Latin America

Error message

Deprecated function: The each() function is deprecated. This message will be suppressed on further calls in _menu_load_objects() (line 579 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/

Biden Urged to Adopt a Good Neighbor Policy Toward Latin America

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 09/09/2020 - 1:12am in

Election season is a difficult time to develop good policies towards Latin America, since both Democrats and Republicans cater to the small, but organized, conservative factions of the Latinx community in Florida, vying for their votes. But if Biden wins the White House, there is a chance to reverse the Trump administration policies that have been devastating for Latin America, policies that punish innocent civilians through harsh economic sanctions, destabilize the region through coups and attempts at regime change, and close our borders to desperate people fleeing north in search of safety and opportunity, often as a result of U.S. security and economic policies.

The Trump administration openly calls its Latin America and Caribbean policy the “Monroe Doctrine 2.0.” The Monroe Doctrine – asserting U.S. geopolitical control over the region – served as a pretext for over 100 years of military invasions, support for military dictatorships, the training and financing of security forces involved in mass human rights violations and economic blackmail, among other horrors.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt distanced himself from this doctrine, outlining a new vision for relations in the hemisphere. His “Good Neighbor” policy temporarily ended the gunboat diplomacy that characterized U.S. foreign policy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although the policy had its flaws, such as FDR’s support for the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua, his administration’s failures were often the result of not adhering to the Good Neighbor principle of non-interference.

That is why over 100 organizations that work on issues related to Latin America and the Caribbean sent a letter calling for the next administration to adopt a new Good Neighbor Policy toward the region based on non-intervention, cooperation and mutual respect. Among the organizations calling for a new approach are Alianza Americas, Amazon Watch, the Americas Program, Center for International Policy, CODEPINK, Demand Progress, Global Exchange, the Latin America Working Group and Oxfam America.

The letter to the presidential candidates warns that in January 2021, the U.S. president will face a hemisphere that will not only still be reeling from the coronavirus but will also be experiencing a deep economic recession, and that the best to help is not by seeking to impose its will, but rather by adopting a broad set of reforms to reframe relations with our neighbors to the south.

First among the reforms is lifting the brutal economic sanctions against Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua that are causing widespread human suffering, especially during a pandemic. These sanctions have not fulfilled their objective of regime change; the past 20 years of U.S. wars in the Middle East has taught us that U.S.-imposed regime change brings nothing but death and chaos.

Another reform is to put a stop to the hundreds of millions of dollars of police and military equipment and training that the U.S. provides Latin American and Caribbean countries each year. In many cases, such as Honduras and Colombia, U.S. funding and training have supported troops involved in corruption and egregious human rights abuses, including numerous extrajudicial killings and attacks targeting local activists and journalists. Much of this militarized “aid” is transferred in the name of the decades-long war on drugs, which has only fueled a vicious cycle of violence. The letter asserts that the “war on drugs” is a counterproductive way to deal with a US public health issue that is best addressed through decriminalization and equitable legal regulation. It also calls for scaling down US “security assistance” and arms sales, as well as the removal of US military and law enforcement personnel from the region.

The letter points out that although the U.S. public has been rightly condemning any sort of foreign interference in our own country’s elections, the U.S. government has a history of flagrant interference in the elections of our neighbors, including training political groups it favors and funding efforts to marginalize the political forces it opposes. In Venezuela, the Trump administration has gone to the extreme of anointing a legislator, Juan Guaidó, as the unelected “president” of Venezuela and putting a multi-million dollar bounty on the head of the UN-recognized president, Nicolas Maduro. The letter denounces such blatant interference and calls on the U.S. to respect the sovereignty of other nations. 

The endorsing organizations also denounce U.S. intervention in domestic economic policymaking, which occurs in large part through its enormous influence within multilateral financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Inter-American Bank. In order to obtain credit lines from these institutions, governments typically have to agree to austerity measures and other policies that lead to the downsizing of welfare states and a weakening of workers’ bargaining power. Moreover, as Latin American economies are reeling from the pandemic, the U.S. must cease demanding the implementation of neoliberal models and instead support public health, education and other basic needs. 

Regarding human rights, the letter notes the U.S. has a role in advocating for them across the hemisphere. However, it warns against the instrumentalization of human rights for political gain, since too often human rights violations in the U.S. or in allied countries are ignored, while violations in countries considered adversaries are magnified. It says the U.S. should focus – both at home and abroad – on the rights of historically excluded communities, including indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, LGBTQ+ individuals, women, and migrants and refugees. It urges the United States to speak out when human rights defenders, including environmental and land rights activists and labor organizers, are in danger—a situation all too frequent in Latin America and the Caribbean today. It also calls on the U.S. to help depoliticize and strengthen existing multilateral institutions that defend human rights.

