Thursday, October 05, 2006
Latin America still steering left
The advance of the left in South America continues. On the main Socialist Unity Website there are two interesting articles. One by Hal Weitzman in Latacunga, Ecuador, reports the progress of the hard left presidential campaign of Rafael Correa, who he quotes as saying: “The political and economic elites have stolen everything from us, but they cannot steal our hope … We will take back our oil, our country, our future.” With less than two weeks to go until the October 15 elections, Mr Correa’s support has risen quickly to 33 per cent, against 22 per cent for León Roldós, the centre-left winger who is his nearest rival.
Also very significant is the strong showing for hard left candidate Heloisa Helena, in the recent Brazilian election. Jim Jepps, wrote the following very interesting article.
The first round of the Brazilian elections has just taken place and, as long as you read Portugese you can see a detailed breakdown of results
Lula's scandal hit presidency failed to get the required 50% to win outright this Sunday, he did still maintain a convincing lead that may give his camp confidence that he will win the Presidency in the second round but although Lula only needs to gain an extra 1.4%, there are no guarantees that voters for other parties will turn to him next. After all it is not so long ago that polls put his lead at over 20% and his camp was confident they would win in the first round of the ballot.
Lula set the tone early in his Presidency by slashing pensions for public-sector workers by 30 percent, cutting spending for health and education by 5 percent, and pushing through legislation making it easier to fire workers. The government has been characterised by neo-liberal policies and a succession of scandals, including those of political corruption, but many still see Lula as the 'lesser evil' because of his background as a factory worker, the government's programme of relief for the very poorest and the Worker's Party's (PT) roots in social movements. Movements they have long since abandoned.
The top three Presidential candidates were:
Lula 48.61% PT President running a scandal hit neo-liberal government
Alckmin 41.64% From the traditional right
Heloisa Helena 6.85% Hard left P-SOL candidate
Alckmin, who campaigns wearing designer clothes and makes much of his friendly relationship with business elites, was not expected to perform so well at the polls - but his election propaganda in the last few weeks has begun focusing on the corruption of the current government and to some extent has played upon Alckmin's bland image as a counter to the flamboyant, but "corrupt" Lula. This was further bolstered when two weeks before polling several campaign aids to Lula were arrested on charges connected with bribery.
This approach has worked, despite some of the more alarming aspects of Alckmin's programme like promising a "management shock" to slim down the federal government, funding massive tax cuts by reducing public spending and more "market friendly" policies. His campaign was also hit by organised and violent attacks in Sao Paulo where around 200 people were killed.
A big winner of this election was Heloisa Helena of P-SOL who was one of the senators expelled from Lula's Workers' Party (PT) in 2003 for speaking out against its neo-liberal policies. Helena, a former nurse, has refused to support Lula in the second round, after all when the choice is between two pro-market candidates it's difficult to come out and 'support' one against the other.
She said "That would be ripping 12 years of history and political fight against the neo-liberal project of the PSDB and against the party clique that Lula's government has turned into. Our voters are free men and women. They do not need our indications to choose who to vote for."
P-SOL managed to gain the support of the main left groupings in Brazil in the run up to the election and it is hoped that this will see the start of a more long term re-groupment on the left, a hope bolstered by the relatively good result. Whilst Helena's campaign has lacked the funds and the media coverage of her rivals it also stands in a tradition that potentially speaks to millions in Brazil.
She recently told an interviewer that "What we want is the democratization of the wealth, culture, health and education. We are not heirs of the tradition of totalitarian European socialism. I do not defend socialism by decree. I do not want totalitarian socialism, nor only capitalist thinking. In Brazil, capitalism has been very ugly, cruel and violent."
Over six and half million people voted for Helena in this election a truly outstanding achievement for a candidate of the hard left.
Within this result there are some interesting points. Helena performed most poorly in the Lula strongholds, rather than bastions of the right, so for instance in Ceara, Maranhao and Pernambuco, all areas where Lula polled more than 70%, Helena polled 3.79, 2.86, and 3.74 of the vote respectively. Considering these are the three lowest results for a far left candidate in the entire country it's not at all bad.
On the other side there were some very good areas. In Algoaes (where she was a senator for several years) she polled 13.3%, in Amapa, Distrito Federal and Roraima she polled 10%, 12.3% and 11.7% respectively whilst in Rio De Janeiro she polled an impressive 17.1% which is about 1 in 6 of those who voted.
The achievement of this election campaign lies not only in creating the head of steam required for large sections of the population to give you a hearing, or gaining the support of so many millions at the ballot box but also in the successes in bringing together core sections of the left in one unified campaign that articulated the demands of the social movements and those who call for an socialist alternative to the free market dogma that dominates Brazil, as it does the rest of the planet.