Arce-Castillo Socialist Alliance For South America, Part I

Above photo: Pedro Castillo. From ISL.

Castillo’s Victory in Peru Validated

On July 28, 2021, Pedro Castillo, son of illiterate Andean peasants will be inaugurated as President of Peru, celebrating the victory of his socialist party Perú Libre in the elections of June. Peru has strong historical ties to other regional powers, most notably Ecuador and Bolivia.

Castillo’s victory follows by two months the swearing in of Guillermo Alberto Santiago Lasso Mendoza as President of Ecuador in May. Although Lasso is center-right, he will be constrained by the continuing hold over Ecuador’s 137 seat assembly of allies of former President Rafael Correa (2007-2017) which maintains the largest bloc with 49 seats, and the leftist Pachakutik party which has unprecedented indigenous influence, holding about 45 seats in alliance with the center-left Democratic Left party. In contrast, Lasso’s center right Creando Oportunidades (CREO), party has just 12 legislators, and an early alliance with the right-wing Social Christian Party fell apart on May 14.

More significant even, Castillo’s victory in Peru follows by eight months the swearing in of Luis Arce as President of Bolivia in November 2020, confirming the resounding victory of the socialist party he founded with Evo Morales, Movimiento al Socialismo–Instrumento Político por la Soberanía de los Pueblos, abbreviated MAS-IPSP, or simply MAS. This in turn followed by under one year the swearing in of Peronist Alberto Fernandez as President of Argentina in December 2019, together with his Vice-President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner who was President of Argentina 2007-2015 and wife of former leftist President (2003-2007) Néstor Kirchner.

In addition, Castillo’s victory follows by two months a significant progressive development in Chile when, on May 15 and 16, over 6 million Chileans voted for the 155 members of the Constitutional Convention, a body that will be responsible for writing the country’s new constitution to replace that drawn up by the fascist government of Augusto Pinochet in 1980. Independent and left-wing forces obtained resounding triumphs and won the majority of seats in the Constitutional Convention. The clamor for a constitutional convention stems from substantial protests involving millions of Chileans that began in October 2019, demanding faster progress in the task of replacing Pinochet’s constitution, one that was considered to entrench neoliberal economics and the domination of right-wing parties. 78% of voters had approved the decision to rewrite the constitution in a referendum in October 2020. This augurs well for progressive prospects in the upcoming presidential, parliamentary and regional elections scheduled for November 21 this year, 2021. The Chile Vamos center-right coalition held a legal primary on 18 July 2021, which was won by former minister Sebastián Sichel by 49% of the vote. The Apruebo Dignidad leftist coalition decided its presidential candidate in a legal primary held on 18 July 2021, which was won by lawmaker Gabriel Boric by 60% of the vote.

In regional and municipal elections that were also held May, Chile’s Communist Party and other left-wing movements performed well. In Recoleta, Communist Mayor and Presidential candidate Daniel Jadue was re-elected with over 60 percent of the votes. 30-year-old Communist economist Irací Hassler became Mayor of downtown Santiago. These developments suggest the possibility of a significant leftwing shift in Chilean politics in the upcoming presidential and congressional elections scheduled for November 2021.

In Brazil, elections are scheduled for 2 October 2022 which will elect the President, Vice President and the National Congress. Elections for state Governors and Vice Governors, State Legislative Assemblies and the Federal District Legislative Chamber will be held at the same time.

Brazil’s current President, the pro-militarist, proto-fascist, Jair Messias Bolsonaro, imitating the antics of former US President Donald Trump, has recently taken to issuing threats that he will not accept the outcome of elections that he deems to be fraudulent. That is, any elections that do not vote him back into power. Bolsonaro. Brazil’s Datafolha institute revealed the results of a May 2021 poll which it puts the former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, as the favorite over Bolsonaro .Since Lulu was cleared in March of corruption charges by the Supreme Court and has regained both his liberty and his political rights, he has gathered increasing electoral potential as issues such as social segregation and the mismanagement of the pandemic by Bolsonaro makes Brazilians yearn for the progressive path of the Workers Party (PT), which produced enormous social achievements in the 2000s.

