Latin America

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Mapping the Mosaic of Latin American Social Movements

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 03/12/2020 - 7:30am in

Ronaldo Munck’s latest book, Social Movements in Latin America, is a welcome addition to the Anglophone literature. For several decades social movements have been one of the most characteristic features of Latin America’s political and cultural landscape. Despite some early works – such as Arturo Escobar and Sonia Alvarez’s The Making of Social Movements in Latin America – only recently have book-length texts provided English readers with up-to-date overviews of the region’s movements. Of them, Munck’s intervention is a leading example of the crucial challenge for regional specialists and movement scholars alike: making-sense of social movements from, and through, the lens of Latin America.

As a geographer, I appreciated Munck’s strategy for realising this task by “mapping the mosaic” of movements in the region, which consists of a dialectical process of putting together the parts and the whole while refusing reductionist binaries. Crucially, he avoids the historicist tendency to structure the argument along a linear narrative and instead moves across key Latin American categories: workers, peasants, community, women, indigenous and environment. Although one could add to the list – afro Latinx; democratisation; human rights; LGTB; housing; and so on – these all find their ways, to differing degrees, in the existing framework.

Moreover, and perhaps of most significance, is that Munck’s mosaic is also explicitly informed by a rich map of Latin American theoretical approaches, placed in dialogue with relevant North American and European epistemological debates. This open approach to theorising is refreshing and appropriate to the movements of the region that have also mobilised in the inter-section of the ideas and practices rooted in their colonial experiences and post-colonial struggles. Ongoing decolonial critiques, which are frequently represented in Anglophone debate, may charge Munck with under-playing questions of race in both empirics and epistemology yet, in his defence, the selection of cases and ideas seem a fair representation of the major faultlines in the region.

In what follows I elaborate on these two questions – how to map movements; and from where (or whom) to theorise – in order to follow through on some of the implications for those of us working on and with Latin American social movements from the perspective that I am most well acquainted: geography. As already indicated, Munck’s book goes against the grain of dominant Anglophone approaches to social movement studies that remain tied to a linear historicism and tend to downplay the significance of spatiality. Latin American movements and scholars have demonstrated a great spatial sensibility in recent decades and Mapping the Mosaic is in many ways a reflection of that. How, then, can we take Munck’s provocations seriously and implement them in our practice? Although I focus here on the scholarly side of this question the text is also of great value for informing activist discussion (indeed, the two are deeply related in the region as in the book).

First, then, how can we continue to map the mosaic of movements in the region? Rather than simply adding to the list of categories, I argue the key tasks is to develop an approach to mapping that is commitment to relationality. This is implicit in Munck’s dialectical approach to totality and can be further expanded from a geographical perspective. In the late 1980s and early 1990s Anglophone human geography, the discipline within which I formed, underwent a “relational turn” that explicitly sought to move away from an absolutist ontology of space – grounded in the fixed geometry of Euclid – through a relative spatial ontology – most famously outlined by Einstein – and towards a relational ontology – located among a range of “post structuralist” thinkers alongside borrowed theories such as that of topology from mathematical sciences. Relational thinking in Anglophone geography is often best associated with the late Doreen Massey, herself a Latin Americanists whose ideas would be directly implemented by the Venezuelan government, yet has been so widely influential that in 2020 is difficult to find a spatial analysis that does not have some implicit assumption of relationality. In brief, places are not only created by social and environmental relations, but these relations will inevitably stretch across space in a way that force us to acknowledge ongoing uneven geographical (and historical) inter-connectedness.

It is unfortunate (given that I am sure this was not the intention) that the mosaic metaphor is particularly lacking in relationality. Mosaics imply blocs of space that are both internally homogenous and have clearly demarcated boundaries. There is also a static and fixed nature to the mosaic that works against the more relational spatiality of social movement mobilisation. The preferred metaphor in social movement studies has been that of the network which, as Jeff Juris documented in the case of alter-globalisation movements, came to be both the organisational form and political norm for grassroots activists worldwide. The latter indicates that there has been a certain amount of romanticisation of networks as seemingly flat and non-hierarchical spaces for political organisation, on which my critique resonates strongly with Munck’s discussion of autonomy in Chapter 5: a tendency that too often looks inward rather than outward in generating political strategy. Nevertheless, it is crucial to appreciate the relations across the mosaic that not only imply inter-sectionality but also force us to confront questions of place and scale: i.e. where do movements mobilise and why?

Building on the experiences of many activists and academics in the region, my own work has focused on the category of territory in order to build a relational understanding of mobilisation that attempts to avoid romanticisation and shy away from thorny issues of political strategy. I understand territory as any attempt to occupy and control space in pursuit of political projects but also acknowledge the overlapping and entangled nature of such projects (workers, environmentalist, NGOs, political parties, etc). A real strength of Munck’s book is his generosity towards a seemingly disparate set of empirical and theoretical experience that he brings together. Territorialising the mosaic would, possibly, take forward this effort in some exciting ways.

Most centrally, it would foreground questions of scale and place in the analysis. What do workers movements in Greater Buenos Aires and Mexico City have in common? Should these be analysed at the urban scale (as parts of Chapter 5 do) or at the national or even regional scale? Answering these questions requires taking seriously the strategies of movements themselves and following their own territorial trajectories. In so doing, it is likely that one will confront multiple overlapping and entangled mosaics – indigenous/workers/community etc. – which are constantly (re)articulated in the course of appropriating space. Yet how these articulations across the mosaic unfold will depend heavily on the scales of analysis, a decision that itself contains a number of political assumptions.

As Munck discusses in the book, categories such as “workers” have become increasingly abstract in recent decades and territory (or community) has increasingly informed the lived experiences (and identities, grievances, etc) of social movements. Munck’s work is an excellent steppingstone towards a relational cartography of movements that not only starts from lived experience but also attempts to map out the scales at which struggles are unfolding. Doing so must involve a clear recognition of the relationship both within and between territories and in this regards Munck’s generous reading of agency and difference, grounded in a hopeful yet critical vision of movements, is an ideal starting point and takes us away from the overly romanticised readings that some authors have provided of territory as category of autonomy and resistance.

Second, the book raises key questions over the geography of theory that will require further work. As Munck states:

The purpose of this text is to carry out a preliminary political mapping of the wide range of social movements that have impacted on Latin American society. It seeks to develop a specifically Latin American theoretical lens and not just replicate or “apply” the dominant theories developed in the very different situations of the North Atlantic. As part of the decolonial turn, I will seek to develop a theoretical frame that is based not just on the best of international social theory but also on indigenous social actions and thinking in Latin America, as the best way to provide a suitable lens for further study of the region’s long-lasting and innovative social movements.

There is an implied political and ethical commitment to taking “indigenous” thinking seriously yet there is also an important empirical point. To what extent can ideas and analytical frameworks developed for/by movements at different times and places of the world be simply copied and pasted into a Latin America context? Moreover, and following on from the above, to what extent is Latin America the most appropriate scale for defining theoretical and analytical approaches? Answering these questions is clearly beyond the scope of Munck’s book, and well beyond the capacity of this review, but I believe that they will provide a necessary task at a time when Latin American studies are at an increasingly precarious institutional position, as the recent announcement over the planned closure of the Institute of Latin American Studies demonstrates.

