jeudi 14 janvier 2010

Debate - European Social Democracy and the Latin American Left

by Luis Yáñez, socialist member of the European Parliament

The lack of a clear S&D Group position on points raised in Parliament in relation to sensitive Latin American issues (particularly recent proposals on human rights in Nicaragua and Venezuela, but also earlier ones regarding Cuba), gave rise to a short debate between socialist group members in Eurolat. Here I suggested to the S&D Group Chair that we should hold a new Latin America Forum, in the same format as in the last parliamentary term, to define our positions on such matters.

I believe that our failure to take part in the debate and vote in the emergency procedure following the alleged electoral fraud in Nicaragua should not be repeated because, as Parliament’s second largest political group, we cannot afford to stay silent on such matters, nor, in my opinion, on any subject. This indecision was the result of both the clear desire on the right to use these events for party political gain on the one hand and the lack of a definite consensus within our group on the situation in Nicaragua on the other. Indeed, some within our group, myself included, believed that the Ortega-Murillo regime was deserving of criticism from Europe’s social democrats, while others campaigned for the resolution on Nicaragua to be defeated.

But beyond this issue, we must debate which Latin American left we see as our counterpart, a partner with which we share values and convictions, and which other left, with different methods and objectives, we do not. We must also debate the path our policy should take in this regard.

I am of course referring to what the presidents of Brazil, Lula da Silva, Chile, Michelle Bachelet, Uruguay, Tabaré Vázquez and Oscar Arias of Costa Rica represent, to take the most significant examples, as opposed to Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, Raúl Castro in Cuba and in a different manner, as each country has its own specific characteristics, Correa in Ecuador and Evo Morales in Bolivia. The first group are unmistakably social democrats or democratic socialists whereas the second is a bloc led by Chávez which can be categorised as leftist populist with authoritarian tendencies, and which perpetuates power around itself and progressively curtails freedom and human rights. Cuba exhibits more than authoritarian tendencies, as it is run by a totalitarian, gerontocratic system which has not held free elections for 50 years.

Although it is quite clear that these groups are not hostile to one another – they even refute in front of their European partners that two distinct lefts exist and maintain in practice fluid relations of all kinds between each other – in private the social democratic left is critical of chavismo (Marco Aurelio García in Brazil, Roberto Conde in Uruguay). But rather than isolate the other group, the social democrats prefer to engage in inclusive dialogue with it. Venezuela’s aspirations towards regional domination clearly grate with Brazil, which is the natural candidate for leadership in South America, especially since the success of Lula’s tenure as president.

The 2009 Latinobarómetro report is very enlightening and demonstrates that Latin Americans give positive approval ratings to leaders such as Lula (6.4/10), Bachelet (5.8) and Oscar Arias (5.7) and send Daniel Ortega (4.3), Fidel Castro (4.0) and Hugo Chávez (3.9) to the bottom of the class. The report also shows that in terms of governability, democracy and the fight against poverty and inequality, the ‘social democratic bloc’ far outstrips the chavistas.

The aforementioned Latin America Forum should be an occasion for wide-ranging, heartfelt dialogue both between the members of our group and with our Latin American guests. We must look to draw conclusions which will help us take the right decisions on our group’s relations with Latin America. I believe that this forum should lead to the drawing-up of a document laying down unambiguous criteria which, once put to debate and vote in a group plenary session, will be binding for all of us and will enable us to overcome what I see as a period of ambiguity and indecision.