Sunrise Over South America: The Changing Face of Socialism in the 21st Century

The era of U.S.-sponsored, direct military interventions in the affairs of Latin America appears to have ended, with the U.S. instead retreating to an attempt at domination via the “dollar diplomacy” of institutions like the International Monetary Fund.  In direct response to the decades of neoliberal domination, the region has recently seen an undeniable orientation towards “socialism.”  This analysis will focus on the five “socialist” Latin American nations–Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Cuba, who have joined the ‘Pink Tide’ of the 21st Century Socialism movement.  The supporting institution of this movement, the Bolivarian Alliance (Alianza Bolivariana para los pueblos de nuestra América, or ALBA) will be examined as the important bedrock of the constituents’ alternative, socialist development.  This work will highlight the recent history of each of these themes, expanding on its modern political and economic characteristics, which will be used to close each theme with a prediction for future directions.

It is necessary to begin with a discussion of the meaning of the word ‘socialism’.  Many researchers of the 21st century socialism campaign treat the subject with skepticism, calling “socialism” in this case a misnomer.  While acknowledging that line of thought, this research brief will instead treat the movement as a self-defining entity.  Thus, the ‘socialism‘ investigated here does not involve political theoretics about the meaning of the word; rather, this analysis seeks to explain the 21st century socialism camp in terms of their actions, style, and rhetoric.  As such, this work serves only as a broad overview of the topic, highlighting nations’ achievements, challenges, similarities, and differences without exhausting the depths of possible analysis each could merit in a work of less scope.  It is with this methodology in mind that this research brief is structured.

Venezuela: “…with a new socialism, a socialism of the 21st century…”

With the goal of bringing social well-being to his people, President Hugo Chávez announced that he would lead Venezuela firmly to the left at the 5th World Social Forum in 2005, eliciting varying responses from resentment from the U.S. to pride and hope from Venezuela’s oppressed masses.  Now, 12 years after Chávez was elected, have his promises of prosperity been fulfilled?

Chávez first attempted to claim power in 1992, when he led his Ejército Bolivariano Revolucionario (Bolivarian Revolutionary Army) in a failed coup against then-President Carlos Andrés Pérez.  Shortly thereafter, Chávez took the presidency in 1998 through electoral methods, winning an impressive 56.2 percent of the vote on a platform of anti-corruption.

In an interview with the author, Venezuelan ambassador to Washington Bernardo Álvarez spoke of Venezuela’s success in the transition to a socialism of the 21st century in terms of the nation’s concrete advances toward greater economic equality:

We only need look as far as Venezuela’s dramatic social advances. Over the last decade, we’ve seen not only a dramatic decrease in extreme and household poverty, but also in rates of income inequality. More and more Venezuelans have access to vital social services like education and health, unemployment has been cut in half, and more and more people are participating at a number of levels in their democratic government.

Official statistics seem to support Ambassador Álvarez’s assertion.  According to data taken from a recent report from the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, real GDP has grown by 94.7 percent in 5.25 years, cutting poverty by more than half and extreme poverty by 72 percent.  Inequality has been greatly reduced, and public health-care and education have developed dramatically; for instance, access to clean water has risen 12 percent since 1998, and access to sanitation by 20 percent in the same time period.  Averaging over 13 percent since 1998, unemployment fell to single digits for the first time in 2007.  Most impressive of all, these successes were all achieved while lowering the public debt from 30.7 percent of GDP in 1998 to 14.3 in 2008.[i]

Though it may seem from these feats that Chávez has been a modern-day Prometeo, there have certainly been some Olympic challenges, and several remain.  Chávez indeed represses his opposition, creating what some have labeled a “tyranny of the majority.”[ii] The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) has shown a steady increase in corruption in Venezuela in the past decade, with its current ranking almost as poor as is possible.  In the same period, Freedom House has given Venezuela a consistent label of “Partially Free” (among alternatives “Free” or “Not Free”); while this is not as bad as it could be, it is obviously not optimal.  Critics of leaders of the new Latin American Left seize upon data like this, and point to human rights violations and repressions of democracy.  Venezuela has certainly seen its share of political discord, becoming increasingly polarized as Chávez’s rule has progressed.  Nonetheless, to categorize Chávez as anti-democratic requires some qualification.  He clearly has had the support of the majority of Venezuelans, as evidenced by his popularly-mobilized restoration to power after the coup in 2002 and his winning of the 2006 election with 63 percent of the vote.

In economic terms, the expansion of the Venezuelan economy has been in large part due to its export of petroleum.  In fact, the highly respected Dr. Riordan Roett of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies says that the Venezuelan economy would be failing but for the oil market.  Thus, Venezuela must take care to diversify its economy and avoid the resource curse that is so virulent among developing nations.  A significant shock to the Venezuelan system, predicted as likely by some,[iii] could upset the current mandate for the continuation of Chávez’s revolution.  Though the recent representative gains by his opposition in Venezuela’s National Assembly should be viewed critically, as both unsurprising and unlikely to seriously affect Chávez’s continued changes,[iv] they exemplify this dangerous susceptibility, and at least put a horizon on what was previously unlimited.  For the moment, however, the outlook is certainly positive, as Chávez continues to seek to help other leaders (via funding) surf the “Pink Tide” to similar successes.

