Summary: Based upon a presentation to the Convention of International Marxist-Humanist Organization in Chicago, emphasizing current struggles in Nicaragua, Venezuela, the Mexican presidential election, and abortion rights — Editors
To support liberation, it is important to stand with mass movements against state violence and dictatorship in Latin America and against left wing authoritarians. But it’s also important for another reason. What is the rightwing smear whenever someone talks about leftwing economic ideas? “Do you want to become another Venezuela?” The existence of these deformed leftwing dictatorships and authoritarian states scare people away from Leftist ideas. While the Stalinist Left stupidly denies these states’ crimes against their peoples and defends these regimes, it is important for us to critique them and make clear the Left has more to offer than the same tired old state capitalist dictatorships of the past.
In Nicaragua, protests flared up on April 18th initially to oppose austerity measures that would reduce social security benefits. Ortega’s government responded with brutal repression and over 300 people have been killed with . This in a very small country of 6 million people. Amnesty International reported that police had shoot to kill orders. Due to this violent repression the protesters are calling for Ortega to step down.
- A little history on Nicaragua. Daniel Ortega is leader of the Sandinista party. The Sandinistas fought the right wing dictatorship of Somoza and then faced right wing guerillas called Contras sponsored by the Reagan administration when they assumed power in 1979. Ortega was President of Nicaragua from 1979 until 1990 and again was elected president in 2007.
- COMPOSITION of protests: Led by students and youth. Sandinista Youth thugs help commit violence against protesters.
- There was a massive protest on May 30th in which hundreds of thousands participated, led by mothers of people who had been murdered by state and paramilitaries. The protesters were shot at by snipers and 15 killed. (Remember this is a country of only 6 million people so that is a significant mobilization of the country.)
- Recent polls show that 70% of Nicaraguans want Ortega to resign.
- Students have occupied all the major universities, towns and highways are blockaded.
- Important to note that Ortega came back to power by allying with the Catholic Church. While he supported abortion rights in the 80s, he has backed a complete ban on abortion even in case of threat to mother’s life since 2006. He also chose an ex-Contra, right wing guerilla, as his VP in the 2006 election.
- Also very important to note is that Ortega’s stepdaughter has accused him of raping her. She lives in exile in Costa Rica. Not terribly hard to imagine a man who probably raped his stepdaughter wouldn’t have much of a conscience about killing protesters.
- He received only 38% of the vote in the 2006 election. In 2014, the Nicaraguan constitution was changed to end presidential term limits and allow “president for life”.
In the last year 1 million Venezuelans left the country due to starvation, medicine shortages, extreme levels of violence and dictatorship. Most went to Colombia and to some other South American countries.
- The causes of this economic crisis are multifaceted but it’s mainly due to a combination of low oil prices, corruption, and economic mismanagement. The Nation had an excellent piece last year on the currency crisis and how it could be resolved and why it was not due to the government’s dependence on corrupt military officers.
- Key to understanding the Venezuelan government’s authoritarian nature is that 11/23 of Venezuela’s’ governors and half of Maduro’s cabinet are current or retired military officers. Chavez came from military and tried to overthrow the government unsuccessfully before he eventually was democratically elected to power. A General with zero experience in the oil industry was put in charge of Venezuela’s oil company in reward for violently repressing the 2014 protests.
- A basic timeline of Venezuela’s most recent slide to dictatorship: in 2016 Maduro delayed a constitutionally permitted recall election, and then last year illegally convened a constitutional assembly after a sham recall referendum marked by months of mass protests against horrific conditions in the country. There were massive protests by hundreds of thousands for months trying to prevent the slide to dictatorship after the attempt to dissolve the National Assembly. (Though important to note the government still has a constituency of about 1/3 of population and they showed up in large counter-protests.)
- Chavez and Maduro’s former Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz stood up against Maduro’s attempts to dissolve the National Assembly (their version of Congress) and the sham constitutional assembly. She was forced to flee the country after her assets were seized and the threat of arrest loomed over her. The first act of the constitutional assembly was to sack her from her job and members called her a “traitor”. She claims to have information on extensive corruption in the Venezuelan government top brass.
- Government officials were told if they did not vote in the referendum election they would lose their jobs. Venezuelans receiving food aid can lose their aid if they are not on the list of people who voted, and there are no longer independent candidates to vote for, only government selected ones.
