Throughout Latin America, several countries are aflame with violent protests.
The protests are all for different reasons. But there are common denominators: unprecedented violence and well-organized actions designed to disrupt life and cause as much damage as possible.
If successful, the protests could remove the democratically-elected governments of moderate centrist leaders.
Perú, Ecuador, Colombia (to a lesser extent) and, most recently, Chile (with exceptional fury) have endured violent protests challenging government policies that reduced subsidies to products and services.
These four countries are all critical of Venezuela and its dictator, Nicolás Maduro, and have called for his removal. Maduro has responded with a vow to harm them in any way possible.
The Organization of American States (OAS) issued a communiqué stating: “The recent currents of destabilization of the political systems of the hemisphere have their origins in the strategy of the Bolivarian and Cuban dictatorships, which seek to reposition themselves once again, not through a process of re-institutionalization and re-democratization, but through their old methodology of exporting polarization and bad practices, to essentially finance, support and promote political and social conflict.”
Bolivarianism, born in Venezuela, is the late President Hugo Chavez’s anti-imperialist, pro-equality and anti-corruption ideology combining pan-American, socialist and national–patriotic ideals and named after Simón Bolívar, the 19th-century general who opposed the Spanish monarchy in the 19th century and led an independence movement in much of South America.
What Chavez’s heirs call “Bolivarian breezes” have, the OAS communique said, “brought destabilization, violence, drug trafficking, death and corruption. The Venezuelan people themselves have paid the highest cost, but the other countries are also now paying a high price for the crisis caused by the Venezuelan dictatorship.”
The OAS asserted that “‘Bolivarian breezes’ are not welcome in this hemisphere. We strongly condemn the threat of exporting bad practices and destabilization to Colombia made by that person in the Bolivarian dictatorship” – an obvious reference to Maduro, who became president in 2013 and who remains de facto president although his legitimacy is disputed by supporters of Juan Guaidó, who consider Guaidó the real president.
“The strategy of destabilization of democracy through the financing of political and social movements has distorted political dynamics in the Americas,” the OAS lamented. “For years, the Venezuelan dictatorship, with the support of the Cuban dictatorship, institutionalized sophisticated co-optation, repression, destabilization and media propaganda structures in the region. For example, the financing [by] the Venezuelan dictatorship [of] political campaigns has been one of the effective ways to increase capacities to generate conflict.”
The crisis in Ecuador “is an expression of the distortions that the Venezuelan and Cuban dictatorships have installed in the political systems of the hemisphere,” the communique said. “However,” it concluded, “what recent events have also shown is that the intentional and systematic strategy of the two dictatorships to destabilize democracies is no longer as effective as in the past.”
The violent rallies in Perú and Chile occurred immediately after the statement from the OAS. The organization had expelled Cuba years earlier and Venezuela more recently, and it had recognized the opposition government of Juan Guaidó in that nation.
It fits with this pattern of events that the rallies against the fourth (and illegal) reelection in Bolivia of Evo Morales, a staunch ally of the Venezuelan and Cuban dictators, has, for the most part, fizzled without much consequence since the protesters lacked the expertise and resources that used to come from those countries.
In the case of Chile, the pretext for the destructive protests was a 3.75% increase in Santiago subway fares – the first hike in 12 years.
According to police sources in Santiago, the participation of Cubans and Venezuelans was prominent. At least 60 were detained after they destroyed or damaged subway stations in a synchronized operation that lasted 10 minutes. Santiago’s subway system, one of the most modern and efficient in the world, was potentially knocked out of commission for several months.
The Chilean government was forced to declare a week-long curfew in Santiago and 11 other communities. The curfew was lifted last Sunday when President Sebastián Piñera declared that he had fired his entire cabinet and announced replacements for the fired ministers.
Amid the turmoil, Chile is preparing to host a November APEC Heads of State meeting – which will include the presidents of China and the US – and then in December will host the United Nations COP25 meeting on climate change.
The unrest is reminiscent of violent “student” protests that occurred in Mexico City in 1968 when the Olympic Games took place outside of “developed” countries for the first time.
It is unclear when this highly flammable situation will end, but the huge economic and political costs to the people and governments that challenge the dictatorships in Venezuela and Cuba are incalculable. So is the potential damage to their democracies.
Meanwhile, the populist faction grows with the staunch support of allies in Bolivia, Nicaragua and Mexico – and, soon, in Argentina once again, after the Peronists were elected last Sunday.