People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 52

December 28, 2003

 Emerging Battles Against Neo-Colonialism In Latin America

S R Bandaaru


THE neo-liberal economic reforms being thrust upon by the Anglo-American imperialism on all capitalist countries, whereby the assets, resources and funds are sought to be handed over to the monopoly transnational corporations, are facing the stiffest resistance in Latin America. The year 2003 saw waves of mass struggles sweeping across many countries against these policies which were resulting in the curtailment of welfare benefits being given to people in food, health, transport, education, electricity, water etc. 


The regimes which were supportive of these policies were thrown out by the people, as was witnessed in Brazil and Bolivia. The ruling parties which were fighting these policies, like the one led by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, were strongly defended by the people against the imperialist machinations to overthrow them.


Due to the implementation of these policies for the last two decades, many Latin American economies reeled under bankruptcies, one after another, as government revenues dwindled with the privatisation of economic resources.  The problems of the people increased manifold. The financial markets of Argentina, Mexico and Brazil became bankrupt.  Uruguay faced a bank closure.  Paraguay and Bolivia suffered recession.  Protests erupted on a large scale by millions of people all over against capitalist institutionalized corruption and ineptitude. 




Under massive popular pressure, Bolivia's president Gonzalo Sanchev de Lozada, was forced to resign in October 2003. Lozada is a millionaire businessman and was a close ally of US president Bush. Lozada faced increasingly massive strikes, demonstrations and peasant roadblocks that had virtually paralysed Bolivia over his plans to export natural gas through Chile to the US. The people demanded that Bolivia's vast natural gas reserves should be used in Bolivia for the people's benefit.


Bolivia is a small Latin American country of the size of Texas with 80 lakh population.  Over 70 per cent of the people are mired in extreme poverty. Bolivia’s mineral resources, including vast natural gas reserves, crude oil, zinc, tungsten and gold have been plundered by US mining and petrochemical companies for decades. 


In February 2003, Lozada tried to push through an IMF-inspired "austerity programme" that would have drastically cut the living standards of the workers and peasants.  That plan too sparked a major rebellion and claimed at least 32 lives before the people forced the government to retreat. Earlier in April 2000, the Bolivian people defeated a water privatisation project, forcing the San Francisco-based Bechtel Corporation (the same company rewarded by the Bush cabal to plunder post-war Iraqi resources) to leave the country.  The struggle against Bechtel was a huge victory for the Bolivian masses and the people of Latin America. 




In Peru, political unrest is increasing against the sale of state-run industries.  A civic uprising in June 2003 dealt a body blow to the privatisation of a state-owned electricity firm in Peru.  President Toledo was forced to drop several of his most important ministers.  The newly appointed prime minister Solari ruled out any further privatisation until after elections.


Some 2 million Peruvian workers and peasants took to the streets in May 2003 to block president Toledo’s efforts to impose economic austerity measures.  The protests included strikes, road blockades in the countryside and street battles pitting students and workers against the army.  The backbone of the protests has been the 2,80,000 member teachers’ union. 


The American Popular Revolutionary Alliance, a centre-left party and vocal opponent of MNCs has won 11 of the 25 regional government bodies in Peru.  Many independents who oppose the pro-MNC economic policies have won in another 8 regions.  The elections were seen as a referendum on the government’s privatisation policies. People have vigorously opposed such policies, which they saw as benefiting foreign-based companies at their expense.




In May 2003, after large demonstrations, the government of Paraguay had to scrap the sale of Copaco, the state-owned telecom company and repealed the privatisation law. The privatisation process was undermined by corruption allegations involving the president’s relatives.  In violent protests, two people were killed, dozens injured and over 200 arrested.  Angry crowds blocked frontier bridges with Brazil and Argentina.  The protestors converged on Congress and demanded the government to resign for corruption.  




Recently, at least 200,000 Salvadorans shut down the capital city San Salvador filling the streets demanding health care and affordable electricity.  The massive demonstration demanded the scrapping of the voucher privatisation plan. The turnout included doctors, nurses and other health care workers, patients, students and teachers, public sector workers and women vendors, retirees and bus drivers. 


