Many hoped Brazil would join the ranks of progressive South American governments on October 2. But while Luiz Inacio “Lula” Da Silva is the favourite for the run-off, his failure to win in the first round and the stronger-than-expected showing for far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has caused much consternation among the Latin American left.
Unitary League of Chavista Socialists (LUCHAS) activist Stalin Perez Borges sat down with Green Left’s Federico Fuentes to discuss the situation of the left in Latin America and his home country, Venezuela.
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Given the results of the Brazilian elections, can we still say there is a new wave of progressive governments? If so, what differences exist between this wave and the previous wave of 2000–15?
We are seeing a new wave of progressive governments. But these governments have emerged in a very different context and economic situation.
The previous wave of governments came to power riding the illusions and hopes for genuine changes that existed among the masses; changes that, in some countries such as mine — Venezuela — became a reality.
The new progressive governments are operating in a context of less enthusiasm or hope for real change. Instead, the predominant sentiment is support for the “lesser evil”.
One exception is the Gustavo Petro government in Colombia, where there is an unprecedented and genuine sense of hope that change will occur, something the Colombian oligarchy, with its political conservatism, violence and criminality, denied working people for at least 80 years.
The situation with Gabriel Boric in Chile is a bit different. While he rode to power on the back of popular mobilisations, hope for change was deposited in a new constitution that was ultimately not approved in the recent referendum.
Using military terms, we could say we are dealing with governments that have emerged as a defensive reaction of the masses, rather than as an offensive decision, as was the case with the previous wave.
Moreover, these new governments have less economic resources at their disposal to carry out social programs, create jobs and improve public services. They have had to deal with the terrible consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, which arguably hit Latin America harder than anywhere else, and the unfolding capitalist world crisis, which is likely to lead shortly to a world economic recession.
In contrast, the previous wave of governments benefited from booming commodity prices that helped somewhat cushion the impact of the global economic crisis of 2008.
In this context, the new wave includes governments such as that of Alberto Fernández in Argentina, which, in return for loans, is implementing restrictive and anti-people economic measures imposed by the IMF [International Monetary Fund], and has gone as far as to call such conditions “generous”.
The IMF’s conditions even include “recommending” functionaries to fill government posts. For example, Fernández’s “superminister” [for the economy, productive development and agriculture], Sergio Massa, was chosen by consensus and authorised by the IMF.
Lula’s situation is of great importance when trying to understand this new wave. Not because his potential victory will lead to changes, but because a strong defeat for Bolsonaro could have helped halt the advance of the ultra-right, and not just in Brazil. Instead, the election results have left this possibility in tatters and sparked disillusionment.
To win, Lula will now have to gain the support of [Brazilian Democratic Movement candidate] Simone Tebet and [Democratic Labour Party candidate] Ciro Gomes. But their support will require even more concessions to the capitalist class, thereby further erasing the possibility his government will enact progressive policies in certain areas.
Lula’s victory will only serve to impede Bolsonaro from becoming president. But Bolsonaro’s supporters won the majority of governorships and control of the Senate. A defeat for Bolsonaro will possibly no longer have the same political and social effects it might have had in detaining the dangerous desire of fascists in Brazil and Latin America had Lula won a decisive victory in the first round.
How has the left in the region generally responded to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine?
The left has suffered greatly as a result of the positions taken by organisations and individuals that have supported Putin.
Confronted with Putin’s war, a large part of the left has sought to present Putin as some kind of progressive alternative and a leading figure of anti-imperialism and anti-fascism, while labelling those who disagree with them as NATO agents or pro-imperialists.
They have justified everything Putin has done in this war, arguing “Putin did not start the war, all he did was defend himself from NATO threats”. Now they are supporting Russia’s annexation of even more Ukrainian territory and backing Putin’s mass draft to send more people to fight. They do not care about the deaths and forced displacement of Ukrainians and Russians produced by this criminal war.
They believe the modern-day Russia of Putin and his billionaire oligarchs is the equivalent of the Soviet Union under the Bolsheviks. They have thrown out the window important Marxist concepts such as the self-determination of oppressed nations, among others.
Instead, they accept as absolute truth the information they get from [Russian state media outlets] Sputnik and RT and operate as missionaries who spread the word of pro-Putin conspiracy theory propagandists.
What is your view of the current situation in Venezuela?
I would say that the [Nicolás] Maduro government represents the negation of all the progressive elements of [Hugo] Chavez’s government and his legacy.
In his quest to stay in power at all costs, Maduro has opened the country to foreign investment and provided investors with all the guarantees they have demanded, irrespective of their impacts on the environment or workers’ rights.
For Maduro and his advisors, the priority has been to win over transnational capitalist investors to help him present Venezuela as an image of prosperity and economic growth.
They have sought to hide, by all means possible, the effects of this policy, which have been catastrophic for the working class. Today, workers' salaries are not enough to live off — the cost of living continues to be unbearable, despite hyperinflation having subsided and economic indicators improving.
In an attempt to stop workers and popular sectors from raising demands and protesting, the government has arrested and jailed union and social movement leaders.
Despite this, there have been mobilisations, within which pensioners and retirees have played a vanguard role, together with specific sections of the working class, such as teachers, and oil and metal workers.
Maduro is hoping to get to [the presidential elections in] 2024 and present himself as a “super president” that was capable of overcoming the imperialist blockade and the attacks launched against him by successive US governments. But we will have to see what happens between now and then.
Until then, he will continue to present himself as “Super Maduro”, regularly reshuffle his cabinet, speak out every once in a while against corruption, criticise certain functionaries, and attack as much as possible what he calls the “outdated left”.
The hope for a socialist Venezuela lies in the forces down below that make up the Bolivarian process — the forces Chávez knew how to nurture and mobilise.
What can you tell us about the new initiative, (ir), that you are involved with?
(ir), which stands for insist-resist, is a website we started when I was in Brazil for nine months in 2020, with the help of Resistencia-PSOL activist Pedro o Catatau. Unfortunately, as a consequence of our original domain insistoresisto.org being blocked, we have had to temporarily set up an alternate site at 1resisto.com.
(ir) was set up to help with the process of building the United Socialist Chavista League (LUCHAS). We also felt the need to create an instrument that would promote socialist, revolutionary, and environmentalist ideas and disseminate news on the movements of workers, women, LGBTI, migrants and against racism.
The success of the site has meant that the editorial board now includes activists not just from Venezuela, but Brazil, Argentina, Spain, and we hope to incorporate activists from other countries.
Unfortunately, maintaining (ir) requires money and time, which is difficult when we are doing so from Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil, where the economies have been hit hard by inflation. But supporters can help by donating, writing articles or sending suggestions for articles to republish on (ir).
[To support (ir) email firstname.lastname@example.org.]