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Writer, Professor, Revolutionary.

Winds of Change and Internationalism from Latin America

“Winds of Change and Internationalism from Latin America,” by James D. Cockcroft*

Winds of positive change, propelled by expanding social movements and spontaneous popular uprisings, are whirling out of Latin America and reaching the rest of the world. They originate from the spread of humiliating poverty to 75 percent of the population, downward mobility for shrinking intermediate classes, last-ditch fightbacks by reduced ranks of organized labor, and a crisis of governability under restricted low-intensity democracies that often guarantee impunity for acts of state terrorism. In recent elections these winds have already blown Latin America’s political pendulum from the far right (or center/right) to the center or center/left. Candidates routinely pledge not to implement U.S. imperialism’s free-market fundamentalism and its proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), even though after being elected many give life support to the moribund neoliberal economic model.

In Washington, there is frequent talk about a new “axis of evil” – Brazil, Venezuela, and Cuba – threatening “freedom.” To implement a more sophisticated policy of intervention, the U.S. government has increased its mobilization and coordination of the Pentagon, the CIA, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), the NED (National Endowment for Democracy), and, above all, the Southern Command and Northern Command (unifying the Armed Forces of Mexico, Canada, and the United States) --both now under the command of the secretive Special Operations Command (SOCOM) that led the invasion of Iraq. In the oft-cited words of the U.S. war criminal Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, “Freedom means being free to do evil.”

Venezuela, Internationalism, and Cuba

Venezuela’s grassroots revolutionary process and President Hugo Chávez have influenced Latin America’s social movements, political parties, and even governments with a continental call for a new Bolivarian unity unprecedented since Simón Bolívar’s original call during the wars of independence against Spain, Portugal, and other European powers. Now the demand is for a second independence, this time not only political but economic and military independence -- primarily from transnational corporations and banks and the blood-stained talons of the U.S. imperialist eagle.

In a November 2004 meeting of the Americas’ ministers of defense, 16 nations, led by Brazil, voted against the U.S.-backed Colombian proposal to create an inter-American military force to intervene in any Latin American country. This added momentum to Chávez’s earlier call for a regional military bloc to defend national sovereignty against imperialism.

Recently in his speeches, Chávez has been urging people to read Trotsky’s “The Permanent Revolution,” noting there is much to learn from it and that Trotsky was correct in his arguments with Stalin. “There is no national revolution,” insists Chávez. For a nation’s revolutionary process to survive and advance “the revolution must become international.” While taking pride in being a socially concerned Christian, Chávez has also pointed to the logical outcome of the changes being implemented by Venezuela’s participatory, popular Bolivarian democratic government -- socialism. There is no other alternative to neoliberalism, he says.

In the first two weeks of December 2004, Caracas hosted two important international meetings. The World Gathering of Intellectuals and Artists in Defense of Humanity, attended by 350 participants from 52 nations, declared its solidarity with Venezuela, Cuba, and “the people of Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan and all who resist imperial occupation and aggression.” It pledged “to take the offensive” by “creating a ‘network of networks’ of information for artistic action, solidarity, coordination and mobilization, uniting intellectuals and artists with popular struggles and Social Forums, guaranteeing the continuation of these efforts and linking them in an international movement ‘in defense of humanity’,” concluding with “the conviction that another world is not only possible, but necessary.”

The other Caracas meeting was the Second Bolivarian Congress of the Peoples, attended by some 180 Latin American and Caribbean political party leaders and social movement activists who pledged continued defense of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution and Cuba’s Socialist Revolution. Naming 2005 the “Year of the Offensive and Advance of Unity of the Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean,” they convoked an Energy Sector Workers Forum for later that year. While calling for humanist, culturally pluralistic, and participatory changes to turn over the region’s governments to the people and to undertake sustainable economic development, they also championed international law and human rights established by the UN Charter. Finally, they established a permanent Political Secretariat to be headquartered in Caracas, announcing their intent to convert the Congress into an international movement through the creation of a series of Bolivarian political, communications, and worker-controlled production networks.

In mid-December, Chávez’s internationalism ratcheted up another notch as he joined other leaders of South America in the founding of the South American Community of Nations, a kind of “European Union” (without the corresponding wealth but with immense oil, water, mineral, and biodiversity resources). Together with the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and the Central American Common Market, this augured a possible alternative Latin American economic integration, with a single currency and independent of the United States.

