cooperation and not competition. A book called The Future of Development[11] states that the percentage of the world population actually inserted in the circuits of the neoliberal globalized market is barely half, and that the rest is still in what we would call the margins. That provides hope, it also means that half the world population is in something else, beyond the dominant model, so we should start looking around.

FG: Very good, thank you very much.

Transcription of interview by Alejandra Guacarán (Master LLCER, Université Grenoble-Alpes. Revision, correction and updating by FG, EL and ML.


[1] Some of the papers and videos of the presentations by Pierre Salama, Miriam Lang and Eduardo Lander may be viewed at http://progresismos.sciencesconf.org.

[2] www.rosalux.org.ec.

[3] https://www.tni.org.

[4] Álvaro García Linera, “Conferencia Magistral en el Teatro Nacional de la Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana,” Quito, Ecuador, 2015: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DeZ7xtBJT8U.

[5] Miriam Lang and Dunia Mokrani (ed,), Más allá del desarrollo, Fundación Rosa Luxemburg/Abya Yala, Quito, 2012, www.rosalux.org.mx/docs/Mas_alla_del_desarrollo.pdf.

[6] Edgardo Lander, The implosion of Venezuela's rentier state, TNI, 2016, https://www.tni.org/es/publicacion/la-implosion-de-la-venezuela-rentista?content_language=en.

[7] http://llamadointernacionalvenezuela.blogspot.fr/2017/05/llamado-internacional-urgente-detener_30.html.

[8] www.resumenlatinoamericano.org/2017/06/01/la-red-de-intelectuales-redh-responde-a-una-declaracion-en-la-que-se-ataca-al-proceso-bolivariano-de-venezuela/. For a critical assessment from a Marxist perspective of these and similar statements, see Claudio Katz, “The Left and Venezuela,” http://lifeonleft.blogspot.mx/2017/06/the-left-and-venezuela.html. – RF.

[9] For an initial balance sheet on the Venezuelan crisis, with a plurality of opinions: Daniel Chávez, Hernán Ouviña y Mabel Thwaites Rey (ed.), Venezuela: Lecturas urgentes desde el Sur, CLACSO, 2017, www.biblioteca.clacso.edu.ar/clacso/se/.../Venezuela_Lecturas_Sur.pdf.

[10] http://cecosesola.net.

[11] Gustavo Esteva, Salvatore Babones, and Philipp Babcicky, The Future of Development: A Radical Manifesto, Policy Press, Bristol, 2013.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Venezuelan people are prime victims of Ottawa’s sanctions

Introduction

“Since 2014,” writes a reporter in the online journal Venezuelanalysis, “Venezuela has been suffering from a deep economic crisis brought about by the drop in global oil prices, a dysfunctional exchange rate system, and a decrease in oil production levels.

“So far the crisis has been characterised by triple digit inflation, and a shortage of hard cash and everyday staples. Nonetheless, the situation has worsened since December 2017.”

The Maduro government is by no means exempt from responsibility for these deteriorating conditions. It has displayed a remarkable ineptness in its failure to overcome the economic crisis by tackling its underlying causes, notwithstanding some innovative maneuvering that has, for now, staved off the offensive by its right-wing political opponents and their foreign supporters.

But the economic damage suffered by the mass of the Venezuelan population is furthered by the sanctions imposed on the country’s government and economy by foreign powers — in the first place, of course, the United States (which also threatens military intervention), but with the active complicity of its faithful partner the Canadian government. The Trudeau government, like the Harper government before it, has played a leading role in fomenting opposition to Venezuela and the progressive international solidarity it has displayed since Hugo Chávez was elected president almost 20 years ago.

Venezuelan masses

Most recently, Ottawa has expelled Venezuela’s ambassador from this country, a step just short of ending diplomatic relations.

Canada’s sanctions (see footnote 1) are designed, in part, to cut off the Venezuelan government’s access to dollars and leave it therefore without the hard currency needed to pay for vital imports of food and medicine. The result, as a report in Foreign Policy notes, “risks turning the country’s current humanitarian crisis into a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe.

“That’s what began to happen in 2017. Last year, Venezuela’s export revenues rose from $28 to $32 billion, buoyed by the recovery in world oil prices. Under normal conditions, a rise in a country’s exports would leave it with more resources to pay for its imports. But in the Venezuelan case, imports fell by 31 percent during the same year. The reason is that the country lost access to international financial markets. Unable to roll over its debt, it was forced to build up huge external surpluses to continue servicing that debt in a desperate attempt to avoid a default. Meanwhile, creditors threatened to seize the Venezuelan government’s remaining revenue sources if the country defaulted, including refineries located abroad and payments for oil shipments.”

