By Melissa Gracia Lanuza
Cristina and Nestor Kirchner in a rally in Buenos Aires (theguardian.com)
The leftist governments in Latin America are falling,” say some US publications.
Some comments on news about Latin America, especially in South America, are even more shocking than the title of this article.he leftist governments in Latin America are falling,” say some US publications.
“Socialism in South America is falling.” And, this follows, “This confirms that the socialist system is not really an advanced system.”
These comments refer to the successful change of governments in Argentina and Brazil into governments that support neoliberalism, the loss in the referendum of the proposition to allow President Evo Morales of Bolivia to run again for reelection, and, the teetering government of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela. We may also add President Rafael Correa’s decision not to run in the next election (2018).
The process is not yet complete and the world is watching for their final outcomes. Clearly, the governments and movements that declared unequivocally their socialist direction and even those that merely effected steps to curb poverty are facing serious challenges. In these challenges, we can see through the limitations and shortcomings of their earnest effort, but most importantly, imperialists and their local cohorts have not stopped their devious schemes against the peoples’ struggle.
The finished Kirchner government of Argentina
The Kirchner couple led Argentina as presidents, one after the other, from May 25, 2003 to November 2015. Kirchner came first and he did not seek reelection in 2007. His wife Cristina ran for president and won.
Nestor Kirchner belonged to the Justicialist Party, a Peronist party. The Justicialist is a faction of the Frente para la Victoria (FPV) or Front for Victory. People usually consider the Justicialist Party as centrist although they regarded it more as left-of-center when Kirchner was president of the country and chairman of the party.
He implemented populist policies and Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner carried on until 2012. According to the International Monetary fund (IMF), “the Argentine economy grew by 94% between 2002 and 2011.” They achieved one of the biggest improvements in the living standards in Latin America. They implemented programs for wealth distribution. They reduced poverty by 70% and lowered the unemployment rate. They obtained a restructuring of Argentine’s foreign debt and resumed payment of 76% of US$82 billion in 2005. It requested two more times for restructuring, made arrangements for payment of debts and paid 93% of the total foreign debt. On the other hand, Kirchner proposed to Congress, and this became a law, the transfer of almost $30 billion private pension holdings to the social security system.
They did a great deal in running after the perpetrators of abuse and state terrorism during the reign of fascism in Argentina. Nestor Kirchner reorganized the Armed Forces and repealed the controversial amnesty law that protected those involved in the crimes of the dictatorship in 1976–1983.
In 2008, Fernandez de Kirchner introduced Resolution 125, to adopt a “sliding tax system” that would raise the taxes of soybean and sunflower exports from 35% to 44%. She wanted to raise government funds for social investments considering that the world prices of grains rose, and, to encourage farmers to plant wheat and corn instead of producing for export like soybeans.
For the farmers, export tax was already exorbitant hence, producers’ associations went on strike. Thousands of farmers protested in front of the presidential palace and even in other towns. These became violent. A camera of the media caught a former government official, who was close to the Kirchners, punching a protester.
A rally organized by the government led by La Campora, a youth organization led by the Kirchner couple’s son responded to the protests. Fernandez de Kirchner’s popularity plummeted. Some members of the ruling FPV spoke against the government. The economic minister resigned. The government was forced to withdraw the resolution.
During the mid-term elections in June 2009, the FPV won an absolute majority in the two houses of Congress. It lost 24 seats in the lower house and four in the Senate.
Fernandez de Kirchner launched the universal child benefit plan (Spanish: Asignacion Universal por Hijo) as a way of combatting poverty. Its targeted beneficiaries were five million children and youth. Many praised this program for having raised school attendance and reduction of poverty of families.
Argentina’s economy, however, slowed and reached a recession starting 2012. Inflation rose. Prices of commodities, especially cash crops went down. The people felt the impact of this development especially because one-third of the export products of Argentina are agricultural products. The government though, did not remove its intervention hence the crisis did not hit the people very hard.
Fernandez de Kirchner was accused of many wrongdoings like corruption, embezzlement, unexplained wealth.
Despite this, Fernandez de Kirchner remains popular up to this day. She could no longer run for president for the third time, according to the Argentinian Constitution. They could not have the Constitution amended because they did not have a supermajority in the Congress, a requirement for it to decide on the matter. And so, they decided to let Daniel Scioli, also a member also of FPV, vice president of Argentina from 2003 until 2007 and governor of Buenos Aires from 2007 until 2015.