Then, pronouncing U.S. imperialism’s FTAA dead, Chávez and Cuban President Fidel Castro announced in Havana their implementation of an alternative framework for economic integration -- the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). Solidifying economic and cultural exchanges in a mutually beneficial way, including oil at a reduced price for Cubans and thousands of Cuban teachers, doctors, and scholarships for Venezuelans, this implied similar future arrangements for the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean, many of whose nations are already receiving Venezuelan oil at reduced prices.

Just as the Middle East cannot be understood without placing Palestine center stage, so any analysis of Latin America necessarily starts with Cuba. Because of their revolution, the Cuban people have had to defend themselves against a super-aggressive imperialism that has economically blockaded them for 45 years, invaded their island, conducted biochemical warfare against them, and attempted countless assassination attempts on their popular president. While by no means a “model,” Cuba nonetheless represents a social and political alternative to the order of exploitation and ecological degradation imposed by imperialism and its “globalization.”

In the late 1990s, five Cuban patriots, two of them U.S. citizens, infiltrated Miami-based Cuban exile terrorist groups and delivered information to the FBI that helped prevent 170 terrorist attacks, only to have the U.S. Department of Justice railroad them to jail through a biased Miami jury. Known around the world as “The Cuban 5” and being proposed for the Nobel Peace Prize, they are now serving lengthy prison terms under the false charges of espionage and murder. Meanwhile the real terrorists on whom they reported, people like Orlando Bosch, said by the Department of Justice to be responsible for more than 30 terrorist acts and the deaths of dozens of innocent people, continue to walk the streets of Miami and even appear publicly with President Bush and other public luminaries who treat them as heroes instead of mass murderers.

In 2004 possibly immense underwater oil deposits in the Cuban part of the Gulf of Mexico were discovered by a Spanish drilling team. This has caused the Bush administration to accelerate its campaign for “regime change” in Cuba. Perhaps the strongest social movement in today’s Latin America is that taking place there, as witness the sudden demonstration in Havana’s streets in May 2004 of a tenth of the nation’s population, more than one million people, in response to U.S. imperialism’s release of its detailed plans for a “post-Castro Cuba.”

Crisis of Neoliberalism, New Class Formations, Stronger Social Movements

Because of neoliberalism’s pillaging of Latin America’s economies and the consequent increase in labor’s emigration, traditional class structures and modes of struggle are today barely recognizable. The lines dividing social classes have become blurred in complex ways. For example, resurgent Indian and peasant movements combine traditional demands for land with modern ones concerning urban housing, water, and sanitation. The working classes are fractured by distinct levels of trade-union participation and real wages (both reduced every year). The privatization of the state, together with the use of “flexible labor,” has led to the collapse of the minimum wage, immiseration of the masses, rising unemployment, and for even relatively well educated professionals “precariousness” of work and “over-exploitation,” often in more than one part-time, unreliable job. Women and children have borne the brunt of the economic suffering, not to mention the stepped-up violence of everyday life.

The complexity of Latin American social formations, with their distinct levels of wealth, varied ethnic and cultural components, and multiple languages makes it difficult to generalize. Nonetheless, a good reflection of the new reality of changing class formations and blurring of class lines is the way the “Argentinazo” erupted in December 2001. In a matter of days, the nearly decade-old social movement of the unemployed (“piqueteros”) linked up with popular neighborhood assemblies (a kind of participatory urban commune) that united “piqueteras” (women being in the front ranks), farmers, landless rural proletarians, and militant miners with economically better-off groups protesting bankers’ thefts of their life savings. Female heads of households, service and factory workers, state employees, teachers, students, pensioners, physically incapacitated and others united with these forces to tell the political parties “all of you should leave.” This somewhat chaotic multi-class confluence of social forces that toppled four successive presidents reduced the traditional divisions between Argentina’s employed and unemployed and between the working poor and “middle-class professionals,” thereby opening the door to potentially revolutionary changes. Ever since the Argentinazo, the “modernizing” Argentine bourgeoisie, beholden to foreign capital, has had to resort to old-fashioned cooptation techniques and complex state interventions to re-establish a shaky political stability.

