The Latin American left are on the march and they are increasingly moving in a green direction. Climate change and other ecological ills mean that the we need positive political change and such change is occurring most quickly in Latin America.After decades of domination by CIA backed dictators, death squads and racist elites, left governments have won in virtually every state from Chile to Guatemala.
Just a few weeks ago Luego, a former Catholic Bishop, inspired by liberation theology was sworn in as President of Paraguay. The country was a dictatorship for 60 decades and a refuge for Nazi war criminals. The new president has sacked the heads of the armed forces and proclaimed the ‘poor and indigenous will be the privileged now.’
The record of such governments has been varied and imperfect but US dominance in the region has been broken, neoliberal economics has been challenged and an emphasis on participatory democracy has ensued. Although with the exception of Brazil and the example of recently released Ingrid Betancourt, Green Parties are generally small and not well known in the region, green politics is part of the process. One of the most interesting developments has been the rise of the indigenous.
In Bolivia Morales was elected as the first indigenous president in the country's history and is battling the right wing who refuse to cede control over the country. Indigenous people have been at the forefront of campaigns to preserve the rainforests and other habitats from exploitation. Morales has famously called for the defence of ‘mother earth’ and argues that capitalism is ecologically unsustainable. However despite a movement towards socialism most Latin America countries have economies based on resource extraction.
For example, Correa in Ecuador while on the left has attacked some socialmovements for dvocating ‘infantile environmentalism’ because they oppose mining or oil extraction. In Brazil the charismatic environment minister Maria de Silva resigned this year because she lost battles in Lula’s government to preserve the Amazon.
Indigenous people are extremely diverse but across the continent they fear attempts to have their land taken from them for mining or even biofuel plantations. They generally believe in ecological economic structures rather than traditional industrialisation. Indigenous people are at the forefront_of political change and are pushing left governments to be more radical and ecological. I am very lucky to be in touch with Hugo Blanco whose Peru based magazine Lucha Indigena (indigenous struggle) chronicles their actions across the continent.
In August the Peruvian President Alan Garcia (one of the few non left leaders along with Colombia and Mexico) tried to push through laws that would have made it easier for corporations to take land from indigenous people. 12,000 people took direct action to stop the law which would have destroyed large parts of the Amazon in the country. Even threats to mobilise the army did not deter the protesters who protected their land, culture and the forests, the Peruvian congress were forced to back down and repeal the laws. This to me is real green politics,people defending their forests and through their action protecting vital habitats.
Hugo Blanco is an active member of the Ecosocialist International to which Green Left belongs and I am proud of all the work Green Left does to publicise his important activity.
In quite a different context I have been very encouraged by developments in Cuba. During the 1990s the collapse of the Soviet Union meant that the country no longer received cheap oil from Russia. The ‘Special Period’ as most readers know led to much hardship but it also meant that Cuba had to go on a crash course of oil reduction. Non-organic agriculture is heavily dependent on oil, for example, most pesticides and chemical fertilizers are a by-product of petroleum. To survive Cuba had to go organic. Cubans were encouraged to produce as much of their food as possible and to use low impact ecological methods. In Havana highly productive organic allotments can be found between tower blocks and all sorts of land that would be otherwise unused. Cuba has over 7,000 urban allotments know as 'organopinics' nearly 100,000 acres.
I have not been to Cuba but I did visit Venezuela in 2006 and I keep in regular contact with a friend Cesar Aponte in the Ministry of the Environment. Despite being an oil economy, Venezuela is heavily promoting organic agriculture, renewable energy and public transport. While there are plenty of imperfections in the country, for example, Caracas is very polluted, Hugo Chavez’s government are well aware that fossil fuel based economics is ultimatly unsustainable because of climate change. The ministry of the environment has recently won big battles to close gold and coal mines that damage the environments of indigenous people. While many European Green Parties have become gray, I think the coalition government in Ireland where the Irish Greens are in ‘power’ but part of a government that is building a motorway through the prehistoric landscape of Tara, the Latin Americans are generally moving in a greener direction. They give me real hope that we can make history and save the planet. We need to criticise them when they could be doing better but we need to learn from them in a modest spirit, if the human race are going to surive catastrophe it will be because of the best which is occuring in Latin America. I am very lucky to have so many good friends in Cuba, Venezuela and Peru, they inspired me to stick with the politics even when the going gets tough. I would urge all Green Party members to get involved with campaigns like Venezuela Information Centre, Hands off Venezuela and Cuba Solidarity. I am very sad the post of Principal Speaker has gone but I am putting my energies into supporting the greening of Latin America, a very important political process.
Derek Wall, Male Principal Speaker and Writer.