beyond theory….

There were wishful thinkers who thought (or hoped) that the ALBA would grind to a halt with the death of Hugo Chavez. Their analysis is based on a number of assumptions. One of them is that the ALBA is a way of buying political influence through selling cheap oil. As this is the basis of much Western aid, perhaps this is partly understandable. Another is that the ALBA was the project of one man, and the talk of building a new economic and social model (Chavez’s 21st century socialism) was merely rhetoric.


In fact, the alternative institutions of Latin America and the Caribbean continue to be strengthened. In Nicaragua the Parliament has passed an Act concerning trade with Venezuela within the ALBA framework. The co-ordinating committee of CELAC (the Community of Latin American States -the new Organisations of American States without the United States and Canada) met this week in Havana to continue its work of developing the organisation. Has it been hi-jacked by the Left? Hardly. The ‘Troika’ of three countries which share the main organising duties at the moment are Cuba, Chile and Costa Rica. The only two things these countries have in common is the same letter of the alphabet, and a desire to become increasingly independent of the malign influence of their Northernly neighbours. The rest is up for discussion within CELAC.

And have the organisations more closely associated with Venezuela gone into a tailspin since President Maduro replaced Hugo Chavez? Last weekend there was a meeting in Caracas which has seen Petrocaribe expand. It is the solidarity organisation which offers Venezuelan oil on favourable terms, on condition that some countries use the savings for development. The US Nicaragua Network reported the meeting thus:

The presidents and prime ministers of the countries that are members of Petrocaribe met in Caracas on Sunday, May 5, and agreed to form an economic zone which would “develop productive sectors in the participating countries.” Petrocaribe is an association of nations that purchase petroleum from Venezuela on favorable terms which allow them to invest in anti-poverty and development projects. The members of Petrocaribe are: Nicaragua, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, Cuba, Dominica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Granada, Guyana, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Haití, Jamaica, San Cristobal and Nieves, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Santa Lucia, and Suriname. Honduras and Guatemala were admitted as full members of Petrocaribe at this meeting. Upon arriving in Caracas on Saturday night, President Daniel Ortega said that a major development pole was being strengthened and consolidated in Latin America and the Caribbean around Petrocaribe and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA).

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro told Petrocaribe members that while the right wing expresses hopes that Petrocaribe will end, “Petrocaribe is just consolidating itself and getting stronger.” He predicted that the new economic zone, which will include “energy stability, financial stability and strengthened investment … will permit us to develop together.” He noted, “As [late President Hugo] Chavez said, in the past petroleum was an instrument of domination and now it has been converted into an instrument of liberation.”

In some ways understanding analysis of what is happening in Latin America, in Nicaragua and other countries of the ALBA, becomes more difficult, as their development models diverge more and more from our own experience of attacks on public services and living standards, under the cloak of austerity.

Two recent contributions look at what is happening in this context, one which looks at Nicaragua, the other the whole continent. In ‘Beyond Theory – the practice of building socialism in Latin America‘ – toni solo and Jorge Capelan give their usual robust and combative opinion of what is happening, and why many analysts from outside of Nicaragua and the region are getting it wrong. The article examines why the Sandinista government has maintained a working relationship with capitalists both within and outside the country, whilst at the same time moving the country towards socialism. It gives short shrift to the idea of a ‘pink Left’, and the idea that the experiments within the countries of the ALBA, but also within other countries in Latin America, are now beyond concepts of ‘Left’ and ‘Right’.

It is useful to read Beyond Theory in conjunction with another continent wide analysis, this time from the introduction of a new book, Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions: the future of 21st Century Socialism. In the introduction posted this week on Alborada, it describes the development of socialism in Latin America, in Cuba in the 60s, Chile under Allende, and Nicaragua in the 80s, and in more detail the events of the last decade or so.

Though the writers of Beyond Theory would disagree with some of the conclusions of the introduction (and at least one of the book’s authors, Roger Burbach, has been scathing about the new Sandinista government), there is also considerable overlap, coming from analysts from within the continent. With the defeat of the Left in Latin America by the end of the 80s, the re-construction needed was not only political, but economic. The ‘Lost Decade in Latin America’ to neo-liberalism was in reality nearly 30 years of attacks on ordinary people. The book sums this up in a nutshell:

The Brazilian political scientist Emir Sader, in his 2011 book The New Mole: Paths of the Latin American Left, argues that the setback for socialism was so severe that it is still recuperating to this day. Socialism can be part of the agenda, but the priority must be on forming governments and political coalitions to dismantle neoliberalism, even if that means accepting the broader capitalist system for the time being.

Sader made similar points in an earlier article (see here) where he charted developments in individual countries, and the push for regional integration. As all the pieces above point out in their different ways, to understand the pace and direction of change today in Latin America, and in countries like Nicaragua, we need to remember where they’re starting from, not where we want them to be in the future.


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