Heads of State gathered at BRICS Summit 2014

Heads of State gathered at BRICS Summit 2014

Especially since Hugo Chavez was elected President of Venezuela in 1998, many countries in Latin America have been moving beyond progressive politics toward socialism. The list includes, to varying degrees, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, and Venezuela. These governments have shown themselves to be more stable than when Latin America was much more solidly the backyard of the United States. Socialist-leaning presidents have been elected and reelected again and again.

Even in the United States there is a shift in the wind that is breaking up the TINA lie articulated by Margaret Thatcher, “there is no alternative.” Americans are now acknowledging that there really are alternatives to the system of capitalism that has been showing its weaknesses more intensely in recent years.

“Trumbo” is one example of this shift. The film came out just in time for the Academy Awards nominations which it will undoubtedly receive. This is significant, because the film is a sympathetic treatment of Dalton Trumbo, a communist screenwriter who was jailed and blacklisted for his political beliefs during the red-baiting period of McCarthyism.

Bernie Sanders is another example of the shift. Bernie started bringing the phrase “democratic socialism” into his presidential campaign, and he’s backing up his words by taking no corporate money.

But last September Bernie red-baited Hugo Chavez. A fundraising email contained this paragraph, “Yesterday, one of Hillary Clinton’s most prominent Super PACs attacked our campaign pretty viciously. They suggested I’d be friendly with Middle East terrorist organizations, and even tried to link me to a dead communist dictator.”

Many people, especially my dear friends and fellow participants in political delegations to Latin America, wanted to believe that Bernie didn’t mean Hugo Chavez, or that Bernie didn’t say it at all, it was just a low-level staffer. Unfortunately, Sanders spokesperson Michael Briggs eliminated those excuses when he said, “It is disappointing that Secretary Clinton’s super PAC is spreading disinformation about Bernie. This is exactly the kind of politics that Bernie is trying to change. To equate bringing home heating oil to low-income Vermonters with support for the Chavez government is dishonest.”

Bernie Sanders has not retracted nor softened the blow since.Why is this a problem?

Bernie Sanders wants to bring “democratic socialism” into this country via a “political revolution” using the electoral process. That is exactly what Hugo Chavez did in Venezuela. Venezuela, like the United States, is a capitalist country. As Bolivian vice president Alvaro Garcia Linera commented, the task of building socialism in a society that is still capitalist is like trying to overhaul the engine of your car while it is still running. Why sabotage your own efforts by attacking examples of people who did what you’re trying to do?

While I personally would like Bernie to actively correct disinformation about Venezuela and other Latin American countries, maybe that’s asking too much. But is it asking too much to expect him not to actively add to the lies told by his opposition in Washington and the media?



Laura Wells is a political activist who blogs about the electoral and social revolutions in Latin America, and how they might apply to California and the United States.

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