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Populista. The Rise of Latin America’s 21st Century Strongmen, Will Grant. Review.

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Populista: The Rise of Latin America's 21st Century Strongman

Populista. The Rise of Latin America’s 21st Century Strongmen, Will Grant. Head of Zeus.

In the new millenium new ways forward for the radical left in Latin America seemed open. “For a decade and a half, populist left-wing presidents were in power from the Amazon to the Andes, The leaders of the Pink tide were democratically elected and radical in heir socialist reforms, though not sufficiently communist to be deemed ‘red.” The BBC correspondent in Latin America Will Grant continues, “Yet within a decade and half, the party was over…A movement that had promised so much was either floundering or had crumbled entirely….. several governments morphed into pseudo left wing kleptocracies run by repressive authoritarians. In some cases the constitutions had been changed to allow indefinite presidential re-elections and concentrate power in the hands of the executive.”

Will Grant’s hefty and path-breaking book begins in Venezuela. The early, pre-Presidential biography of the leader the Bolivarian Revolution, a career military man, would-be 1992 MBR-200, golpsita, the is a starting opener. In power from 1999 the “worker President”, Hugo Chávez who promised a “socialism of the 21st century.” Wreathed for years in “unconditional love” he passed away in 2013, still holding the reins of government. Behind the grieving the promise of socialism had already begun to end with the “biggest robbery of national resources and looting of national funds in Latin American history” .

It is hard to summarise what Chavez and his successor’s ‘socialism’ as an alternative to the capitalist system’ was and is. The Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela, (PSUV) and millions of members owes a founding loyalty to “Comandante Hugo Chávez” and a mixture of anti-imperialist, patriotic, and a variety of ideas fashionable on the left. It is better to look at its practice. Today far from abolishing capital or bringing workers and peasant power, resources are dominated and exploited by the Boliburguesía, the monied cartel ennobled by this socialist and his successor, Nicolás Maduro. Chavista thugs terrorise political opponents, even the local Communist Party is now banned from running for office. The country’s economy is “in free fall”; infrastructure is wasting away. Cuban trade and help have brought their ruthless secret service in their wake. Conditions are bad enough for over 4 million refugees to have fled. Only die-hard supporters blame these conditions on ‘Imperialism’.

“Venezuela is a stark warning of what can happen when vanity and dogma outweigh pragmatism and common sense” Yet Populista is far from another denunciation of the vain hopes of the left. As he moves from the North to Brazil Grants paints a portait of the extraordinary life of the leader of the Workers’ Party,  Partido dos Trabalhadores(PT) an organisation launched as democratic socialist, with internal democracy and tendencies. Lula da Silva , who went from shoeshine boy to President. He is a democratic socialist and states, “I don’t consider myself a populist I consider myself a leader who dared to govern with the people, who was no afraid” of the people. In this reformist vein Lula created his social programmes, such the family grants, the Bolsas Familias. If Lula’s party has had is share of corruption scandals, he personally had power snatched away by the an openly biased state and judiciary following the Operação Lava Jato. Brazil is now governed by the right wing, extreme right-wing, populist Jair Bolsonaro, recent victories in court cases and his good showing in polls indicate that he may make a strong electoral comeback.

.Populista goes into the achievements of Bolivian indigenous leader, Evo Morales, another remarkable leader, whose first language is Aymara. His ideology, Grant outlines, draws on this heritage, ‘Kataymism’ an indigenous culture, mixed with European pacifism and ecology, and a Guevarist image of the Two Bolivias, “international neoliberal v. exploited nationals’ whites v. Indians, oligarchs v. subalterns; global models v. local experience.” One of Morales’ key measures, the renegotiation of foreign energy (gas and oil) contacts, reflect this outlook Social reform efforts, breaking down the ‘apartheid’ between the “crillios” of European descent, and the peasants and indigenous population run with their grain. Morales made mistakes, the proposed TIPINIS highway driving through indigenous areas which was vigorously resisted, and ended up on an autocratic pathway, self-cocooned by his own councillors, and seeking refuge in “hollow socialist rhetoric”.

Left Populism?

The ideas and policies of Morales can be compared to left populism, pitting the People, el Pueblo, against the European owners of natural resources, 500 years of struggle against the “oligarchy” But Morales did not believe that they were ‘enemies’ that excluded each other. He did not pose as a Caudillo, strongman, who would stamp out his opponents. The president came from the self-organised assemblies of peasant workers (‘cocaleros’, after the coca leaf), by definition accustomed to both action and negotiation. His political party the Moviemento al socialismo (MAS), is said to have a ” bottom-up, decentralised structure, with regional and local branches having a large amount of input on party decision”. Adjustments had to be made, a “plurinational state” created by consent, backed by “overwhelming popular support.”

The personal qualities of the President aside you can’t help thinking that Bolivian history played a major role in injecting caution into the MAS project. Since independence from Spain Bolivia has seen 190 coups, attempted coups and revolutions. The forced “resignation” of Morales in 2019 under charges of terrorism” was widely seen at the 191st.

