Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sandra, True Love for Guatemala Looks Different

By Carlos E. Ponce

This piece originally appeared in Fox News Latino on May 20.

The Guatemalan presidential election, set for September 2011, has heated up with the presence of unlikely contenders vying to hold that nation’s highest office. The most controversial of these is the current shadow president of Guatemala and “former” wife of President Alvaro Colom. The problem, the Constitution expressly prohibits close members of the president for running themselves for the presidency. Not to be stymied by rule of law, the populist “former” first lady filled for divorce just five months before the elections in a maneuver of dubious legality which would allow her to run for. Queried by the press, Sandra Torres “de Colom” explained her decision was taken because of the first family’s immense love for Guatemala.

What kind of love is this? The substitution of social and economic development for populist programs to purchase political patronage? A bag of food instead of sustainable jobs? Ideological rhetoric instead of education? And drug cartels instead of private sector growth? Sandra, true love for Guatemala looks different.

It is hard to see how an inefficient government that has allowed violence to spiral out of control while pursuing personal power is in the best interest of the Guatemalan people. When the violence, carried out by a group called the Z-200 – a drug-trafficking group affiliated to the Zetas of Mexico – manifests itself by the murder and decapitation of 27 workers in retaliation against a farm owner, it is not difficult to realize that Guatemala has been accelerating its path down the wrong track.

It is an insult to see such an elaborate and expensive political campaign, paid out of the public coffers and illegal donations from abroad, while the ordinary Guatemalan people suffer an unending spiral of violence and unemployment. I remember, as I’m sure do all Guatemalans, that only a few short years ago I could walk through the Guatemala City without concern for personal safety; now kidnapping, robbery and violence are the norm.

Despite this, the truth about Guatemala is elusive. Nobody wants to talk about how drug cartels have penetrated politics and society in Guatemala. It is the drug-trafficking industry that supports the majority of political campaigns, some social programs in the country-side, and which effectively runs the country. The response from the current government to this ever-increasing reality has been simply “see no evil”, while their popularity has been lubricated by populism.

Of course the alternatives for the Guatemalans (as in too many countries in Latin America) are limited; to vote for the former wife and shadow president (former Guerrilla comander) or to vote for a hard-line former general who doesn’t seem to possess the skills (or desire) of public dialogue.

This begs the obvious question, where are we going as a region? It’s painful to watch the resurrected phantoms of a brutally violent past come again to haunt this marvelous Central American country. It is equally difficult to witness how the drug cartels and violent “Maras” have been extending their grip through Mexico and El Salvador. And It is hard to see how a great country like Peru is forced to chose between a dictatorial past and an authoritarian future; the choice between the terrible legacy of Fujimori and the Chavez style regime of Humala. It is also a shame how the new king of Ecuador, Mr. Rafael Correa, has with relative ease used the electoral processes against the people of that Andean country in his attempt to control the media and the judiciary and silence the democratic forces crying out to be heard. Finally, in Nicaragua an unconstitutional president violates the law at will to run again.

Latin America seems to have only two options; to fall into the hands of the populists who believe that with ideology and propaganda they can solve the very real problems of the people, or working together in real representative democracies to solve the crushing challenges of our region. This is not a discussion of “left” versus “right”, it is about pragmatic work in freedom to solve the terrible problems of violence, drug-cartels, poverty, exclusion and the need for coherent governments that respect rule of law, human rights and true democracy.

No, Sandra, don’t say its love of country. The people from Guatemala may be poor people, but they are not so easily fooled.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

“Socialism of the 21st Century”: Venezuela's Populist Propaganda

This piece originally appeared in the Latin American Herald Tribune on May 10.

Class struggles and oil-based growth have helped populists like Hugo Chávez in Venezuela to export their “ideologies” and increase their power at the regional level. Chávez, as well as Rafael Correa from Ecuador, Daniel Ortega from Nicaragua, and others, have been using a socialist revolution to frame their fight for power in the region. Their “Socialism of the 21st Century” is just populist propaganda. The political character of Chávez and his regime is state-capitalist, fascist, and specifically populist. This “New” Socialism, instead of advancing towards something new, is repeating the worst faults of the most perverse authoritarian models of the 20th century.

If we take Karl Marx and Antonio Gramsci views, a socialist regime must focus on empowering the working class and civil society to achieve power. According to Gramsci, civil society -- rather than the economy -- is the motor of history, for this is where the meaning and values that can sustain or transform society are created.

In the “Socialism of the 21st Century” model, the basic function of populist leadership is to prevent the working class from developing a full understanding of their role in society with false rhetoric. Chávez, like other populists, makes a rhetorical claim to represent the ‘people’ against the ‘elites,’ in order to pre-empt the development of class-consciousness and instead maintain the majority of the population surviving from the governmental “charity”.

Chávez’s regime persecutes civil society and at the same time created a new elite caste, which is corrupt, arrogant, and rich. This new caste of leaders (with their families and close partners), within the huge government bureaucracy, is worse than all the rich classes from the past. The new elite are getting richer and richer, supposedly on behalf of the people. For Chávez and his accomplices, it is not a matter of empowering the lower classes or even engaging in a class struggle. The key for the regime is to keep working-class struggles under control and to create a false social-revolution.

False socialism promoted by Chavez, Ortega and Correa, according to Bernard-Henri Levy (Left in Dark Times: A Stand against the New Barbarism), is sick because it adopts the worst features such as fascination with nationalisms, anti-U.S., anti-liberalism, anti-Semitism, and a fascination with radical Islamism.

The extreme Left sees in people like Chávez the money that they need and the false discourse to maintain false dogmas. The result is a false progressivism without progress. In this case, social-revolution has been the flag used by a group of neo-populists to gain power in Latin America and impose a new tyranny with false social goals.

While Chávez from Venezuela, Correa from Ecuador and Ortega from Nicaragua were democratically elected, they have ruled by decree, modified the law to fulfill their desires, concentrated power in the executive branch of government, eliminated any form of accountability, manipulated the elections which no longer can be considered free, and greatly enhanced the role of the military as their chief power base.

They have violated human rights and eliminated the rule of law and any democratic principle or institution. Instead of seeing new socialists, we are witnessing the resurgence of radical populists in Latin America. The nationalist and anti-imperialist rhetoric of Chávez, Correa, and Ortega is a rebirth of a radical-nationalistic populism from the past. We cannot call those countries democracies.

Eduardo Galeano, one of Chavez’s favorite authors, wrote in Open Veins of Latin America (1973): “The ghosts of all the revolutions that have been strangled or betrayed through Latin America’s tortured history emerge in the new experiments, as if the present had been foreseen and begotten by the contradictions of the past”. Chavez and Ortega just betrayed their own revolutions.

What Galeano (1973) wrote about Venezuela years ago applies to the false socialist regime of Chávez: “nationalization of basic resources doesn’t in itself imply redistribution of income for the majority’s benefit, nor does necessarily endanger the power and privileges of the dominant minority. In Venezuela the economy of waste and extravagance continues intact."

Chavez “extravagance” is just one of the ghosts hunting his fake revolution, it is just a matter of time and the right democratic wave for his sand-built regime to fall.