Nicaragua: A “Failed State”?

Dr. Riordan Roett, in the interview for this work, labeled Nicaragua a failed state.  As the second-poorest nation in the hemisphere, this categorization may not be far off.  Apparently, this economic misfortune seems to be forcing President Daniel Ortega to walk a tightrope between necessary support from the oppositional IMF and ALBA.

The Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN), headed by Ortega, came into power as victors in an armed revolutionary struggle with the attrition and eventual collapse of the brutal corrupt and malevolent Somoza dictatorship in 1979.  Their primary policy goals were a foreign policy that was “independent and nonaligned” and a “mixed economy,”[v] though of course their independence was more a statement against American imperialism than a withdrawal from foreign support.  In the midst of the Cold War, the Reagan administration in the United States was galvanized by the perceived “Communist” threat in its backyard, and so initiated illegal, covert programs aimed at destabilizing Nicaragua (such as the scandalous Contra affair, kept secret from even the U.S. Congress for some time.)  Obviously, these initiatives worked, brutalizing the country’s economy and spurring a civil war.  In 1990, Ortega surprised the international audience by losing to Violeta de Barrios Chamorro (the United States-backed candidate).  Nicaragua’s citizens were eager to end the civil war that had been raging for a decade; one Nicaraguan woman, emotionally distraught because, as she explained, “Daniel will no longer be my president,” admitted that she voted for Chamorro, “because I want my son in the Sandinista army to come home alive.”[vi]

The following three Nicaraguan presidents, Chamorro, Alemán, and Bolaños, all under heavy influence from the United States, “implemented a series of neoliberal policies, gutting the social and economic polices of the Sandinista era and impoverishing the country.”  After “drifting increasingly to the right” with his subsequent candidacy in every election, Ortega eventually reclaimed the presidency in the 2006 election by an earlier, controversial noncompete deal for shared political hegemony which Ortega had reached with President Alemán.  However, it was clear that Ortega had changed–so much so that many consider his current policies a continuation of the neoliberalism instituted by the previous administrations.  In fact, a new agreement with the International Monetary Fund maintains the status quo of neoliberalism.[vii]

Since reassuming office, Ortega has used his ALBA membership to institute some beneficial social policies: abolishing educational matriculation fees, a Cuba-assisted literacy program, and a Venezuela-supported Zero Hunger program. Many analysts downplay the importance of these initiatives, however, citing increased repression and corruption in Managua.  Examples vary from oppression of political dissidents and electoral fraud to the fact that Ortega obtained, via ALBA, a promise of $300 to $500 million from Venezuela, administered personally by Ortega himself.[viii] Ortega’s corrupt methods of repressive governance are unsustainable; unstable régimes are exactly that–unstable.  Hopefully, Nicaragua (and the other nations included in this analysis) will learn this lesson before the inevitable fruits of corruption and repression derail their movements.

In sum, it seems that Ortega might be attempting to milk both the United States and the Bolivarian Alliance for all they are worth.  He has continued to use IMF support, as well as that of Venezuela and the ALBA countries, to yield some development: while inflation is rising, many other economic and social indicators are progressing modestly–helped in large part, of course, by foreign aid.[ix] With his unsustainable methods of repression in the background, Ortega will soon be forced to make a decision. Pieces of both colors will not continue to be permitted to play in the advancing chess game between the U.S. and ALBA. Judging from Ortega’s statements about eventual independence from the IMF,[x] it seems that Ortega (or his successor, if from his party) will eventually choose the side of ALBA.  Whether the U.S. continues to fund Nicaragua, if that allegiance becomes clearly defined, remains to be seen.

Bolivia:  “Indigenous Socialism,” Radical Success

At the other end of the spectrum of success, according to Dr. Roett, is Bolivia.  Dr. Roett says that “Morales in Bolivia has been the most successful–Bolivia is growing.”  Though this growth comes on the back of natural gas exploitation and via strong Venezuelan support, the growth itself is unquestionable.

Paz Estenssoro was elected president in the Bolivian Revolution of 1952, and he instituted some major socialist policies: public ownership of the Bolivian mines, large government subsidies, significant wage hikes, and agrarian reform.[xi] However, the succeeding administrations trended Bolivia to the right, including the reelection of a newly-neoliberal Estenssoro after severe economic crises forced leftist Hernán Siles Zuazo to resign from office.  These crises created a veritable circle of fire; governments instituted stronger neoliberal policies in response to crises, which led to more crises and a government call for more severe neoliberalism, and so on.  This would basically continue until the reign of Morales. When Evo Morales won the Bolivian presidency in 2005, his party, MAS (Movement toward Socialism), was elected with a firm mandate to change the policies of the previous neoliberal régimes.