A key argument of the book, and one that the Latin American Studies community must continue to make across their (inter)disciplines, is that Latin America is not only a region for rich empirical material; it is a crucial source of social theory that, in turn, is as likely to have relevance to other regions in the world as is European/North American theories to the region. Latin America matters to our scholarship and we need to take it seriously. Yet, the ways in which we should use Latin American knowledges remains unclear. A productive starting point, when undertaking mapping exercises such as that of Munck’s, will be not only to map practices but also ideas, taking into account the above discussion of relationality, territory and so on. Ideas emerge in particular places, travel, intersect, and are constantly in motion. The geographical tracing of ideas has been most rigorously pursued in urban studies (specifically, policy mobilities) in recent years, and much can be learned from it. Yet it is important that our starting points be with the specific places and movements through which knowledges are created, practiced and represented.

Munck does most, if not all, of the above in this majestic text and its main limitation is that it comes to an end and leaves us the task for ongoing mapping of movements across both empirics and theory. This is a task that is crucial not only for the precarious future of political struggles in the region but for providing the necessary tools for critical analysis at a time of heightened uncertainty and precarity worldwide.

The post Mapping the Mosaic of Latin American Social Movements appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

Challenging Social Movements in Latin America

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/11/2020 - 7:30am in

Ronaldo Munck’s latest book, Social Movements in Latin America, is a welcome addition to an ongoing discussion on protest movements in the twenty-first century. As stated in the Introduction, Munck seeks to avoid the pitfalls in what he terms “the universal validity for what is sometimes known as ‘social movement theory’, seen as a self-contained discipline”. The result is an engaging, quite easy to read, and challenging book.

The book begins, asking in the very first line, what is a social movement? The answer is linked to Mario Diani’s definition: “networks of informal interaction between a plurality of individual groups and/or organizations, engaged in political or cultural conflicts, on the basis of shared identity”. After clarifying that social movements are not necessarily progressive, Munck then goes on to analyze a wide variety of movements: workers, peasants, women, indigenous, community, environmentalist. These are considered against the backdrop of governments and political parties that Munck sometime terms progressive, other times center-left, and finally as left. This serves to posit a political conclusion (Chapter 10: Ways Forward) that is as debatable as challenging. States Munck: “The construction of a pueblo to win elections and transform society cannot be achieved from a position of absolute exteriority (for example, by criticizing Kirchnerism for its national-popular rather than explicitly socialist politics) and not understanding the political horse trading that constructs political alliances and the successful connection to labour and other social movements, which has helped forge a new—potentially hegemonic—political force”.

I would like to take advantage of this opportunity not to discuss the whole book, in all its richness, but rather to consider three aspects. First, the issue of social movements, considered, as Munck asks us to do, by “grounding” the subject. Second, the issue of the new political movements sometimes termed “the Pink Tide” in Latin America, and, third, derived from the above, the political conclusion.

My first concern was that Diani’s definition of social movements covers just about anything, left, right, apolitical. In fact, though Munck refers to Fox Piven and Cloward’s seminal work, he elides the fact that not once do they use the term “social movements”, but rather refer to “protest movements” of the proletariat (understood in a more flexible definition than that of Lenin) as a working-class resistance. As such, my feeling is that Fox Piven and Cloward would probably reject Diani’s bland, all encompassing, definition especially as they retain a form of analysis grounded in class and not in identities.

In fact, once we “ground” the question of “what is a social movement?”, it becomes more elusive and complex to define. Let us briefly consider Argentina. The past three decades have seen myriad protests ranging from unemployed workers, to gender-driven, to indigenous people, to retirees and pensioners, to “youth”, and include several thousand workplaces under “workers control”. All these protests have developed organization, proposals, and specific tactics. For instance, whereas all mobilize in the streets, the unemployed organizations tend towards highway blockades and setting up cooperatives. They coincide with indigenous people (mostly the Mapuche nation) in terms of land occupations. They differ in terms of the reasons they do so (the unemployed to be able to build housing; the mapuches demanding the return of ancestral lands). On the other hand, gender-driven protests and organizations, do not resort to these tactics, focusing mostly on education and parliamentary reforms. Perhaps this is the reason why, when in Argentina politicians refer to “social movements”, they allude to the unemployed organizations, and not indigenous or gender-driven groups. This also obscures a problem derived from Diani’s earlier definition: the main self-identification of the members of the unemployed movement is as workers, in other words it is class- and not identity- based. The same can be said of the numerous employed-worker protests in Argentina. Most of these exist outside institutional union structures and have developed their own forms of organization. The similarity between both movements is suggested by the names they adopted. For instance, some of the main unemployed workers organizations are the Polo Obrero (Worker Pole), and the Corriente Clasista y Combativa (Combative and Class-based Current). At the same time, some of the organizations of rank and file workers are called Movimiento de Agrupaciones Clasistas (Class-based Groups Movement), Corriente Sindical Rompiendo Cadenas (Trade Union Current Breaking Chains). At least in Argentina, these apparently “identity-based” movements, have strong class undercurrents and cleavages. Thus, a definition of social movements as based on a “shared identity”, while seductive, oversimplifies a complex phenomenon that tends to resignify past trends and give them new meanings.

A similar problem comes to the fore when we consider the “Pink Tide” governments. Both Kirchners, Lula, Chavez, Evo, Mugica, Correa, Ortega, all are thought to be similar by outside observers. And yet numerous conflicts between them suggest differences, for instance those between Uruguay’s Mugica and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, on the one side, and the Kirchners on the other (for instance, Mugica often referred to Néstor Kirchner as a “one eyed crook”). The same can be said in terms of their policies and ideas. Chavez was a proponent of what he termed “Twenty-First Century Socialism”, whereas Evo Morales insisted on the creation of a plurinational society with deep roots in indigenous traditions. Lula on the other hand, in his alliance with Igreja Universal and PMDB, never did pose anything as radical. And the Kirchners’ have often repeated that they were not “left” but rather represented a modernization of Peronism. These notions had an impact on government policies. For instance, Chavez took over Venezuela’s petroleum corporation (PDVSA) and used its considerable income to develop various social programs (albeit there seems to have been a lot of corruption). The Kirchners, in spite their rhetoric, did nothing similar. Their nationalization of YPF implied becoming the majority stockholder by buying Spanish Repsol shares. As such, YPF remains a private corporation, driven by profit, paying dividends, and selling shares on Wall Street. The same can be said of Lula and Evo Morales. At least until 2010 Evo’s policies implied a far- reaching redistribution of income, which differed significantly from the policy of government hand-outs implemented by Lula.

The differences in approach are telling in terms of popular support. When Dilma Roussef was overthrown in a parliamentary coup d’etat, Lula and his PT were unable to mobilize any kind of a significant protest. This was unlike Bolivia where the coup orchestrated by Jeanine Añez saw significant resistance and repression, that ended when Añez accepted new elections, albeit without Evo as candidate. In Argentina, one of the Kirchners’ successes was the 2015 election. For the first time in Argentine history, an overtly right wing candidate was elected. Mauricio Macri had the dubious honour to be the first presidential candidate who did not even bother to mask his neoliberal proposals. Twenty- five years earlier Carlos Menem promised a “productive revolution and a salariazo” (large increase in wages), and once elected did exactly the opposite.

