Socialism is alive and kicking in South America

By 14 December, 2010

South America has one of the largest concentration of States in the world that would call themselves socialists. Although there are other countries with left-wing governments, this political doctrine seems to have settled more strongly in this continent. With approximately as many nations that have welcomed right wing or Christian-Democratic heads of State, as those which stand-out with a radical left-wing government, overall, South America stands as a spot with a large amount of supporters of the validity of socialism.

The key issue in finding the reason for a concentration of socialist nations in such a specific part of the globe are the arguments for which it remains to succeed amongst a part of the population, and more interestingly, the views of the rest of the world.

Amongst all South American countries seeking the proletariat’s dictatorship, one has gained particular prominence lately: Venezuela. The impact produced by Hugo Chavez in international politics may remind in short-term history of Fidel Castro’s speeches in 1959 after taking over Havana. After an attempted coup d’état in 1992 and a subsequent two-year imprisonment, Chavez ran for the 1999 national elections with the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, of Marxist ideology. During these eleven years in power, he has been as controversial for his national and foreign policies, as for his manners. A public detractor of the United States foreign policy, especially during the years of the Bush administration, and reluctant to globalisation, he has always manifested very clearly his aspirations to be a supranational organisation in South America and the Caribbean to achieve self-governing policies and independence from wealthier European and American countries.

Chavez and Castro, being good political friends, signed a cooperation agreement in 2000, but Venezuela’s leader has definitely seen his position reinforced in South America after Evo Morales won the Bolivian elections in 2005 by absolute majority; the three leaders soon agreed on common policies and started working together to strengthen socialism in the continent.

A smaller ‘brother’ to these countries is Ecuador. Not much was heard until in September, president Rafael Correa, another supporter of Socialism and his counterparts’ policies, accused some of his country’s armed forces of planning a coup d’état against his executive. Correa has been a controversial figure since being proclaimed president twice – one time calling early elections – with his major political target initially being to modify the Ecuadorian Constitution.

All of these leaders have in common that not only do they have a socialist and catholic background – for which the creation of a bond between them was smooth and solid – but also their political impoliteness. Some argue that the positive side of the rise of this Marxist trend and such determined leaders is that these developing countries have confronted the States to claim profit for their national products, more specifically the nationalisation of their oil companies, the most valued of their natural resources. The negative side is the argument that goes on about the lack of freedom; the fact that in history, socialism has tended to prove itself impossible to last without becoming dictatorial and oppressive in some way.

The reason why it is still successful in South America is possibly the result of several circumstances. It is argued that totalitarian regimes where certain goods are scarce may be more bearable in benign climatic conditions, rather than in places like Russia where poverty takes a death toll every winter. On the other hand its position in the political map of the world situate all these countries right below the United States, and these regimes might also be a way of confronting severe capitalist policies that affect them first hand. Some of these governments, see the case of Cuba, were born in conditions directly provoked by the United States, which have appointed a few leaders for South American countries throughout the 20th century, starting armed conflicts in order to install or maintain friendly governments to their administrations in the continent. The most obvious of the reasons, which emerges straight from the situation created by the intrusion of the States, is the South American population’s wish to manage their own natural and economic resources and to make the profits obtained be to their own benefit.

However, the main problem that currently derives from socialism in South America is that some of the doctrine’s principles seem to have inevitably gone out of date. In a world where money is key and progress is every day more associated with material goods rather than spiritual satisfaction, the communist, Marxist or socialist discourse that might have worked a few decades ago is now questioned by the vast majority of people, inside and outside those countries.

Balance could be the piece needed in most of the South American nations. Balance between the pressure of the capitalist countries and the national management of the land’s resources. This could be achieved as in Brazil’s case, with socialist policies for the benefit of the underprivileged and the working class, as well as a leader like Lula, who has sought cooperation with other world leaders and nations. He is probably the least controversial of all of them and the one who has collected more praise amongst his American and European counterparts, but obviously, some would argue that every country is different and soft policies to keep the developed countries pleased is not enough.

What is evident is that South America has a character of its own and countries like Venezuela, Peru or Ecuador are still eager to raise their voice and fight for their rights. It is for each individual to analyse and consider whether leaders, regimes and policies might be going in the right direction or not. Although it is undeniable that is a very interesting case study and an exception to our anodyne democracies, in a good or a bad sense, far from value judgements.

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