The Latin American LEFT and the GRASS ROOTS

Posted on | september 8, 2012 | No Comments


Since the Wikileaks and Assange affair, and than the denial to extradite Alexander Barankov, Ecuador positioned itself as the champion of human rights and a defender of free speech.

It is a very positive sign that Latin American government step up the plate, and show that democracy indeed has become a fixed feature of the continent.

The Colombian President has announced the beginning of informal talks with FARC as precursor for peace, beginning next November in Oslo. The peace process is widely supported by the people and legislature who drafted a bill to create a framework for ‘amnesty’, or as Human Rights Watch puts it Amnesty in disguise. But the Colombian people want peace more than anything, and if they support amnesty for the rebels than indeed amnesty will help enforce the peace talks and provide an impetus for lasting peace after more than half a century of war and conflict.

Are the developments in Colombia and Ecuador indeed signs of democratic consolidation and politicization?
But before we start hollering hooray and doling out balloons in celebration of Latin American democracy lets take a closer at the underlying factors that brought on these actions. Before continuing with this issue I want to introduce into the discussion, the impeachment of the Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, rather the fact that it invoked negative reactions in Latin America. I don’t believe that said reactions are symbolize increasing democratization, of human rights, quite the contrary!

The Nitty-Gritty of Democratization, Human Rights and the Latin American Left

The Political Left in Latin American is founded on neo-Marxism, Leninism and Maoist conceptions; it is radical, typified by its consistent call for revolution and uprising of the poor against the Latifundia and Caudillo. Another characteristic is its penchant to go underground, fight guerrillero type of wars, seemingly with the peasantry and for the peasantry. Guerrillo movements such as FARC (Colombia) Sendero Luminoso (Peru), Sandinista (Nicaragua) teach that oftentimes the peasantry and the people in the rural areas fall prey to the whimsicality of a guerrillo warfare; they are oftentimes caught in the middle, forced to co-operate with the rebels because they are told that the fight is to advance their plight and loathed by the officials because the fight is to advance their plight! And the peasants? They are up to this point unaware that some people or a movement are/ is defending their cause! All they want is peace! And peace never comes, only more mayhem. Both FARC and the SANDINISTAS have contributed to the impoverishment of rural Colombia and Nicaragua. In the case of Nicaragua, research by for example Anja Nygren, demonstrates that the Sandinistas were responsible for the eviction of peasants from their lands and their homes, for crimes against humanities and for the steady stream of refugees to neighboring Costa Rica. The FARC by the same token has left a trail of destruction specifically in rural Colombia, abducting children and forcing them to become a soldier in the FARC. Many poor people in the rural areas of Colombia fear for their lives and for the lives of their families, confronted with the criminality and atavistic nature of the soldiers of the FARC, as they pass through their neck of the woods. In the case of El Salvador similar patterns have been attributed to the FMLN; Several publications mention the controversial role of the FMLN as freedom fighters and perpetrators (see for example:;

In broad terms, the Commission finds the FMLN responsible for having committed “grave acts of violence” including assassinations, disappearances and kidnappings during the war that violated human rights and humanitarian law. The Commission received more than 800 denunciations of grave violations by the FMLN, including nearly 400 killings and over 300 disappearances. The Commission calls on the FMLN to renounce forever all forms of violence in the pursuit of political ends.

The sense of impunity, of injustice that proliferated among especially the poor, the landless and the disenfranchised hampered democratization in the last decade of the 21st century. No longer did the people believe in a Revolution would transform the society into a Socialist Nirvana of some sorts. Of course, there was Venezuela, were the Bolivarian revolution raged on, firmly establishing the reign of Hugo Chavez, a case that in essence corroborated the idea that the :Latin American left failed to deliver on its promise, to create a more just and verdant society. The failure of the left is best illustrated by their failure to transform the economy; only in the case of Brazil (President Lula) and Chile (President Bachelet) did Leftist governments manage to establish a platform to reduce poverty; Venezuela on the other hand, turned to mercantilism in an attempt to resolve the rich-poor divide, but failed miserably in its quest to do so.

It is therefore uncanny that many leftist leaders on the continent modeled their platform inspired by Bolivarianism. Evo Morales, Fernando Lugo and Ollanta Humala exemplify the new Latin American left that modeled their movements inspired by the success of Chavisimo.

The positive aspect of the strengthening of this type of leftist movements is the increasing involvement of the grass-roots in politics, rallying behind a type of leader who looked like them and who spoke their language, and who empowered them to rally behind a platform of liberation. The optimism that came from this type of movement, the fact that its leaders were able to articulate and aggregate demand of the previously disenfranchised gave hope, specifically among anti neo-liberal proponents. But the very people that rallied behind the grass roots, in support of these new leaders of the left are now confronted with what can be qualified as the backlash. Are these leaders still the champions of the poor? How can one explain the fact that president Morales of Bolivia turned on his own people, using violence against the protesters. Striking is that Mr Morales started his MAS movement in protest against pollution of the Indigenous Habitat, but today he as the president feels that a road build with money from Brazil should and will have to cut through Indigenous lands.