With respect to immigration, the letter insists that the next administration must undo the brutal harms of the trump administration, but also reject the status quo of the Obama administration, which deported more people than any administration ever before and built the infrastructure for the Trump administration to carry out violent anti-immigrant policies. The next administration must hear the demands for immigrant justice, including a moratorium on all deportations; an end to mass prosecutions of individuals who cross the border; the re-establishment of asylum procedures at the border; an immediate path to citizenship for the Dreamers and for Temporary Protected Status holders; defunding the border wall; an end to the “zero-tolerance” (family separation) policy and other policies that prioritize migration-related prosecutions; and an end to private immigration detention. 

As the region–and the world–anxiously awaits the outcome of the U.S. presidential elections, groups in the U.S. are gearing up for the possibility of a Biden win, and the need to push a new administration to make a positive contribution to the well-being of people throughout the hemisphere.

Feature photo | Social Fragments Archive

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books on foreign policy.

Leonardo Flores is a Latin American policy expert and campaigner with CodePink.

The post Biden Urged to Adopt a Good Neighbor Policy Toward Latin America appeared first on MintPress News.

The Latin American Basic Income Network

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 03/08/2020 - 9:26pm in

Feminist Perspectives on Basic Income -Latin American UBI NetworkIt was late October 2019, when different academics and activists from all over Latin America were preparing to meet in the south of Chile to share our ideas and perspectives on UBI for the first time. The idea of forming a regional basic income network had been present for a long time and people were […]

Latin America’s Neoliberal Leaders Are Making the Coronavirus Pandemic Far Worse

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 11/07/2020 - 5:27am in

While other continents have largely dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, much of Latin America is in meltdown, as cases soar, bodies pile up, and anger mounts. Its new wave of neoliberal leaders, mistrustful of collective action in any situation and extolling the virtues of individualism in a collective public health crisis, are making the problem far worse.

Despite having months to prepare for the worst, over 100,000 people have (officially) died in South America already, over two-thirds of them in Brazil. The country’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, who came to power in a highly dubious election in 2018 marked by the imprisonment of the runaway favorite Lula da Silva of the left-wing Workers’ Party, has constantly downplayed the threat, describing it as merely a “little flu” and decrying the decision by the governor of Sao Paulo to initiate a lockdown, calling it a “hysterical” overreaction. Even amidst a deadly wave of disease, he continued to hold public rallies, declaring that the coronavirus was nothing to worry about. In a remarkable turn of events, Rio de Janeiro’s criminal gangs showed themselves to be more responsible and committed to public safety than the government, imposing their own curfew to stop the spread of COVID-19. “We want the best for the population. If the government won’t do the right thing, organized crime will,” read their statement. “We are at the mercy of a deranged lunatic,” concluded independent outlet Brasil Wire.

Now, Bolsonaro himself has tested positive for COVID-19. But he still refuses to wear a mask all the time, saying they are only for “fairies” or “faggots,” depending on the translation. The Brazilian Press Association is suing him for deliberately endangering them by not self-isolating but telling them face-to-face, without a mask, about his positive test.

Ecuador has given up even pretending to record infections. On April 24, it announced 7,595 had tested positive; the two days after that, zero cases. Its president, Lenín Moreno, was elected on a promise to further Rafael Correa’s social-democratic agenda. Instead, on orders from Washington and the IMF, he slashed the country’s health budget by 36 percent, rescinded the country’s support for whistleblower Julian Assange and began persecuting Correa, who was forced to flee to Belgium. Like in Brazil and Bolivia, the Ecuadorian government quickly purged the country of its contingent of Cuban doctors, some of the only medical professionals serving Latin America’s popular classes. The coastal city of Guayaquil is thought to be the worst-affected in the world by COVID-19.

Hardline Christian conservative Jeanine Añez came to power in Bolivia in November in a military coup that ousted Evo Morales and his Movement Towards Socialism Party. She wasted no time in mass privatization of the country’s state-owned resources, leading hospitals across the countries to close. Añez herself has now tested positive for the virus, and six of the country’s seven worst days for total infections have happened in the past week.

In Chile, billionaire president Sebastian Piñera has seen his personal wealth increase substantially during the lockdown. This week the pro-business leader vetoed a bill with bipartisan support that protected important public services during the pandemic, ensuring they remained open to all. Critics say the move is hardly likely to improve the situation across the country and puts profits before people.

