by Roger D. Harris, published on NicaNotes, January 12, 2023
2023 marks the 200th anniversary of the Monroe Doctrine. This imperial fiat arrogates to the US the unilateral authority to intervene in the affairs of sovereign states in the Western Hemisphere and to exclude any other power from meddling in what is viewed as Washington’s backyard. Two centuries later, the doctrine faces a fragile future.
Going into the new year, the neoliberal model for regional development has been discredited in Latin America and the Caribbean; the socialist model is under siege, and the social-democratic model is encountering unfavorable conditions.
Paradoxically, the very problems that the progressive movements protested against and which brought them into power now have become theirs to solve in a time of mounting economic distress. Antonio Gramsci’s observation back in 1930 aptly characterizes the current state: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”
Volatile US hegemony
Last June, US President Joe Biden issued his imperial summons for a hemispheric “democracy summit” in Los Angeles but did not invite Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Cuba. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known by the acronym AMLO, took umbrage that not all of the countries of Our Americas had been invited. He then led a boycott of the event, causing a major embarrassment to the self-proclaimed world leader of democracy.
Regardless, the principal superpower, far from retrenching, has been intent in extending its imperial fiat to the whole planet. With overwhelming military dominance – a war budget larger than the next nine contenders – the US has aggressively asserted “full spectrum dominance” over the entire world.
From a previous stance of enforcing a “Pax Americana” on the premise that a stable world order is good for capitalism, the US has become the leading provocateur of chaotic conditions, most notably provoking a confrontation with Russia, which could escalate to nuclear war.
And with overwhelming financial dominance, the imperial power has imposed sanctions on a third of humanity, throwing the world economy into a gathering recession. In reaction, proposals for alternatives to the US dollar are being circulated. But paradoxically, the greenback is stronger than ever in the last two decades, because it provides what is perceived as the most secure shelter from the international economic precariousness itself precipitated by the US.
Pink Tide Surges
Starting in 2018, neoliberal regimes in all the major economies in Latin America have been defeated at the ballot box. AMLO ended over 36 years of neoliberal rule in Mexico in July 2018. In Argentina, Alberto Fernández replaced Mauricio Macri in October 2019. Luis Arce retook Bolivia in October 2020 after a coup had overthrown leftist Evo Morales a year before. In Peru, Pedro Castillo, a rural school teacher from the leftist Perú Libre Party, became president in June 2021. Former student protest leader, Gabriel Boric was victorious in Chile in December 2021.
Gustavo Petro became the first left-leaning president ever in Colombian history in June. In defiance of the US, the new administration has reestablished friendly relations with neighboring Venezuela.
The spectacular comeback of Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil over Jair “Trump of the Tropics” Bolsonaro last October was of international significance. Brazil is the leading economy in the region and eighth in the world. Lula, as he is affectionately called, went from being a popular president from 2003 to 2010, to sitting out the 2018 presidential contest in prison as a victim of US-backed “lawfare,” to again winning the presidency.
Among the smaller countries, Xiomara Castro became the first female president of Honduras a year ago. This was an especially sweet triumph for the left as her husband Manuel Zelaya had been deposed in a US-backed coup in 2009.
Other developments on the left included a successful referendum for a new progressive family code in Cuba, legalizing same-sex marriages. In Nicaragua, which was recovering from an unsuccessful US-backed coup in 2018, the left Sandinista party swept the municipal elections last November.
A leader of the left initiative, Venezuela has been enjoying a resurgence. A year ago last November, the ruling socialist party (PSUV) swept the regional and legislative elections. The economy, which had been tanked by US-imposed “maximum pressure” sanctions, has shown signs of recovery with hyperinflation under control and oil production slowly recuperating.
Juan Guaidó, Venezuela’s so-called “interim president,” was anointed by Donald Trump in 2019. But by January 6, his own rightwing shadow legislature voted to disband his fictious government, although Biden still refuses to recognize the democratically elected Nicolás Maduro as the legitimate president of Venezuela.
The entire region is tilting toward more independence from the “Colossus of the North” and toward its corollary, greater regional integration. Collective bodies, which exclude the US and its vassal Canada, are being revived. UNASUR, CELAC, MERCOSUR, and ALBA date back from to previous Pink Tide led by Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. The vision of patria grande, the project of Latin American unity, is alive.
Significantly, China has emerged as the region’s second largest trading partner, with over twenty states in the region joining Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. This provides a substitute to monopolar dependence on commerce with Uncle Sam. Russia, too, has been pushing under the greenback curtain. Brazil is already in the BRICS alliance with Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Argentina is slated to join an expanded BRICS+.
China, Russia, and newcomer Iran have more than provided an alternative. They have been a vital lifeline for the explicitly socialist states of Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela, which are in the crosshairs of imperialism.
Revolt against the neoliberal model
“Neoliberalism was born in Chile and here it will die” was the slogan of the massive demonstrations of 2019-2020 in Chile. This was also the animating sentiment of the entire current Pink Tide, which was a reaction to and rejection of the discredited neoliberal model for development.