The notion of “nationalist bourgeoisies” capable of industrializing and developing Latin American societies into sustainable prosperous ones is ideologically alive and well but in practice all but dead, with the possible exception of segments of Brazil’s bourgeoisie. This reality does not contradict the tendency of some bourgeois fractions to unify from time to time against the more powerful bourgeoisies of the North in negotiations on terms of international trade or foreign investment. Some theoreticians have referred to Latin America’s “rentista” or financial/comprador bourgeoisie, noting the emergence of well-known powerful billionaires linked to foreign capital. In many countries, however, such as Mexico, almost the entire banking sector is now foreign-owned. There continue to exist, albeit much less powerfully, industrial and commercial bourgeoisies whose members increasingly connect with foreign capital networks and exploit the working classes. Capitalist accumulation still has its origins in production and wage slavery.

The slowdown of U.S. investment in Latin America that has accompanied Spain’s becoming the top foreign investor there, together with China’s trade offensive (China is now the leading purchaser of Chilean copper and main provider of Cuba’s widely available, energy-efficient computers), have further complicated the Latin American situation. Overall foreign investments have been declining since 2000, while remittances of profits, interest payments on the foreign debt, and recycled narco- and sex-traffic dollars have been swelling the accounts of foreign-based banks and corporations. At least 70 percent of Latin America’s labor force now work in the “informal” sector, as the gradual economic genocide caused by more than two decades of neoliberal globocolonization continues to take its toll.

Because of the deepening economic crisis in Latin America, with the fall in value of its currencies and export commodities, and because of the magnitude of the imperialist presence and the impact of neoliberalism and its dismantling of the nation-state, the spaces for a so-called “progressivism” and “nationalism” have all but evaporated. The failure of the center/left “Alliance” government in Argentina in 2001 and the difficulties of the government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil reflect this new reality, as does the emergence of the transnational alternative of Bolívarism, now increasingly embraced by Lula.

The hopes raised by the decades of working-class mobilization and party building of the Brazilian Labor Party (PT) and the subsequent huge electoral victory of Lula have been dashed by the government’s failure to raise the level of any of the social economic indicators. Debt payments drain much of the economic surplus created by Brazilian workers. Consequently, the PT has split and a new party, the Party of Socialism and Freedom (Partido Socialismo e Liberdade, PSOL) has garnered almost half a million signatures of support for its electoral registration. Recently, the large landless rural workers movement (MST -- Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem-Terra) has joined the PSOL in militant protest demonstrations against the government’s maintenance of neoliberal economic policies.

All of these developments have brought about a new wave of popular mobilization and an intensification of class struggle and its internationalization throughout Latin America. On balance, the growing social movements, whatever their ups and downs, have weakened neoliberalism and placed it on the defensive. Protesting the commodification of nature and life, they have stalled the privatization of water, oil, gas, mineral wealth, and forest preserves. They have focused their attacks on the FTAA, the neoliberal economic model, the importation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and the extortion based on illegal foreign debts dating from the “dirty wars” of the military dictatorships imposed from 1964 through the mid-1980s in U.S. imperialism’s attempt to prevent “another Cuba,” i.e., social change.

Latin America’s social movements face powerful counter-tendencies: destabilization of center/left or populist/nationalist governments; CIA-style plots and mass-media stimulated counterrevolutionary mobilizations; direct U.S. military intervention to topple democratically elected governments, as in Haiti; police or military massacres; the spread of para-militarism and re-emergence of “death squads”; an acceleration of violence against women, gays, transsexuals, ethnic minorities, and progressive organizations; threats against the sovereignty of Venezuela and Cuba, as well as so-called “failed states” throughout the region; and the criminalization of acts of protest. Such criminalization of dissent and rise in violent repression, however, may well be fueling future social explosions in countries like Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, even Brazil.

