Our English language readers may not know that our Spanish language colleagues have a weekly radio show, “Pressenza International in your Ear”, on Ecuadorean public radio, Radio Pichincha Universal. Every week we bring a selection of international news and interviews from the perspective of peace and nonviolence. The show is presented by Nelsy Lizarazo (Quito), Mariano Quiroga (Argentina) and Tony Robinson (Budapest).
We took advantage of the last live program of 2017 to talk with Pressenza editor, Javier Tolcachier, from Cordoba, Argentina, and take stock of the year. Who are the new political actors? Where are events heading in Latin America and the rest of the planet? What are the prospects for 2018?
(Listen to the interview in Spanish)
Temer’s Brazil… or the Brazil of fear, judging by the events of this year, Macri’s Argentina, which has clearly demonstrated that it is ready to impose its policies by force, an overwhelmed Paraguay and a Uruguay without Pepe Mujica for the last two years… How is the Southern Cone of South America looking at the end of 2017?
Brazil is going through an enormous backward process. President Temer, in alliance with a majority of corrupt parliamentarians, has managed to freeze investment in health and education for the next 20 years, in addition to passing a neo-slavery reform that takes the situation for labour back to 1942. An extreme political degradation, after the media-parliamentary-judicial-corporate coup d’état has also served the advancement of ultraconservative and retrograde religious forces who seek through Constitutional Amendment 181 to prohibit any possibility of abortion, even in cases of rape. This situation is compounded by the judicial persecution of former President Lula, who has garnered enormous popular support for the upcoming presidential elections in which, if confirmed in January, he will not be able to participate.
Macri’s Argentina has clearly demonstrated that it is prepared to impose its policies at any cost…
This is a rogue government at the service of big business, with mafia practices, such as the recent extortion by provincial governors and deputies who succeeded in approving a cut for pensioners, for those who receive the Universal Child Allowance and for veterans of the Falklands war, as well as developing a tax reform – yet to be approved by the senate – in favour of maximizing corporate profits.
In addition to the purchase of votes, blackmail, media manipulation, there is a practice of repression as a way of silencing protest.
Resounding rejection and popular mobilization weakened the government’s support in the October 22nd parliamentary elections, possibly marking this package of laws (including the projected labour reform law next year) as a before and after in Argentina’s political situation.
Paraguay has historically been in the hands of a conglomerate of landowners and businessmen enmeshed in politics through the Colorado Party, a creation by former Dictator Stroessner to mask and beautify his bloodthirsty dictatorship. None of this has changed: this year peasants and students returned to massive protest against the government’s failure to comply with what had been agreed at the negotiating table. Spurious legislative manoeuvres to allow Cartes’ re-election finally failed. Mario Abdo Benitez, the son of a man trusted by Stroessner, will take part in the electoral race of April 2018 in an attempt to give – once again! continuity to the party in power. The opposition’s efforts to break the Colorado hegemony will revolve around their candidate Efraín Alegre of the traditional Liberal party, who will go in an alliance with the Guasú Front of the deposed ex-president Fernando Lugo.
And a Uruguay without former President Pepe Mujica for the last two years…
The government of Tabaré Vazquez, of the Frente Amplio, has been lukewarm and has been oriented towards centrist policies, without questioning market structures, similar to what happened with Bachelet’s actions in Chile. However, there have been some important achievements in both places from the point of view of civic rights, such as the decriminalization of cannabis use, equal marriage laws and the recent approval of abortion on three grounds, removing Chile from the list of countries where its prohibition is total.
How does the Southern Cone of the continent look at the end of 2017?
A clear bastion of the right, Washington’s geopolitical allies, a Mercosur furiously oriented towards free trade. On the other hand, these governments will serve the US as a battering ram against Venezuela and represent the “vanguard” of weakening regional sovereignty. It’s like a photo from the 90’s in a recharged international environment.
We move up to the Andean region and we find a Bolivia that gives us good news and not very clear electoral perspectives, a Peru with the president in political turmoil, Ecuador with a new government after the Correa era and Venezuela, with recent elections in which the ruling party once again triumphed. And we have Colombia, debating a very difficult peace process and also with elections in sight… What do you think are the prospects for this region in 2018?
In Bolivia, after pressure from social movements and the approval by the Electoral Court, Evo Morales has no opponents who could overshadow his new electoral victory. We will therefore have to see how the power of the North operates there, and no manoeuvre can be ruled out. The country is growing and, despite suspicions of corruption in some sectors of the governing party, most Bolivians, especially peasants and indigenous peoples, support the current government.
In Peru, sectors of economic power are currently at loggerheads, which, as elsewhere, have seized any possibility of real democracy. The parliament, controlled by Keiko Fujimori, has not yet been able to obtain the impeachment or resignation of the current President Kuczinsky, but it is certain that he will continue to manoeuvre to manipulate national politics and – among other things – give a pardon to the ominous Alberto Fujimori, whose daughter Keiko leads the Popular Force. Only the strength of Popular Unity on the left can make the voice of the people heard in Peru.
In Ecuador, after the progressive victory over the banker Guillermo Lasso and the need to create a more dialoguing style of government, President Moreno has begun to lower the flags of the Citizen Revolution. This has led to an internal rupture of progressivism and an agenda corresponding to the interests of the right. It does not seem to be a good way forward, just as yielding to corporate and media demands wasn’t in the cases of other progressive governments that were later defeated or overthrown.
Colombia is progressing very slowly in its peace process, the assassination of peasant leaders continues and there is no prospect of improving inequality in land ownership. On the other hand, the long history of political proscriptions suggests that obstacles will be placed in the road to impede the unity of the left in support of Gustavo Petro or Piedad Córdoba to confront current Vice-president Vargas Lleras – the establishment’s main candidate.
In Venezuela, the government has emerged politically strengthened from electoral processes (a constituent assembly, regional and municipal elections) but it continues to face a merciless economic war, the product of unilateral sanctions, the hoarding of commodities, smuggling and monetary manipulation. This war, which also proceeds through intense media smear campaigns and diplomatic pressure, aims to weaken the Bolivarian Revolution in an attempt to defeat Nicolas Maduro in the next presidential elections, having failed in the coup attempts that caused so much pain and violence this year.
This area will continue to be of great social and political instability in 2018.
Guatemala has mobilized again this year, without major results in the face of people’s demands, El Salvador is still unable to advance with an opposition assembly, Honduras is on the brink of a civil war with fraudulent elections and without an elected president… The Central American region continues to search for justice and democracy… What is your general reading of what this region has experienced in 2017?
Rates of violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have dropped somewhat, partly as a result of the fight and other measures taken by governments, both left and right, against gangs. On the other hand, Central America has experienced greater economic growth than South America. Significant is the progress in the matter of the energy matrix with the use of renewable energy, enabling a lower dependence on oil and a greater availability of resources for investment in other areas. Nicaragua continues to support the Sandinista government and its combined economic model of small cooperatives and a centralised state. There the FSLN, after Daniel Ortega’s re-election, also won the municipal elections by a large margin. Guatemala, in spite of the strong voices that have been raised from the citizenry, continues to be as banana and corrupt as Honduras.
And we reach Mexico, on the cusp of its presidential election, with indigenous peoples’ candidates for the first time in history and with Trump threatening upstairs. What is Mexico’s role in the region?
Mexico is the closest thing to a failed state, in the clutches of drug-trafficking which dominate politics, and is subjected to a free trade agreement, now in doubt, with its atrocious northern neighbour. Violence is total, against women, journalists, indigenous people, students, against everyone.
It has become too close to the US and the US is not doing well, and now its racist government no longer wants an association – in reality an annexation – with Mexico.
Mexico must return to its best spirit, a defiant one, emulating the revolutionary exploits and turning its gaze to its brothers in the South.
We can’t leave out the Caribbean, hit by Hurricane Irma, devastated islands and Cuba, lifted from disaster… Where is our Caribbean going, Javier?
The political geography of the Caribbean must be identified. The Caribbean starts in Caracas and ends in Miami. And the winds, the tornadoes come and go between both poles. There is a struggle to preserve relative independence from the hegemony that the US seeks to reinstate over what it considers to be its own backyard. The emancipatory impulse is sustained by the axis formed between the Bolivarian government in Venezuela and Cuba, adding several island nations supported by the PetroCaribe system, through which they obtain oil at preferential prices and with good financing freeing up scarce resources. Cuba is moving towards the generational renewal of its government. In April 2018, a new president, presumably Miguel Díaz Canel, current vice president, born after the Revolution, will assume office. Moderate reforms are expected there, especially the controlled opening up to foreign investment that will allow for essential technological renewal.
The Trump era began and with that has there been a turnaround in US foreign policy or just a revelation of what was already on the way? And what are the consequences for our region and the planet?
We are accustomed to the ravages wrought by the United States in places far removed from its territory. However, inside, things are no better. Its inhabitants live in an era of American fascism. 41 million poor people, massive consumption of drugs and opiates, a very large number of armed civilians, a gigantic prison population, the vast majority of which are black, a supremacist government in which the military seems to have real power, a republican and extremist majority in both houses. An isolated country on today’s international stage with an unpayable astronomical fiscal hole. The arms trader and sheriff to the world, an unsustainable position. A true ode to individualistic meritocracy.
A look at Europe, several countries had elections, refugees continue to arrive, the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union, Catalonia in its autonomous struggle… How would you define the European scene at the end of 2017?
As in all parts of the world, a serious shift to the right, a region in which the generational landscape is sharpening conservation. Look at Poland, with thousands of nationalists chanting “We Love God”; in Germany the far-right in parliament for the first time since the Second World War and, for the fourth time, the conservative Merkel re-elected as Chancellor; in the United Kingdom the process of leaving the European Union is under way; in France, a fear of the National Front won the election for the candidate of the banks; Look at Spain, where secessionist nationalism is giving rise to the repression of Rajoy’s stiff-neck Francoism; and Erdogan, a fundamentalist Ataturk suitor; the political orientations in Ukraine, the Czech Republic, where a multimillionaire won the recent parliamentary election and where the far right came second; look at the disaster of the European Union, once a project of luminous unity, now a suffocating centralism in the hands of the banks. With a few very honourable exceptions, such as Labour’s Corbyn in the UK or the insubordinate Melenchon in France, an aging continent afraid of being flooded with migrants and failing to make peace with its history.
And what about Asia?
In the East the prospects are, at least in economic and some social aspects, somewhat better. China is working on the Silk Road and Belt, its gigantic route, road and port construction plan to connect isolated areas and boost world trade, a kind of Asian Marshall Plan. In its alliance with Russia, with the founding of an investment and development bank to mirror the World Bank and trade in currencies other than the dollar and the growing influence of the yuan, China appears as a counterweight to the once undisputed uni-polarity of the United States. Russia, which will surely re-elect Putin once again, represents in the diplomatic and military arena what China represents in the economic arena. North Korea, which was a Chinese communist buffer against imperialist interference that threatened the Maoist revolution from South Korea, has now also become a problem for China because it justifies a US imperialist presence in the area, Japanese militarism and the development of the Korean arms industry. Peace there, as always, is best for everyone.
In the Middle East, these hopes for peace are distant, people are dying and suffering from hunger in Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. It is a destruction which the US and NATO want in order to counteract the Iranian-Russian-Chinese axis, together with democratic winds to destabilize the monarchical theocracies of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf and stop the increasingly radical and violent action of the Israeli state. The argument for the continuation of intra-religious warfare between factions of Islam is no longer sustainable. Oil still moves the world and whoever controls that area has great power.
Africa has gone through elections, departures of presidents with more than thirty years in power… news on the African continent, where do you see the trends?
Ever since the colonial era, African states have been seen as the spoils of war for trading in natural resources, as well as small oases of subsistence for bureaucratic minorities. Previously trade was only with European clients, now it is more diversified, with China, Canada and others. Wars are non-ethnic, the subject of ethnicity, although it exists, is taken as an irrational argument to loot. Soft Chinese diplomacy, which does not have a history of slavery in Africa, has advanced a great deal. There has been a generational renewal in governments, symbolized by Mugabe’s recent downfall, but corruption has not ceased, neither in socialist nor pro-capitalist governments.
There is something that crosses each one of the countries of the continent and that has to do with the political persecution carried out by the judiciary and the denunciations, in some cases related to corruption, but in others linked to any excuse to gain political leadership through imprisoning the opposition. What can you say with regard to this, which looks as though it’s repeating itself as a modus operandi?
That’s right. There is a strategy that is a kind of replica of what Plan Condor was with army boots, and today is with judicial edicts. Any organization and any leadership that may obscure the possibility of capitalism continuing to reign in the region is being pursued.
However, it must be said that corruption exists and that corruption is a phenomenon rooted in the State apparatus, whatever political sign it represents. It is a serious problem that needs to be studied more closely and has to do with the bureaucratisation of a power apparatus that causes corruption within the state to be encouraged and that is mainly used by economic corporations to obtain contracts and so on. There are the corrupt and there are also the corrupters. It seems to me that this is an issue to be dealt with very carefully because a simple politically motivated condemnation is not enough.
What have been the most significant, the most remarkable things in our region and in the world? Let’s raise our spirits. It is true that the scenario is terrible, but you said it just now that there is a model and a system that is clearly making waves everywhere and that can be hopeful.
Trying to rescue the positive from a humanist perspective:
- The achievement of a binding treaty banning nuclear weapons at the United Nations in July of this year, together with the awarding of the Nobel Prize to the main promoters of the Treaty, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).
- The massive demand for a life free of violence for women, despite the daily statistics.
- The massive tides of popular resistance with a style of creative and nonviolent protest.
- The progress and consolidation of legal frameworks that allow for diverse families and couples.
- The displays of human solidarity vis-à-vis migrants, despite the great current of opposition and the petty attitude of governments.
- The advancement of the concepts of peace and dialogue as antibodies to the onslaught of violence in the collapse of a system in decline.
Nevertheless, a strong shift to the right is undeniable: a reaction of the old that hasn’t yet died to the new that isn’t yet fully born.
The main trends for the coming year.
Despite the apparent novelty, the world is becoming old and conservative. Why is that? Because it turns too fast and is in a few hands. Nothing is as it was before and the before is ever closer and seems at the same time farther away. Also because the population in many places, effectively and objectively, not only subjectively, is getting older.
The technological revolution, now motorized by the convergence of biotechnology, genetic technology, the Internet of things and artificial intelligence, is leaving behind and excluding three quarters of the world’s population.
Ownership concentrated in transnational corporations combined with a usurious and financial economy is wiping out the development possibilities of the remaining quarter. Meanwhile, the atmosphere is rotting and the earth is falling apart.
It’s the apocalypse and that’s how people see it. So instead of thinking or imagining a different, novel, creative, non-violent world of solidarity, people believe that they will be able to take refuge from it by retreating, going back to known formulas, returning to the past, following idiots who shout and are supported by big capital, just as Hitler was at the time.
If I had to respond rationally, I would say that today there is a much greater probability of new wars, of more misery, inequality and hunger, than of an evolutionary solution. And this is so because Humanity hasn’t yet unlearned violence, entrenched in its memory as appropriation and revenge.
However, hope is the last thing to be lost, because it’s the seed of the future and to conquer it, hope is the main tool. It’s up to us to unite and do it.