These are epic histories and biographies. The chapters on Raphael Correda’s authoritarian rule in Ecuador and the sordid tale of Daniel Ortega’s dictatorship in Nicaragua paint pictures on a smaller scale. Correda, described as a “populist”, “a tragedy replete with treachery, sedition and corruption”. The latter the grave-digger of Third-Worldist hopes with a wife and Vice-President, Rosario Murillo, a blend of “Lady Macbeth and Dick Cheney.. Cuba comes across as an exhausted model, its repressions aide, “The island is dysfunctional in the extreme but doesn’t suffer from the violence or extreme poverty seen elsewhere in Latin America.” Why people continue to consider Cuba as a beacon of hope is a mystery. …

In an Epilogue Populista states “In that extraordinary unprecedented line-up of left-wing leaders at the start of the twenty first century the urgent needs of el pueblo were fulfilled for a time.” The cost, outlined in its pages, was great. The “permanent campaigns” of charismatic chiefs peter out, are revived, lift spirits, and, in the case of Venezuela many would say, have caused lasting damage. Brazil and Bolivia remain the focus of wider hopes, but as Grant indicates, did not fit like a glove, if at all, into the “populista” mould and above all the leadership of a Caudillo.

Laclau and the ‘Political Logic of Populism’.

Populism, Ernesto Laclau argued, is a “political logic”. Grant cites the late Argentinian theorist and professor discourse studies at Essex University that it presents itself as “subversive” of the existing order and the starting point of a new one. There are heavy layers of emotion, ‘affects’ attacked to political leaders who can articulate the democratic demands of the people. These can be mobilised by populists of the right or left against the ‘enemy’, globalisers, metropolitan elites, capitalist oligarchs, neoliberals. What is right and what is left are, on this account, constructed ‘relationally’ and ‘discursively’, they have no fixed meaning.

It has been suggested that the reasoning behind the academic’s approach can be traced to his early years on the Argentinean Left. This was faced with the issue of how to engage with Peronism: specifically, how to develop a leftist project that could win mass support in an era when the working class remained linked to a Peronist political identity. 

Laclau’s founding political experience was in the early sixties in a group that called itself the National Left party, (From Marxist to Post-Marxist Populism: Ernesto Laclau’s Trajectory within the National Left and Beyond. Omar Acha 2019) Without going into the small group politics of the organisation founded by figures such as Jorge Abelardo Ramos the “critical support” given by the  Partido Socialista de la Izquierda Nacional (PSIN) to populist leader Juan Domingo Perón and ‘Peronism’ stands out. In semi-colonial countries (Argentina and the rest of South America) the national tasks of the bourgeoisie had be carried out by the working class – no doubt with the PSI indicating what they might be.

Acha’s description of the PSIN as an “appendage” of Peronism can be applied to those who saw, like Laclau, Chavism as a renewed “Latin American populism.” A theoretical justification for the Socialism of the 21st Century that accepts and justifies the idea that “an entire political movement” can be “built on the shoulders of one man” is beyond implausible faced with the results Populista lists in sad detail. Only those practised in “disconnection from reality” can ignore this. The Marxist principle that emancipation comes from the people, the workers, themselves, not from populist leaders, stands in sharp contrast to the populist experience brilliantly narrated and analysed in Will Grant’s riveting book.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 8, 2021 at 2:16 pm

Jair Bolsonaro: Where Populism Meets Fascism.

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Résultat de recherche d'images pour "Bolsonaro violence after election"

Fascist Wins Brazil Election.

Jair Bolsonaro declared Brazil’s next president

Guardian.

A far-right, pro-gun, pro-torture populist has been elected as Brazil’s next president after a drama-filled and deeply divisive election that looks set to radically reforge the future of the world’s fourth biggest democracy.

Jair Bolsonaro, a 63-year-old former paratrooper who built his campaign around pledges to crush corruption, crime and a supposed communist threat, secured 55.1% of the votes after 99.9% were counted and was therefore elected Brazil’s next president, electoral authorities said on Sunday.

Bolsonaro’s leftist rival, Fernando Haddad, secured 44.8% of votes.

In a video broadcast from his home in Rio de Janeiro, Bolsonaro thanked God and vowed to stamp out corruption in the country.

“We cannot continue flirting with communism … We are going to change the destiny of Brazil,” he said.

This result concerns the left across the world.

These are some notes.

For in-depth analysis of the background see:

The most important presidential race in Brazilian history (plus statements from MST & PSOL). James N. Green. Links  – International Journal of Socialist Renewal.

Brazil: will fake news win the election?

As Brazil’s presidential election reaches its second round, support for rabid, homophobic extremist Jair Bolsonaro is being whipped up by an unprecedented tide of ‘fake news’, distributed on social media, particularly WhatsApp,  Red Pepper. Sue Branford.

