On August 28, the Ukraine Socialist Solidarity Campaign held a very informative discussion on Latin America’s Sao Paolo Forum. The speaker was Simón Rodríguez from Venezuela. Here is a video of that meeting and below the video is a transcript of Simón’s comments.
I’d like to welcome everybody to this meeting of the Ukraine Socialist Solidarity Campaign. This is a discussion on Sao Paulo Forum in Latin America. That forum really plays a big role on the left there. And I think it’s really important for us in the Ukraine Socialist Solidarity Campaign, to start to try to make links with the so called Global South. And we’re very happy to have Simon Rodriguez, who’s from Venezuela, to give us a presentation, Simon is author of a number of articles, including the book, “Why Chavismo Failed”. And he’s a member of the Party for Socialism, and freedom in Venezuela. Simon will speak for about 20 minutes or a little bit longer, and then we’ll have an open discussion. So with that, thanks, and Simon, go ahead, please.
Well, thank you very much for the invitation. The Sao Paulo Forum is in Latin America. It has a lot of presence in the media, especially in electoral campaigns, but mostly portrayed in a cartoonish way, because the right wing uses this straw man of the of the Sao Paulo Forum as a promoter of communism, usually in Latin American countries where there is a reformist or center left candidate for president. We have seen it in Mexico, in Colombia, in Chile, almost everywhere. There is the this discourse that any country that votes for center left or social democrat options would turn into Cuba or into Venezuela, which is represented as communism. Of course, from the left we have to fight this [cartoonish representation], because it does not portray the actual dangers that this reformist group of parties in the Latin America and Caribbean region actually represent.
So as I observed, these are about 120 parties from the region, mostly Social Democrats, Stalinists from pro Soviet tradition, and nationalist parties. For example, the leading parties are the Communist Party of Cuba and the PSUV, the ruling party in Venezuela. It is basically an organ of these two countries, a platform to promote their agendas. And it doesn’t work like an international party. It’s not like a centralized political organization. You have, for example, countries, like the Dominican Republic, where you have many parties that are members of the Sao Paulo Forum. Some of them are in the government, and some of them are in the opposition. And you have funny declarations by the Sao Paulo Forum on elections where they congratulate the winning party, and they also congratulate the losing parties, which are all members of Sao Paulo Forum. But it does have important influence. Important propaganda organs like the TV station, Telesur, for example, is controlled by the Venezuelan and Cuban governments.
And what I think you have to take into account when it was created in 1990s. It was promoted by Lula and by Fidel Castro as a space for debate to reflect on the failure of real existing socialism, as the Stalinist Eastern European regimes were called. To reflect on what had failed what had to be renewed, this was the the way it was presented, and explicitly to reflect on socialism and to promote socialism in Latin America, of course in [their] conception of socialism. But today, if you look at the Sao Paulo Forum page, and how they describe themselves, the words capitalism and socialism are not even mentioned. In the principles they advocate, they talk about social justice and so on. But they never mention this systemic definitions like socialism and capitalism.
Also, something that is peculiar to these reformist parties is that in a similar way to the to how the Iranian regime or the Russian regime or the Syrian regime, most authoritarian regimes, they use this discourse of sovereignty and cultural diversity to justify non democratic regimes. For example, they say “Well, you can’t expect all cultures or all countries to have liberal democracies”.
And we do not advocate liberal democracy. But this is just a way to make an apology for anti worker, anti popular policies, which these governments apply. But it’s presented in a sort of anti imperialist rhetoric. And then it’s no surprise, as we will see, in a moment, that, for example, in Cuba, they have close links to the Russian regime. Venezuela has close ties, also Nicaragua, the leading members of the Sao Paulo Forum, they often talk about multipolarity […]. They talk about when the USSR [dissolved], that regime fell, they characterize that the world became hegemonized by just one imperialist pole, but it would be better if there were many poles, which they don’t describe as imperialist, when, in fact, they are. This is the function that Russia has as an imperialist power, and China. And so the Sao Paulo Forum parties, they view them as a positive counterbalance. And, therefore, they support all of the Russian discourse on the invasion of Ukraine being a defensive war because it was being surrounded by NATO, and so on.
Some other countries that are in the Sao Paulo Forum are, for example the Farabundo Marti [Liberation Front] of El Salvador, the ruling party in Bolivia, the party of the main opposition in Ecuador, which was led by Rafael Correa. At some point in the “pink tide” most of the population of South America, was under governments ruled by these parties of the Sao Paulo Forum.