- In contrast to this sham election, Hugo Chavez presided over a constitutional referendum for a new constitution in free elections in 1999.
- I just wanted to briefly add that the Venezuelan oil company donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Trump’s inauguration parade.
- When I lived in Ecuador I saw many many working age Venezuelan migrants who lived there due to existing treaties between the two countries. “Anti-communists” do not move from one socialist country to another and this enabled me to see something was very wrong in Venezuela.
- Just because we do not see these people in the USA does not mean that this is not one of the most pressing issues of our time and people who are sympathetic to the Left but oppose dictatorship will be looking to see if the Left does the right thing and stands by the people.
In a ray of hope for Latin America, Left wing Lopez Obrador (known as AMLO) won the presidential election only July 1st by a landslide, winning over 50% of the vote in a 3-party race. Lopez Obrador is former mayor of Mexico City. You may remember that Mexico City was the site of a massive protest occupation in 2006 when there were widely believed allegations that the election was stolen from him.
- After a massive increase in violence over last decade, Mexicans are fed up with the PRI, the establishment party that has run Mexico for more than 70 years and the rightwing PAN which instituted policies that triggered the horrific violence of the last decade.
- This is a historic moment as the Left has been brutally repressed and out of power for many decades. In 1988 the Leftist candidate for president Cardenas was in the lead and then the government fabricated a story about a computer crash of the vote counting system and the election was stolen from Cardenas. Former Mexican president Madrid has openly admitted he stole that election.
- Of course, in 2006 there was the highly contested election where official results gave the rightwing party 0.58% over AMLO and there was only a partial recount. In 2012 there was reports of open vote buying by giving people giftcards in exchange for their votes.
- 113 politicians including 43 candidates have been killed in the last year. AMLO went the entire election without bodyguards and by some miracle survived which just go to show how popular he is.
- Mexico has such a massive security problem, the Mexican public will be expecting AMLO to decrease the violence. He may succeed in cleaning up the state but it is unenviable task to be the one to try to reduce such a massive level of violence as president. Mexico is facing the worst violence in 20 years. With 20,000 murders in last 10 months, with 96% of murders labelled “unsolved”.
- AMLO is a liberal not a revolutionary and it is unclear how Left he will govern, given that even the social conservative Christian party is in his coalition and he promises to expand a duty-free zone near the US border for more manufacturing jobs in the maquiladora.
- Given the rightwing tide taking over many countries in Latin America in recent years, Mexico finally having a Leftist president for first time since the 1940s is an important development. Mexico is bucking the United States and the Mexican ruling classes influence. With any luck, Mexico may show a democratic road to resolving some deeply entrenched problems in Latin America.
In June the Chamber of Deputies of Argnetina voted to legalize abortion. Tens of thousands of women rallied outside that night wearing green in favor of abortion rights on the Ni Una Menos (not one less) movement. This is in a country where there is a rightwing president. This is only happening because of women organizing into formidable movement.
- In contrast neither Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, nor Nicaragua have legalized abortion. It shows how much of machista strain there is in these governments. Former Ecuadorian president Correa said he would have resigned if any abortion legalization bill were passed.
- This is really an issue where the international Left must be in solidarity with women reformers. As we saw with Ortega, selling out women’s rights is done in conjunction with allying with conservative forces in the country.
- Concerning with AMLO is that his Morena party made an alliance with a small antiabortion antigay party. He wants to put abortion and gay marriage up for referendum rather than promising them as policies.
- In contrast to this pink tide betrayal, Uruguay became first elected government in Latin America to legalize abortion in 2012; Cuba has long guaranteed a women’s right to an abortion (abortion is available in French Guiana as it’s a French overseas territory).
- Selling out women’s reproductive rights is a bellweather of willingness to compromise on other key liberties and a key sign of authoritarianism. If a Left party or movement isn’t committed to overcoming religious dogma and patriarchy to give women fundamental right to bodily autonomy, they aren’t likely to respect the autonomy of human beings in other ways.
- Latin America is first region to beat back its European colonizers, it is where slavery first was abolished, and the average Latin American is well aware of their revolutionary history. Latin American streets are named after revolutionaries and even revolutionary dates. Latin America has beaten back dictatorships and had many revolutions, it’s only a matter of time before it draws on it its rich revolutionary history.