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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Our Opinion

The Mole Grubs On, or Che’s Revenge


But the revolution is thoroughgoing. It is still journeying through purgatory. It does its work methodically….First it perfected the parliamentary power, in order to be able to overthrow it. Now that it has attained this, it is perfecting the executive power, reducing it to its purest expression, isolating it, setting it up against itself as the sole object, in order to concentrate all its forces of destruction against it. And when it has done this second half of its preliminary work, Europe will leap from its seat and exultantly exclaim: well grubbed, old mole!
—Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

Marx might have (ultimately) gotten it wrong about Europe, but he was apparently prescient about Latin America. Indeed, the famous passage from The Eighteenth Brumaire above is uncanny, in its virtually step-by-step description, of what has occurred in Bolivia during the last few years. It appears that the Old Moor still has a few things to teach us.

At this moment, following a series of democratic elections over several years, ostensibly leftwing governments are ruling in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Venezuela, and now, of course, Bolivia. These six nations constitute just over 75 percent of the total population of South America (roughly 279 million people) and almost precisely 80 percent of its area. Putting aside the former and present Guianas (Guyana, Suriname, and, obviously, the French “région d’outre-mer” of Guyane), that leaves only four countries not nominally in the hands of the left: Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Peru. Of these, however, the latter will be going to the polls next April, and already a previously obscure former army officer by the name of Ollanta Humala is making waves, and quickly gaining in popularity. Mr. Humala was involved in a military mutiny against Alberto Fujimori’s regime in its last, most repressive, days (shades of Hugo Chávez); he is also supported by the country’s cocaleros (shades of Evo Morales). In any case, while Mr. Humala’s self-proclaimed “nationalism” is hardly assured of victory in next year’s elections, the specter of Latin American “twenty-first-century socialism” (to quote Mr. Chávez) is increasingly haunting the corridors of power in the capital of the norteamericanos, and turning the dreams of its “Washington consensus” into one policy nightmare after another.

Meanwhile, Paraguay’s president, Nicanor Duarte, recently met with Mr. Chávez to sign an oil agreement, as well as a common “agenda” for “social” development and “integration.” As for Ecuador, its government is now headed by Alfredo Palacio, who was actually elected vice-president on the ticket of Lucio Gutiérrez, yet another former cashiered army officer (Mr. Chávez’s shadow is a strikingly looming presence), who, after winning the presidency in 2002 with 55 percent of the vote and the support of the leftwing Movimiento Popular Democrático and the Pachakutik movement of Ecuador’s indigenous peoples (further shades of Evo Morales), abruptly turned hard-right and embraced Washington’s anything-but-consensual consensus. Unsurprisingly, he immediately found himself facing mass street protests. More to the point, he was ultimately removed from office, fled the country, returned, and was instantly arrested—which is why Mr. Palacio is now running things.

Which leaves us with the only true reactionary, Colombia’s Álvaro Uribe, who, not at all coincidentally, is also George W. Bush’s only genuine ally in Latin America—although even Mr. Uribe is now negotiating in, of all places, Cuba with a group that is part of Colombia’s decades-long leftwing insurgency. Meanwhile, north of the Colombian-Panamanian border, the current favorite in next year’s presidential elections in Mexico is Mexico City’s popular leftist mayor, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, while in Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega is also tipped to return to the presidential palace in October—through an election this time.

We would remind our readers here that, while first running for the presidency, George W. Bush insisted that Latin America would become a central focus of US foreign policy, stating in August 2000 that, unlike Bill Clinton, he would “look south, not as an afterthought, but as a fundamental commitment to my presidency.” Of course, Mr. Bush has added an entirely new dimension to the notion of attention deficit disorder (for which, unfortunately, the world, and the people of Iraq in particular, are paying). In the event, he might or might not have been looking south during the last few years. What is certain is that Latin Americans have been looking north, and have collectively trembled at what they have seen.

When Che Guevara was summarily executed at La Higuera, Bolivia, on the ninth of October 38 years ago, the US government, which had orchestrated his capture, assumed that it was the end of Latin America’s “revolutionary era.” Clearly, no one in Washington had reckoned with the old, continually grubbing mole. But the Bolivian peasants who, immediately upon his murder, rechristened the fallen guerrillero as “San Ernesto de La Higuera” and “El Cristo de Vallegrande” knew instinctively—their very lives were proof of it—that an era can last decades or centuries, and that revolution was not a momentary cry for justice, doomed to dissolve as soon as it is uttered, but a perpetual articulation of freedom and resolve. In the last four decades, the image of Che Guevara has been ubiquitous in Bolivia. This has been so for many reasons, but primarily because Bolivians understand that he died in their country, not his own, prematurely and violently, not in old age or in his bed, because he had chosen to. Because, for him, Washington was not the capital of America but merely the headquarters of “USA, Inc.,” a corporation whose only function is to ensure (peacefully if possible, violently if need be) the permanent domination—and, in fact, cultural extinction—of all the peoples of what he always called, echoing José Martí, “our America.”

History is its own science. It possesses its own physics and geometry. It is its own calculus. We said above that South America at the moment has six “ostensibly” leftwing governments. Chile’s Ricardo Lagos bears hardly any resemblance to Mr. Chavez. Brazil’s Lula da Silva is a fifth-grade dropout while Uruguay’s Tabaré Vázquez is an oncologist. Argentina’s Néstor Kirchner was elected president as the candidate of the most politically entrenched, and historically suspect, party in his country, the Peronist Movimiento Justicialista, while Evo Morales rode the wave, under the banner of a relatively recent formation, the Movimiento al Socialismo, of a new and audacious movement of the most socially marginalized and historically repressed Bolivians. There are no formulas here. No recipes. And certainly no hidden “foreign” interference, as the Bush administration keeps insisting, by Hugo Chávez, let alone by that US demon for all seasons, Fidel Castro.

Quite the opposite, if there is any “external factor” operating in Latin America today, it is obviously the reverse influence of the United States, whose model of economic growth, social development, and political rule is universally scorned. There are, of course, Latin Americans who continue look to the US as their beacon of self-validation (and social survival), but they are the usual suspects: those Manhattan-dreaming pseudo-cosmopolitans whose only connection to their own countries has always been defined by privilege (or illusion) and a particularly appalling form of moral absence that comes close to pure brutality.

So, the old mole grubs on. In the New World if not in the Old. But that Old World—the hoary burrower’s birthplace now sunk into a social lassitude verging on moral dissolution—can learn much from the New, particularly about resistance and purpose. The irony, of course, is that it is the Old World that has the wealth and power and sheer sovereignty to assert its freedom of will and action. It is afraid to do so, however, always skulking away pathetically like a beaten dog in the face of any opposition from the One and Only Hyperpower left in either World. But why is that? Fear? A sense of complicity? Or just the painful truth that it’s gotten used to a deeply indulgent social masquerade in which the license to retreat (invariably into a grotesquely inflated self) has replaced the freedom—the right, in other words—to engage and, most important of all, contest reality? No matter. The old mole keeps grubbing.

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