What, if anything, did these governments have in common? First, they all tended to accept neoliberal premises, such as private property being untouchable, and that you fight large economic corporations by creating your own. Second, they believed redistribution of income is a result of increased government subsidies, not of something derived of job creation (especially full employment). As such, unemployment tended to remain at levels close to those of the 1990s. Third, they did not attempt to develop their economies integrally, breaking the export cycle. This meant that when the price of commodities fell after 2009, their situation became critical. And yet, they were clearly not all the same. Evo and Chavez were reformists in a more traditional social democratic sense. Neither was a Marxist in any meaning of the term. Lula, the Kirchners, Ortega, and Correa are at best populist conservatives. In fact, Ortega has a strong component of mysticism; it is no accident that Ortega’s health policies in the midst of the COVID pandemic are similar to those of Bolsonaro, or that he has dismantled many of the original Sandinista reforms. And all four have been accused (and in the case of Lula condemned) for corruption. It is interesting that the response of the kirchneristas to these accusations has been two-fold. First, they claim that Mauricio Macri, who succeeded Cristina in 2015, was “more corrupt”, not that she was not. And second, that their corruption was done to obtain sufficient funds to fight the big corporations. Hopefully, this complete loss of moral and ethical compass, is not what Munck refers to as “political horse trading”.

In this sense, I have no idea who, if anyone, has been “criticizing Kirchnerism for its national-popular rather than explicitly socialist politics”. There are always some people and groups who pretend that other movements should be what they want to be, and not what they are. But most of the Left’s critique tends to focus mostly on the abyss between discourse and actual policies. For instance, in spite of their narrative, after 13 years in office, with an absolute majority in both chambers of Congress, the Kirchners never proposed a law to legalize abortion, or to reform labour laws, or to reform agriculture, or to protect the environment; what is much worst, the person who did present an abortion law to the Senate, and who developed an environmental policy of sorts, was the overtly neoliberal and Catholic Macri. At the same time, the Kirchners have also been criticized by many of the more traditional Peronists who consider that they have highjacked the movement and abandoned its reformist premises. The fact that a united Peronism was able to defeat Macri in 2020 cannot obscure these facts. Cristina Kirchners’ government between 2011 and 2015 was disaster, which is why Macri won. Macri was also a socioeconomic disaster, and voters faced with either him or the earlier Peronist coalition voted to change in the hope that the Kirchners had learned from the 2015 defeat. The fact that they have not is reflected in all the polls which indicate that the two most hated political leaders in Argentina (October 2020) are Mauricio Macri and Cristina Kirchner.

Last, but not least, Munck refers to “horse trading” as the ability to make deals and keep compromises and promises to reach political agreements. This is an essential aspect of building a viable political alternative. And yet, I tend to feel that political alliances are not built only by horse trading, unless you have a postmodernist view of politics and the only thing that counts is a mixture of narrative plus personal benefits. In a sense, Lula, the Kirchners, and Correa seem to have believed not in principles but in “horse trading” in an absolute sense. This is why their alliances included political forces and politicians that were contradictory in both ideas and trajectory, such as the Igreja Universal, the PMDB, and the PT. Leaders like Lula seem to have disregarded that policies, ideas, leadership, trust, and organizing over time all come into play when building a coalition. Obviously, how political loot is apportioned, must be considered. But when it is the only consideration, the political coalition becomes a royal battle. Vice-president Michel Temer betrayed Dilma voting her destitution; Lenin Moreno became President of Ecuador thanks to Rafael Correa’s support only to turn on his benefactor once in office; Kirchnerismo is full of former Peronists, Trotskyists, Communists, and Radicales (members of the center right UCR party) who only seem united in the effort to remain in office.

Perhaps more importantly is that society and politics in Latin America are in a state of flux. Not only have new politicians and parties come to the fore, but there are new social organizations, with strategies and tactics that would have been unthinkable barely a few decades ago. There are many new phenomena arising that have not coalesced into what is new. The old refuses to die, while the new is not yet fully born. Perhaps it would be more useful to go back to more flexible theoretical models of E.P. Thompson and Raymond Williams, instead of Barrington Moore who is not only a bit dated but has a series of problems, at least, for the historian.

The post Challenging Social Movements in Latin America appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

Where now for indigenous struggles in Bolivia?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 23/11/2020 - 9:00pm in

Standing in the centre of Plaza Murillo (La Paz) in the middle of September of 2019, I faced towards the National Congress of Bolivia. In front of the building, alongside the traditional Bolivian tricolour of red, yellow and green, flew the wiphala, the multi‐coloured, chequered flag that represents the indigenous peoples of the Andes. Since 2009, when the new Bolivian constitution was ratified, the wiphala has been recognised as a joint symbol of the Plurinational State of Bolivia. Turning ninety degrees to the right, I observed the new Casa Grande del Pueblo, at 29 stories high, rising above the old Presidential Palace (Palacio Quemado) and Cathedral of La Paz. As I stood, surveying my historic surrounding, a gust of wind blew. Catching the breeze, the tricolour unfurled to full length, obscuring for a time the wiphala. This snapshot, caught in my mind as a moment in time, seemed to encapsulate the contradictions and tensions involved in the proceso de cambio (process of change) in contemporary Bolivia. The new, chic, $42million building festooned with indigenous symbols, towers above the surrounding area as a symbol of Bolivia’s contested modernity. Meanwhile, the progress represented by indigenous inclusion remained overshadowed by older, traditional modes of representation. Two different imaginations of Bolivia were on display, but sat uneasily side by side, not quite synthesised, and still open to change, depending on the prevailing (political) winds.

My latest article in the Journal of Historical Sociology addresses this contested process of social change. It explores both the historically-rooted dynamic of indigenous struggle to overturn the colonial order versus the state-led desire to expand capitalist forms of modernity. In doing so I examine the contested meaning of indigenous liberation, and ask, where now for the country’s indigenous social movements?

Like many international observers of a leftist orientation, I was delighted (and relieved) to see the recent electoral victory of Luis Arce of the MAS in Bolivia’s fraught presidential election. This victory overturned a brief right-wing interlude that had taken place following the disputed elections held in October the previous year, when Evo Morales had sought to gain a fourth term in office. The contested aftermath of this election plunged the country into crisis, with allegations of fraud, rising levels of violence and the increasing emboldening of right-wing, revanchist social forces. However, in the intoxicating euphoria of Evo Morales’ return from exile there is a danger of erasing some of the critical, leftist voices in the country, who, prior to the interlude in the rule of the MAS, were raising serious concerns about the ‘process of change’ taking place. These concerns centred on issues of extractive development, respect for indigenous territorial integrity and the demobilisation of social movements leading to the decline of their independent agenda.

The central argument I make in this article (written prior to the return of the MAS) is that Bolivia remains caught between two major sociological dynamics that have long resonance within the country’s history. These are: the search for an overturning of the colonial order on the one hand (pachakuti); and the preservation of class rule tied to the expansion of capitalism (passive revolution), on the other. One of Bolivia’s most prominent intellectuals Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui captures this dynamic when she writes,

The present is the setting for simultaneously modernising and archaic impulses, of strategies to preserve the status quo and of others that signify revolt and renewal of the world: Pachakuti. The upside‐down world created by colonialism will return to its feet as history only if it can defeat those who are determined to preserve the past, with its burden of ill‐gotten privileges.

