One region, all voices

The gradual militarization of Latin American politics

Just one year ago the Bolivian Armed Forces played a notable role in becoming the decisive player that precipitated the departure of then President Evo Morales from the country after a tense electoral process and three weeks of high polarization and unrest. The military intervention was limited to a brief declaration: “After analyzing the internal conflict situation, we suggest that the President of the State resigns his presidential mandate, allowing for pacification and the maintenance of stability for the good of our Bolivia”. In this way, an arbitral function of the army was recuperated that, it should not be forgotten, was traditional before the period 1964-1989 when the military institution occupied power in a good number of Latin American countries.

The Bolivian armed presence under the spotlight coincided with other similar ones in a quarter of great street turbulence in the region. In Ecuador, the military accompanied the government in its transfer from Quito to Guayaquil due to pressure from the masses of the Carandolet palace where the Executive is located; in Peru, they posed in a historic photo with the president when he announced the constitutional dissolution of Congress by calling for elections to a new one.

All of these were symptoms of irregular gestures that showed a strange fit of the military corporation in the daily political order.

Shortly thereafter, in February of this year, President Nayib Bukele burst into the Legislative Assembly with a group of military personnel to reprimand their lordships and, later on, continued to do everything possible to prevent access to the military archives related to the 1981 massacre of 1,000 Salvadorans in El Mozote. On four occasions, the Salvadoran army has blocked judicial inspections of military archives with presidential consent, despite having been “declassified” by decision of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice. All of these were symptoms of irregular gestures that showed a strange fit of the military corporation in the daily political order.

At the same time, although with a different component, in Brazil and Mexico, the two main countries of the region in demographic and economic terms, the presence of the Armed Forces in the public sphere has been gradually consolidated with evident features of privileged protagonism in their actions.

Thus, in Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro, a former military man, has as his vice president the reserve general Hamilton Mourão and seven of the ministerial portfolios, which represent a third of the cabinet, are also in the hands of military men, as well as their spokesman, an active general. More than twenty areas of the administration, including the state oil company Petrobrás, are also headed by the military. It is estimated that today a little more than 6,100 officers from the three branches of the Armed Forces occupy these posts, a figure that in 2019 was over 2,700 people (which means an increase in one year of 120%). Of that number, nearly 2,000 are retired officers who have been temporarily assigned to the INSS to help alleviate the backlog in their day-to-day management.

in Mexico, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has not ceased to promote the role of the army in the fight against crime

For his part, in Mexico, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has not ceased to promote the role of the army in the fight against crime in line with the decision taken by his predecessor Felipe Calderón, then widely criticized. What is new, however, is that he has entrusted the Armed Forces with the execution of civil works such as that carried out at the Santa Lucia airport, an old military base that will be the new air terminal, thus trying to alleviate the paralysis of the expansion of the airport in the capital. Furthermore, at the beginning of the month, AMLO announced the construction of an airport in Tulum (Riviera Maya), also assigned to the military. Likewise, he has relied on military engineering for the elaboration of substantive parts of the megaproject of the Mayan train.

A last step in this direction has been the decision to suppress 109 trusts dedicated to the financing of public institutions linked to science, culture and sports which represented a little more than 3,000 million dollars, maintaining, however, the four trusts that the Ministry of Defense has for a value of some 1,500 million dollars. These trusts are available primarily for the purchase of military equipment, as well as retirement assets, pensions and compensation, allowances to children and family members of the Presidential General Staff and military personnel who have died in high-risk missions

This spurious use of the Armed Forces was also evidenced when Evo Morales was driven in a military plane from Bolivia to Mexico. An old and romantic conception of the army as a “uniformed people”, in terms of the President himself, to the detriment of the civil administration of the State.

The blow that AMLO has received due to the detention in the United States of General Salvador Cienfuegos, who was the Secretary of Defense of the Government of Peña Nieto, now accused of activities related to drug trafficking, does not seem to have weakened the military confidence of the President who qualified this fact as “very regrettable”. Perhaps the words of Cienfuegos himself last December will help shed light on the presence of the military in politics: “Do you want us to be in the barracks? Go ahead. I would be the first to raise not one, but both hands so that we can go do our constitutional tasks”. Was the military command suggesting that their task was not constitutional?

The dismantling of the State in an important number of countries, the precarious Public Administration with little budget and without having developed a civil service based on merit and independence have opened a space for the military who enjoy greater trust from presidents with a leadership vocation. They see in them an institution apparently docile to manage, but it is their gradual politicization the opportunity structure of their greater public involvement. This scenario foresees a dangerous tendency towards the consolidation of authoritarian expressions.

*Translation from Spanish by Emmanuel Guerisoli

Photo by Palácio do Planalto on / CC BY

MAS-IPSP, A Structure In Resistance

“We are Jenecherú, we are fire, the fire that never ends”, David Choquehuanca, vice-president elect.

