Latin American and Caribbean Struggles: A Review of 2018

ANTICONQUISTA

BY ANTICONQUISTA

Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, once said: “There are decades when nothing happens and there are weeks when decades happen.” In 2018, the latter was true of events in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Major political developments took place this year in the region, intensifying the struggle between left-wing/progressive forces and right-wing/reactionary ones.

Two of the region’s largest powers, Mexico and Brazil, drifted away from each other in opposite political directions. Mexico, on the one hand, elected progressive President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known as AMLO), who is beginning to introduce social programs for the country’s poor and shake up the state quo. Brazil, on the other hand, witnessed the rise of fascist President Jair Bolsonaro, who is waging war against the Black, Indigenous, LGBTQ and working class masses of Brazil. Argentina and Colombia (the region’s third- and fourth-largest nations respectively) descended further into neoliberal economic crisis and right-wing state violence.

Meanwhile, the progressive and leftist governments of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua continued to build socialism in their respective countries. This, despite incessant diplomatic and financial attacks from First World imperialist powers and their right-wing lapdogs within the country. All of these countries expanded trade with Russia, China, Iran, Vietnam and the rest of globe’s anti-imperialist axis, healing wounds from previous economic downturns.

In the rest of Central America, which is dominated by capitalist, “free-market” economies, living conditions became so unbearable that thousands have been forced to flee their lands and participate in migrant caravans heading north. These migrants fleeing capitalism were met with state repression by both the governments of Mexico (under former President Enrique Peña Nieto) and the United States.

And in the rest of South America, which has also moved further to the right, neoliberalism and austerity continued to scratch away at progressive gains made under previous administrations. This was exemplified by the administration of Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno, who continued cutting public spending on healthcare, education, housing and other social programs while increasing privatization in key state run companies.

In the Caribbean, a ray of hope was illuminated with the election of Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, the first woman to hold her position. She has expanded ties with the Bolivarian Alliance for Our America, ALBA, is tackling her country’s massive foreign debt and has proposed progressive reforms. The rest of the Caribbean, however, is still reeling from hurricanes that pummeled the region in 2017 along with capitalist poverty. In Haiti, for example, the working class led massive protests against right-wing corruption under President Jovenel Moïse, whose administration has been accused of pocketing money coming from PetroCaribe. And in Puerto Rico, the people are still fighting for independence from U.S. imperialism.

Considering all of these events in 2018, it’s no doubt that the stakes for socialism in Latin America and the Caribbean have become high, as both left and right have further polarized.

The Caribbean

The Caribbean continues to be a region which faces some of the most brutal exploitation from imperialist corporations and tourist industries who only value the islands in so far as they could sell them to Westerners or wealthy people from across the globe. Today, almost 4.9 million people still live in imperialist colonies owned by the United States, France, United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

Three of the most populated islands — Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe and Martinique — continue to exist under the control of the United States and France. Under foreign control, the islands are exploited for their beautiful environment and labor. The lives of the people that are on the islands mean nothing to these foreign imperialists who did little to help the over 4,000 people who died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

In 2017, the Caribbean saw some of the harshest tropical storms which wrecked many of the nations most of which are still struggling to recover due to enormous debts and neoliberal policies forced onto the countries by institutions like the International Monetary Fund, IMF. These issues reached a boiling point in 2018. Millions of people, especially after the widespread corruption scandals revealed in the rebuilding efforts in Puerto Rico post-Hurricane Maria, have spent 2018 protesting and demonstrating against the comprador governments who side with the imperialists.

In Haiti, the masses continue their resistance against Moïse and his Haitian Tèt Kale Party. Moïse came to power in late 2017 after a stolen election, which took 14 months to determine an outcome. His party has continued neoliberal reforms. The Haitian people, however, have demonstrated against these reforms — as well as high gas prices and low wages — all year. In July, Haitians shut down the government for three days and since November, there have been massive protests, road blocks and organizing campaigns across the whole nation.

The people are demanding justice for the massive corruption scandal involving PetroCaribe funds, in which several high-ranking politicians have stolen money from the people and country. In response to this outrage, the government continues to murder and arrest people arbitrarily. In some instances, women are being forced to work in prison camps for crimes such as littering, while the government refuses to establish public garbage services.

In November, the government killed over 70 people in the La Saline massacre in the capital city of Port-au-Prince. All of this while U.N. troops occupy the country, train death squads and run prisons where people are kept without trials and conditions are atrocious. This is also in addition to the nefarious OxFam scandal that broke this year, where leaders of the U.K.-based non-governmental organization admitted to hiring sex workers with charitable funds in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. With increased repression from the Haitian government and the imperialist forces of the U.N., the Haitian people are also increasing the strength of their resistance and revolutionary spirit.

