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My interview yesterday with Katty Kay of BBC News, following a brawl in the Venezuelan National Assembly.
Check out this interview I just conducted with al-Jazeera about the Paraguayan election and return of the dreaded Colorado Party. Other panelists included Adrienne Pine, a professor of anthropology at American University, and Kregg Hetherington, who teaches at Concordia University.
It's depressing to think that just a few short years ago, former President Fernando Lugo was poised to ameliorate grinding poverty and social inequality in the Paraguayan countryside. Yet, because he committed a number of internal political mistakes and failed to galvanize the peasantry, Lugo made it easy for the Paraguayan right to depose him in what some observers called a "quasi-coup" [for a run down of Lugo's many missteps, see my very extensive WikiLeaks archive here].
Perhaps, if Lugo had been more radical and pushed for greater land reform, or made more of a point of rebuffing the U.S., he would have received more support from civil society when push came to shove. Unfortunately, the return of the Colorado Party will surely lead to more rural repression and rollback of the left. Moreover, the defeat of the left at the polls suggests a wider political malaise for the Latin left at the regional level. Witness Venezuela, for example, where Nicolas Maduro has held on, but just barely, and the Bolivarian Revolution is on the skids.
How have things changed so dramatically in just a few scant years? In my view, the left has not electrified the population and has thereby given the resurgent right an opening. Furthermore, the U.S. will no doubt exploit the left's missteps in Paraguay and elsewhere. As I explain in my pieces, no one seems to know what U.S. Special Forces are doing in Paraguay, though some allege that they are simply deployed to the Chaco to identify trouble making rural leaders. Meanwhile, shadowy Texas oil companies like Crescent benefited from the Lugo shakeup in the Chaco though to my knowledge no journalist has followed up on the story. Because Paraguay is so remote and far away, even the U.S. left has been slow to demand more accountability and investigation of these matters.
So, what comes now? Once the left has gotten over this initial reversal, it should soberly take stock of the regional milieu. For my money, the Paraguay fiasco underscores the need for a larger political movement within the Southern Cone. In order to achieve true social justice in the Paraguayan countryside, Brazilian landless squatters are going to have to ally with their Paraguayan counterparts across the border in an effort to counteract the power and influence of so-called "Brasiguayos": Brazilian planters who settled in Paraguay to cultivate soymeal.
These Brasiguayos, who number on the order of 350,000, are a big obstacle to rural change. Though Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is a nominal leftist, she will be reluctant to stand up against landed interests and agribusiness. Nevertheless, if they hope to make any headway, social movements are going to have to pressure not only the authorities in Asuncion but also entrenched and powerful interests in Brasilia.
To see my interview yesterday on Charlie Rose show about Venezuela, click here. By and large, this was a lively discussion with different shades of opinion. Other panelists included Jorge Castaneda, a Mexican political figure who has undergone an intriguing evolution over the years from Communist to Foreign Minister under Vicente Fox, and Greg Grandin, an astute scholar from NYU.
As the conversation turned to Maduro's razor-sharp victory in Venezuela's presidential election, I voiced concerns that Chavez's successor might lack enough legitimacy to push through truly revolutionary programs. In a sense, Maduro's narrow victory demonstrates the "perils of populism," because only a charismatic leader can push through political change. Take the charismatic leader out the equation, however, and your movement can get in trouble or become derailed.
In putting together a new "Latin American left 3.0," Venezuela should carry out more communal councils, economic cooperatives, and barter exchanges. Unfortunately, Maduro seems to represent the old, ideological left and has failed to demonstrate much creativity in foreign policy. Perhaps, if the left can adopt some of the more innovative measures of Chavismo while integrating environmental concerns, which was always Venezuela's Achilles heel, the left can move ahead.
So, who's the next Hugo Chavez, Charlie asked? Perhaps, I said, it could be Rafael Correa of Ecuador who has some innovative environmental ideas. Just like Chavez, however, this populist is a decidedly mixed bag and his country is much smaller than Venezuela and doesn't have nearly as much oil.
Just who, exactly, is in charge of Venezuela right now? That was the question posed to me late last night by al-Jazeera [the video, apparently, is unavailable online]. It's a perfectly reasonable question, though few seem to have much of a sense of what is happening behind the scenes. The issue has recently come to a head due to President Chavez's longstanding illness and inability to attend his own inauguration. The Venezuelan Supreme Court, meanwhile, has stated that Chavez may postpone the inauguration to a future date, though the opposition has cried foul.
The confusion has led some Venezuelans to wonder who might actually be in control. Officially speaking, Vice President Nicolas Maduro is now the de facto leader of the country, and would probably run as Chavez's official candidate in the event of new elections. Believe it or not, however, the Venezuelan constitution is subject to some interpretation in the event of problematic presidential successions. Some experts say the inauguration can be postponed, while others claim that Assembly Speaker Diosdado Cabello must declare a caretaker government and then call for new elections.
Whatever the case, uncertainty over the succession could cause major disruptions to the Venezuelan political system. As I remarked to al-Jazeera, the longer this crisis plays out the greater the chances for instability and unrest, similar to the 2002-2004 period when the opposition launched strikes and other destabilization in an effort to topple Chavez from power. Also unknown is the future political role of the military: presumably Chavez still commands a lot of influence over the armed forces though the succession crisis could give rise to division within the ranks.
What might be the role of the U.S. in this unfolding drama? During my interview, I suggested that Obama might pursue a cautious course for the time being, careful to avoid the impression of choosing sides. When the Bush administration blatantly allied itself with the right wing opposition in 2002, and Chavez defeated a short-lived coup, Washington was completely humiliated. To be sure, Obama may see opportunity in this crisis, but don't expect him to take sides any time soon.