The triumph of Hugo Chávez and Latin America
By Eduardo Dimas
As I write this article, the
media announce the resounding victory by President Hugo Chávez over his
opponent, Manuel Rosales, who acknowledged his defeat.
The victory is unquestionable,
because Chávez surpassed Rosales by 23 percentage points. Despite the millions
of dollars spent by the U.S. government, delivered to the opposition through NED
[the National Endowment for Democracy] and USAID [United States Agency for
International Development]. Despite the media campaigns against Chávez and the
plans to accuse the government of fraud and stage a "Ukrainian coup," as magnate
Rafael Poleo told the media, the opposition had no recourse other than
recognizing that the elections had been fair.
It is easy to understand, I
think, that what was at stake in these elections was not only a change of
government but also a confrontation between two diametrically opposed political
concepts. On one hand, a peaceful revolutionary process whose objective it is to
create a new, fairer and more equitable society by means of a campaign of social
benefit that encompasses health care, education and the improvement of
Venezuelans' living conditions. In addition, the continuity of an independent
and sovereign foreign policy that is linked to the fairest causes, worldwide.
Also at stake was the
continuity of the progress of integration in Latin America, of which Chávez is
the principal promoter, not only with his regional energy plans, like PetroSur
and PetroCaribe, but also as the main engine for the consolidation of the
Southern Common Market (Mercosur) and the incorporation of new members, and the
Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). Cuba and Bolivia already
participate in ALBA and other countries will join it soon.
For the United States, Chávez's
triumph means a strategic defeat that makes it more difficult for Washington to
control the natural resources of Latin America and impose the Free Trade Area of
the Americas (FTAA), even though the U.S. continues to sign separate free-trade
accords with other countries in the region, such as Colombia.
This is the third consecutive
political defeat in Latin America suffered by the White House in less than one
month. First was the triumph in Nicaragua, on Nov. 5, of Daniel Ortega and the
Sandinista Front of National Liberation, against the U.S.-backed candidate,
neoliberal Eduardo Montealegre. Ortega won despite threats from the American
ambassador and the financial support given to his right-wing opponent.
Later, on Nov. 26, economist
Rafael Correa -- who defines himself as a Christian Socialist -- won the runoff
election in Ecuador. He defeated multimillionaire Álvaro Noboa, the man who had
promised to put into effect the free-trade treaty, open the country to foreign
investment and break relations with Cuba and Venezuela.
Correa is opposed to the
free-trade treaty and to a renewal of the contract with the United States over
the U.S. air base at Manta. He also hopes to create a Constituent Assembly that
will write a new Constitution that will grant rights to the dispossessed,
especially the Indians, who make up 70 percent of Ecuador's population.
I think that if arrogance and
the imperial mentality wouldn't dull the vision of U.S. politicians, they would
realize that something is changing in Latin America, because even in the
countries where U.S.-backed candidates have won, things are not going well. In
Perú, the government of Alan García is headed for disaster, according to most
In Mexico, the fraud committed
to prevent the triumph of the candidate for the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD),
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and give the presidency to Felipe Calderón of the
National Action Party (PAN) has provoked an unprecedented polarization of the
Mexican society and created a situation whose outcome nobody dares to predict,
but that may be violent.
Add to this the conflict in
Oaxaca, where a huge majority of the population demands the ouster of the
governor, a man accused of corruption, misgovernance and abuse of power.
It is evident that a change is
occurring in Latin America that can lead to a new historic moment. On one hand,
there are nationalist governments, such as those in Argentina, Brazil and
Uruguay. On the other, there are victories at the polls of progressive leaders
from the left and center-left who aim to improve the living conditions of their
people, as in Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and -- again -- in Venezuela.
The common element in all cases
-- with individual shadings, of course -- is the rejection of the neoliberal
model that has increased a polarization of wealth and placed it in fewer hands.
It also has practically finished off the so-called middle class, which
historically acted as a buffer between the rich and the poor. As a consequence
of that rejection of the economic model, the traditional parties have suffered a
serious deterioration and discredit, which a change of name will hardly solve.
At the same time, new political forces of a populist nature come to the fore,
capable of challenging the old parties and trouncing them at the polls.
In my opinion, however, the
most important facet of this process is the people's awakening. It can best be
expressed as the politicization of broad segments of Latin America's population
caused by their poverty, alienation and hopelessness. It's as if this were the
awakening of the American Indian, which Martí envisioned, and of the poor people
of all races, who begin to defend their right to a better, fairer life.
Understanding this change would
be vital for the preservation of the interests defended by the government of the
United States. It does not appear to be so, however. On Nov. 10, the daily USA
Today reported that President George W. Bush, by means of a memorandum to the
State Department dated Oct. 2, had authorized the training of military officers
from 11 Latin American and Caribbean countries "after a string of leftist
candidates came to power in Latin America" this year.
According to the newspaper,
"the [Bush] administration hopes the training will forge links with countries in
the region and blunt a leftward trend." The newspaper recalls that those
practices were prohibited since 2002 because some countries did not guarantee
U.S. servicemen immunity from war crimes trials.
This decision by the U.S.
government poses many questions -- and none of the answers are positive. What do
Latin American armies have to do with the triumph of leftist policies in Latin
America? Can Latin American armies halt the people's exhaustion and the
rejection of an economic model that has plunged the population into poverty?
How will the Latin American
armies "blunt a leftward trend"? By means of another Plan Condor on a regional
scale? Are they trying to return to the era of the military dictatorships that
killed tens of thousands of people and tortured or forced into exile hundreds of
thousands throughout Latin America, from Guatemala to Chile?
There is something sinister in
that decision by President Doubya Bush, something that, above all, expresses the
inability of his administration to recognize that the Latin American region is
changing and that those changes cannot be stopped by force because they are the
result of an unsustainable situation. And it is very probable that the only
result of the use of force will be a radicalization of the changes, which so far
have taken peaceful paths.
Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales,
Néstor Kirshner, Lula, Tabaré Vázquez, Rafael Correa, Daniel Ortega, all of whom
came to power in clean and democratic electoral processes -- each from his own
political stance, whether leftist, centrist or simply nationalist -- are the
result not of a coincidence but of a change, of the end of a scheme of economic
domination that has exhausted itself and needs to be replaced. They are,
therefore, the product of a historical necessity that cannot be solved by force.
The only solution is to put an end to the causes that originated it.