Whatever the counter-tendencies, the list of partial and significant victories already achieved by social movements, besides those already mentioned, is impressive. Here are just a few:
· blocking of attempts to privatize electrical energy, water, other natural resources, and/or pension plans in Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, and several other nations
· stalling of the Plan Puebla Panamá, Plan Colombia, and other U.S.-sponsored infrastructure/military programs designed to crush popular insurgencies (Zapatistas and others in Mexico, the FARC and ELN in Colombia) and to guarantee U.S. access to Latin America’s natural resources, especially oil, gas, biodiversity products, and water/hydroelectric power, and speed their transport northward (these programs constitute the military wing of the FTAA)
· kicking out of U.S. Navy from its target practice area in Vieques, Puerto Rico, thanks to nationwide demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience, including their internationalization
· MST’s consolidation of hundreds of thousands of urban land settlements in Brazil
· the concessions gained in the fight to bring to justice those guilty of genocide in many countries, such as Pinochet in Chile
· in 2004: the rally of support for the Cuban Revolution in the face of the tightened economic blockade and other acts of U.S. aggression
o the isolation and shortening of official receptions given President Bush in Colombia and Chile, a country where, in spite of the relative silence left by years of Pinochet-style repression, street demonstrations against the Chile-U.S. free trade agreement and the right-leaning “socialist” government, along with dockworkers’ strikes and hunger strikes by political prisoners and relatives of “the disappeared,” intensified
o the 1.4 million-strong street protests followed by the creation of the Grand Democratic Coalition in Colombia, uniting left and some Liberal Party opposition forces against the war-mongering narco-tainted regime of President Álvaro Uribe
o Uruguay’s election of a center/left president and huge referendum vote outlawing the privatization of water
o gigantic street demonstrations, including the militant presence of the Mexican Electrical Workers Union, that derailed the conservative Mexican government’s energy and pension privatization plans
o the Zapatistas’ consolidation of “Juntas of Good Government” in Chiapas
o the protests that caused postponement of Operation “Eagle III” (U.S./Latin American joint military exercises) in Argentina
o overwhelming pro-Chávez victories in Venezuela’s August referendum (intended to oust him) and in the subsequent regional elections
o echoing Chávez’s call for “the deepening of the revolution,” the merging of Venezuelan social movements into Conexión Social, a coalition advocating popular participation in the state oil sector, democratization of the means of communication, and eradication of corruption and bureaucratism to “finish the old corrupt state.”
· in 2003: the derailment of the World Trade Organization in Cancún, Mexico, aided by Brazil’s alignment with China and India in the “bloc of 22”
o the unity of ecology, trade-union, and anti-capitalist globalization movements in Miami that left an FTAA “light” as imperialism’s barely viable free-trade hope
o the Bolivian Indian, peasant, miner, and student uprising that toppled the U.S. puppet president “El Gringo” and blocked privatization of gas and water, followed a year later by the increased electoral strength of the socialist Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) led by the cocaleros’ Evo Morales (cocaleros are Indian peasants who harvest coca for ceremonial and commercial use)
o Uruguayans’ defeat of a proposed law to permit the state oil company to associate with foreign capital
o the Colombian mass movements’ upset victory in President Álvaro Uribe’s referendum to remove the constitutional prohibition of a second presidential term
o the victory of the San Salvador Atenco peasants outside Mexico City in defeating the projected construction of a new international airport on their land
o the Venezuelan people’s defeat of the state oil company’s bureaucratic and corrupt union boss lock-out.
· in 2002: the popular uprising that toppled the two-day anti-Chávez coup government on April 13, and the subsequent radicalization of the Venezuelan Bolivarian Revolution
o the Paraguayan movements’ defeat of a proposed anti-terrorist law and a privatization law….
· and so on, going back year by year.

What is at stake in Latin America is nothing less than the sovereignty of all nations and the control of their natural resources, including petroleum, energy, and cheap labor power; a rich biodiversity and immense sources of potable drinking water; public schools, hospitals, housing projects, transportation systems, social security and pension systems and other public services; banks and industries; and, above all, the continuation of the dynamic social movements.

Analysis of Social Movements in the Face of Economic Crisis and Militarization

Although it is difficult to generalize, eight main features characterize these social movements:

1. The outstanding role of Indians, notably in Bolivia, Perú, Ecuador, Guatemala and México, but even to a surprising degree in countries where there are few of them, such as Argentina and Chile. Indians throughout the Americas live and recognize the fact that behind imperialism are 500 years of genocidal subjection and their resistance. In this sense, they are aware of certain historic realities, such as the continuity of colonialism/imperialism; the routine use of kidnappings, disappearances, torture, and violence against women; ecological destruction; and the creation and perpetuation of an unpayable external debt for economic blackmail of entire peoples.