A Right-Wing Discredited

Confirmation of Castillo’s victory by the Peruvian Electoral Board on July 19th occurred within days of the space flights of British billionaire oligarch Richard Branson (July 11) and of American billionaire oligarch Jeff Bezos (July 20). These represent, on the one hand: a peasant teacher, Marxist and unionist, with a program to lift Peru’s largely marginalized and indigenous population from poverty by diverting the country’s wealth from the country’s traditional ruling class and their patrons – foreign extractavist corporations and the financiers who bankroll them. And, on the other hand: two supremely skillful image shapers, technically quite smart, but sub-neanderthal in socio-emotional intelligence, representatives of shallow, neoliberal greed and rudderless morality, neither of whom has intelligent or humane thoughts to offer on the dire planetary and species challenges of climate change, nuclear war and obscene social inequality.

Their political counterpart was Castillo’s opponent, presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori. Peruvian ruling class support for Fujimori, extending even as far as an embrace by world celebrity author and former presidential candidate (against Keiko’s father, Alberto Fujimori), Mario Vargas Llosa, exposes the unfathomable depths of greed, selfishness, and stupidity which increasingly characterizes the nouveau riche of the global neoliberal parasitic incubus. This is what it is signified when a ruling class can only come together on a candidate whose two previous attempts at the presidency have failed, who is the daughter of a jailed former president, dictator, swindler and torturer, whose offer that Keiko should replace her jilted mother as Peru’s first lady was apparently irresistible at the age of 19, and whose supporters were scarcely embarrassed by a potentially false-flag massacre in May that seemed designed to stall Castillo’s campaign, or by the advice from jailed former CIA-backed eminence-grise and Alberto Fujimori’s head of national intelligence, Vladimiro Montesinos, that the “Fujimoristas” should bribe judges of the Peruvian Electoral Board to rule against Castillo.

The New Pink Revolution

Castillo’s victory in Peru is particularly significant in the light of the return to power last November of MAS in Bolivia, this time under the leadership of Luis Arce. Under the last, most recent  MAS president, Evo Morales, Bolivia enjoyed a largely successful socialist advance, for the country and its people, in the period 2006-2019. Morales’s victory in the first round of the 2019 elections was undermined by false charges of electoral fraud suggested by the preliminary “findings”, widely disputed, of the pro-US Organization of American States (OAS), that provided a pretext for military and police pressure on Morales to resign. The transitional administration of Jeanine Áñez – cut. it would seem, from the same neoliberal, conservative and clownish cloth of Keio Fujimori, Jair Bolsonaro, Donald Trump and other emerging proto-fascists of the global right-wing faux-neoliberal order, in which “free trade” ceded to “heavily managed trade” – was an embarrassing and dangerous disaster that helped guarantee a return to power of MAS in the 2021 elections, albeit under new leadership (although Arce was Morales’s vice-president, and Morales continues to be president of MAS), with even stronger electoral backing than for Morales in 2019.

Pervian-Bolivian partnership on the basis of ideological unanimity creates the prospect of a progressive and, very loosely, North-South Latin American chain that extends from Venezuela down through Bolivia, Peru, a democratically and constitutionally reinvigorated Chile, and Argentina (which occupies most of the continent’s southern cone). This helps offset the darker resurgence of US Empire through its Brazilian ogre, Bolsonaro, allied to anti-, or less-progressive regimes of Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Paraguay and Uruguay and, very likely, Haiti, while the US places increasing pressure on the communist leadership of Cuba, through sanctions and support for the popular protests that sanctions and the Covid challenge and the US apparatus of regime change shenanigans have helped provoke. More simplistically, the logic suggests that the inauguration of Castillo solidifies the prospects of a progressive mainly Pacific corridor for South America plus, from the Atlantic side, Argentina, in opposition to a faux-neoliberal and reactionary South Atlantic corridor.

Imperial Vultures

Notwithstanding the hopeful embryonic core of a new, more realistically progressive South American continent, the land mass as a whole still reflects or represents not simply accommodation to or resistance against the northern hegemon, the USA, but also the strong, continuing influences of former imperial powers. Most notable are Spain and Portugal whose legacy includes not simply an inclination to regular recourse to caudillo-style military dictatorships (usually of the right but, sometimes – as at different times in Venezuela, Peru and Bolivia – of the left)  but also a distinctive, Southern European, circular dance between liberal and conservative wings of the ruling classes. Occasionally, through liberals, the choreography breaks form to allow greater, though often temporary or iterative, integration of the interests of workers and indigenous when economic conditions are propitious. In addition, we should note northern European influences along the north-east coast, as in the former British (1796 to 1966) colony of Guyana, the former Dutch (1815-1954) colony of Suriname and the ongoing French colonization of French (from 1667) Guinea (home to France’s Guiana Space Centre, which is also used by its NATO allies). These represent not simply the lingering cultural incursions into South America of Northern Europe but also symbolize the strong influence throughout the continent of NATO power generally, now challenged to a modest degree by China.

