Many commentators, both Left and Right, have recently presented Latin America as a continent in revolutionary ferment, and some have fostered the belief that the key question in contemporary Latin politics is guerrilla warfare. But abundant evidence, exists to show that this is not the case. Rather than a period of Latin American revolutionary upsurge, the present phase is one of a continent-wide counter-revolutionary trough, with the usa is on the offensive and developing new forms of imperialist stabilization, and with considerably weakened Left in retreat or seeking accommodation.
Since 1960, the Cuban revolution has remained isolated as the sole social revolution in the hemisphere. This does not mean that the reforms promised in the Alliance for Progress have successfully pre-empted the growth of the Left. On the contrary, basic land tenure and social conditions remain unchanged. Less than 5 per cent of the landowners own over 75 per cent of the usable land; economic growth rates are low, especially in those countries which have exhausted their ‘easy’ development through import substitution (Chile, Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil). Some of the more under-industrialized countries (Venezuela, Peru and Colombia) are experiencing moderate industrial growth—but they will soon exhaust the easy development areas, an inevitable result where mass poverty limits the internal market. Social classes are still savagely segregated between riches and poverty. Mobility is nearly non-existent; what little does exist is generally confined to movements between the lower middle class and the middle class. Social inequality and economic stagnation produce repeated interventions by the military as soon as middle class parliamentarians start to lose social control over the masses. Political instability and authoritarian dictatorship are still typical of Latin America in 1966. Finally, the economic, political and military presence of the United States in Latin America remains overwhelming.
This is the context in which the current situation of the Left in Latin America must be understood—in particular that of the pro-Soviet Communist Parties. The Soviet attitude towards Latin America tends to view this continent as within the sphere of influence of the usa. The Soviet Union does not seem to be interested in another Cuban-type development. It would prefer Latin governments independent enough from us policy to oppose us military intervention, while at the same time not so identified with the ussr as to create heavy economic and political obligations on the economy and government of that country. The result is that while Communist Parties in Latin America are frequently militantly active in Trade Unions, and peasant movements at the level of the population, at the leadership levels policy is continually oriented to ‘progressive forces’ or bourgeois régimes. The Communist Parties thus play the role of dynamic pressure groups, which are not, however, immediately oriented towards taking power. This does not mean that they confine themselves purely to parliamentary politics. For their militancy is often enough to put them ‘outside the law’ and thus cause them to initiate or join armed struggle. This does not usually represent an attempt to win power as such. It is rather a means of reattaining legality and parliamentary rights, the armed struggle itself being a bargaining counter to be ‘transacted’ between the cp leaders and the dominant governments—often through intermediaries. These policies and tactics sometimes conflict with those of other revolutionary forces such as mir in Peru or sectors of the faln in Venezuela which are more oriented towards power. However, the guerrilla Left itself has little concrete to point to. Padre Camillo Torres, the Colombian revolutionary, was recently killed by counter-insurgency troops. Luiz de la Puente, the Peruvian guerrilla leader, and a good part of his student and peasant constituency have been shot or napalmed to death. In Venezuela the guerrillas are confined to isolated areas and prominent Communist leaders such as the Machado brothers, Pompeyo Marquez and others seem to have renounced the armed struggle and are trying, so far unsuccessfully, to persuade Leoni to allow them legality. In Brazil the Left is in jail or in hiding. Only in Chile is there a mass Marxist working class opposition, now somewhat ineffectually attempting to prevent the Christian Democratic régime from installing itself permanently in that country.
The weakness of the Left does not, however, mean that the Right is structurally strong or stable in Latin America. On the contrary—nowhere in South America has it yet achieved a viable political order and steady economic growth. This paradox is the key to the present phase of counter-revolutionary co-ordination in Latin America. us policy is based on the knowledge that its support is indispensable for the Latin ruling classes to maintain their position in society, since they remain profoundly vulnerable to unpredictable internal pressures. Perceiving this vulnerability, the usa has sought to maximize its advantages in a plan for an Inter-American Army of Intervention, which would transform the quasi-sovereign Latin countries into patent satellites. Isolation of the Cuban revolution through the reinforcement of military political alliances would be by-passed by the creation of a hemispheric military force, with contingents from throughout the continent, capable of suppressing popular revolutions anywhere. A primitive antecedent of this Inter-American Army of Counter-revolution was the invasion force of Cuban mercenaries who, as is well known, were under the direction of cia officials. The failure of this venture by the Kennedy government and the absence of continent-wide support resulted in intensive preparation for more sophisticated future efforts. From the point of view of us policy, the importance of an Inter-American Force is clear: it generalizes responsibility and legitimizes the use of force in defending us domination of the hemisphere. It allows the us to continue benefits of control at a minimum of external costs (dead us soldiers) which might have unsettling effects within the usa.