2. The important roles of women and poor people, seen in the rise of their resistance and leadership. Consider just a few famous cases:
· Mexico’s Zapatista leaders like Comandante Esther, the one chosen to address the Mexican Congress, who pointed out that Subcomandante Marcos was only a sub-commander (as Marcos earlier wrote, the first Zapatista battle was fought by the women against masculinist dominance over women within Zapatista ranks, a battle “the women won without firing a shot”)
· Argentina’s decades-old Mothers of the May Plaza and the newer generation of mothers protesting police killings and “disappearances” of their daughters and sons, and the Argentine piqueteras and workers taking over abandoned factories abandoned by their owners
· Venezuela’s pauperized masses and the local Bolivarian Circles defending their president and constitutionalism (“Bolivarian Circles” of solidarity with Venezuela now exist throughout Latin America, as well as in other countries, such as the United States and Germany.)
· the Bolivian workers, street vendors, and heads of households of the immense young city El Alto organizing block by block defense-and-struggle committees
· the thousands of Nicaraguan hungry marching on Managua in April 2004.

It is the women’s and poor people’s uprisings and growing political consciousness, together with class-based feminist analyses and new economic research on immiseration and its role in contemporary accumulation of capital, that make mandatory the incorporation of a theory of patriarchy and the triple-exploitation of women into any class analysis and discussion of imperialism and social movements.

More. Latin America continues to experience rapid, U.S.-sponsored militarization, under the guise of a war on drugs and, more recently, terrorism. Capitalism depends on hierarchy, and militarization epitomizes hierarchy. Because of the failure of neoliberalism and the billowing clouds of worldwide economic crisis on the horizon, contemporary capitalism reinforces all forms of hierarchy, most obviously those based on gender and race. It seeks a “final” solution to its problems in the most hierarchical way of all – militarily.

By definition, militarism entails intense daily violence of all kinds. Militaries are hierarchical masculinist organizations whose purpose is violent destruction of the opposition by physical and psychological means – hence, imperialism’s “pre-emptive” wars without end and threatened Guantánamo-ization and Abu Ghraib-ization of all who resist.

In brief, military solutions, including state repression of social movements, give free license to violence, already very visible in Colombia and parts of Central America and Mexico today. Because of the existence of patriarchy and all its institutions (dating back to pre-capitalist times), the “socially accepted” targets for licensed violence in today’s militarized world are overwhelmingly women.

A major consequence of modern warfare is the disempowerment of women. The male bonding that takes place in armies, sub-contracted mercenary forces, and paramilitaries equates the acquisition of power with sex, which in turn reinforces violence against women. Little wonder then that protests about the escalated abuse of women and the sex trade (now a greater accumulator of liquid capital than even narco-trafficking) have become a focus of not only feminist movements like the World March of Women but of social redemption movements in general (and not just in Latin America).

3. The salient role of youth, be it in the streets during the Argentinazo of 2001; the student strikes; the movements against impunity for officers and doctors involved in the “dirty wars” of yesterday and today; the gay, lesbian and transsexual movements; or the “alternative world” movement against neoliberal capitalist globalization.

4. The surprising role of peasants and small farmers, in spite of new waves of extremely violent repression against them. In many cases, like Mexico and Brazil for example, the “peasantry” is a new proletariat that functions as an inexpensive, flexible, and migrant labor force even though there is a simultaneous process of “re-peasantization” when a migrant worker in the city has to return to his or her rural parcel of land to grow the minimal food requirements needed for survival. Be it in the cases of the Andean cocalero resistance movements or Brazil’s MST, the countryside and urban suburbs of Latin America constitute a veritable war zone of intense class conflict.

5. The too often overlooked role of unionized women and men, or of those trying to unionize. They have been developing new forms of struggle against the bosses, the state, and the corrupted trade-union bosses (called “charros” in Mexico). These include the formation of independent trade-union confederations like Mexico’s Authentic Labor Front (FAT) or alternative ones like the National Union of Workers (UNT) in Venezuela and Mexico. In Chile, the virtual void of trade unions left by Pinochet has begun to be filled by a vibrant new social movement of working people known as “Workers Collectives.”

As importantly, workers’ struggles are being internationalized. Outstanding examples include the linking up of the fights by Coca Cola workers in Guatemala, Colombia, and India, as well as other struggles in the “maquiladoras” (low-wage assembly plants) of Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.