Brazilian socialist Andressa Alegre spoke to Solidarity about the experience with the governments led by the Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT) between 2003 and 2016.

More broadly:

Brazil goes back to an oligarch past

 Anne Vigna. le Monde Diplomatique. May 2018.

Post Lula, post Dilma Rousseff, power has shifted to powerful landowners aggressively asserting their rights over land they don’t use but don’t want to lose, and politically motivated violence is up.

Jair Bolsonaro and the threat to democracy in Brazil

Yesterday Brazil voted for a fascist. Jair Bolsonaro is now the President of Brazil.  He comfortably outpolled his nearest rival, Fernando Haddad, a former Mayor of Saõ Paulo and Minister for Education in the government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva by 55 to 45 per cent.  Although his lead appears to have narrowed in the final days before polling, it was still a decisive victory. The fourth largest country in the world could now slide from democracy to dictatorship.

Here are some pressing issues.

Brazil’s presidential election: fearful LGBT community prepares for a ‘proud homophobe’.

Tom Phillips. Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières

Activists say that while violence and discrimination against the LGBT community have long existed, Bolsonaro’s brazen bigotry has helped launch a new era of brutality and threats.

“It’s as if the gates of hell have been opened – as if hunting season had been declared,” said Beto de Jesus, a veteran LGBT activist and founder of São Paulo’s huge annual gay pride parade. “It’s barbarism.”

James Green, an American academic with longstanding ties to Brazil’s gay movement, said Bolsonaro’s “repulsive” discourse had left some gay and lesbian couples wondering if it was even still safe to hold hands in public: “He has unleashed all the demons in Brazilian society and they are out there now: unmasked and vicious and violent.”

Renan Quinalha, a São Paulo-based lawyer and LGBT activist, said recent weeks had seen a “frightening” spike in reports of physical or verbal abuse carried out by Bolsonaro supporters. He described a mood of fear and trepidation, both at the violence and the prospect that, as president, Bolsonaro might try to roll back hard-fought gains such as the 2011 legalisation of same-sex unions.

The Rise of the Brazilian Evangelicals

Au Brésil, les évangéliques ont voté Jair Bolsonaro.

The Evangelicals have voted for Bolsonaro – who is himself a Catholic.

There is a good case, given the intolerance, cult of violence, apologies for dictatorship and trumpeting of the most reactionary elements of free-market capitalism, religious bigotry  with themes of law and order,  and threats to withdraw from all international treaties and organisations, to  suggest that Brazil’s President is a figure in which  fascism meets populism.  

But this is far from the end of the story,

Brazilian presidential front-runner Jair Bolsonaro has flaunted a macho distaste for gays. He’s recommended that parents beat effeminate boys. He’s said he would prefer a dead son to a homosexual one.

And he has the vote of Tiago Pavinatto, a gay lawyer and columnist for O Estado de S. Paulo, one of the nation’s largest newspapers.

Bolsonaro has “flirted with homophobia because he’s an ordinary, rude man and he knows that,” said Pavinatto, 34. “He will be surrounded by people who will ensure gay rights be respected.”

This is no random, one-off case. Pavinatto is part of a surprisingly large segment of the gay community — 29 percent, according to a Datafolha survey this week — who intends to vote for the former Army captain. And it underscores just how strong the desire is among many Brazilians to prevent the party of Bolsonaro’s opponent, Fernando Haddad, from returning to power

Disgust with corruption during the 14-year rule of the Workers’ Party runs so deep that some gay voters have been willing to bet that Bolsonaro’s hostility is a mere ploy. Others support Haddad with great reluctance or are refusing to vote entirely.

Brazil’s gay groups, flourishing in its cosmopolitan cities, have been made a scapegoat in Bolsonaro’s grievance-fueled campaign. The candidate has pointed to homosexuals as evidence of moral decay as he preaches a return to conservative values.

Strong rejection of the Workers’ Party and former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva drive Bolsonaro’s backers, and that isn’t different in the gay community. But gays find themselves torn between disapproval of corruption associated with Lula’s legacy and resistance to a candidate who has repeatedly antagonized them.

Why Many of Brazil’s Gay Voters Will Overlook Bolsonaro’s Homophobic Rants  

Apart from the problems with the Partido dos Trabalhadores, Workers Party, the disaster that is ‘Bolivarian’ Venezuela under their eyes- 2.3 million Venezuelans have fled the country since 2014,-and clashes as some Brazilians have rioted against the presence of over 100,000 refugees – the Brazilian left has lost another potential source of inspiration.  (September. Brazil calls in army after mob attacks on Venezuelan migrants )

In a Video produced by the Left of centre French weekly l’Obs, violent scenes have already taken place in Post-election Brazil.

 

The French Daily Libération underlines the disappointment of the 44.9% who voted for his opponent Fernando Haddad, and the dangers of this result: “You are worth more than Bolsonaro.”

Written by Andrew Coates

October 29, 2018 at 1:53 pm