The following article by a Venezuelan currently based in Canada reviews the record of Canada’s hostility toward the Bolivarian revolution, and situates it in light of Canada’s history and general role within global imperialism. My thanks to Art Young for translating the article, which was first published on the Venezuelan website aporrea.org on December 8, 2017.

For further reading, see in particular this article by Canadian writer Yves Engler, “Who is in the right in the Canada-Venezuela diplomatic dispute?

Richard Fidler

* * *

Canada: Intrigue and hostility toward Venezuela

By Mario R. Fernández

In Europe and throughout the American continent, the official media continue to demonize Venezuela. Clearly they represent the economically powerful. Their political allies do the same thing every day, attacking the government of Venezuela and the Venezuelan people who legitimately support it. A marked aggressiveness is emerging. We know what its purpose is. The pressure is increasing, becoming more insistent with every day that passes. It is drawing in a growing number of governments, beyond the habitual attacks by the United States and Spain. After the statements of the European Union justifying their sanctions against Venezuela, certain Latin American governments, not satisfied with the continuous interference of the secretary of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, a true flunky and major conspirator against the Bolivarian country, are also lining up to attack Venezuela. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Peru have come together under the auspices of the Lima Group, calling on the United Nations to intervene in Venezuela, under the pretext of “dealing with the crisis and the continuous violations of human rights” there. In reality they aim to betray Venezuelan sovereignty and justify foreign intervention. Recently, this dubious Lima Group has acquired a new partner, Canada,[1] which has taken a very active role in this conspiracy against the sovereignty of Venezuela.

The Lima Group brings together a number of countries with governments of questionable origins, for example, the fraudulent government of Michel Temer in Brazil, which arose from the conspiratorial overthrow of the constitutional president Dilma Roussef in August 2016, and the government of Paraguay, heir to the coup d’état against president Fernando Lugo in June 2012. The new Paraguayan government was quickly recognized, including by Canada, which did not question it as anti-democratic. One could speak of the governments of each of the countries that make up the Lima Group as dubious, oppressive and generally traitors to the interests of their people, but this does not seem to worry the Canadian government, embarked as it is with them in the task of punishing Venezuela for maintaining its own independent course.

Moreover, Canada is in no position to act as a judge of Latin American affairs. It has just finished celebrating its 150th anniversary. Its own conduct has hardly been honorable over this time period. Its history as a country is tainted by genocide, oppression and even its present-day racism, both overt and covert, against its aboriginal peoples, against African-American and other immigrants, and a history of exploitation and repression of militant struggles of Canadian workers. In Canada the situation was transformed, although not completely, after the end of the Second World War through the creation of a welfare state. Since the end of that war, and during the cold and hot wars that followed, as Fidel explained, the United States, Western Europe, Australia and Canada, have proclaimed themselves enemies of any government that implements its own national project — as in the case of Venezuela today.

Historically, Canada has not had an independent foreign policy. The country originated in an invasion and colonization by two empires, the French and the British. It was officially established in 1867 through a Confederation in which the British colonies of Canada (Nova Scotia and New Brunswick) united with the Dominion of Canada (Quebec and Ontario), with authorization from the British Queen Victoria. The various governments of the confederation soon came to represent the wealthy of the new country, coexisting with British influences on the one hand and American on the other. This division has existed ever since, always limiting Canada’s voice and its political action as an independent country. This has been particularly evident in its foreign policy, both economic and geopolitical.

Canada has consistently opposed liberation movements in the countries of the so-called Third World, supporting right-wing governments and coups d’état, dictatorships and dictators. On occasion and with the passage of time, it has even recognized them, recycling its questionable conduct with a few criticisms. Where force has been used to defend the capitalist system in Latin America, Canada has considered these constitutional ruptures to be legitimate, even when they have brought to power dictatorships or governments that are enemies of their own people, rulers who have crushed processes that favour justice, replacing them with oppression and torture, and murdering their own people.

