In view of the fact that this week the Sao Paulo Forum brought together the leaders of regional socialism in Havana at its 24th annual meeting, the PanAm Post interviewed Venezuelan political scientist Víctor Maldonado, director of the Center for the Dissemination of Economic Knowledge for Freedom (Cedice Libertad) and executive director of the Chamber of Commerce of Caracas, in order to understand the historical impact of the forum, and its future ambitions.
Why does the Sao Paulo Forum represent a before and after in the history, politics, and economics of the continent?
Because what was always a council of Latin American extremism began to take control of entire nations, thanks to the fatal alignment of leftist governments in Latin America, and to the predisposition of Hugo Chavez to use the resources of the Venezuelan petro-state to finance an ideological experiment: socialism of the century XXI, whose essence was, precisely, to seize power, demolish republican institutions, eliminate any kind of competition, degrade the Armed Forces to transform them into red guards, and subordinate the economy to an increasingly totalitarian political project.
Before that happened, they were merely a bastion of resentful extremism. Then, with resources and power, they were able to experiment until they successfully transformed countries like Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Brazil, and Argentina as spaces to practice different versions of the same recipe. They employed various common denominators such as presidential re-election, constituent assemblies, the elimination of parliaments, the rise of state intervention in the free markets, and massive corruption.
What is the greatest social damage caused by the establishment of such socialist regimes in Latin America?
The greatest damage involves the generalization of a false conviction: that they are establishing justice. However, under their rule instead of having government be the guarantor of the law, they have engendered regimes characterized by piracy, and the brute use of pure and simple force.
On the other hand, their theoreticians never consider neither how they will pay for the costs of their excesses, nor the social consequences of stigmatizing productivity and entrepreneurial spirit.
Giving and taking away is the slogan of those who violate property rights, damage the free market, and ruin nations. That’s what socialism is all about.
With Lula in prison, and Fidel and Chavez dead, what do you think the Forum’s approach will be from now on? Going back to Brazil and Argentina, for example?
The forum still has resources coming from corruption and the petro-states, and they will continue to seek the seizure of power in order to destroy democracies. And they will do it again and again. While they are in the opposition they will seek to block any advance towards prosperity, and they will make it their mission to stir up populist discourse.
They will use scandals and fake news to discredit democratic governments. When and where they are weak, they will seek to sharpen the contradictions with the ruling party, and continually mount new challenges.
A continental conspiracy, financed by ill-gotten money, is thus fighting for a continental effort. Liberals and democrats in Latin America must recognize this and act together.
With AMLO in power, what can Mexicans do to avoid consolidating and prolonging socialism of the 21st century in their country?
I believe that the most important lesson from the 21st century socialist experience is that institutions can not be left to the will of revolutionary change of the populists who come to power. The opposition must strive to confine, with severity, presidential power and to be clear that no political figure should be able to act as if he had an unlimited mandate.
It also means limiting the meaning of an electoral victory, which, by a small or large margin, must have the same interpretation: subject to Constitutional powers, respecting the autonomy of the public institutions, understanding themselves as guarantors of citizens’ rights and subject to the law. AMLO and his new administration to not have license to destroy everything and start over again.
It would be advisable to set limits from the beginning. And in that effort, citizens and their representative organizations can not let their guard down.
In Colombia the leader of the extreme left, Gustavo Petro, is also part of the Sao Paulo Forum, and in four years he will presumably mount an electoral challenge to Ivan Duque. Based on the experience of Venezuela, what can Colombians do to prevent that from happening?
Colombians must understand that they face the most important republican challenge that lies ahead. They will live the next four years with their institutions under assault from the populist discourse, and the pitfalls of the so-called “peace process.” They must make it the highest priority to defend their institutions, to be effective in the construction of consensus, and to be very effective in demonstrating that people’s problems can be solved, as well as that it is possible to govern with probity.
Extremism lurks behind a society scandalized by the dissonances posed by the irresponsible discourse of the left. Colombians must learn to differentiate healthy democratic debate from the stubborn destructiveness of extremists. And to take advantage of this stage to create a free market, stimulate entrepreneurship, improve the coverage of the rule of law, and militantly respect property rights.
The problems associated with active violence sponsored by irregular armed groups have to be addressed with a firm hand, justice, and with the means to warn the country that there is no other way than the consolidation of a democratic security policy, without concessions to terrorists. It will be a long and difficult road for Colombia, as they embark upon a permanent campaign to save the country from the errors of the past.