Initially elected with 54 percent of the vote (with a record of 85 percent participation), Morales survived a recall effort in 2007 with a vote of confidence of 67 percent.  Clearly, the population supported Morales’s efforts, including a renegotiated contract with Brazil’s Petrobras, a strong alliance with Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro, and a new constitution instituting communal natural resource ownership and validating massive agrarian reform.[xii] Morales himself listed off his successes in an interview in 2007:

After one year, we can say that Bolivia has begun an irreversible change…We began with the Austerity Plan in the government apparatus.  The President’s salary was reduced by   60%…Reducing salaries at all levels of the government has yielded 61 million bolivianos in savings, which are being allocated for hiring 2,400 new teachers and doctors.  We have raised the minimum wage by 13.63 percent, and we have begun a literacy campaign which we expect will help us end illiteracy in just a few more months.  With the help of Cuba and Venezuela, we have established eleven ophthalmology centers and sixteen surgical centers, which have served more than 200,000 people.  We have also invested US$217 million in the education of primary school students through the “Juancito Pinto” bonds.  After one year of our administration, even the most conservative sectors recognize that unemployment has been reduced by at least two points and that sectors like construction, mining, and hydrocarbons are growing by more than ten percent.  This year we expect our economy will grow by at least five percent, above all, because we just inaugurated the National Housing Plan and a Production Development Bank which,    together, represent an injection of about US$150 million into the economy.[xiii]

Most important to note within this huge curriculum vitae is the external assistance Morales has received from Chávez and Castro, as well as the quoted “austerity measures,” which Morales implemented successfully.

Uniquely, the Bolivian socialist movement, especially in its earlier stages, was driven in large part by indigenous concerns.  Most of MAS’s initial electoral momentum came from the peasants in the countryside, who had been devastated by years of neoliberalism.  Morales, the country and region’s first full-blooded native leader, was himself a rural Aymara coca grower.  The cocaleros (growers of coca) have even been called MAS’s “vertebral column,” having “indianised” the politics of the nation to ensure that indigenous issues played a central role in the “diverse social movement organisations” that formed MAS.[xiv] Though this might appear intuitive for a country that is over 60 percent indigenous, in light of the long historical trends of disenfranchisement, oppression, and marginalization of Latin America’s indigenous populations, Morales’ election could be viewed similarly to the election of Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid in South Africa.

Though its path has been illuminated by an inherent dependence on hydrocarbons throughout the economy, from exporting Bolivia’s natural gas to accepting aid funded by Venezuela’s petroleum, it seems that Bolivia is on the right path to progress. As Chávez continues to promote ALBA and further regional economic integration (naturally favoring the “pink” members), with GDP growing at an average rate of about 5 percent since Morales’s election,[xv] and with the continued support of other socialist countries in the hemisphere (and without intense opposition from the United States), Bolivia indeed seems to have made the most successful transition to socialism.

Ecuador: Finally Picking Up the Pieces?

Ecuador, like most Latin American countries, has had a chaotic political history.  Even after the beginning of serious political reforms in 1979, presidents were often elected under false pretenses, and even more often driven from power.  Only recently, with the election of Rafael Correa, has this pattern stalled; what remains to be seen, especially in light of the recent attempted coup, is if the pattern has ceased for good or if it is simply paused.

Correa’s first steps toward the banner of 21st century socialism were effective, though costly.  A “giant increase in public spending” has helped lower poverty, at the expense of a debt crisis.  Meanwhile, GDP growth has been modest but increasing, due in large part to oil exports.[xvi] The most significant aid to stave off economic crisis in Ecuador has come from gifts from Bolivia and Venezuela.  Dr. Roett even goes so far as to assert that “Ecuador has oil and some other exports, but no real development agenda regarding economic policy”.

With a fast-paced approach similar to Chilean Salvador Allende’s methods in the early 1970s, Correa has moved very quickly in his socioeconomic restructuring in order to maintain his popular support.  Of course, Correa has followed the ultra-plebiscitarian style, and he was elected with a strong mandate, neither of which appeared on Allende’s résumé, so the comparison, though popular, is limited.  Though it came with severe demonstrations from domestic opposition, Correa’s education reform has been highly lauded by most observers.  As part of this reform, the government will dismiss poor quality teachers, provide salary raises based on performance, and demand more stringent accountability across the educational board.[xvii] Funded with petrodollars, Correa has doubled welfare payments and the amounts of housing loans, subsidized electricity, and declared several “‘emergencies’ that start[ed] the money flowing with virtually no red tape…in ten sectors, ranging from education and health to the prison system.”  Correa has also created new plurastically-appealing cabinets, from the National Secretariat of the Migrant to the Secretariat of People, Social Movements, and Citizen Participation.[xviii]

In an almost direct response to Dr. Roett’s discrediting of Correa’s strategy for development, Catherine Conaghan explained that “the government in 2007 issued a comprehensive national-development plan” that “hiked taxes on foreign oil companies, raising the royalty tax on windfall profits from 50 percent to 99 percent” and “hounded bankers into lowering charges on banking transactions”.[xix] Of course, Dr. Roett’s opprobrium may still stand in terms of quality or effectiveness.  Like the other “petropopulists,” Correa’s biggest challenge was, until recently, to diversify the Ecuadorean economy and reduce its dependence on his pink allies.  Now, the so-called coup by Ecuador’s police forces illustrates the extreme popular backlash citizens can exhibit when they perceive threats to social benefits to which they had previously become accustomed.  Implementing necessary austerity measures without further encouraging revolt now dominates Correa’s agenda.

Cuba: Senior Socialist Trailblazer Saying ‘Out with the Old’?

There is no doubt that Cuba deserves mention in any analysis of socialism in the Western Hemisphere.  It is important to note, however, that the Cuban socialist revolution vastly preceded the 21st century socialism movement, and possesses some fundamental differences from it.  Indeed, when Fidel Castro assumed power in Cuba, Hugo Chávez was less than five years of age.

