The struggle of the masses in Latin America

A review of the situation in Ecuador, Nicaragua, Colombia, Venezuela and Argentina. From the Mexican Marxist paper Militante.

Events in Latin America are developing at a dizzying speed. The crisis of capitalism shows with all magnitude its cruelty towards the mass of workers in the Latin American countries.

Its a fact that the masses have reacted with particular courage against the wave of attacks, nevertheless, its a reality as well that the mass organisations with which the workers are sticking are experiencing a profound crisis, the product of an almost total submission to the market economy. The key problem of the Latin American situation is not the lack of a forceful reply to the program of structural adjustment but the lack of an alternative anti-capitalist policy which the masses are demanding more and more.

A review of the events of the last few months seems to confirm this.


The people of Sandino shone during the seventies with a struggle without respite to bring down the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza and his family, thousands of peasants and workers brought the Sandinista Front to triumph in 1979.

The destruction of the army, bastion of power of any political regime, paved the way for a national, democratic revolution, carried towards its ultimate consequences, nevertheless this couldn't be done without a frontal assault against the imperialist interests and the local bourgeoisie. Which was nothing more than an administrator for Yankee interests. In other words, if the revolution didn't assume an openly anti-capitalist character it would run the risk of becoming a victim of a counter revolution that the United States and its lackeys would surely organise. Nevertheless, the Sandinista leadership opted for a strategy of conciliation with the local bourgeoisie, it didn't nationalise the banks nor bring about a thorough agrarian reform and so the basis for sabotaging the economy and developing an armed counter revolution remained in tact.

The mechanisms of a workers democracy were not created, instead an attempt was made to recreate a type of representative democracy with a presidential style parliament totally within the limits of the capitalist regime. Through the bridge created by the Sandinista leadership the counter revolution led by Violeta Barrios managed to come to power in 1989.

The Sandinista Leadership, totally baffled by events in Eastern Europe went from capitulation to capitulation while the power of the bourgeoisie steadied itself and rebuilt the repressive apparatus necessary to confront the social movement which, during the whole of the nineties, especially the youth, the teachers, and the public sector workers maintained on high the flag of resistance against the structural adjustment plans.

The leadership of the Front had to face a split to the right, with the exit of Sergio Ramirez who fought for open collaboration with the right, represented by the government of Violeta Barrios.

Ramirez showed a level of nerve superior to that which Daniel Ortega was then prepared to allow but deep down it was only a demonstration of the process of political degeneration that was spreading through the ranks of the Front.

The leadership of the FSLN tried to win the elections of 1996 by abandoning its anti US stance and assuming a "neo-liberal" program, but instead this tactic secured the triumph of the right wing led by Ricardo Aleman, a former collaborator of Somoza.

Now, in the middle of mobilisations of workers and students, Ortega and other Sandinista leaders sign a pact with Aleman which, amongst other things, guarantees impunity for both the corrupt regime of Aleman and to the civil servants of the Sandinistas who have enriched themselves over the last decades.

At the moment, they are discussing the implementation of a private pensions systems and the destruction of the few laws which protect the workers, but the leadership of the front can't manage anything more than to declare that these are matters that the union will have to look at.

Nevertheless not everything is bad news, a group of 6 MP s led by Carlos Fonseca, the historic founder of the front have denounced the bankruptcy of the Sandinista leadership and are fighting to establish left wing within the ranks of the Sandinista movement.

That will open an option to fight for a authentic revolutionary alternative in the boson of sandinism, which in spite of the party leaders, would be a point of reference for the workers and the youth of Nicaragua. It is the duty of every revolutionary to fight and the build this alternative on the basis of a program which will put revolution as the order of the day, and which the masses can act fight for in the streets.


At the beginning of the year the US government approved a loan to Colombia for some 1600 million dollars, of which 900 are directed at strengthening the military and the police, the US Department of State also signalled that with the loan the guerillas should take the peace negotiations seriously.