Meanwhile, in Colombia, neoconservative president Ivan Duque is opening up the economy, even as the pandemic reaches new heights. Thursday saw a new record number of infections in the country, 5,335, beating Tuesday’s previous high of 4,213. Duque, who came to power in a highly questionable election that, had it occurred in an enemy state, would have likely been labeled a sham. His leftist challenger, Gustavo Petro, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt from government-aligned paramilitaries, while American election observers, mistaken for ordinary citizens, report being offered money to vote for Duque. The president is now using the pandemic to end the country’s long peace process while government-linked paramilitaries are taking the opportunity of the lockdown to assassinate their foes, including union leaders and activists. The economic and social confusion has led to large numbers of people crossing over the long and porous border to Venezuela, contributing to an increase in cases there as well.

One of the few bright spots in the region is Cuba, the island having squashed its curve. The worst days in the past month have seen only 15 new cases and one death. Its strong public services, particularly its famous health system, have aided the fight against the virus. In March, MintPress spoke to an American student doctor training in Havana, who said she was optimistic about the country’s preparedness in dealing with COVID-19. “I am very confident of Cuba’s public health and epidemiology system, it is all very organized: nationally, provincially, regionally and locally,” she said.

While these governments might have got what they want by deposing the wave of progressive, anti-imperialist governments in the last decade, their ideological drive to privatize and destroy any public institution is reaping what it sowed during this pandemic. Unfortunately, it is the people of Latin America who are suffering the most because of it.

Feature photo | Employees and family members during collective burials at Vila Formosa Cemetery, east side of São Paulo, Brazil on July 10, 2020. Bruno Rocha | Fotoarena | Sipa

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.

The post Latin America’s Neoliberal Leaders Are Making the Coronavirus Pandemic Far Worse appeared first on MintPress News.

No Safe Haven

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 29/06/2020 - 10:30pm in

Two books consider how U.S. policy ravages the Northern Triangle.

Book Review: A Brief History of Fascist Lies by Federico Finchelstein

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 09/06/2020 - 9:15pm in

In A Brief History of Fascist Lies, Federico Finchelstein offers a new historical examination of how fascism does not just embrace lies, but integrates them into a distinctive, irrational structure of ‘truth’ that serves its political ends. This is a worthwhile read that provides a clear and lucid overview of how fascism perceives ‘truth’, reason and leadership, writes Ben Margulies, and will be particularly useful for undergraduate and postgraduate students of politics.

A Brief History of Fascist Lies. Federico Finchelstein. University of California Press. 2019.

One of the central lessons of the twentieth century is that lying is a key tool of totalitarian government. Secondary-school students the world over absorb this lesson through the works of George Orwell. The Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and propagandist Joseph Goebbels are frequently quoted about the power of ‘the big lie’. Most laypeople could explain how autocratic governments can exert control through untruth (especially if they happen to also favour conspiracy theories).

This popular understanding is entirely correct. However, it leaves certain questions unexamined. Do totalitarian rulers believe their own lies? How do they justify their mendacity? And what is the relation between bald-faced, opportunistic lying and ideology, a set of strong normative beliefs about the way things should be? In this slim volume, A Brief History of Fascist Lies, Argentine historian Federico Finchelstein examines these questions in relation to fascism. The result is a lucid examination of how fascism does not just embrace lies, but integrates them into a distinctive, irrational structure of ‘truth’ that serves its political ends. Finchelstein’s key arguments are immensely valuable to our understanding of contemporary politics, even though his book suffers from some stylistic flaws.

Finchelstein is a scholar of fascism and populism. In his previous book, From Fascism to Populism in History, he traced the transition from the former to the latter, which he argues began in Latin America with Peronism and similar movements. Fascism proposed a ‘true democracy’ through a spiritual communion between people, state and leader in an authoritarian order. Finchelstein argued that populism preserved this political union and authoritarian impulse in a democratic, electoral frame. Finchelstein added that fascism is expressly violent; populism, generally, is not.

In A Brief History of Fascist Lies, Finchelstein focuses more specifically on fascism, which he defines as ‘a modern counterrevolutionary formation […] ultranationalist, antiliberal and anti-Marxist’ (22). He stresses its character as a ‘transnational phenomenon both inside and outside Europe’ (22), citing many fascist sources from Latin America, as well as the work of critics including Jorge Luis Borges.