The easiest place to begin in Cuba’s relevant history is the mid-twentieth century.  Though President Carlos Prío Socarrás “made Cuba a refuge of social democracy at mid-century,” corruption and disillusionment led to the formation of a party further to the left led by Eduardo Chibás and his “ardent admirer” Fidel Castro.  This party, the Cuban People’s Party-Ortodoxo (PPC-O) had as its pledges, e.g.: “nationalism, anti-imperialism, and socialism,” a State-central economy, limited private ownership, and a Cuban Institute of Social Security with socialized healthcare.[xx]

The electoral path in Cuba was blocked by the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, until he was overthrown by Castro’s eventually-successful July 26th Movement.  Defeated in large part by Castro’s populist appeal (a trait that continues to this day and has formed an oft-cited model for many later socialist revolutions), the Batista régime collapsed unreservedly, providing Castro with pristinely smooth sands from which to build his revolution.  Of course, those sands were still a part of the larger beach that was the Cold War, and much of Cuba’s policy was dictated by externalities from the Washington-Moscow standoff.  For instance, Castro originally appeared reluctant to embrace dogmatic Communism, though he later declared his Marxism-Leninism as a result of “a combination of will and circumstance,”[xxi] with ‘circumstance’ formed by Cuba’s forced dependence on the Soviet Union due to the United States’ rallied opposition.  It is in this area that Cuba differs in its historic ideology; Cuba often seemed little more than a puppet of the U.S.S.R., in contrast to the type of independent mutual aid promulgated, as will be described, by the 21st century socialists.  The Soviet Union (now replaced by Venezuela as Cuba’s chief benefactor) can be largely credited for keeping the Cuban revolution afloat during the many crises it has experienced through the years.  However, the United States should, at least in part, be blamed for continuing to pursue the embargo that has caused many of those crises.

The trials inflicted by these troubles never built up a large-scale (domestic) opposition to Castro.  Dr. Carlos Indacochea, professor at the George Washington University, points out that the often-ridiculed $25 wage in Cuba has a much higher relative value in the Cuban system than is intuitive. Additionally, Indacochea insists that things were much worse under Batista, so that the many challenges faced under Castro régime still appeared better alternatives to the Batista dictatorship.

Even within the matrix of Soviet political domination, Castro still brought many crucial social programs to the Cuban people.  Education has been his most significant success.  Illiteracy has been relegated to the past, and, though ideological, Cuba’s free education system has created a phenomenon that Dr. Indacochea calls the Cuban “rent-a-professional” system.  This scheme exports professionals to other countries with higher wage systems to earn remittances, and can also be seen clearly in the field of healthcare.  Not only is healthcare a right of the Cuban people, but medical training is a particular focus, leading, for instance, to Castro’s “We send doctors, not soldiers!” statement regarding the Haitian earthquake in early 2010.

Of course, the most ardent Fidelistas yet cannot deny sundry instances of human rights violations in Cuba.  For instance, Castro himself even recently apologized for the work camps to which many gay Cubans were initially sent.  As well, political dissidents are regularly exiled and imprisoned. It stands to reason that this repression would have occurred on a much larger scale if so many political opponents had not been allowed (or encouraged) to migrate to the United States and elsewhere.  Still, among most of the domestic Cuban population, Castro appears to remain hugely popular.

With the disappearance of the guaranteed support of the U.S.S.R., Fidel Castro’s revolution has started to reach the limits of its elasticity.  Once he ceded some power to his brother, Raúl Castro, he initiated limited economic changes designed to keep the Cuban model from collapsing.  Most recently, Havana dramatically announced the lay-off of 500,000 workers and the corresponding relaxation of private sector restrictions.  With so much changing in Cuba, it is difficult to predict the future of the island nation; indeed, even the United States Congress seems to be preparing to make the most radical change to U.S.-Cuban relations in 50 years by relaxing its travel ban and, possibly, its embargo.  As the Revolucionarios leave power in the context of all of these external changes in the hemisphere, what remains to be seen is how the new leaders of Cuba, with little collective memory of the Batista régime and more access to global information, continue to adapt (or perhaps reject) the traditional Cuban model.

ALBA: A New Dawn

Just as the pink tide movements have been backlashes against the woes wrought in Latin America by economic neoliberalism, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) is a response to the U.S.-backed free trade agreements it seeks to promulgate throughout the hemisphere.  It has been largely successful, though funded, of course, by Venezuela’s petroleum exports.

Fernando Ramon Bossi, organizational Secretary to the Bolivarian Peoples’ Congress, outlined “10 points to understand the ALBA”, available on ALBA’s website.[xxii] Among much standard populist rhetoric, Bossi did explain two key points.  ALBA is explicitly anti-capitalist, providing an opportunity for mutually beneficial aid with purportedly less strings attached than the U.S.’s austerity requirements.  Additionally (and not unrelated), ALBA is anti-imperialist, stressing the importance of national sovereignty.  In the interview for this piece, Venezuelan Ambassador Álvarez echoed this sentiment, making it clear that Venezuela seeks to help other nations develop their own version of socialism, not to export its own version to them.

