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New Left Review I/157, May-June 1986

Paul Cammack

Resurgent Democracy: Threat and Promise

In ‘ “Resurgent Democracy”: Rhetoric and Reality’, nlr 154, Edward Herman and James Petras condemn us support for new democracies in South and Central America as hypocritical and opportunist. They also point out the wilful confusion involved in deliberately associating genuine democratization in South America with a forced process in Central America that is intended ‘to provide electoral cover for an essentially military policy’. In one sense the dramatic departures of ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier from Haiti and Ferdinand Marcos from the Philippines in February vindicate their analysis. In the face of blatant coercion and massive fraud in Manila, confirmed by his own official observers, President Reagan initially declared that there were faults on both sides and that his government would remain neutral. A fortnight later, Secretary of State George Shultz scurried into the White House press room to endorse newly installed President Aquino and pay tribute to ‘one of the most stirring and courageous examples of the democratic process in modern history’. Clear evidence indeed of the hypocrisy and opportunism of the Reagan regime. Yet the fact remains that Reagan and his associates had lost control of the situation as a result of the determined mobilization of the people of the Philippines and the emergence of opposition to official policy in both houses of Congress. Reagan cannot have desired the fall of Marcos, or the precipitate form that it took. The important issue is not whether Washington is genuinely committed to meaningful democracy for its own sake—it should go without saying that it is not—but why it now favours processes of contained liberalization, and whether it can control them. Herman and Petras overestimate the capacity of the us in this regard, underplay the significance of developments in Central America itself, and disregard the destabilizing consequences outside the region of the new rhetoric of support for democracy. Equally, they misinterpret the political situation in South America, neglect the substantial changes that have occurred there, and consequently fail to identify the threat posed by a resurgent and potentially hegemonic bourgeoisie.

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