Consider that the longest border France has with any country is the border between French Guiana and Brazil: some 450 miles. Its border with Suriname (former Dutch Guiana) is 345 miles. Journalist Rick Rozoff has weighed recent NATO activities in the region. These include a 2006 visit by the Standing NATO Maritime Group One to fellow NATO members’ possessions in the Caribbean and engage in exercises with the owners. The preceding year then-Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez accused NATO of planning an invasion of his nation under the code name of Operation Balboa. In 2018 Colombia was admitted to NATO’s Partners Across the Globe program. Continental USA provides NATO a 2,000-mile border with Mexico. Other NATO possessions in the New World include: (for Britain): Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos Islands; (for France): French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Miquelon, Saint-Barthélemy, Saint Pierre and Saint Martin; (for The Netherlands): Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Sint Eustatius and Sint Maarten; (for the USA): Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Invoking cautions of former and continuing imperial influence, Bolivia’s former president and continuing president of MAS, Evo Morales, recently denounced what he described as the new U.S.-led Operation Condor. This was in reference to a notorious US-directed secret intelligence program in the 1970s and early 1980s affecting Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay, and that resulted in the torture and “disappearance” of thousands of people. Uppermost in Morales’ mind was the sending of war materials by the former faux-neoliberal presidents of Ecuador (Lenin Moreno), and Argentina (Mauricio Macri), in support of the 2019 coup against Morales – based, as already described, on false allegations of electoral fraud and corruption –  and a letter of thanks allegedly sent by Bolivian Air Force General Terceros to Macri in gratitude for Argentina’s armed support. Morales also referenced the assassination in July 2021 of the President of Haiti, Jovenel Moïse, by former Colombian military personnel trained in the USA, and US support for protests against the communist regime of Cuba. Morales asserted that the progressive Bolivian government of Arce was targeted by the USA because Bolivia had recovered control over its natural resources, nationalized strategic companies, and closed the US military base in Chimoré.

Just six weeks before the election in Peru, the USA had dispatched a new ambassador, Lisa Kenna, an adviser to former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a nine-year CIA veteran and former US State Department official in Iraq. In other suspicious imperial moves, CIA Director William J. Burns had visited Colombia a week before the assassination of Haitian President Jovenal Moïse. In a March 2021 interview, former US ambassador to Haiti Pamela White talked about a plan to “put aside” President Moïse, leaving power in the hands of an interim Prime Minister, possibly with a view to avoiding the democratic elections which the population have been calling for since early 2020. In Nicaragua, having failed to unseat President Daniel Ortega in the elect ions of 2018, the USA unfolded a new plan of destabilization against the Sandinista administration of Daniel Ortega. The plan, entitled Responsive Action in Nicaragua (RAIN), was managed and financed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and leaked from the US embassy in July 2020. The plan called for an unconstitutional “transition” and for promoting “transition-related activities.”

In Venezuela, in July 2021, the socialist president Nicolás Maduro, detailed and denounced two assassination attempts against his life in just the preceding two weeks. Maduro also recently denounced the US Southern Command and CIA for plans to attack Venezuela from Colombian territory.

In Honduras, US officials, notably then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, had played an important role in preventing President Manuel Zelaya’s return to office in 2009 and allowing the military junta who ousted him time to consolidate its power in the face of massive nonviolent citizen protests. Top US officials had been in discussions with the military commanders and right-wing politicians who organized the coup shortly before Zelaya’s overthrow. During the subsequent protests and over the ensuing years thousands of indigenous activists, peasant leaders, trade unionists, journalists, environmentalists, judges, opposition political candidates, human rights activists, and others have been murdered. Hundreds of thousands of Hondurans have fled the subsequent worsening economic conditions and intense gang activity that exacerbate the pressure of refugees on the southern border of the USA.