The government of Pierre Trudeau of the ’70s and early ’80s is seen by some people, both inside and outside Canada, as an exception to this general policy. Pierre Trudeau had a national plan to develop the country’s energy resources, against the wishes of the American multinationals. He maintained relations with Cuba when only Mexico, among the Latin American countries, had the dignity to maintain them and break the isolation of the Cuban revolutionary government. Trudeau was an interesting person but his foreign policy was really more of the same, as shown by his treatment of the Canadian internationalists of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion who fought in Spain in defense of the republic and against fascism. Of the 1,546 members of the brigade, 721 lost their lives in that struggle, the noblest military feat that Canada has ever experienced, but which remains a hidden history in this country. Many years later, when only a few dozen survivors of the brigade remained, they requested official recognition as veterans entitled to membership in the Canadian Legion. But Trudeau’s government refused to recognize them in any way, not wanting to harm its relations with the Franco government in Spain.[2]

The position of the current Canadian government toward Venezuela and the other countries of the ALBA alliance (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, known by its Spanish initials) is hardly surprising in light of the country’s history. In Haiti, Canada was directly involved in fomenting the February 2004 coup that deposed, kidnapped, and forced into exile the country’s constitutional president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Its forces participated in the invasion of Haitian territory, alongside those of France and the United States. In Honduras, Canada openly supported the coup d’état that overthrew the government of Manuel Zelaya in June, 2009. It took part in the destruction of Yugoslavia in 1999 (the country was bombed for 78 days) and of Libya in 2011 (bombed for more than 80 days). Fortunately Canada has not participated in the aggression against Syria, which has not succeeded thanks to the intervention of Russia.

The Canadian government has played an intrusive role in Latin America as a protector of the operations of the mining corporations that operate there. Canadian mining companies account for 75 percent of the world’s mining companies, 1,200 in total. Many of them operate in Latin America, mainly in Mexico and Chile. Their assets across the continent amount to more than 150 billion dollars.[3] Many of these Canadian companies have acted with complete impunity in Latin America, going so far as to use criminal gangs against people protesting the damages caused by their operations. In recent years the Canadian media have published a lot of information about human rights violations and environmental destruction by Canadian mining companies operating in Latin America and the rest of the world.

The morbid hatred of the Bolivarian government that certain sectors of the Venezuelan opposition have been expressing for more than 15 years has now spread to other countries, such as Canada. Notably, on March 5, 2013 when Hugo Chávez, leader of the Venezuelan and continental Bolivarian process died, Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper chose not to express his condolences. Instead, he publicly cheered Chavez’s death, saying that it was good news, adding “I hope the people in Venezuela can now build a better future.” These demonstrations of hatred by Canada against Venezuela have become more common since the president of the United States, Barack Obama, signed a decree in March 2015 declaring that Venezuela was a “threat to the national security” of the United States.

Attacks on Venezuela by Canada have become an almost daily occurrence, most of them the work of Foreign Affairs minister Chrystia Freeland. The government decision to impose sanctions on Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro and 18 other Venezuelan officials was supported by the Canadian press. Under the auspices of the OAS, Canada, Argentina and Costa Rica, are looking into how the Venezuelan government could be brought before the International Criminal Court and charged with crimes against humanity. This is simply unbelievable.

The hypocrisy that we are experiencing can only be compared to that of fascist times. Canada ignores the crimes being committed in Mexico where thousands of people are murdered, including dozens of journalists, with total impunity. In Colombia, more than 160 leaders of social movements have been killed in the last two years and there are thousands of political prisoners, but nobody seems to notice. Canada does not seem concerned about the hell of daily life suffered by the poorest people in Brazil, Guatemala or Honduras, or about the repression and assassinations carried out by the security forces against the people of Honduras who are protesting the recent fraudulent presidential elections. Canada has never denounced the violations of human rights and the crimes committed against the Mapuche people in Chile and Argentina.

Going forward, we will certainly see further attacks on Venezuela by the governments of Canada and other countries. These attacks will extend to the countries of the ALBA alliance, such as Nicaragua. The U.S. House of Representatives adopted the “Nica Act” in October and it is now awaiting approval by the Senate. The act is an attempt to isolate Nicaragua economically and in this way to punish the Sandinista government. The country that will play a leading role in the intrigues against Nicaragua will surely be its neighbor Costa Rica, just as Colombia does the dirty work against Venezuela. Bolivia will not be able to avoid the attacks, particularly if Evo Morales is again a candidate for president. The pressure on Bolivia will increase, and imperialism surely counts on Chile to carry out that task. Historically, Chilean governments have always shown disrespect for the Bolivian people, perhaps because of their own complexes and hatred toward an authentic and indigenous nation like Bolivia.