Across the border, in the Dominican Republic, Caribbean people face a similar issue of corruption within Danilo Medina’s presidency. Medina’s party — Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (Dominican Liberation Party) — is a liberal group which continues to support neoliberal reforms and is massively corrupt. The Marcha Verde (Green March) movement, which began last year, continued to hold demonstrations and protests to fight corruption on the island. In August, they held their largest anti-corruption march in the capital city of Santo Domingo. This month, Marcha Verde managed to get over 20 national organizations to sign the “Citizen Commitment Against Corruption and Impunity,” which demands an end to corruption and the impunity of corrupt politicians.

In the Bahamas, people rose up in the “Enough is Enough” campaign. This campaign demands that the government of the Bahamas, led by Prime Minister Hubert Minnis, decrease the cost of electricity and create more jobs. In addition, the government made plans to apply for full membership to the World Trade Organization, WTO, by 2019 as well as build a new national resort for foreign tourists. The people are outraged by these actions and instead demand land reform, more jobs, a decrease on the price of basic necessities and better pay. Additionally, people have become fed up with the current administration and made demands for Minnis to step down from power. Meanwhile, Barbados witnessed Mottley’s election. Mottley seeks to build up a progressive platform for the people. In the past, she praised former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez for his work and leadership.

In Cuba, President Miguel Díaz-Canel has taken the island’s highest post while Raúl Castro bowed out gracefully a couple of years after the death of Fidel Castro. Many on the left questioned what the future of Latin America’s revolutionary bastion would look like under the leadership of Díaz-Canel. He has proven himself throughout the year to uphold the socialist values of Cuba and the left. In his opening speech, after accepting his appointment by Cuba’s Parliament, he reiterated his country’s staunch self-respect and anti-imperialist values, noting the revolution would soldier on in this time of transition. Díaz-Canel also removed thousands of doctor’s from Brazil’s Mais Médicos (More Medics) program in November after Bolsonaro’s threats to their safety and unilateral declaration to change their contractual conditions, including a lowering of the Cuban medical staff’s wages. Overall, the integrity of the Communist Party of Cuba is in good hands.

Mesoamerica

In Mexico, the most recent presidential election brought forth a historic change with the election of AMLO, who is a member of the Movimiento Regeneración Nacional (National Regeneration Movement, MORENA). Why was this election such a monumental moment in Mexican history? To understand this we must briefly reflect on the political history of Latin America’s second-largest nation. 

Mexico was continuously governed for seven decades by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI), a conservative neoliberal party, whose rule is characterized with the privatization of state companies and austerity reforms. This was followed by two terms, or 12 years, under the rule of the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party, PAN) with presidents Vicente Fox (2000-2006) and Felipe Calderón (2006-2012). Calderón is best known for beginning the “War on Drugs” in Mexico, increasing the militarization of the country, violating human rights and sharpening the public collusion of the state with narcotraffickers. The last presidential term under Peña Nieto was a return to PRI dominance in the country, but signified only a change in party, not policy. Both Peña Nieto and Calderon’s presidencies were marked by the estimated forcible disappearances of more than 35,000 people, primarily young men/boys, but also many women. Many estimate these numbers to be much higher at the tail end of four decades of rampant drug violence in the country. However, few, if any, records have been kept since the uptick in narco-state violence experienced an upsurge in the late 1980s. It is also important to note that Peña Nieto’s election was rife with fraud allegations and many believe AMLO was also the true victor of the popular vote in 2012.

Now, we have MORENA, an almost fairytale story if you live, as most of us do, in a country where two parties carefully orchestrate public handoffs every four years. The roots of the party were in a non-profit established in 2011 and formalized as a political entity in 2014. Imagine that — a party with seven years of existence winning your national presidential election with majorities both in the Senate and Congress. Mexico stands at the cusp of perhaps the type of change Venezuela saw after the victory of the newly-formed Movimiento Quinta República (Fifth Republic), which later merged into the Partido Socialista de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela, PSUV), with Chávez in 1999 or Brazil’s Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva’s win with the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party, PT) in the 2003 election.

Already, AMLO is kicking ass and taking names. He’s put up for sale the crass and opulent jet Peña Nieto used to ride around in, wistfully wasting millions of dollars at the hands of the Mexican people. He opened up the presidential palace, Los Pinos, as a public place for the people to visit. He’s increased the national minimum wage (doubling the amount in some northern states), made moves to lower the over-bloated, nepotistic salaries of judges in the country and has filled his cabinet with individuals looking to make changes for the masses, including eight women. Keep this in mind: he’s only been in office for exactly 31 days (as of Dec. 1). That being said, his new security plan for the country calls for increases in the presence of local, federal and military policing, a move widely criticized by his base.

