In Chile, September 11th has a different significance than it does to many other countries these days. It was on that date in 1973 that Salvador Allende passed away, ending the US-backed coup that would forever tarnish the US regionally.
It was in Chile where the brutalities of the US’s South American adventures in neo-imperialism were truly revealed to the world – from how the global superpower helped with the violent overthrow of Salvador Allende’s democratically elected government, to where it lead: thousands upon thousands of disappeared political dissidents during Augusto Pinochet’s harsh, autocratic rule.
On Sunday night, a church was burnt down in Santiago after an intense protest escalated. It had sprung up on the one year anniversary of the beginning of the massive 2019 protests (CNN/Reuters, 2020) and had been large but peaceful throughout the day—most prepared excitedly for the upcoming vote on rewriting the nation’s constitution, itself a sign of major progress made since the protests had begun.
The protests have been aimed at the current ruling class and government, seen as tipping the scales of the economy in their favor—the protestors called for reforms to the constitution of Chile, and more specifically to the nation’s healthcare, pension, and education systems. This culminated in a decisive victory for the protestors democratically on Sunday: Chile voted to rewrite the Pinochet-installed constitution, drafted into law in an illegal plebiscite in 1980 by the dictator (NY Times/Bonnefoy, 2020). Many are hailing it as the true end to his bloody, tyrannical dictatorship that spanned nearly two decades. Chile isn’t the only South American nation to make waves of late.
Not only did Bloomberg News report that a potentially promising discovery was made by Venezuelan scientists regarding a potential Covid-19 inhibitor (Bloomberg/Zerpa, 2020), but bigger news came out regarding the US-backed challenger to Maduro’s seat, Juan Guiadó. His mentor Leopoldo Lopez fled Venezuela and on Sunday, Spain’s foreign minister announced that he was safe in Spain (Al Jazeera/News Agencies, 2020).
Lopez was jailed in 2014 for his participation in an alleged coup attempt on Nicolás Maduro’s government, but had been released to house arrest in 2017. Still wanting to remain actively in resistance to Maduro, he lived in the Spanish embassy in Caracas, where he helped Guiadó craft his claim to power from behind the scenes. The announcement that he’d left Venezuela is seen by many as a signal of defeat for him and his movement—most importantly to Washington, a white flag waved on behalf of Juan Guiadó. For its part, the Spanish authorities said:
“Leopoldo Lopez arrived in Madrid today, being able to reunite with his family,” and that the dissident’s choice to leave the Spanish embassy in Caracas was “personal and voluntary.” Lopez’s party, Popular Will, were silent as to how he managed to get to Spain. Maduro’s government struck a different tone.
“The head of the Spanish diplomatic mission in Venezuela served as the main organizer and confessed accomplice of the escape from Venezuelan territory of the criminal Leopoldo Lopez.”
Whatever the details, it’s clearly a decisive blow for the opposition movement in Venezuela, and a sign that the effort to get Guiadó in power is weakening. They took another, even worse hit, earlier in the year after the capture of 13 alleged coup plotters, two of whom were US citizens, both former Special Services soldiers (BBC, 2020). They were captured on a boat, crossing into the country from neighboring Colombia in May of this year. Maduro has been openly targeted by US government officials for removal, but he has thus far remained a hard man for them to unseat from power, with this latest effort seemingly falling on its face.
Finally but perhaps most consequentially to the US’s regional interests, is the story of Bolivia’s most recent election. In Bolivia a historic election was held on October 19th, and the socialist MAS party won in a landslide (NPR/Reeves, 2020).
Evo Morales was forced out of the country after a soft coup last November 10th, when he was forced out by the military. There has been much speculation about the involvement of the US, particularly as it relates to the election ‘watchdog’ OAS that first brought Evo Morales’ election numbers to dispute. The OAS report ultimately resulted in his ouster. The New York Times, who first released the OAS’ report on Bolivia’s elections, essentially retracted the article, correcting themselves and stating that the group’s analysis was flawed in a surprising reversal of their own reporting (NY Times/Trigo, 2020). Not even a full year later, the people of Bolivia have voted in Evo Morales’ party again with a clarity that can’t be disputed.
The current interim government of Bolivia accepted the results and will step down peacefully, for Luis Arce’s government to step in. Arce was an economic minister in Morales’ government, and will replace the unelected interim government of Jeanine Áñez. Elon Musk, who joked about Bolivia’s lithium supplies post-coup, came under fire again as memories of his mis-steps were rehashed online.
The Reception Here
In the US, many on the left had gone lukewarm on South America in recent years. After the excitement and fanfare that Chavez brought with him in ‘99/the early 2000s, Venezuela’s moves towards authoritarianism were evident and troubling. Even if most recognized that US interference muddied the whole situation, Venezuela had fallen off many US leftist’s radars and become something of a conservative buzzword representative of the ‘failures of communism.’ Still, the vast majority of the left here will hail this as a victory, as US interventions and subterfuge are still considered a far greater evil post-Pinochet. There is also a general recognition that much like Fidel Castro in Cuba, the defensive posturing and tighter control mechanisms imposed are likely by-and-large a product of the severe economic restrictions that the region’s largest trading partner have imposed. Not to mention the many US-aided coup attempts; Guiadó is only the latest, Hugo Chavez famously got whisked away from a coup by his people in a now infamous failed attempt in 2002.
Many in the US were also troubled by Evo Morales’ attempts to extend his tenure in charge of Bolivia last year, though he did it through the proper channels of his government, and all indications were he’d step down when the time came. Even if that raised some questions, the way he was chased out of Bolivia (and especially the racial violence that ensued against those associated with his indigenous peoples movement) will make MAS’ victory all the sweeter, and likely make it the biggest headliner—it is a clear rebuff of the US and its desire to over-extend its influence in the region.
Needless to say, if the new left in South America can hold together and make advances, it should make for an intriguing political subplot to look out for in the next few years. With 'strength in numbers,' the hope for many on the left around the world is that both democracy and the leftist ideals of these governments can flourish.