It was clear, though, that Scioli and his party were not able to make use of the Kirchners’ reputation and achievements to win the votes of the greater majority of the people. Mauricio Macri, former mayor of the city of Buenos Aires, a clear supporter of neoliberalism and a former agent of the CIA, according to Wikileaks, defeated him.
Dilma Rousseff’s suspended presidency
Dilma Rousseff was the minister of energy during Luis Inacio Lula da Silva’s presidency, who later became his Chief of Staff. She was primarily responsible for the expansion of the electrification program in the rural areas of Brazil during Lula’s time that additionally served more than three million families.
Although she was a former Marxist revolutionary who belonged to the Comando de Libertaҫᾶo Nacional or COLINA and later to the Vanguardia Armada Revolucionaria Palmares or VAR Palmares, Rousseff supported and continued, in general, Lula’s reformist and populist policies and programs. Among these are the campaign to end hunger, which Fome Zero or No Hunger and the Bolsa Familia or Family Allowance, the biggest program in Brazil to help poor families, bannered. Rousseff placed these under an overall program called Brazil sem Miseria or Brazil without Misery.
The Fome Zero includes the making of cisterns in the desert-like parts of Brazil, steps to fight teenage pregnancy, the development of family agriculture and the distribution of minimum cash to the poor.
The Bolsa Familia is conditional cash transfer. Bolsa Escola or school allowance has existed from the time of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (2001). Lula expanded it. He added allowance for food and cooking gas.
To effectively implement this, they established the Ministry of Social Development and Eradication of Hunger. The government has budgetary allocation for Fome Zero and it receives from the private sector as well. The Bolsa Familia became popular in the entire world and many states copied it (World Bank 2016 Report, p.vii). Within Brazil, however, some people attacked Lula and Rousseff, alleging that they were just using Bolsa Familya to court votes.
Rousseff continued the Minha Casa Minha Vida (My House, My Life), a housing program that started in 2009 to respond to the housing needs of seven to 10 million families that live in the favelas (slums) or with their relatives. Its implementation accelerated during Rousseff’s presidency. Many believe that the government’s allotting of big amounts for social services was the primary reason why she won again as president in the election of October 26, 2014. This was also due to the following steps: 1) The deduction of federal tax from the electric bill and removal of the federal tax on consumer products like meat, milk, beans, rice, flour, potatoes, tomatoes, bread, sugar, coffee, cooking oil, butter and apples and 2) The lowering of the overnight rate set by the Central Bank of Brazil.[i]
While some regard Rousseff’s win as privatization’s and neoliberalism’s loss, Rousseff and Lula did not really dismantle privatization and neoliberalization that President Cardozo’s presidency effected especially in the field of steel milling, telecommunications and mining. This worsened after Lula’s term and further, during Rousseff’s period.
According to a study on the showing of Brazil’s economy in 2011–2014, the government of Brazil hinted that it has given up the idea of giving public investment the key strategic role in development. In its place, it decided to proceed with public-private partnerships through infrastructure concessions with favorable conditions for investors (Serrano & Summa, 2015, p.21).
After 2012, Rousseff’s government went ahead with the granting of big tax breaks and social security exemptions from the payroll of companies in the different business sectors in its attempt to make private investments and exports grow. Aside from these, it gave tax breaks for producers of durable goods as a step in boosting consumption; it gave exemption from import duty for capital goods bought and it gave other subsidies to drive innovation (Ibid.).
Rousseff’s popularity, however hadn’t waned until the so-called Petrobras scandal came out, early 2015. This is a case involving paying kickbacks, money laundering and corruption; and because this happened when Rousseff was board member of the board of directors of Petrobras, her enemies accused her of manipulating government accounts even if they cannot show evidence of her involvement or knowledge. A few scores of thousands of residents held demonstrations, March and April 2016. Rousseff’s approval rating plummeted (9%) in July 2015.
[i] In general, overnight rate is the rate of interest that big banks use in borrowing and lending among banks in the overnight market. In most countries, the Central Bank is also involved in the overnight lending market at borrows or lends money to some groups of banks.
Former US Ambassador to Brazil Liliana Ayalde (www thedialogue org)
Beneficiaries of the Bolsa Familia Program of Brazil (riotimes.online)
These demonstrations happened at such a time when unemployment was at its worst in five years, inflation was twice the target of the government, wages went down by 5% compared to May 2014 wages, and, estimates said that the GDP will go down by 4% when the House of Deputies opens for Rousseff’s impeachment, December 2015. The people were angry.
The House of Representatives started the impeachment proceedings on April 16, 2016 and the Senate decided on her impeachment, May 12, 2016.
