The advances of the political and social forces of the left in the Latin American and Caribbean sphere are almost always limited to their access to government but they are very far from reaching power, at least in its decisive forms.
It is true that in government it is possible to move forward with significant advances that improve the balance of power between capital and labour and between majority national interests and the very complicated web of interests of foreign capital which nowadays increasingly take forms almost identical to traditional colonialism.
Indeed, having the formal government of the nation in one’s hands is not enough if effective control of the other factors of real power are lacking.
That power with large companies in the key sectors of the economy, the mass media that underpins the very sophisticated and effective system of manipulating public opinion and the unreserved support of the barracks (military and police) that constitute one of the most important mechanisms for safeguarding the social order.
On the external scene, equally decisive, these nations turn out to be controlled by international organisations that basically act in the interests of the dominant countries.
As a result, the exercising of national sovereignty is severely limited or cancelled in practice, or ends up a victim of the policies of those rich nations that block it, invade countries or make them victims of various forms of coups d’état if they do not accept their impositions.
There are then big internal and external obstacles which, with enormous difficulty, can only be tackled from a position of formal government, if as a state there is a lack of a decisive presence in the production network or if the state suffers a permanent threat from the barracks.
The left and the social movements on this continent must therefore advance in the control of the main levers of the economy so that exercising formal government can translate into effective acts for social advancement.
They must, furthermore, ensure that they have effective backing from the military, carry out root-and-branch reform of the public institutions (degraded by corruption and cronyism) and push regional integration.
But it is also very important to move forward with a foreign policy that allows greater room for manoeuvre in a new world order in which there are no longer just the traditional capitalist powers: the United States and Europe.
Progressive governments in this region must advance, as much as the balance of power allows, in overcoming the current neoliberal model of capitalism that condemns them to be no more than minor and disposable players in the world economic framework.
From this perspective it is critical to strengthen public companies in the traditional strategic sectors (the iron and steel industry, chemicals etc) and modern sectors (cybernetics, robotics, new materials, pharmaceuticals and others).
The government must ensure that these new movements regain a decisive function in the control of the market and of private enterprise for the state and thoroughly overhaul policies related to external debt, tax evasion and particularly foreign investment.
Having key businesses in these sectors (banking, energy, basic research, telecommunications, among others) also allows power – at least partially – to be enjoyed by the popular sectors that have arrived in government through the citizen vote.
This type of development strategy (and not simple growth as up until now) does not mean overcoming capitalism as can be seen from the cases of South Korea and some northern European countries (Finland, for example).
However, it is a compatible strategy with socialist ideology as happens in the case of Vietnam.
Ultimately, everything depends on the objectives of the social movements and on the political leadership in each case.
A national purpose of development demands then sufficient clarity in the political forces that drive it and a firm and organised commitment from the social forces that take it as their own.
The political forces of progress require a high level of pragmatism to avoid diversions but they must always maintain, as a central purpose, strategic objectives so that today’s measures are only necessary steps forward on the path to the future.
For their part, the social forces that make this national purpose their own must be conscious of the need for sacrifices and temporary limitations, inevitable until the project is consolidated.
Its organisation, popular enthusiasm and daily determination must be pushed forward to move towards that new order which lifts countries out of their material backwardness, the enormous social inequality, the low or non-existent political participation of the majorities and the pre-eminence of cultural values that are an obvious obstacle.
Here we talk of racism and xenophobia, of acute patriarchalism and of the unhealthy tendency to place a higher value on what comes from the dominant countries than on what is local (of course it is no surprise that the current and sombre panorama only offers as a horizon emigration to the dominant countries). If the aim is not then just to reach the presidency but to affect the basic structures of the social order, it is essential to progress with the consolidation of public property in the hands of a government of the majorities.
The said property includes all the key levers of the economy and the indispensable organisation of those majorities is required, the raising of their political conscience and the support of the barracks so that the armed forces and the police are really national, guarantors of that national purpose.
Certainly, the real power resides first and foremost in the control of the economy but “it is born in the barrel of a gun”. It is not by chance that, in the big transformations on this continent, patriotic military men have, on so many occasions, been important protagonists of change, promoting it and ensuring the necessary stability.