Unfortunately, Canada is playing a significant role in the machination of infamy that has been constructed against a sovereign country like Venezuela, a country that has never attacked anyone, but on the contrary has shown solidarity and generosity in helping other peoples. It has used solidarity as an instrument of international politics. Fortunately, the tactical capacity of imperialism and its agents in the Latin American oligarchies is not infallible, and although it is true that organizations such as CELAC (the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) and UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations) have been neutralized, and that state media such as Telesur could be waging a more effective battle of ideas, given that reason is on the side of the Bolivarians, it is the politicized and active grass-roots movements and the national armed forces that support their peoples who are the bastions of the resistance. It is to be hoped that this strength will continue, with reason on its side, and that it will continue defending these Latin American paradigms of social transformation in these transcendental times.


[1] Canada was in fact a founding member of the Lima Group. For the Canadian government’s official record on the evolution of its position on Venezuela, see “Canada and the Venezuela Crisis.” Also, “Canadian Sanctions Related to Venezuela.” – RF

[2] The author is in fact referring to the government’s rejection of the call by many Canadians that the Mac-Pap survivors be recognized as war veterans and provided with the benefits other veterans enjoy. A private member’s bill to this effect was debated in the House of Commons on March 19, 1998, but it failed to pass due to the opposition of Liberal and Conservative MPs. – AY

[3] According to Todd Gordon and Jeffery Webber, in The Blood of Extraction: Canadian Imperialism in Latin America (Fernwood, 2016), Latin America and the Caribbean account for over half of Canadian mining assets abroad (assessed at $72.4 billion in 2014). – RF


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Catalonia: The post-election political landscape

A critical analysis of the outcome of Catalonia’s December 21 election was published earlier on this site. The author, Marti Caussa, is an editor of the Spanish print and web-based journal of the “alternative left,” Viento Sur. Here below are excerpts from a later assessment by another contributor to Viento Sur, Josep Maria Antentas, who offers some further critical advice to the Catalan left on how to confront the challenges of the coming months. The excerpted paragraphs (which I have chosen in order to minimize repetition with other articles on the subject already available in English) follow the numbering of the original text; I have added a few footnotes, signed “Tr,” to those supplied by Antentas. My translation from the Castellano. – Richard Fidler

Catalonia’s post-election political landscape

By Josep Maria Antentas

7. Independentism won the election, but without a clear road map nor even the appearance of one. A victory without a plan, then. Managing the December 21 (21D) verdict will be complex, now that the hypothesis (the official public narrative) of an easy independence and disconnection by agreement has been refuted. The movement that emerged in 2012 is unprecedented in its massive and ongoing nature. It has obtained the greatest support in its history after having suffered a serious (and arguably self-inflicted) political defeat on October 27 (27-O)[1] and having badly mismanaged the referendum vote of October 1 (1-O).

But its foundational strategy is exhausted. The policy of first independence, later the rest, the policy of delinking the national and social questions, is a worn-out paradigm, responsible for the collateral damages inflicted on the movement, the effects undesired by its promotors. It will not help to create a broader social majority or to shape a project that guarantees economic and social change. And it has boosted the identitarian polarization promoted by Ciudadanos in the working-class neighborhoods.

But it does so on the basis of the social devastation caused by a neoliberalism that has relied to a large degree for its implementation on the complicity of the left and the workers movement. Added to the obliviousness toward independentism in the popular neighborhoods is a long tradition of insouciance that started in the institutionalization of the workers movement after the Transition and its turn to social-liberalism, conservative Pujolist nationalism[2] centred on the middle class and the less urban parts of Catalonia, and the social-liberal Catalanismo of Maragall[3] that sought to attract support from the former Convergencia middle sectors but on the basis of excluding the working-class peripheries. The new left that arose after 15M [the May 15 occupation movement that began in 2011], Podemos and the Communes, owed much of its success to the recovery of support in the popular neighborhoods, but it did not go beyond doing this with a superficial electoral-media model that was not deeply rooted and is therefore very limited in its ability to reverse the historical tendencies of social, cultural and political destructuring, and vulnerable to changes in the overall context.

