[News] Is South America’s ‘Progressive Cycle’ At an End?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Mar 10 16:30:03 EST 2016


  Is South America’s ‘Progressive Cycle’ At an End?

By Claudio Katz – March 9th 2016

*http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/11881*

The year 2015 ended with significant advances of the Right in South 
America. Mauricio Macri was elected President in Argentina, the 
opposition gained a majority in the Venezuelan parliament, and Dilma 
Rousseff is being hounded relentlessly in Brazil. Then there are the 
conservatives’ campaigns in Ecuador, and it remains to be seen whether 
Evo Morales will obtain a new mandate in Bolivia.[1] 
<http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/1229.php#fn1>

What is the nature of the period in the region? Has the period of 
governments taking their distance from neoliberalism come to an end? The 
answer requires that we describe the particular features of the last decade.


      Causes and Effects

The progressive cycle arose in popular rebellions that brought down 
neoliberal governments (Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina) or 
eroded their continuity (Brazil, Uruguay). These uprisings modified the 
power relations but did not alter South America's economic insertion in 
the international division of labour. On the contrary, in a decade of 
rising prices for raw materials all countries reinforced their status as 
exporters of primary products.

The right-wing governments (Sebastián Piñera in Chile, Álvaro Uribe-Juan 
Manuel Santos in Colombia, Vicente Fox-Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico) 
used the foreign exchange bonanza to consolidate the model based on 
openness to free trade and privatizations. The centre-left 
administrations (Néstor and Cristina Kirchner in Argentina, Inácio Lula 
da Silva-Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, Tabaré Vázquez-José “Pepe” Mujica in 
Uruguay, Rafael Correa in Ecuador) promoted increased internal 
consumption, subsidies to local business owners and social welfare 
programs. The radical presidents (Hugo Chávez-Nicolás Maduro in 
Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia) applied models of improved 
redistribution of income and contended with sharp conflicts with the 
ruling classes.

The affluence of dollars, the fear of new uprisings and the impact of 
expansive policies in the region avoided the severe neoliberal 
adjustments that prevailed in other regions. The classic abuses suffered 
in the New World were transferred to the Old Continent, Europe. Greece's 
surgery has had no parallel in Latin America nor have we suffered the 
financial agonies visited on Portugal, Iceland or Ireland.

This relief was also an effect of the defeat of the FTAA. The project to 
create a continental free trade area was suspended and this paved the 
way for a productive respite and social improvements.[2] 
<http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/1229.php#fn2>

During the decade there was a serious limitation of U.S. 
interventionism. The Marines and the Fourth Fleet continued to operate 
but did not carry out the invasions typical of Washington. This 
restraint was confirmed in the decline of the OAS. That Ministry of 
Colonies lost influence while new organizations (UNASUR, CELAC) 
intervened in the major conflicts (as in Colombia).

U.S. recognition of Cuba reflected this new scenario. For 53 years the 
United States had been unable to vanquish the island. It now opted for 
negotiations and diplomacy, hoping to restore its image and regain 
hegemony in the region.

This cautious approach of the State Department contrasts with its 
virulence in other parts of the world. To note the difference, it is 
enough to observe the sequence of massacres suffered by the Arab world, 
where the Pentagon ensures U.S. control of oil, destroying states and 
upholding governments that crush the democratic springs. This demolition 
(or the wars of plunder in Africa) were absent in South America.

The progressive cycle allowed democratic conquests and constitutional 
reforms (Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador) introducing rights that had been 
denied for decades by the ruling elites. And greater tolerance was 
displayed toward social protest. In this respect, the contrast with the 
more repressive regimes (Colombia, Peru) or with governments that have 
used the war on drugs to terrorize people (Mexico) is quite striking.

The progressive period also included the recovery of anti-imperialist 
ideological traditions. This reappropriation was visible in the 
commemorations of the independence bicentennials, now updated as the 
agenda of a Second Independence. In a number of countries this 
atmosphere contributed to the reappearance of the socialist horizon.

The progressive cycle involved transformations that drew international 
appreciation from the social movements. South America became a reference 
for popular agendas. But now the limits of the changes occurring during 
this stage have surfaced.


      Frustrations with Integration

During 2015 Latin American exports declined for the third consecutive 
year. China's slower growth, the lesser demand for agrofuels, and the 
return of speculation in financial assets tend to downgrade the market 
value of raw materials.

The fall in prices will be reinforced if shale co-exists with 
traditional oil and other substitute sources are developed for basic 
resources. This is not the first time that capitalism has developed new 
techniques to counteract the rise in prices of raw materials. These 
tendencies tend to seriously undermine all of the Latin American 
economies tied to agro-mineral exports.

The difficulties in the new situation are confirmed in the reduced 
growth. Since the public debt is lower than in the past the traditional 
collapses are not yet cause for concern. But fiscal resources are now 
declining and the margin for developing policies to reactivate the 
economy is narrowing.

The progressive cycle has not managed to alter regional vulnerability. 
This fragility persists in the expansion of raw materials deals to the 
detriment of integration and productive diversification. The South 
American association projects have been overcome again through national 
export activities that promote commercial balkanization and the 
deterioration of manufacturing processes.

After the defeat of the FTAA many initiatives were taken to forge common 
structures throughout the area. These included shared industrialization 
goals, energy loops and communications networks. But those programs have 
languished year after year.

The regional bank, reserve fund and coordinated currency exchange system 
have never materialized. Norms to minimize the use of the dollar in 
commercial transactions as well as priority regional infrastructure 
projects have remained on the drawing boards.

No concerted protection against the fall in export prices has been set 
in motion. Each government has opted to negotiate with its own 
customers, shelving plans to create a regional bloc.

This impotence is synthesized by the freezing of the Bank of the South. 
It was obstructed in particular by Brazil, which promotes instead its 
BNDES[3] <http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/1229.php#fn3> and even a 
BRICS bank. The absence of any common financial institution has 
undermined the programs for exchange convergence and a common currency.

The negotiations with China reveal the same regional fracture. Each 
government unilaterally signs agreements with the new Asian power which 
monopolizes purchases of raw materials, sales of manufactured goods, and 
the granting of credit.

