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Labor Action, 3 January 1949


A. Ferrarra

Turbulence in Latin America


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 1, 3 January 1949, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Somoza Invades Costa Rica

It is clear from the latest news reports that Somoza, the Nicaraguan dictator, has failed in his attempt to invade Costa Rica, overthrow the present Figueres regime, and install a puppet government headed by Calderon Guardia, a wartime president of Costa Rica and loser in the Civil War of last Spring. The civil war was provoked by Guardia and his gang of corrupt political supporters (including the Stalinist Vanguardia party) when they lost the presidential election.

Undoubtedly, Somoza was encouraged in his adventure by the successful military coups in Peru and Venezuela, and the prompt recognition granted the Odria regime of Peru by the United States. Recognition of this reactionary regime was granted under article 35 of the Bogota Inter-American pact. Better known as the Daniels doctrine, since it was sponsored by Paul Daniels, the American State Department Director of Inter-American Affairs, article 35 states that any regime which rules in an orderly fashion shall be “recognized” by the other American states. Daniels argued that “recognition does not imply approval.” By means of this tricky formula the United States hoped to cut the gordian knot of carrying on business with the many dictatorial regimes in Latin America and at the same time maintaining the fiction that it favored “democracy.” Instead, this formula has helped unleash a wave of reactionary uprisings in a dozen countries and bring Central America to the verge of a general war.

OEA Shows Its True Colors

Both Nicaragua and Costa Rica are postage-stamp size countries, having a combined population of less than two million people. But the political issues involved are continent wide in importance. The United States and the OEA, the inter-American organization it brought into being are now put to the acid test in a very clearcut situation. The Figueres government of Costa Rica was legally elected and has popular support – formally speaking, it is a conservative bourgeois-democratic government. Calderon Guardia’s invading army is a curious amalgam of Nicaraguan soldiers, Costa Rican Stalinists and outright mercenaries. Dictator Somoza’s ambition to expand his sphere of operations is one driving force; another is his fear of the Caribbean Legion, a military group of political exiles from the dictator-ridden Cental American countries, whose aim it is to drive Somoza, Trujillo and Co. from power.

The resolution adopted by the OEA on the Nicaraguan-Costa Rican conflict is dictated by Washington’s desire to maintain the “status quo” in Latin-America. As such it is a blow against the struggle of the masses to win political and economic emancipation. It mildly rebukes the dictator, Somoza, for having permitted the invading “Costa Rican forces” to gather and arm an Nicaraguan soil. THE CYNICAL FLAVOR OF THIS JUDGMENT WILL NOT ESCAPE THE POLITICALLY ALERT PEOPLES OF LATIN-AMERICA. THE INVASION WAS ORGANIZED BY SOMOZA AND SOMOZA ALONE. Costa Rican politicians are his hirelings. In fact, Picado, a leader of the Guardia faction is a lawyer for the Nicaraguan government. Guardia is a former business partner. Nicaragua is a dictatorship in which every vestige of opposition has been drowned with blood and fire. Nothing can take place without Somoza’s approval.

The resolution takes the Costa Rican government to task for harboring the Caribbean Legion, and orders the Figueres regime to dissolve this armed force. The dictatorial regimes in Central America as well as Venezuela and Peru can now rest easier. By its very first action, the OEA, the tool of American imperialism, helps confirm every reactionary regime in Latin-America in power.


The Military Coup in Venezuela

From his exile in Cuba, the deposed president of Venezuela, Romulo Gallegos, has accused, the American government and American oil companies of having collaborated with the reactionary militarists who overthrew his regime on November 24, 1948.

Gallegos has demanded that the United States explain the presence of its military attaché, Col. Edward F. Adams in a Caracas barracks on the day of the uprising! According to Gallegos, Col. Adams acted as a “counsellor” for the militarists. As for the American oil companies, the ex-president of Venezuela charges they were angry because of increased taxation on profits, and the refusal of the government to grant them new oil concessions. “Venezuelan capital without social feeling” and the “foreign exploiter of the riches of the Venezuelan people were the forces that inflated the traditional lust for power nurtured by the authors of the successful military coup.”

How much of what Gallegos says can be accepted as true? It must be remembered that Gallegos is an internationally fatuous writer who has won a high reputation for his selfless, personal idealism and ascetic devotion in the struggle for Venezuelan freedom. What gives even greater weight to Gallegos’ statement is his friendly attitude to the United States and the system of bourgeois-democracy.

Factors Working for Reaction

As Gallegos has indicated, the political atmosphere was favorable to a reactionary coup d’etat. The swift recognition granted the Odria regime of Peru by the United States, the open hostility of the American oil companies aroused by the recent government decree taking 50 per cent of their profits, and the refusal to grant them new oil concessions; all these factors worked in favor of the reactionary uprising headed by the Minister of Defense, Colonel Chalbaud.