The same can be argued about the Paraguayan case, President Lugo became impeached after he ordered the use of violence on protesters. He and his supporters argued said impeachment was in fact a coup, but the bi-cameral legislature of Paraguay did not act on a whim, in fact their move became backed by the Supreme Court. The reaction of the Latin American community was therefore very peculiar; Mercosur in fact condemned the actions by the Paraguayan legislature, in fact pushing the country out of the movement, in favor of Venezuela. No mention was made of the fact that Mr Lugo had used violence to evict landless peasants who are locked in the struggle to regain possession of their land. Latin American leaders did not spoke out in defense of the people who struggle for justice, in fact they seem to condemn the Paraguayan government for taking actions against the anti-democratic actions of the presidency.

Farmers’ leader Jose Rodriguez told Paraguayan radio that those killed “were humble farmers, members of the landless movement, who’d decided to stay and resist”.The farmers said the land was illegally taken during the 1954-1989 military rule of Gen Alfredo Stroessner and distributed among his allies. According to the Paraguayan Truth Commission, 6.75 million hectares of land were sold or handed over under “irregular circumstances” during military rule. The Commission says that almost 20% of Paraguayan land can be qualified as “ill-gotten gains” Source:

Social Movement, Radical Ideas and Status Quo

One of the immediate drawback of the social movements described in this posting, is in my view the consistent denial of the status quo, the idea that they would be able to overturn the old nomenclature to create a new political order, a total and complete disengagement from the existing political establishment. The idea that one can reconstruct a new political order based on ideas of neo-Marxism, Gramsci and so called autonomist neo-Marxist intellectuals sums up what I call the immediate failure of these political movements (Motta 2009). Indeed, the empirical overwhelming teaches that it is not possible to deconstruct and then again reconstruct a new political order; it is only possible to de-align from a certain partisan structure, or from a certain political system. Completely deconstructing a political system attenuates to radical change and transformation, to a revolution.

Harking back to the earlier mentioned radical leftist movements FARC, Sendero Luminoso, Sandinistas and FMNL to argue that none of these movements succeeded in their quests. None of these movements managed to radically break with the traditional political order. Machiavelli in his writings warns of this pitfall, that political leaders typically fall prey to the same foibles, as power corrupts and distorts. Today, we see that one of the seminal leaders of the Sandinista’s, Daniel Ortega, the president of Nicaragua has two faces, a more moderate and placid face, that covers up his hard-line Marxist and militant predisposition that is corrupt and controversial, at best. No longer the champion for the poor and the disenfranchised, president Ortega today is unabashedly corrupt, gaining wealth and possessions rivaling that of the Samosa family that he once ousted from office:

Ortega and Sandinista leaders, in fact, have unabashedly used chunks of the money [donated by president Chavez, from Venezuela] to purchase private ownership of Nicaraguan companies, sometimes as mixed Venezuelan-Sandinista business ventures, and to corner entire industries in Nicaragua. It’s startlingly reminiscent of the personal fiefdom that the Somozas — the dictator family the Sandinistas overthrew in 1979 — made of Nicaragua during their long rule: Source:,8599,2098720,00.html#ixzz25m1mqezA


In closing, I want to return to my primary position, that democratization in Latin America is cause for optimism and hope. Has Ecuador indeed become the champion of rights, defending free speech and freedom of expression so vehemently that it risks a diplomatic clash with Great Britain? Or is Latin America telling the world that it is no longer the Backyard of the USA? Is Julian Assange the symbol of Latin American autonomy and strive for regional identity? The handling of the Paraguayan affair within Mercosur and the OAS teach us that Latin America is indeed working to gain more autonomy from the USA by increasing its internal cohesion, just like the ASEAN (Association South East Asian Nations). Colombia is indeed working to bring peace and free the society from mayhem and the arbitrariness of the FARC. Disarmament of the FARC is also of utmost (military) strategic importance, to stabilize relations with neighboring Venezuela and to regain a seminal position within the ranks of the Latin American community. Indeed president Hugo Chavez is a crucial force when it comes to Latin American stability. The cases of Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia and Suriname show that President Hugo Chavez is working diligently to spread his Bolivarian revolution. And despite the fact that an increasing number of Latin American citizens feel that democracy is the most preferred system of governance, many are still economically too weak, to accept political moderation and this is the reason why many will continue to support and trust politicians who promise change and liberation, instead of trusting the very institutions on which democracy rests.

AUTHOR: Natascha Adama
E-MAIL: nataliapestova23 [@]


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