We understand AMLO is not a revolutionary Marxist-Leninist. What AMLO can be is a much-needed respite for the Mexican people and Latin America as we organize towards revolution. How can we create a formidable resistance to capitalist-imperialism or bring socialist change when your people are forcibly disappeared, obligated to work poppy fields and when journalists are murdered in plain sight with full impunity? This breath of fresh air and movement away from widespread violence means Mexico can strengthen ties with other progressive states, perhaps even moving out from under the thumb of U.S. control. This new presidential term has already brought significant movement towards change in Mexico. We at ANTICONQUISTA welcome AMLO with open arms and will continue to support or criticize his presidency with the same love we have for all Third World peoples and their right to self-determination.

In Guatemala, the government of President Jimmy Morales continued to descend the country further into poverty and violence. His administration, which has been accused of accepting bribes in exchange for lower tariffs and taxes on foreign imports, enjoyed friendly relations with reactionary countries like the United States, Israel, Taiwan and South Korea. Morales’ government was the second nation to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (occupied Palestine) two days after the United States. Violence and poverty have gotten so bad there that thousands have left the country for the migrant exodus.

In Honduras, the government of Juan Orlando Hernández continued to rule with an iron fist, repressing student protests against his government throughout the year with bullets and tear gar. Meanwhile, his brother Tony faced drug trafficking charges and has been implicated in a multinational drug ring involving Colombian and Mexican drug cartels. Like Guatemala, poverty and violence under capitalism has made life so unlivable there that thousands also participated in the Central American exodus toward the United States. Former President Manuel Zelaya, a progressive social democrat, called for a nationwide insurrection against Hernández’s right-wing Partido Nacional (National Party), signaling a positive move toward the left.

In El Salvador, the grassroots of the ruling Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, FMLN) struggled to push out the rightist, sell-out factions of the party that are in control of the state apparatus. With presidential elections just around the corner in February 2019, the FMLN has continued to become polarized: the socialist, anti-imperialist left on one side and the liberal, corrupt right on the other. Consequently, the Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (Nationalist Republican Alliance, ARENA) party rebranded itself as a “populist” and “nationalist” party fighting against “corruption,” gaining more popularity with people who have become fed up with the FMLN’s lack of movement toward socialism. ARENA was the same party that was in power during the 1980s when military dictatorships pummeled the country, leading to civil war. If the FMLN does not act quick in purging its rightist elements and advancing socialism, El Salvador could return to the hands of the right.

In Nicaragua, the ruling Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (Sandinista National Liberation Front, FSLN) party and President Daniel Ortega experienced one of their toughest challenges in 2018. During the late spring and early summer, violent Western-backed protests were organized in pockets of the country in an attempt to push the Sandinistas out of power. Similar to Venezuela, the protests were branded as “peaceful, pro-democratic demonstrations” against a so-called “dictatorship.” Weeks later, however, the protests died down after Ortega made provided minor concessions regarding the country’s tax and retirement system. After overcoming a violent U.S.-backed coup attempt, Nicaragua has since become victim to brutal sanctions in the form of the NICA Act. The bill aims to force the Sandinistas from power by ruining the country’s economy.

In Belize and Costa Rica, long hailed as “progressive paradises” in the middle of violent Central America, drug trafficking continued to become a major problem. Drug trafficking routes that were previously confined to the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador) have now expanded into these popular tourist destinations, bringing all kinds of problems to these countries. As drugs have moved in, so have crime and forced prostitution.

In Panama, the issue of offshore tax havens and financial corruption continued to be a problem. This is mainly because of its strategic geographic position between both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans as well as the large presence of North American and European hedge funds that hide millions of dollars in that country. Black and Indigenous communities of Panama also struggled to fight for their ancestral lands in the eastern and western extremities of the isthmus nation, as white multinationals continued to take over their lands for so-called “development.” Meanwhile, Panama experienced numerous strikes and protests in 2018 over unfair pay and labor practices.

South America

In our political review of South America at the end of 2017, we expressed that the region’s social-democratic experiment was at a crossroads. Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and revolutionary movements like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), have all attempted to transform the region’s current political and economic configuration using liberal-democratic frameworks. In Venezuela and Bolivia, this process has taken on a more radical transformation with attempts to reform the state structures of those countries. Yet, they are still forced to operate within the confines of the capitalist world market stifling a full transition to socialism.

In Brazil, in the aftermath of the PT’s social-democratic experiment with former presidents Lula and Dilma Rousseff, the country’s historical elites have regained control of the state using legal political manoeuvres. This 2018 election year, parasitic elites moved quickly to quash a loss to the country’s progressive socialist-leaning parties and leaders. Lula was arrested in April on the pretext of political corruption despite a lack of evidence and a number of legal discrepancies. The purpose was to disqualify Lula, the country’s most popular leftist political leader by every indication, from the presidential election in October. The consequence was the election of Bolsonaro, an extreme right-wing politician compared to Donald Trump in his governing style. Despite the fact that the social-democratic experiment in Brazil lifted millions out of poverty, the capitalist state structures have proven too deeply embedded to bring about long-term and stable transformation of society. Bolsonaro, the white supremacist, takes office on Jan. 1, but we are certain as we have seen many times before he will be met with the full resistance of the Brazilian people.