What Gallegos has not explained is why the Democratic Action government permitted itself to be surprised and so easily overpowered by the military junta. The Democratic Action had overwhelming mass support, having won a 70 per cent majority in the last election, and had complete control of the government. The only governmental post not held by the Democratic Action Party was the Ministry of Defense which was occupied by Col. Chalbaud, the very leader of the military coup of November 24.

The presence of Col. Chalbaud in the government, as the representative of the army, reveals that the Democratic Action Party ruled only with the consent of the Venezuelan armed forces. It never challenged the predominance of the army from that day in October, 1945 when a military junta headed by the same Col. Chalbaud overthrew the dictatorial regime of General Medina Angarita and called upon the Democratic Action to take over the reins of government.

Where Gallegos’ Party Failed

The “democratic” face which the Venezuelan army turned toward the people in 1945 had its roots in the turbulent social conditions created by the war and the pressure of American imperialism. The war-time need for oil accelerated American investment in Venezuelan oil production and completed the distortion of the Venezuelan economy which began in the ’20s. The working-class, drawn from the peasantry, swelled at a rapid pace in the cities and oil centers, creating potentially explosive social conditions. The decline in agricultural production raised food prices, the rise in prices provoked a general demand for higher wages in the town and country, the demand for higher wages led to the formation of unions, the workers demanded democratic rights.

To slow down the too rapid penetration of American capital into Venezuela, and at the same time to channelize the demands of the workers into controllable forms, the Venezuelan bourgeoisie was compelled to shift from a dictatorial to a “democratic” regime. Hence the overthrow of the Medina regime in October 1945. But lacking the confidence of the masses, and needing to bring the combative weight of these same masses to be against the forward thrust of American imperialism, the Venezuelan feudo-bourgeoisie in the person of the army junta embarked on a period of “democratic” collaboration with the Democratic Action Party, and willingly handed over power to this civilian party.

Once in power, the Democratic Action Party began to carry out a program of democratic reforms. It sponsored and enacted a radical and progressive constitution, it increased the taxation on the oil companies, it encouraged the formation of hundreds of industrial and agricultural unions. It distributed considerable land to individual peasants and cooperatives, poured large sums of money into education and housing, and attempted to balance the national economy by encouraging native industry and agriculture through government corporations.

However, since the Democratic Action Party was engaged in a program of democratic “reform” and not “revolution,” it failed to act against the enemies of the Venezuelan people and insure the permanent evolution of its program. It did not expropriate the American and English oil companies, it did not curtail or liquidate the power of the army. If did not even create a counter-weight to the military by forming a popular militia, it did not carry on a merciless campaign against the social basis of Venezuelan reaction, the landlords. Lulled into a false feeling of security, the masses were not prepared for a possible counter-revolutionary attempt, and were unable to resist the seizure of power by Col. Chalbaud and his military cabal.

The alliance between the Venezuelan petty bourgeois democracy and the feudo-bourgeois was broken by the bourgeoisie on November 24, 1948. Fearing that the next stage in the evolution of the Gallegos government would lead to an invasion of property rights of considerable scope and an attack on the power of the army, the militarists took the initiative and overthrew Gallegos. Inspired by Peron’s successes, the Chalbaud clique feels it can handle American imperialism as well as the “social question.” However, the interests of American imperialism are a hundred times more directly involved in Venezuela than in Argentina. They will not permit Chalbaud to play the part of Peron. In addition, the Venezuelan masses have known three years of a democratic regime, and they will not be tricked easily by demagogic promises and minor bribes. The future does not look too bright for the Chalbaud regime.

A Task of Solidarity

As in all colonial and semi-colonial areas, the political education of new layers and new generations of the working-class in Latin America is taking a cruel and tempestuous course. The need to resist and expel American imperialism; the need to curb and uproot a native ruling class ready to engage in the most ruthless of excesses to maintain its social power; the need to break out of semi-colonial barbarism – these are the grandiose problems posed today by history.

The workers of Peru and Venezuela have seen the parties and programs of petty-bourgeois democracy fail. It is to be hoped that the need – tempered by experience – will create the necessary instrument: genuine working class parties raising the banner of independent class struggle against all exploiters – foreign and domestic.

Meanwhile, progressive democratic and socialist opinion in the United States has a task of solidarity. Thousands of workers are languishing in the jails of Odria and Chalbaud. We must raise a cry: For the unconditional freedom of the members of the APRA in Peru and the Democratic Action Party in Venezuela! For the freedom of Haya de la Torre and Betancourt!

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