Recent elections in Latin America continue that region’s remarkable surge toward democracy and away from the clutches of U.S. imperialism. On December 14, moderate socialist Michelle Bachelet was elected president of Chile while Camila Vallejo, revolutionary leader of the 2011 student rebellion, was elected to Congress.
In Venezuela, the ruling United Socialist Party of President Nicolas Maduro and the late Hugo Chavez won a majority of races held last month. The victory came despite ongoing efforts by reactionaries to undermine the Venezuelan economy and destabilize the advances of the Bolivarian Revolution. Violence by oppositionists is on the upswing and a repeat of the 2002 military coup attempt that temporarily deposed Chavez, only to be repulsed by a popular uprising, is a distinct possibility.
United States-financed sabotage in Venezuela is widely known throughout the Hemisphere if not here, and for many Latin Americans undoubtedly brings to mind events leading up to the 1973 coup in Chile, also financed by the U.S., that brought fascist Augusto Pinochet to power. Documents unearthed recently by investigative reporter and attorney Eva Golinger reveal extensive dirty work by the CIA and USAID in Venezuela as well as the involvement of former dictator Alavaro Uribe of Colombia, one of the U.S.’s last allies in the region.
In Honduras, meanwhile, Juan Orlando Hernandez of the reactionary National Party won the presidency over LIBRE candidate Xiomara de Castro in a November 24 election marred by massive fraud. Altered ballots, vote-buying, intimidation and election-day violence by the military, paramilitary squads and others allied with the NP were widespread and witnessed by hundreds of international observers. The fraudulent vote came on the heels of the pre-election murders of several hundred journalists, human rights workers, LIBRE candidates and other critics of the outgoing regime of the NP’s Porfirio Lobo Sosa.
Sosa took power in a 2009 election that was equally fraudulent after the military overthrew democratically-elected Manuel Zelaya, de Castro’s husband. The Honduran oligarchy ousted Zelaya because of reforms he implemented to improve the livelihoods of workers and campesinos in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation. Driven into exile, Zelaya was barred from running in both the 2009 and this year’s elections.
The fraud last month was so widespread that it undoubtedly swung the results, as every non-partisan, pre-election poll indicated de Castro was comfortably ahead. Despite massive demonstrations demanding an investigation, the result was validated by the Electoral Tribunal. Though much has been made in the U.S. media of verification by organizations like the European Union, the observer from Austria has claimed that the majority of EU delegates opposed the official report, only to be overruled by higher-ups. The United States, virtually alone in the Hemisphere in supporting the 2009 coup and subsequent sham election, immediately recognized Hernandez as the winner in the latest vote.
Next up are elections in El Salvador on February 2 where Salvador Sanchez Ceren of the incumbent FMLN is leading in the polls. The FMLN is the country’s long-time revolutionary coalition and advocates independent development through organizations like the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas. Ceren is opposed by Norman Quijano of ARENA, party of the 1980’s death squads founded by Roberto D’Aubisson. Like Jonas Savimbi, P.W. Botha, Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, D’Aubisson was one of Ronald Reagan’s favorite terrorists.
As we know all too well in the U.S., where both parties are controlled by the business class and politicians by definition rule in opposition to the popular interest, it’s a mistake to read too much into elections. In Latin America, however, people long terrorized by imperialism have created movements that made possible the Bachelet, LIBRE, Bolivarian and FMLN candidacies. Many have been killed in the process and others languish in prisons, yet tens of thousands carry on, risking all in the fight for freedom.
Though the tide has definitely turned from the horrific days of Somoza, Trujillo, Batista, Rios Montt and the rest of the long list of despots in the employ of the United States, obstacles remain. Increasingly, popular organizations are in conflict with the very left-of-center presidents who rode their efforts to office and have proven all too willing to accommodate global capital – Evo Morales, Daniel Ortega, even Bachelet herself in her first go-round as president of Chile.
This accommodation reflects the ongoing strength of empire. Perhaps of greater significance, it speaks to the limitations of electoral politics. Many popular organizations knew of these limitations from the outset and have demonstrated again and again that, whether blocking a mine, stopping construction of a dam or standing up to the army, participatory democracy and direct action are the foundations on which a new Latin America will be built.
Nowhere are people moving forward as they are in South and Central America. That is significant for us because democracy is contagious and when global movements become strong enough, it can spread even to the most unlikely of places – the United States, say. In addition, successful resistance to empire brings us closer to the day when we can finally shed the baggage of domination and exploitation and begin to relate to people around the world in something approximating peace and harmony. For these and other reasons we should take note of, and even take notes on, developments to our south.