China prioritizes dealings in commodities and is grudging in 
transferring technology. The asymmetry that it has established with the 
region is surpassed only by the subordination it imposes in Africa.

The consequences of this inequality began to be noted last year, when 
China reduced its growth and its acquisitions in Latin America. 
Furthermore, it began to devalue the yuan in order to increase its 
exports and adapt its exchange parity to the exigencies of a global 
currency. Those measures accentuated its position as the source of cheap 
merchandise in South America.

Up to now China has been expanding without exhibiting geopolitical or 
military ambitions. Some analysts identify this conduct with friendly 
policies toward the region. Others see in it a neocolonial strategy of 
appropriation of natural resources. In any case the result has been a 
geometric increase in South American dependency on raw materials exports.

Instead of establishing intelligent links with the Asian giant as a 
counter to U.S. domination, the progressive governments have opted for 
indebtedness and trade restriction. In UNASUR or CELAC there has never 
been any discussion on how to negotiate with China as a bloc in order to 
sign more equitable agreements.

The failures in integration explain the new impetus that has been given 
to the Trans-Pacific Treaty. The FTAs reappear with an intensity 
rivalled only by the decline in South American cohesiveness. The United 
States has objectives that are clearer than they were at the time of the 
FTAA. It promotes an agreement with Asia (TPP) and another with Europe 
(TTIP)[4] <http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/1229.php#fn4> in order 
to secure its pre-eminence in strategic activities (research labs, 
computing, medicine, the military). In the wake of the 2008 collapse it 
has been promoting free trade with renewed intensity.

South America is a market that is coveted by all transnational 
enterprises. These companies want treaties with greater labour 
flexibility and explicit advantages in litigating lawsuits over 
environmental pollution. The United States and China rival each other in 
their use of those tools to ease trade restrictions.

Chile, Peru and Colombia have already signed on to the free-trade 
requirements of the TPP in matters of intellectual property, patents and 
public procurement. They simply want to obtain better markets for their 
agro-mineral exports. But the big novelty is the readiness of the new 
Argentine government to participate in this type of negotiations.

Macri claims he will loosen up the agreement with the European Union and 
induce Brazil to participate in some way in the Pacific Alliance. He has 
noted that Dilma's cabinet includes agribusiness representatives more 
responsive to trade liberalization than they are to the industrialism of 
MERCOSUR.

The FTAs will be put to the test in the bargaining over another deal 
being negotiated in secret by 50 countries, which contains far-reaching 
provisions for liberalization of services (the TISA, or Trade in 
Services Agreement). This initiative has already been rejected in 
Uruguay, but there are continuing attempts. The progressive cycle is 
directly threatened by the avalanche of free trade sponsored by the Empire.


      Failures in Neo-Developmentalism

The limits of progressivism have been most visible in the national 
attempts to implement neo-developmentalist policies. Those efforts were 
aimed at turning again to industrialization using strategies based on 
greater state intervention, imitating the development of South-East 
Asia. Unlike the classic developmentalism they have promoted alliances 
with agribusiness and look to a long period in which to reverse the 
deterioration in the terms of trade.

After a decade, they have not managed to achieve any of the 
industrialization goals. The expectation of equalling the Asian advance 
has dissolved in the face of the higher profits generated by 
exploitation of workers in the Far East. The hope of entrepreneurship by 
local business people has faded as they continue to require state 
assistance. The promotion of an efficient civil service has been 
neutralized by the re-creation of inept bureaucracies.

The major neo-developmentalist attempt was carried out in Argentina 
during the decade that followed the social explosion of 2001. That 
experiment was eroded by many imbalances. Attempts to administer the 
agrarian surplus in a productive way through state management of foreign 
trade were abandoned. Instead, trust was placed in business owners who 
used the subsidies for capital flight rather than meaningful investment. 
Furthermore, they hoped for a virtuous circle of demand based on 
contributions of the capitalists, but the latter preferred to mark up 
prices.

The model preserved all of the structural imbalances of the Argentine 
economy. It heightened dependency on raw materials, fostered stagnation 
in energy supply, perpetuated a concentrated industrial structure and 
sustained a financial system that was hostile to investment. The 
maintenance of a regressive tax system stood in the way of modifying the 
pillars of social inequality.

The accumulated tensions led to a regressive turn that the Kirchnerist 
candidate (Daniel Scioli) eluded by losing the election. He proposed a 
gradual adjustment program through taking on new debt, devaluating the 
currency, reaching a settlement with the vulture funds claimants, and 
imposing higher fees and cutbacks in social spending.

In Brazil the debate has been over whether the PT government is managing 
a conservative variant of neo-developmentalism or a regulated version of 
neoliberalism. As it did not have to contend with the crisis and popular 
rebellion that convulsed Argentina, the changes in economic policy were 
more limited.

But at the end of a decade the results are similar in both countries. 
The Brazilian economy has stagnated and the expansion in consumption has 
not reduced social inequality or increased the size of the middle class. 
There is greater dependency on commodity exports and a major downturn in 
industry. Finance capital retains its privileges and agribusiness 
stifles any hope of agrarian reform.

Dilma introduced the conservative turn that progressivism avoided in 
Argentina. She won the election disputing the adjustment advocated by 
her rival (Aecio Neves) and then disowned those promises under pressure 
of the markets. She appointed an ultra-liberal Finance minister (Joaquim 
Levy[5] <http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/1229.php#fn5>), a replay 
of the first Lula presidency that began with personalities of the same 
type (Antonio Palocci[6] 
<http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/1229.php#fn6>).

During 2015 this orthodox management generated increased rates and fees. 
Dilma justified the cutback in social policies and maintained the 
advantages enjoyed by financiers as they build their fortunes. But as 
the new year opened she replaced the bankers’ man with a more heterodox 
economist (Nelson Barbosa) who promises a slower fiscal adjustment to 
cushion the recession. This turn does not portend an exit from the mess 
created by the conservative policies.

Ecuador has experienced the same regression from neo-developmentalism. 
Correa began with a reorganization of the state that strengthened the 
internal market. He increased tax revenues, provided improved social 
programs, and channelled part of the rent into public investment.