They also invite to their meetings, as observers, parties that are not from the region, for example, Assadist parties from Syria, even pro Gaddafi parties from Libya, DSA from from the United States has participated under this status and DSA even last year approved in their the national convention to apply for full membership of the Sao Paulo Forum. The [Sao Paulo Forum meetings] have issued in their statements, support for, you know, for Maduro for Daniel Ortega, for the Syrian regime at moments where repression has been at its highest. So, this is this is an objective role they play, a very reactionary role in promoting these capitalist regimes in the region and beyond.
Some things people might not know, is that, for example, there are many Russian troops in Venezuela right now. There is a military agreement with Nicaragua as well. And in January, just a month before the invasion of Ukraine started, the Vice President of Russia announced that they would be willing to install military infrastructure in Cuba. This was not commented by the Cuban authorities but it’s to be understood that they are in agreement with this statement. Cuba, for example, in official TV they regularly transmit content from RT, formerly Russia Today, this main channel of Russian propaganda.
In Russia, there is this foundation, which is called the Fidel Castro Foundation, which is regularly portrayed in a quite positive light in the Cuban state media. And this Fidel Castro Foundation, the legal name the the formal name is “Fidel Castro Foundation for the Development of Russo-Cuban Relations.” They have edited this book, which is called “Contemporary Russian Thinking in Political Science”, which is a compilation of texts by this infamous author, Dugin and his followers, including, for example, this peculiar title, National Bolshevism as a way out to put an end to the confrontation between the left and the right by this author Valery Korovin. I looked at the page of this foundation recently to find very surprisingly, that there was this note lamenting the death of Daria Dugina, the daughter of Dugin, and she was presented as one of the founders of this [organization]. So if you want to look at the page it’s FCastro.RU, and it’s one of the outlets of the foreign policy of the Cuban government. You will see pictures for example of assemblies with the flag of the so called Donetsk Republic.
And also regarding what interests us most in terms of solidarity with the Ukrainian people is that of course, all of these governments and parties have stood with the Russian aggression. In Brazil where there is an ultra right government, which is Bolsonaro, who officially has a neutral stance on the war, [now] the campaign for the presidential election is underway, Lula is running and he is on the top of the polls. But in an interview with Time Magazine, Lula also took a neither-nor stance, a neutral stance. He said that Russia and Ukraine and the so called West were equally to blame for the war. So just to finish, I think that this cannot be understood as an opinion that reflects the opinion of the majority of Latin Americans. Because quite to the contrary, for example, some of these regimes which are very unpopular, for example, the Venezuelan regime, when it takes the side of of Russia very vocally, the the reaction of most Venezuelans is to probably side with whatever Maduro is against.
And generally, from my experience, I have never seen a poll on this matter: “What is the opinion of Latin Americans on the Russian invasion of Ukraine?”, but from from what I can gather, most people do not sympathize with the invader. It was true when when the US invaded Iraq, and it’s true now when Russia invaded Ukraine. And this is something that is kind of tragic and comical at the same time, that popular common sense is often quite ahead of the politics of these pseudo left or reformist parties. So there is quite a lot of space to develop solidarity.
There is a sector, also of the population, which distrusts the fact that the US government is supporting Ukraine. This is true also. Many people will say, “well, if the US has lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or if it has lied in many occasions to support coups in the Latin American region, or even [have invaded Latin American] countries, how can we trust that it’s not a policy of aggression”. But there’s also the fact that the Russian government denied it wanted to invade for such a long time and then invaded, that it weakened somewhat the Russian perspective in the popular point of view. This remains as something to be studied further. But I think there is quite a lot of [political] space to develop solidarity activity with Ukraine in the region.
And I think that in countries like the US and in Europe, where most of the left still has a sort of romantic view of the left in in Latin America, the Stalinist and reformist left, and tends to disregard left criticisms of the Sao Paulo Forum parties and their governments, it’s important that for them to deepen the discussion on Latin American politics, for example, these governments of the pink tide sent invading troops to Haiti after the 2004 coup, which was supported by the US government. And they provided most of the troops from 2004 to 2017, occupying troops. This, of course, should be a scandal, this should be enough to consider the Sao Paulo Forum and its member parties and the governments that have been part of it to be completely morally and politically bankrupt. But surprisingly, you see that DSA wants to be a member of the Sao Paulo Forum and other parties in Europe and the US have this sort of romantic view of this sector of the left in Latin America. So I think it’s important to also fight this ignorance and this capitulation to this sector, which as we have seen is very reactionary.
It will take another time to give a very thorough balance of balance sheet of what these governments did in Latin America. But just to say it very shortly, when the prices of raw materials went up, they did a little bit of redistribution of wealth, but when the prices went down, they applied the same austerity measures or even worse than those that have been applied in other capitalist countries. I’ll leave it at that.
