By alan porter
Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez has claimed victory in his encounter with George Bush at November’s Summit of the Americas. Bush had been using the summit as a vehicle to implement a neoliberal economic zone across the continent, the Free Trade Area of the Americas.
In reaction to Bush, Chávez staged a rally at a football stadium close to the summit, with tens of thousands of activists, attacking neoliberalism and the USA’s influence in South America. The crowds were addressed not only by Hugo Chávez, but Bolivian reformist Evo Morales and, perhaps more strangely, Argentinian ex-footballer Diego Maradona.
Unfortunately, however admirable it is that so many people want to stand up to neoliberalism, they have the wrong leadership to pursue this goal. According to El Pais, Chávez closed his speech at the rally by saying “viva” to figures such as Simon Bolivar and Juan Perón (not to mention Evita), while he also used the summit to initiate his new “Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas” trade zone to rival FTAA.
The countries involved include Cuba — a state in which the bureaucracy imposes austerity on the workers in a way fundamentally no different from the neoliberal bourgeoisie of the US.
But Chávez and his followers on the British left don’t care who it is he invokes to back up his policies whether it is the populist-nationalist Perón, or the Stalinist Castro. Chávez sees his role as upholding the heritage of any figure who stood against American imperialism.
Such was the excitement around this “anti-imperialist movement” at the time of the summit that Maradona devoted his chat show, which airs in Argentina, to an interview with Castro. Having played around with a football briefly, Maradona displayed his anti-capitalist credentials by saying to his guest “to me, you are a god”. It can only be the most laughable populist and opportunist outlook which makes Chávez, who claims to represent a serious challenge to George Bush, want to stand at the head of this movement alongside a celebrity whose only concession to politics is a tattoo of Che Guevara on his arm.
The examples of Bolivia and Venezuela in the last few years have shown that in Latin America there is bitter opposition to free-market capitalism – the rally against the FTAA demonstrated further that workers are at the centre of the struggle against it. But even if Latin America’s “anti-capitalist” movement is largely composed of the poor peasants, workers and students, this will not guarantee a working-class alternative to neoliberalism, unless the movement is also led by the working-class — rather than people like Chávez and Castro who seek to suppress their militancy.
The working-class answer to the FTAA has to be a genuinely socialist alternative.