But later he faced all the limits of analogous experiments and opted for 
increased debt and export promotion. He signed a FTA with Europe, 
facilitated privatization of highways, and awarded fully developed oil 
reserves to the major companies.

The failings of neo-developmentalism have blocked the progressive cycle. 
That model attempted to channel export surpluses into productive 
activities. But it encountered resistance from the economic power and 
gave in to those pressures.


      A New Type of Protests

During the last decade explosions of popular discontent have become more 
infrequent. All of the governments count on using increased fiscal 
revenues as a significant buffer in the face of social demands. The 
Right resorted to welfarism, the Centre-Left improved existing programs 
without affecting powerful interests, and the radical processes 
facilitated conquests of greater importance.

Throughout the region there was a relaxation in social tensions and the 
major conflicts were expressed in the political sphere, as in the big 
resistance mounted against rightist attempts to remove Left governments 
and the huge mobilizations backing candidates in election battles. But 
there were no uprisings equivalent to those in the preceding period. 
Only the heroic response to the coup in Honduras came close.

The fighting spirit of the masses was expressed in other fields, as in 
the mass demonstrations of Chilean students for free education, the 
outstanding general strike in Paraguay, or the energetic demands of the 
peasants, indigenous and environmentalists in Colombia and Peru.

But the principal novelty in this period was the social protests in the 
countries governed by the Centre-Left. In a context of strong political 
pressures from the Right, this outburst from below highlighted popular 
dissatisfaction.

The defiance was quite striking in Argentina. First there was the 
extended wave of strikes by teachers and public sector workers, followed 
by the refusal to pay a tax imposed on higher-income wage-earners. This 
discontent set off four general strikes in 2014-2015. The size of these 
actions surprised the leaders of the official trade unions, who opposed 
the protest.

In Brazil, the discontent emerged in the July days of 2013. The huge 
demonstrations demanding improvements in public transportation and 
education convulsed the major cities. These were not just “second 
generation” claims over and above what was already achieved; they 
expressed a frustration with the conditions of life. This discontent was 
manifested in the questioning of the superfluous expenditures associated 
with the financing of the World Cup that could have gone instead toward 
investment in education.

Finally, in Ecuador the social and indigenous mobilizations became more 
frequent in the streets and in the past year reached a peak in terms of 
numbers involved. Correa responded in a harsh and authoritarian manner, 
widening the rift separating the government from broad sectors of the 
masses.


      Why is the Right Advancing?

Macri's arrival in the presidency represents the first electoral 
overturn of a Centre-Left administration by its conservative opponents. 
This turn is not comparable to what occurred in Chile with Piñera's 
victory over Michelle Bachelet. That was a substitution of government 
within the limits of the same neoliberal rules.

Macri is a crude exponent of the Right. He resorted to demagogy, 
depoliticization and illusions of concord. With vacuous promises he 
transformed the powerful /cacerolazos/ [pot-banging street protests by 
predominantly middle-class sectors] into a surge of votes.

The new President has appointed a cabinet of managers to administer the 
state as if it was a business. He has initiated a drastic and regressive 
transfer of incomes through devaluation and increased prices. He is 
issuing decrees criminalizing social protest and is preparing to repeal 
recently won democratic rights.

Macri's triumph was no accident. It was preceded by the Kirchner 
government's refusal to accept many demands from below that the Right 
took up in a distorted and demagogic way. The Kirchner followers fail to 
acknowledge their responsibility.

Some progressives see the victory of the PRO, Macri's party, as a 
transient misfortune and hope to retake the government in a few years. 
They do not understand the modifications in the political map that are 
probable in the interval. Others argue that the election was lost 
through bad luck or because of an erosion in support over 12 years, as 
if that weariness adhered to some fixed chronology.

Those who attribute the election outcome to the harangue – effective, no 
doubt – of the hegemonic news media do not accept that the alternative 
mounted by the official propaganda failed as well. This applies as well 
to those who banter about Macri's “post-politics” discourse without 
noting the declining credibility of the Kirchner discourse. Macri's 
victory is ascribable to the frustration with corruption, clientelism, 
and the Peronist culture of top-down control and loyalty.

The reactionary offensive in pursuit of Dilma has not achieved the 
results it did in Argentina, but it did disrupt the Brazilian government 
throughout 2015. The Rightists began with big demonstrations in March 
that they were unable to sustain in August, and even less in December. 
The social mobilizations against the institutional coup followed instead 
an opposite course and grew as time went by.

The Supreme Court has blocked the political trial for now, and the 
government has gained a respite that it is using to reorganize alliances 
in exchange for a certain fiscal relief. But Dilma has only achieved a 
truce with her opponents in the Congress and the media.

As in Argentina, the progressive forces evade any explanation of this 
retreat. They simply manoeuvre to secure the government's survival 
through new agreements with the business lobby, the provincial elites 
and the /partidocracia/, the bureaucratic party structures.

They don't bother to investigate the regression of the PT, which has 
eroded its social base by agreeing to the adjustments. In the last 
election Dilma won by a slim margin, compensating her losses in the 
south with votes in the northeast. Support from the old working-class 
base of the PT has declined and been supplanted by traditional clientelism.

Furthermore, the government is tarnished by serious corruption scandals. 
Shady deals with the industrial elite have come to light that portray 
the consequences of governing in alliances with the affluent. Instead of 
analyzing this tragic mutation, the theorists of progressivism repeat 
their timeless messages in opposition to conservative restoration.

A similar regression is observed in Ecuador. Correa's management is 
marked by a big divorce between his belligerent rhetoric and his /status 
quo/ administration. The President polemicizes against Rightists and is 
implacable in his denunciations of imperialist interference. But day by 
day he crosses a new barrier in his acceptance of free trade and his 
confrontation with the social movements.

Here too the analyses of progressivism are limited to redoubled warnings 
against the Right. They overlook the disillusionment created by a 
president who is compromised with the establishment agenda. This turn 
explains Correa's recent decision not to seek a new mandate.


      The Centrality of Venezuela

The outcome of the progressive cycle is at stake in Venezuela. What is 
happening there is not equivalent to what is going on in other 
countries. These differences are not appreciated by those who compare 
the recent triumphs of the Right in Venezuela and Argentina. The two 
situations are not comparable.