At the core of the book lies Finchelstein’s understanding of how fascists historically defined truth. To fascists, what was ‘true’ was not what was empirically verifiable. Rather, ‘fascism proposed the notion of truth that transcended reason and was incarnated in the myth of the leader’ (28). Truth stemmed from atavistic, primordial myths, from spiritual truths, more normative than real. ‘In fascism, truth was considered real because it was rooted in emotional emanations of the soul, images and actions that fascists identified with political ideology’ (53). So, for fascists, ‘lies’ were not so much denials of the truth, as rejections of the ‘real world’ in favour of an idealised one fitting their spiritual beliefs about what should be. They were statements of faith in a deeper ‘truth’.

Fascists contended that this deeper spiritual truth could only be ascertained instinctively and irrationally: ‘the idea that the soul had an authentic inner notion of the world was at the center of the fascist intellectual process’ (58).  Finchelstein devotes a chapter to the fascist reaction to psychoanalysis. Fascists recoiled at the idea of rationally examining the subconscious or the personality; ‘fascism renounced self-awareness and put in its place a Godly truth supposedly emanating from a purified self’ (63). They reacted with horror to the idea that the subconscious might be a source of disorder or wanton desire, and condemned Sigmund Freud because he ‘questioned the idea of the sacred [in the sense of locating it in the human psyche] and therefore the politics that fascism represented’ (66). Fascists also demonised psychoanalysis through antisemitic claims that it was a Jewish plot against the people or race.

Finchelstein emphasises the role of the fascist leader. It was the leader’s role to excavate, interpret and propagate this soul-myth from deep inside the collective people. ‘Only the leader was the ideal representation of sovereign desires’ (58); he ‘acted as the best expression of the people’s ideal self’ (60). In the fascist imaginarium, the leader derived these truths from some deep spiritual foundation, but Finchelstein points out that often what he was really drawing on was the desires – the ids, to use a Freudian term – of their constituents: ‘Their primary aim was the fulfilment of their followers’ repressed destructive desires’ (88).

Fascists did not only believe that truth drew from some irrational mythical source. It also animated their political practice. Their goal was to refashion reality in accordance with their own mythos, usually through the violent realisation of their desires, which is why political violence was so important. ‘Power derived from the affirmation of myth through violence, destruction and conquest’ (26), confirming the fascist mythos by forcing reality to surrender to sacralised prejudices. Fascism’s goal was to ‘make lies true’. This reworking of the world was also retrospective, as fascists energetically refashioned history according to mythos.

Finchelstein’s book explains these important points with great clarity and power. However, it has an unfortunate tendency to explain them over and over again, in somewhat different configurations (also a problem with From Fascism to Populism in History). The key points of the text are straightforward enough to fill a reasonably long journal article. Over the course of almost 100 pages, it feels like Finchelstein is reprising them in every chapter.

Finchelstein makes heavy use of various fascist writers to explain their ideological conception of truth. This is effective, but it also snags the flow of the text; it sometimes feels like reading a compilation of different quotes. It’s also unclear why Finchelstein has chosen the particular sources he has.

Finchelstein’s final chapter deals with the role of lies in modern-day populism – perhaps the subject his readers will be most interested in. Here, he refers to US President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. He discusses the way Trump’s followers see him as a source of truth and a divinely elected leader (92-94; 98), and he accuses Bolsonaro of attempting to redefine the meaning of dictatorship and Brazil’s political history in order to justify his authoritarian project (98-100).

Here, however, Finchelstein’s evidence base is relatively thin. He cites very few populist leaders and their statements and compares them to those of classical fascism; he also notes how ‘fascism and populism both appeal to the political trinity, leader, nation and people, as their main source of legitimation’ (96). However, he does not engage with any of the voluminous literature on populism and its models of leadership in the way he does with fascism (in the rest of the book, he cites fascist thinkers and their critics like Hannah Arendt, Theodor Adorno and Borges). The chapter makes a few brief comparisons while making a largely unexamined assumption about the similarities between fascism and populism. I find that assumption very credible, but Finchelstein needed to provide more evidence for it (Catherine Fieschi’s Populocracy deals with similar questions regarding reason and truth, though it was published after the release of this book).

For all these flaws, Finchelstein’s book is very much a worthwhile read. It provides a simple, lucid overview of how fascists ‘lie’, or more precisely, how fascists perceive ‘truth’, reason and leadership. As a guide to understanding how fascists – and perhaps many other kinds of right-wing political activists – think, it is immensely helpful. I would recommend it for politics undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image Credit: Crop of Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash.


The Political Economy of the COVID-19 Crisis in Latin America

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/05/2020 - 2:36am in


Latin America

Following my talk on the same topic, on the same venue, now someone that might know a bit more about what's going on, particularly in Brazil. Professor Mazat will talk this Friday, and I highly recommend it. To register go here. Btw, Numa is Professor of Development Economics in the Institute of Economics at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, my alma matter.

