AFTER BOLIVIA, RIGHTWING FORCES GET A FRESH JOLT
Things are finally looking up for the Left in Latin America again. After the victory of Evo Morales in the presidential poll in Bolivia on October 20 following a bitter battle with his rightwing opponents, on October 27 just a week after, the conservative government led by President Mauricio Macri was unseated by the Left coalition led by Alberto Fernandes and former President Christina Kirchner. Alberto will now be the new President while Krichner, the main pillar of the popular Front frente de Todos (Everybody’s Front) will take over as the Vice-President.
While the October 20 poll in Bolivia ended with controversy and the opposition aided by the Trump administration and its supporters in Bolivia made allegations about rigging, there was no such controversy in Argentina elections, the outgoing president Macri conceded defeat as the vote percentage of Fernandez was a clear 47 per cent much more than 45 per cent needed for a runoff, as per Argentinian Constitution. There was a general approval by a good section of the Argentina media as the economic situation was turning from bad to worse and even the supporters of Macri welcomed Krichner who did commendable job during her two stints as President.
The victory puts an end to the pro-business economic policies of Macri’s administration who promised zero poverty during his election campaign four years ago but ended his tenure with a plunging peso, inflation rate of 56 per cent and the increase in the number of people living below the poverty line from earlier 28 per cent to 35 per cent. ‘President elect Fernandez is a centre- left but he will be guided by Mrs. Krichner who is the real mass leader and who leads the Front in consultations with the various anti-right groups including the Argentina’s Communist Party.
Mrs. Krichner was president for two terms till 2015 and before that her husband Fernandez de Krichner ruled Argentina as President from 2003 to2010 till his sudden death in a heart attack in 2010.That way both Krichners ruled Argentina for 12 years from 2003 to 2015 and brought about major changes in the country’s economy favouring the common people, especially the workers and the peasants. Mr. Krichner in fact saved the Argentine economy from a collapse after he took over in 2003 after the country faced serious foreign debt default in 2002.
Fernandes will be assuming office on December 10. He will be staring down the grim economic indicators that have been eating away at the third largest economy in Latin America. Poverty is up 8 points in the last year, at more than 35 percent. Unemployment has grown, thousands of small businesses have shuttered and inflation, a chronic problem in Argentina, is expected to hit 55 percent by the end of the year.
Macri, who adopted neoliberal policies throughout his term like cutting subsidies and liberalising the market, was blamed for the deteriorating economic situation. After his striking defeat in the primaries, he focused his campaign on shoring up his base with more right wing rhetoric.
Fernandez has talked about encouraging small businesses to open by reducing tariffs, about boosting pensions for retirees, and about renegotiating a record $57-billion pact with the International Monetary Fund so that it is less onerous on average Argentines.
Experts feel that Fernandez will not have a lot of room to manoeuvre economically speaking, and he will not be given a lot of time by the electorate that is desperate for things to improve.
2019 is proving to be a decisive one in Latin America. On the one hand, various conservative and far-right governments have been mired in crises. These have ranged from the mounting protests against Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil after the Amazon fires, to the popular uprising against Lenín Moreno’s turncoat government in Ecuador and its IMF-sanctioned economic reforms.
On the other hand, progressive and left-wing forces are still regrouping after years of coups, electoral defeats, and continued media onslaught. There are some positive signs: AMLO’s government in Mexico is making crucial reforms to the state and investigating the disappearance of forty-three students in Guerrero state, while in Argentina the left-Peronist “Front for All” has come back to power. Yet Uruguay’s “Broad Front” faces an uphill battle in the coming elections, and despite promising changes in Chile heralded by Camila Vallejo’s fight for a forty-hour workweek and the political rise of Daniel Jadue, the Communist mayor of Recoleta, the Left remains divided.
Since taking power in 2006, his Movement for Socialism (MAS) government has taken a number of transformative measures. These have ranged from the nationalization of a significant part of the country’s decisive hydrocarbon industry; the rewriting of the constitution and the recognition of the country’s unique “plurinational” indigenous identity; the recognition of the rights of pachamama (mother nature); the redistribution of the country’s natural wealth through massive spending on social infrastructure (such as the Teleférico cable car system in La Paz), health, and education; and the creation of a number of social programs (such as Bono Juancito Pinto and Renta Dignidad).
This has resulted in vast poverty reduction in South America’s poorest country. Indeed, Bolivia’s poverty rate has fallen from 60.6 percent in 2005 to 34.6 percent last year, with extreme poverty falling from 38.2 to 15.2 percent in the same period. During Morales’s rule the Gini coefficient measuring inequality has been cut from 0.6 to 0.45, and in recent years the country has also enjoyed the region’s most consistently high levels of economic growth.
According to Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera who is also a senior leader of the Communist Party, there is an upsurge against neo-liberalism in Latin American countries again.
Moreover, this neoliberalism 2.0 emerged in a moment in which the whole world is seeing a collapse in the belief in the end of history — a belief based on the neoliberal precepts of Britain and the United States. Thirty years ago they were the champions of free trade but today they are protectionists while China, with its one-party state and planned economy, is the standard-bearer of free trade.
The communists have become free-traders, and the champions of the free market and liberal democracy have turned into protectionists — everything is upside down. So the neoliberal offer and its models are not attractive. If the United States and Britain were once used as the horizon we ought to chase, now they are rather more against the current.
So Alvaro says in this scenario of generalized chaos and the collapse of the neoliberal, pro-globalization narrative, the neoliberal projects developing in certain countries no longer have the same sparkle, the strength, the sense of conviction, or the all-encompassing that they once did — and nor are they firing people’s enthusiasm. The Left in Latin America is ready to seize this opportunity.