My key arguments of the article are articulated as follows. First, I situate the history of indigenous exclusion within Bolivian state formation and introduce the key terms of Pachakuti and passive revolution. I then explore how these dynamics intertwine via three constitutive moments in Bolivian history. The first moment is grounded in the subterranean nature of indigenous struggles following the supressed anti‐colonial uprisings of 1781. The excavation of this historical period is essential to highlight the role of collective memory in driving forward the search for the Pachakuti. The second constitutive moment is the National Revolution of 1952. Here I introduce the term passive revolution to define both the Revolution’s character and to introduce a new dynamic, whereby the state captures and neutralises radical, insurgent demands in order to facilitate capitalist modernisation. The later period of the MAS in power is then analysed through these opposing logics of Pachakuti and passive revolution as a third constitutive moment. This final section, which draws upon interviews conducted with representatives of key subaltern social forces in La Paz and Santa Cruz, aims to synthesise the two key dynamics of historical change that have been discussed hitherto. It does this by showing how, at the beginning of the century there was a renewed struggle to overturn colonial structures of domination and remake social space. Secondly, how subsequently, owing to the weakness of an independent and united hegemonic project from below, this search was once again co‐opted into a passive revolution on behalf of the MAS.

For the sake of brevity, I break down my analysis of the MAS rule into the following three interrelated areas: the struggle for dignity and recognition, the contradictions of the economic model of development and, finally, conflicts over indigenous autonomy and territorial rights. The purpose is not to deny that many progressive changes have taken place in Bolivia. Rather, it is to highlight the contradictory nature of that process of change that has served to limit the horizons of the possible, most notably in terms of the radical impulses that began the insurrectionary cycle (2000-2005). However, I also highlight the tensions within indigenous movements and their differentiated understandings of emancipation and the ultimate failure to solidify a subaltern hegemonic project that maintained unity within these divisions.

Prior to the return of the MAS to power, there was a growing consensus among critical left voices, that the reinvigoration of the process of change, if it came, would have to be from subaltern indigenous social movements. As Arze and Gómez prophetically argued, despite some setbacks for indigenous movements, revolutionary aspirations ‘will persist and could reappear under explosive and destabilising conditions.’

Peruvian Marxist José Carlos Mariátegui long ago opined that, ‘When expropriation and redistribution seem about to liquidate the “community,” indigenous socialism always finds a way to reject, resist, or evade this incursion.’ In the present conjuncture, we must hope that he is right. Hope, however, should not be dismissed as an empty cliché. Rather, the struggle for Pachakuti remains intrinsically a utopian one, in that sense that it is the search for the good place that is still no place. Whilst profound mobilisations may have indeed opened a new horizon of desire, the struggle to realise an indigenous sovereignty that fundamentally breaks with colonial cartography has remained a vanishing point on that horizon. However, this is no elusive search for El Dorado. Rather there exists a powerful set of collective memories of alternative praxis, not only in a long‐term horizon, but also in more recent forms of struggle that included the proliferation of communal assemblies, rotating representatives and a re‐grounding of power in the community. If collective memories can indeed inspire processes of change, then likewise critical reflection on recent periods of history, examining how the weakness of autonomous initiatives led to their capture by constituted power and subsequent demobilisation can also serve as a powerful lesson for the past.

Taken together these antagonistic memories of collective experience can provide the basis for a renewal, once again, of the rhythms of the Pachakuti.


The post Where now for indigenous struggles in Bolivia? appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

Social movement research, class and protest

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/11/2020 - 7:30am in


There are many things going on in Social Movements in Latin America. Mapping the Mosaic. I especially appreciated the critical discussions of cultural political economy, of autonomy, of left critiques of progressive but extractivist governments, and the plea to account for the messiness of politics when we analyse social movements. I also welcome the historical perspective and case study approach, and I realise that no book that covers movements of workers, peasants, communities, women, indigenous peoples and for the environment will describe each of them in as much detail as would be possible with a more limited focus.

Of course, the point is to show the mosaic, while also highlighting how identities overlap constantly: women are workers, peasants, neighbourhood activists, indigenous peoples, environmentalists; peasants are workers, territorial activists, indigenous peoples, women, environmentalists, and so on.

It wouldn’t make sense to criticise the book for its mosaic approach, but I’ve been asked to think about an agenda for future research on social movements. So, I would advocate for a mix of this kind of approach with further indepth studies. My disciplinary background as an anthropologist makes this inevitable, but I think it also comes from a slightly different perspective on the purpose of comparison. For me, comparison is not so much about the possibility of generalisation, or of the generation of a framework that would enable consistent evaluation across different contexts and movements.

Rather, by placing detailed analyses of different cases alongside they can hopefully illuminate each other, suggesting questions that we might pose of our material in common (Lazar, 2012). In that spirit, here I depart from what I know about those social movements that I know best, which cross (broadly speaking) Argentina and Bolivia, especially labour movements in those two countries, but also to some extent a bit further afield.

As I think about the ways that I would like to take Ronnie Munck’s agenda forward, the first aspect I would like to highlight is class. I’ll then move to a discussion of social protest versus social movement.

My first observation is that movements of workers are changing as the workers change, in perhaps two significant ways. First, as Munck points out, precarious workers in the informal sector are an important constituency for regional labour movements, even though the traditional trade unions are often not doing very well at mobilising them. However, there are some signs that could give hope: in Argentina, there are very important initiatives for unionisation of workers in the popular economy – as Maria Inés Fernández Álvarez’ work with CTEP (Centre for workers of the popular economy) shows (e.g. Fernandez Alvarez, 2019) – and in the platform economy (e.g. the union ASIMM which mobilises messengers and delivery cyclists). Interestingly, both these organisations operate along quite traditional grounds and are associated with the traditional Peronist trade unions rather than the more autonomist labour movement. Meanwhile there are smaller independent initiatives, including with such informal and hard to reach groups as migrant garment stitchers.

In Brazil, the domestic workers union has been very active in recent decades and was part of the international campaign for the ILO Domestic Workers Convention agreed in 2011 (ILO convention 189); and domestic workers’ unions are very active across the region. In 2015, farm labourers in Baja California, Mexico mobilised quite dramatically in favour of independent unions, higher wages and registration in the national health system, and against abuse and sexual harassment by field supervisors (Zlolniski, 2019). My point is not that union density in the informal sector is anything like what it might once have been in more formal industrial settings, but that some kind of union revitalisation is not limited only to classic business unions. We should keep an eye on these developments.

Second, the classic business unions are changing shape – at least this is true in Argentina, where first truck drivers, then workers in the banking and public sectors have in recent decades taken over the power structures of the CGT (General Confederation of Labour), formerly completely dominated by industrial workers. Today, Peronist unions of state employees and teachers are politically influential within Peronism but also as power blocs in their own right.

Another union of state employees (ATE) takes an autonomist position with respect to political parties but retains considerable mobilizational power. In Mexico, one of the most powerful (and also internally contested) unions is that of the teachers. This is – perhaps – a middle class movement, albeit one composed of the daughters and sons of workers. But so too are the emerging unions of moped and cycle riders who deliver for glovvo or rappi in the city of Buenos Aires; there at least, they are often highly educated Venezuelan migrants these days (and rarely chavistas).

