Compass Youth and Venezuela Information Centre member Matthew Willgress reviews “The US War on Democracy in Latin America” by Richard Gott, published by the Venezuela Information Centre.

Written to accompany John Pilger’s film ‘The War on Democracy’ this short pamphlet gives an excellent overview of the US’ continued intervention in its ‘backyard’ since the 1800s - providing the context that is necessary to understand the ‘revolt at the ballot box’ against US domination and free market orthodoxy in numerous Latin American countries in recent years, sparked by Hugo Chávez’s election in Venezuela.

The numerous examples given of US undermining of democratic, progressive governments in Latin America – such as the democratic socialist government of Allende in Chile in the 1970s - should also make us aware of the origins of much of the international ‘media war’ against the government of Venezuela today; ludicrously portrayed in much of the British press as a ‘dictatorship,’ despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Speaking of the changes taking place in Latin America today, Gott points out both the similarities and differences of the experience of the countries in what some have termed the “pink tide” of Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Chile (and now Ecuador and Nicaragua). “Clearly,” he writes, “this is not a homogenous Left” as “their programmes and political processes are specific to each country.” However, the similarity lies in the reasons behind these changes, specifically that “the social movements that lie behind the election victories of individual presidents (and are also powerful in countries that have not yet changed direction at the top,) represent a striking new development” with “new political players emerging,” including from Latin America’s indigenous peoples, arriving on the centre of the political scene.

With the launch of the Bank of the South, as an alternative to the failure to the international Thatcherism of the IMF and World Bank, and the fair-trade block the ‘Bolivarian Alternative For the Americas,’ these progressive developments – through the new left governments these movements propelled to power - are now building their own institutions and methods of regional integration, with an emphasis on social development.

Throughout, it is welcome that Gott writes as someone who recognises that there is much we can learn from these progressive struggles in Latin America, rather than the approach of some on the British left of setting themselves up as ‘teachers’ for the Bolivarian movement in Venezuela and others, pointing out where it is ‘going wrong’ and ‘not radical enough’, with little understanding of internal dynamics and conditions.

Those seeking to build a new, democratic left in Britain and beyond should extend our support to this ‘Bolivarian Wave,’ using both the historical examples of US intervention presented by Gott, and the dreadful situation faced today by community leaders, trade unionists and others in Colombia, as warning of what the negative alternative is if US domination was to be re-instated. In terms of policy this means there must be independent, constructive engagement from Britain and Europe, not following the failed approach of the US administration.

* This booklet is available for only £4 (including P&P) from VIC. Please makes cheques payable to the ‘Venezuela Information Centre’ and send to PO Box 56210, London, United Kingdom, N4 4XH.