14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 19 June 2018 – The only thing missing was the funeral band accompanied by some black crepe and sobbing. The closing ceremony of the XXIV Sao Paulo Forum, on Tuesday in Havana, had all the traces of a funeral. You could almost hear the shovels of earth falling on the Latin American left which has not figured out how to disassociate itself from populism.
Far from the time when the region’s leftist leaders could fill a large stage, a few political survivors of that time, more closely related by their furious addiction to power than by the banner of social justice and the equitable distribution of wealth, met on the Island.
There was no lack, among the more than 600 guests, of disoriented people who still believe the propaganda that “the Island is a Utopia,” or who naively seek a space of fresh plurality in a meeting of this kind. False illusion. Created in the 90s at the initiative of Fidel Castro and Luiz Inacio ‘Lula’ da Silva, the Forum has never been a place for polyphony.
An indirect heir of those congresses organized by the Soviet Union, the scenography of the hammer and sickle is now hidden, the word communism eliminated from the talks, and Leninist allusions banished. The organizers may have dressed as progressives and sucked in the environmentalists and the indigenous and human rights movements, but the skeleton that supports them continues to mimic the constitution of the conferences staged by the USSR, because they try to pass off as spontaneous what is controlled down to the tiniest detail.
The latest edition has once again served as a gateway for those such as Nicolas Maduro who promote political intolerance, authoritarianism and ‘assistancialism’*. Others include Bolivian president Evo Morales, with his longing to serve in perpetuity, Raul Castro, the caudillo who inherited power through blood, and Cuba’s hand-picked president, Miguel Diaz-Canel.
For three days the participants furiously applauded the slogans, the rants, and even the false promises of “helping the disadvantaged” and “defending the truth,” which fell from the mouths of some of the most corrupt and predatory press on the continent. Every new phrase uttered was like an extreme unction intoned over their own doctrine.
Those who this week clothed themselves in the garments of social struggles and the demands of the most disadvantaged, have shown that once installed in their palaces their objective is to undermine republican institutions and dynamite the legal bases of democracy, actions that in the medium term end up inflicting extensive damage on the very social sectors they claim to represent.
The meeting also gave ample space to explaining the false and Manichean dilemma of choosing between a left that still speaks of revolutions and enemies, and neoliberalism, the right and the powerful. A false dichotomy that cloaks itself in calls to respect “the free determination of the people,” which in reality masks the demand for governmental impunity to sweep away citizens’ rights.
In the narrative thread that connected the sessions of the event, one strand insisted on the idea that the left is not finished in this part of the world and nor can one speak of a change in the ideological cycle. Such irony: those who contributed to the fall from grace of a political leaning presented themselves in Havana’s Palace of Conventions as doctors ready to auscultate their victim.
The populist champions who devoted a good part of the debates to naming the culprits, with index fingers pointing north, have handed their opponents the arguments to discredit an entire ideology on a silver platter. Experts, perhaps, in that fall from grace, they now appeal to each other to prop them up. “Either we unite, or we sink into the mud of the counterrevolution that they are trying to impose on us,” they concluded presciently.
That phrase also reveals the real reason for the event. A council to grease the wheels of the machinery that sparks actions, triggers protests, twists the frameworks of opinion and screams, from every lung, opposition to any speech that moves a single inch from the pre-established script. The Sao Paulo Forum functions like one of those meetings where the instructions for the ideological mafia are handed out and watches are synchronized to the time for the next ‘escrache’ or repudiation rally.
However, not everything from the recently concluded conclave should be discarded. Their sessions can act as a warning to the other left, democratic and less vociferous, that is rarely invited to this type of session, to publicly mark the distance and revitalize progressive ideas on the continent.
Latin America needs a left with renewed ideas, modern and responsible, not the conglomeration of unpresentable leaders who met in Havana. We need progressive parties that stop placing responsibilities elsewhere, fearing their own citizenship and fishing in the troubled waters of social conflicts. But for this to happen it is perhaps essential that the Sao Paulo Forum be dissolved.
That scenario is not so distant. To the extent that the governments that supported the Forum disappear from the executive map of the region, the meeting is stumbling back and forth among a few countries. The previous meeting was held in Nicaragua and this time it returned to the island, where it had already taken place in 1993 and 2001. It is easy to guess where the next encounters will be: Bolivia, Venezuela… or Mexico.
This time, and it came as no surprise, in their final declaration the forum members blamed United States “imperialism” for the revolts and social conflicts in the region, especially in Nicaragua, and called for the release of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. As expected, Venezuela’s “Bolivarian Revolution” received special support.
Something, however, cracked the mask and revealed the face hidden beneath the progressive disguise. On the same day the Forum ended in the Cuban capital, Daniel Ortega’s bombs fell on Masaya. Applause at the Havana Convention Center, and deadly explosions in the streets of Monimbó’s indigenous neighborhood. Laughter in one place, seven hours of terror in another. No attendee of the Sao Paulo Forum condemned the repression.
Translator’s note: Assistancialism is often defined as the creation of dependence through imposed aid. At least one scholar has defined it as “sit down and shut up money.”
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