Latin America – China axis of hope

Che Guevara and Zhou Enlai shakes hands

by Brian Williams

The two most important developments in the world today, from the point of view of the advance of socialism, are in Latin America and China.

In Latin America forces seeking to establish socialism have advanced as part of a turn to the left by almost all of the continent. In Venezuela a direct struggle to establish the second socialist state in  Latin America, after Cuba, is underway. For more than a decade that socialist programme has commanded the support of the majority of Venezuela’s population against the determined opposition of the US and its allies.


From Chávez’s election in 1999, through the defeat of the right wing coup in 2002, to the breaking of the attempted sabotage of Venezuela’s oil industry by its management in the same year, to Chávez’s successive electoral victories, this is 13 years of the most sustained progressive movement seen in the world in that period. The explicitly socialist struggle in Venezuela has interacted with other left wing currents in Latin America to propel the situation in the whole continent forward.

China has witnessed the most rapid economic growth ever seen in a major country in human history and lifted 620 million people, more than the entire population of the European Union or Latin America, out of internationally defined poverty. It has created the second largest economy in the world and one which, at current growth rates, will overtake US GDP in size in under a decade.

Trade with China, which is now the world’s largest exporter and the most rapidly growing importer, has allowed a whole series of semi-colonial countries, in particular in Africa and Latin America, to break with economic dominance by the US. This helped enable Latin America to greatly speed up its economic growth and consequently improve the living conditions of its population.

China has become an increasingly important partner for Venezuela, as with other Latin American countries, in both trade and investment. Also China, despite strong imperialist opposition, launched a satellite for Venezuela which has greatly improved communications for the population in that country.

But while the objective interaction between Latin America and China is already strong the subjective study of lessons from each other had lagged behind. The general international economic boom prior to the 2008 financial crash meant that most of Latin America’s economies were able to advance with only mildly left wing, but not specifically socialist, economic policies. There was therefore no urgent incentive in Latin America to study China’s highly successful socialist economic model. China, on its side, was cautious in forging close links in what had previously been seen as the US’s political backyard for fear of provoking a sharp clash with US imperialism.

Recently, however, there have been clear signs that both Latin America and China are now much more actively studying each other. The 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath has led to a radicalisation of economic policy in some Latin American countries. Whereas in 2008 Venezuela responded to the financial crisis by mistaken tight financial policies, which created an economic recession, it has responded to the new wave of international financial crisis in the last two years with strong programmes of state investment in housing and infrastructure. The result has been both economic growth and sharp improvement in the population’s living conditions.

In Cuba a ‘China style’ economic reform has begun. Simultaneously a number of figures in Brazil have begun to discuss China’s economic model. In short China’s economic policies are beginning to be more studied or followed in what had previously been a situation of rather eclectic and reformist Latin American economic policy making.

At the same time as China’s economic policies began to be studied in Latin America, China has clearly become more involved in interaction with Latin America. Going beyond bilateral relations with individual countries China has now proposed a free trade agreement with the Latin American economic bloc Mercosur. In an interesting development the Chinese Communist Party has issued a long study of its relations with political parties in Latin America. This was published illustrated with a photo of Che Guevara and Zhou Enlai – a clearly interesting and non-politically-banal choice.

It is therefore clear that subjective as well as objective links between Latin America and China are speeding up. This is one of the most important developments in the world as it brings together the two most powerful forces currently pushing forward the struggle for socialism.