By LAZARO MONTEVERDE
Reporting for Socialist Action from Valparaiso, Chile
Bolivia, Argentina, and Uruguay all held national elections in October. The result, not much change in the Southern Cone of South American.
Bolivia was the first to hold elections on October 20. President Evo Morales ran for reelection along with his MAS [Movimiento al Socialismo/Movement towards Socialism] party, facing his toughest opposition since taking the presidency in 2006. Running against former president Carlos Mesa, Morales won 46.85% of the votes compared to Mesa’s 36.74%. Because Morales beat the second place finisher by more than 10% of the votes, he won under Bolivian law and the top two vote getters did not have to face off in a second round election.
The opposition immediately claimed fraud. International observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) expressed “grave concerns” about election irregularities. Conflict broke out in the streets of the major cities between supporters of Morales and supporters of Mesa. Pro-Mesa students attacked the building housing the national election commission [Tribunal Supremo Electoral], setting fire to the building. Morales mobilized the Bolivian Special Forces to guard the building. Supporters of Mesa also declared a national work stoppage. Morales initially accused the opposition of trying to engineer a coup against his government. As of this writing (31 October), Morales agreed to an audit of the election results by the OAS. Mesa immediately rejected the OAS recount, demanding that the results of the elections be voided. Given Mesa’s statements and the actions of his followers, it does appear that they are attempting a soft coup against Morales and MAS.
The root of the conflict is a battle between two models or versions of capitalism. Morales has been good for the capitalist development of Bolivia. Under his rule, Bolivia has sustained significant economic growth. Some of the main beneficiaries of that growth have been the indigenous majority of the country and the growing middle class. Morales has adopted a set of Keynesian policies and national investment strategies that contrasts with the neoliberal model of Mesa. Both politicians have supported policies that damage the environment. The differences in who they represent and what they propose to do are significant, but they exist within a capitalist framework.
Argentina was the second country to hold elections. Here the Peronist-Kirchner coalition Everyone’s Front [Frente de Todos] and their candidate for president Alberto Fernandez defeated the Together for Change [Junto por el Cambio] coalition of current president Mauricio Macri. Fernandez and his vice-presidential candidate, former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, soundly defeated Macri 48.1% of the votes against 40.4%. Politically Macri has been on the hard right, along with Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro.
As with Bolivia, the two major coalitions represent different models of capitalism: the Keynesian social welfare model of the winning coalition versus the neoliberal model of Macri. The election of Fernandez and Fernandez de Kirchner (they are not related) has raised hopes in Argentina for the reunification of Peronism. Fernandez himself is something of a political chameleon. He immediately started moving right after his election. Perhaps the one bright spot was the fourth place finish of the revolutionary socialist coalition of the United Left Front [Frente de Izquierda –Unidad]. Their presidential and vice presidential candidates from the Socialist Workers Party (Partido de Trabajadores Socialistas} and the Workers Party [Partido Obrero] won 2.2% of the votes, over 561,000 votes cast for a revolutionary party. This is the third election that the Left Front has participated in, having fielded candidates in the 2011 and 2015 presidential elections. Both of their candidates are members of the Argentine congress.
The third nation to hold elections in October was Uruguay. On October 27 the ruling Broad Front [Frente Amplio] candidate Daniel Martinez won approximately 41% of the vote while his chief rival from the National Party Luis Lacalle Pou, won 30% of the vote. The Broad Front is a center-left political party which has adopted a number of progressive social measures, such as the legalization of marijuana and gay rights. The National Party is a traditional party of the Uruguayan ruling class and is a center-right political party aligned with Christian Democracy. Under Uruguay’s election system, the top two candidates will have a run-off election on November 24. The Broad Front lost seats in both the Senate (-2) and the lower chamber of the Uruguayan congress (-8), both significant losses. The third and fourth place finishers, representing the right and far-right in Uruguay, won 13% of the vote and 11% of the votes, respectively. These political parties now plan to support Lacalle Pou in the second round. Public opinion polls show that the Broad Front will lose the run-off election.
The elections in Latin America have become increasingly “Americanized” with U.S. style campaigns and the voters choosing between the lesser of two evils. In cases such as Bolivia and Argentina, voters are choosing between two models of capitalism, which is a real choice, albeit one that treats capitalism as an inevitability. What is needed here in Latin America, just as it is needed in North American, is a democratic and revolutionary socialism.