Agony and Death of Neoliberalism in Latin America

Atilio Boron repression continues in Chile

In recent weeks neoliberalism suffered a series of defeats that accelerated its agony and amidst spectacular and violent convulsions that triggered its demise. After almost half a century of pillages, outrages and crimes of all kinds against society and the environment, the formula of governance so enthusiastically promoted by the governments of advanced capitalist countries, institutions such as the IMF and the WB and caressed by intellectuals and politicians of the establishment lies in ruins. The flagship of that flotilla of serial looters, Sebastián Piñera’s Chile, sank under the formidable thrust of an unprecedented popular protest, outraged and enraged by decades of deception, legal cunning and media manipulation. The Chilean masses had been promised the paradise of capitalist consumerism, and for a long time they believed these lies. When they woke up from their political slumber, they realized that the gang that governed them under a sham democratic cloak had stripped them of everything: they had their public health and education taken away, they had been unscrupulously swindled by pension fund administrators, they were in debt to the crown of their heads and unable to pay their debts while they watched in stupefaction as the richest 1% of the country appropriated 26.5% of the national income and the poorest 50% appropriated only 2%.1 percent.

All this dispossession took place in the midst of a thunderous media concert that deafened the conscience, supplied this artificial bonanza with indiscriminate credits and made some believe that capitalism was fulfilling its promises and that everyone could do what they wanted with their lives, without the state interfering and taking advantage of the immense opportunities offered by free trade. But no utopia, even that of the total market, is safe from the action of its villains. And they appeared suddenly personified in the figures of high school teenagers who, with exemplary audacity and filial solidarity, rebelled against the increase in subway fares that harmed not them but their parents. Their audacity shattered the spell and those who had fallen into the trap of resigning their political citizenship in exchange for consumerism realized that they had been mocked and swindled, and took to the streets to express their discontent and anger. They became, overnight, “vandals,” “terrorists,” or a rowdy band of “aliens”-to use the eloquent description of President Piñera’s wife-who envisioned the insurmountable limits of consumerism and infinite indebtedness and the farcical character of the democratic minuet that hid the implacable tyranny of capital under tidy robes and empty formalities. They saw in that violent awakening that one of the once most egalitarian societies in Latin America now shared, according to the World Bank, the dubious honor of being, along with Rwanda, one of the eight most unequal countries on the planet.

Like a flash of lightning they realized that they had been condemned to survive indebted for life, victims of a plutocracy – insatiable, intolerant and violent – and of the corrupt partycracy that was an accomplice of the former and manager of the plunder against its own people and the natural resources of the country. That is why they took to the streets and went out in imposing demonstrations to fight against their oppressors and exploiters, and they did it -and still do it today- with courage and heroism rarely seen. At least twenty people have died as a result of the repression of the security forces, and the disappeared reported number more than a hundred, as well as the hundreds of wounded and tortured and the thousands of detainees who mark, with gloomy tones, the final throes of the much admired model.

After this spontaneous popular uprising, nothing will ever be the same again, nothing will revive neoliberalism, no one will mention it as the royal road to democracy, freedom and social justice. Even if Piñera continues in La Moneda and proceeds with his brutal repression. In spite of this, neither the OAS, nor the “democratic” governments of the continent – presided over by shady characters with dark backgrounds – nor the hypocritical custodians of republican values will have an atom of decency to characterize their government as a dictatorship, a qualification that only Nicolás Maduro deserves, even though there has never been in his government such a bestial and bloody repression as the one documented in countless videos recorded in Chile and that were viralized through the Internet. Piñera is, for Donald Trump, a friend, vassal and political assassin of the White House, essential to attacking Bolivarian Venezuela and those are more than enough reasons to defend and protect him at any price. Complicit, the NGOs of the empire and their branches in Europe and Latin America -inverse defenders of human rights, democracy, civil society and the environment- will maintain an accomplice silence in the face of the crimes committed by the occupant of La Moneda. Some will express different opinions, but not those that are the hidden tentacles of imperialism. Undaunted, the publicists of the system will continue to point to Nicolás Maduro as the archetype of dictatorship and to the Chilean as the very embodiment of democracy. But it will all be useless, and that which died – the neoliberal formula – is well and truly dead.