The House passed, with 367 votes against 137, to go on with Rousseff’s impeachment process. Rousseff will be suspended until after the trial that will start within 180 days starting May 12, 2016.
Vice President Michel Miguel Elias Temer took over as acting president. While he ran as Rousseff’s vice president in December 2010, his real political affiliation was with the Domocratic Movement of Brazil. The economic model he supports is different from that of Rousseff. He expressed early into his being acting president that he wants to privatize government owned/controlled corporations.
A number of political analysts, writers, academics and Latin American presidents say that Washington is involved in removing Rousseff from the presidency. Some posit that it is connected to Brazil’s being a part of BRICS that hurt US’s business and political interests. They usually relate this with Washington’s desire to make the situation in Brazil more favorable for foreign businesses.
Liliana Ayalde’s assignment as US ambassador in Brazil in 2013 reinforced the suspicion of many about the US’s role in the impeachment of Rousseff. Ayalde was US ambassador to Paraguay from 2008 until the time of the parliamentary coup against President Fernando Lugo. Ayalde, considered as an expert on soft coups, had written to a colleague about rumors of a possible coup against Lugo long before the actual coup took place. Besides, Wikileaks released that Temer used to give sensitive information on Lula to the US.
Despite these opinions, Rousseff would not put the blame on anyone from other countries for her impeachment. “Responsibility lies with the local oligarchy,” she said in an interview by the Independent, June 27, 2016 (Dip, Amaral, Saavedra and Viana).
Denying a fourth term for Evo Morales
President Evo Morales Ayma, the first indigenous president of Bolivia took office on January 22, 2006. He got 53.7% of the votes (the one next to him got 28.6%) in the election of December 2005. His party is the Movimiento al Socialismo-Instrumento Politico por la Soberania de los Pueblos (MAS- IPSP or MAS) or Movement towards Socialism-Political Instrument for Peoples’ Sovereignty).
Bolivia was poorest in South America when Morales became president. Its economy depended on the extraction of natural resources, especially hydrocarbons.
During his first term, Morales did not alter yet the neoliberal economy of Bolivia. Although he said that he wanted to nationalize mining, electricity, telephone and railway, and the workers were strongly clamoring for this, he said that the government will not touch foreign companies, for as long as they operate legally. It expropriated only the Vinto metallurgy plant from Glencore in 2007.
To wipe out poverty, Morales focused on raising taxes of industries in hydrocarbons that foreign companies operated. As a result, Bolivia received $1.3 billion in 2006, instead of $173 million that it got in 2002 from the extraction of hydrocarbons.
Under Morales’s leadership, Bolivia experienced a dramatic strengthening of the economy and rise in the value of the Bolivarian currency (BOB). Just after the first year, the government of Bolivia did not have any budget deficit. While the world was experiencing financial crisis in 2007–2008, Bolivia’s economy was robust thus they were able to build roads in the rural areas and water cisterns in places that needed these most.
Bolivian President Evo Morales (middle) and other members of the Constitutional Assembly in a ceremony opening the assembly in Sucre, Bolivia (www.gettyimages.com).
They opened many schools. They campaigned for children to go to schools. Venezuela was a big help as it offered free schooling for several thousand Bolivian students. The UNESCO declared Bolivia free of illiteracy in 2009.
Morales vigorously fought discrimination and persuaded indigenous peoples to study and participate in governance. His government put up universities specifically for indigenous peoples and these were subsidized by the government. According to estimates in 2008, indigenous peoples comprised 50% of the students enrolled in 11 universities. They established the Vice Ministry for Decolonization in 2009. This prepared the law against Racism and Discrimination of 2010 that prohibited the expression of racist views in public and private institutions.
With Cuba’s help, Bolivia opened ophthalmology clinics that treated 100,000 persons every year. They sent 5,000 scholars in medicine to Cuba. Bolivia expanded its medical facilities by opening 20 hospitals. It increased basic medical coverage up to age 25 in 2014 and integrated the use of traditional medicine.
The Bono Juancito Pinto program has been providing poor families with US$29 per month for every small child since 2006. This has been expanded. With Renta Dignidad, the government has been providing $344 as a yearly non-contributory pension to the poor over 60 years of age since 2008. With the Bono Juana Azurduy program, the government has been giving, since 2009, cash transfers to mothers without insurance coverage to improve their capacity to access their medical needs.
The Morales government has distributed hundreds of tractors to farmers. It has controlled the price of different food stuff and has urged producers to sell to the local market instead of exporting.
