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South America's turn to populism: Neoliberalism v. Corruption

By Aleksander Boyd

London 11.01.06 | Having been disconnected from the internet for a few days allowed me to read a few books, revise old thoughts and exercise what Briceño Guerrero coined as “desviar la mirada.” The year ahead will, undoubtedly, be extremely interesting for Latin America’s democratic future. Venezuela, being nowadays the source of all anti-democratic mischief, finds itself again in the midst of a revolution. But this time round the swelling movement is orphan, a widespread sentiment, that has been described by some as meme. Devoid of leaders that can capitalize on it merely by interpreting correctly the historic momentum, the Venezuelan folk have reached what appears to be a dead end. Realization that Hugo Chavez is nothing but a psychopath, bent on remaining in power until he dies at whatever cost to the nation, came after 7 long years of systematic abuse and aggravation. No need to dwell on that. As Hugo Chavez displaces Che Guevara as the new global revolutionary icon, fact is his countrymen just can’t wait to see the back of him. The opportunities that lay ahead, however extraordinary, are not easily achievable considering the pedigree of the politicos opposing Hugo Chavez, all vying for the highest chair, all equally ill prepared for the challenge. The new breed -composed of new and old faces- share the characteristic of a wanton disregard towards the plights of civil society.

Let me start with a revision. Revolutionary monies won’t dry in the foreseeable future. Exercising absolute control of PDVSA and banking on high oil prices, Chavez has become the financial patron of radical Latin American extremists. If sitting atop the largest pool of oil outside the Middle East weren’t enough, it is believed that 85% of the regional narcotics produce enters the international markets via Venezuela, where Chavez made sure early into his presidency that DEA operations were to be curtailed and ultimately suspended. From there to Cuba is just a walk in the park; no customs, no immigration officials revising the many cargos to and fro. From Mexico all the way down to Tierra del Fuego, Venezuelan monies administered by chavismo are oiling the revolutionary machine. Emiliano Ramos Hernandez, a callous deputy for Quintana Roo –conveniently located at the tip of the Yucatan peninsula, who also happens to lead Mexico’s anti-establishment youth, has been recruited and a most cordial relationship with the Chavez regime has been established, thanks to the good auspices of former Venezuelan ambassador to that country Vladimir Villegas. As the presidential race starts with force, Lopez Obrador looks as the likely candidate to reach office, much to the chagrin of the Zapatistas. The Ortegas are poised to regain power in Nicaragua. In Panama the son of Torrijos does not hide his sympathies towards the failed Venezuelan coupster; who in any event shall be favoured over Uribe. The Andes is soon to follow suit; Bolivia –in the hands of someone that will unleash coca-production, Peru –to turn into the Humalas reign, and Ecuador –with Correa fast approaching the plate, are to summon national constituent assemblies, via referenda, to apply the infallible, try and tested Chavez-method of doing away with democratic institutions using democratic means. The Worker’s Party (PT) in Brazil looks unbeatable for the next election, although Lula’s chances grow thin surely the Sao Paolo Forum, of which Castro, Dirceu, Chavez, the FARC, the MIR, all of the aforementioned and others are honorable members, would have thought of an alternative already that, with the ‘support’ of the group, shall win. The Kirchners are just having a laugh at democracy; in unprecedented fashion they have decreed that terrorism is not a crime against humanity. Furthermore Chavez’s overtures to Vasquez indicate that the populist misery will befall upon the Southern cone. The imminent election of Michelle Bachelet in Chile is already cause for concern to some observers.

Should the picture not be sufficiently grim, Venezuela -otherwise known as Cubazuela- was the only country in the globe to support and vote in favour of Iran’s nuclear development programme. Ahmadinejad and Chavez refer to each other as brothers and as the former stresses upon the mythical nature of the holocaust and the necessity to utterly destroy Israel the latter puts the guilt of the world’s problems on Jewish shoulders. The fanatic leaders of two petro-states…

South America looks set to emerge as one of the world’s largest centers of instability. Contrary to the Middle East, where conflict seems concentrated in Iraq-Iran and Israel-Palestine, the only remaining openly anti-terrorist leader of the region is Colombia’s Uribe, who has formidable local –let alone foreign- enemies to placate. Additionally Chavez wants to develop his own nuclear capabilities, the governments of comrades Kirchner and Lula said they would lend a hand, if the latter fail to act on their promise the Mullahs can always save the day.

None of it, of course, is cause for concern to the international community. Chavez continues to be celebrated, more often than not, as the saviour of the poor, the creator of the empowered disenfranchised movement that rose from oppression to reclaim, democratically it is said, rights and share of wealth. Latin American ‘experts’ thought to be critical of Chavez consider him a nuisance, an unpleasant fever that will fade. $30 billion can buy so much love nowadays…

One should not be grieved for the change, if it ever materializes, will not come from that abstract paradigm known as “the international community” but rather from the local folk who will stand up and say “we’ve had enough revolution; now then, let’s rightfully reclaim our country and sovereignty.” How long will the hollow revolutionary charm offensive numb people’s basic needs is anybody’s guess.

One should not worry either for whatever stance the international community wishes to adopt, for as the maxim states “they’re either part of the problem or part of the solution.” Again the case is to evaluate deeds vis-à-vis Chavez and Castro in order to conclude that part of the solution –the international community- it is not.

Of course the perfect Latin American idiot and its representatives will blame globalization and neoliberalism for the many problems that have hindered the region's progress. Very few of South America's ruling leaders would actually have the presence of mind to take responsibility for the appaling situation; blaming a scapegoat -be it the USA, Bush, the neocons, globalization, etc., is always easier, more so if the utterly ignorant constituency plays along. Even less people would admit that corruption, malfeasance, feeble institutions, lack of Rule of Law and accountability mechanisms, inexistence of checks and balances, nepotism and so on are indeed the culprits of the current chaos. Furthermore, when governments are headed by populist leaders who, not only associate themselves with criminals, narcoterrorists and outlaws, but in fact appoint such people to public office, then horrible consequences are to be expected.

It is believed that the region took a turn to the left, however that's a misnomer. Radical populism -or authoritarianism- is more suitable; gang-raping the social discourse is also appropriate. Certainly a far cry from governments such as that of PSOE's Felipe Gonzalez or Labour's Tony Blair. Let's face it there's no socialism to be found South of the Rio Grande, but rather what one sees in country after country is the replacement of a useless ruling class for another, richer in some cases yet even more inefficient. Take Venezuela for instance; the Accion Democratica - COPEI duopoly that ruled the country between 1958-1998 has been destroyed and replaced by a single-party power-hoarding model whereby Hugo Chavez, acting sort of as a "Jack of All Trades," is the sole member of the Executive taking decisions of any relevance. Hardly an improvement and certainly less democratic for only one party, that of the Supreme leader, 'represents' the people.

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