In the elections held in March 2003 to the 84 seat Congress and 262 municipalities, the Leftist FMLN gained considerably. The elections also reflected the popular support for the strike by doctors protesting against the privatisation of medical services.   The FMLN retained the important seat of mayor of San Salvador.  The FMLN also regained all the six seats it lost due to defections. 




Voters in Colombia’s capital Bogota elected former communist trade union leader Luis Eduardo Garzon as their mayor in the elections held in October, 2003.  The results gave a major boost to the Left-wing politicians, who have long been the target of intimidation and assassination attempts by right-wing paramilitaries and pro-American Uribe government. So much so, Coca Cola is financing the paramilitary death squads for assassinating trade unionists prompting a huge mass movement against that company.


This victory was the second of two blows to the president Uribe, following his defeat in a referendum which he had championed as vital to fighting terrorism and boosting the faltering economy.  Bogota is the biggest political prize ever claimed by an openly Left-wing politician in Colombia. 


In another significant development in the struggle of the revolutionary forces of Colombia, the FARC and National Liberation Army of Colombia (ELN) have united their forces against the reactionary regime of Uribe.




In the 500-seat lower house of Congress, Democratic Revolution Party, a Leftist political party has increased its seats from 56 to 96.   Its leader is already the mayor of Mexico City.  The ruling National Action Party got only 155 seats, down from its earlier tally of 207 seats.




Venezuela saw a determined effort by the imperialist forces to dislodge Hugo Chavez from power. After lying low for sometime in the wake of the failed coup attempt of April 2002, these forces renewed their efforts by resorting to terrorist attacks. There was even a plot to murder Chavez by shooting down his plane, which the Presidential guards foiled.


The Venezuelan government has accused the CIA and the organizers of last April’s coup of being involved in recent terrorist attacks in the country. One air base and Army Training School were attacked during the night of October 5.  Two fuel trucks were also set ablaze.  According to the government inquiry, those responsible for the attacks were three former generals and two former colonels of the Venezuelan Air Force.  Explosions this year have also damaged a presidential guard house, a military airfield, an army base.  President Chavez confirmed seizure of arms and munitions, including guns, explosives and military uniforms and stated that the explosions were the work of opponents seeking to blame his government and justify his removal. 


The rich oligarchy, owing allegiance to US companies, is leading the anti-Chavez campaign as it is frustrated and angry at the dismantling of its political power base. The private US-controlled media is also a key part of this opposition, which Chavez characterized as “anti-patriotic, privatising, neoliberal, fascist, coup-plotting, depraved oligarchy.” 


The US is actively aiding these forces as Chavez has steered Venezuela away from its traditional servile position to US imperialism. In fact, Chavez travelled to visit Iraqi President Saddam Hussein; he encouraged an independent OPEC; he entered into a deal providing Cuba with oil ignoring the threats and sanctions of the Bush government; he refused to participate in the Pentagon's military campaign against Columbia's Marxist insurgents.


The downtrodden sections of the society rallied behind Chavez government and formed the backbone of the fight back against imperialist-aided coup plotters. The people are overwhelmingly supporting the new constitution introduced by Chavez. Under this, the country’s reserves of raw materials including oil (hydrocarbons) were declared the property of the people of Venezuela. This was evident when nearly 5,00,000 people converged on the capital city Caracas on January 23, 2003, to support the democratically elected government and to protest against a shutdown by business-led coalition.  Earlier, over 20 lakh people marched through Caracas in December 2002 to defend their country’s constitution and to stop a second coup aimed at ousting president Chavez.


The US tried, through its ambassador Charles Shapiro in Caracas, to influence the National Electoral Council officials over holding the referendum being pressed for by the US-backed opposition.  Shapiro offered US technical assistance for the poll in Venezuela. (Similar tricks were used by US administration in Georgia where it succeeded in its plans.)