NOTE: Simón then responded to a series of questions.
Yes, a lot of very interesting questions. I’ll try to address them in a synthetic way. So regarding the relation between the Colombian coalition, the left coalition in government now, or the the Chilean coalition with the Sao Paulo Forum: These are very wide coalitions and some of the parties are members of Sao Paulo Forum. For example, the Communist Party of Chile is part of the Sao Paulo Forum. And many of the of the leftist organizations that come from a Stalinist tradition are also part of the Sao Paulo Forum. So we have to make an exception and clarify that, for example, President Boric of Chile has criticized repression in Venezuela and Nicaragua. And he also has said things like if we oppose, you know, repression by Israel, we should also oppose repression by Nicaragua, Venezuela and so on. So he’s not quite aligned to the Chavista Government.
Regarding Petro, it’s a more contradictory or changing position. At some point, for example, he traveled to Venezuela when there was this high point of the economic crisis. And he went to for example a supermarket in a bourgeois area, and he said it was full of delicacies […] We’ll have to see what what direction he takes.
Regarding the Left Front in Argentina, it’s not related in any way to Chavismo and Castrismo, it’s a Trotskyist front. It’s made up of four parties. And so they traditionally have always been against this class collaboration programs. But they have differences on Ukraine, of course. One of the negative [consequences of] the very reactionary position the Sao Paulo Forum takes is that sometimes sectors of the left that are not directly aligned or subordinated to them, they look for a middle ground. And this is what happens with some of the Trotskyist parties of the Left Front. They say, “Well, we’re not, of course in favor of the invasion.” This is the case of the party that is linked to Left Voice [in the U.S.], which is the PTS party in Argentina, they they are against supplying weapons to Ukraine. They don’t take any side. And I would characterize this as an effect of the pressure, that weight of the reformist and Stalinists left has. It makes some sectors look for this middle ground, which leads to incorrect positions, because it’s not a really principled position. And this is also true to my knowledge of the Partido Obrero, which is the other party that is part of, of this front.
But Izquierda Socialista, Socialist Left, has a position of support for the Ukrainian resistance, including its rights to get weapons from wherever it’s available, without giving any support to the Zelensky government. And in fact, we have, for example, supported the campaign against the anti worker laws that he ratified. [INTERJECTION:] “So that’s the LITC right? the IWL party?” No, they are not part of the front, they are outside it. They are a leading left party in Brazil, basically, as the PSTU Party. In Argentina it’s not inside of the of the left front. And well they tend to for example… recently there was this caravan to Nicaragua, an international caravan to demand the freedom of political prisoners and they decided not to participate. They sometimes have some [expressions of] sectarianism.
I would like also to mention that since the Sao Paulo Forum is not an international party, this means that sometimes member parties are members of many [international] groups. They are in this Sao Paulo Forum, but they are also for example, in the Grupo Puebla or Puebla Group which was led by the current President of Argentina and the current president of Mexico as a platform that doesn’t have the the negative weight of the Sao Paulo Forum and is more center left without the Stalinist flavor to it.
Regarding the relationship [of the Sao Paulo Forum] with the Progressive International: Yes, directly. Lula, for example, is a member of the of the Progressive International. The President of Bolivia is also a member of both organizations. And I think that also the ex President of Ecuador, Correa, he’s also a member of both. But anyway, if not him, certainly people linked to him and to his political organization. So there is an overlap of the Progressive International and Sao Paulo Forum in Latin America. But it’s not very much known. It [the Progressive International] doesn’t have a lot of importance in Latin America.
About the left opposition in Latin America to these to these governments and parties: Yes, it exists. However, it’s a minority in the left. I would say for example, in the in the case of Venezuela, Trotskyism has been the traditional left opposition to government. And in recent years, there has been a split between a sector of the Chavista base, for example, this party called “Patria Para Todos”, which means Homeland for all. The traditional Communist Party, the pro Soviet party, they split politically from the government and took a semi critical position. For example, they have one member in Parliament, which usually votes in favor of what the government proposes, but they criticize it. They say, “Well, there are these and these problems this this law project, but not to strengthen the right we will vote in for in favor”. However, it doesn’t stop the government of Maduro from persecuting these parties that have this semi critical position. In some cases, even some members of the Communist Party have been killed. And they directly point to the government’s responsibility. And in some statements, also, the Communist Party said that Maduro was sliding towards fascism, which is a very strong word. And of course, we have a Trotskyist left in in Brazil, in Argentina, in other countries which is smaller in the Latin American region and the Caribbean – but there are also those feminist sectors, or social movements that mobilize against these governments, indigenous organizations.