The commercial model of academic publishing underscoring Plan S weakens the existing open access ecosystem in Latin America

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/05/2020 - 7:56pm in

Health emergencies such as those we face today reveal the importance of opening scientific knowledge; something that not-for-profit open access publishing has permanently and organically allowed for a long time. The expansion of Plan S, a research funder led initiative to promote a global transition to open access to scholarly research, to Latin America has … Continued

The Economic Consequences of COVID-19 in Latin America

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/05/2020 - 10:35am in

The video of my talk can be seen here.

Book Review: Decolonizing Ethnography: Undocumented Immigrants and New Directions in Social Science by Carolina Alonso Bejarano, Lucía López Juárez, Mirian A. Mijangos García and Daniel M. Goldstein

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 28/04/2020 - 9:01pm in

In Decolonizing Ethnography: Undocumented Immigrants and New Directions in Social ScienceCarolina Alonso Bejarano, Lucía López Juárez, Mirian A. Mijangos García and Daniel M. Goldstein present collaborative research on the rights of undocumented migrants in New Jersey, USA, utilising an alternative approach to ethnography that seeks to position it as a powerful tool of self-empowerment, public advocacy and personal transformation. By reworking notions of participation and authorship, the book illustrates an excellent attempt to decentre and reassess the traditional models of doing social research through a decolonial framework, writes Kheira Arrouche

Decolonizing Ethnography: Undocumented Immigrants and New Directions in Social Science. Carolina Alonso Bejarano, Lucía López Juárez, Mirian A. Mijangos García and Daniel M. Goldstein. Duke University Press. 2019.

‘The intellectual project of decolonizing has to set out ways to proceed through a colonizing world. It needs a radical compassion that reaches out, that seeks collaboration, and that is open to possibilities that can only be imagined as other things fall into place. Decolonizing Methodologies is not a method for revolution in a political sense but provokes some revolutionary thinking about the roles that knowledge, knowledge production, knowledge hierarchies and knowledge institutions play in decolonization and social transformation’ (Linda Tuhiwai Smith, 1999).

An interest in exploring the rights of undocumented immigrants in New Jersey, USA, has yielded an exciting new co-authored book, Decolonizing Ethnography, written by immigrant activists Lucía López Juárez and Mirian A. Mijangos García with Dr Carolina Alonso Bejarano and Professor Daniel M. Goldstein. In response to the increasing calls for the decolonisation of anthropology, the book contributes to ongoing debates concerning the discipline’s foundations and the need to think beyond the Western methodological canon. It offers an innovative way in which ethnography, practised by the people who have been traditionally positioned as the ethnographic research objects, can be a powerful tool of self-empowerment, public advocacy and personal transformation.

The significant departure point for the decolonisation of ethnographic research in this book entails a powerful assessment of the approach’s history as well as its traditional norms. Central to the authors’ research process is the methodological reassessment that decolonising anthropology, and more precisely ethnography, requires. The authors join earlier scholars in the debate on the coloniality inherited in the discipline of anthropology and its colonial legacy. They present a critical review of the history of anthropology, exploring the nexus between coloniality, colonialism and the anthropological knowledge produced. The authors claim that the inherent coloniality embedded in anthropology and its methods serves to maintain colonialism, supporting their stance through evidencing various aspects of the endurance and dominance of coloniality and its implications in the world today. This enables the reader to understand the entire structure of racialised, gendered power and social inequality within which ethnographic research has been and continues to be conducted (7).

The authors stress that only through a decolonial lens can we identify the interplay of racism, patriarchy, gender and class as discursive categories that have shaped the past and present coloniality of the contemporary world. In this vein, decolonising means the process of dismantling the traditional ground of research that has long been defined by the West, practised through ways of thinking that are unreflexively infused with Western power and perpetually reinscribe Western forms of knowledge, representation and authority. The authors also discuss several anti-colonial research approaches such as feminism and collaborative ethnography. They highlight their importance and attempt to push back at the dominance of coloniality in anthropology and inequities in established modes of research practice. These approaches have fed into activist theory, which inspired the co-authors to start their journey towards decolonisation.

The book brings into sharp focus the conventional practices of ethnographic research and how ethnographers still encounter colonial inheritance and ideology in doing fieldwork. Decolonising ethnography as a discipline requires full awareness of these colonial legacies that an ethnographer may face. Offering a way to tackle these potential pitfalls in ethnographic research, the book provides extensive alternatives introduced by anthropologists to deconstruct ethnographic research, such as new and engaged forms of research that put an end to the subject/object dichotomy on which much contemporary science is founded. The authors also discuss in detail the ethnographer’s supremacy over the object’s world, which raises questions regarding researcher analyses of data and the representation of the population studied, especially considering the narrow scholarly canon and its Eurocentric perspective. Another notable issue in decolonising ethnographic research is the authorship question. The authors call for full recognition of the contribution made by fieldwork collaborators, which is a significant step towards encouraging researchers to learn from others through mutual engagement rather than merely extracting data from them.