On the 18th of October, Bolivians faced an electoral process that was postponed up to three times by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Bolivia is precisely a country specially hit by the virus: with almost 141,167 infections and more than eight thousand deaths, the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is contracting at an 11.11 percent rate and is absent of efficient public policies to face the health crisis. Despite this panorama, 87 percent of Bolivians took part in these elections and the Movement for Socialism–Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples (abbreviated MAS-IPSP, or simply MAS) repeated a new electoral victory. This time winning more than 55 percent of the votes, leaving well behind the Civic Community coalition, with 29 percent, and the Creemos coalition, with 14 percent of the vote.

One key factor for MAS’s victory was its internal reconfiguration, following Evo Morales’ resignation

The MAS-IPSP binomial, formed by Luis Arce and David Choquehuanca as its running mate, overcame the 2019 civil movement that condemned electoral fraud, the absence of Evo Morales on the ballot and a virtual second round announced by the pollsters and also expected by the opposition. One key factor for MAS’s victory was its internal reconfiguration, following Evo Morales’ resignation and departure of the party’s former leadership, and the building of alliances based on deepening the ethnic and regional divide. 

After the presidential interruption in 2019, the MAS was left without any visible leadership in both the Legislative and the streets. The transition government headed by Jeanine Añez initiated a political persecution of MAS’s leaders and officials and momentarily disarticulated the party. However, unlike the political alliances that emerged last year to compete in the elections, such as Civic Community and Creemos, MAS had since its foundations a communitary and unionist political structure that consolidated it as an unconventional party over several years. Represented by MAS-IPSP as an acronym for electoral purposes and by the Unity Pact, the party brings together social organizations that are related to its cause and defines the strategies to defend the process of change, as a popular structure. 

The MAS was born, in 1994, as a political movement of rural indigenous organizations. After the first government, in 2006, it brought together a large number of social sectors, ranging from unions, labor organizations, businesses and the middle class, either on the basis of ideological affinity or a logic of mutual interests. One of the main reasons why the party achieved an electoral hegemony at a national level was due to the formation of new alliances with conservative sectors and opponents of Evo Morales and the MAS, which are geographically based in the east of Bolivia. Therefore, the party of social movements grew as an electoral machine in the hands of a caudillista leader and with a weak internal democracy, but with a loyal militancy. 

For the 2019 elections, Evo Morales as a character and the lack of leaderships’ renewal caused a deep erosion in the MAS.

For the 2019 elections, Evo Morales as a character and the lack of leaderships’ renewal caused a deep erosion in the MAS. The fourth consecutive nomination of Morales to the elections, against the results of the 21F referendum, began to show the authoritarian character of his government, and those alliances with the conservative sectors, which have no militancy and loyalty to the party, moved away. The Unity Pact also wore out, in large part due to a bureaucratized leadership in government posts without any renewals.

Following the political and social crisis and Evo’s departure from the country, internal contradictions appeared inside the MAS, especially between those who opted for exile and those who did not resign from their posts. One of those moments was the selection of the presidential candidate and the running mate. In Bolivia, and from the altiplano militancy, an indigenous candidacy was supported, headed by David Choquehuanca, former foreign minister, and a young leader of the coca leaf producers in the Chapare, Andrónico Rodríguez. They distanced themselves from the middle class, which was condemned by the party bases due to their distance from the process of change. But, as in previous elections, the candidates were finally appointed by Morales and the leadership in exile, and thus the Arce-Choquehuanca binomial was born. 

The MAS candidates tried to stay away from Evo’s ghost in order to win back the middle class’ support. But Evo, in addition to being the MAS campaign manager, accompanied the electoral process from Argentina, where he was living in exile. Social media was the new space for interaction, especially with the coca growers’ movement and the party’s founding organizations in the Chapare. 

These disaffections could only be overcome by a common enemy: a deeply racist and discriminatory opposition force embodied by Jeanine Añez’s government. In 2002, the United States ambassador, Manuel Rocha, was the best campaign manager for MAS. In this electoral process it was Añez’s cabinet, especially her interior minister, Arturo Murillo, who took on this role. Far from building ties for the resolution of political and social problems, he deepened the ethnic and regional ruptures that characterize Bolivia. 

In 2019, the MAS lost all the popular support on the streets. But in August this year, it  rearticulated itself once again, bringing together the social forces that were outside the party –but within the Unity Pact– to ensure the date of the national elections and to avoid the extension of the Añez government. Moreover, an unusual alliance was established with the rural indigenous sector led by Felipe Quispe, also known as El Mallku, who has been historically critical of the process of change. However, in the wake of discriminatory discourses and public policies, an implicit alliance originated, which only threatened the economy of the rural areas and the poor. Among them, one of the most controversial, was the closing of the school year. 

These internal and external confrontations led the reconfiguration of a new vision of “non-submission” within the MAS. A pact that, according to the organizations’ statements, helps to bring together all the original social forces, based on the renewal of leadership as a promise for the future. Both within the MAS and the organizations, in order to become a party that could seduce the loyalty of the middle-class vote.

MAS, once again, took advantage of its organic structure and the practices that gave it its first electoral victory in 2005: a door-to-door campaign and multitudinous rallies –notwithstanding the Covid-19 pandemic–, without considering the state apparatus that sustained Evo’s campaigns over 14 years. With all this, the MAS could bank into the erosion of opposition alliances, which focused on a discourse of fear and denial of the other, converging, once again, on the origins of MAS. 