An exemplar case is the three-year successful strike by some 600 workers of El Salto, Jalisco (Mexico) affiliated with the independent National Revolutionary Union of Workers of the Euzkadi Rubber Company, a company owned by the German transnational corporation Continental Tire. By building international solidarity among German trade unionists and progressives, the union finally won legal recognition of its strike. Then, in November 2004 the workers reached an agreement with Continental Tire that granted them back pay and converted the factory into a cooperative (50 percent worker-owned, 50 percent owned by another private company) from which Continental would buy tires in the future. Many trade-unionists also participate in the large anti-WTO and anti-FTAA demonstrations and in the World Social Forum and regional social forums that regularly attract thousands of participants from all walks of life.

6. The negative role of the mass media not only as political actors against the social movements but also as mobilizers of reactionary street demonstrations numbering in the tens of thousands, as happened in 2004 in Mexico City and Buenos Aires when the media joined the Catholic Church and the federal government in sponsoring protests against “urban violence and the breakdown in law and order.” More well known are the mass media’s support for right-wing, Mafioso, imperialist-aided campaigns to provoke incidents, have them misreported (“disinformation campaigns”), and then seek the overthrow of progressive governments, as in the Venezuelan and Cuban cases. The 2004 provocative act in violation of international law by the United States of launching into Cuban airspace a C-130 air-borne platform for the transmission of “Radio and TV Marti” is just one more part of these attempts.

The importance of the mass media can be seen in the criminalization of social movements. News broadcasts repeatedly invoke the words “acts of violence”(without reference to agents provocateurs) when describing peaceful protests by the anti-capitalist globalization movement during events like the derailments of the WTO and FTAA in 2003 or the ineffective meeting of the EU with Latin American nations in Guadalajara 2004 (where there in fact occurred a police riot against demonstrators and unsuspecting bystanders).

7. The ever more manifest role of “fundamentalisms,” especially the free-market fundamentalism behind neoliberal capitalist globalization, since it underlies the rise of all other [religious] fundamentalisms in their contemporary phases. It is the practice of this free-market fundamentalism, not Islam, that tortures millions of people every day. Every year 36 million people die from hunger. Half the world’s children suffer malnutrition. In Latin America there is a noticeable rise in U.S.-aided Christian fundamentalism, in part to counter the salient role of liberation theology and progressive bishops in countries like Brazil. Yet in Venezuela, President Chávez is winning over many of the “born-again Christians” with his moral appeals as a fellow Christian for human solidarity in overcoming the poverty of 80 percent of the population.

8. Most important of all, there is a growing recognition among Latin America’s social movement and trade union activists of the need to unite their struggles across borders and to internationalize them worldwide. Examples besides those already cited include Brazil’s MST en Brazil, which forms a part of Vía Campesina, a network of peasant movements in 87 nations; the campaign for the demilitarization of Latin America, initiated in Chiapas, Mexico, in 2003, that now has links to the international campaign to shut down all 702 U.S. military bases in more than 130 countries; and, of course, the World Social Forum.

Conclusion and Possible Alternatives

The situation for Latin America’s social movements is perhaps more difficult today than at any time since the preceding era of “dirty wars.” That is an important reason why international support for them is now more crucial than ever.

Yet the growing recognition that the U.S. emperor is naked under his new garb of market fundamentalism and “globalization,” together with the emergent U.S. economic crisis and the Iraqi people’s growing resistance to imperialist military occupation and political manipulation, have created an opportune situation that the Bolivarian Congress of the Peoples has described as “an historical moment of favorable change for the peoples in the correlation of Latin American and Caribbean forces, expressed in the victories and advances of electoral processes and the struggles for the construction of humanist development models as alternatives to the policies of neoliberal capitalism.”

Mexican sociologist Raquel Gutiérrez, a former political prisoner in Bolivia, likes to say that the best source of such alternatives can be found in “the commonsense of dissent.” Commonsense tells us that if contemporary “globalization” is in fact imperialism, that is, the expansion of monopoly capital, then the only solution to the problems created by globocolonization is the socialization of those gigantic enterprises and their subsidiaries in Latin America and elsewhere. Only new anti-capitalist and revolutionary alternatives – what Venezuelan President Chávez likes to call “revolutionary democracy” – well thought out and organized, pluralistic and democratic – together with internationalist alliances can overcome the powerful obstacles thrown up by modern imperialism.