In Venezuela the election unfolded amidst an economic war, with 
shortages, hyperinflation, and smuggling of subsidized commodities. It 
was a campaign full of bullets, paramilitaries, conspiratorial NGOs, and 
criminal provocations.

The Right prepared its usual denunciations of fraud in order to 
discredit an adverse election result. But it won, and was then unable to 
explain how it could achieve this victory under a “dictatorship.” For 
the first time in 16 years it obtained a majority in the parliament and 
will now try to call a vote to revoke Maduro's mandate.

Since they are unwilling to wait until 2018, when his term expires, a 
huge conflict looms with the Executive power. In the National Assembly 
they will promote unacceptable demands – free the convicted coup 
plotters, expose speculation, overturn the social conquests – explicitly 
aimed at harassing the President.

None of these features is present in Argentina. Not only does Capriles 
have priorities that are quite distinct from Macri's, but Chavismo 
differs significantly from Kirchnerism. The first arose out of a popular 
rebellion and declared its intention to achieve socialist objectives. 
The latter limited itself to capturing the effects of an uprising and 
consistently glorified capitalism.

In Venezuela there was a redistribution of the rent, undermining the 
privileges of the dominant classes. In Argentina this surplus was 
distributed without significantly altering the advantages enjoyed by the 
bourgeoisie. The popular empowerment that Chavismo unleashed bears no 
comparison with the expansion of consumerism promoted by Kirchnerism. 
And the anti-imperialist project of the ALBA is quite unlike the 
conservatism of the MERCOSUR (Cieza, 2015; Mazzeo, 2015; Stedile, 2015).

But the principal singularity of Venezuela is derived from the place it 
occupies in the system of imperialist domination. The United States has 
targeted this country, hoping to regain control of the largest oil 
reserves in the continent. It maintains a strategy of permanent aggression.

The war the Pentagon waged in the Middle East – demolishing Iraq and 
Libya – is sufficient to show the importance it assigns to control of 
crude oil. The State Department may recognize Cuba and discuss with 
opposing presidents, but Venezuela is a non-negotiable prey.

That is why the hegemonic news media hammer away day and night against 
this country, portraying a disaster that must be rescued from afar. The 
coup plotters are presented as innocent victims of persecution, omitting 
the fact that Leopoldo López was convicted for the murders that were 
committed during the /guarimbas /[violent street protests]. Any U.S. 
court would have handed down much harsher sentences for such outrages. 
The media demonization is designed to isolate Chavismo and encourage 
further condemnation of it by the Social Democracy.

This campaign had been unsuccessful until the recent election victory of 
the Right. Now they are resolved to dust off the plans to overthrow 
Maduro, combining the erosion in support promoted by Capriles with the 
violent removal favoured by López. They are trying to push the 
government into a chaotic situation in order to stage a repetition of 
the institutional coup perpetrated against Fernando Lugo in Paraguay.

Macri is the international coordinator of this conspiracy. He heads up 
all the challenges to Venezuela, while he criminalizes protest in 
Argentina. He governs his own country by decree but demands respect for 
parliamentarians in another nation.

Macri has already called for sanctions against Venezuela, a new partner 
in MERCOSUR, but he does not talk about Guantánamo or mention the 
ordeals of the political prisoners in U.S. penitentiaries. He has 
postponed his call for sanctions in Venezuela as he waits for Dilma to 
take a firmer stance. But he will revert to a hard line if he thinks it 
fits well with the provocations of López.


      Unpostponable Decisions

Chavismo has faced major assaults because of the radicalism of its 
process, the rage of the bourgeoisie, and the U.S. determination to 
control oil production. The contrast with Bolivia is striking. There too 
a radical anti-imperialist government prevails. But the Altiplano lacks 
the strategic relevance of Venezuela and drags with it a much higher 
level of underdevelopment.

Evo Morales retains political hegemony and has achieved significant 
economic growth. He has forged a plurinational state, displacing the old 
racist elites, and asserted for the first time the real authority of 
this organism throughout the territory.

Up to this point the Right has been unable to mount a successful 
challenge for government, but a battle has now opened over the issue of 
Morales’ re-election. In any case, Bolivia does not confront the 
unpostponable decisions that Chavismo must now make.

Since the fall in the oil price, Venezuela has suffered a drastic 
cutback in revenues that threatens its access to the imports required 
for the day-to-day functioning of the economy. Added to this are the 
huge surge in the fiscal deficit and the failure to control the foreign 
exchange rate, inflation and the money supply.

It's not enough to simply note the existence of an economic war. It must 
also be said that the government has failed to confront these abuses. 
Maduro has lacked the firmness that Fidel displayed during Cuba's 
“special period.” The economic sabotage is effective because the state 
bureaucracy continues to uphold with PDVSA dollars a foreign exchange 
system that facilitates the organized embezzlement of public resources 
(Gómez Freire, 2015; Aharonian, 2016; Colussi, 2015).

This lack of control accentuates the stagnation of the distributionist 
model that initially channelled the oil rent into social welfare 
programs but failed subsequently to jumpstart the creation of a 
productive economy.

The current situation offers a new (and perhaps final) opportunity to 
reorganize the economy. This unavoidably entails cutting off the use of 
U.S. dollars for the smuggling of merchandise and entry of overpriced 
imports. This fraud enriches the bourgeoisified civil service and 
infuriates the people. It is not enough to reorganize PDVSA, control the 
borders or jail a few offenders. Unless the corrupt officials are 
removed altogether, the Bolivarian process will condemn itself to decline.

Chavismo needs to counterattack if it is to regain popular support. 
Various economists have developed detailed programs to implement an 
alternative management of the exchange rate, based on nationalization of 
the banks and foreign trade. Since there are no longer enough dollars to 
pay for imports and pay the debt, there is a need as well to look into 
auditing those liabilities.

Maduro has declared he will not surrender. But in the present delicate 
situation measures from above are not enough. The survival of the 
Bolivarian process requires building popular power from below. 
Legislation already exists defining the attributes of communal power. 
Those institutions [the communal councils and communes] alone can 
sustain the battle against capitalists who frustrate exchange controls 
and recapture surplus oil profits.