Led by Chávez, ALBA seeks regional integration above all else.  The creation of PetroAmerica illustrates this best, “whose objective is that the state energy companies… undertake investment, exploitation and exploration of oil and natural gas jointly…”  ALBA has also instituted several exchange systems that dodge the “traditional centres of multinational and U.S. power and influence.”  For example, Venezuela has exchanged oil for agricultural products with Argentina, and, within ALBA, oil for healthcare professionals from Cuba.  Outside of the economic realm, ALBA also sponsors socially aimed efforts, the best example of which is Telesur, a “counter-hegemonic telecommunications project” that “aims to rival CNN and Fox.”[xxiii]

Naturally, the United States views ALBA as a significant thorn in its paw; it is left out of much of the region’s trade since ALBA serves as a tantalizing alternative (even originally called the Bolivarian Alternative) to free-trade agreements with the United States.[xxiv] Thus, from the U.S. and other forces, ALBA has met with significant opposition.  From trade agreement contests to allegations of modern U.S.-sponsored destabilization efforts to problems of economic competition amongst regional partners, ALBA faces large obstacles.[xxv] Nevertheless, it successfully navigated the economic crisis, in spite of fuel and raw materials prices falling.  ALBA seems to be progressing; most recently, Venezuela announced that it will import 12 thousand tons of poultry from Nicaragua in 2011,[xxvi] and Ecuador and Nicaragua have announced that they will sign a trade agreement in November of this year.[xxvii]

Conclusion: Where Will the Century Lead?

The populist, plebiscitarian leaders that form the 21st century socialists certainly believe that their revolution will sweep the hemisphere.  That belief will only be validated or repudiated with time.  Several nations continue or have begun to elect more rightist governments, like Piñera in Chile, Santos in Colombia, and Calderón in Mexico.  As noted, some critics, like Dr. Indacochea, even question whether the ‘pink tide’ is socialist at all, naming it instead simple anti-imperialist rhetoric.  Though this argument can be largely reduced to semantics (and it is clearly not the objective of this work to enter that debate), if one accepts socialism as a system in which the state controls the primary means of production, in these cases usually hydrocarbons, in order to administer sweeping social programs, the 21st century socialist movement is indeed “socialist.”

All of the countries analyzed here are undergoing significant changes and, due in part to the often distasteful methods used in their political transitions, many of the 21st century socialists face strong domestic opposition.  Despite the immense social successes this movement has brought to its constituent nations, the future remains somewhat unclear.  Are these changes sustainable, or will the systems collapse under their costs?  Are the benefits achieved so tangible as to satisfy the majorities, or will the respective electorates tire of sacrifices and unfulfilled promises?  Will this movement continue to be a progression, or will it fade into domestic counter-movements?  While only time will tell, the new day heralded by ALBA and the socialists of the 21st century seems, though admittedly hazy, nevertheless bright and promising.

References for this work available here

28 thoughts on “Sunrise Over South America: The Changing Face of Socialism in the 21st Century

  • October 12, 2010 at 11:25 am

    Well, thanks for this comprehensive explanation of a rather respectful view in comparison with most other articles on this issue. It seems to be a step into the right direction from my point of view.
    I would like to add that for instance Evo Morales is tuning into a policy which not only includes more social fairness but also protectiion of nature and environment, as I could see it in Cuba.
    Furthermore, we should not blame Cuba for its human right violations against gays in the '60s.
    In Germany, for instance, those laws procecuting homosexuell persons were abolished only in 1972 and the respective resentments within our population are not yet fully abolished.
    As long as US people are not told about the terrorist acts carried out by exile Cubans and supported by the CIA and powerful exile Cuban Congress members there will be no progress in US-Cuban relations.
    As long as the blockade is defined down to an "embarogo" and the terrorist acts are neglected, which caused 3,478 dead and 2,099 invalid Cuban people until 1999, and although their masterminds like Posada Carriles are still planning more of them, they are protected by the US authorities while the "Cuban Five" are still encarcerated for having tried to protect their country from terrorist acts, there will be no base for any agreement.
    Many people on earth. including people like me, are waiting for honesty followed by justice from US part . Otherwise, even article like this cannot convince.

  • October 12, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    The opening sentence of this review gives the reader a reliable scale on which to measure the reliability of its analysis and political agenda. To quote: "The era of U.S.-sponsored, direct interventions in the affairs of Latin America appears to have ended, with the U.S. instead retreating to an attempt at domination via the “dollar diplomacy” of institutions like the International Monetary Fund."

    Baffled, one could only ask – was this written before the coup in Honduras, the failed coup in Ecuador, the Media Luna secessionist disruption in Bolivia, the re-deployment of the Fourth Fleet, the expansion of US military presence with new bases in Colombia, the stationing of US land and naval forces in Costa Rica? One senses here a collapse of critical judgment. Little that follows helps to avoid that conclusion.

    • October 13, 2010 at 7:34 am

      While I appreciate your involvement with our work, I find your criticism unwarranted in the context of the article as a whole. I personally believe that it is a "lack of critical judgement" to suggest that, for instance, the coups in Honduras and Ecuador were U.S.-sponsored. As well, the stationing of U.S. troops in Latin American countries is incomparable to, say, the U.S.-sponsored civil war in Nicaragua in the 1980s. I would be interested to see academic work suggesting that instead of the economic neocolonialism with which THIS article criticizes the U.S., the U.S. rather continues to practice active military interference. I will give you the benefit of the doubt by assuming that you simply misinterpreted the thesis of the work, because the alternative is a reference to conspiracy theories above which I would hope COHA's readers generally rise.