Zelaya had incurred US displeasure by moving his government to the left, raising the minimum wage, providing free school lunches, milk for young children, pensions for the elderly, creating additional scholarships for students and, legitimately, paving the way for constitutional change, badly needed, that might have allowed him a second term in office. He built new schools, subsidized public transportation, and even distributed energy-saving light bulbs. Leader of the coup, Honduran General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, was a graduate of the notorious US School of the Americas. In recent years, the USA has poured hundreds of millions of dollars in security assistance to Honduras, supposedly to fight drug traffickers. Yet in January 2021, federal prosecutors in New York presented evidence to suggest that the nation’s President Juan Orlando Hernández (who is supposed to step down later in 2021) had helped traffic drugs. Prosecutors claimed that the President had used his nation’s armed forces to protect huge shipments of cocaine in exchange for hefty bribes, and cited documents that accused Hernández of stating, in front of an unnamed witness, that he had embezzled aid money from the USA through nongovernmental organizations. Hernández denied all wrongdoing, saying that cartel leaders had falsely accused him precisely because he has successfully cracked down on trafficking.

The Morales and Correa Miracles

It can be argued that the pink revolution of the 2000s rode the crest of an economic wave of neoliberal globalization that finally gave space to South American countries to modestly redistribute wealth to the working and indigenous peasant classes. Neoliberalism was able to do this not so much because it is a magical formula – it isn’t – but because it took money, assets and markets from State institutions and handed them over to domestic and international private corporations and the banks that finance them. Additionally, it can be argued – especially with respect to the administrations of Morales in Bolivia and Correa in Ecuador, along with others that will be discussed later – that these neo-socialist states systematically established ownership, structural, financial, and equitable conditions designed to ensure that national wealth was conserved primarily for national and popular benefit, and only secondarily to satisfy international markets and local oligarchs. There shared a far more realistic awareness than their twentieth century predecessors of the imperial and predatory role of IMF and World Bank loans in tethering and subordinating national wealth to the needs of international capitalism. Most of the pink revolutionary states performed acceptably well up until 2014 when the commodities boom came to an end; they subsequently glided and then crashed as the result of the 2020 pandemic.

The achievements of Morales and Correa were far more than happy surprises contingent on a rising sea that lifted most boats. Analyst Carwill Bjork-James of Vanderbilt University has noted that the Morales and Arce team became:

“Experts at playing against type, contrasting their moderate polices with their radical reputation. They maintained small fiscal deficits, large currency reserves, and a high growth rate in GDP. Accordingly, the international capital markets have provided Bolivia with financing, while gradually upgrading its bond rating”.

Perhaps for that reason, therefore, the USA did not react with quite the expected level of hostility when in the first five years of Morales’ presidency:

Bolivia re-nationalized its gas fields and infrastructure (under the state-owned YPFB), electrical grid (ENDE), telephone company (ENTEL), the Huanuni and Vinto tin mines (COMIBOL), major airports (SABSA), and the Vinto smelter (Empresa Metalúrgica de Vinto). It also created a new national airline, BoA; and a series of light manufacturing enterprises producing cardboard (CartoBol), packaged milk (LacteosBol), Cement (ECEBOL), paper (PapelBol), clothing (Enatex), and refined sugar and alcohol (San Buenaventura).

Dr. Francisco Dominguez, Latin American expert at Middlesex University has helpfully enumerated the many achievements of the Morales-led MAS-IPSP government in Bolivia, 2006-2019:

GDP up from US$9,574 bn in 2005 to US$40,000 bn in 2013 (an increase of over 400%), that is, an annual average of 4,6%, the highest in the region

A fiscal surplus in 2006 for the first time in Bolivian history; and by 2018 it had US$8,946 million in international reserves

Extreme poverty reduced from 38% in 2006 to 16% in 2018 (a historic low)

Infant mortality declined by 56%

Social bonuses (the elders, primary and secondary school pupils, pregnant women) benefited 5,5 million people (more than 50% of the population)

Domestic savings in the period 2006-2018 up from US$4,361 million to US$27,123 million

External debt down from 61% of GDP in 2004 to 23% in 2018

Number of health centers up from 2,870 to 3902, and 49 new hospitals were built, well equipped by the state with the latest medical technology (public health is free of charge)

With Cuban help, Operation Miracle conducted over 3 million ophthalmological visits and 742,000 surgeries leading to many Bolivians having their eye sight restored.

The budget for health up from 2,5 million Bolivianos (national currency) in 2005 to 18, 805 million in 2018

Illiteracy eradicated by 2014.

Between 2014-18 the nine-lines metro-cable in La Paz (completed in 2014), had transported 174 million passengers

Drinking water by 2020 reached 9,7 million people out of total population of 11 million

The end of the latifundia system led to the redistribution of about 1 million hectares of land to peasants and peasant families

In 2005 only 18% of the parliamentarians were women; by 2018 this had increassed to 51%

4,796 new km of roadway were added to existing motorways in the period 2006-2018

All of the above was financed by the renationalization of the energy industry (mainly gas, also oil)

The Tupac Katari satellite was placed in space.

