Latin America's Radical Left Unravels

Latin America's Radical Left Unravels
AP Photo/Andre Penner
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Latin America’s hard-left -- the left enraptured by Fidel Castro’s 57-year-old Cuban Revolution and Hugo Chavez’s 21st Century Socialism -- has been losing terrain, indeed collapsing, both on efficiency and on moral grounds.

Countries ruled by like-minded leaders and parties have generally shown a poorer economic performance than the region at large. This has notably been the case of Argentina under Nestor and Cristina Kirchner; of Brazil under the second mandate of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his successor, Dilma Rousseff; and, most of all, of Venezuela throughout its 17 years of Chavismo.

True, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, as well as Lula during his first term, registered impressive performances with regard to economic growth and poverty eradication; but these achievements can largely be attributed to the fact that both leaders played by the book and abided by neoliberal macro-economic orthodoxy, instead of yielding to the lavish public spending, money printing, and bureaucracy bloating that form the core of a typical populist-left policy.

Cuba’s regime, for its part, has invariably staged a dismal economic showing. It has managed to stay in power only thanks to fierce repression and, no less importantly, to the artificial respiration provided first by the Soviet Union and then by Hugo Chavez and his successor, Venezuela’s current President Nicolas Maduro.

Yet the looming collapse of Venezuela’s economy has put in jeopardy the continuation of assistance from Caracas. Thus the Cuban regime is trying to open the island to tourists and investors from the United States, formerly the reviled "Empire," as the ultimate lifeline

And yet the supporters of Castro-Chavismo -- periodicals, social media, intellectuals, or simple activists -- are everything but ready to call into question their embattled beliefs. Convinced that Marxism is a science all its own, and that socialism represents the future of humankind, they prefer to indulge in exercises of ideological self-hypnosis that do away with reality.

The rout of Chavez’s brand of socialism is a conspicuous example of this mystification. The country with the largest oil reserves in the world, a country that benefited from a decadelong boom in global oil prices, is poorer today than the country Chavez took power over in 1998. There are shortages of more than 80 percent of food items and medicines.

The purchasing power of the ordinary citizen has been decimated by three-digit inflation, the world’s highest, which IMF forecasts put at 720 percent for 2016.

It is no wonder that looting is becoming alarmingly commonplace and that protests have hit record highs.

Seven out of 10 Venezuelans want Maduro to leave before his mandate ends in 2018. Scores of opposition leaders and street protesters have been jailed under fudged trials or with no trial at all, many of them being systematically tortured. The constitutional prerogatives of the opposition-controlled Parliament have been systematically trampled upon.

Confronted with such an appalling situation, how has the hard-left reacted? In the same manner that it tried in the past to deny the crimes of Stalin and Mao Tse Tung, so too its current standard-bearers began denying the Venezuelan fiasco, claiming that information on the matter was fraught with vulgar lies invented by the “fascist opposition,” the “parasitic bourgeoisie,” and of course the “Empire.”

As such denial of reality became increasingly ridiculous, a number of hard-leftists finally began to admit that Venezuela is in a crisis of historic proportions. They still swiftly add, however, that such a crisis has nothing to do with socialism, for, they contend, what is in operation in that country is a “capitalistic model based on oil rent” that has been weakened by an economic war launched by the Empire and its domestic allies and that needs to be substituted for by real socialism.

By saying so, they conveniently forget that it was Hugo Chavez himself who boasted about his model being based on oil extraction, proudly qualifying it as what he called oil socialism.

In Brazil, back-pedalling is also in style. After having extolled Silva, hard-left militants claim now that Lulismo -- discredited by corruption scandals of unprecedented magnitude -- has nothing to do with socialism. What is more, they assert that the time has come to surpass Lulismo and put in place real socialism in Brazil.

According to this narrative, therefore, if governments tagged as progressive and revolutionary show a dismal economic record, the reason is that they haven’t gone far enough in the construction of socialism.

In Cuba, the cradle of Latin American socialism, the Castro devotees now intone in unison the new verse of the official catechism: Cuba’s opening to tourists and investors from the “Empire” form part of the transformations being carried out “in the interest of constructing a prosperous and sustainable socialism."

That cantilena resembles the one launched in 1986, when Fidel Castro decided to change Cuba’s economic policy to prepare for the foreseeable demise of the country’s Soviet benefactor. Indeed, just as today the official propaganda announces the “construction of a prosperous and sustainable socialism,” so too in 1986 did the same panegyrists chant: “It is now that we will really build socialism."

Thus, for hard-left gurus and their propaganda channels, socialism cannot be accountable for any failure -- not even in Cuba, not even after more than half a century of Castro rule.

Another leftist card -- namely the moral superiority allegedly given by supposedly being on the side of the have-nots -- is fatally compromised by the proliferation of corruption scandals in countries that are or have been ruled by leaders of that left, notably Argentina, Brazil, and above all, Venezuela.

No longer able to advertise themselves as models of probity, the standard-bearers of Castro-Chavismo have opted for denigrating the fight against corruption.

Proof of this is the reaction in leftist circles to the revelations contained in the so-called Panama Papers, which disclosed illicit transactions carried out by more than a few hard-left darlings: high-ranking Chavistas and members of Raul Castro’s inner circle.

Taking issue with those revelations, advocates of Castro-Chavismo claim that the disclosures are a maneuver by the Empire aimed at inducing foreign capital to desert tax havens abroad and look for a safer refuge within the United States. Some conclude that it is not even worth the while to find out which names are mentioned in those papers.

Furthermore, a recent meeting in El Salvador of the so-called Sao Paulo Forum -- a gathering of leftist elites and activists from around the world -- concentrated its critiques on international institutions that fight corruption, qualifying them as “interventionist political mechanisms” -- a move that is tantamount to saying: let the radical left steal at will in the countries under its rule.

Unwilling to admit that they have lost the moral high ground, that Marxism has had its day, and that socialism has failed everywhere, the fans of Latin America's radical left keep trying to square the circle between their narrative and the facts. They keep arguing that the construction of socialism takes time, and that “progressives” and “revolutionaries” will learn from past “mistakes” (no “crimes”). Never mind if the toll left behind -- imprisonments, tortures, suppression of freedom, and overall destitution -- is a tragic one.

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