Contemporary World Issues

Socialism in Latin America

Countries with Leftist Leaders

Cuba- Raul Castro, Communist Party of Cuba

Venezeula- Hugo Chavez, United Socialist Party of Venezuela

Bolivia- Evo Morales, Movement Towards Socialism Party

Chile- Michelle Bachelet, Socialist Party of Chile

Argentina- Nestor Kirchner, Front for Victory Party

Uruguay- Tabare Vazquez, Broad Front Party

Brazil- Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazilian Worker's Party

Ecuador- Rafael Correa, Alianza PAIS Party
 



The Meaning of Socialism

      According to The American Democracy, an American government textbook, socialism is defined as an econonmic system in which government owns and controls many of the major industries. This vague defintion can be applied to many of the new programs being implemented by the emerging Latin American leaders. While few countries in Latin America operate under officially socialist governments, many newly elected leaders have established goals that are leftist and socialist leaning. Starting with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 1998, many countries have followed the trend of electing left-leaning leaders. Unlike the communist movement of the mid-20th century which orginated in Europe, this new pattern of leftist tendencies is rooted in Latin America. These new leaders use socialist practices in order to create more equality and wealth within their countries. Their goal is not to abolish capitalism or democracy, but simply to improve their citizens' quality of life through the most effective means.

     The new wave of leftist ideas in Latin America are not neccessarily against capitalism, but are in support of doing what is neccessary to help the poor and bring justice and equality to an area that never in its history has been able to achieve this. This new trend toward socialist policies mostly entails nationalizing major industries such as oil, railroads, steel, tin, and copper. The profits of these sectors have been moved from large corporations and into social programs such as hospitals for the poor in Venezuela and rebuilding infrastructure in Bolivia. These new sources of income for the countries have provided funds for social programs like education and welfare that were not previously available.

 

There is a gap between a minority, which earns and owns all, and a majority, that earns nothing and owns only their human labor and lives.


Why Socialist Ideals are Popular in Latin America

     In recent years, socialist ideals have been on the rise in many Latin American countries. The failure of free-market reforms to improve the condition of the poor and promote growth in the economy has caused many Latin Americans to turn to leaders who promote socialist programs in order to find relief for their suffering. Because of Latin America's extreme levels of inequality, massive amounts of impoverished voters have begun to cast their votes for leaders who promise to bring reform for the poor.

     Massive amounts of inequality have existed in Latin America since the Spanish landed in the Western Hemisphere. Since the conquer of Latin America and its indigenous inhabitants by the Spanish, a small minority of European decendants have controlled the majority of the wealth by exploiting natural resources of the land and the labor of the oppressed. Poverty in Latin America is so severe that a distinction had to be made from the those living at the poverty level and those living at the starvation level. Many citizens of Latin American countries struggle to meet basic nutritional requirements, which is understandable considering that half of the people living there survive on one U.S. dollar per day. The desire of the poor to improve their situation through more educatoin, better healthcare, and more access to land drove them to the leaders with socialist ideas who would aim to refrom a grossly unbalanced system.

 

"We are heading towards a Socialist Republic of Venezuela"

- Hugo Chavez


The Rise of Socialism in Latin America

     Socialism in Latin America rose out of the ashes of the failed free-market reforms of the late 80's and early 90's known as the Washington Consensus. These reforms included an attempt to globalize and to privatize many aspects of Latin American economies in the hopes to generate more wealth. There was also an effort to strengthen democracy in Latin America in association with the United States. The failure of these reforms to bring widespread change has moved the Latin American people to look towards other ideas in attempt to bring equality to their countries. This new wave of reforms seems to be yet another attempt to improve the massive amounts of poverty within Latin America that has been in exsistence since the Spanish colonial period. The gross levels of poverty is essentially the root of this and of every other attempt at reform within Latin America.

How You Can Get Involved

Whether or not you support the rise of socialism in Latin America there are several ways you can further the cause or fight to against it:

1. Contact your representatives!
     The United States has ignored the goings on in Latin America for the past 8 years. In order to improve the relations between Latin America and the U.S., we need to reach out. Write your local congressman or woman and let them know that you want something to be doneto improve relations or increase aid to impoverished countries. Follow the link below to find the contact information for your congressmen:

http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/

2. Help the poor!
     Whether it be through donations to charities, community fundraisers, or trips to volunteer your time in Latin America, everyone can do something to help to alleviate the severe poverty in Latin America. Not matter how small the contribution, every bit helps.

3. Educate yourself!
     In the United States there is constant debate about socialist programs and liberal versus conservative policies. In order to be informed about what this debate is truly about, learn about what socialism and democracy really are. 

4. Do Something!
    Whatever your beliefs, interests, or passions are, get out and do something, anything that impacts the world around you.



The following is an interview with Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, with Jon Stewart from The Daily Show:

Sources

Meaning of Socialism:

"Analysts: South America's Leftist Leaders Often Speak as Ideologues, Act as Pragmatists". Voice of America. 10 December 2008 http://www.voanews.com/english/archive/2005-03/2005-03-03-voa68.cfm?CFID=78300407&CFTOKEN=12540213.

"Latin America's Left Turn". Council on Foreign Relations. 10 December 2008 http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20060501faessay85302/jorge-g-castaneda/latin-america-s-left-turn.html.

Patterson, Thomas. "The Rules of American Politics: Capitalism". The American Democracy. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005.

Rise of Socialism:

"A Defense of Latin America's Free Market Reforms". UCLA. 10 Decemeber 2008 http://www.international.ucla.edu/article.asp?parentid=4026.

"Latin America's Left Turn". Council on Foreign Relations. 10 Decemeber 2008 http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20060501faessay85302/jorge-g-castaneda/latin-america-s-left-turn.html.

Why Socialist Ideals Are Popular:

"Latin America's Left Turn". Council on Foreign Relations. 10 Decemeber 2008 http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20060501faessay85302/jorge-g-castaneda/latin-america-s-left-turn.html.

"Poverty in Latin America". Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile. 10 Decemeber 2008 http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20060501faessay85302/jorge-g-castaneda/latin-america-s-left-turn.html.

"Latin America -- Rising Class Struggle Forces Socialism onto the Agenda". Socialist Alternative. 10 Decemeber 2008 http://www.socialistalternative.org/news/article11.php?id=614.

Video:

The Daily Show. "President Evo Morales" (Internet Video) 10 December 2008. http://www.thedailyshow.com/video/index.jhtml?videoId=103275&title=President-Evo-Morales


Images:

"Map of Latin America" (Online Image) 10 December 2008. http://www.tiwy.com/pais/eng.phtml

 "Hugo Chavez" (Online Image) 10 December 2008. http://www.soaw.org/presente/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=45

"Elderly Bolivian Woman" (Online Image) 10 December 2008. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/low/world/americas/5090850.stm

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