8. Newly minted in 1968 by Josep Benet, the slogan un sol poble [a single people] has been a constituent part of the political imagination of Catalanism, a recurring presence in diverse but decisive junctures, among them October 2017. In its original meaning it had a dual aspect, both social and national, that at the time expressed the will for national integration under a project of social integration of the Spanish immigration from the rest of Spain that had come to Catalonia.[4]

But by the end of the Transition, the articulation between national and social had been disassembled by a dual and combined process: on the one hand, the rise of Pujolism with its identitarian vision of the nation, suitable to economic neoliberalism, seesawing around the middle classes and relegating to a subaltern role the working class that had been the sustenance of opposition to Franco-ism; on the other hand, the decomposition of the workers movement as a result of the impact of neoliberal restructuring and its particular process of institutionalization and bureaucratization. Hollowed out from below, with a dismembered social base, and integrated into the state from above, the historical workers movement ceased to embody a project either of social transformation or of dynamic articulation between class and national identity. And with this, a structural part of the Catalan working class was relegated to a peripheral position both socially and in the national narrative, one of the most visible, albeit superficial, manifestations of its significant disaffection with respect to Catalan institutionality being its well-known differential abstention in the autonomous territory’s elections.

9. Contemporary independentism has likewise taken up the idea of un sol poble but with a meaning distinct from the original, shorn of its class dimension. This has been noted by the historian Marc Andreu,[5] a great authority on the anti-Franco-ist workers movement and the historical evolution of the working-class neighborhoods, although he overlooks the responsibility of the left and the effects of its bureaucratization and social-liberalization in the desynchronization between the social and national. The contemporary delinking between the national project and the social question splits in half the idea of a single people, smooths the way for its fracturing along identitarian lines and boosts Ciudadanos. If there is to be a single people in the sense of a minimal social consensus around some socio-cultural references and a collective identity, there must also be a single people in terms of equality and social justice.

Herein lies the Achilles Heel of the foundational strategy of independentism. In 1845 the British Conservative politician Benjamin Disraeli published his novel Sybil, or The Two Nations, on the squalid situation of the English working class. The idea of two nations is a recurrent one in history, referring to the social fracture. It is useful to resort to it in the current debate in Catalonia as it points to the close link between the social and national questions that is requisite for strategic thinking about what is meant by un sol poble if that idea is to have an emancipatory content. And the very idea of un sol pobre needs to be updated in the context of the social transformations in Catalonia, the social fragmentation, the cultural changes, the process of individualization, and in particular the impact of the new immigration from outside the Spanish state. ¿Un sólo pueblo plural? ¿Un pueblo de pueblos? Whatever the case, it expresses the desire to find a basis of shared references within a framework of pluralism and cultural diversity. To work in that direction presupposes going beyond the strategic limits of independentism and the passive politics of those within the ranks of the left who have stuck closely to emphasizing those limits without having a plan to intervene in the real processes.

10. The immediate road ahead for independentism is bifurcated. Either it clings to an exhausted strategic paradigm that spectacularly collides with the state, or it is refounded to keep alive the flame of the rupture. In other words, the choice is between a strategic stagnation — flavoured with a paradoxical combination of the unreal foundational illusionism and a new self-image as the victim following the October 27 defeat — or a general refoundation-reformulation. Strategic quietism will mean entering into a political death-agony, albeit dissimulated in the short term by a defensive anti-repression logic in which independentism can end up evolving into a movement with a project for a break with the state disconnected from any road map and short term objective. That is, dissociating its formal objective from its more prosaic day-to-day practice and converting itself into the protagonist of a structural conflict of Catalan and Spanish politics but without any presumption that it will be resolved.

On December 21 the winner was an “independentism without independence” as conservative commentator Enric Juliana put it,[6] an independentism that could not realize independence but still with a formal project to proceed to independence albeit without a convincing plan even from the propagandistic standpoint (strategically, its limits were always apparent). The question is whether it will be forced to proceed toward a stage not only of independentism without independence but of independentism without an independence project, and whether it will locate itself traumatically in a climate of defeat and demoralization mixed with an exclusively defensive anti-repression dynamic, or whether it will be able to do this in the context of a strategy for struggle holding out for a new phase.

This could occur simply through the solidification of an independentist bloc too weak to win but too strong to be definitively defeated, generating a continuation of the conflict in the context of a normalized instability and used by the leadership of both contending blocs to keep its social base intact and mobilized. But it could also remake itself through a global reorientation of the perspective and objectives of independentism in a sense that helps to overcome its basic weaknesses and its more contradictory aspects.

