The significance of Venezuela’s and Ecuador’s nationalizations
By Bill Van Auken
Jan 18, 2007, 09:09
Presidential inaugurations in Venezuela and Ecuador over the past week were marked by calls for “socialism” and “revolution.”
During a January 10 swearing-in ceremony in Caracas, Venezuela’s re-elected president, Hugo Chavez, announced plans to nationalize CANTV, the country’s national telephone company, which was privatized in 1991, together with the power industry. He also announced plans to increase state control over the country’s oil fields.
“All of that which was privatized, let it be nationalized,” declared Chavez. “We’re heading toward socialism, and nothing and no one can prevent it,” he added, declaring at one point, “I’m very much for [Leon] Trotsky’s line — the permanent revolution.”
In Ecuador, Rafael Correa assumed power on January 15 in a ceremony in which he announced plans to initiate a “radical revolution” and declared his adherence to the “new socialism” which he said was spreading throughout the region. He has threatened to limit payments on Ecuador’s crushing foreign debt and renegotiate foreign oil contracts. He has also threatened to close down the US military air base at Manta.
Speaking to an audience that included 17 heads of state, including Chavez, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega (the Sandinista leader was himself inaugurated just days earlier), Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, Correa declared, “The citizens’ revolution has just begun, and nothing and nobody can stop it.”
The back-to-back inaugurations accompanied by radical and even “socialist” rhetoric condemning Washington, combined with the Iranian president’s tour of the region in search of allies, sparked a new wave of sensationalist media coverage in the US about Latin America’s “turn to the left.”
It is worth noting that one of Correa’s predecessors, the former Ecuadorian army colonel Lucio Gutierrez, was counted as part of that turn when he won the presidency in 2002 on a platform quite similar to Correa’s. After little more than two years in office, he was driven from the presidential palace by mass protests sparked by his adoption of right-wing economic policies, his embrace of Washington, and the rampant corruption of his regime.
Chavez’s announcement of “new nationalizations” triggered a record fall on the Caracas stock exchange, where CANTV is the largest publicly traded company, as well as a run on Venezuelan-connected stocks sold on Wall Street.
Without a doubt, the events of the past week further substantiate the political shift underway in Latin America, triggered in part by the economic and social devastation wrought by the so-called “Washington Consensus” model of wholesale privatizations and free market policies. It has been further fueled by the relative economic decline of US capitalism in relation to its rivals in Europe and Asia and Washington’s overwhelming preoccupation with its military adventures in the Middle East.
The result has been a defeat for the traditional right-wing parties and the victory of candidates who either describe themselves as or were historically identified with the “left,” not only in Venezuela and Ecuador, but also in Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Uruguay, Argentina and Nicaragua.
While these governments have different political origins and disagree widely on policy, they all engage in one form or another of populist rhetoric denouncing “neo-liberalism” and criticizing US policy. They have appealed to popular anger over the staggering social inequality that pervades the continent and, in most cases, have initiated limited social assistance program to secure the support of the most impoverished layers of society.
At the same time, declarations like those of Chavez and Correa about ushering in a “21st century socialism” notwithstanding, these governments have universally defended capitalist private property, abided by the general prescriptions of the international financial institutions, and maintained intact the traditional military and repressive forces of the states they lead.
In many ways, the policies advocated by Chavez—the former paratrooper lieutenant colonel and coup leader—far from signaling a resurgence of socialism, represent an echo of the kind of economic nationalism and military populism associated with figures such as Juan Peron in Argentina, or, in a later period, Gen. Omar Torrijos of Panama and Gen. Juan Velasquez Alvarado of Peru.
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