Today’s CNN article “Iran’s Ahmedinejad meets ‘brother’ Chavez” reveals interesting, international diplomatic friendships developing these days. I learned a bit about Hugo Chavez, the leftist President of Venezuela, in the April 2006 issue of National Geographic (“Venezuela According to Chavez”) and after talking with one of our professors in the Texas Tech College of Education after her week-long professional development trip to the country in June. Two quotations in this latest article stood out to me:

While in Qatar on Friday, Chavez said it meant Venezuela could eventually export guns and ammunition to Bolivia and other allies once it opens a factory to make Russian-developed Kalashnikov rifles under license.

Chavez accused the United States of “threatening” to stop supplying replacement parts for the weapons to leftist Bolivian President Evo Morales’ government. If the U.S. follows through, Chavez said, “we could supply Bolivia… and other friendly countries that also require a minimal level of defense.”

With the cold war over, one would hope the international arms trade might not be as active and thriving as it has been in the past. Based on my knowledge of current events, that hope is probably a pipe dream.

This quotation near the end of the article indicates the strong ties Venezuela is evidently making to Iran:

“We do not have any limitation in cooperation,” Ahmedinejad was quoted as saying. “Iran and Venezuela are next to each other and supporters of each other. Chavez is a source of a progressive and revolutionary current in South America and his stance in restricting imperialism is tangible.”

The United States government has never liked or supported leftist regimes anywhere, as far as I know, except when their economic market is huge (China.) I can’t say I am really surprised to learn about the support Chavez has in Venezuela, however, since the historic rich/poor gap there and in other parts of Latin America (an inheritance of the conquest and colonialism) has not been transformed by free-market economic policies. I read awhile back about Bolivia’s electoral victory by leftist Evo Morales, and again I can’t say I’m really surprised.

According to Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, writing in Upside Down World in “Latin America: The End of An Era”:

On the right – including the Bush administration – this process is viewed through a Cold War prism, a Castro-Chávez-Evo Morales axis that poses a strategic threat to the United States. Imagined or implied links to terrorism and the drug trade (little or no evidence is provided) are sometimes added for effect, as when the State Department cut off arms sales to Venezuela on May 15 for “lack of cooperation” in fighting terrorism.

Back in 1993 when I wrote “Defining and Refocusing US Policy Toward Latin America,” I was hopeful that the end of the cold war might mean that the United States no longer had to fear or oppose militarily nations that rejected free markets and democracy. In line with Francis Fukyama, who had recently published “The End of History and the Last Man,” I figured that governments who chose to pursue anti-free market, anti-democratic practices would face self-critiquing consequences of poor economic growth and dissatisfied citizenry. At that time, I was living in Mexico City and President Salias De-Gotari was the hero of NAFTA, credited with bringing single digit inflation to Mexico and support for a trade agreement that would benefit everyone on both sides of the border. The FMLN in El Salvador was being disarmed and had failed to bring about a violent Marxist revolution in their country, and the only choice for national politics and economics seemed to be the one touted by Fukuyama. That was quite naive.

Shortly after I left Mexico (but certainly not an event correlated to my departure: I was just a graduate student studying there) Salinas fled the country as a wanted criminal, a leftist rebellion in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas started, and the benefits of NAFTA seemed to be called into question by rising Mexican inflation and other events. At that time I was in pilot training and my attention was diverted from following national and international political and economic trends, but I knew that a lot of the assumptions I had in 92-93 about the future of international politics and economics might have been overly simplistic. By a long shot. The world is a complex place.

I found it very interesting to learn today that a simple Google keyword search for “end of history fukuyama” brought up a “transcription” of his book’s introduction reprinted on the website marxists.org. This fact, and articles I’ve read in the past few months about countries like Venezuela, Iran, Bolivia, and Cuba cause me to wonder what the political and economic future of leftist ideologies might be? China is officially communist, but of course their governmental system is Marxist in its early philosophic stage– the totalitarian one, which no Marxist or Communist state that I have ever learned about ever has moved out from.

The core political assumptions of Marxism were, I thought, discredited solidly in the late 1980s and early 1990s by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the eventual disintegration of the Soviet Union. Marxist ideology was empirically rejected by the actions of the FMLN in and around San Salvador in 1989, when the guerrillas expected the general populous to spontaneously “rise up” and join the revolution. They didn’t. Based on what I learned from my trip there in 1993, most people in the capital either fled or hid in their homes as the fighting came into the streets.

Many of the core economic realities and problems– the poverty– of the world which had led many in the past to support and even fight for Marxism remain in the world, however. If we heed the prophesies of writers like Fukuyama and Tom Friedman, nations which want to thrive in the 21st century are and will deregulate their economies, free their political systems for more expression and citizen participation, and through market forces attempt to bring more wealth to more sectors of both their local and global economies.

