Our Everyday War
Our Everyday War / 14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner
Posted on February 1, 2016
14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, 31 January 2016 – Let’s get right
down to it. The current conflict that divides half the planet, and
especially Latin Americans, is between neo-populism and authoritarian
democracy, against liberal democracy. I just developed a short course on
the subject at the Francisco Marroquín University in Guatemala. I do not
know any other institution so committed to economic and political
In the neo-populist corner of the ring appear, to the left, Father Marx,
statism, cronyism, Liberation Theology, the Dependency Theory, Eduardo
Galeano, Che Guevara, Ernesto Laclau, Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, Fidel
Castro, all mixed up, plus the other issues: long-lasting caudillos,
excessive public spending, ALBA, 21st Century Socialism, the Sao Paulo
Forum and a tense et cetera with a closed fist and a street slogan on
In the liberal corner we find Father Adam Smith, Ludwig von Mises, Hayek
and the Austrians, Milton Friedman and the market, James Buchanan and
the School of Public Choice, Douglas North and the institutionalists,
individual responsibility, private enterprise, the Rule of Law, FTAA,
free global trade, the Asian Tigers, the successful Chilean reform,
Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Mario Vargas Llosa, and the small and
This axis of confrontation is relatively new.
The 19th century was about old-fashioned liberals against conservative,
also old-fashioned. The 20th saw, first, the battle between the supposed
virtues of Hispanic identity against the defects of the Anglo-Saxons
(José Enrique Rodó’s Ariel and the incendiary lectures of Manuel
Ugarte). The 1910 Mexican Revolution simmered in the anti-imperialist sauce.
Following this was the appearance of Marxism and fascism, cousins who
ended up looking very much alike. The Twenties were those of the
Argentine psychiatrist José Ingenieros, with his soul and umbrellas both
red, and those of José Carlos Mariátegui and his Seven Interpretive
Essays on the Peruvian Reality.
Soon after, in Mussolini’s Italy, a young Argentinean soldier observed
the fascist experience with admiration. His name was Juan Domingo Perón
and on his return to Buenos Aires he launched his “Third Way.” Neither
communism nor capitalism: Justicialism. That is, Peronism, pure and
simple. It was the Creole expression of fascism.
The Cold War followed immediately on World War II. Before and after
Latin American was filled with sword-bearers sanctified by Washington.
The axis of confrontation then passed through the barracks against the
communist, or everything that smelled of them.
In the Forties another force broke through: the democratic left. They
began to triumph in Guatemala (Juan José Arévalo), Costa Rica (José
Figueres), Cuba (Carlos Prío), Venezuela (Rómulo Betancourt) and Puerto
Rico (Luis Muñoz Marín). They were democratic anti-communists who came
from the left. They fought against militarism from anti-communist positions.
They also constituted a soft vegetarian variant of populism. They
believed in the paternalistic welfare state and did not reject statist
measures. Reigning in the economic field was his majesty Lord Maynard
Keynes and politicians who were using the national budget and public
spending to boost the economy. Wonderful. They were intellectually
entitled to squander fortunes. Simultaneously, they distributed profits
and executed land reforms that almost never achieved their objectives.
In 1959 the badge of the struggle changed again. Fidel and Raúl Castro,
along with Che Guevara and with the innocent help of other democratic
groups, overthrew the “soft” military dictatorship of Batista, with the
objective of establishing a communist dictatorship copied from the
Soviet model. They proposed, essentially, to destroy the governments of
the democratic left, defining the adversary by its relations with the
United States and with property.
If you were pro-American and pro-market, even if you were leftist and
respected freedoms, you were the enemy. Cuba attacked Uruguay,
Venezuela, Peru, Panama, everything that moved and breathed. Also, of
course, the old military dictators like Somoza, Trujillo and Stroessner,
but not for being tyrants, but for being pro-American and
pro-capitalist. The island was “a nest of machine guns in motion.” The
United States joined the war in 1965; in the midst of a civil war
Marines landed in the Dominican Republic in order, they said, “to avoid
With Allende in 1970 the dangerous game of authoritarian democracy began
and it ended three years later in a hail of bullets. Pinochet, who was
Allende’s man, or so Mr. Allende believed, ended up bombing him.
However, as the general didn’t know a single thing about economics, he
handed off these mysterious activities to some young Chileans who had
graduated from the University of Chicago and Harvard. Soon they began to
turn the situation around.
It was the first time Latin America heard of Friedrich Hayek (Nobel
Prize in 1974), or Milton Friedman (1976). In the mid-eighties it was
clear that populism had plunged Latin America into a pool of corruption,
unbridled inflation and unrestrained public spending. The region had
failed. They spoke then of the “lost decade.”
Thus arose the first liberal cycle in Latin America. Its main
protagonists came from another ideological quarry, but they were
flexible and intelligent people. Among others, included the Bolivian
Victor Paz Estenssoro, who returned to power in 1985 to fix the mess of
1952, the Costa Rican Oscar Arias, the Argentine Carlos Menem, Mexico’s
Carlos Salinas de Gortari, the Colombian Cesar Gaviria and the Uruguayan
Luis Alberto Lacalle.
More than liberal convictions propelled the certainty of populist
failure. Unfortunately, accusations of corruption against Salinas and
Menem, plus the excessive increase in public spending in Argentina,
discredited that liberal reform and its enemies began to effectively
attack “the long neo-liberal night.”
In 1999, finally, Hugo Chávez began to govern and he initiated another
phase of authoritarian democracy. This has now come to its end, sunk in
poverty, with shortages and corruption, giving way to the new cycle of
liberal democracy, that perhaps started with the Mauricio Macri’s
victory in Argentina. Let’s hope it lasts.
Source: Our Everyday War / 14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner |
Translating Cuba –