The exercise of communal power has been impeded for some years by a 
bureaucracy that is impoverishing the state. That sector would be the 
first to be adversely affected by a democracy from below. Maduro has now 
installed a national assembly of communal power. But the verticalist 
functioning of the PSUV[7] 
<http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/1229.php#fn7> and the hostility 
toward more radical currents [within Chavismo] impede this initiative 
(Guerrero, 2015; Iturriza, 2015; Szalkowicz, 2015; Teruggi, 2015).

Any boost given to communal organization will bring redoubled 
denunciations in the international media about the “violation of 
democracy” in Venezuela. That kind of propaganda will be spread by the 
likes of those who were behind the U.S. coup in Honduras or the 
institutional farce that overthrew Lugo in Paraguay.

These same personalities say nothing about the state terrorism that is 
rampant in Mexico or Colombia. They had to put up with Cuba's membership 
in the OAS and CELAC, but they are not prepared to tolerate Venezuela's 
challenge. Confronting that media establishment is a priority in the 
continent as a whole.


      What the Rightists Conceal

The new situation in South America has emboldened the Right. It thinks 
its time has come and it promises to end the “populist” cycle and 
replace “interventionism” with “the market” and “authoritarianism” with 
“freedom.”

What these messages conceal is the Right's direct responsibility in the 
devastation suffered during the 1980s and ‘90s. The progressive 
governments the Right is challenging came into being because of the 
economic collapse and the social blood-letting produced by the 
neoliberals. The Right not only portrays that past as a process 
unrelated to their regimes, it covers up what actually happened in the 
countries it governs.

It would seem that the only problems in Latin America are located 
outside of that radius. This deception has been constructed by the 
hegemonic news media, which overlook any information considered adverse 
to right-wing administrations.

The cover-up is shameless and most people are kept in ignorance of any 
news related to those countries targeted by the dominant press. The 
media describe the inflation and the currency tensions existing under 
these governments, but do not mention the unemployment and lack of job 
security prevalent in the neoliberal economies.

They also highlight the “loss of opportunities” caused by capital 
controls while remaining silent about the upheavals produced by 
deregulation. They rant against “mindless consumerism” but hide the 
damage caused by inequality.

But the grossest omission concerns the functioning of the state. The 
Right objects to the “discretionary paternalism” practiced by the 
progressive regimes but ignores the social collapse in the narco-states 
that has occurred in conjunction with free trade and financial 
deregulation. Three economies known for their openness and 
attractiveness to capital – Mexico, Colombia and Peru – are now 
suffering this corrosion of the state.

Mexico has the highest level of violence in the region. No high-ranking 
official has been jailed and many territories are controlled by criminal 
gangs. In Colombia the drug cartels finance presidents, parties and 
sections of the army. In Peru official complicity with drug trafficking 
has gone to the point that sentences have been commuted for 3,200 people 
convicted of that offence.

None of this information is reported with the persistence given to the 
reports of Venezuela's misadventures. This duality in reporting extends 
to matters of corruption. The Right presents it as a gangrene typical of 
progressivism, overlooking the protagonistic participation of the 
capitalists in the major incidents of embezzlement in all countries.

The major media expose the dark details of the official handling of 
public money in Venezuela, Brazil or Bolivia. But they do not mention 
the more scandalous cases involving their protégés. The collective 
outrage that precipitated the recent resignation of Guatemala's 
president did not make the headlines.

The Right resorts to the same media one-sidedness in embellishing 
Chile's economic model, which is praised for its privatizations, with no 
mention of the stifling household debt, job insecurity, and miserable 
private retirement pensions, or the slowing growth and rising corruption 
that are jeopardizing the education reforms and social security promised 
by Bachelet.

The contrast between the neoliberal paradise and the progressive hell 
also entails silence about the only case of default in 2015. Puerto Rico 
ran out of money to finance the plunder of its human resources 
(emigration), natural resources (replacement of local agriculture by 
imported food), and economic resources (relocation of industry and tourism).

There is no space for the consequences of neoliberalism in the 
newspapers or news bulletins. The Right discusses the end of the 
progressive cycle while failing to mention what is happening outside of 
that universe.


      A Post-Liberal Period?

The Right's misleading view of the progressive cycle contrasts with the 
important debate now unfolding among Left theorists as to whether this 
cycle is continuing or is exhausted.

Those who support the continuity thesis point to the solidity of the 
transformations of the last decade. They emphasize the socio-economic 
accomplishments, the advances in continental integration, the 
geopolitical successes and the election victories (Arkonada, 2015a; 
Sader, 2015a).

The consistency that they see in the changes carried out is established 
through the use of the adjective “post-liberal” to describe this cycle. 
They hold that a “post” stage has left the preceding phase behind 
through the thoroughgoing nature of the changes registered. This is 
their focus in polemics against those who emphasize the decline in that 
process (Itzamná, 2015; Sader, 2016b; Rauber, 2015).

The triumph of Macri, the advance of Capriles-López, and the paralysis 
of Dilma or Correa have moderated these assessments and induced certain 
criticisms. Some cite the harmful effects of bureaucracy or shortcomings 
in the cultural battle (Arana, 2015; Arkonada, 2015b).

But in general they maintain their characterization of the period and 
emphasize the limitations of the conservative offensive. They highlight 
the weakness of that project, the transitory nature of its successes or 
the proximity of major social resistance (Puga Álvarez, 2015; Arkonada, 
2015b).

This view fails to register the degree to which the deepening of the 
extractivist pattern has undermined the progressive cycle. The link 
between this economic pattern and right-wing governments is not extended 
to include its peers on the Centre-Left. These governments are adversely 
affected by the consequences of a model that reduces employment and 
inhibits productive development. This contradiction is much more serious 
in the radical processes.

The assumption of a post-liberal period omits those tensions. Not only 
does it forget that overcoming neoliberalism means beginning to reverse 
the region's dependency on raw materials exports, it entails a serious 
lack of clarity in the characterization of the period. It is never 
explained whether post-liberalism is referring to the governments or to 
the patterns of accumulation.

