The struggle of the Latin American peoples for self-determination is inspirational. Latin America has been the front line of anti-imperialist struggle for generations and we have seen great victories won and maintained, like Cuba and Venezuela. In both cases, the attempts by the United States over decades to destroy the achievements of those revolutions have been relentless. Everything has been thrown at those peoples – from threats of nuclear war against Cuba, to political destabilisation, military intervention and economic sabotage.
And this is a continuing problem: in recent weeks we have seen further attempts. The left has been successful in the regional elections in Venezuela but the US refuses to recognise the left’s victory. Instead Venezuela is suffering from a punishing raft of sanctions, imposed by Trump and maintained by President Biden. The sanctions, which amount to a blockade, are designed to inflict such damage on the economy that the people will be amenable to ‘regime change’. Such a result would be enormously damaging for the people of Venezuela, their self-determination and progress.
And US attempts to undermine and destroy Cuba continue. Recently the US has tried to mobilise demonstrations against the government in Cuba in an attempt to foment regime change. These have met with little support. Meanwhile, the Biden administration has so far left all the Trump-era sanctions in place. These powerful sanctions coupled with Covid have halved foreign currency inflows over the last two years, leading to shortages of basic goods with the goal of generating discontent.
But nevertheless Cuba’s anti-covid work goes from strength to strength. More than 81 percent of Cuba’s population of 11 million is fully vaccinated, and researchers are upgrading the Cuban vaccine to ensure protection against the new Omicron variant. This is the reality of the Cuban system that the US wishes to destroy – health security for its people, not to mention the health solidarity that we have seen Cuba extend to other countries.
Given the amount of effort that the US puts into destabilising socialist governments and progressive advance in Latin America, it is not surprising that at times there have been victories which have been reversed or overthrown. But what we see is that the reversal is never accepted, whether in Bolivia or most recently Honduras, where the people have organised and fought back until victory. Bolivia recently celebrated the first anniversary of reversing the coup which took place against Evo Morales in 2019. The 2020 election saw a landslide victory for the MAS candidate after a year of brutal repression and neoliberal hardship. The process has taken longer in Honduras, but the coup in 2009 against Manuel Zelaya has now been reversed with the recent glorious victory of Castro, after 12 terrible years of neo-liberalism. Now Honduras will begin the process of building a democratic socialist society.
Of course there are many other examples across Latin America of imperialist intervention, and the common theme over decades has been western determination to introduce neoliberal economic policies to allow unfettered exploitation of the people and their economic resources. Indeed we can say that Latin America has been a testbed for neoliberal policies which have for decades been the main weapon for destroying socialism and for advancing US interests across the globe.
There has of course been repeated rejection of neoliberalism, Argentina is a powerful case that comes to mind, but when the US fails to impose its economic policy prescriptions it resorts to other means. Military intervention and war is one such method, but in Latin America the US has perfected a whole range of methods, from political intervention in elections, to lawfare and its use to conduct coups against legitimately elected representatives of the people.
Struggles on this front still continue – in Ecuador, for example, with the lawfare coup against Correa, but the left is still a huge force and I have no doubt that it will recover and prevail.
Brazil’s election next year is of the utmost importance globally. At the minute it is looking like Lula versus Bolsonaro and the US will do everything it can to support Bolsonaro. Lula is ahead and we must do everything possible to support his re-election. His victory will change geopolitics significantly for the better – whether it’s climate change, or increasing multipolarity. Brazil is an economic power house and it can once again be a political power house for the left.
Many of us will have been directly involved in one of the great initiatives of the Brazilian Workers Party – the World Social Forum, founded in Porto Alegre and backed by the city’s PT government, twenty years ago. 12,000 people attended that first meeting from around the world, organising and discussing alternatives to neoliberalism, and for a globalisation from below. That was a moment of transformation not only for the movement internationally but for Brazil, leading eventually to the electoral victory of Lula. No wonder the Brazilian elite and its US allies worked to drive him out of politics, but those malign forces will be defeated.
It is that kind of international cooperation, that emerged from Porto Alegre, that we need to regain, to re-empower ourselves as an international movement. A fighting movement, like the movements in Latin America, that don’t lie down when faced with coups, lawfare, economic warfare, military intervention, but re-organise and win.
We must stand together with the forces of progress internationally, get ourselves united and organised to challenge our own ruling class and the imperialist role it plays across the world. There is nowhere better to look to for lessons, guidance and inspiration than to our comrades in Latin America.
This is the text of a speech delivered at the Latin America conference in London on 4th December, 2021