Reform and Revolution in Latin America: Class Struggle will Determine the Outcome

Since the election of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela in 1998, leftist parties or coalitions have won the presidencies in many Latin American countries. What these movements have in common is a strong rejection of imperialism and a firm support for the social, political and economic changes each of these countries is undertaking.

Since the election of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela in 1998, leftist parties or coalitions have won the presidencies in many Latin American countries. Evo Morales, representing the Movement Toward Socialism in Bolivia, claimed victory in 2005. José Manuel Zelaya in Honduras was president from Jan. 27, 2006, until June 28, 2009. Daniel Ortega, was elected president in Nicaragua in 2006. Finally, Rafael Correa in Ecuador won the presidential election in 2007.

All of the above-mentioned governments came to power with the support of massive social movements. What these movements have in common is a strong rejection of imperialism and a firm support for the social, political and economic changes each of these countries is undertaking. 

The resurgence of the left is a product of one of the region’s worst economic crises. In the last 25 years, Latin American national states and international financial institutions have imposed policies of neoliberalism and globalization, which meant privatization of social security, pensions, education, telecommunications, electricity, water, transportation, petroleum, natural gas, mining and more.  

Under these conditions, new socio-political forms began to emerge in the early 1990s. They were accompanied by massive popular uprisings, which led to the deposition of neoliberal presidents—three in Ecuador, two in Bolivia and one in Venezuela.The changes taking place in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador make the dialectic of reform and revolution evident. Since Chávez, Morales and Correa won the elections, their governments have undertaken reforms that, taken as a whole, are aimed at opposing and transforming the foundations of the capitalist system.

In Venezuela, the process has taken a distinctive revolutionary path. In 1992, Chávez attempted to bring down the government of Pres. Carlos Andrés Pérez. Pérez sent troops to brutally repress workers who had taken to the streets against neoliberal reforms in February 1989. Thousands were killed. Chávez hoped his revolutionary initiative would draw in the Venezuelan masses—but it failed.

Nevertheless, oppressed Venezuelans recognized his leadership and were stirred by his challenge to the sitting government. It was that 1992 revolutionary initiative that galvanized the social movement that brought Chávez to the presidency—an electoral victory that would not have been possible under normal conditions, in a system rigged to favor the ruling class.

Within the context of radical reforms, Venezuela and Bolivia have been taking more radical measures—for instance, nationalizing natural resources and carrying out land reforms.

A critical task is underway in Venezuela to shore up and strengthen the revolution: building a party—the Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV—capable of defending and advancing the country’s revolutionary process. Marxists understand that a working-class party, led by the most dedicated revolutionary fighters, is essential for success.
Within the international context, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador have taken a clear stand against imperialism and are raising the hopes of the oppressed and the exploited of the entire continent.  

For instance, in 2009 Correa refused to renew the lease of the U.S. military base in Manta. In addition, he brought Ecuador into the ALBA regional alliance with Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Cuba among other countries.

Even though the left has grown stronger, all these democratically elected presidents and their political, economic and social agendas have come under attack by their national ruling classes with direct support of U.S. imperialism.

In April 2002, Chávez was briefly forced into exile in a coup that was stopped when 1 million supporters surrounded the presidential palace and demanded his return.

In September 2008, in Bolivia, right-wing forces used fascist gangs to try to break the hold of Morales. They were stopped through the combination of mass mobilizations and the intervention of loyal sections of the armed forces.

In 2009, also in Bolivia, Morales denounced the mercenary plans to attack humanitarian brigades of Cuban and Venezuelan engineers and doctors providing community services in the poorest municipalities of eastern Bolivia.

In June 2009,  Zelaya was overthrown by the Honduran military.

And in September 2010, Correa was trapped in an Ecuadoran police hospital in a coup attempt that was stopped by massive mobilizations and a part of the armed forces.

One instrument for U.S. intervention in the region has been the funding of right-wing political organizations and other groups. The National Endowment for Democracy has been particularly useful to that end. Under the guise of promoting democratic institutions, it funnels millions of dollars annually for the purpose of destabilizing progressive governments and strengthening pro-U.S. elements.

The recent election of pro-U.S. Ricardo Martinelli in Panama is a result of this offensive.
Colombia has been another key vehicle for U.S. intervention. Plan Colombia’s main objective, and the installation of the seven U.S. bases in that country, is to allow the United States to control the region. Colombia’s newly elected Pres. Santos, like his predecessor Uribe, will continue the plans of aggression and destabilization carried out by different U.S. administrations.

The Costa Rican government is also playing a role supporting the interests of the U.S. ruling class. In August 2010, 10,000 marines were sent to Costa Rica supposedly to fight the “war against drug trafficking.“ But as Chávez observed, its real aim is to have access, especially to Venezuela, in case the empire decides on direct invasion.

In addition, Costa Rica plays a major role supporting U.S. interests in Central America, as revealed during the Honduran coup, when Costa Rican Pres. Arias assumed the role of “mediator,” and in the border conflict taking place now between Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

Colombia, however, is not free of class struggle. There, a civil war has been waged for over 60 years. Within the first 75 days of the Santos government, 22 human right activists have been killed. More trade union members are killed in Colombia than any other country in the world. But the FARC and popular organizations continue unfazed the struggle for socialism. Each time they murder a leader of the movement, another steps in to carry the flag forward.

From Venezuela to Bolivia, from Ecuador to Nicaragua, the struggle to finally expropriate the ruling class and complete the Latin American socialist revolution is at its highest pitch. What will determine whether the reforms pave the way to outright revolution is the class struggle itself.