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¡Viva La Solidaridad! Latin America’s Left Leads The Way

Hundreds joined international guests, solidarity campaigners and elected representatives for ¡Viva la solidaridad! Latin America’s Left Leads the Way: a session organised by Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America as part of this year’s Arise Festival.

Read the report back-or watch the meeting in full below:

Chairing the event, Arise’s Sam Browse went through examples of electoral successes and resilience in the face of aggression by the region’s left, and emphasised the importance of international co-operation amongst progressive forces: “those winning gains in the fight for a better future are an inspiration to us all”.

Secretary of the Presidency in Honduras Rodolfo Pastor outlined how the country faced “a dark period of history” following the coup against elected President Manuel Zelaya in 2009, with those who took power implementing “repression to benefit a small elite at the expense of our natural resources and the rights of the majority”.

Emphasising that last November’s electoral victory was “a product of those who resisted throughout those years”, he thanked those who offered international solidarity despite much of the media’s “deceptive” coverage of events and the stance of some governments: “the coup regime gained and held to power with brutal force and the support of the empire”. Pastor highlighted the situation faced by new President Xiomara Castro upon taking office: with debt at 50% of GDP, education, health and infrastructure having “collapsed” and in no position to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, and weakened democratic structures (also calling for former President Juan Orlando Hernández to face justice in Honduras in addition to his recent extradition to the US over drug trafficking and firearms charges).

Concluding by appealing for the continued support of those who have stood in solidarity with Honduran progressives over recent years, he called for movements to “stay connected across the world wherever struggles take place: the right are well organised and connected and we need to make sure we do the same”.

Rafaela Molina of Wiphalas Across the World began by reflecting on events in Bolivia during the coup of 2019: “what we thought was a thing of the past happened again”. Describing an alliance of right-wing governments, paramilitaries and international bodies as “committed to neoliberal restoration”, she discussed the repression that followed: with 37 people killed, thousands of activists jailed and violence against indigenous protestors – “racism was a key part of their project”.

Noting that the Wiphala flag became rallying banner for those resisting this agenda, she explained that this inspired the Wiphalas Across the World organisation formed by members of the Bolivian diaspora to help build international solidarity – with an alliance of social movements and unions helping to achieve “an unprecedented success” by forcing elections and the restoration of democracy.

Molina outlined how, since the victory of MAS candidate Luis Arce in the 2020 Presidential election, Bolivia now has the lowest inflation rates in the region and an economic model “that puts people before profit”. Whilst warning that destabilisation attempts continue and “vigilance is needed”, she described the current period as “representing the possibility of a golden age for Latin American integration” – as well as emphasising that “international solidarity has been indispensable for Bolivia and will continue to be in the coming years”.

MP for Newry and Armagh Mickey Brady discussed his experiences as an election observer in Venezuela, visiting six polling stations – contrasting the messages he was receiving from friends at home concerned for his safety with his experience in working class neighbourhoods. Stating that “as an Irish republican, I know the damage that outside interference can cause”, he argued that “only the people of Venezuela should determine their future”.

Brady cited former US National Security Advisor John Bolton’s recent open admission that he had “helped plan coups d’état (…) in other places” as evidence that “whilst the techniques may evolve, the same thing that happened to Salvador Allende in Chile during the 1970s still goes on”. Criticising the Irish government for a “lack of confidence to stand up the world’s powerful”, he called on them do more to stand up for sovereignty: “Ireland should be a voice for the oppressed, poor and marginalised of the world- not those who are stripping natural resources for the benefit of the few”.

Brady reflected on the boost that the emergence of 21st century socialism has given the left regionally and across the world, and described himself as “a proud internationalist” – describing internationalism as “a core part of republicanism”. Calling on attendees to build solidarity and challenge false narratives on Latin America, he argued that “the full potential of what the region can achieve is only just emerging”.

Teri Mattson of US-based peace campaign CODEPINK – Women for Peace listed examples of just how many significant election results had taken place in the region over the last two years- and noted that Brazil was scheduled to follow in October of this year. She argued that, whatever the exact political tradition represented by different progressive candidates who have recently achieved electoral success in various Latin American countries, they are all reflective of “a popular mood in favour of sovereignty and an economic model that works in the interests of ordinary citizens”.

Outlining how US aggression towards Nicaragua has been ramping up since 2018 and the passing of the NICA Act, she highlighted the material impact of sanctions on the country – including increasing tariffs on Nicaraguan sugar, hitting tourism, and isolation from international financial institutions as part of an “economic war”. Noting that numerous countries were currently in a similar position as they faced in 2007 of having to “deconstruct neoliberalism”, Mattson emphasised the importance of respecting the processes democratically chosen by their people and understanding the scale of the tasks they face – and called for progressives globally to focus their efforts on solidarity work by opposing any attempts from their own governments to undermine these attempts to help build a better world.

Colombian journalist Victor De Currea Lugo described neoliberalism as impacting “not just how we run the economy, but how we see the world- depriving the human being of their dignity”. This, he argued, made last month’s election triumph for progressive candidate Gustavo Petro all the more impressive – noting that Colombia was set to have its first government of the left in 212 years after declaring independence.

He also highlighted the record of newly announced cabinet appointments such as incoming Defence Minister Ivan Velasquez, who had previously been targeted for criticising military impunity, and soon to be Culture Minister Patricia Ariza, a member of the Patriotic Union Party in a period where over 5,000 of its members were assassinated. Noting Petro’s commitment to achieving “a social peace”, De Currea Lugo emphasised the importance of a peace process that, as well as securing disarmament, addresses the causes of conflict in Colombia by taking measures to ensure political inclusion, land reform, and address historical injustices: “peace means work, education, health and dignity”. Calling for campaigners to push their governments to “respect our decision” and provide support for the process being undertaken by the Colombian people, rather than going along with any attempts to undermine it.

Nathália Urban of the Brasilwire website provided an update on the current situation in Brazil – highlighting that polls have consistently shown a consistent lead for Workers Party (PT) Presidential candidate Lula da Silva whilst warning that there was “no room for complacency”, with far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro repeatedly threatening to undermine the electoral process or even attempt to cancel elections scheduled for later this year. She pointed to the recent assassination of PT official and trade unionist Marcelo Arruda at his birthday party as an example of the brutal reality on where attacks on democracy can lead.

Describing the “climate of fear” created by Bolsonaro, Urban summarised his Presidency as having “stripped away the dignity of Brazil and its people” – with 33 million Brazilians living with food insecurity, record levels of deforestation and ongoing threats to the Amazon rainforest, numerous killings of Afro-Brazilians by police forces, and over 677,000 COVID deaths. However, she also stated that huge numbers “continue to dream of a better future”, and pointed to Lula’s record of implementing ground-breaking anti-poverty programmes during his previous spell as President between 2003-10.

Acknowledging that she “will never forgive” the role played by governments who helped Bolsonaro come to power by backing the elected President Dilma Rousseff in 2016 and (now discredited and annulled) ‘corruption’ charges against Lula to prevent him running as a candidate in elections two years later, she encouraged those attending to ask their MP to speak up in defence of democracy in Brazil.

Closing the session, Browse thanked all panelists, volunteers and attendees- and encouraged continued support for the work of the Arise Festival.

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