It is sometimes suggested that what is involved is a period counterposed 
to the Washington Consensus. But in that case it is the political turn 
to autonomy that is emphasized, while ignoring the persistence of the 
pattern of raw materials exports.

Or it is argued that a more substantial change in the economic model 
would go beyond what it is possible to do in Latin America. Such a turn 
would involve more significant changes in the direction of a multipolar 
capitalist world that is said to be developing. However, no one explains 
how those transformations would alter the traditional physiognomy of the 
region. What occurred in the last decade illustrates a course of raw 
materials development counterposed to the steps that would have to be 
taken in the region to forge an industrialized, diversified and 
integrated economy.

Those sympathetic to progressivism defend the neo-developmentalist 
economic base of the last decade, noting its contrast with 
neoliberalism. But they do not register the many areas of 
complementarity between the two models. Nor do they note that no attempt 
at greater state regulation has reversed the privatizations, eradicated 
job insecurity or modified the payments on the debt.[8] 
<http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/1229.php#fn8>

These insufficiencies do not constitute the “price to pay” for the 
development of a post-liberal scenario. They perpetuate dependency and 
primary export specialization.

In the last decade, of course, there have been social improvements, 
greater consumption and some growth. But that kind of recovery has 
occurred in other cycles of business recovery and higher export prices. 
What has not changed is the profile of regional capitalism and its 
adaptation to the current requirements of globalization.

When this fact is ignored there is a tendency to see advances where 
there is stagnation and enduring achievements where mistakes are 
prevalent. The backdrop to the problem is the sanctification of 
capitalism as the only feasible system. The theorists of progressivism 
rule out the implementation of socialist programs or at best concede 
their possibility in a distant future.

With that premise, they imagine the viability of heterodox, inclusive or 
productive schemas of a Latin American capitalism. Each proof of failure 
of this model is replaced by another hope of the same type, which ends 
in similar disappointments.


      Unthinking /Oficialismo/

The real problems afflicting progressivism are frequently eluded, and 
criticism is focused exclusively on the bureaucracy, corruption, or 
inefficiency. It is forgotten that those problems can occur at any time 
in all economic models and do not constitute a peculiar feature of the 
last decade.

And since it is supposed that the sole alternative to those governments 
is a conservative return, conduct is justified that ends up facilitating 
the right-wing restoration.

This conduct has been exposed during the protests that have erupted 
under the centre-left governments. Their supporters respond with the 
allegation that the right wing is behind the protests. They question the 
“ungrateful ones” who have taken to the streets but ignore the mistakes 
made by the progressive governments.

During the Argentine strikes in 2014 and 2015, progressivism repeated 
the traditional establishment arguments. It decried the “political” 
nature of the strikes, as if that reduced their legitimacy. It attacked 
the “extortion by the picketers,” overlooking the fact that it is the 
bosses, not the activists, who engage in blackmail, and that gestures 
like these roadblocks are tactics used by workers in the informal 
sector, lacking the right to protest, in order to protect themselves.

Other progressives try to discredit the strikes, saying that “tomorrow 
everything will remain the same,” as if an act of force by the workers 
will not improve their bargaining power. And they present the strike as 
an act of “egotism” by the better-off workers, even though that 
advantage has helped to generate some of the biggest social acts of 
resistence in Argentine history.

In Brazil, the reaction of the PT was similar. It did not participate 
when the protests began in 2013. It expressed a lack of trust toward the 
demonstrators and only conceded the validity of the marches when they 
became a mass movement. The government limited itself to accusing the 
Right of encouraging discontent instead of noting the popular 
disillusionment with an administration that appoints neoliberal ministers.

This hostility toward the actions in the streets was a result of the 
PT's regression. The party has lost its sensitivity to popular demands 
as a result of its close links with the business interests and bankers. 
Its leadership manages the economy in the interests of the capitalists 
and is surprised when its social base asks for what it has always demanded.

The same tensions emerged in Ecuador in the face of numerous petitions 
by the social movements in defense of the land and water. Since their 
marches coincided with the Right's rejection of the government's moves 
to tax the highest incomes, government officials pointed to the 
convergence of both actions as the same process of conservative 
restoration. Instead of favouring an approach to the social protesters 
in order to forge a common front in opposition to the reactionaries, 
progressivism blindly lined up with Correa.

What is happening in the face of the protests in these three countries 
governed by the Centre-Left illustrates how the progressive 
administrations distance themselves from the popular movement. That is 
how they pave the way for a return of the Right.


      Enduring distinctions

Objecting to the post-liberal thesis are other authors who identify an 
exhaustion of the progressive cycle as a consequence of extractivism. In 
their view, mega-mining undertakings (Tipnis, Famaitina, Yasuni, 
Aratiri)[9] <http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/1229.php#fn9> and the 
primacy of soy or hydrocarbons development have blocked reduction in 
social inequality. And they argue that all the governments in Latin 
America converge in a “commodities consensus” that accentuates 
dependency on raw materials production and export (Svampa, 2014; 
Zibechi, 2016, Zibechi, 2015a).

This is a correct description of the consequences of a model that 
privileges raw materials exports. But it is wrong in postulating the 
pre-eminence of a uniform physiognomy in the region. It fails to note 
the significant differences that separate the right-wing, centre-left 
and radical governments in all respects other than extractivism.

Venezuela has not eradicated its dependence on oil, Bolivia has not 
liberated itself from the centrality of gas production, and Cuba 
maintains its reliance on nickel production or tourism. But this 
dependency does not convert Maduro, Evo or Raúl Castro into leaders 
similar to Peña Nieto, Santos or Piñera. Raw materials exports prevail 
throughout the Latin American economy without defining the profile of 
the governments.

By highlighting the damaging effects of extractivism, the critics avoid 
the naive post-liberal perspective. But the limitations of progressivism 
cannot be reduced to the reinforcement of the agro-mining pattern, nor 
can neo-developmentalism be defined by this feature. If extractivism 
were to constitute the principal feature of that model, it would have no 
significant differences with neoliberalism.

The new developmentalists have tried to channel the agro-mining rents 
toward the internal market and industrial recomposition. They have 
failed in that objective, but they had a goal that is absent in their 
free-trade adversaries.