The re-nationalized ENTEL (telecommunications company) granted Internet access to millions of Bolivians free of charge, as a fundamental right

36 indigenous nations were recognized

Special cultural and ancestral land rights were enshrined in the new Constitution of the Plurinational State

National sovereignty was affirmed by eliminating foreign (US) interference, with the expulsion of the DEA, USAID, CIA and even the US ambassador.

The Post-Morales Era

MAS-IPSP recovered the presidency with a 55% of the votes cast, against 28% of right-wing Carlos Mesa, and 14% of extreme right-wing Luis Camacho. This was a much-improved performance compared to the election in November 2019 when their candidate, Evo Morales won with 48% against right wing Carlos Mesa’s 36%. All international election observation missions confirmed that there had been no electoral fraud and that the elections proceeded smoothly and properly. The results also showed that MAS achieved a better result with a candidate other than Morales, suggesting that his insistence on running again after three terms in office was neither necessary nor smart. Arce has said there would be no place for Evo Morales in his government.

Most political actors quickly recognized the result, with only a few radical right-wing groups refusing. MAS-IPSP won in 6 out of the country’s 9 with the right wing winning in two and the extreme right wing being victorious only in Santa Cruz. The 6 departments where Arce was victorious contained nearly 7 million of Bolivia’s total population of 11 million. MAS-IPSP candidates obtained 75 out of the 130 seats of the Plurinational Legislative Assembly, and 21 out of 36 in the Senate. The MAS-IPSP presidential candidate also won in 314 municipalities, the extreme right in 21, and the right wing in 18.

This victory was achieved despite or perhaps because of traumatic, systematic, political and judicial persecution against the MAS-IPSP, its leaders and cadre before and after the 2019 electoral fiasco. Morales himself was charged with terrorism, forcing him to seek refuge in Argentina. Leftist social movements were suppressed by means of murder, massacre, illegal imprisonment, harassment, exile, and judicial manipulation (“lawfare”). Fascist violence was unleashed on indigenous women, and in massacres against social movements defending their rights and fighting for democracy.

Jan Souverein, head of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung’s office in Bolivia explained MAS success in terms of strategic decisions taken by MAS, the wretched behavior of its political opponents, the poor governance of the transitional government, and the economic and social consequences of the Covid 19 pandemic. One important strategic decision of MAS was its chosen candidate duo: oa cosmopolitan economist who had worked for the Bolivian Central Bank from 1987 and was a former successful Minister of Economy and Public Finance – Luis Arce – together with David Choquehuanca, a former foreign minister of indigenous Aymaran ethnicity.

Opposition candidates had focused their campaigns narrowly on preventing MAS from returning to power – hardly a message likely to secure the support of the working and indigenous classes whose interests had been so thoroughly neglected by the transitional government of a relatively unknown senator, Jeanine Áñez Chávez, whose authoritarian and illegitimate leadership exposed to the world all the ugliness of contemporary right-wing Latin American (and global) movements. This included disregard for the requirements of democracy and disdain for the indigenous. The latter was manifest in public burnings of the wiphala or indigenous flag and brutal suppression of the protests staged by indigenous peoples. The resulting deaths were deemed massacres by The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The grossness of the crime was aggravated by the granting of immunity to the soldiers responsible. The incompetence of the transitional government were further manifest in mismanagement of the health crisis, poor political coordination with sub-national levels, reckless expenditure on the comforts of the already privileged, and cases of egregious corruption. Añez’ economic policies aimed to demolish the accomplishments of the Morales years and reverse all his social policies that had benefited the people. She then requested unnecessary financial emergency assistance from the IMF whose loan of US$327 million came with the customary onerous conditionalities undermining Bolivia’s economic sovereignty. Arce has since flung it back.

Oliver Boyd-Barrett is Professor Emeritus, Bowling Green State University, Ohio and of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He currently teaches at California State University, Channel Islands. He has also taught at the Chinese University in Hong Kong and at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. His most recent books include RussiaGate and Propaganda (Routledge); Media Imperialism: Continuity and Change (edited with Tanner Mirrlees)(Rowman and Littlefield); Media Imperialism (Sage) and Western Mainstream Media and the Ukraine Crisis (Routledge).