The particular valuable contribution I see in this book is decolonising ethnographic research on undocumented immigrants in New Jersey. Such a research focus is filled with manifold obstacles when exploring the field world of undocumented migrants who are already living a marginalised life, under illegality, exploitation and violence. The book traces the evolution of Latin American undocumented immigration to the area and the restrictive instruments implemented by the state over its different towns that have left a liminal space for the migrants to live in. The authors firmly believe that research under these circumstances is more likely to endanger undocumented people in an abusive securitised system, fuelling the toxic narrative on undocumented migration. This requires the authors to explore alternatives to make ethnographic research a decolonial instrument for the population of the study.

As a decolonial step, the authors aim to make ethnographic research a tool of self-empowerment, inviting Mirian and Lucy, as activists for immigrant rights, to join and take the lead of the research project. Through such a mutual engagement with the community studied, Lucy and Mirian reinforce their activism while simultaneously developing their research skills as ethnographers, contributing to knowledge production that better articulates the migrant’s conditions. An even more important contribution is the transformation of the conventional ethnographic subject into a source provider of theory (undocumented activist’s theory) as well as the whole research project into a ‘new instrument of social resistance, transformation, and liberation’ (100).

The authors acknowledge that the decolonial battle needs to apply a sharp lens to all levels of the research process. The authors’ research methodology was mainly linked to the practical intent to rethink and transform the actual inequities found in the research area, starting from theory to data collection and, finally, the dissemination of findings. The research team agreed to use drama as a tool of political engagement and for the dissemination of the findings on immigrant workers’ rights. In effect, a bilingual play (in Spanish and English) embodying Mirian’s experience of a work accident was developed to echo themes including migrants’ work incidents, fears of deportation, separation from family and undocumented migrant rights. The play is a moving production based on a real story and conveys a powerful message that ‘under U.S law everyone has rights as workers regardless of their immigration status’ (106). The play aims to raise migrants’ awareness about joining their efforts to claim and fight for their violated rights and the consequences of not doing so, because ‘being undocumented does not mean having no rights’ (87).

All in all, Decolonizing Ethnography illustrates an excellent attempt to decentre and reassess the traditional models of social research through a decolonial approach, especially in the study of a contemporary sensitive topic such as immigration in the context of the United States. Despite the challenges, it does the job well by making this ethnographic research relevant to and in support of the community of study. The researchers demonstrate a high self-reflexivity at all levels of the research process by discussing their roles as researchers or activists, their positionality and their subjectivities. The core contributions and positive impact of their decolonial approach are ‘enabling local people – historically the objects of research – to become subjects in the research process and to use the knowledge they produce to advance their own decolonizing struggles’ (148). The journey of decolonisation seems to be one of thousands of miles, yet this insightful and highly recommended book offers a creative step to begin the journey of liberation in all disciplines.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image Credit: Gore Street graffiti mural, ‘Decolonize’, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario (Fungus Guy CC BY SA 4.0).


Book Review: Resisting Neoliberal Capitalism in Chile: The Possibility of Social Critique by Juan Pablo Rodríguez

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 22/04/2020 - 8:57pm in

In Resisting Neoliberal Capitalism in ChileJuan Pablo Rodríguez examines two recent social movements leading the social and political contestation against neoliberalism in Chile, not only showing how these embody critique in practice, but also drawing on these experiences to interrogate the very idea of social critique. This ambitious book is a welcome contribution to a sociology of social movements grounded in a reflexive dialogue between critical theory, social movement studies and empirical enquiry, writes Malik Fercovic

Resisting Neoliberal Capitalism in Chile: The Possibility of Social Critique. Juan Pablo Rodríguez. Palgrave Macmillan. 2020.

Beginning on 18 October 2019, Chilean society has experienced its most dramatic wave of social unrest since the end of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship 30 years ago. What at first begun as a secondary school student protest rejecting a hike in metro fares in the capital city, Santiago, rapidly turned into a nationwide popular revolt against Sebastián Piñera’s right-wing government and the neoliberal arrangement imposed by the dictatorship almost five decades ago.

