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Is There a Left in Latin America?

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Colin asks a good question about the so-called Latin American “left.”

One of the biggest problems here is that, simply put, I don’t buy characterizations of people like Correa, Chavez, or Morales as “radical left,” for many reasons. First, a truly “radical” left, would seek truly revolutionary action that overthrew social, political, and economic structures suddenly and violently, both in terms of acts of violence and as a more abstract sudden and intense transformation. And that simply doesn’t apply to the “leftism” of Chavez, Correa, and Morales. Yes, they are trying to transform their societies in significant ways, and yes, they have the state institutions of violence (militaries, police forces, etc.) at their disposal (even if those forces aren’t always willing to work with them). But there is no real concerted effort at revolutionary struggle through armed violence; the Venezuelan elites or Ecuadoran journalists can complain that they are persecuted and limited in their freedoms, but any reasoned analysis of the situation on the ground makes clear that Chavez, Correa, Morales, or any other “radical left” leader is not the head of armed guerrilla movements or state officials who are just mowing down their revolutionary “enemies” in the way that, say, Che Guevara himself admitted to doing in the wake of the Cuban Revolution.

As Colin points out, this so-called leftism of Chavez is really about a cult of personality that works for Chavez, somewhat like it did for Peron, by placing himself on a vaguely defined left. But it’s highly unclear whether Chavez or even Morales have really implemented policies any more to the left than the more mainstream left of center governments in Brazil or Argentina. I truly do believe Morales is a “leftist” in a old-fashioned sense because he is reacting against an old-school Latin American Bolivian hard right with all the massive social and racial inequality inherent in those governments. But with Chavez, isn’t the leftism really just about his own desire to replace Castro as the big man in Latin America?

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