      J. Preston Whitt, Author

  • October 12, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    Mr. Whitt, regarding Venezuela, you imply economic success using 2007 and 2008 statistics – the years of runaway oil prices at $90 per barrel. Today, at $55 per barrel (still historically high) the Chavez economy is completely broken, hanging by a thread despite its fortunate supply of oil. All other sectors of its "socialist" economy are failing. According to Credit Market Analysts Venezuela is the number one country in the world most likely to go broke in the next five years.

    Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador and Nicaragua all have massively failed economies, only slightly obscured by their Venezuelan oil subsidies. Someday you guys at COHA are going to notice that centrally run economies administered by strongmen dictatorships (elected or otherwise) have never been successful – please think hard and name one in the past 100 years.

  • October 12, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    Having lived in Nicaragua for the past 8 yrs., and Central America for twenty years, I have come to an inescapable conclusion. The problem in this part of the world has very little to do with socialism, communism, marxism, imperialism, or neoliberalism. I would submit that the countries you have written about all suffer from corruption and incompetence and all are run by old fashioned Caudillo¨s. All the rhetoric about representing El Pueblo is just that, rhetoric. Cuba is a dictatorship and has been for half a century. The number of Cubans that have died trying to get to Florida pretty much says it all. Living here in Nicaragua and watching Daniel Ortega kill what little democracy existed while he works to turn this poor country into a Cubanstyle police state is tragic. The other Caudillos , Chavez, Correa, and Morales are from the same mold. If I were a sentimental man, I would cry for the people in these countries that have been ill served by al these thugs.

  • October 13, 2010 at 8:39 am

    Dear J. Preston Whitt, I do respect your right of restricting your criticism on US policy towards Latin America and the Caribbean at the economic neocolonialism.
    However, there are no "conspiracy theories" needed when suggesting that "US still continues to practice active military interference". There are respective reports by NIKOLAS KOZLOFF for instance in 2009 at Counterpunch about the Coup in Honduras.
    One can find such reports when asking: Who profits?
    I will reasearch for you and come back later on.

  • October 13, 2010 at 9:17 am

    Ref.: the articles on CounterPunch within those days of the coup in Honduras:

    Nikolas Kozloff is the author of Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2008) Follow his blog at
    He for instance wrote:
    Obama's Real Message to Latin America?
    The Coup in Honduras;
    From Arbenz to Zelaya
    Chiquita (United Fruit) in Latin America;
    Or read the article by Miguel Tinker Salas, he is Professor of History at Pomona College. He is the author of The Enduring Legacy: Oil, Culture and Society in Venezuela:
    Honduras is Only Part of the Story
    The Conservative Counter-Attack in Latin America
    So far, I wanted to support the arguing of Felipe Stuart.
    For supporting my own comment above, I want to urge you to read the Cuban Granma now and then, for instance: "Cuba’s reasons
    Terrorist plans continue from the U.S.
    The statements by Francisco Chávez Abarca and the plans that have been hatched against Venezuela reveal that terrorist actions continue to be planned against the island and raise new questions on the complicity of the CIA, CANF, Posada Carriles and anti-Cuban Congress members. …", s.:

    Referring the activities of USAID, NED and IRI etc. the blog of Eva Golinger, US lawyer and interrogative journalist, in Venezuela, at:

    Eva Golinger, winner of the International Award for Journalism in Mexico (2009), named “La Novia de Venezuela” by President Hugo Chávez, is an Attorney and Writer from New York, living in Caracas, Venezuela since 2005 and author of the best-selling books, “The Chávez Code: Cracking US Intervention in Venezuela” (2006 Olive Branch Press), “Bush vs. Chávez: Washington’s War on Venezuela” (2007, Monthly Review Press), “The Empire’s Web: Encyclopedia of Interventionism and Subversion”, “La Mirada del Imperio sobre el 4F: Los Documentos Desclasificados de Washington sobre la rebelión militar del 4 de febrero de 1992” etc….
    Well, for finding the truth one has to leave the academic ivory tower …
    I could add many sources more, but they are too much …
    Josie Michel-Brüning

    • October 13, 2010 at 9:44 am

      Thank you for these resources!

      I certainly do not mean to argue that the United States does not imperially involve itself in Latin American affairs. I mean to say that they now do so via economic means. The U.S. financially supports the opposition in Venezuela, for instance. I am aware of these acts. But I do hold that the strategy has changed–the U.S. doesn't invade and set up a neoliberal dictator, but rather tries to topple régimes via economic imperialism, to which the 21st century socialist movement, which is the focus of this work, is a seemingly successful response.

      J. Preston Whitt, Author

  • October 13, 2010 at 10:13 am

    An article to be respected, a much fresher view than usual about the ALBA governments, which in themselves are as different as the non-ALBA. Moreover, cases like Nicaragua can perfectly fit in the other group.
    Interestingly the final definition of socialism of the XXIst century, says approximately "system in which the state controls the primary means of production, in these cases usually hydrocarbons, in order to administer sweeping social programs". You can define it as you please, but if you do so, why Brazil is not in the XXI socialism camp, and why Nicaragua is in?

