Latin America: Between declining US imperialism and rising neofascism

January 16, 2024
Four Latin American presidents and former presidents
From left to right: Peruvian former president Pedro Castillo, Chilean president Gabriel Boric, Colombian president Gustavo Petro and Argentinian president Javier Milei. Photos: Wikipedia

Pedro Fuentes is a leader of the Socialist Left Movement (MES), a tendency within Brazil’s Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL). He is also the author of, among other writings, Seventy Years of Struggles and Revolutions in Latin America.

In the second part of his interview with Green Left’s Federico Fuentes, he discusses the crisis of imperialist hegemony, the unpredictability of contemporary politics and its impacts on Latin America. Read Part 1 here.

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How do you view current dynamics within global capitalism?

US imperialism is a declining imperialism but one that retains — due to its military and economic power — its position as the world’s largest power. We cannot lose sight of the fact that the US is the world’s leading imperialist power — that would be a grave mistake.

But it has lost its global hegemony, geopolitically and economically. Since Vietnam, it has suffered further defeats, in Iraq and Afghanistan most recently.

It is trying to regain its power, and the Israel-Palestine conflict has put it on the offensive with its navy occupying the Red Sea to halt Iran’s entry into the conflict. But it is in decline — the speed of the decline will depend on class struggle.

That said, I do not think we can talk of a new Cold War in which there are only two contending poles: the US and China. The current world disorder is so great that other sectors have started to play regional roles.

Turkey plays a role in its region. So too the Gulf countries that, due to their oil and gas wealth and the fact they now have their own oil companies and control part of their economies, have acquired a weight that previously only foreign oil companies had.

What about Brazil?

Brazil tries to play — in Latin America and, to some extent, in some African countries — the role of sub-imperialism; which is, an intermediary role [dominated by imperialism while dominating some Global South countries].

This role was very noticeable during the military dictatorship. It was less clear at the start of the century, with the rise of nationalist movements in Latin America such as Chavismo [in Venezuela], etc. However, Brazil’s capitalists, with a lot of investments abroad, intend to keep playing that role.

While there are two more or less obvious poles, their weaknesses and contradictions have allowed new actors to appear. These actors do not have the same power and strength, and the US seeks to limit their expansion.

But this has all contributed to a grave crisis in imperialist domination; which is not to say that imperialist world domination no longer exists — it does, it is just more in crisis.

That is why I do not see this period as similar to the Cold War. The Cold War was a period of coexistence, of relative global stability maintained by two powers that divided up the world on the basis of the Yalta and Potsdam pacts.

They accepted the pacts and pretty much honoured it — only on occasions did things slip out of their hands.

Today, we have a situation of more unpredictability — it is very difficult to predict future developments.

In other times, one could say such and such a period represented a revolutionary period, which lasted until such and such a year, then came a counter-revolutionary period.

But what are we in now? Today’s situation is much more difficult to define — it is much more an interregnum, much more chaotic.

Just as I do not see the same kind of counter-revolutionary triumphs as we saw in previous periods (they exist on a smaller scale, and Israel may achieve one over Palestine although it remains to be seen), I also do not see big, resounding triumphs by mass movements that indicate we are moving towards a revolutionary or pre-revolutionary period.

And we are not in such a situation because there is a very important new element in the world situation: the absence of an alternative leadership in the face of capitalism’s crisis.

When I say absence of leadership, I am talking not only about certain weaknesses and fragmentation of the working class, but about a general regression in mass consciousness, a product of the fact that the previously existing socialist model failed. We have still not overcome this.

How has this played out in Latin America?

Latin America is one of the important points of world class struggle. It brings together important historical experiences of anti-imperialist struggles and even democratic revolutions.

We had a very important process in which anti-imperialist regimes emerged at the start of the 21st century after huge mobilisations in Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela and Argentina.

In Bolivia and Venezuela, and to a lesser extent Ecuador, this process led to governments that politically broke with the old capitalist classes. They even modified the political regime — though always within the framework of the capitalist state — by means of constituent assemblies.

That process was cut off, but via reactionary not counter-revolutionary means; it was a very partial closure.

Subsequently, from 2017–18 onwards, we had a new wave of mobilisations. These were more democratic, spontaneous and popular than working-class based.

There was Nicaragua, with the revolt against the totalitarian-authoritarian regime of [Daniel] Ortega [in 2018]; then the anti-corruption struggle in Puerto Rico; then came Ecuador [with the anti-neoliberal October rebellion of 2019]; Chile [in November 2019], the undisputed vanguard of that insurrectionary process of national revolts; Bolivia, with the defeat of the coup d'état [in 2020]; and Colombia [with the National Strike in 2021].

These were followed by electoral victories for [Gabriel] Boric in Chile [in 2021], [Pedro] Castillo in Peru [in 2021], and [Gustavo] Petro in Colombia [in 2022].

But these processes entailed much less of a rupture with the institutions and parties of the old regimes; these new processes occurred without any big ruptures.

Boric had opportunities to deepen the process, but opted for conciliation to achieve his constituent assembly, and then adapted to social democracy; he stopped representing the mobilisations.

Castillo was a more episodic phenomenon, although the struggle continues in Peru.

What is left is Petro, which is the most advanced process in Latin America today.

I did not mention Brazil because Brazil was the most institutional process of them all. We had a very important democratic triumph in Brazil [with Lula defeating Bolsonaro to become president in 2022], but all within the framework of an alliance with large sectors of the capitalist class.

[Lula’s] government is a government with and for the capitalist class. It is not our government — in fact, none of those I have mentioned were or are our governments.

We have to support progressive measures and defend those governments against the right, but maintain our independence. That is the key to this new situation: to remain independent in order to develop an anti-capitalist leadership within the process.

This is the role we are playing within PSOL. We fight within PSOL, and also as a public expression, the MES. We mark out our points of difference with the majority of the [PSOL] leadership, while maintaining a policy of independence and of building from within the mass movement.

What is the outlook for Latin America following the latest triumph for the right, that of [Javier] Milei in Argentina? While the left continues to argue whether this new right is fascist or not, it is clear that a new right has emerged globally that has neofascist tendencies and currently has [Israeli President Benjamin] Netanyahu as its vanguard.

Argentina will be very important for this process in Latin America, because in Argentina there will be crisis and resistance. This government will not be able to govern as it wants.

It will have less margin to manoeuvre than Bolsonaro in Brazil, because the working class in Argentina is more independent, more autonomous and has more experience of struggle.

The other promising process is in Panama, where there was a great triumph of the ecological struggle. They succeeded in closing Panama’s most important mine thanks to a united front of struggle that included everyone from trade unions to indigenous and popular organisations.

Panama’s rich process shows how the struggle for the climate can be approached. Not just through abstract ecosocialist propaganda, which we must do as part of the battle of ideas.

But we need to know how to seize the problems of the people, the working class, the poor, the excluded, in order to mobilise them against the concrete enemies of environmental pollution — in this case, a mining company in Panama.

We socialists face a new challenge in our continent, where we have the Amazon and large energy reserves: to be able to defend and fight for them.

We must develop a program that combines the most immediate demands of the people with transitional measures — such as the expulsion, regulation and expropriation of oil companies — that point to a socialist way out.

[Read the full interview at]

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