When considering prospects for social movements in the region, we might also want to include other middle-class subjects in our frame, such as the women of the #NiUnaMenos movement, many of whom are university students. And my Bolivian friend, who has his own business stitching T-shirts for sale in Buenos Aires. He and his wife used to sell the t-shirts at the huge La Salada black market, but since 2019 they have been selling wholesale via WhatsApp. This might all suggest that an analysis of changes in class composition in the region could be rather important for social movement research and might lead us to rethink some of our assumptions. There is excellent work on the rise of the middle classes in Latin America (e.g. see Lòpez Pedreros, 2019), but I think that there is more to say about it within social movement research.

An especially Latin American analysis of class composition and social movements might also engage further with the notion of the popular classes, and relate that to Garcia Linera’s point about plebeian movements and the urban Multitude (Garcia et al., 2000). I don’t know where this would take us, but I do think we would have to take seriously the fact that the popular classes/plebeians are not always as ‘left-wing’ as university-educated professionals would like them to be. Many of my friends thought that it was the ‘middle classes’ that had elected Mauricio Macri in 2015, but the maps of voting patterns did not always bear that out. I also don’t think that support for Bolsonaro in 2018 was restricted to elites. If it were, he would not have been so successful.

The protests against Dilma in 2016 and against Evo in 2019 troubled easy associations between social movements, the popular classes and left-wing governments. Certainly, their organised supporters (for the PT and the MAS, respectively) could be characterised as ‘popular’, but if we wish to call their opponents ‘middle class’ then we must at least recognise that ‘middle class’ is now an incredibly capacious category that crosses a wide range of income levels and living conditions.

The middle classes are also very willing to engage in social movement strategies for both progressive and conservative ends, and here I disagree with Munck in his attempt to distinguish social protest from social movements. Perhaps the protests against Evo’s electoral victory in November 2019 were just that, protests. But I wonder how in the end they really differed in form from the unrest in Ecuador or the anti-neoliberal protests in Chile around the same time, other than that their politics didn’t quite fit with our own or with what we expect from people on the streets.

I suspect that it would be wrong to imagine that any of these protests are entirely spontaneous, coming from nowhere and without organisation. Instead, the challenge for researchers is to understand exactly what kinds of organisational technologies lie behind, or in the shadows. We know that the democratic (and anti-democratic) opposition to Evo was building from the referendum on a fourth term held in February 2016, and it is likely that social networks from then were mobilised anew in 2019, leading to an outcome that many participants must have subsequently found deeply uncomfortable.

The rise of Bolsonaro could be said – on one level – to bear some similarities in form with the rise of the PT as a social movement, only with Evangelical churches rather than trade unions as his organisational base, and with the addition of shadowy uses of social media technologies, especially WhatsApp. Back to Bolivia, in a recent memo, a Facebook data scientist described how she ‘found “inauthentic activity supporting the opposition presidential candidate [in Bolivia] in 2019” and chose not to prioritize it’ ; and many of my otherwise progressive friends certainly shared lurid stories about Evo Morales’ corruption and immorality on WhatsApp and Facebook.

But more progressive movements have also used social media to organise and mobilise. #NiUnaMenos is an especially powerful example, and maybe quite similar to the right-wing mobilisations in network terms, albeit of course – and very importantly – without the church, the fake news, and the electoral project.

For Munck, transnationalism seems to be a sign of social movement success, and here again we can see non-institutionalised forms of something that looks at least similar to the more institutionalised social movements he emphasises. On the progressive side, I would point to the remarkable spread of the ‘un violador en tu camino’ feminist protest. And just as feminist causes can cross countries and continents, so can anti-feminist cultural and political movements. I’d argue that we need to account for these as social movements, which have organisation and influence. Conservative objections to ‘gender ideology’ scuppered the Colombian peace process referendum in 2016 and brought Bolsonaro to power in 2018. Opponents of Dilma and Evo promoted a rhetoric that from the outside at least looked more ‘progressive’, arguing that they were defending democracy and opposing corruption, tropes that have enormous power across the region.

Social movement research in Latin America has become more complicated as the boundaries between left- and right-wing appear more blurred. The right has picked up on the movement tactics and rhetoric of the left and has done so very successfully. The protests in Eastern Bolivia in 2008-9 were an early version of this in its latest wave; but probably historical investigation would be able to illuminate the continuities between much of the right wing mobilisation today and pro-dictatorship movements in the 1970s. That is to say, this ambiguity might feel new, but it may also be that we have only recently begun to recognise it properly. It is the case that mass protests advocating ‘citizen security’ and ‘mano dura’ policies in Argentina in the 2000s and early 2010s bore links to the dictatorship in both rhetoric and personnel, while also drawing on long-standing modes of national-popular mobilisation.

I think the lessons for researchers here are: first, we shouldn’t confine ourselves to a purely institutional perspective, but be creative in how we think about what a social movement is; and second, we should be sure to explore the historical trajectories of each wave of mobilisation and organisation. It was only necessary to scratch the surface of the February and October 2003 protests in El Alto, Bolivia to see how a more organised life underlay the dynamic of mobilisation at the time (Lazar, 2008), and the electoral victory of the MAS in October 2020 has shown us the enduring power of that underlying social and political organisation. That recognition might give us methodological insight into how to navigate the problem of the relationship between social protest and social movement, by exploring what shapes agency and collective action in ordinary times, and how that experience influences extraordinary moments.


Fernandez Alvarez MI. (2019) ‘Having a name of one’s own, being part of history’: temporalities and political subjectivities of popular economy workers in Argentina. . Dialectical Anthropology 43: 61-76.

Garcia A, Gutierrez R, Prada R, et al. (2000) El retorno de la Bolivia plebeya, La Paz: Muela del Diablo editores.

Lazar S. (2008) El Alto, Rebel City: Self and Citizenship in Andean Bolivia, Durham: Duke University Press.

Lazar S. (2012) Disjunctive comparison: Citizenship and Trade Unionism in Bolivia and Argentina. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 18.

Lòpez Pedreros R. (2019) Makers of Democracy. A Transnational History of hte Middle Classes in Colombia, Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Zlolniski C. (2019) Coping with precarity: subsistence, labor, and community politics among farmworkers in northern Mexico. Dialectical Anthropology 43: 77-92.


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Capital controls and economic development

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 11/11/2020 - 2:51am in


Latin America

 My talk at the Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas (UCA), El Salvador 20/10/2020. On capital controls and development and in Spanish, of course.

Times Editorial Lets Slip Joe Biden’s Latin America Policy: More Obama-Style Coups

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 29/10/2020 - 6:28am in

With less than a week to go, polling shows Democratic candidate Joe Biden to hold a 7.1 point average lead on incumbent president Donald Trump. Thus, thoughts of what his foreign policy would look like have come to the fore. Yesterday, The New York Times published a long piece discussing the 77-year-old’s plans for Latin America. The Times was hopeful, noting that Biden would seek to “repudiate” Trump’s “hardball approach” to the region, which has caused a great deal of harm, rallying round shared goals of combating climate change.