Of course, the story doesn’t begin or end in Chile. Shortly before the ongoing social explosion, the traitorous and corrupt president Moreno’s Ecuador had been convulsed by immense popular protests. The trigger, the spark that ignited the prairie, was the removal of fuel subsidies. But the determining factor was the implementation of the “package” ordered by the IMF to the servile agent installed in the Palace of Carondelet. The popular reaction, initiated first among the transporters and popular urban sectors and then boosted by the multitudinous irruption of the original population in the main cities of the country lasted a little more than a week and forced the cowardly president to move the headquarters of the Executive to Guayaquil. Shortly afterwards he had to suspend the cruel repression with which he had responded to the challenge and open a fraudulent negotiation with the self-proclaimed leaders of the indigenous revolt. Astute, he agreed a truce with the discredited and also naïve leadership of the CONAIE and repealed the decree regarding the fuel subsidy, promising to review what had been done. None of that has happened, but he managed to dismantle the protest, for now. As for a serial traitor like Moreno, the head of the indigenous negotiators, Jaime Vargas, is being judicially persecuted by the government. The “paquetazo” will be put into practice because the IMF mandate is unappealable and Moreno is a pawn more than obedient: he is obscene. It is known that these programs of the Fund are only feasible if they are managed with a mix – variable according to each case – of deception and repression. But now citizen passivity has a short fuse and in a few more months, as soon as the rigors of savage adjustment are felt, it would not be surprising to see a new plebeian rebellion explode that we hope will not fall into the traps of Moreno and his cronies and successfully culminate in the ousting of the president and the refoundation of democracy in Ecuador. The president is trapped: if he implements the IMF program, the people will probably wipe out his government; if he doesn’t, the empire may decide that the time has come to do without his services. And since the White House “knows too much” about Moreno’s dirty business, he will have no choice but to accept the imperial úkase and take refuge in “involuntary unemployment,” as Keynes said. But, despite its futility and the crimes perpetrated during the repression of popular protests, Washington will take care to hide and protect him. As they did with another assassin, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and so many others. In a short time we will know what the outcome will be.

Neoliberalism suffered another defeat in Bolivia, when President Evo Morales was re-elected with 47.08 percent of the vote against 36.51 percent obtained by Carlos Mesa, the candidate of Comunidad Ciudadana. Despite the fact that the president had an advantage of 10.57 percent of the votes over his opponent (more than the 10 percent indicated by Bolivian legislation to declare him the winner in the first round) and that there was no concrete denunciation of fraud but only screams from the opposition, demanding that the ballot be called. Those who handle Evo’s enemies in Bolivia from the United States rely on the connivance of the OAS and the disastrous governments of the region. They say that the irregularities that occurred together with the meagre difference obtained by Evo (over 10%) compels us to proceed in such a way. If this were the case, these virtuous vestals of democracy would have to order without further delay the annulment of the 1960 U.S. presidential election when John F. Kennedy overtook Richard Nixon by 0.17 cents (49.72 versus 49.55 %) and was sworn in as president without facing any challenge. Mesa who lost by a difference of 10.57 percent would do well to be quiet. He will not, because in a prodigy of divination (which, of course, went wrong) he had anticipated his victory and would be oblivious to any result other than that, as befits a democrat “made in the US”. If I win, the election was clean; if I lose, there was fraud. Nothing new: the right wing never believed in democracy, much less in these latitudes, and is irresponsibly calling for civil disobedience and promoting excesses to “correct” the result denied it by the ballot box. Evo, in a gesture that exalts him, challenged the OAS to carry out a full expert assessment of the process and said that if he finds evidence of fraud he would immediately call for a ballot. It will be useless, but foreman Almagro will still send a mission to Bolivia to shake up the hornet’s nest and hinder the government’s work. Unfortunately, there will be people who will die or suffer serious injuries because of the disturbances that this mission will cause. Clearly, the social movements in Bolivia are not going to allow a defeat of more than ten points to force a ballot or to make the loser the winner. Moreover, the governments of Mexico, Argentina, Cuba and Venezuela have recognized Evo’s triumph. Ultimately, the restoration of neoliberalism in Bolivia has again been frustrated, despite the efforts of the empire and its local deputies.

In line with this regional framework of a generalised ideological climate of rejection of the prevailing neoliberalism, Mauricio Macri’s neoliberal experiment was repudiated at the polls in Argentina. Widely because what took place on October 27 was not the first round of a presidential election. This election, in fact, took place on August 11, in the PASO (primary, open, simultaneous and obligatory elections) and there the different political alliances measured their forces. Given that on that occasion it was demonstrated that only Mauricio Macri had the votes to challenge the electoral power of the Frente de Todos, the president attracted the right wing voters who had opted for other candidates in the PASO (Juan José Gómez Centurión, José Luis Espert, or Roberto Lavagna) and with a majority segment of the largest number of citizens who attended the elections on Sunday. In any case, there are still some unknowns that awaken more and more well-founded suspicions about the genuine verdict of the ballot boxes. For example, the fact that the Fernandez-Fernandez formula only increased its electoral flow by about 250,000 votes, decreasing its percentage gravitation in relation to the PASO by almost one and a half percent is difficult to understand. It is true that his rival increased it, but that he did it in 2,350,000 votes and almost seven and a half percent provokes at least a certain curiosity. It is obvious that the macrismo benefited from the flight of votes towards its candidacy, but its growth seems excessive, as does the very little that the Frente de Todos experienced in a context of deepening the economic crisis such as that experienced by Argentina in the last two months. Another mystery of electoral numbers is the whereabouts of the 900,000 votes obtained in the PASO by the two Trotskyist presidential candidacies, which were reduced to just over 550,000 last Sunday. What happened to those 350,000 missing votes: did they evaporate, did they vote for Macri? There are too many questions that we will not be able to resolve here but which feed the suspicion that there could have been a very sophisticated computer fraud that will surely be discovered as soon as the final scrutiny of the election is finished. In any case, beyond these disquisitions, the almost eight percentage points separating Fernández from Macri (which can be increased when the definitive data are known) are, for a ballot, a very significant difference. It should be remembered that in the second round of the 2015 presidential election, Macri beat Daniel Scioli by two and a half points, 2.68 % according to the final scrutiny. What is certain is that the arduous task of rebuilding the economy and healing the deep wounds that macrism left in the social fabric will only be possible by abandoning the recipes of neoliberalism. This caused in Argentina the most serious crisis in its history, even worse than the traumatic collapse of Convertibility in 2001. It will be like going up a steep slope, because Macri leaves the country in deep recession, riddled with inflation and double-digit unemployment, with almost forty percent of people in poverty and a huge debt, and in the short term, nothing less than with the IMF. But the social outbursts in Chile and Ecuador are an eloquent deterrent to discourage anyone from advising the new president that what is needed is to emulate the achievements of neoliberalism as they were known in Chile.

