Álvaro García Linera: The Central Command of the Latin American Right is the U.S., not Spain

Luis Hernández Navarro
García Linera considera que Colombia se ha rebelado contra el avasallamiento del neoliberalismo del norte.

The conservative command of the Latin American right is in the United States, not in Spain. Vox is small and clumsy. On the other hand, Washington promotes a series of basic values: market, individuality, institutionality against social convulsions and wealth as the goal of life, affirms Álvaro García Linera.

The vice president of the Plurinational State of Bolivia between 2006 and 2019 is one of the most prominent contemporary leftist intellectuals. His extensive and provocative intellectual production is the result of a political commitment that led him to imprisonment for seven years and of a solid theoretical training.

Back in Mexico, where he studied mathematics at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and where he was in asylum due to the coup d’état against him and President Evo Morales, he spoke with La Jornada about the difficult relationship between the continent’s progressivism and the middle classes, the right-wing project in the region and the excessive confidence that governments of national-popular inspiration have had in their armies.

The following is part of this interview.

What does progressivism in Latin America consist of?

Progressivism has a broad spectrum, but it shares common things. The first is that they are new political forces that are bursting onto the political scene, criticizing the old traditional political system, which had been anchored to the structures of the State for 40 years, and in other countries for 50 or 70 years.

The second is a vindication of the popular, of its presence, of its rights. It seeks a modification of the composition of the distribution of the national economic surplus between capital and labor, in favor of the popular sectors and labor. And a recovery of the protagonism of the State as manager, administrator or amplifier of common goods and collective rights. That is what is common to progressivism.

From that you can range from more moderate views that comply with this minimum common denominator and stay there, to more radicalized progressivism, which proposes a productive protagonism of the State, through nationalization of certain strategic sectors of the economy, and mobilization as a way of managing the administration of the State.

These three elements: a productive presence of the State, social democratization in the management of public affairs and modification of the class composition of the State leadership, would be the most radicalized progressivism.

Is it a project different from that of social democracy, the old revolutionary nationalism, communism and national liberation?

There are no sharp breaks. In some cases it is the continuation of the national-popular of the 50’s. Middle class elites committed to the popular that make certain decisions, as happened in the 40’s, 50’s and part of the 60’s in Latin America. But in other cases, no. In other cases it is a substantial rupture.

The presence of Indians governing, in the case of Bolivia, breaks with any continuity of revolutionary nationalism or the national-popular of the 50’s. Although there is continuity in terms of the role of the State, it is a modification in class composition. It is the serf becoming the master. There you have a 180-degree turn of the composition of the state.

The same interests

Does the Latin American right wing have a project?

It always has a project: fundamentally, to protect its interests. The question is whether it has an expansive, seductive, universalist project, as it came to have in the 1980s, when neoliberalism at the world level was presented as the answer to the crisis of the welfare state in the countries of the North. And it was presented as the necessary conclusion of the collapse of the experiences of real socialism.

But not today. Today it is: let’s go back to privatization, to deregulation of labor, to market openings and let’s concentrate wealth in the rich who will trickle it down to the poor. But, doing it in war, in a crusade against those who oppose it: the communists, the indigenous rebels, the migrants (depending on which country you are in), the populism of the rulers, the empowered unions.

Now, the discourse has lost its universality. It no longer seduces you, but seeks to impose itself on you. Its content is the same: to defend the rich by means of that four-axis prescription, but now based on a holy war against the infidels of this economic-political creed. It is a discourse that comes to impose, no longer to convince.

Is the organizing center of the Latin American right wing, either with the face of José María Aznar or Vox, in Madrid?

No. Vox is still small and clumsy. Its colonial mentality prevents it from understanding the Latin American reality, beyond such nonsense as showing civilization to Latin Americans. Today, that story is given to you by the pure racists of the continental political life. Those who are grateful, every time they have lunch and make the sign of the cross, for having a foreign surname and a lighter skin color than the rest of their compatriots.

The conservative command continues in the United States. It is very powerful. It does so through USAID, the State Department and the institutions that promote human rights and support entrepreneurship. That is where the strength of this discourse continues. Not in its extreme version, because the Americans are the Empire of the last 100 years. They are smarter than the extinct and cadaverous Empire represented by the Spanish oligarchy.

North Americans have more skill. They promote a series of basic values: market, individuality, institutionality against social convulsions, wealth as the goal of life. Therein lies the main force, the command of the conservative sectors of the continent. And it is a local creation of each country, how all these elements are wrapped in more democratizing or more authoritarian discourses.

Authoritarianism and the racialized discourse of the Latin American right emerges more as an endogenous reaction to a series of risks that they see with the emergence of populisms and progressivisms. What Vox is doing is trying -on that neoconservative, authoritarian and racialized right wing- to put together a kind of Ibero-American coordination, a kind of international-continental. But it is very clumsy. There, the North Americans give him lessons on how to know the local realities in order to have greater incidence.

Gramsci’s Transformism

How do you explain the romance and divorce between the middle classes and progressivism in Latin America?

Predictable, but not obligatory.

Gramsci called this transformism, in one of its aspects. How sectors of the middle or upper classes, not as a class, but as radicalized collectives, in certain moments of political crisis can feel attracted by the emergence and novelty of the popular. But, with time, says Gramsci, “there is the call of the class”. You return to where you started from. It is predictable, but it is not obligatory.

You have to look at how progressivism didn’t do enough to delay transformism, so that you do not complete the evil circle of them going back to where they came from. Each country has its own path to transformism.

The middle classes are becoming politicized, they are organizing, debating, discussing. But it is not a politicization of the left, as it was in the 1970s. We have a politicization of the middle classes with conservative logic, which makes it even more difficult to reverse that.

Progressivism is encountering a problem with the middle sectors. Also the United States, which is going to have, in the following decades, racialized fundamentalist sectors as active subjects of politics.

What relationship has been established between the Army and progressive governments?

An excessive trust. In progressivism we have believed that respecting institutionalism, promoting the presence of the popular, was enough. But, with some exceptions, Latin American armies are armies of caste. Some more than others, the commanders have been caste commanders. And if they are not of real, visually verifiable caste, they are of imaginary caste.

In order to have loyalty of the armed forces to the processes of democratization of wealth and rights carried out by progressivism, it is not enough to promote the participation of the people in the mechanisms of selection for promotion in the commands, nor is it enough to respect their institutionality.

In progressivism we have not made a substantial reform of the military doctrine inherited from the years of the cold war, in which the enemy of the institution is the internal enemy, camouflaged, but internal enemy. This doctrine has not been eradicated from the mentality. This is one of the pending tasks and one of the risks of any radical progressive project in the continent.