You have to take into account that, for example, in countries like in Venezuela, abortion is totally criminalized. We have had cases of even feminist activists that have been jailed for aiding women to have an abortion. In many senses, it’s very backward in the democratic sense. So there is a lot of space for social movements and even small left organizations to participate in these struggles. Perhaps Argentina is the [country] that has the biggest left with these characteristics, not aligned with center left governments and that mobilizes.
There was a question about alliances with fascism, I suppose it was related to Latin America. So normally, of course, this reformist and Stalinist left does not say “we are in an alliance with fascism”. What they would say is “we are supporting the patriotic anti imperialist government of Syria”. They would not say “the fascist government of Syria”, they would say “this anti imperialist resistance”. And they would say the same about Gaddafi or the Nicaraguan government. But in reality these alliances occur. And in the Cuban case that I just mentioned, it’s clear that they are very willing to even create institutions like this Fidel Castro Foundation, with the direct participation of fascists.
You know, after the international crisis, economic crisis of 2007 2008 – at first [the price of] oil actually wasn’t affected, but but other raw materials were, and even around 2009, a little bit later, oil was was affected. This is also true for other raw materials. And unfortunately, most Latin American countries depend on this type of exports. And this talks also about the failure, the structural failure of its governments to even begin to change this situation. The fact is that these countries became even more reliant, more dependent on raw materials exports. There was no diversification of the economies. So when [these prices] started to fall, all of these governments applied austerity plans. And that’s the reason why most of these parties were thrown out of power. It happened in Argentina. It happened in Brazil. In cases like Venezuela, Nicaragua, they didn’t fall out of power, because they took a very repressive turn. We think that there was a regime change. In fact, they were governments that could lose an election, for example, even in Venezuela, there was a parliamentary election in 2015, which they lost. But after that, Maduro, decided they would never lose another election. And so they have taken care not to lose any election by for example, banning parties, including left opposition parties, like like our party in Venezuela that lost its legal right to participate in elections. It was taking taken away.
So I will say that this is a general situation. Of course, also the right wing governments applied austerity programs and repression. But the what is noteworthy is that so called left governments acted the same way as the Greek government, the Spanish government, just to name some examples of very famous austerity plans. And we have to take into account that in Venezuela, there was a very important popular movement and workers movement, after the 1989 popular rebellion against the social democratic government of Carlos Andres Perez. This [rebellion] initially was crushed, about 3000 people were killed. And then the crisis subsided. And finally, Chavez, this ex military person was elected in 1999. Basically, capitalizing this very strong movement, but all of his doings in government was actually trying to make this popular and workers movement become controlled by the government. And this was done in several ways. For example, when workers tried to organize a new confederation, called the National Workers Union, well the government intervened to basically destroy this union.
There were in the barrios, in the popular communities, radio stations that were managed by the people. And what the government started to do was basically co-opt, to give money, to give publicity [contracts] to these radios. And those that would not comply to stop criticizing or having an autonomous position will basically be left out of any technical support and so on. And this cooptation worked really well. In the case of the indigenous movement, it was through repression, the the main leader of the fight for land, which was Sabino Romero was killed by policemen of a municipality, where the ruling party had control. So basically, that’s our assessment. The communes, and the communal councils were created by law by the government. They didn’t exist before, it was completely from above. And that’s a way to control the popular movement, not as an expression of a genuine movement. If you want to register, a communal council, this has to be approved by the Ministry of communal councils. It has to go through their offices and they can not only ban it if it’s not promoted by members of the PSUV party, but even ban it if it’s from a different faction of the party, from that which controls the registration. This has happened often. But sometimes protests are channeled through the communal council as a way to try to avoid repression, this also happened. These are the kinds of things that happen in in a very repressive authoritarian regime, but we should not create illusions on what these communal councils actually represent.
Simón then replied to further questions
There is not a lot of information [regarding the Fidel Castro Foundation], but from what they say we can infer some things. The foundation together with Cuban diplomats, and representatives of the business community, organizes cultural events, economic, commercial and philanthropy. So this is how they describe their activity. So one can imagine that promoting commerce between Cuba and Russia is a way for them to get financing. And since all capitalist business in Cuba has to go through the government, they probably provide a link between Russian capitalists and the Cuban government, which can of course be looked at. So it’s not all about the Eurasian ideas; there are some material interests.
The question about how to strengthen links, well, yes, for example, the Socialist Left of Argentina has participated in a convoy taking materials that are needed like for health and protection to Ukraine, and I am also aware that there was this initiative by unions in Europe but also with participation of Brazilian unions and other Latin American unions, that sent also a convoy of aid to Ukraine. So these efforts certainly exist. And also protesting in front of the Russian embassy, this happens in Argentina and in other places, too. It’s very important.