I am dismayed to reflect, however, that in 2006 fanaticism, warfare, and poverty remain common in our global village. Couldn’t either the Jews or the Arabs rescind their claim on the Holy Land, and seek an alternative home to grow and thrive– rather than fight and kill? Or better yet, couldn’t the fanatics give up their dreams of genocide and resolve to leave peaceably with their diverse neighbors? These things are not impossible ideas, but they probably are about as naive as my thoughts about liberal economics and politics in the early 1990s when I lived in Mexico.

Like everyone else who is honest, I do not know what the future holds when it comes to even local politics– much less national or international politics. I do believe, however, in the principle of self-determination, and I think this cause (true democracy) will prevail in the long run. Diverse groups and people support self-determination also, from the founding fathers of the US (although their corporate view operationalized in the US Constitution of 1787 excluded a lot of folks, including women and slaves) to the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization to V.I. Lenin.

As we watch the news on CNN or elsewhere, we have to remember we are usually seeing the worst things the editors can show us. There is still room for much optimism today, even amidst Hezbollah rockets and DOPA legislation. I share Mark Weisbrot’s hopes:

But from the point of view of the vast majority of the hemisphere, including people in the United States, there is actually much to be optimistic about. As French President Jacques Chirac noted during a recent visit to South America, “there is a strong movement in favor of democracy in Latin America, a movement that is growing.” He added that the newly elected leftist presidents cannot be cause for concern because they were elected in free democratic elections. Furthermore, there is every reason to believe that the changes of the last few years will not be reversed, and that the region will continue in the direction of further economic and political independence, diversification of trade and finance, some regional integration, and more successful macroeconomic policies. Not all of these economic policies and experiments will succeed, but most importantly it appears very possible that Latin America’s long quarter-century of economic failure will be reversed in the foreseeable future, and that its hundreds of millions of poor people will be among the main beneficiaries.

While I am not secure in my predictions of the future, I am confident in the importance of EDUCATION to help people in all parts of the world secure for themselves, their families, and their communities a more prosperous and politically respectful future. It is upon this solid conviction that I now work as an educator not only of Oklahoma, the United States or even North America– but of the world. We do live in a global village, which grows smaller each day thanks in large part to the powerful magic of technology. Let us hope, pray, and actively work so that international understanding will increase, global voices will not only be heard but also heeded, and the warfare, poverty, suffering and oppression which we see in so many places today can become a distant memory rather than a current event or a future expectation.

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2 Responses to The present and future of leftist national politics

  1. masukor says:

    I am moved to respond on reading your thoughts here. I am a physics teacher. I ventured into teaching thinking that education (schooling?) is a civilising endeavour. more than a quarter century later I disscovered that the countries of the world has no more capacity to live harmoniously together then they were more than twenty five years ago, neither has the disparity between the have and the have not been successfully address. etc.etc.

    This last week was the week of Hiroshima and Nagasaki got nuked more than 60 years ago. For many years, this is the week where I begin my teaching week by asking my students to have one minute reflection, not so much for those that died or for the distruction it caused but more about remembering our fallibility, in the hope that in the future such mistake shall not be made again.

    So this last week I was most distressed when my senior students (pre university) were greeting each other and their History teacher with the Nazi salute. This ‘enactment” is supposed to be part of their study on the second world war and how “freedom” was curtailed during the rise of Nazism. This saluting is going to go on for a while yet I was told. I am appalled. Am I wrong to feel this way or is there something missing in my science and education training that I have not the capacity to view History and the teaching of History as practised.

    I dearly love to hear other views on the subject.

  2. Wesley Fryer says:

    It sounds like these students need to gain some perspective on history and particularly the stakes and sacrifices of World War II. There are no easy answers, but you might suggest or initiate an oral history project with students where they are required to interview veterans or others (as they are available and still living in your area) who can tell about their own experiences during 1939-1945. Last spring I had a chance, along with many secondary students in Texas, to hear a Holocaust camp survivor from Dachau and a concentration camp liberator from Mauthausen speak about their experiences. I don’t think the people who listened to them, students included, will ever forget their message, or do something ridiculous like make a Nazi salute in jest. One of these presentations is still available online as a podcast:

    http://ttucoepodcast.blogspot.com/2005/10/podcast5-surviving-dachau-liberating.html

    Good luck and hang in there. As teachers we all have opportunities to try and help students broaden their horizons and perspectives. The need for this is a big reason I’m an advocate for international exchange programs, and projects that involve global voices– another great place to have students read news and other perspectives is:

    http://www.globalvoices.org/

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