Friday, December 6, 2013


Santiago Pereira, Secretary General of the Chilean Confederation CCT affiliated to CLAT in his office in 1991, one year after Pinochet left Government.
Left and right in Latin America continued to fight against each other, with or without weapons, but always with the involvement of the U.S.. In Chile, by domestic opponents, the army and with the help of the U.S. , the democratically elected leftist President Allende of the United People Coalition was overthrown (1973). The result was years of repression under the dictatorship of General Pinochet. The example of the Chilean putch was followed by generals in Brazil and Argentina. The unions in those countries were controlled by the dictatorship. Trade unionists were murdered. The supposed rise of the left crashed into violence and oppression of the Latin American armies. Restoration of the rule of law would then take decades.

After the Sandinist revolution the Nicaraguan Confederation of Workers CTN resited the severe attacks of the Sandinista Government. In 1988 he was together with 3 CTN members and other protestors arrested in Nandaime. Because of international pressure he was freed after a short time in prison. (Photo 1983)

CLAT tried to survive among all this violence as a democratic , humanistic, social – Christian oriented trade union movement, but it was not easy . Again that was the case in1979 after the victory of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua . Like in Cuba, after the victory of the revolution, Marxist oriented Sandinistas started to make life difficult for democratic trade unions. CLAT had not only to keep fighting against conservative, employer oriented regimes but also against left-wing regimes who believed in dictatorship as an answer to injustice, exploitation and poverty . Thanks to support from Europe including the WCL but also European NGO's , CLAT managed to survive, but always distrusted by both sides. 

The fall of Communism made a temporary end to the radical, revolutionary Marxism as a viable alternative to development and social justice, but it brought at the same time the victory of American neoliberalism . CLAT General Secretary Emilio Maspero did not hesitate and declared war to neoliberalism. He analyzed that neoliberalism together with the proposal to create an American Free Trade Zone, would degrade Latin America into a large supermarket in which the U.S. can buy what it needs and the workers will stay poor.

This photograph has been taken in 1982 during a visit to CLAT Netherlands (a solidarity organization with CLAT). From left to right: Kees van Kortenhof (coordinator of CLAT Netherlands), Carlos Custer (Confederal Secretary of WCL), Emilio Maspero (Secretary General of CLAT), Ernesto Molano (Secretary General of the World Federation of Industrial Workers WFIW/WCL) Wouter van Dam (President of CLAT Netherlands) and Juan Marcano, Secretary General of the Venzuelan CGT, affiliated to CLAT.

Also according to Maspero the answer to this challenge or provocation of the U.S. was a kind of Latin American Union along the lines of the European Union. Unfortunately, in every day Latin America this is more a dream than a practical possibility. A project of such magnitude requires at least a minimum of common understanding, political and financial stability, economic growth and governments that can assert its power to all corners of the country. Already only the lack of mutual trust makes it difficult to come to a common market, let alone into a Union with open borders and common directives like in the EU. And we're not even talking about the U.S., which from a hegemonic position can play with the political and economic interests of each and every country.

The result was that one cooperation pact - the Andean Pact in 1969 – was followed by another – Mercosur in 1991 - without the first pact having given a significant result. In 1994 another new attempt was made to create a common Latin American market with a common economic policy. The Andean Community and Mercosur merged into the Union of South American Nations, an organization modeled as the European Union. Unfortunately Emilio Maspero could not witness this anymore. He died on the 31 of May 2000. Was this what Emilio Maspero had dreamed of and finally Latin America give a common response to the challenges of the U.S.?

It was precisely the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who spoiled the game with his Bolivarian Socialism, a variation on the Marti Socialism of Fidel Castro. Balanced policy to achieve a common Latin American market and economy, was replaced by anti-American rhetoric. Chavez used his petrodollars to set up his own alliances. Once again the result was regional political instability and confusion. Again the Latin American institutions were not strong enough to resolve the disagreements in concert. As a true caudillo Chavez made his own one-man show. With his death in 2013 this all came to an end. Since then it has become calm in Latin America and little heard from a possible common Latin American policy, common market and directives.

Photograph taken at the UTAL, San Antonio de los Altos, Venezuela during a mission of three members of the Dutch parliament to Venezuela, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Haïti organized by CLAT-Netherlands. From above left clockwise: Harry Aarts of the Christian Democratic Party, Aad Nuis of the Democrats 66, Harry van den Bergh of the Social Democratic Party, José Merced Gonzalez of CLAT and the translator.

The intellectual and organizational capacities of Maspero in this new Latin American political crisis were sorely missed . What should be the attitude of CLAT facing the Venezuelan government of Chavez ? For or against Chavez, in both cases it would become difficult. To be against Chavez and his supporters meant surely difficulties for CLAT, with its headquarters and training and educational center UTAL still in Venezuela . Supporting Chavez would mean CLAT to choose against its own principles in favor of an authoritarian Marxist nationalist leadership in which the trade union is subjected to state and government. Whatever the new leadership of CLAT would choose, difficulties would be there.

To make things even more difficult, in the meantime the merger between WCL and ICFTU was announced which meant CLAT would loose its international support. Was this the reason that CLAT decided so surprisingly quick to merge with the ORIT? But on what common ground they are standing? The European trade unions united in the ETUC have at least the European Union as a common project with the aim to defend and extend the welfare state in times of globalization. Will there be in the near future an Inter-American Union with the dollar as a common currency (you don't believe the US will change its dollar for an inter-american currency like the Germans changed the Deutsche Mark into the Euro)? Will there be an Inter-American Parliament and an Inter-American Government like the European Parliament and the European Commission? Will there be common borders (the Rio Grande will disappear), a common market (an inter-american supermarket), a common foreign policy, and finally a social Latin America?

As far as I know such a common interregional project does not yet exist in the Americas. On the contrary, the US is still exporting its neoliberal, free market model to Latin America and the rest of the world. It's true, this model has given wealth to a large middle class, which reaches to the skilled workers in the US. Do Latin Americans now think that this model can also be applied in their continent? But probably it is already very important that the Latin and North American trade unions together stand for democracy and the civil society as the only way to live together. It seems that these are very interesting topics for debates between the North American and the Latin American unions. But may be there have been also other reasons for CLAT to merge with ORIT?

To be continued

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