Latin America's rising anti-globalisation movement

Stephen Marks 2001-02-28

In shanty towns outside Buenos Aires, the French-Argentine water company Aguas Argentinas has “encouraged” communities to voluntarily dig ditches and lay pipes to connect their homes to the water mains. Privatised water companies like this arrangement as they don't have to worry about unions insisting on the workers getting paid or demanding that engineering and environmental standards are followed.

These sorts of neoliberal polices have created massive unemployment in Latin America. Privatisation and the accompanying policies of cutting back government services and industry deregulation, have destroyed the living standards of people so much that a growing anti-globalisation movement is starting to say “enough”.

In Argentina, Fernando de la Rua, the centre-left president, faced general strikes in June and November last year. The unions have become increasingly militant and united in their opposition to his neoliberal “reforms”. Another 36-hour general strike has been called for March 1 to demand a wage rise, restoration of workers' health and pension benefits and economic reactivation. The extent of popular resentment is shown by the fact that even Catholic Church leaders have become critical of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).


Ecuador, Jan 2000

After years of being an economic showcase, the Argentine economy has entered a severe decline, partly caused by the close linking of the value of the currency to the US dollar and “dollarisation”. Dollarisation means that the US dollar becomes a legal currency and national economic control, such as the possibility of running an expansionary monetary policy, is reduced. Fears of an economic collapse, like that which befell Mexico in 1994 and Brazil in 1999, have prompted the IMF, the World Bank and their sidekick, the Inter-American Development Bank to put together a US$40 billion “rescue” package for Argentina.

However, loans such as these are inevitably paid for by workers as their living standards, their pay-packets and their social wage (public spending such as pensions, health and education) decline. The loans also inescapably come with conditions requiring further neoliberal reforms, such as the opening up of the economy to more imperialist investment or control. US investors, for example, with US$47 billion plus invested in the country, would like to expand into areas such as telephone, information and internet industries. Such “investment” is often a pseudonym for privatisation, a reduction in the quality of services and massive job layoffs.

In neighbouring Uruguay, the union federation held a 24-hour national general strike against the economic policies of President Jorge Batlle in June. Under the slogan “Jobs for all”, the strike shut down the banks, public and private schools, health centres, transport and public offices, especially in Montevideo, where half of the country's population lives.

Ecuador's indigenous peoples, who make up 45% of the population, have repeatedly mobilised against the government's policies. In January 2000, in alliance with lower ranks of the army, they even helped established “Popular Parliaments” which for a time were evolving into an alternative pole of national power and political legitimacy, until the generals were able to regain the initiative. Ecuador has also been subject to the latest economic quackery of dollarisation. The supposed benefit of monetary stability has not materialised.

(see: Ecuador Struggles)

El Salvador has also recently adopted dollarisation despite the strong opposition of the largest political party, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front.

In September, some 1200 demonstrations, under the name “The Cry of the Excluded,” were held in 23 Brazilian states as part of a national campaign organized by the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB), the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST), unions and grassroots organisations against the IMF and the government's economic policies.

Bolivia, Sept 2000

In the same month, Bolivia was in ferment as coca growers, public school teachers and other workers joined together to press their separate demands in a coordinated series of strikes, protests and roadblocks to virtually shut down the country. In Cochabamba, a mass protest movement opposing the privatisation of the municipal drinking water system joined in the strike, while in Sara province campesinos seized three oil fields belonging to an affiliate of BP-Amoco as part of protests against US-mandated coca eradication programs.

(see: Bolivia Struggles)

Colombian resistance

In Colombia, the resistance to capitalist globalisation is taking a political and a military form. The two largest left-wing guerilla armies, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army (FARC-EP) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) have de facto, if not legal, control over large parts of the country and both are opposed to neoliberalism.

The workers' movement in Colombia is also resisting on the political and economic front despite severe repression. Between January and June 2000, 47 trade unionists were assassinated and according to the National Union School in Colombia, between 1991 and 1999, 1336 trade unionists were killed, and 14 union headquarters bombed. In 1999, 676 trade unionists (mostly teachers and health care workers) publicly acknowledged that they had received death threats. Organisations like the World Bank oppose the recognition of union rights when they impose their loan conditions on governments.

Colombia's 700,000 state employees staged a 24-hour strike on August 3. ”This is a protest strike, it's a political strike, to call the Colombian peoples' attention to the need to tell the government that we are not inclined to keep carrying the rich people of this country on our shoulders,” said the president of the National Federation of State Service Workers, Wilson Borja. On December 15, Borja was wounded, and two other people were killed, in a failed assassination attempt by a right-wing death squad. Despite many incidents such as this, the US has continued to fund the US$1.3 billion “Plan Colombia”. The continuation of Plan Colombia is supposedly dependent on improvements in Colombia's human rights record.

(see: Colombia - Noticias Cronologicas)

Venezuela and Cuba

Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez is almost alone in implementing a left-populist political project in contradiction to neoliberal convention. He is strengthening his base of support among the poor and has won several crucial referenda. As the world's third largest petroleum exporter, Venezuela under Chávez, has revitalised the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. He has encouraged OPEC to raise and stabilise oil prices by restricting production.

Last October, Chávez signed an accord with 10 Central American and Caribbean nations, including Cuba, which enabled them to buy Venezuelan crude oil at generous prices and terms. While Chávez's goal is limited to making “Venezuela a country of the middle class”, this is enough to generate imperialist-backed complaints about Chávez's zeal for “justice and equality”.

Venezuela has emerged as an ally of Cuba, the only country in Latin America which has not implemented wholesale privatisation.

Cuba is experiencing perhaps the strongest economic growth in Latin America despite the enormous hardships caused by the US-imposed blockade. Cuba resists capitalist globalisation by providing a voice for the Third World countries in the United Nations, condemning the practices of imperialist economic domination such as unequal terms of trade, unserviceable debt and resource plundering, and sets a positive example by providing doctors and teachers to many countries, including offering scholarships for US blacks to study medicine in Cuba.

Cuba also educates and mobilises its people in the streets to oppose capitalist globalisation. In Havana, on October 18, 800,000 people marched to protest the passage of new US laws which tightened food and medicine sales to Cuba.

Despite having imposed its neoliberal policies for 20 years, supposedly to encourage national economic development, the World Bank and its cohorts are looking at a continent of failure. People are feeling economic insecurity and even a 1999 World Bank survey found that nearly two-thirds of those Latin Americans interviewed thought that their situation had worsened since their parents' day and that their own children would find it even harder to survive.

In countries such as Nicaragua, El Salvador, Colombia, Brazil and Uruguay left-wing parties and alliances administer many large and strategic cities and remain contenders for national government. If their efforts to apply alternatives to neoliberalism at a local level are repeated on a national scale, in an alliance with a militant workers and popular movement, then the anti-globalisation movement in Latin America has the potential to develop a strong anti-capitalist focus.

IMF/ WB Struggles | PGA