Accelerating the Integration of South America and “Chavism Without Chavez”

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On November 21, Haesook Kim, the director of the International Strategy Center, interviewed Professor Hurh about the current situation in Latin America. They covered Venezuela, Latin America's leading left country, after Chavez and the acceleration of Latin American regional integration.

Haesook Kim: It’s not easy to predict the future in Latin America given its very dynamic international and domestic political and economic context. Even though 2015 is almost at an end, the question remains-- what are the main issues for this year?

Seok Ryol Hurh: There was just a runoff election in Argentina, and there will be a general election on December 6th in Venezuela. The election of the president in Argentina was carried out using the “balotaje” system: A candidate wins if he/she receives 45% of the vote or if he/she receives 40% of the vote and is 10 percentage points ahead of the runner up. The primary election was carried out on October 25, but since the opposition candidate Mauricio Macri got 36.2% and the ruling party candidate Daniel Sciloi got 34.7%, there was a runoff. Macri won with 51.3% of the vote. This was a great victory for the right, and a great disappointment for the international left.

Macri, a former CEO known as the “Berlusconi of Argentina,”[1] is expected to overturn all the policies that former administrations put into place and return to the neoliberal policies of the 1990s (e.g. large-scale privatization and the influx of foreign currency). Furthermore, he publicly declared that he would oppose the integration of Latin America and implement pro-US and pro-European policies. For example, he would try to expel Venezuela from MECOSUR.

As for Venezuela, the Bolivarian Revolution is at an inflection[2] point. Now is the time for Chavism without Chavez to proceed. When Chavez was alive, everything depended on his charisma. In fact, the system didn’t work to solve the problems that the people faced. They need to build a system which doesn’t depend on one person’s charisma. That is the main challenge for the Bolivarian revolutionary forces.

After Chavez died, Western analysts assumed that Diosdado Cabello, president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, would fight President Maduro for power. However, Cabello supported Maduro and gained power by establishing a complementary relationship with him. However, later, their differing opinions on the economy became evident. The minister of economy and president of the National Bank of Venezuela resigned criticizing Maduro’s practical economic policy.

Right now, many people are concerned about the influence of low oil prices on Venezuela’s economy. In reality, a low oil price is not the problem; it merely exposes the weaknesses of the Venezuelan economy providing more ammunition for the right to attack the government. For example, oil is smuggled from Venezuela to Colombia. When Bolivarian government tried to prevent this, the president of Colombia appealed to the critics in Venezuela. The government needs to eradicate economic corruption such as hoarding, smuggling, and corruption in the financial sector with the people’s power.

In the meanwhile, popular movements are implementing 21st socialism’s ideals in strategic businesses, the social economy (such as cooperatives), and “recovered factories.” “Recovered factories” are traditional plants where workers establish self-management after taking over a bankrupt factory. Because workers owned shares of the company, they were able to employ professional CEOs to increase profits. As a result, recovered factories couldn’t meet society’s expectation of becoming a seed for change. They are pursuing a profit driven model of production. If workers self-management is a crucial element in 21st socialism, then the best way to realize it is by workers learning self-management. Also, worker’s self management still hasn’t been introduced in strategic business sectors such as petroleum.

When Chavez took power in 1998, he talked about “the third road,” but soon he changed his stance and started talking about socialism. Now that Venezuela is transitioning toward socialism, I think Venezuela realized that the third road couldn’t be possible under imperialism.

HK: What will be the context for 2016? SRH: Since 2000, Latin America has experienced an ebb and tide in “post-neoliberalism.” Venezuela has led this trend, followed by Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina. However, if these countries don’t move to post-capitalism, the situation could be reversed at any time. These countries must change their current economic systems which are deeply dependent on imports for the primary sectors of their economies. This allows transnational corporations to introduce neoliberal practices in these sectors through agreements with countries like Bolivia. Even though Venezuela has changed from post-neoliberalism to socialism, it still needs to diversify its economy. There is still a lot lacking in agrarian reforms. In addition, agriculture and endogenous growth in industrial production remains at a standstill.

The low price of oil and the economic recession caused great economic difficulties in Latin America. Overcoming these difficulties requires that political, economic, and social integration be accelerated. It is crucial that the members of MERCOSUR form complimentary relationships.

On the other hand, the revolutionary forces in Venezuela have become more solid through internal struggle. Furthermore, the revolutionary people are still alive; it’s no longer possible to return to the old regime no matter how much the bourgeoisie want to. Victory in the December 6 elections will go to the side that has the greater mobilizing power. Fortunately the right is divided, so there’s a high chance that PSUV (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela) will stay the majority party.

HK: The US has strengthened its attack on Venezuela while normalizing its relationship with SRH: Cuba. What impact does the normalization of US-Cuba relations have?

Nothing has changed. The US is isolated in the Organization of American States (OAS). When the US was blockading and isolating Cuba, many Latin American countries pressured the US to normalize relations with Cuba. The US finally acquiesced to their demands. But the nature of its foreign policy hasn’t change. They have incited the right to attempt a coup not just in Venezuela but in Bolivia and Ecuador as well. They succeeded in Honduras and Paraguay.

According to WikiLeaks today, the US intercepted telephone calls and emails between PDVSA, (Venezuela’s National Petroleum Corporation) and the Brazilian Petroleum Company. The US’s illegal actions are pushing Latin America further towards integration. Venezuela joined MERCOSUR to consolidate integration in Latin America. The first time Venezuela tried to join, the Brazilian senate, whose majority at the time is the current conservative opposition party, and Paraguay opposed it. Venezuela became a member later when the Labor Party of Brazil had a majority in the senate, and Paraguay was excluded as punishment. While MERCOSUR is a model of neoliberal economic integration, Chavez still insisted Venezuela become a member in order to change it from within. When the FTAA (Free Trade Agreement of America) collapsed due to opposition from Venezuela and Brazil, some countries in South America made bilateral agreements with the US. In response, MERCOSUR changed its policies to get more countries to join. As a result, countries such as Bolivia were able to join as associate members.

UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) also responds to the US in one voice. When the coups in Honduras and Paraguay occurred, all of UNASUR’s members protested. Though Fernando Lugo (former president of Paraguay) was impeached and deposed, a new left coalition is gaining power again. We should also pay attention to the Sao Paulo Forum - a meeting of Latin American left parties. While imperialists incited the conflict between Lula and Chavez, but they have been moving toward solidarity and cooperation of the left forces while recognizing the differences between them based on their different foundations and situations. The integration of Latin America is on an irreversible course.

HK: In Venezuela an opposition candidate was killed by an unidentified assailant. How will it influence the general election on December 6th?

SRH: A candidate from the opposition coalition, MOU, was assassinated while campaigning. The right and opposition parties insist that Chavista gangsters did it and that the Maduro government take responsibility despite the lack of evidence. The US State Department, as well as big corporate media in the US and Europe are buying these accusations.

But the Venezuelan government has been collecting evidence on this incident as well as other recent assassinations in the area that took place in a confrontation with gangsters who run illegal businesses. This will be a major variable in the elections. The opposition parties will use it as propaganda to bolster anti-Chavism, while the Chavistas might unify under this threat.

[1] After Silvio Berlusconi is an Italian media tycoon and politician who served as Prime Minister of Italy in four governments.

[2] An inflection point refers to a moment where the typical rules are suspended, and great change (good or bad) is possible.