After assuming power on January 1, 2003, the Leftist  Workers Party leader Luiz Inacio da Silva (popularly known as Lula) began steering Brazil away from the clutches of US imperialism. Under his leadership the largest Latin American country and the world’s eighth-largest economy moved away from the so-called Washington consensus of free markets and free trade; and towards a “new economic model”. 


Even pro-government media in US such as the Washington Post and the New York Times attributed Lula’s victory to popular disenchantment with “free-market reforms that have failed to deliver promised prosperity”.


Lula inherited a debt default of 685 billion reals ($245 billion), which is 55 per cent of the GDP.  The IMF rushed Brazil with another $3 billion loan in an attempt to ward off financial panic and also to infuse “feel good” factor just before the October 2002 elections.  Lula government will have to withstand the pressure of the imperialists to continue the consolidation of capitalism under the dictates of World Bank-IMF-WTO.


During the visit of president Lula to Cuba in the last week of September 2003, Brazil and Cuba signed 12 cooperation agreements in health, education, sports, fishing, agriculture, the environment and tourism. Similarly, a statement of intent “the Buenos Aires Consensus” was signed between Brazil and Argentina for their unity in regional and global trade talks.  Lula described the American efforts to chip away at the alliance of developing countries as “political blackmail”.




Nestor Kirchner has won the elections for presidentship of Argentina held in May 2003.  In his inauguration speech, Kirchner made clear his disagreement with the IMF’s recipe for the country’s economic recovery.  (As per the agreement with IMF, Argentina is required to pay about $9 billion back to lenders by the end of 2002.)  IMF wants reforms that would allow the closure of some banks and the new regulations that would allow privatised utility companies to raise tariffs.  However Argentina stopped honouring debts which now total $77 billion (including subsequent unpaid interest). President Kirchner says that his government would not make debt repayments “at the price of the hunger and exclusion of Argentines”. Kirchner demanded that the amount, interest rates and repayment schedule of the country’s foreign debt be significantly eased.  Kirchner has declared an end to the policy of “automatic alignment” with the US and hostility towards Cuba. 


Argentina’s new president has called on the Congress to reinstate impeachment proceedings against the nation’s widely hated Supreme Court, accusing justices of “holding the country’s governability hostage so as to obtain personal or institutional advantages or guarantees.”  He promised to end “obscure agreements, the manipulation of political institutions and spurious pacts behind society’s back.”


The Supreme Court has been repeatedly accused of tailoring its verdicts in return for payoffs and political favours.  Menem, who governed Argentina in the 1990s, appointed most of the judges, who are considered to be still so loyal to him that the phrase “automatic majority” is often used to describe their habit of voting in favour of positions and interests favoured by Menem. 




In Ecuador, the IMF-dictated ‘austerity plan’ demands sweeping attacks on labour rights, social conditions and pensions.  The country's debt burden has risen to nearly 42 per cent of its GDP.  The government of Lucio Gutierrez is facing mass protests every day.  Earlier in January 2000, thousands of Ecuadorians stormed Congress and overthrew president Mahuad amid the worst economic crisis in decades.




In Honduras, the government is planning to privatise the country's water supply, while slashing salaries for some 10,000 public sector workers.  Nearly 80 per cent of Honduran population lives in poverty.  Thousands of people blockaded highways in October 2003 in protest against negotiations with the IMF. 


The effective derailment of the WTO summit in Cancun, Mexico in September 2003, made possible by the position taken by the Group of 21 developing countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Mexico is a pointer of things to come. These countries took the position that the $300 billion in subsidies paid every year by governments of richer nations (US and Europe) to the world’s wealthiest farmers undermined the livelihoods of millions of poor farmers around the world.  In the end, over 80 countries joined this group in rejecting the WTO proposals.


The Bush administration is increasingly nervous about the mounting political turmoil in Latin America, particularly in Bolivia, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Argentina and Brazil; the growing opposition to the US-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas; and the set backs to IMF/WB/US-directed neo-colonialism.


The Latin American experience of combating neo-colonialism offers much hope to the oppressed people in the rest of the world. It has become clear that wherever the mass struggles against these policies were complemented by the consolidation of Left politics, the people voted for such an alternative.