Yet buried deep in the article is perhaps the most eye-opening sentence:

Mr. Biden’s advisers say they would seek to revive the anti-corruption campaign that set off political earthquakes across the Americas starting in 2014, but largely stalled in recent years.”

What the authors are referring to is a continent-wide campaign to unseat progressive leaders that ended in the jailing of Brazilian president Lula da Silva, the impeachment of his successor Dilma Rousseff, and the rise of the far-right authoritarian Jair Bolsonaro. The so-called Operation Car Wash (“Lava Jato” in Portuguese) was ostensibly an attempt to root out corruption at all levels of society. Yet leaked documents and recordings have shown that, from the beginning, it was a naked powerplay attempt by Brazil’s rich elite to retake control of society from the progressive Workers’ Party administrations through legal means.

This supposed anti-corruption purge was presided over by Judge Sergio Moro, who presented himself as a neutral actor working in the people’s interest. But an investigation by The Intercept showed that Moro was, in fact, in constant contact with the prosecution, instructing them on how to proceed to impeach Lula. Once Lula was imprisoned and barred from running in the 2018 election (despite being the overwhelming favorite to win), Moro took a job as justice minister in Bolsonaro’s cabinet. The case against the two Workers’ Party presidents was weak, to say the least, with many of those leading the prosecution themselves under investigation for more serious corruption cases.

Earlier this year, The Intercept also revealed how intimately (and illegally) involved the Obama and Trump administrations were in Lava Jato. The U.S. Department of Justice was operating in secret from the Brazilian government, working closely with the prosecution, training, coaching and advising them on how best to proceed.

The National Security Agency (NSA) under Obama-Biden also bugged the phones of 29 top Brazilian officials, including President Dilma and many of her staff. This, despite Brazil being an official ally of the United States.

Yet since Lula’s election in 2002, Brazil had also been a thorn in the side of Washington, acting as a barrier to American regime change operations against leftist governments in the region. Lula, a self-described socialist and anti-imperialist, forged close ties with leaders like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Cuba’s Castro brothers, while also refusing to support a U.S.-backed right-wing secessionist movement in Eastern Bolivia aimed at undermining President Evo Morales.

Lula later drew Washington’s ire by independently brokering a nuclear deal with Iran that undermined Obama’s claims that Tehran would never agree to one, hence the need for sanctions.

And so, while The Times report presents Bolsonaro as an adversary of Biden, his rise was directly facilitated by the Obama administration’s policies in Latin America.

Biden’s advisors have also laid out their plans for Central America, which include a $750 million package tied to privatization drives and austerity measures that might perpetuate the very economic and political conditions that led migrants to flee in the first place. His team also doubled down on his commitment to regime change in Venezuela, although, like Trump, he appears to be growing weary of U.S.-backed figure Juan Guaidó.

Figures both on the right and the left are presenting Biden as a progressive champion. Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro described the Democrats as “the party of Bernie Sanders,” claiming that Biden is a “facade for [leftist] radicalism.” In equally questionable fashion, Rep. Ilhan Omar also claimed that she expected a leftward shift from Biden after the election. Biden, however, is currently considering a number of Republicans for senior positions in his administration, while sidelining Sanders and even Elizabeth Warren, despite their widespread popular support among the party’s rank and file. In reality, Biden has always represented the right-wing of the Democratic Party, and his policy on Latin America is little different, bearing more similarities than differences with the Trump administration’s.

Feature photo | Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to the media after voting at the Carvel State Office Building, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. Andrew Harnik | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

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The problems of Neoliberalism in Latin America

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 28/10/2020 - 12:37am in

 My talk with Luis Nassif (in Portuguese) about neoliberalism in Latin America. We didn't really get to discuss the current cases of Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile, but talked about it more generally.

Protests Against Greed and Inequality Are Spreading Like Wildfire Through Latin America

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 22/10/2020 - 4:52am in

With attention fixed on this week’s events in Bolivia, you would be excused for not realizing that much of the rest of the region has for weeks also been ablaze in the flames of protest.

In Costa Rica, the neoliberal coalition government of Carlos Alverado attempted to force through a $1.75 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to deal with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. As has been its modus operandi this year, the organization offered the money attached to a host of free-market changes, including tax changes, cuts to public services, and privatization of state-owned assets, something Alverado was more than happy to do.

Yet the people of Costa Rica clearly did not consent to the measures, launching a weeks-long general strike that paralyzed the country. Taking to the streets, they shut down dozens of the country’s principal transport arteries, fighting with many of the nation’s 30,000 strong police force.

The rebellion has resulted in a victory for the protesters, as Alverado announced the cessation of IMF negotiations.



Meanwhile, a little south in Colombia, the country is today heading into the second day of a national strike, with the country’s highly organized teachers’ union FECODE announcing a 48-hour work stoppage in opposition to conservative president Ivan Duque’s plans to reopen schools and other educational institutions with few protective measures, despite a COVID-19 pandemic raging through the country, killing between 100 and 200 people daily. The teachers join students, trade unions, and a host of other organizations in collective action against Duque’s government.

There is a wide range of grievances on display. Indigenous protesters are out in great numbers, demonstrating against the Duque administration’s treatment of them. Others are protesting against the country’s appalling human rights record. Colombia has long been the most dangerous place in the world to be an activist. Four more indigenous leaders were killed on Monday and Tuesday, with two narrowly escaping death. Their murders are rumored to be a retaliation for the mobilizations in Bogota, as thousands have traveled to the nation’s capital to voice their displeasure.



Much of Chile was ablaze this time last year, with citizens attempting to force the conservative government of Sebastian Piñera (the country’s richest man) to concede a vote on the country’s outdated, fascist-era constitution. The initial spark for the nationwide action was a hike in Santiago’s subway fares in order to subsidize private transport companies, but soon snowballed into much more. “It is an outrage that nearly 30 years since the end of the dictatorship, Chile should still have this Pinochet-era constitution in place,” founder and co-editor of Alborada Magazine Pablo Navarette told MintPress last year.

Chile’s referendum will take place on Sunday, with opinion polls suggesting that the people will overwhelmingly vote for change. The country has seen weeks of protest, some turning violent. Earlier this month, a police officer was filmed throwing a 16-year-old protester off a bridge, where he was left face down in the water with serious injuries. At the weekend tens of thousands of Chileans gathered in central Santiago to mark the one year anniversary of the protests that began the process of change, and to rally support for a “yes” vote this Sunday. They were met with force by the police, the resulting violence forcing the closure of at least 15 metro stations.



Meanwhile, in Haiti, U.S.-backed President Jovenal Moise is facing fresh waves of near-continuous protest, ever since he canceled elections and began ruling by decree. This weekend saw new demonstrations in the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince, blocking roads and calling for Moise’s resignation. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd, injuring many.

However, none of these protests have been given much attention at all in the Western press, who prefer to concentrate on demonstrations happening in enemy nations against adversarial governments. The 2019 protests in Hong Kong, for example, were given over 50 times the amount of coverage in The New York Times and CNN than the far deadlier and longer-lasting Haitian uprising.