11. The road toward a strategic reformulation involves, as we have emphasized in many previous articles,[7] tying the independentist agenda to anti-austerity policies and defending a constituent process compatible with an independentist and confederal future. This dual turn is decisive to the urgent two-fold job facing independentism: to expand its social base while articulating an alliance in Catalonia with the federalist partisans of the right to decide and who are opposed to the 1978 Regime, and to break the persisting isolation throughout the Spanish state that has smoothed the way for the repressive route taken by Rajoy.

This fits very poorly with Puigdemont’s leadership within the independence movement and with an ANC [Catalan National Assembly, a mass nationalist organization] that since October embodies better than anyone the strategic crisis of independentism, on the one hand permanently locked into the foundational paradigm of first independence, later the rest, and on the other hand having subordinated itself completely to the Catalan government and its president. In reality, if the ANC wants independence for Catalonia the first conclusion it would have to reach would be the need to free itself from its initial paradigm and from the Catalan government itself. In other words, the independentist strategy requires strategic independence from its own limits and from the Catalan executive.

However, it is certainly not easy to implement a strategy of disconnection with its foundational hypotheses and with the excessive institutionalization-governmentalization of the procés (in particular post-2015). And there is no signal that things are evolving in that direction. But faced with the paralysis of the major political and social organizations of independentism, posing this necessary reorientation must be the central task of the independentist left grouped around the CUP (which involves questioning its own strategy as well) and the non-independentist left represented by Catalunya en Comú-Podem (which presupposes abandoning passivity as a permanent orientation).

[...]

14. From the standpoint of those who favour emancipatory social change, the two most negative results of 21D are the poor showing of the CUP and Catalunya en Comú-Podem, two forces whose mutual exclusion in their respective alliances is already an initial signal of strategic gridlock. Contrary to the conventional journalistic commentaries, electoral results cannot be the sole way in which to assess the success or failure of the project and orientation of a political force. These must be considered in relation to the general political influence of a party, its capacity to define the political agenda and condition the public debate, and whether or not it acts as a general political-cultural reference for broad social sectors with their own possibilities to organize and mobilize around their political initiatives. Analytical electoralism, in this sense, is as superficial as strategic electoralism.

The relation between electoral success and the correctness of a party’s political orientation is complex, too. There can be situations in which a party has poor results that are the consequence not of a mistaken political line but of the fact that it defended what is correct in a complex situation. Going against the stream may on many occasions be the only commendable and, in retrospect, courageous course. But it can prove costly in the short run. On the other hand, the contrary is also true: adapting to the pressures of the context may in certain situations save the situation but at the price of laying the basis for a later political defeat of greater scope. Reformist parliamentarism is a true master at this.

The complexity of the relation between political orientation, project and electoral results, however, cannot be used to fall into a minority mentality that makes a fetish of resistance and self-justification when things go badly. Aspiring to build a party with majority support must be a constant objective and, precisely, understanding the non-lineal nature of this link is a necessary condition to avoid slippages, a tendency to self-complacent resistance, or an obsession with results that lack content. And in both cases that concern us, CUP and Catalunya en Comú-Podem, the disappointments of 21D should encourage a self-evaluation both of the political line that was followed and of the project itself.

15. The drop in the CUP vote was clear: from 336,375 votes (8.2%) and 10 deputies in 2015 to 193,352 votes (4.45%) and 4 deputies now. It lost primarily in the metropolitan area of Barcelona. Many of the lost votes were “loaned” to the ERC by voters who did not want to vote for Junts pel Sí, but it appears as well that the CUP lost votes to Junts per Catalunya in the Catalan interior. For many voters a “useful vote” for oficialista (outgoing government) candidates, in particular the ERC, outweighed a critical assessment of how the Catalan government had managed the October 1 vote.

The CUP’s poor results, largely in the major urban areas, reveal the CUP’s limits as a political and organizational force. Beyond the question of its orientation, the 21D vote is suggestive of problems of a more structural nature in its project which, despite everything, is an exceptionally strong one in comparison with the other European anticapitalist parties. Overcoming those problems means considering popular unity as a broad strategic project that transcends what is popularly referred to as Unitat Popular, and requires alliances and interface with other realities of the political and social left which, moreover, is not necessarily wedded to independentism. This in turn means engaging with the procés from both within and without and not working exclusively inside it in a context where it is essential to redefine its foundational premises.

