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Portugal: European Left Batting 1,000

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Syriza and the Portuguese Left successfully made this an issue in their campaigns, and it has great potential to become a pan-European issue. At the same time, there is potential danger with the issue of sovereignty, and the Left must clearly distinguish itself from the xenophobic European Right's opportunistic adoption of the issue.

Ronan Burtenshaw, vice-chair of the Irish Congress of Trade Union Youth Committee and Coordinator of the Greek Solidarity Committee in Ireland, has proposed that the European Left look to Latin America for a model.

Mercosur, the huge Latin American trading block, is the third largest on the planet, but it doesn't dictate economic policy to its members. The Bolivarian Alliance, ALBA, draws progressive countries into a political and economic union, and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States has replaced the U.S. dominated Organization of American States. The Bank of the South offers development loans without the rigid strictures of the IMF and the World Bank.

Latin America is a counter to the European mantra that "there is no alternative" to economic crisis and debt but austerity. Each country in the region developed its own way of turning away from the market-driven, austerity laden "Washington consensus" that blitzed economies from Brasilia to Santiago during the 1980s and '90s. And the Left played an important role in establishing continent-wide political and economic connections, specifically in Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador and Bolivia.

There are, of course, differences. Many in the European Left contrast Argentina's successful replacement of the dollar with the peso and its refusal to service its debt with Syriza's acceptance of the Troika's demands.

But Argentina is a big, powerful country, self-sufficient in energy and food. Greece -- or Portugal or Ireland -- is neither. And while Argentina had support from other countries in the region, Greece stood alone, even from parties like the French Socialists and the German Social Democrats.

Somehow the Left will have to chart a perilous passage between resisting austerity on one hand, and not committing suicide on the other -- or rather, allowing the Troika to impoverish its base even more than it currently has. How that will happen is hardly clear, but solidarity is its essential ingredient, along with a willingness to work with others.

The Left will have to persuade or pressure center-left forces to abandon their romance with the euro and confront the social crisis created by austerity. Social democratic parties should take note that moving to the right does not translate into political power. Syriza smoked the center forces in Greece, and the Left Bloc made the biggest gains in Portugal.

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Conn M. Hallinan is a columnist for Foreign Policy In Focus, "A Think Tank Without Walls, and an independent journalist. He holds a PhD in Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley. He oversaw the (more...)
 
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