In Colombia, also showed promised and was close to achieving social-democratic reform with Gustavo Petro in the presidential elections that took place in April. It was the first time since liberal political leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán that a non-establishment politician was close to taking state power, narrowly losing out to the extreme right-wing candidate Iván Duque. Petro, a progressive liberal, would have been a welcome break from the aggressively elitist policies of the country’s capitalist aristocracy. Whether through outright systemic fraud or indirect channelling of funds for right-wing candidates, the United States and Colombia’s political elites blocked any attempts at reforms, let alone revolutionary change. Despite the lack of political power of the country’s impoverished masses, there are still revolutionary movements and parties, like the demobilized FARC, who continue to push for radical transformation in the country.

In Venezuela, it is now 20 years since the Bolivarian Revolution has led the fight against capitalism and imperialism in the region. Despite serious setbacks, mainly due to imperialist interference and parasitic elites, Venezuela’s socialist-leaning government was popularly re-elected in May. More than eight years of artificially created economic crisis, including widespread sanctions lead by the United States, has meant some Venezuelans have migrated out of the country. Of course, these numbers tend to be exaggerated by Western media outlets in order to rouse international condemnation against the democratically elected government. The country’s government, led by President Nicolás Maduro, continues to work to achieve a socialist state through radical and progressive reforms.

South America’s revolutionary process continues to be dominated by social-democratic projects. As with our prognosis in 2017, the region is still currently standing at a crossroads in which revolutionary leaders, movements and governments will need to decide on an uncertain continuation of social-democratic reforms or long-term revolutionary socialist restructuring.

Latin American Diaspora in the United Kingdom and the United States

It is not common knowledge but in the U.K., primarily in London, there is a large Latin American and Caribbean community. Most reside in the working-class neighborhoods alongside other immigrant communities who have been forcibly displaced from their homelands. The activists of the Latin American and Caribbean community, including ANTICONQUISTA, united and marched during Trump’s July visit. Not only to show our opposition to Trump’s imperialist policies, but also against the imperialist British government and in solidarity with our Latinx family in the United States.

There have also been constant protests, strikes and rallies by Latinx cleaners against unfair work conditions, racism and victimization. One effort has been the London Living Wage. The campaign seeks to call to attention the substandard wages most Latinx people earn. This means they cannot cover their basic living costs and forces us to have multiple jobs. In North and South London, our people have also been organizing and campaigning against local councils that are trying to get rid of important centers in our communities. These meeting places are where Latinx people gather, socialize and have their own businesses. They also serve as reliable sources of advice for immigration, housing and social assistance/benefits rights.

The fight against gentrification also continues. The campaign for the victims of Grenfell has continued but, due to the barbarity of the British government, most of these families are still living in temporary accommodation. This “temporary accommodation” is really a euphemism for squalor as most families are crammed into hotel rooms. It has been a year and a half since the fire at Grenfell and it’s clear that the government’s indifference towards working-class immigrant lives still remains strong.

In the United States, Trump continues his xenophobic and racist policies against Latin American people. Within the borders of the U.S. and outside of them, it’s business as usual for Trump. 2018 was a particularly grim year given the sordid stories of the many immigrants killed in detention — some as young as six years old — by U.S. Border Patrol. Others were shot point blank like animals in the border regions, as they fled from violent, neoliberal states in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. Trump’s administration was also brought to the international spotlight as the images of small children being separated from their families and being locked up in cages made headlines — a policy also followed by his predecessor Barack Obama.

Trump also made waves with his executive rrders that put an end to (albeit reformist) semi-legal conditional work permits for Salvadoran migrants under Temporary Protected Status, TPS, and the undocumented children who were brought to the U.S., referred to as Dreamers, under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA. Now, the Democrats are seeking to trade a continuation of DACA in exchange for $5 billion in public funds for the U.S. border wall in the South. It sounds a lot like Ronald Reagan’s Immigration and Reform Control Act, IRCA, of 1986, except that time we at least got citizenship. The current iteration grants temporary, reversible works permits for $5 billion to further militarize the border — seems like a totally fair trade.

NAFTA’s renewal, renamed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, USMCA, and the continued “sweatshopization” of Mexico was also quietly passed as one of Peña Nieto’s final acts in office. In addition to this litany of attacks, Trump continues to target the latest migrant caravan that reached Tijuana, primarily made up of Honduran migrants. Most recently, spraying entire families and children with pepper gas.

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