A report of the Center for Economic Policy and Research said, “Bolivia grew faster in the past eight years more than at any period within the last three and a half decades.” Poverty went down by 25% and extreme poverty by 43%, expenses for social services increased by more than 45% and minimum wage increased by 87%. It is not surprising that the Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean praised Bolivia for being “one of the few countries that reduced inequality (Conference on Sustainable Development in Latin America and the Caribbean).
Morales has exhaustively attacked imperialism and neoliberalism. As early as during his first term, his government rejected aid from the World Bank and the IMF along with their attached conditionalities. It is the first country in the world that dissociated from the Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes that according to Morales, is always siding with multinational companies. It also declined membership in the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). It started to distance itself from the neoliberal model of the economy towards having a mixed economy.
Morales joined in the forming of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) that advances trade and cooperation among peoples in Latin America. In the UN, he lambasted President George Bush for waging wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This infuriated the US although Morales’s move making it a requisite for US citizens visiting Bolivia to secure a visa further enflamed the US. Subsequently, his government refused to give immunity to US soldiers in Bolivia.
Some problems, however, were not very well handled and resulted in complications. Here are examples:
A portion of the two million children that the Bono Juancito Pinto Program helped in Bolivia (www.boliviatv.bo).
First, the issues of self-determination
The constituent assembly convened in 2006 to change the Constitution changed the Republic of Bolivia into the Plurinational State of Bolivia. It described Bolivia as a “plurinational, communal and social unified state.” The new Constiution laid emphasis on sovereignty over its natural resources, separation of church and state, prohibition on foreign military bases in Bolivia, implementation of a two-term limit in the presidency and allowing limited regional autonomy. The Constitution mandated that every Bolivian citizen has the right to water, food, free health care, education and housing.
Following the enshrinement in the Constitution of the right to self-determination of nations in a single state, regions in the east pushed for bigger autonomy (2008). When Morales did not accede to this, the autonomists proceeded to call for Morales’s recall. With 67.4% of the votes, the recall was defeated, August 2008.
With the defeat in the electoral battle, however, the steps to oust Morales shifted to daring actions. Especially because big agro-industrialists, and the petroleum and financial elite bank-rolled these groups, they were able to hold a series of mobilizations towards destabilization from September 9 to 16. They put up barricades, occupied the airport, confronted pro-government demonstrators, police and the armed forces. They occupied 75 government institutions in Media Luna.[i]
They mobilized the Union Juveňil Cruceňista (Cruceño Youth Union) as thugs, blew up property of state-owned companies, offices of NGOs and mass organizations and conducted armed racist attacks in indigenous communities. The governor of Santa Cruz, Ruben Costas supported them and verbally attacked Morales. They massacred activists of MAS in Pando.[ii]
The military found reason to control Pando and the moves of rightist opposition finally lost momentum. Later, it came out that the Office of Transition Initiatives of the USAID gave the $4.5 million fund for the autonomist movement. Morales accused the US Ambassador Philip Goldberg, of conniving with the autonomists and encouraging civilian strife. Morales expelled him and the Drug Enforcement Administration of the US.[iii]
The US warned Morales’s government (US State Dept statement), “President Morales’ action is a grave error that has seriously damaged the bilateral relationship…. We regret that President Morales has chosen this course. It will prejudice the interests of both countries, undermine the ongoing fight against drug-trafficking, and will have serious regional implications.”
People’s support for Morales grew. The organized opposition fragmented.
Second, the workers’ problem
Morales announces a rise in the minimum wage every May 1. In May 2010, though, Morales announced a general increase in wages of 5% and a 3% increase in the salaries of the police and armed forces. With this, a minimum of 679 BOB ($96US) would have been added to the workers’ monthly pay, higher by 32 BOB than in 2009. This amount did not satisfy the Bolivarian Workers’ Central (COB), it called for a strike (Chavez, IPS).
A general strike, the first strike during Morales’s presidency, started on May 4. Teachers, public health workers and miners held a one-day strike on the same day. The wives of policemen held a hunger strike protesting the small salaries of the policemen. A rebel group pf leaders of the COB organized this protest. When the protest was just in front of the Ministry of Labor, 15 strikers were arrested.
[i] Media Luna is a group of four departments in the eastern part of Bolivia. These departments were Pando, Beni, Santa Cruz and Tarija. The department is a prefecture led by a governor. These are divided into provinces. Bolivia has 112 provinces.
[ii] The Pando massacre or El Porvenir massacre was an ambush in the morning of September 11, 2008 that authorities of the Prefecture of Pando did as a part of a civilian coup aganst Evo Morales. This ambush killed 13 indigenous protesters from the town of Porvenir marching to the capital of the department of Cobija protesting the actions of the departmental government during a national crisis. The investigations of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) saw the massacre as a crime against humanity.