This sudden, vast and powerful expression of social discontent came as a shocking surprise for many observers accustomed to seeing in Chile the most prosperous and stable Latin American nation in a region historically lacking in both. Indeed, until mid-October, mainstream analysts, from both within and outside of the country, underlined Chile’s substantial economic growth, educational expansion, access to mass consumption, increasing wages and low levels of corruption in recent decades. Only days before the start of what is now known as the ‘Chilean awakening’, President Piñera, insisting on Chile’s success story, declared the country to look ‘like an oasis’ in a troubled Latin America.

But, of course, this conventional depiction offers a very incomplete portrait of Chile. It obscures the hidden stratifications and intricacies of a rapidly changing social structure, the diffuse but unmistakable presence of a widespread discontent beneath the pacified surface of a consumer society, the mounting negative perception of high levels of inequality, as well as the sporadic impulses and periodic turbulence of social movements slowly but steadily gathering force—e.g. the secondary school student (‘penguin’) rebellion in 2006, the massive university student protests in 2011, manifold socio-environmental conflicts across the country, a robust contestation of Chile’s pension system in 2017 and a powerful feminist movement in 2018. Even a hasty glimpse at these diverse expressions of discontent might well have prevented the surprise many observers have experienced over the past months.

As an expanding literature suggests, the successive waves of social and political contestation unsettling the consensus on which the post-dictatorship Chile has been built cannot be doubted. But how do these variegated expressions of discontent articulate and practise their critical voices?

This somewhat neglected yet key question is at the heart of Juan Pablo Rodríguez’s Resisting Neoliberal Capitalism in Chile: The Possibility of Social Critique. In this book, Rodríguez studies two of the main social movements leading the social and political contestation against neoliberalism in recent years: namely, the practices of social critique of low-income urban citizens known as pobladores and the nationwide student movement in 2011 against unequal higher education. In addition to being part of longstanding social struggles throughout Chile’s history, according to Rodríguez, these social movements deserve our special attention for two complementary reasons. Rooted in the heavy burden of household and student debt, pobladores and the student movements embody the first successful endeavours to resist the ‘logic of fragmentation of neoliberalism’ in contemporary Chile. And they have managed to galvanise a larger critique not just of specific issues—the right to the city for poor city-dwellers or free and public-based higher education—but of Chilean society as a whole.

Yet Resisting Neoliberal Capitalism in Chile has more ambitious goals. Rodríguez’s book not only examines the way these two social movements embody critique in practice against neoliberalism in Chile. Taking the ‘return of Marx’ as a major pointer of the renewal of social critique over the past decade, he also inspects these experiences of social and political contestation to interrogate the very idea of social critique developed by diverse contemporary critical theorists in the Global North.  In hoping to come to terms with many of the unresolved dilemmas faced by critical theory (e.g. how to combine a critical diagnosis of existing societies with emancipatory perspectives and narrow the persistent gap between theory and praxis, philosophy and politics, abstraction and revolution), Rodríguez seeks to unite various theoretical developments of critique with the experiences of concrete social movements in the Global South. His larger aim is thus to advance a critical sociology of social movements at the crossroads of critical theory, social movement studies and empirical sociology.

To address this, Rodríguez adroitly develops his own conceptual framework from three main streams of scholarship. Firstly, influenced by Fredric Jameson, Axel Honneth and Jacques Rancière, Rodríguez builds the concept of ‘social critique as practice’—a notion bringing together the central notions of utopia, recognition and disagreement to examine the multifaceted ways in which social movements deploy their practices of critique. Secondly, based on Jameson’s notion of ‘cognitive mapping’ and Luc Boltanski’s ‘sociology of pragmatic critique’, Rodríguez explores how people’s own critical capacities can lead activists to ‘see the whole’. This orientation towards a ‘social totality’, he argues, is crucial in shaping social movements’ self-making and collective agency. Finally, trying to unite critical social theory and social movement studies, Rodríguez coins the concept of ‘critique in movement’, a term meant to capture the concrete routes by which social movements’ struggles and counter-hegemonic projects are enacted.

Resisting Neoliberal Capitalism in Chile is based on interviews conducted with leading activists among the pobladores and students and on the analysis of public documents produced by these organisations. In dialogue with the theoretical perspectives put forward, its empirical material delivers thought-provoking findings. This is the case with the pobladores social movement. Through their demands for affordable and decent housing in the councils in which they reside, Rodríguez argues that pobladores redefine themselves and the city they inhabit. From a critical diagnosis of neoliberal housing policies, their discourse moves on to articulate a critical approach to neoliberal capitalism more broadly. Although their practice of social critique is chiefly framed around a moral code rooted in poblaciones (the communities in which they are embedded), those settings are also the basis for a utopian anti-neoliberal project. ‘Our dream is bigger than a house,’ one of the interviewees puts it, giving voice to the back-and-forth movement between their local communities and the quest for ‘vida digna’ (a dignified life) or ‘el buen vivir’ (the good living) for all.

