The advance of progressive social and political forces in Latin America and the Caribbean seems to be assured. The governments of Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba will soon be joined by governments of a similar leaning in Ecuador, Peru, Colombia – and Brazil, after the return of Lula da Silva.
The future of Chile – which will approve a magna carta born of an intense and prolonged popular movement against Piñera’s government and the current constitution left by Pinochet – is an unknown.
The panorama in Honduras is no less uncertain following the accusations of drug trafficking against its current leader, an ally of Washington, nor is the final outcome of the unrest in Haiti, barely noticed by the media. Any progressive government on this continent is faced with complicated dilemmas to resolve in relation to deciding what and how to produce and, as a result, how to solve the problem of consumption.
At heart, it is a question of determining how far democracy is possible, that is to say, that government decisions satisfy the demands of the social majorities, in all orders.
Maintaining, reforming or completely eliminating the current link between these countries and the world capitalist order is without doubt one of the defining challenges that will determine whether the exercise of national sovereignty is feasible or whether these countries are condemned forever to a sort of neo-colonial status in relation to the metropolitan powers.
It is a matter of overcoming their condition as periphery nations, subjected to a dependence on the metropolitan centres that condemns them to poverty and backwardness. It is a matter of their ceasing to be dispensable countries subjected to the will of multinational companies and to the decrees of rich countries and the international institutions in the political sphere (the OAS and the UN itself, for example), in the economic sphere (IMF, WTO, World Bank etc) and in the military ambit (NATO, the Rio Treaty and other similar organisations).
If the balance of power is not favourable the default is that the neo-colonial relationship (the new form of the globalisation of capitalism) hardly changes.
However, if the balance of power is advantageous a margin of action is generated which allows progress in dismantling the so-called “extractivism” and the overcoming of the condition of simple suppliers to the central economies of basic raw materials and cheap labour.
Revising or eliminating the current free trade agreements and giving priority to protectionist measures is possible and essential. The West’s hegemony is broken and new powers like China offer the possibility of seeking new economic relationships and greater autonomy of decision-making.
These countries can and must take advantage of the differences between traditional and emerging powers.
In reality protectionism, in various forms, was never completely abandoned by the same countries that imposed modern free trade on others; they have always practiced it and they are doing it now with even greater vigour.
But this time, revitalising the internal market with a renewed “developmentalism” would not be the historic task of a progressive fraction of the big creole bourgeoisie as happened in the past. It would be the task of the salaried classes of industry, commerce and services in alliance with local small and medium-sized private property owners, equally affected by the neoliberal model but without the size or sufficient plans to lead this national objective.
The obstacles are not small due to the enormous power of the capitalist metropolises and the active opposition of the big creole bourgeoisie and its adherent social sectors.
But they are minorities who make up no more than 30% of the electorate but who dominate, on the one hand due to the popular sectors’ insufficient organisation and on the other hand, due to the immense control they have over the electoral system and the media, and because they enjoy the support of the armed forces to repress social unrest and overthrow popular governments.
However, it is not impossible to persuade the military and the police to join a national project of progress and democracy since, excluding certain layers of the military, the vast majority of uniformed personnel belong precisely to the popular sectors. The crux of the matter is then being able to decide what to produce in greater quantities to satisfy the population’s basic needs; what to produce less of, including a strategy for gradually substituting (or excluding) those things that have an adverse impact on nature.
Looked at this way, it is essential to achieve food sovereignty urgently, design a new political approach to the world market, impose strict limits on consumerism (especially on the wealthy and middle classes) and manage natural resources differently, prioritising holding reserves over mass exportation to guarantee that in the future the said resources will be available to develop.
Why do metropolitan countries, rich in resources such as oil, seek to appropriate them by whatever means they can in periphery countries when they themselves already possess immense reserves of the same resources?
A new and radical orientation of production would also mean drastic changes in consumption.
To this would have to be added the fact that this national development project will be the object of huge pressures from the system’s metropolitan countries even though its objectives, in general terms, do not deviate from the capitalist model. But, inevitably, new prospects for overcoming capitalism will open up. If the salaried social forces and national labour forces in general direct this project they will hardly do it to favour a system which is the main reason for their harsh situation in life and the very origin of the backwardness and poverty of the majorities.
Real democracy would be, in the first place, the social majorities being able to decide what should be produced and, as a result, what should be consumed to achieve real national emancipation and modernity.