  • October 13, 2010 at 11:23 am

    Firstly, I would like to say how much I enjoyed your piece.
    However, I would ask COHA (and everyone else for that matter) to please refrain from describing the events of September 30 in Ecuador as an "attempted coup". It wasn't. And any assertion to the contrary is simply a facile misrepresentation of the facts. It was a police revolt.
    In addition, whilst we are all guilty (most of the time, justifiably so) of criticising US policy towards Latin America, I believe the measured response of the Obama administration to the aforementioned revolt should be praised, not castigated. Correa’s UNASUR counterparts were all too quick to voice their support of Ecuadorian “democracy” under Correa. Whilst I am by no means an opponent of Correa – and it should be said the last thing Ecuador needs is another golpe de estado – one should consider the media blackout that occurred that day, the “state of emergency” that has been extended (again) and threats made by Correa to dissolve Congress before overstating how “democratic” Ecuador really is.
    And don’t get me started on the incessant and tedious government propaganda…
    Martin Mossman, a Quito-based Brit

    • October 14, 2010 at 10:16 am

      Dear Mr. Mossmann, what does insure you that there was no "attempted coup" in Ecuador?
      Despite of the "measured response of the Obama administration" some other sources say that the CIA had infiltrated the Ecuadorian police since long.

      • October 15, 2010 at 7:01 am

        Geez, you people think the CIA is responsible for everything bad that happens in Latin America, even when all logical signs point to no U.S. involvement.

      • October 15, 2010 at 8:11 am

        Please. That would imply that the United States actually cares about Ecuador. It doesn't.

        Also I think the onus is on the government (and you in this case) to provide credible and reliable evidence that there was an attempted coup. And please don’t refer to that obscure video footage ‘proving’ that Lucio Gutiérrez was involved.

    • October 15, 2010 at 7:18 am

      Thank you for your post! You are certainly correct about the "coup"; that part of the piece should be updated. I have changed "coup" to "so-called coup" to denote its status.

  • October 13, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    A Latin American country may ellect a right or lelf government… Is this the central point?
    What is behind this fact?
    I am an old NYU-LAW educated attorney (61)….

    1. If I recall it right, Fidel Castro first asked for U.S. help to oust Batista, and as it was of no avail …

    2. Let me not go so into "conspiratory teories": Did the U.S. Coast Guard repeal Jews trying to reach the "Statue of Liberty" WRITTEN words and promisses? – "Exodus"!

    3. For additional points kindly go to

  • October 14, 2010 at 3:32 am

    If we want to go behind so-called "facts" we have to extend our view. Regrettably, human perception is limited basicly to our own experience within our usual surrounding, still worse, we are indoctrinated by so-called "elites" searching for their own benefit and profitting from our lack of knowledge or ignorance. And as long there is no urgent need, we don't want to change our view.
    A German philosopher Ernst Bloch said: "Not lehrt denken!" [Emergency teaches thinking!]
    We did not reach urgent needed goals although recognizing the emergency
    for at least reducing the poverty on earth or reducing the threat of the climate collaps, Obama did not reach his promised goal of change.
    We have to step back from our usual involvement and try something different then.
    If we want to reduce poverty we have to slip into the shoes of the poor.If we want to stop the threatening collapse of our atmoshere we have to respect and to listen nature.
    And if our policy makers want to carry out a respective change they have to step back from their usual involvement in the dirty business of hidden and official wars.
    Obama has accepted the awful heritage and seems to be trying to do his best within the usual apparatus. He needs help from outside of that, from other highly educated people not being forced into the apparatus.
    I am a 66 years old woman eduacted in education science and as systemic psychotherapist in retire.

  • October 14, 2010 at 10:20 am

    I want to add, if it will allowed and not censored by the webmaster:
    If we want to go behind so-called "facts" we have to extend our view. Regrettably, human perception is limited basicly to our own experience within our usual surrounding, still worse, we are indoctrinated by so-called "elites" searching for their own benefit and profitting from our lack of knowledge or ignorance. And as long there is no urgent need, we don't want to change our view.
    Ernst Bloch, a German philosopher, once said: "Not lehrt denken!" [Emergency teaches you thinking!]

  • October 14, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    The reasoning is very coherent, and, as always, it is much appreciated. Alas, the review repeats some regrettable cliches. Take, for example, the use of the word "populist", which is extremely loaded, and belongs better to CNN and Fox than to the serious efforts of the COHA. Something similar could be said with freedom of speech in Venezuela, political oppression in Cuba, etc.

  • October 15, 2010 at 10:11 am

    So the oppression in Cuba and Venezuela are all the fault of the U.S? I have lived in Nicaragua for the past 8 years and am watching this poor country being turned into a Cuban-Style police state – with the help of Chavez and the billion dollars he has sent to the private bank accounts of Daniel Ortega. Chavez has also purchased channel 8 here, which now spews forth almost as much propaganda as channel 4, the Sandanista channel which is owned by the Ortega-Murillo family. But of course, we will never learn facts like this from the intellectually bankrupt Left. Certainly not from someone who believes 50 yrs. of dictatorship in Cuba is a Good Thing, and all of the world"s problems are the fault of The Empire.