According to Rodríguez, the supports of this counter-hegemonic process can be found in the specific political strategies pobladores deploy around the ‘pre-figurative’ practices of self-management and popular education. And yet, as Rodríguez acknowledges, these practices are not devoid of strains or inconsistencies, particularly those arising from the tensions between the private ownership of housing versus a wider struggle to the right to the city for everyone.

Chilean students similarly developed and mobilised a critical discourse against neoliberalism during the 2011 student protests. This critical discourse was embedded in students’ feelings of indignation towards an unequal, low-quality and highly privatised educational system, which increased access but generated a mass of debtors and thwarted dreams of upward mobility. Yet Rodríguez shows that through a growing deliberative and politicisation process enacted via local assemblies and student federations, students went beyond their identity as students and spurred a wider critique of the neoliberal political and economic arrangements governing Chilean society over the past decades.

Amply resonating with the broader population, the students’ demands revolved around public, free and high-quality education, backed by a new constitution and tax reform. ‘We are not only students but much more than that,’ says one of the student leaders interviewed. These practices and demands, Rodríguez maintains, contained the seeds of a ‘new type of citizenship’ and a ‘radical democracy’ for a post-neoliberal society. However, this possibility was not freed from the conflict between understanding education as a way to make possible the individualistic promise of social mobility and a new conception of education as a social right and as the basis for a new society.

Resisting Neoliberal Capitalism in Chile thus brings together a systematic reflection on the idea of social critique with a well-informed presentation of how the pobladores and the student movements embody critique in practice. Stretching the boundaries between a vast array of critical theorists, Rodríguez’s conceptual framework makes us rethink the practical forms of critique that social movements enact in contemporary Chile. Particularly illuminating are the applications of the theories of Jameson (‘cognitive mapping’) and Boltanski (‘social totality’), as they help us to better understand the practices enabling real social actors to make connections between different issues as well as with people and organisations beyond the initial range of their demands.

Rodríguez is compelling in showing that this orientation towards ‘totalisation’, though not bereft of tensions or contradictions, is crucial for social movements’ self-understanding and their practices of resistance and political contestation. What is at stake is not just the individual demands of specific groups but indeed Chilean society as a whole. By the same token, it is this back-and-forth movement between the concrete and the general, practised by both the pobladores and student organisations over the past years, that becomes useful to grasp the escalating nature of the social unrest currently shaking the country.  In this, though not written to specifically address the reasons behind the current social crisis, Rodríguez’s book makes an important contribution.

Although stimulating in this regard, Resisting Neoliberal Capitalism in Chile also comes with some noteworthy omissions. Part of these limitations is linked to Rodríguez’s insistence on using critical theories almost exclusively arising from the Global North to make sense of the practices of social and political resistance and contestation in the Global South. But why exactly are the analytical perspectives advanced by critical theorists in the US or Europe the best manner to account for the peculiar ways of practising social critique by concrete social movements in Chile? This persistent imbalance is never addressed throughout the book.

Noticeably absent, too, is any sustained discussion of the methods used and their implications for analysis. Rodríguez does not reveal how he obtained his interview sample and the composition of it. Nor does he provide any consideration of the (dis)advantages of interviewing, as though this data-gathering technique was by default the only way to study his topic. Quite frequently, he seems to limit himself to taking his interview material at face value, without critically engaging with it. For an attempt to empirically study the concrete ways real social actors embody social critique, all this amounts to a highly disconcerting void.

These omissions show not just a striking lack of reflexivity regarding the methods and analysis undertaken—intensive interpretation about what interview statements indicate and the mobilisation of good reasons for how to use them are always necessary. They also make it harder for the reader to critically assess Rodríguez’s application of the theories invoked to interpret the empirical material presented. As a result, this ambitious book is ultimately, in my view, somewhat weakened by these drawbacks.

Still, it is promising that there are clear signs that researchers are returning to a much-needed sociology of social movements emerging from a reflexive dialogue between critical theories, social movement studies and empirical enquiry. Resisting Neoliberal Capitalism in Chile will contribute to advancing this agenda and should be welcomed for these reasons.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image One Credit: Chilean Protests 2019 in Puerto Montt (North Patagonia) (Natalia Reyes Escobar CC BY SA 4.0).

Image Two Credit: Student movement protest, Chile, 2011 (Carol Crisosto Cadiz CC BY SA 2.0).