by Claudio Katz
March 04, 2016
and Socialist Projects
The progressive cycle emerged from popular rebellions that altered
power relations in South America.
There were social improvements and
democratic conquests, and imperialist aggression was curbed. But
export-oriented extractivism increased and trade became more
The agreements with China made by each country reveal
fractures in continental integration that have facilitated the
reappearance of free trade treaties.
Progressivism has suffered from
unsuccessful neo-developmentalist attempts that failed to channel
agro-export rents into productive activities. Social spending helped
to ease protest but discontent has expanded under the centre-left
The Right has won the Presidency in Argentina because of the
inconsistencies of Kirchnerism, has been strengthened in Brazil by
the conservative mutation of the Workers' Party (PT), and is gaining
new life in Ecuador owing to the deceitfulness of the official
discourse. The conservatives conceal the corruption, drug
trafficking and inequality that continue to be associated with their
Venezuela is battling the U.S. attempt to regain control of its oil.
A Chavista counter-attack requires communal power if it is to
eradicate the foreign exchange fraud that enriches the bureaucracy.
The Bolivarian process will be radicalized or it will regress.
Characterizations of the progressive cycle as a post-liberal period
omit the continuities with the previous phase and ignore the
conflicts with the popular movement.
But the pre-eminence of extractivism does not make all governments the same or convert the
centre-left administrations into repressive regimes. Socialist
projects offer the best outcome in the current stage.
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.
The answer requires that we describe the particular features of the
Causes and Effects
The progressive cycle arose in popular rebellions that brought down
eroded their continuity,
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
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
Lula da Silva-Dilma Rousseff in Brazil
Tabaré Vázquez-José "Pepe" Mujica in Uruguay
Rafael Correa in Ecuador,
internal consumption, subsidies to local business owners and social
The radical presidents,
...applied models of improved
redistribution of income and contended with sharp conflicts with the
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,
Greece's surgery has had no parallel in Latin America nor
have we suffered the financial agonies visited on Portugal,
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.
During the decade there was a serious limitation of U.S.
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
The progressive cycle allowed democratic conquests and
constitutional reforms (Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador) introducing
rights that had been denied for decades by the ruling elites.
greater tolerance was displayed toward social protest.
respect, the contrast with,
the more repressive regimes (Colombia,
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 re-appropriation 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
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
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
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  and even a
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
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 rivaled 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)
 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
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.
progressive cycle is directly threatened by the avalanche of free
by the 'Empire.'
Failures in Neo-Developmentalism
The limits of progressivism have been most visible in the national
attempts to implement neo-developmentalist policies.
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
The expectation of equaling 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
The major neo-developmentalist attempt was carried out in Argentina
during the decade that followed the social explosion of 2001.
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
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
funds claimants, and imposing higher fees and cutbacks in social
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),  a replay of the first Lula presidency
that began with personalities of the same type (Antonio Palocci).
During 2015 this orthodox management generated increased rates and
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 channeled part of the rent into public
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
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
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
But there were no uprisings equivalent to those in
the preceding period.
Only the heroic response to the coup in
Honduras came close.
South America Rising Up
The fighting spirit of the masses was expressed in other fields, as
the mass demonstrations of Chilean students for free education
the outstanding general strike in Paraguay
the energetic demands of the
peasants, indigenous and environmentalists in Colombia and
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
As in Argentina, the progressive forces evade any explanation of
They simply maneuver to secure the government's
survival through new agreements with the business lobby, the
provincial elites and the partidocracia, the bureaucratic party
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
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
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 polemizes against
Rightists and is implacable in his denunciations of imperialist
But day by day he crosses a new barrier in his
acceptance of free trade and his confrontation with the social
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
This turn explains Correa's recent decision not to seek a
The Centrality of Venezuela
The outcome of the progressive cycle is at stake in Venezuela.
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
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
And the anti-imperialist project of the ALBA is quite
unlike the conservatism of the
MERCOSUR (Cieza, 2015; Mazzeo, 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
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
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
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 favored 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.
up all the challenges to Venezuela, while he criminalizes protest in
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.
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.
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.
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,
This lack of control accentuates the stagnation of the
distributionist model that initially channeled 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.
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.
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
 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
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.
thinks its time has come and it promises to end the "populist" cycle
and replace "interventionism" with "the market" and "authoritarianism" with
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.
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
Three economies known for their openness and
attractiveness to capital,
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
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
This is their focus in polemics against those
who emphasize the decline in that process (Itzamná, 2015; Sader,
2016b; Rauber, 2015):
...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.
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.
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
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. 
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.
proof of failure of this model is replaced by another hope of the
same type, which ends in similar disappointments.