16. The result of Catalunya en Comú-Podem, 326,360 (7.45%), was also disappointing: less than the total vote obtained by its predecessor, the unsuccessful coalition between Podem, ICV and EUiA, and Catalunya Sí que es Pot (CSQP), 367,613 votes (8.94%).[8] Caught in the electoral polarization, it proved unable to create a space for itself, and may well have lost votes to both left and right, to ERC (and CUP) and to PSC (and Ciutadans). The basic question is not so much the orientation it adopted in this election campaign but the entire political line adhered to since its irruption in Catalan politics from December 20, 2015 on, in which its tactic was one of strategic passivity, hoping that independentism would soon collapse, instead of trying to be an active influence in the particular context by developing a constituent and anti-austerity proposal for Catalonia that could lead to a convergence between the impulse generated respectively by 15M and the pro-independence movement.[9]

But besides its orientation in the independentist debate, the future of the Commons project as a whole is at stake. Having lost the initial boost of the two victories in the general elections (20-D 2015 and 26-J 2016), and without the militant impact of the launch of Barcelona en Comú in the summer of 2014, Catalunya en Comú, founded in April 2017, has failed to take off organizationally or politically since then, becoming embroiled in a poorly managed row with Podem, which it remained entrapped in until October 1. In the few months it has existed, it has taken shape as an electoralist, institutionalized party without lively internal debate and lacking in territorial and social influence or, worse still, without a project to obtain it.[10]

In this new stage, its leading team will have to decide whether it is permanently located in the historical-strategic continuity running from the Moncloa Pacts (1977) to the tripartite government (2003-2010) or whether it is located in the slipstream of the constituent challenge of 15M. A crystal-clear dilemma, to speak openly, which allows many tactical nuances but tolerates no strategic ambiguity.

December 31, 2017


[1] On October 27, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, having received no answer from Madrid to his request for negotiations following the October 1 vote for independence, declared Catalan an independent Republic. Spanish Prime Minster Mariano Rajoy immediately followed this declaration by implementing emergency powers under article 155 of the Spanish Constitution of 1978, dissolving the Catalan Parlement and calling a general election in Catalonia on December 21. – Tr.

[2] Jordi Pujol, President of the Generalitat of Catalonia 1980-2003, promoted the creation of a federalized Spain, but not an independent Catalan Republic. – Tr.

[3] Pasqual Maragall, President of the Generalitat of Catalonia, 2003-2006. – Tr.

[4] For the origin and context of the slogan, see the recent biography of Benet published by Jordi Amat, Com una pátria. Vida de Josep Benet (Barcelona: Edicions 62, 2017).

[5] Andreu, M., “Un sol poble?,” El Critic, 15/09/17. Available at http://www.elcritic.cat/blogs/sentitcritic/2017/10/15/un-sol-poble/.

[6] Juliana, E., “Un teorema defectuoso,” La Vanguardia, 24/12/17. Available at http://www.lavanguardia.com/politica/20171223/433826863380/elecciones-catalanas-teorema-defectuoso.html.

[7] See, for example, Antentas, Josep Maria. “21D: zozobras pre y (post)electorales” Público.es 15/12/2017. Available at http://blogs.publico.es/tiempo-roto/2017/12/15/21d-zozobras-pre-y-post-electorales/.

[8] Podem=The Catalan counterpart of Podemos; ICV=Initiative for Catalonia Greens; EUiA=United and Alternative left; CSQP=the coalition of the preceding parties, formed in 2015 to contest that year’s Catalan election. – Tr.

[9] I discuss in more detail the politics of the Commons prior to 1-O in: Antentas, Josep Maria, “Los comunes y sus dilemas,” Viento Sur 11/09/17. Available at http://vientosur.info/spip.php?article12985.

[10] For a more detailed analysis of the major aspects of the project of Catalunya en Comú, this series of three articles published after its founding congress may be consulted: “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner,” Jacobin, 28/06/17: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/06/the-loneliness-of-the-long-distance-runner; “¿De comunes a eurocomunes?,” Viento Sur, 04/05/2017: http://vientosur.info/spip.php?article12544; and "Los comunes y el programa," Viento Sur, 07/09/2017: http://vientosur.info/spip.php?article12978.