Those out on the streets this week will no doubt draw inspiration from the events in Bolivia, where the government of Jeanine Añez suffered a catastrophic electoral defeat on Sunday at the hands of the grassroots Movement to Socialism (MAS) party. Añez, who came to power in a coup in November, insisted she was merely an “interim president.” Despite this, she postponed elections three times, while brutally suppressing organized resistance to her rule. However, a week-long general strike paralyzed the country in August, forcing Añez to concede to elections in October. Despite constant intimidation, the MAS won a resounding victory, setting the stage for the return of democracy to the Andean nation.

2020 has been an extremely turbulent year for the people of Latin America. While the region has suffered greatly thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, organized protest once again offers hope that a better world is possible. And with the Bolivian example fresh in their minds, the people might truly believe it is within their grasp.

Feature photo | Fire from a molotov cocktail explodes in front of police as a police vehicle shoots water at protesters who marched against the commemoration of the discovery of the Americas, organized by Indigenous groups demanding autonomy and the recovery of ancestral land in Santiago, Chile, Oct. 12, 2020. Esteban Felix | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, The Guardian, Salon, The Grayzone, Jacobin Magazine, Common Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Protests Against Greed and Inequality Are Spreading Like Wildfire Through Latin America appeared first on MintPress News.

Bolivia and the thesis that the Pink Tide is over

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 20/10/2020 - 11:02am in

Some two years ago I was invited to contribute to a volume on Latin American Extractivism that Steve Ellner has edited and is about to come out. In my contribution I set to explain why resource nationalism receives mass support as the engine of development projects in Latin American countries ‒ a question that, unfortunately, has been often neglected or misrepresented in academic debates on extractivism. In pursuing my goal I undertook a critique of theoretical preconceptions that have so far set extremely rigid boundaries to debates on resource nationalism ‒ thus precluding an adequate explanation of this phenomenon. While working on that critique I grew more and more convinced that some of those same preconceptions have pervaded (and conditioned) broader assessments of Latin American politics over the past two decades. Eventually, in that chapter I argue that the political assessments of the Pink Tide have been often distorted by the same analytical preconceptions that set boundaries to debates on resource nationalism.

I am writing this as I read reports on the electoral results of the Bolivian election. I believe this is a good opportunity to give more scaffolding to an argument that I have outlined in previous posts in the PPE blog, and which I presented in more depth and with more context in the chapter I contribute to Ellner’s new edited book. Here is a simplified excerpt of the section of that chapter that identifies the roots of the analytical limitations in the Pink-Tide-is-Over thesis:

As 2019 dawned, the thesis that presents Latin America’s Pink Tide as a vanished movement had few opponents. The factual pillars that sustained that thesis were seemingly robust: since 2015, rightist forces had secured a succession of electoral victories in several Latin American countries. Analysts diverged in the interpretation of the factors that had led to that scenario, but for those who supported the thesis the interpretative corollary was unquestionable: those right-wing victories had changed the orientation of governance in the continent, removing any shades of red from it.

However, the thesis was grounded in questionable premises. From the outset, its advocates failed to recognize and characterize the social forces that sustain and support Pink Tide governmental orientations. They minimized or ignored the mass support that these policy orientations received—orientations that were made possible through the adoption of resource nationalist principles. Electoral support was sustained over time and remarkably strong even when it did not amount to absolute majorities. Several Pink Tide governments completed successive terms backed by significant majorities, while the electoral victories of rightist candidates were obtained by very narrow margins. Beyond elections, expressions of support have included mass mobilizations in support of sovereignty, against parliamentary coups, and against neoliberal governments. These were already evident in 2015, but became even more prominent during 2019.

Proponents of the Pink-Tide-is-over-is-Over thesis (PTIO thesis, from now on) never granted much importance to evidence that countered their contentions. For instance, Venezuela and Bolivia, countries that remained identified with the more radical currents of the Pink Tide, were still in 2019 led by governments with post-neoliberal orientations and committed to supporting the structures of regional integration that had become another distinctive trait of the Pink Tide. But for advocates of the thesis those cases did not amount to much. Bolivia could be presented as an exception and, furthermore, lacked the financial muscle and the international projection that Venezuela had enjoyed under the governments of Hugo Chávez at the peak of the Pink Tide. In addition, a variety of political commentators, particularly from conservative outlets, predicted a defeat of Evo Morales in the presidential elections due later in the year. In short, Bolivia could soon lose its status of exception and therefore, in the view of its advocates, the PTIO thesis would be reinforced.

As for Venezuela, its profound economic crisis was used as evidence for the idea. By 2019 the country was an easy target for critics of post-neoliberal economic orientations. Maduro’s government could not flag the positive indicators of socioeconomic development that had previously illustrated the success of Pink Tide orientations. In addition, Maduro’s support base seemed to be weakening—an appreciation that was widespread even among commentators who nonetheless identified the self-proclaimed “interim” presidency of Juan Guaidó (launched in those days) as part of a United States–supported plan to destabilize Maduro’s government and facilitate an international blockade of it.

Beyond the cases of Bolivia and Venezuela, the PTIO thesis proved impermeable to other sources of evidence that weakened its validity. The turbid circumstances under which some rightist candidates had won elections were never taken into account when it came to testing the substance of the thesis (the background of Bolsonaro’s victory in Brazil was one instance). The instability of the governments that implanted orthodox neoliberal agendas after defeating left-leaning candidates seemed not to affect the acceptance of the thesis, either. Macri’s government in Argentina illustrates this case: it was incapable of gaining popular support or economic stabilization, as the negotiations with the International Monetary Fund in 2018 came to demonstrate.

However, as 2019 went on, the PTIO thesis seemed to generate less firm adherents. Halfway through the year it became more common to hear commentators referring to Latin America as “a continent in dispute”. The conceptual shift that took place during 2019 was an indirect recognition that the certification of the Pink Tide as defunct had been a precipitous act.

A succession of political events obliged commentators to reconsider their assessment of the political scenario in the continent. In October, Alberto Fernández won the Argentine presidential election at the head of a left-leaning platform (Frente de Todos) strongly associated with the legacy of Pink Tide governments—indeed, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was a key figure in the formula that facilitated the victory of the Frente de Todos candidate. Elsewhere, rightist governments faced the results of their sustained failure to combine economic growth with social inclusion. Furious protests exploded in Chile, bringing Piñera’s government, an active promoter of an anti–Pink Tide agenda through both rhetoric and foreign policy, to the verge of collapse. In Colombia, a national strike revealed the depth of accumulated discontent with governments that had shown an incapacity to reduce marked inequality levels even under favorable macroeconomic conditions—gross domestic product growth of 3.7 percent between 2010 and 2018 and a four-point decline of the Gini coefficient. President Iván Duque, openly supportive of a United States–backed international agenda in the continent (including the sanctions on Venezuela), had to backtrack on some of his proposals for neoliberal economic reform, among them pension reform that incidentally replicated key aspects of the “Chilean model,” with privately owned funds administering the system.

Finally, the 2019 presidential election in Bolivia provided yet another instance of a political phenomenon that had been granted little importance by proponents of the thesis that the Pink Tide is over: rightist forces unable to defeat consolidated leftist candidates at the ballot box pave their way to government through parliamentary maneuvers (often called “parliamentary coups”), “lawfare” strategies, and/or direct military interventions. Seizing power for these forces seems to depend on neutralizing electorally legitimized leftist leaders. The case of Morales in 2019 epitomized this phenomenon: he won the election but was eventually forced to leave the country by an elite-led rebellion backed by commanding sectors of the army. It replicated the cases of other Pink Tide leftist leaders who were prevented from completing their terms or from competing in the electoral arena.