It is important to explain these distinctions if we are to develop 
alternatives. The answers do not emerge from a contrast with 
extractivism alone. Against the post-liberal capitalism promoted by the 
theorists of the continuity of the progressive cycle, these critics do 
not advance the socialist option. Instead, they issue generic calls for 
projects centred on increasing the number of self-managed communities.

This localist horizon tends to obviate the need for a state administered 
by the popular majorities, and which harmonizes protection of the 
environment with industrial development. Latin America needs to 
nationalize the mainsprings of its economy if it is to finance 
productive undertakings using the rent from agricultural production and 
mining.

The beneficiaries would then be the labouring majorities and not the 
capitalist minorities. There lies the main difference between socialism 
and neo-developmentalism.

The theoreticians of the decline of progressivism question the 
authoritarianism of the neo-developmentalist governments. They point to 
restrictions on public freedoms, assaults on the indigenous movement and 
the trend toward centralizing powers in the hands of presidents. And 
they denounce the substitution of dynamics of hegemony by coercive 
logics and the silencing of voices independent of the official discourse 
(Svampa, 2015; Gudynas, 2015; Zibechi, 2015b).

But none of these tendencies has converted a centre-left administration 
into a government of reaction. The only such case might be the President 
of Peru, Ollanta Humala, who posed as a /Chavista/ but has operated as 
president with a heavy hand and neocolonial subordination.

It is important to recognize these differences if we are to take our 
distance from the messages spread by the Right against 
“authoritarianism” and “populism.” While the conservative politicians 
seek to amalgate criticism of progressivism in a deceitful common 
discourse, the Left needs to take its distance. Explicitly repudiating 
the arguments and posturing of the reactionaries is the best way to 
avoid that trap.

It is worth remembering that radicalizing the processes that are bogged 
down by the hesitations of progressivism is a task that is counterposed 
to the neoliberal regression. Areas of convergence with the Centre-Left 
can exist, but never with the Right. Confronting the reactionaries is a 
requisite of mass-based political action.

These distinctions apply in all respects and have particular validity in 
the exercise of democracy. Progressivism can adopt coercive approaches 
but repressive patterns are not part of its basic structure. That is why 
a passage from hegemonic forms of rule (by consensus) to dominant forces 
(coercion) in the administration of the state is usually accompanied by 
changes in the type of government. The differences between the 
Centre-Left and the Right that appeared at the outset of the progressive 
cycle persist today.


      Concrete Controversies

All of these current debates now take on an urgent content in Venezuela. 
In that country the discussion is not about generic diagnoses of 
continuity or exhaustion of a stage but of specific proposals over 
radicalization or regression of the Bolivarian process.

The revolutionists advocate radicalization. They reject agreements with 
the bourgeoisie, promote effective actions against speculators and 
favour consolidation of the communal power. These initiatives reflect 
the audacity that characterized the successful revolutions of the 20th 
century. They call for going on the offensive before the Right comes out 
on top. (Conde, 2015; Valderrama, Aponte, 2015; Aznárez, 2015; Carcione, 
2015).

The second approach is advocated by the Social Democrats and officials 
who are feathering their nests with the status quo. Their theorists do 
not advance a clear program. Nor do they openly dispute the radical 
theses. They simply emphasize the objectives, suggesting that the 
government will know how to find the correct road.

They tend to lay the blame on imperialism for all the difficulties 
Venezuela is experiencing, but they contribute no ideas on how to defeat 
those attacks. They call for renewed efforts to fight “inefficiency” or 
“lack of control” but do not mention nationalization of the banks, the 
expropriation of those engaged in capital flight, or an audit of the debt.

Merely defending the Bolivarian process (and the following it maintains) 
will not solve any problems in the present dilemma. Without an open 
discussion of why Chavismo lost votes among its supporters, there is no 
way to overcome the bigger predicament posed by the Right. Nor is there 
any point in elliptically noting that the government “did not or could 
not” adopt the appropriate policies.

It is even more unwise to blame the people for “forgetting” what 
Chavismo brought to them. This line of reasoning assumes that 
improvements paternally granted by a government should be applauded 
without hesitation. It is the polar opposite of communal power and the 
protagonism of workers who are building their own future.

The projects of post-liberal capitalism collide with the reality of 
Venezuela. This proves the fanciful nature of that model and the need to 
open anticapitalist routes in order to head off the conservative 
restoration. Rejecting that approach with a recipe book of 
impossibilities simply amounts to crossing one's arms in futility.

Some thinkers agree with this characterization, but they think “the time 
has passed” to advance in that direction. But how is this timing 
determined? What is the barometer that can establish the end of a 
transformative process?

The loss of enthusiasm, the retreat to private life, and proclamations 
of “good-bye to Chavismo” are current today. But the people often react 
to situations of extreme adversity. It would not be the first time that 
divisions and errors of the Right precipitated a Bolivarian counter-attack.


      Socialist Identity

The persistence, renewal or extinction of the progressive cycle in the 
region depends on the popular resistance. Without this dimension it is 
impossible to ascertain whether it is the continuation or the close of 
that period. It is a huge error to assess changes in governments without 
reference to the levels of struggle, organization or consciousness of 
the oppressed.

The Right has the initiative for now, but the nature of the period as a 
whole will be defined in the social battles that the conservatives 
themselves will surely precipitate. And the outcome of those conflicts 
does not depend solely on the preparedness to struggle. A key factor 
will be the influence of socialist, anti-imperialist and revolutionary 
currents.

In the last decade the traditions of these currents have been brought up 
to date through social movements and radical political processes. In 
particular, a new generation of militants has renewed with the legacy of 
the Cuban revolution and Latin American Marxism.

Chávez played a key role in this recovery, and his death severely 
affected the renaissance of socialist ideology. The impact was so great 
that it inspired a search for substitute references. An example is the 
centrality assigned to Pope Francis, which tends to confuse roles of 
mediation with roles of leadership.

Some personalities are of course useful for negotiating with enemies. 
The first Latin American to accede to the Papacy has a strong record as 
an intermediary with imperialism. His presence can serve to break the 
economic blockade of Cuba, oppose the sabotage of the peace negotiations 
in Colombia, or intercede against the criminal gangs operating in the 
region. It would be foolish to squander Francis's usefulness as a bridge 
in any of those negotiations.