One Latin American alternative being advocated as literally “the only road to survival” is a reorientation of priorities to the “interior of our countries” to develop the internal market “by means of a redistribution of wealth and major investments in education, health, and food self-sufficiency.” This is similar to the Venezuelan Constitution’s proposed “endogenous development” model.

Another alternative is that of “a third way,” such as the “Consensus of Buenos Aires” formulated by the governments of Brazil and Argentina. This approach seeks to block the signing of the FTAA under conditions imposed by the United States by offering a different neoliberal model, one with “a human face” – an obvious contradiction in terms.

A very popular alternative is that of “sustainable economic growth,” viewed as a more responsible and environmentally sound economic development. This alternative also is not possible within a capitalist economy, because the goal of any capitalist enterprise is to maximize profits, with little regard for possible environmental consequences.

An alternative introduced in Porto Alegre and other cities of Brazil is the famous “participatory budget.” Despite some problems with clientelism, it is a good example of democratic participation from below. But this locally based alternative cannot accomplish much if the nation’s budgetary resources, drained in the payments of interest on the foreign debt, are not sufficient to combat hunger and other grave problems.

As already noted, President Chávez champions a Bolivarian alliance to unify Latin American states politically, militarily, and commercially. This is a very appealing and useful approach as a way to help turn back imperialism’s economic and military incursions. But even better, and already possible, would be an international agreement among various states proclaiming non-payment of the illegitimate foreign debt. Such a relative yet sharp “break” with international finance capital would free up funds for internal development and help create the space for a more just economic system.

In the final analysis, it appears impossible within the capitalist system to reform or convert the actually existing market economy determined by transnational corporations and their capitalist states into a different society determined by cooperation, equal opportunity, workers’ control of production, and decentralized coordination by means of democratic planning and the elimination of hierarchy and class, gender, and ethnic oppression. On the contrary, to achieve such a better world, it is necessary to construct, piece by piece, in an ongoing process, democratic political parties, independent and progressive trade unions, massive participatory social movements linked up in national and international coalitions, and related organizations that consciously speak of the capitalist obstacles and fight for a collective and participatory “socialist” or “humanist” alternative within themselves and for society as a whole.

Many people call this alternative a type of “internationalist socialism” or a “new humanism based on solidarity.” However, it will not function well without massive participation from below, skilled organization that is also democratic, and a will to defend it. For the survival of the planet and humanity, this alternative is being discussed more and more frequently in the social forums and among intellectuals and activists of Latin America and the world. It is an alternative that can incorporate much from other positive alternatives.

[end of article, ca. 5,300 words]

* NOTE: This article was written in December 2004 for Germany’s monthly Marxistische Blätter, which is publishing it in German translation as the opening contribution to its special issue on Latin America in May 2005. It appears on the Net via Cubanow and Defensa de la Humanidad and is being considered for publication in the United States by various magazines and journals. See JANUARY 12TH, 2005 The 31ST Issue of Cubanow ( on-line, CULTURE AT LARGE, WINDS OF CHANGE AND INTERNATIONALISM Winds of positive change, propelled by expanding social movements and spontaneous popular uprisings, are whirling out of Latin America and reaching the rest of the world. It is also available in Spanish translation at many sites, e.g.]

A fellow of the International Institute for Research and Education (Amsterdam), participating editor of Latin American Perspectives, and an Internet professor for the State University of New York, Dr. James Cockcroft (Ph.D. Stanford, 1966) is a Latin Americanist active in the Canadian NGO Alternatives. He serves on the coordinating committees for the International Congress of Intellectuals and Artists in Defense of Humanity (Caracas 2004) and for the Benito Juárez Tribunal of civil society being convoked in Mexico in April 2005 to judge U.S. terrorism against Cuba. He has written 35 books, including LATIN AMERICA: HISTORY, POLITICS, AND U.S. POLICY (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/International Thomson Publishing, 1998; Spanish-language editions Mexico City & Buenos Aires: Siglo veintiuno editores, 2001, and Havana: Instituto del Libro, 2005), and MEXICO’S HOPE: AN ENCOUNTER WITH POLITICS AND HISTORY (NY: Monthly Review Press, 1999; Spanish-language editions Mexico City & Buenos Aires: Siglo veintiuno editores, 2001).