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International Socialist Review, Spring 1961, Vol. 22, No. 2, pp. 35-36



An Important Conference


From International Socialist Review, Vol.22 No.2, Spring 1961, pp.35-36.


The press did its utmost to kill the Latin-American Conference for National Sovereignty, Economic Emancipation and Peace which met in Mexico City March 5-8. In the weeks before the delegates arrived from every country in Latin America, the press was either silent or pictured the projected gathering as “Communist-inspired” and even a joint financial operation of the Cuban and Soviet embassies. (It was financed by the delegates themselves and by collections taken up in Mexico.) Similar treatment was given the deliberations; main coverage went to a stench bomb planted by disrupters at the opening session. Thus the “free” American press exercised its freedom to lie and distort and deny the public the right to make up its mind about the character of the conference on the basis of the facts.

It was a well-attended conference. More than 1,900 delegates were registered from Mexico, 280 from other Latin-American countries, plus delegations from the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, Guinea, France, the United States and Canada. All the sessions of the conference, including the panels, were open to the public. The first session was jammed with 5,000 people, some 2,000 of them in the street where they listened over loudspeakers. The closing session was transferred at short notice to the Arena Mexico where the audience was estimated at 10,000.

The delegations included prominent intellectuals, congressmen and senators, and representatives of radical trade unions and political groupings. The conference offered a good cross section of Latin-American opinion, ranging from the left bourgeoisie to underground guerrilla fighters and revolutionary socialists.

The main sponsor of the conference was Lázaro Cárdenas. Reactionary commentators dismissed the former president of Mexico as a “Communist dupe.” It is difficult to conceive of anything more misleading about Latin-American politics than this lie. The fact is that from the Río Grande to Patagonia, the man who dared to expropriate the American and British oil interests in Mexico is regarded as one of Latin America’s outstanding statesmen. He is a rarity of rarities in the bourgeois political world of today – he really believes in the principles of democracy; he is really concerned about achieving a world of peace; he has become convinced that economic planning is the wave of the future and that it is best to recognize the reality.

This, of course, is not all of Cárdenas as a political figure. In Mexico, despite his retirement from political office, he carries weight as the elder statesman of the left wing of the national bourgeoisie and indeed of the whole Mexican bourgeoisie, especially in its continental interests and its opposition to American imperialism. He carries weight in a narrower sense, too, for he is a power in machine politics due to his strong base in the state of Michoacán.

What weight he gave these various considerations in undertaking to sponsor the conference is, naturally, matter for speculation. However, he indicated some of his reasons in a rather frank way at a dinner February 24 at which he was host to the staff of the Mexican magazine Política. The editors report (in the March 1 issue) his response to a question about his motives:

“It was the cases of Guatemala and Cuba, explained the ex-president of Mexico, that decided him to accept the chairmanship of the conference. He has, nevertheless, no personal interest whatever in putting himself at the head of a political movement or anything similar, whether in Mexico or the continent. He accepted the chairmanship of the conference, together with the Brazilian deputy Domingos Vellasco and the Argentine engineer Alberto T. Casella, only because he considers it a duty to contribute what he can to a successful gathering in which the problems facing the peoples of Latin America can be discussed, solutions proposed, support organized for Cuba and a solid front built to defend the Latin-American countries from the danger of war and foreign intervention in its internal affairs, political as well as economic ...

“As for Mexico, Cárdenas insisted that it is necessary to stimulate civic spirit, strengthen and unify the parties, in short, create a great democratic political movement. The situation in Mexico, the ex-president emphasized, is critical, and if the popular unrest is not channeled adequately an explosion could occur. This would be bad for the country, since ‘unlike what occurred in Cuba, where the people did not engage in destruction, in Mexico they would destroy the national wealth. The first thing a Mexican does when he rises in arms is to burn a bridge or blow up a refinery.’“

Cárdenas did not explain these somewhat cryptic remarks; judging from other sources, what he possibly had in mind was that the Cuban people in singling out the main enemy noted that the biggest property holders were foreigners, while the Mexican people, who are equally discriminating in such matters, would be inclined to locate the main enemy in their own country.

The most astute political leaders among the Latin-American capitalists are keenly aware of the implications of the Cuban revolution. They are also acutely sensitive to the popularity of the Cuban cause. To openly oppose this sentiment, they feel, is relatively swift suicide. The better policy is to go along with it, attempt to gain leadership of it and try to guide it into relatively safe channels where it might even be dissipated eventually. By organizing support for Cuba on sufficient – but not too great – scale, they hope to achieve this objective. At the same time they seek through such tactics to prevent the US from further stirring of revolutionary fires by reckless acts taken in blind rage over the Cuban revolution. A not inconsequential consideration is that this statesmanlike course stands to wring bigger concessions from Washington.

All this testifies to the impact of the Cuban revolution on politics throughout Latin America. While the internal development of the Cuban revolution itself has been toward greater and greater radicalization, its effect on the wider arena of the continent has been to radicalize politics as a whole. The main trend is definitely toward the left.

The Latin-American Conference for National Sovereignty, Economic Emancipation and Peace offered the most palpable evidence of the influence of the Cuban revolution. Although the Cuban delegates themselves played a relatively modest role, the revolution dominated the entire discussion, putting radical content into declarations that otherwise would have had little bite. Such stock phrases as “peace” and “peaceful coexistence,” for instance, were specified as meaning a world in which national sovereignty and economic emancipation have been achieved. And these aims, it was agreed without a single voice of opposition, can be won only through militant struggle against the principal barrier, American imperialism. Instead of remaining content with vague generalities about the desirability of a world of goodwill, and pleading with the imperialist rulers to give up the insanity of their war drive, the conference was much more inclined to get down to realistic discussion of how to win peace through such means as defense of the Cuban revolution and application of the revolutionary lessons of Cuba to other Latin-American countries.

The majority of the delegates were well aware of the great range of political views and the fact that if these views were pressed, the character of the conference would alter until it became a debate over political program. They very consciously steered away from this. They utilized the conference to get acquainted. While differing political viewpoints were freely discussed in an informal way, the question of political program was left open so far as the conference as a whole was concerned. A demonstration of unity was sought in defense of the Cuban revolution against the attack of American imperialism. In this the conference scored a big success.

In the coming period in Latin America a great testing of political programs is certain to occur as the Cuban revolution cuts deeper and deeper into mass consciousness and the decisive question of how to make a revolution grows in acuteness. The final upshot will be the construction of mass revolutionary-socialist parties capable of leading the workers and peasants to power in the most effective way and at least cost.

Many stages in this process still lie ahead despite the extraordinary tempo of events. A conference like this one plays a useful role in the process no matter what the intentions might be of its more conservative participants. It was of great value in registering popular sentiment and in offering a measure of what has been accomplished and what needs to be done. In our opinion, it was also a significant action in defense of the Cuban revolution and in the great struggle for a world of peace.

The resolutions committee received more than 300 documents from organizations, groups and individuals which it distributed to four panels for consideration. These dealt with a great range of topics. Some from Mexican campesinos disregarded the agenda, getting right down to cases and asking General Cárdenas to do something about problems immediately confronting them such as land, water, credit and the illegal actions of public officials.

The final resolutions submitted by the panels to the plenary sessions sought to delineate the main areas of agreement on basic problems but were still rather lengthy. Rather than make extracts, we have selected for translation four other documents which are short. They are sufficiently typical, we believe, to give our readers a fair sample of the kind of questions that were discussed, the tone of the discussion and the attitude of the delegates. These are published in the next pages.

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