I could not conclude this panoramic look at the agony of neoliberalism in Latin America without mentioning the serious setback suffered last Sunday by this ideological current in Colombia’s regional elections. In this country, the so-called Democratic Center (which is neither one nor the other, but a radical and viscerally anti-democratic right wing), a party to which Álvaro Uribe and current President Iván Duque belong, suffered a heavy defeat in the dispute fought in the country’s two main cities, Bogotá and Medellín. In both, the center-left opposition prevailed and Uribism only prevailed in two of Colombia’s 32 governorships. Although it is premature to anticipate what might happen in the presidential elections of 2022, it is certain that if something was not expected in Colombia it was such a resounding stumbling block of the ultraneoliberal right in those cities. A very positive sign, without a doubt.

Nor could I put an end to these lines without, in this case, sharing the concern generated by the electoral process in Uruguay, in the first round of which the candidate of the Frente Amplio and former mayor of Montevideo, Daniel Martínez, obtained 39.2% of the votes against 28.6% of Luis Lacalle Pou, of the conservative National Party. This predicts a close contest in the ballot that will take place next November 24 because the other political forces of the right have pledged their support to Lacalle Pou, including the unfortunate novelty of Uruguayan politics: the “bolsonarismo” embodied in the Cabildo Abierto party led by former Army Commander Guido Manini Ríos, an ardent opponent of any attempt to review the cases of human rights violations perpetrated by the dictatorship in Uruguay and a harsh critic of all the progressive legislation approved by the Frente Amplio throughout fifteen years of government. All is not lost, but there are only four weeks left to persuade the electorate of Uruguay that electing a neoliberal government at a time when that current is falling apart in the midst of tremendous social upheavals – in Chile, in Ecuador, in Haiti and before that in Mexico, with the triumph of López Obrador – would condemn that country to go down a path that ended in a resounding failure in all the countries of the region. It would be naïve to think that what produced an unprecedented social holocaust in Mexico, after 36 years (1982-2018) of IMF-PRI-PAN co-government; or the very serious crisis that hits Argentina and the debacle that devours Chile and Ecuador could give birth to a virtuous result in the Rio de la Plata nation. The Frente Amplio will have to work hard to make its compatriots look carefully at the regional scene and draw their own consequences.

We end this panoramic look at the vicissitudes of the agony and death of neoliberalism in Latin America. The dead are dead, but what will sprout from their ashes is not easy to discern. It will be dictated, like all social processes, by the vicissitudes of the class struggle, by the insight of the leading forces of the process of economic and social reconstruction; by their audacity to face all kinds of contingencies and preserve the precious unity of the democratic and left-wing political and social forces; for their courage to derail the plans and initiatives of the personeros of the past, of the guardians of the old order; for the efficiency with which the heteroclite and tumultuous popular camp is organized and made aware to confront its class enemies, the empire and its allies, capitalism as a system, which has enormous resources at its disposal to preserve its privileges and continue with its exactions. It will be a Herculean task, but not impossible. There are “interesting times” coming, and they are pregnant with great potential for change. Uncertainty dominates the scene, as invariably happens at every turning point in history. But where there is absolute certainty is that no one else in Latin America will be able to deceive our peoples, or pretend to win elections, saying that “we must imitate the Chilean model”, or follow in the footsteps of the “best student” of the Washington Consensus. This was what was recommended for decades – in vain, given the unappealable verdict of history – by the formerly loquacious and now silent Mario Vargas Llosa, along with the pleiad of neoliberal publicists who arrogantly imposed their fallacies and sophistries thanks to their privileged insertion in the media oligopolies and propaganda apparatuses of the right. But this is over. And we will not commit the imbecility of pretending to display an implausible “neutrality” or good manners when it comes to dismissing this ideological current at its funeral wishing it “to rest in peace,” as is done with those who left a virtuous imprint in their passage through this world. What we will say instead is: “Go to hell, damned, to purge for the crimes that you and your mentors have perpetrated!”