In Brazil, Lula da Silva’s controversial conviction for corruption prevented him from competing electorally with the rightist Bolsonaro, who furthermore emerged as a national figure only in a scenario of institutional crisis marked by the ousting of President Dilma Rousseff (like Lula a leader of Partido dos Trabalhadores) through a questionable parliamentary impeachment in 2016. In Paraguay, Fernando Lugo had been subjected to a similar process four years earlier (ominously, Lugo’s impeachment was in its day labeled a “coup” by Rousseff, among other Latin American leaders). The Honduran President Manuel Zelaya (2006–2009) was also ousted from office through a military-backed coup, cutting short a term that included some pro-poor policies and sought to incorporate the country into the new Latin American regionalism that emerged with the Pink Tide. Most recently (April 2020), amidst increasing signs that he could return to play a direct active role in the Ecuadorian political arena, Rafael Correa, president for 10 years (2007–2017), was convicted of corruption after a controversial trial that would ban him from holding political office for more than two decades.

In sum, 2019 provided instances of three types of evidence that weaken the thesis that the Pink Tide is over: electoral victories of pro-leftist candidates associated with the Pink Tide kept occurring (e.g., Argentina, Bolivia); right-wing politicians reached government by sidestepping direct electoral competition with qualified leftist counterparts (e.g., Bolivia); and mass extrainstitutional collective action took place on the streets of countries with right-leaning governments, mobilizing demands for socioeconomic enfranchisement (e.g., Chile, Colombia). These diverse types of evidence are interconnected by a common factor: they all reveal the existence of mass social forces that, channeled through different streams of collective action (electoral politics, extrainstitutional mobilization), support the governmental orientations that characterize the Pink Tide and oppose neoliberal governance. This evidence revealed the inadequacy of the PTIO thesis’s premises, which were always impervious to the signs of the social forces that Pink Tide governmental orientations helped to crystallize, with resource nationalism as one of their drivers.

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The Year of Fire.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 20/09/2020 - 5:05am in

Wildfires in the western states of the American Union have received considerable attention in Australian media, perhaps because the story looks a lot like what we witnessed here a few months back and because Australian firefighters were sent there to help in the effort to contain the fires.

Much less coverage has been given to fires in the Pantanal in the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul currently affected by a drought. The Pantanal (a Portuguese word whose literal translation is “swamp”), as Brazilians call that area, is a wetland, thus, the numerous pictures of carbonised “jacarés” (i.e. alligators). Readers may remember that last year forest fires had already visited the Amazon rainforest, a little to the north/northeast of the Pantanal.

But it is the wildfires in Siberia (also for the second year in a row) which have received next to no mention in Australian media.

Arctic warming: are record temperatures and fires arriving earlier than scientists predicted? LuYago/Shutterstock Christopher J White, University of Strathclyde

It was a grim record. On June 20 2020, the mercury reached 38°C in Verkhoyansk, Siberia – the hottest it’s ever been in the Arctic in recorded history. With the heatwaves came fire, and by the start of August around 600 individual fires were being detected every day. By early September, parts of the Siberian Arctic had been burning since the second week of June.

CO2 emissions from these fires increased by more than a third compared to 2019, according to scientists at the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service. The wildfires produced an estimated 244 megatons of CO2 between January and August, releasing thousands of years’ worth of stored carbon.

The summer of 2019 was already a record breaker for temperatures and fires across the Arctic. Seeing these events unfold again in 2020 – on an even larger scale – has the scientific community worried. What does it all mean for the Arctic, climate change and the rest of the world?

Sooner than predicted?

Even with climate change, the severe summer heatwave of 2020 was expected to occur, on average, less than once every 130 years. Wildfire observations in the Arctic are fairly limited prior to the mid-1990s, but there is no evidence of similarly extreme fires in the years before routine monitoring started.

Higher temperatures globally are likely to be driving the increase in wildfire frequency and duration. But modelling wildfires is difficult. Climate models don’t predict wildfires, and they cannot indicate when future extreme events will occur year-on-year. Instead, climate modellers focus on whether they are able to predict the right conditions for events like wildfires, such as high temperatures and strong winds.

Read more: Siberia heatwave: why the Arctic is warming so much faster than the rest of the world

And these climate model projections show that the kind of extreme summer temperatures we’ve seen in the Arctic in 2020 weren’t likely to occur until the mid-21st century, exceeding predictions by decades.

So even though an increasing trend of high temperatures and conditions suitable for wildfires are predicted in climate models, it’s alarming that these fires are so severe, have occurred in the same region two years in a row, and were caused by conditions which weren’t expected until further in the future.

Fire burns the understory of a boreal woodland. The Arctic is warming at a faster rate than the global average. Yelantsevv/Shutterstock Climate feedback loops

So what is causing this rapid change? Over recent decades, temperatures in the most northerly reaches of Earth have been increasing at a faster rate than the rest of the world, with the polar region heating at more than twice the rate of the global average.

The fires caused by these hot, dry conditions are occurring in remote and sparsely populated forests, tundra and peat bogs, where there is ample fuel.

But these extreme events are also providing worrying evidence of climate “feedback loops”, which were predicted to happen as the climate warms. This is where increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere contribute to further warming by promoting events – like wildfires – which release even more greenhouse gas, creating a self-perpetuating process that accelerates climate change.

Read more: Arctic breakdown: what climate change in the far north means for the rest of us

Record CO2 emissions released from burning Arctic forests during the summer of 2020 will make future conditions even warmer. But ash and other particulates from the wildfires will eventually settle on the ice and snow, making them darker and accelerating their melting by reducing how easily their surface reflects sunlight.

Climate change is not the direct cause of this summer’s fires, but it is helping to create the right conditions for them. The extreme temperatures and wildfires seen throughout the Arctic in 2020 would have been almost impossible without the influence of human-induced climate change – and they are feeding themselves.

Ice surface with black stain from soot. Soot-stained ice absorbs more of the sun’s heat and melts more quickly. Trifonov Aleksey/Shutterstock What about the rest of the world?

When we think of the Arctic, we don’t tend to picture wildfires and heatwaves – we think of snow and ice and long, brutal winters. Yet the region is changing before our eyes. It’s too early to say whether the last two summers represent a permanent step-change, or new “fire regime”, for the Arctic. Only observations over a much longer timescale could confirm this.

But these record-breaking events in the Arctic are being fuelled by human influences that are changing our world’s climate sooner than many expected. With climate models predicting a future where already hot and fire-prone areas are likely to become more so, 2020’s record temperatures paint a worrying trend towards more of the same.

The Arctic is at the frontline of climate change. What we are witnessing here first are some of the most rapid and intense effects of climate change. While the impact is devastating – record CO2 emissions, damaged forests and soils, melting permafrost – these events may prove to be a portent of things to come for the rest of the world.The Conversation

Christopher J White, Senior Lecturer in Water & Environmental Engineering, University of Strathclyde

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.