However, that function does not mean the Pope is a protagonist in the 
battles against neoliberal capitalism. Many people assume that Francis 
leads that confrontation thanks to his messages in opposition to 
inequality, financial speculation or environmental devastation.

They fail to note that these proclamations stand in contradiction to the 
ongoing lavishness of the Vatican and its financing through obscure 
banking operations. The divorce between sermon and reality has been a 
classic feature of ecclesiastical history.

The Pope also adopts various precepts of the social doctrine of the 
Church that promote models of capitalism with greater state 
intervention. Those schemes are designed to regulate markets, raise 
compassion among the wealthy and guarantee the submission of the 
dispossessed. They expand on an ideology forged during the 20th century 
in polemics with Marxism and its influential ideas of emancipation.

The Church's conceptions have not changed. Francis is attempting to 
resurrect them in order to overcome the loss of members that Catholicism 
has experienced at the hands of rival creeds. The latter have 
modernized, are more accessible to the popular classes and are less 
identified with the interests of the ruling elites.

The Vatican's campaign counts on the approval of the news media, which 
exalt the image of Francis, overlooking his questionable past under the 
Argentine dictatorship. Bergoglio maintains his old hostility to 
Liberation Theology, rejects sexual diversity, denies the rights of 
women and avoids the penalization of pedophiles. And he covers for 
bishops challenged by their communities (Chile), canonizes missionaries 
who enslaved indigenous peoples (California), and facilitates assaults 
on secularism.

It is an error to assume that the Latin American Left will be built in 
an environment shared with Francis. Not only is there a lasting and huge 
counterposition of ideas and objectives. While the Vatican continues to 
recruit believers in order to deter the struggle, the Left is organizing 
protagonists of the resistance.

It is as important to reinforce this combative attitude as it is to 
strengthen the political identity of the socialists. The Left of the 
21st century is defined by its anticapitalist profile. Fighting for the 
communist ideals of equality, democracy and justice is the best way to 
contribute to a positive outcome of the progressive cycle. •

Endnotes:

1. <http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/1229.php#ref1> A referendum 
will be held in Bolivia 
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bolivian_constitutional_referendum,_2016> on 
February 21 to determine whether the country's Constitution should be 
amended to allow presidential candidates to stand for more than two 
terms, thereby allowing President Evo Morales and Vice-President Álvaro 
García Linera to run for another term in office in 2019.

2. <http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/1229.php#ref2> The rejection 
by South American governments of the proposed Free Trade Area of the 
Americas in 2005, at Hugo Chávez's instigation, was a turning point in 
relations between the United States and most Latin American governments.

3. <http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/1229.php#ref3> BNDES, the 
National Social and Economic Development Bank.

4. <http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/1229.php#ref4> Trans-Pacific 
Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

5. <http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/1229.php#ref5> Levy is now the 
World Bank Chief Financial Officer.

6. <http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/1229.php#ref6> Palocci was a 
Finance minister under Lula, later a Chief of Staff in Dilma's first 
government.

7. <http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/1229.php#ref7> PSUV – United 
Socialist Party of Venezuela, founded by Hugo Chávez.

8. <http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/1229.php#ref8> This may be 
overstated somewhat. For example, Bolivia's MAS government did in fact 
reverse many of the privatizations of major industries carried out by 
previous neoliberal regimes. And Correa did repudiate a substantial 
portion of Ecuador's debt pursuant to an independent audit of its 
foreign debt liabilities.

9. <http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/1229.php#ref9> Tipnis refers 
to Bolivian government plans to build a highway through a national park 
of that name; protest marches led to a provisional suspension of the 
project. Famaitina refers to a Canadian-based company's plan to develop 
an open-pit gold mine in the town of the same name in Argentina; after 
vigorous protests by the community, the project was suspended in 2012. 
Yasuni refers to Correa's offer to cancel plans to exploit hydrocarbons 
in a biologically diverse part of Ecuador's Amazon if international 
funding could be found to compensate for the loss of potential state 
revenues; when such funding failed to materialize, Correa withdrew the 
offer. Aratirí refers to a proposed open-pit iron ore mine in Uruguay 
that has been widely protested.

References

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    <http://www.nodal.am/2015/12/venezuela-ejemplo-civico-y-ahora-que-por-aram>,
    20-1.
  * Arana, Silvia, 2015. Respuesta a los profetas del “fin de ciclo”
    latinoamericano
    <http://www.rebelion.org/noticias/2015/10/203924.pdf>, 1-10.
  * Arkonada, Katu, 2015a. Fin del ciclo progresista o reflujo del
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    <http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=203029>, 8-9.
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  * Aznárez, Carlos, 2015. Venezuela: Aún se está a tiempo de salvar la
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  * Carcione, Carlos, 2015. Una mirada desde Venezuela: Lo que viene en
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  * Cieza, Guillermo, 2015. ¿Fin de ciclo o fin de cuento?
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    y los relanzamientos de las izquierdas
    <http://www.alainet.org/es/articulo/172855>, 7-10.
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  * Itzamná, Ollantay, 2015. Latinoamérica emergente: ¿se acaba la
    esperanza? <http://www.alainet.org/es/articulo/172606>, 24-9.
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    <http://contrahegemoniaweb.com.ar/hay-que-sembrarse-en-las-experiencias-del-pueblo>,
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  * Puga Álvarez, Valeria, 2015. América Latina en disputa: Contra la
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  * Rauber Isabel, 2015. La clave del protagonismo popular Gobiernos
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    <http://isabelrauber.blogspot.com.ar/2015/12/la-clave-del-protagonismo-popular.html>,
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  * Sader Emir, 2015a. El final del ciclo (que no hubo)
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  * Stedile, João Pedro, 2015, “O imperio passou a jogar máis duro”
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  * Svampa, Maristella, 2014. Cristina, el maldesarrollo y el
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    <http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=191895>, 13-11.
  * Svampa Maristella, 2015. Termina la era de las promesas andinas
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  * Teruggi Marco, 2015. Venezuela: Recalculando (para vencer)
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Source: Socialist Project <http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/1229.php>
-- 
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