The rejection of the neoliberalism model has also spawned more decidedly non-progressive manifestations with the rise of right populism, epitomized by Bolsonaro in Brazil. Such politicians opportunistically capitalize on the revulsion against neoliberalism by associating its failures with their more liberal opponents.
Bolsonaro fled Brazil 48 hours before his term was up on January 1, presumably to avoid arrest for multiple wrong-doings once he lost presidential immunity. He had claimed the electoral process was fraudulent, instigating large protests by his followers. On January 8, thousands of his supporters temporarily stormed and occupied the Brazilian capitol.
The poster child for the failure of the neoliberal model is Haiti. Haiti has been without an elected president. Ariel Henry, the current officeholder, was simply installed by the Core Group of the US, Canada, and other outside powers after his also unelected predecessor, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated in July 2021. The Haitian parliament doesn’t meet; most government services are non-functional; rival armed groups control major swarths of the national territory, and cholera has again broken out. Today, Haitian civil society has risen up, and all the US can propose is a return of a multi-national military force.
Socialist alternative under siege
The current surge of the Pink Tide was a “battle at the ballot box” focused on the electoral arena. It did not produce any new socialist revolutions, and none are on the horizon. On the contrary, the socialist states of Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela are under heavy siege, struggling for survival.
These states have had to retrench some of their social programs, forced by economic necessity to introduce clearly neoliberal forms such as “free-trade” zones. Of the three countries with explicitly socialist governments, it should be noted, only Cuba has a socialist economy where there is central planning and where key economic units are state-controlled.
While US hegemony may be on an increasingly fragile footing, there is no counter-hegemonic force in the current world geopolitical arena comparable to the former Soviet Union and the role that it played in fostering a socialist alternative. The current reality is that all states have to engage in an international economy where the US dollar is supreme.
The debilitating effects of the blockades imposed by the US and its allies have been further amplified by the impact of the Covid pandemic and then followed by lethal hurricanes, rains, and flooding last October. As a result, all three socialist countries have experienced unprecedentedly high out migration this last year.
US immigration policy is cynically designed to exacerbate the situation. The Biden administration has dangled inconsistent political amnesties jerking Venezuelan and Nicaraguan immigrants around.
With Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, the pull of economic opportunities drives people to leave in the face of sanctions-impacted conditions at home. These migrants differ from those from the Northern Triangle, who are also fleeing from the push of gang violence, extortion, femicide, and the ambiance of general criminal impunity.
Limits and liabilities of the social democratic model
Compared to its zero-tolerance of the nominally socialist states, cooption and subversion are Washington’s strategies for the regional social democracies.
In the previous Pink Tide wave around 2008, uneasy inter-class arrangements allowed dramatic decreases in poverty. The poor and the more privileged sectors did well because a booming international commodities tide raised all ships.
These states now face a much-changed international economic recessionary climate. Low interest rates the previous decade and then the need for emergency spending during the Covid crisis encouraged the accumulation of high debt obligations. Debts now must be paid back in more costly dollars in these globally inflationary times. Capital flight to western banks is accelerating. Under such conditions, fulfillment of social programs is more problematic.
Western and particularly US domination of the world financial order considerably limits the possibilities for the new Pink Tide administrations to develop their economies successfully. A near monopoly of 96% of the region’s trade continues to be denominated in US dollars.
As the metaphor of the Pink Tide implies, the grand class struggle ebbs and flows. President Arce of Bolivia survived a rightwing coup attempt in October and unrest in the rightwing stronghold state of Santa Cruz continues. Then by year end, the progressive project suffered back-to-back reversals in Argentina and Peru.
Current vice-president and former president (2003-2007) of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (CFK), was the leading contender on the left for the 2023 elections. But on December 6, she was sentenced to six years in prison for corruption and barred from running for office.
Although CFK is appealing what is considered a “lawfare” frameup, the right is anticipating a comeback in the upcoming election. A huge debt burden and high inflation rates, incurred by the previous rightwing administration, were inherited by the current left Peronist government.
Former CIA operative and current US ambassador to Peru, Lisa Kenna, is widely credited with green lighting a parliamentary coup in Peru. The elected president of that country, Pedro Castillo, is now imprisoned. Violent state security forces have killed some 50 people. Popular demonstrations are variously demanding release of Castillo, dissolution of congress, resignation of the coup president, early elections, and a constituent assembly.
Biden has continued Trump’s policies for Latin America and the Caribbean with only a few cosmetic variations.
Symptomatic of the bipartisan Washington consensus was the so-called BOLIVAR Act tightening sanctions on Venezuela, which passed the US Senate by unanimous vote on December 16. The US legislation was pointedly named after Simón Bolívar, the revered leader of the struggle against colonialism and for regional integration in South America.
That the imperialists abused the name of Bolívar can best be understood in the context of his prescient observation in 1829: “The United States seems destined by providence to plague America with misery in the name of liberty.”