How many times have we been told that socialism is dead and that free market capitalism is the only road toward human development and prosperity? Well, free market capitalism (neo-liberalism) has dominated for more than 20 years and the results are clear: crushing poverty, mind-blowing inequality, endless wars, and environmental catastrophe.

This concrete reality speaks louder than all the corporate-controlled politicians and media outlets combined and, as a result, resistance and the search for an alternative have been building for years.

Latin America is the undisputed leader of the anti-neo-liberal resistance movements and proof that, far from being dead, a new socialist movement is just being born. After a 20-year bonanza of neo-liberal privatizations, Latin America is the most unequal region in the world: home to both 215 million poor people and Mexican telecommunications magnate Carlos Slim, who just surpassed Bill Gates as the world’s richest man.

But in recent years, instead of accepting the neo-liberal disaster, Latin Americans began organizing and fighting against it. At the forefront of this process has been Venezuela, where Hugo Chávez came to power in 1998 with his anti-neo-liberal, anti-U.S. imperialist populist program. Bolivia has also been a trailblazer, where in 2000 the people of Cochabamba, Bolivia kicked out the multinational corporations and retook control of their water.

Left-wing Governments Elected
Recently, Ecuador and Nicaragua elected nominally left-wing presidents Rafael Correa and Daniel Ortega (Sandinista leader) based on promises to reverse neo-liberal policies and enact pro-poor reforms.

In Brazil, President Lula of the Workers’ Party (who was originally elected because of his anti-neo-liberal rhetoric and history as a union leader) is facing increasing resistance from the working class and peasantry to his pro-capitalist, anti-working-class policies. The newly-formed Party for Socialism and Liberation (P-SOL) recently got an excellent 7 million votes in its first national election with its strong anti-neo-liberal, pro-socialist platform.

In Chile, the new neo-liberal president Michelle Bachelet (ironically of the “Socialist” Party) faced a massive student strike last year involving over 700,000 young people demanding a more equitable education system. Over the past few weeks, there has been an outbreak of huge workers’ demonstrations for higher wages that have been violently repressed by the government.

In Mexico, the conservative candidate Felipe Calderón stole the presidency from insurgent candidate Obrador, and the country remains polarized because of the accusations of massive electoral fraud. Mass protests have plagued the new Mexican government from the start.

Reforms by Left Governments
As the struggle against neo-liberalism and imperialism has been expanding to more countries, it has been deepening in Venezuela and Bolivia, where it is increasingly clear that the problems of poverty and inequality require the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of a socialist society.

After easily winning re-election in December 2006, Hugo Chávez declared “we are heading towards a Socialist Republic of Venezuela” and announced the partial nationalization of important sections of the telecommunication and electricity industry, while also increasing state control of valuable oil projects.

In Bolivia, Evo Morales’ Movement towards Socialism (MAS) government is carrying out an aggressive program of partial nationalizations and agrarian reform. Recently, it has expanded the partial nationalization of the hydrocarbon industry, buying 100% control of two refineries, while announcing the nationalization of the telecommunications and railroad industries. In August, Morales announced the expropriation of 600,000 hectares (almost 1.5 million acres) of unused land from large landowners to be distributed to indigenous communities.

By carrying out radical pro-poor reforms, Chávez and Morales have maintained their popularity with the poor majority. Money that would have gone to multinational corporations and the domestic elite is instead being poured into social programs.

Chávez opened public universities that are affordable to the poor, built hospitals and organized doctor exchange programs with Cuba so that poor people can get medical care, and created state-run supermarkets that guarantee low food prices.

In Bolivia, the government’s oil income has increased from $300 million in 2005 to $1.6 billion in 2007, money that has been spent on social programs and to rebuild the country’s deteriorating infrastructure.

Venezuela and Bolivia are a huge inspiration to workers and peasants throughout Latin America. But as these movements develop, it is clear that pro-poor reforms are not enough. 25% of the Venezuelan population still lives on less than $1 per day and the richest 10% of the population receives 50% of the national income. In Bolivia, 60% of the population is still poor, 33% extremely poor, and 60% of Bolivian homes can’t satisfy basic nutritional requirements.

In both countries, the economy is still controlled mainly by the capitalist opposition, which uses this control to attack the social movements and government. While capitalism still exists, the ruling class will use their position of power to destabilize these reforms, if necessary by economic or military sabotage.

In Venezuela, opposition forces tried a coup attempt in 2002, an employers’ lockout in 2003, and a recall referendum in 2004. Each attempt failed because the Venezuelan masses rose up to defend Chávez.

In Bolivia, a powerful “autonomy” movement led by the right-wing opposition in the resource-rich, more industrialized eastern states threatens to drag the country into civil war. Inflation threatens many of Morales’ pro-worker and peasant reforms, with the price of bread, beef, chicken, and dairy products skyrocketing.

To eradicate poverty and inequality and defeat the right-wing opposition, the working class and poor in Bolivia and Venezuela need to develop their own independent organizations that fight to end capitalism and landlordism and place the economy under the democratic control of the working class and the poor peasants.

A socialist revolution in Bolivia and Venezuela will inspire the millions of Latin Americans who are already in struggle and lay the foundation for a socialist revolution to eradicate poverty and inequality in Latin America as a whole.

Read news and in-depth analysis of the struggles throughout Latin America on the CWI website:

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