On the 15th January about 5000 guerillas of the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) simultaneously attacked the towns of Une, Quetame and Guayabetal, some 20 km from La Paz. According to government sources the attack was repelled, nevertheless the very fact that they were able to carry our the aforementioned action demonstrates the strength of the Colombian guerilla movement.

The intervention of the United States shows that the Colombian government, the legal representative of the bourgeoisie of that country, isn't able t support itself. With a correct strategy it is totally feasible that the FARC could take power. Nevertheless apparently this is not on the guerillas agenda. The recent peace negotiations were even attended by the main guerrilla leader, Manuel Maruanda "Tirofijo"

It has been announced that the finance minister Juan Camilo Restrepo (la Joranda 17/1/2000) will meet with the guerilla leadership in order to convince them of the virtues of the economic program of the Colombian bourgeoisie, something unusual for a guerilla movement. Apparently the mobilisation of the FARC has the aim of strengthening its position at the negotiating table.

Militante has indicated on numerous occasions that it is ruled out that the peace accords could represent any type of positive change at all for the workers of Columbia. Any sort of agreement that would put an end to the civil war would mean the capitulation of the FARC. The unfortunate thing is that they are following a purely military strategy, in this case of a guerilla nature, for a revolution.

The masses of Colombian workers organised some important strikes during 1999. A revolutionary orientation on the part of the Communist Party , the dominant force in the FARC and with presence in the union movement, could bring about the victory of the Colombian revolution.


On the 13th January tens of thousands of people (30,000 in Lima) marched against the postulations and possible re-election of Alberto Fujimori. This is the first in a wave of protests against the president and whose principle event will centre on the 9th April, the date of the elections.

In Peru the alternative policies to the semi bonapartist government of Fujimori are meagre, the ten candidates for the presidency won't add to the struggle against the Fujimori regime with their abstract criticisms against neo-liberalism. The workers mustn't fall into the trap of these bourgeois politicians who criticise neoliberalism and give the illusion that it is possible to have a different sort of capitalist economy.

The axis of the protests against Fujimori is the peruvian General workers Confederation. This organisation must put forward the need for a progam in defence of the workers, otherwise the struggles which without doubt will bring about the fall of Fujimori will only mean the introduction of someone else equally incapable of solving the problems of the growing misery of the Peruvian workers.


A year has already passed since Hugo Chavez became president of Venezuela. During this period we have seen how the masses have reacted time and time again against the attempts of the traditional parties, both the Christian democrats and the social democrats, to reverse the process of transformation which began with the eloctoral triumph of Chavez.

Moreover, Chavez's triumph in the elections to the constituent assembly was impressive, after a campaign of attacks by all the media and in the middle of an investment strike. It is said that during the first 6 months of 1999 63% of capitalists stopped their investments causing the loss of 600,000 jobs.

The economy fell more than 5.5% this year and the masses had to withstand the spell of floods which left more than 50,000 dead. Despite all that, the popularity of Chavez doesn't seem to have fallen significantly at all.

Nevertheless there is no reason to suppose that Chavez represents by himself the possibility of an authentic revolution in Venezuela, the policy of privatisation has continued its course as have the attacks on workers rights.

The Union Co-ordinator of the Defence of the Collective Contracts will call on representatives of school teachers, doctors, public employees and workers from the oil and construction industries to organise a national protest march against the suspension of the discussions over pay agreements.

The fact is that there exists in Venezuela a total crisis produced by the paralysis of these talks both in the public and private sectors. The wave of mobilisations which will erupt will put to the test the government of Chavez.

The masses are beginning to demand results, they elected Chavez not to make him a big name in Latin American politics but because he offered to fight against poverty. Now is the moment to test whose side he is on, the bourgeoisie or the workers.