Regarding how to strengthen ties with the movement. I think that in Latin America, for us to express solidarity with with Ukraine, then we are taking a position which is militarily coinciding, you know, with the sending of weapons and diplomatic also support by European and, and US imperialism. For us, it’s clear that this doesn’t in any way mean, confidence or support for US or European imperialism. But since our countries suffer directly, the oppression of US imperialism, and in some cases, European imperialism, it’s very important for us to stress this a lot. For example, comparing this invasion by Russia, with [other US] invasions for example, the invasion in 1965 of the Dominican Republic, right, by the US government, or the invasion of Iraq, in order to make clear that we are using the same reasoning, that the same principles are involved. Repudiating the Russian invasion is the same as repudiating US invasions or European invasions, for example, French intervention in Africa and so on. This leads us to have to give what perhaps is seen as exaggerated emphasis, to rejection of NATO, rejection of the US and so on. But for us, it’s necessary in order to be clear, why we reject and oppose the Russian invasion, and why we want the Russian imperialism to be defeated.
Sometimes this is used by Stalinists, and these are our opponents. And we have to debate and we have to confront them. They will say rejecting Russia is being an aid to US imperialism. But we have to say that, for example, it could be if we want to view the world this way, we have to see that the defeat of US imperialism in Afghanistan and in Iraq, by weakening US imperialism has emboldened other imperialisms. However, opposing US imperialism in no way could be interpreted as advocating the strengthening of other imperialisms. So we want to portray a coherent anti imperialist, and anti capitalist position.
In situating this in Latin America, it demands this strengthening of the criticism of the US. About the “Democracy Now” radio and TV show journalist that “knows what the global south thinks”. Well these are very privileged people because I don’t know what the global south thinks! It’s very complex. Even, for example, the question regarding Ecuador. I am not an expert in Ecuador. Really. And it takes a lot to be an expert on the reality and the politics of your own country. So how can you talk about what the [entire] Global South thinks? I disagree. Anyway, he probably refers to the governments and the fact that in the UN, when the votes come, many African countries do not vote to [condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine], which obeys to other reasons, not to a reflection of what people think in a unilateral way.
What I can say about Ecuador is that the indigenous movement is very strong. And this strength has to do with the fact that it’s it has democratic ways of functioning. And it allows for different tendencies from different political opinions to work in it. And it has not divided because of these differences. In the beginning of the 21st century, they brought down, I think it was four governments in very few years. It was a very important part of this uplifting of the mass movement in South America, which was also reflected in Bolivia with a fight against privatization of water and hydrocarbons. And, for example, there was an indigenous candidate, which almost almost won the last [presidential] election. But then the leadership of the Confederation of Indigenous Organizations at the moment was actually pro Chavismo. Their main leader supported the Bolivian government, and they had different opinions, the presidential candidate criticized this government, you have a position, perhaps more similar to the one of Boric. So, when this strike happened, both sectors and many more participated in a unified way. So this gives it a lot of strength. And it’s a very long tradition of struggle. In the government before this one, which was the one of Moreno, they also took over the capital city. It’s very amazing to see that they organize, you know, the communal kitchens. They guaranteed that everyone is well taken care of while in the process of the struggle, which, at some points involves, for example, keeping off the police from from the places they are. I think it’s a it’s a very important experience of autonomy.
At the same time, we can say that their participation in parliamentary politics has not been very good. The party [Pachakutik], which is separate from the indigenous Confederation, but it’s linked to it. Formally, it’s supposed to be subordinated to it. They have been incoherent, sometimes they support one bourgeois party, sometimes another. So it will take more effort to create a coherent political alternative. And especially if they want to address the environmental issues, and all of which they mobilize for, to make it part of a program, have a platform, it takes more effort, but I think it’s a very important experience to learn from.
I am not aware that there are a lot of links [in the Latin American popular organization, at a regional level]. What happens is that these popular organizations, they link up but through whatever superstructure they are linked to, for example, the Sao Paulo Forum or others, but as there isn’t a Latin American, independent, left or Marxist left, that has, really the capacity to build these links, they have not happened in an independent way. So this is also something to work on for the future. Finally, and thank you for participating in this discussion and inviting me, I think there is a lot of space for this type of left to grow. These efforts of linking up and exchanging are positive and I think they add in that direction. And as capitalism keeps creating these crises and disasters like the war in Ukraine, environmental disasters there will be big mobilizations and opportunities for a revolutionary left to become a political alternative.
Thanks very much, Simón, and thank you everybody for participating. And as I said, I hope that this is just the start of making these these links.