    • October 15, 2010 at 11:10 am

      I of course welcome debate on the topics of my piece. I assume that you have posted this comment as a criticism of my work; if instead it is directed at Josie Michel-Brüning, please reply to her postings.

      Based of your criticism of the "intellectually bankrupt Left", I feel it safe to assume that you are from the "out-of-context Right". By that, I mean that none of the 'points' you raise in your comment appear in my piece. I criticize Ortega, as well as Chávez, for their oppression and human rights violations. However, the point of this piece is to discuss the social programs bringing healthcare, education, etc, to their people for which they have been able to pay using ALBA funds. The U.S. is criticized for the damage caused by neoliberal economic policy applications and encouragement of conflicts, but it is hardly given the full blame for "all of the world's problems"–evidenced by my defense of claims I did not cite the rumors of U.S. involvement in every political upheaval Latin America has ever experienced.

      J. Preston Whitt, Author

      • October 17, 2010 at 11:30 am

        ALBA funds here in Nicaragua have been used almost exclusively to expand the wealth and power of the Ortega-Murillo family. Since I am from the " out of context Right ", perhaps you can explain the difference between the Somoza family and the Ortega-Murillo family. I am also curious as to why, after a decade of spending billions of dollars-much of it through ALBA- to build the Bolivarian Revolution, Chavez has so little to show for his efforts. Most of Latin America has turned it"s back on Chavez, and recognized what ALBA is- a trojan horse for Chavez"s quest to replace Fidel Castro"s 50 yr. dictatorship with his own Cult of Personality. And who has he enticed to his tattered banner of " Socialism" ?. Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Three Banana Republics with less than 5% of Latin America"s population. Hardly an impressive result, would"nt you say? Chavez has already lost the game.

        • October 20, 2010 at 7:44 am

          In my article, I point to the fact that most of the ALBA funds Ortega receives go into his personal accounts, and that in fact he is now quite far to the right. In fact, I try to imply that Ortega has betrayed his "revolution" in order to play both sides against the other for his personal gain–in short, I definitely do not come down in support of Ortega.

          As for your criticism of Chávez, in my opinion, "what he has to show for it" is that he has insulated the citizens of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador from further damage by failed neoliberal policies. Of course, that's only, according to you, "5% of Latin America's population" (it is actually closer to 15%, not counting Cuba, see…. I suppose that bringing social benefits to 16 million people is "hardly an impressive result."

          I fully welcome a continued discussion on this topic, and will personally make sure that your comments are not censored. I would like to make clear, however, that this piece is not supposed to be propaganda; instead, it focuses on the oft-ignored social changes the 21st century socialists have brought to their countries. I allude to the "human rights violations" with which U.S. media is obsessed, but do not cover it more extensively because of that obsession.

          Everyone knows the bad, I'm trying to show the good.

          J. Preston Whitt, Author

          • October 20, 2010 at 9:06 am

            Interesting that you would say the U.S. is obsessed with " human rights violations " while making clear you have no interest in discussing the issue. I find that attitude consistent throughout the Left. Sort of " well yes, Castro is a dictator, but he is OUR dictator". The fact that 11 million Cubans have to live under an oppressive Government is of no interest to the same people that accuse the U.S. of oppressive policies. I was once told that Consistency is Character. Lauding the Cuban medical system while refusing to address the consistent human rights abuses in that country is-well- inconsistent.

          • October 20, 2010 at 9:38 am

            Mr. Cox, I believe I have reached the end of my ability to argue with you. This is not because of the validity of your arguments, but rather the refusal to acknowledge the points which I am making. Instead, you repeatedly misconstrue my attempts to engage in civil debate.

            J. Preston Whitt, Author

          • October 21, 2010 at 9:43 am

            I agree. Your "civil debate" seems to be that I accept your point of view, while you accept the validity of my arguments. A somewhat conflicted response, but your inability to continue this conversation speaks volumes about your views.

      • October 19, 2010 at 10:19 am

        I responded to your post about the "out of context Right" 2 days ago. COHA apparently has decided not to print it. More censorship from the Left? I wonder if they will post this.

        • October 19, 2010 at 11:19 am

          Dear Mr. Cox,

          Our apologies for the delayed posting. COHA does not in fact censor comments, but sometimes our automatic approval system seems to stall. We went into the system, and searched for your comment–sure enough, it was still pending for some unknown reason. We were able to override the automatic system, so here is your comment (albeit 2 days late). Again, we apologize for the delay.

          COHA Staff

  • October 15, 2010 at 10:22 am

    I think, by now, I have to apologize for my eagernace, because if you cannot believe in this higly educated forum, what has been done by your successive governments against Latin American countries, this is only testifying your own goodness and lack of imagination that such cruel things should have been done by CIA and its "soft faces" (quoting Ronald Reagan) as USAID, NED, Freedom House etc. not to mention the Cuban American Foundation (CANF), paramilitary organiszations like "Alpha 66", "Brothers to the Rescue" etc. and is going on secretly without the knowledge of honest American people.
    As for me, I could not believe myself 20 years ago, for instance.
    By now, I am 66, originally educated in education science, system family therapy, mainly, by highly appreciated US teachers – not involved in the dirty business of policy, as for Milton Erickson, Jane Parson-Fein, Virginia Satir, Bateson,, to mention only few.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *