The gap between rhetoric and reality
As each day passes, the internal situation in Venezueladeteriorates. Rumours of military coups and unstoppable violence swirl, streetprotests escalate, ordinary citizens suffer shortages of medicine, everydayfoodstuffs, and almost everything else, while enduring rapidly escalatinginflation.
It is a situation that has led some commentators to suggestthat when taken with other developments in South America, leftist politicalthinking is being rejected by once sympathetic electorates.
The circumstances, however, are otherwise.
Last November in Argentina President Cristina Fernandez deKirchner and her socially-left Peronist party lost power in the Argentinianelections and was replaced by Mauricio Macri, a pro-business conservative.
In February, in quite different circumstances, the BolivianPresident, Evo Morales, lost a referendum which he hoped would give him afourth term in office from 2019. Although widely credited with lifting hugenumbers of indigenous Bolivians out of poverty though the more equitabledistribution of the country’s income from its vast natural gas reserves, hisreputation had been hit by scandals within his political party.
Then in Brazil on May 12, Dilma Rousseff, the country’sleft-leaning President, was impeached and forced to demit office. In a timelimited period in the coming months the country’s Senate must decide by a twothirds majority if she was guilty of breaking laws relating to the way that thecountry’s budget was presented, and whether to dismiss her. In the interim herdeputy, Michel Temer, the Vice President, and a conservative, has beenappointed in her place. The decision followed allegations of widespreadcorruption in politics and popular street protests.
Ms Rousseff described what happened as a coup. Itsobjective, she said was to stop her from governing. “I have made mistakes, butI have not committed any crimes. I am being judged unjustly, because I havefollowed the law to the letter," she told her supporters and the media.
All of which has led to a view that the political partiesof the left are in decline and electorates are demonstrating their anger byturning against leaders whose views are based on socialist or left of centerthinking. The suggestion by some think tanks and parts of the media is that theconsequent political changes in these and other countries will shape a newhemispheric agenda.
It is a view that is simplistic, lacking nuance andbalance. It fails to account for the quite different political and economicscenarios that prevail in each country, or the continuing support for left ofcenter governments in countries where social programmes are well delivered andeconomic growth can be sustained. It also ignores global trends that suggestthat the relationship between those who govern and those who are governed haschanged, and voters everywhere are more volatile; ceasing to forgive elites whoassume privileges and the right to govern, if they do not deliver what theypromise.
If one wants to look for commonalities as to what ischanging politics in the Americas, it may therefore be better to considerissues such as economic mismanagement, corruption, cyclical trends in commodityprices, the changing nature of global demand especially from China, thecollapse in oil prices, and the failure of governments to prepare for adown-turn, for example by establishing sovereign wealth funds in better times.
More generally the analysis is based on a false left-rightdichotomy. The reality is that in Latin America in recent years and in manyother parts of the world what constitutes a party of the left has becomeblurred as some Marxist-Leninist derived models have proved outmoded in theirexecution, bureaucratic and uninspiring, while others have embraced the market.
What can be seen across Latin America and the Caribbean isan economic downturn in countries that have not diversified, remain heavilydependent on income from commodities, mining and oil: countries withgovernments that have failed to manage or balance the rhetoric of their socialobjectives with economic realism, good management, a genuine desire to addresscorruption, and to find ways to balance middle class aspirations against thesocial needs of those of ordinary workers and the poor.
What is also interesting, when it comes to hemisphericpolitical analysis, is to wonder why some on the left who sought to delivergreater equality, and an end to capricious decision making, corruption andauthoritarianism, have themselves become increasingly autocratic in response tosetbacks.
In contrast, there are left of center leaders in theAmericas who have adapted to the reality of ensuring results, and who arefinding ways of delivering socially-based, less ideologically driven and morepragmatic long-term policies that to varying degrees seek to marry the marketto their social thinking.
For example, look at Nicaragua. There Daniel Ortega’sruling Sandinista Party has abandoned the approach it took in its first term inoffice which took it down similar paths to those pursued by President Chavezand continued by President Maduro. When returned as President in 2011, MrOrtega maintained many of the market oriented policies of his predecessor whilebeing a rhetorical populist and democratic socialist, with the consequence thattoday Nicaragua has an eclectic set of policies that have successfullydelivered one of the highest GDP growth rates in Latin America, pro-activelyencourages foreign investment, and places a strong emphasis on delivery.
There are also other examples in the Caribbean. TheDominican Republic’s ruling Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (PLD) hasundertaken a similar transition from its early socialist origins. Re-elected aweek ago by a landslide after delivering the highest economic growth in theAmericas, President Medina and his predecessor President Fernandez chose toembrace the market while delivering extensive social and infrastructuralprogrammes.
Some on the left argue that what is happening in parts ofLatin America is being driven by omnipresent US and capitalistic forcesdetermined to overthrow socialism, and it is true that in parts of Washingtonthere is a more than opportunistic interest in what is now happening inVenezuela.
That said, Latin American and Caribbean history demonstratesthat any country, wealthy or not, that is unable to govern wisely, willeventually open up the possibility of one or another form of domestic orexternal intervention, letting down the vulnerable who had faith in acause.
The message should therefore not be about left or right orideology, but that governments everywhere unable to relate their rhetoric toimplementation, are unlikely to be forgiven.
David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council
He can be contacted at [email protected]
Previous columns can be found at www.caribbean-council.org