[iii] Morales’s government appropriated DEA military arsenal, including airplanes, boats, ground transport vehicles, communications equipment and one thousand M-16 machine guns. .
The march of wives of policemen in La Paz, Bolivia to occupy the headquarters of a police operational tactical unit, June 21, 2012.
The government did not accede to the demands of the strikers and accused them of acting on instructions of the rightists. A group of workers accused the executive secretary of the COB of treachery to the workers’ struggle for supporting the government. Clearly, the main federation of unions, the organization that used to help the government in uniting the workers in support of the government’s programs has been divided.
More workers’ protests followed in August 2010. Some more in 2015. The differently abled have been protesting for more than six months now because of the meager government support they are receiving from the government. They are asking for a $97 monthly assistance. Workers of Enatex Textile plant are continually protesting against its closure from losses since May 18. Teachers and health workers’ protests coincided with workers’ protests.
The police have now gone to the extent of using violence (water cannon, teargas and pushing or carrying protesters away).
Third, the reduction in the gasoline and oil subsidy
The government of Morales decided to reduce subsidies for gasoline and diesel, one of the items under the government’s social expenses (December 2010). It appeared that this was an austerity measure for Bolivia. Prices of fuel and transportation suddenly soared. Protests spread. Morales overturned his earlier decision. He called this “leadership by obeying.”
Fourth, the construction of a highway that transverses the TIPNIS
The government announced the construction of the highway that will connect Beni to Cochabamba to further connect the departments of Beni and Pando town to other parts of the country and accelerate hydrocarbon exploration. The highway, however, will pass through the Isidoro Secure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS). Environmentalists and members of the indigenous communities living near the park heavily criticized this plan.
The highway will encourage illegal settlements and cause the further destruction of the forests, they said. Moreover, this purportedly violates the Constitution and the UN Declaration on Indigenous People’s Rights. Eight hundred protesters marched from Trinidad to La Paz and not long afterwards, they were in violent conflict with the police and supporters of the construction of the highway. A number got injured. The controversy drove two government officials and other officials at different levels to resign.
Morales apologized although he blamed the rightists for instigating the unrest.
He passed the Law 180 in October 2011 that forbids further construction while the government continues with the consultation. The consultation resulted in 55 out of 65 families in favor of building the highway in TIPNIS although these were not without concessions. Construction started after the 2014 general elections. In May 2013, the government allowed hydrocarbon exploration in 22 national parks in the entire Bolivia that broadened the environmentalists’ condemnation of the Morales government’s assault on the environment
Fifth: the fight against corruption pervading in the Bolivian Police Force
The Bolivian policemen protested against the government’s reforms designed to fight the pervasive corruption in the police force. Police officers raided their offices and burned the records regarding disciplinary cases and demanded higher pay. Morales’s government gave in. It cancelled many of the reforms in place and acceded to raise salaries.
Bolivia held a referendum once again in February 2016 to decide whether Morales will be allowed to run again in the 2018 election for another term starting 2019.
Before this, news outlets released articles about Morales’s relationship with Gabriela Zapata who recently became the director for operations of a Chinese engineering company that got a $500 million contract with the government. They hinted that Morales must have given Zapata the power for the Chinese company to get the contracts, especially because he and Zapata have a child (that CNN has allegedly interviewed).
Morales did not belie the rumors that they indeed had a relationship and a child although he clarified that their son had died. He went to the extent of asking the government to confirm if their son is alive and to allow him to see the child. (Morales is not married although he has children.) No matter his explanation, however, suspicions now taint Morales’s integrity. Some are now suspecting he might be involved in corruption in government. A CNN reporter testified, July 21,2016, that Zapata paid the real parents of the child from $5,000 to $15,000 to make the child appear as Morales’s and Zapata’s son to frame up Morales (A CNN reporter, Telesur).
Especially because Bolivia’s economy has slowed down as a result of different factors, some people have grown tired of Morales’s leadership. And so, the people decided by voting 51% against 49%, they are not giving him another term. The present vice president, Alvaro Garcia Linera, likewise, can no longer run for another term. K
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State department statement on expulsion of ambassador goldberg from Bolivia. US Department of State. September 11, 2008 as cited in http://www.revolvy.com/main/index.php?s=Philip%20Goldberg and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Goldberg
CNN Bolivia reporters testify for interviewing Evo’s fake son. Telesur. July 21, 2016