Ultra-rightwing neoliberals from the United States, Europe, and Latin America are preparing a mega-event on the banks of the Paraná River in Rosario, Argentina. Mario Vargas Llosa is presiding over the meeting, which will culminate in the speeches of two of his political colleagues: former Spanish president José María Aznar and the newly elected mayor of Buenos Aires, Mauricio Macri. The meeting, being billed as a sort of pseudo-academic seminar, actually has two underlying political objectives: a continental reorganization of neoliberal forces and a corresponding disqualification of what they call "populism."
These are mere suspicions: one of the main financers of the seminar is the Foundation for Social Studies and Analysis (FAES), which is organically linked to the far-right Spanish PP party and is presided over by Aznar himself. This foundation gives institutional support to Macri’s PRO party and is actively working to defeat the Kirchner project in the 2011 presidential elections. The PP’s aversion to president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is directly proportional to the shows of support and sympathy the president gives to the PP’s arch-enemy, Hugo Chávez.
The conference will be held between March 26 and 28 in Rosario, a city governed by socialists in a province governed by socialists. The participants are a virtual who’s who of neoliberal fat cats: former U.S. deputy secretary for hemispheric affairs Roger Noriega, and ex-presidents Aznar (Spain), Vicente Fox (Mexico), Julio María Sanguinetti and Luis Alberto Lacalle (Uruguay), Jorge Quiroga (Bolivia), Osvaldo Hurtado (Ecuador), and Franciso Flores (El Salvador).
The munificent conference – the price tag in airline tickets alone must be mind-blowing – also includes fossilized anti-Castro militants like the Cuban Carlos Alberto Montaner and the Cuban-Argentine Armando Ribas mixed together, for good measure, with token “leftwing” converts such as Fox’s ex-foreign minister Jorge Castañeda or the former minister of Augusto Pinochet, Hernán Büchi.
The United States has bet big on the meeting in Rosario: various conservative U.S. think-tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, and the Cato Institute are participants or organizers.
Germany is also throwing its chips on the table with the Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung, a neoliberal foundation, led by Harald Klein and is occasionally represented by other right-wingers such as federal congressman Wolfgang Gerhardt.
The Bolivian right is sending two prominent enemies of Evo Morales: senate president Oscar Ortiz and the governor of Cochabamba Manfred Reyes Villa. And just so Hugo Chávez does not feel left out, the organizers invited two active conspirators: student leader Yon Goicoechea and Marcel Granier, president of RCTV, the television company that promoted the 2002 coup. When its broadcast license recently expired, and the government decided not to renew its license, a global campaign emerged over the “abuses to freedom of expression” in Venezuela.
The Argentine delegation is too good to be true. It is made up of – among several others – by Ricardo López Murphy whose 15 days at the Economy Ministry, as part of the doomed government of former president Fernando de la Rúa, is remembered emotionally by university students, teachers, and public employees, who suffered his slash and burn economic policy package. Claudio Escribano, an apologist for the military dictatorship and columnist for the conservative daily La Nación, will be there. As will media mogul, congressman, and frustrated candidate for the Buenos Aires governorship – frustrated in his efforts, as well, to lead the Peronist party, Francisco de Narváez. Economist Alberto Benegas Lynch Jr., a student of the ultra-neoliberal Austrian school, will offer economic clout. And, finally, as previously mentioned, the businessman who was born successful (inheritance): Mauricio Macri.
On many occasions Juan Perón ironically mused: “The pavilion determines the merchandise.” The pavilion that determines this merchandise is the International Foundation for Freedom, led by the talented novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, a frustrated candidate in 1990 for Peru’s presidency and active propagandist in the 1960s and early 1970s for progressive ideas, which he later came to fight against with the tenacity of a convert. This institution is intimately connected to the FAES and by extension the Spanish PP. The “Argentine chapter,” based in Rosario and acting as host-organization, is led by Gerardo Bongiovanni, a curious self made man that got his start managing a bar in Rosario and soon became a successful businessman and propagandist for the local and national establishment. His organization is linked – through what’s called the “Freedom Network” – to the Argentina and the world’s main rightwing “think-tanks” (e.g. IDEA, FIEL, CEMA, and the Grupo Sophia).
His passion for liberty seems to be limited to the liberty of the market, rather than civil liberties. How else could his ties to figures such as Juan Carlos Blumberg, an anti-crime campaigner and proponent of severely repressive policies, or to Manuel Solanet, the ex-secretary of housing for the military dictatorship, or the already mentioned Pinochet minister, be explained?
The “Freedom” Foundation has maintained close ties with the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires since ambassador Lino Gutiérrez took the reins in 2003, the same year Néstor Kirchner became president. Current ambassador Earl Anthony Wayne admitted in a November 2006 lunch: “Our embassy has had a lasting relationship with the Freedom Foundation and the Freedom Network” for being a staunch defender of “the rules of a free market” and their contribution to sustaining and strengthening “democracy in Argentina and its role as a democratic anchor throughout the region.”
The seminar in Rosario is titled, “The Challenges of Latin America” and carries the subtitle “Between Institutional Fallacies and Opportunities for Development.” It is doubtful the multiple panels will analyze why the recipes they are still promoting made Argentina crash in December 2001; or, much less, what “institutional fallacies” led so many politicians in the 1990s to kneel before the neoliberal project that caused so many Latin Americans to vote for alternative models, or “populists” as the Foundation prefers. But the fact that all of the conference participants failed so demonstrably – including the conservative North Americans – should not lead us to underestimate the magnitude of their hegemonic will or the enormous resources at their disposal to re-install their project in political-electoral terms. What’s happening in Rosario is certainly not a minor maneuver.
Miguel Bonasso is a celebrated Argentine journalist. This article originally appeared in the new Argentine newspaper Crítica de la Argentina began by Jorge Lanata, who was the founder and former director of Página/12. Translated by NACLA. For more on the Latin American right see the recent Jan/Feb NACLA issue: "Putting Down Roots: The Latin American Right Today.