ON 1 January 1994 the Zapatistas broke the imperialist tranquillity of Latin America. Five years later and a large part of the continent had entered a period of revolts, government changes and general strikes that continues to the present day. In January 2000 a revolt by the Ecuadorians against the International Monetary Fund (IMF) demolished the government of Jamil Mahuad.
In April of the same year another revolt shook the Andean region. Peasants and workers’ organisations from Cochabamba, in Bolivia rose up against the multinational corporations that controlled the water services. They defeated the government of Hugo Banzer—the former Bolivian dictator—and expelled the privatised companies. On 19-20 December 2001 Argentinean workers staged a revolt in Buenos Aires against poverty and repression and overthrew the government of president Fernando de la Rua.
In April 2002 the most right wing sectors of the Venezuelan ruling class and armed forces carried out a coup against Hugo Chavez, supported by US. But they were defeated when hundreds of thousands of people from the poorest neighbourhoods in Caracas descended on the city centre to protest.
In January 2003 the third World Social Forum in Porto Alegre called on people to mobilise against the war and the free trade agreements. Throughout Latin America thousands of people demonstrated on 15 February.
In April of the same year, hundreds of thousands of workers, peasants and activists marched against the WTO in the Mexican city of Cancun. Revolts exploded in Bolivia in October against the energy corporations that export Bolivian gas. Peasants and miners advanced towards La Paz, overthrowing the government of Sanchez de Lozada.
Between 2002 and 2004 the electoral processes partially reflected pressure coming from below. Wide sectors of the local ruling classes of Latin America lost power as right wing parties suffered big defeats.
Lucio Gutierrez won the Ecuadorian presidency by presenting himself as a progressive military leader who supported the indigenous rising. Nestor Kirchner won the Argentinean election by rejecting the IMF’s policies. Lula da Silva won the Brazilian presidency as a steel worker and leader of the Workers’ Party, promising to eradicate hunger in the biggest and one of the most unequal countries in Latin America.
As recently as 31 October 2004, Tabare Vazquez won the Uruguayan elections, leading a coalition that brought together socialists, communists and nationalists, and has the support of the unions and social movements.
In these years there have been great struggles—but the political and social changes haven’t arrived yet. Gutierrez preferred to follow the politics of the US government. Kirchner denounces IMF policies but then pays external debts. Lula promised a “zero hunger plan”, but then cut funding for this and other plans.
The solution is not here, but with the workers. Successful campaigns against the privatisation of telephone and petrol companies in Uruguay were led by the unions. Some weeks ago, Argentinean telecoms workers went on strike and achieved a 20 percent wage increase. On 13 January, Bolivian neighbourhood committees and workers and peasant unions expelled the French corporation that controlled the water services of La Paz and El Alto. Another Latin America is possible—providing workers’ struggles and socialist ideas unite.
Javier Carles writes for El Mundo al Reves, Socialist Worker’s sister paper in Uruguay.