The main differences between us and Latin governments over the question of intervention concern their evaluation of the ability of the Latin elites to resist popular pressures. The us estimate tends to be less optimistic than that of the Latins, hence they seek to transcend national boundaries. Chile and Mexico, for instance, feel strong enough to resist or channel popular pressures and so see no necessity to institutionalize an international armed force which would obliterate all hopes of achieving any ‘independence’. Meanwhile these dissident governments approve of a pragmatic intervention where national elites coordinate their resources with us military forces in suppressing popular movements. us armed forces in Peru, Venezuela and Colombia have for some time been organizing and planning military strategy against national revolutionary movements. But the stronger Latin governments prefer operating on a pragmatic basis, accepting de facto intervention while abstaining from promulgating their dependence on the usa for domestic political reasons. But the usa both by tradition and for international and domestic reasons prefers a legal basis for its intervention. The Dominican invasion made this an urgent necessity for it, and it has pressed ever since for a formal proclamation by the oas of the right of intervention.
In this, it has been enormously assisted by the emergence of Brazil as an ambitious junior partner to North American imperialism. Brazil is, of course, the largest country in Latin America. Its present military régime is the product of a carefully planned putsch in 1964, in the preparation of which American military and diplomatic officials participated. Since that date, the Brazilian military régime has been the most zealous advocate of counter-revolution in the continent, and has seen itself as a privileged lieutenant of the us gendarme, with its own satellite sphere of influence. The presence of a major Latin American military staff committed to the idea of an Inter-American Army bore fruit within the year. The Brazilian invasion army, alongside us troops in the Dominican Republic represented the first concrete manifestation of ‘Inter-American unity’ (the weakness of the counter-response in Latin America to this invasion was a sign that the isolation of the Cuban revolution had been completed).
The next stage was the presentation of a project for a permanent Inter-American Armed Force at the oas Councillors’ meeting in Rio last autumn. Location of the Councillors’ meeting there indicating Brazil’s importance in extending us hegemony in the area. President Castelo Branco gave the introductory address—a clarion call for a Holy Alliance of a kind that no us spokesman has so far risked. Coining the notion of ‘idealogical aggression’, he declared that national political frontiers were an anachronism. ‘It is urgent that we rethink the concepts of aggression. Aggression is not always armed attack. . .’ The propagation of an alien ideology within any country in the hemisphere was an aggression against them all—a ‘subversion’ that demanded immediate suppression, wherever it appeared. The motto for the Inter-American Invasion Army should henceforth be: ‘Counter Intervention is not the same as Intervention’. The response to Castelo Branco’s bid for the role of a Latin American Metternich was not enthusiastic. Some governments prefer the notion of quiet bilateral pacts between the military of two countries for mutual insurance. Thus the Bolivian army made discreet inquiries in Buenos Aires earlier this year to sound out the possibility of Argentinian military intervention in Bolivia, if the situation there should escape their control. Still other governments with somewhat different social and political bases, and with different institutional arrangements and publics either are not in a position or are unwilling to implement any drastic shift in their international status. In Chile, where the socio-political elite maintains firm national institutional control and does not feel immediately threatened by popular movements there is little perceived need for international subordination. In fact the introduction of such an extreme measure might antagonize nationally committed groups which are otherwise important internal control mechanisms. But it should be noted that the presence of high Chilean military chieftains at the international meeting in Lima in late 1965, and participation in the Councillors’ meeting in Rio indicates that the Christian Democratic government is willing to go some distance in co-operating with us hemispheric policies. Chile’s presence at Rio, a ‘nationally elected’ civilian government, provided a certain legitimacy to a meeting dominated by militarily controlled civilian governments or outright military régimes searching for international formulas to perpetuate their rule. It was the Chilean representative, Alejandro Magnet who moved the motion to shelve the Colombian resolution specifically attacking the us invasion of the Dominican Republic. Magnet was ably seconded by Averell Harriman.