Latin America: 21st century socialism?

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MOSCOW. (Pyotr Romanov, RIA Novosti political commentator.) -- The victory of the Left-wing forces in several Latin American countries, and an emotional speech by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez about the advent of the "era of 21st century socialism" in the region have shown that it is increasingly turning red.

Leftism is nothing new in Latin America. In the second half of the 20th century it was dubbed a "red continent". But at that time the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba were competing with each other in proletarian internationalism, supplying Latin American countries with Communist propaganda and money. This is now a thing of the past. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russia has lost even its economic contacts with the region. After the collapse of its donor, the U.S.S.R., Cuba had to think about its own survival rather than a regional revolution. Having overcome Mao's radicalism, China has not abandoned Latin America, but gives priority to economic interests just like any other country. The current "reddening" of Latin America is very different from what it was in the past.

The prestigious Le Monde Diplomatique has described the situation as a complete failure of neoliberalism and subsequent social tensions. This conclusion is correct but not without reservations, since it makes a generalization for the entire continent, where the situation in every country is determined by its own set of problems and its leaders.

In addition, the continent is divided into opposite economic groups. Mercosur, the Southern Common Market, unites Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and, since late 2005, Venezuela. It may soon be joined by Bolivia, led by the recently elected first Amerindian President, Evo Morales. Mercosur is against globalization and the economic blockade of Cuba. It blames major transnational corporation for all trouble in Latin America, which are eating the best and biggest pieces of the Latin American pie, ignoring the interests of the local people.

The philosophy of the US-established North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), joined by Canada and Mexico, is poles apart. These are aggressive advocates of globalization, which defend the interests of big business, and are overtly trying to pull all Latin American nations into their orbit. There are also other economic groups, like the Andes Group, but the nations that remain indecisive, are most likely to be drawn to one of the two strongest magnets. The strength of one magnet is obvious - money. The strength of the other one, Mercosur, is both populism and assertion of social rights and justice in entire Latin America.

Not all Left-wing leaders are as radical as Hugo Chavez, who has recently threatened to discontinue oil supplies to the U.S. if it dares touch Iran. Some regimes are more of a shade of pink than red. But many find the general choice of the palette alarming. Experts are concerned over the presidential elections in Brazil, Mexico, and Nicaragua in 2006, where the Leftist forces are likely to win. Previously, Chavez with his rhetoric looked like an outcast, whereas now that Evo Morales promised to nationalize the Bolivian gas industry, the soil for radical populism in the region has become fertile.

But the diagnosis by Le Monde Diplomatique is only partially convincing. It is true that neoliberalism has failed to solve Latin American problems. But it is also true that in the last century Latin American countries tried almost all political and economic mechanisms, but nothing worked. Virtually every country flirted with left-wing phraseology, including "guerrilla". Some countries, for instance Columbia, are still in a guerrilla state today. Finally, while Latin Americans have witnessed numerous coups d'etat, on many occasions they did not resort to military or guerrilla assistance when they ousted the presidents whom they had elected themselves through democratic procedures. In other words, Latin Americans went from democracy to dictatorship and back a hundred times. For many decades they have been pegging their hopes now on the U.S., then on themselves, now on big business, then on small entrepreneurship. During some periods South America believed in the magic of Harvard boys, during others in Karl Marx's teaching. It produced its own magicians as well, but eventually they were ousted with rotten tomatoes. Neoliberal ideas were just one more failure in a long list of other abortive attempts at achieving prosperity.

It appears, that Latin America suffers from some chronic ailment, which cannot be cured with either Left, or Right, or centrist pills.

Incidentally, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) stayed in power in Mexico longer than others - from 1917 to 1994. A candidate from the ruling party made a statement at an election meeting, which was endlessly repeated as a joke: "We are neither the Left, nor the Right, nor the Center. We are the opposite!" Maybe, this ambiguity suited the country for some time, but eventually those obscure heroes also left the scene.

This leads to a classic question: who is to blame? The U.S. seems to be the only factor that has been permanently hovering over Latin America. For this reason, I will dare put the blame with U.S. President James Monroe. It was the Monroe doctrine that defined the continent and all its sovereign countries as a "zone of American interests". It is difficult to count how many times Washington used military force to change the course of political developments in its favor, thereby preventing the region from developing naturally, and learning from its own setbacks and successes. American influence is bound to have some positive features, but they are negligible compared to negative ones. It is wrong to try to impose one's own values and morality upon millions of people of another civilization. This is detrimental to both sides.

If the U.S. recognized the rights of Latin Americans to live without its dictate, it would be the best remedy against the current manifestations of radicalism in the region. But this is not realistic. Judging by the current U.S. foreign policy, the White House will not be satisfied until the rest of the world toes its line.

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