The real problems afflicting progressivism are frequently eluded,
and criticism is focused exclusively on the bureaucracy, corruption,
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
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.
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 favoring 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
That is how they pave the way for a return of the Right.
Objecting to the post-liberal thesis are other authors who identify
an exhaustion of the progressive cycle as a consequence of
In their view, mega-mining undertakings (Tipnis,
Famaitina, Yasuni, Aratiri)  and the primacy of soy or
hydrocarbons development have blocked reduction in social
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,
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
maintains its reliance on nickel production or tourism
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
If extractivism were to constitute the principal feature of
that model, it would have no significant differences with
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 centered on increasing the number of
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 laboring 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
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,
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
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 amalgamate 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
The differences between the Centre-Left and the Right
that appeared at the outset of the progressive cycle persist today.
All of these current debates now take on an urgent content in
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
The revolutionists advocate radicalization. They reject agreements
with the bourgeoisie, promote effective actions against speculators
and favor 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
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
Some thinkers agree with this characterization, but they think "the
time has passed" to advance in that direction.
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.
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
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
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
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
They expand on an ideology forged during the 20th
century in polemics with Marxism and its influential ideas of
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.
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.
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 counter-position 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.
the communist ideals of equality, democracy and justice is the best
way to contribute to a positive outcome of the progressive cycle...
A referendum will be held in
Bolivia 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.
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
BNDES, the National Social and
Economic Development Bank.
Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)
and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
Levy is now the World Bank Chief
Palocci was a Finance minister
under Lula, later a Chief of Staff in Dilma's first
PSUV - United Socialist Party of
Venezuela, founded by Hugo Chávez.
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.
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
Aratirí refers to a proposed open-pit iron ore mine
in Uruguay that has been widely protested.
Aharonian, Aram, 2016.
Venezuela, ejemplo cívico…, ¿y ahora qué?, 20-1.
Arana, Silvia, 2015.
Respuesta a los profetas del "fin de ciclo" latinoamericano,
Arkonada, Katu, 2015a.
del ciclo progresista o reflujo del cambio de época en
América Latina, 8-9.
Arkonada Katu, 2015b.
Fin de ciclo? La disputa por el relato, 18-12.
Aznárez, Carlos, 2015.
Venezuela: Aún se está a tiempo de salvar la Revolución,
Carcione, Carlos, 2015.
Una mirada desde Venezuela: Lo que viene en América latina,
Cieza, Guillermo, 2015.
¿Fin de ciclo o fin de cuento?, 2-10.
Colussi, Marcelo, 2015.
espejo donde mirarse, 20-9.
Conde, Narciso Isa, 2015.
Venezuela: causas, efectos y respuestas a un gran revés,
Gómez Freire, Gonzalo, 2015.
los que le echan la culpa a la "guerra económica", 7-12.
Guerrero, Modesto Emilio, 2015.
cuestión es que el gobierno bolivariano nunca se propuso…",
Gudynas, Eduardo, 2015.
identidad del progresismo, su agotamiento y los
relanzamientos de las izquierdas, 7-10.
Iturriza, Reinaldo, 2015.
Venezuela: Después del 6-D no hay chavismo vencido,
Itzamná, Ollantay, 2015.
Latinoamérica emergente: ¿se acaba la esperanza?, 24-9.
Mazzeo, Miguel, 2015.
Hay que sembrarse en las experiencias del pueblo, 5-10.
Puga Álvarez, Valeria, 2015.
América Latina en disputa: Contra la tesis del fin de ciclo,
Rauber Isabel, 2015.
La clave del protagonismo popular Gobiernos populares de
Sader Emir, 2015a.
del ciclo (que no hubo), 14-9.
Sader, Emir, 2016b.
La izquierda del siglo XXI, 4-1.
Stedile, João Pedro, 2015,
"O imperio passou a jogar máis duro", 24-11.
Szalkowicz, Gerardo, 2015.
Venezuela: golpe de timón o peligro de naufragio, 9-12.
Svampa, Maristella, 2014.
Cristina, el maldesarrollo y el progresismo sudamericano,
Svampa Maristella, 2015.
Termina la era de las promesas andinas, 25-8.
Teruggi Marco, 2015.
Venezuela: Recalculando (para vencer), 10-12.
Valderrama, Toby; Aponte,
Venezuela. El presidente Maduro y la revolución, 8-12.
Zibechi, Raul, 2015a.
Raúl Hacer balance del progresismo, 4-8.
Zibechi, Raul, 2015b.
Las tormentas que vienen, 27-11.
Zibechi Raul, 2016.
Crisis de los gobiernos progresistas, 20-1.