There is no doubt that the masses of Venezuelan workers must fight to build a political party that represents their interests. The order of the day in Venezuela must be to go towards the heart of the problems, a new constitution will not resolve them. Only the immediate expropriation of capitalists interests as a first step towards a planned economy can address these problems. Only a workers democracy can resolve the burning problems of the Venezuelan masses.

It is clear that if this doesn't succeed the course of events would transform Chavez into a second generation Fujimori, the accusations of corruption by Jesus Urdaneta, former colleague of Chavez are probably not true but capitalism and corruption are eternal companions and there is no doubt that the government of Chavez is riddled with it.

The crisis in the bosom of the Polo Patriots has already meant the suicide of the president of the court martial of the armed forces Luis Ascanio Baez.

Even Francisco Visconti, a retired general who participated with Chavez in the coup of 1992 indicated that a coup d'etat would be necessary to accelerate the revolutionary process that exists in Venezuela (La Jornada 28-2-2000).

A time bomb is ticking away for Chavez, the bourgeoisie aren't comfortable dealing with him and he isn't bringing the workers any real advantages, in this way his government could founder on the rocks, opening a new stage of upheaval in the revolutionary process that exists in Venezuela.


In issue 90 of Militante we outlined the main events of the Ecuador revolution of 21st January, it seems since that the situation is back to normal but that is only superficial, many military personnel are still in prison and the policy of dollarization of the economy continues on its way. Faced with the hesitation of the union leaders and the leaders of the peasants, a so-called "peoples liberation army " (ELP)has arisen. On this matter though the situation isnot clear, it could even be a group of agent-provocateurs trying to bring about a justification for a period of repression. The only sure thing is that the polarisation will continue and new class confrontations will arise. In fact, the declarations of Leon Febres Cordero, mayor of Guayaquil and social christian leader, in respect of the ELP is symptomatic: if the left is going to arm itself the centre right will as well and straightaway.

Time is pressing and the building of a revolutionary alternative is vital to avoid changing triumphs into defeats as was the case during the revolutionary events of January thatfailed due to the hesitations of the leadership.


The arrival of Fernando de Rua to the presidency of Argentina was the product of a reaction by the workers after more than 10 yearsof Menem and his policies of attacking the workers, nevertheless there was one thing the previous government couldn't manage due to the impressive mobilisations of the Argentine workers - changing the labour laws.

It is true that the Menem government went very far in introducing laour market de-regulation in Argentina, in fact the regime ended with a level of unemployment at 22%, the highest in Latin America according to official figures.

Nevertheless, in spite of this, the bourgeoisie isn't totally satisfied,demandinga more aggressive policy and De Rua is readyto comply with this.

At the time, we indicated that the alliance of Frepaso with the Radicals didn't constitute any sort of alternative, the coalition of the centre left (Frepaso) adopted completely the program of the Radicals and practically disappeared during the elections.

The offensive against workers rights is happening at a very opportune time for the government, many sections of the working class are waiting to see if De Rua has the magic touch necessary to resolve the problems. This has the blessing of the leadership of the CGT and the level of protests against the attacks has dropped off.

To this has to be added the sectarian attitude of the main union leaders that they didn't even manage to organise a united mobilisation on the 24th February: Hugo Moyano at the head of the Argentine Workers Movement, a dissident organisation within the CGT brought about a concentration of 20,000 people in the Plaza de Mayo while the Central of Argentine Workers (CTA) demonstrated in the Plaza de Congreso.

The law has already been approved by congress and its implementation is yet another blow for the Argentine workers. Those who think that the Argentine government and the bourgeoisie have already won are mistaken, the mobilisation of the workers could still force them to retreat on those attacks. What is needed now is to strengthen unity of action and to put forward a clear alternative program.

It is necessary to fight for a new fighting leadership in the CGT, it is necessary to prepare against the economic debacle which is upon us. The new government doesn't have much room to manoeuvre and the crisis which started during the Menem Government is going to explode in their faces.


First published in Militante the Marxist voice of workers and youth in Mexico, issue 91, March/April 2000.