*Translation from Spanish by Ricardo Aceves

The Andean Development Corporation: a gentle giant

The Andean Development Corporation celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. After the upset caused among several Latin American governments by the appointment of Mauricio Claver-Carone as president of the Inter-American Development Bank – which breaks the tradition that the leader of this organization always being a Latin American and the executive vice president a U.S. citizen – CAF has more reason to celebrate.

The low profile maintained by CAF, however, is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain. Its size, coupled with its credit policies and strong performance, is attracting more and more attention. In 2019, CAF approved US$13 billion in credit operations. This is more than the amount committed by its main competitors in the region, the IDB and the World Bank, to provide resources for Latin American development. CAF has become a giant.

This is significant, both for the history and the present of the corporation for the continent.

Let us review the history first.

CAF was founded in 1970 to finance the integration of the nascent Andean Group, formed by Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru. The initial capital and subsequent increases until 1990 were subscribed by the founding nations – who controlled it completely. CAF was (and still is) a special development bank: founded and financed by poor countries, lending resources to those same countries.

According to its original mandate, loans would go to projects that integrate agriculture and industry (especially intermediate and capital goods), improve transportation and marketing infrastructure, provide technical cooperation, and promote intra-Andean trade. They would also be channeled to Bolivia and Ecuador for various initiatives, as the least developed countries within the Group would enjoy preferential treatment.

Following these guidelines, the first investments flowed towards the construction of a network of rice warehouses in Bolivia, the assembly of an industrial complex to process tropical tuna in Ecuador, and the construction of a bridge in Zulia that would facilitate Colombian-Venezuelan integration.

At the end of the 1980s and in view of the evident failure of substitutive industrialization in the Andean sub-region, the Corporation strategically repositioned itself. Its transformation took place over 25 years on three main fronts.

First. It prioritized the financing of infrastructure projects (road, hydric, maritime and energy) over industrial investments. It allocated resources to raise productivity, protect the environment, improve the competitiveness of small and medium-size enterprises, and support public sector reforms.

it began to build an intermediary network of more than one hundred commercial banks as partners to advance loans.

Second. It expanded its membership and changed its relationship with the private sector. After adding Mexico (1990) and approving the return of Chile (1992), CAF integrated 15 more countries – from the Southern Cone and Central America through the Caribbean to Europe. CAF also opened up to the private sector. On the one hand, it began to build an intermediary network of more than one hundred commercial banks as partners to advance loans. And on the other hand, it accepted the entry of a group of private banks as shareholders with voice and vote on the board of directors.

Third. It accessed international markets. CAF became a regular and successful issuer of medium- and long-term bonds in the capitals of global finance: New York, London and Tokyo. The most important rating agencies have given its papers a high investment grade rating since 1993, and today it is one of the safest issuers in Latin America.

Now let’s look at the present and future.

By comparing CAF with multilateral entities such as the World Bank and the IDB, we can better understand the advantages and disadvantages of each. For example, the World Bank provides concessional loans. It also provides long-term resources to low-income countries that would find it difficult to access such financing. Finally, the interest rates it charges for its loans are very low.

What advantages can CAF offer in this scenario? Several. Let’s review.

CAF processes loan approvals faster than the IDB or the World Bank, with average times ranging from three to four months. In addition, small countries such as Bolivia and Ecuador exercise their voice and vote in the organization’s decisions with tangible results for their interests. These two countries have continued to be the largest recipients of their loans – from 2000 to today they have obtained resources of around US$ 20 billion.

the interests CAF charges are converging towards the levels offered by its rivals.

Although the interest that CAF charges for its loans is higher than that offered by the IDB or the WB, two things should be noted. One, the spread over the LIBOR rate has narrowed as the Corporation’s financial strength has become more appreciated in international markets and by risk rating agencies. In other words, the interests CAF charges are converging towards the levels offered by its rivals.

Two, CAF loans are provided free of ties, i.e., without conditions. This is not the case with much of the resources of its competitors. The practice of imposing conditions on IDB loans has made a run in Latin America since the Baker Plan. In the midst of the debt crisis of the 1980s, the Ronald Reagan administration openly promoted the financing programs of multilateral organizations on the basis of certain economic policies.

As Sarah Babb’s research has shown, since then U.S. financial support to multilateral banks has been conditioned, tending to the adherence of borrowing countries to the free market, economic growth led by the private sector, and a minimalist role for the State. Thanks to the shareholder activism of the U.S. government in the directives of the IDB and other multilateral organizations, the “coercive” transmission of economic policies through conditional loans became a constant reality for any debtor.

This practice has been foreign to CAF. The Corporation is gentler in this regard. I repeat, CAF does not impose conditions on its loans. Its main concern is to ensure that loans are repaid. Thus, the extra points that CAF charges in interest for the use of resources to its clients can be seen as the price to pay for the freedom and autonomy to orient economic policy in the direction that each government considers appropriate.

While this is a high price, it is probably not as high as it is for the region’s fragile democracies to open the door wide to the demagogic populism that fuels nationalism and anti-Americanism to the sound of voices denouncing subjugation, exploitation, etc. It is ironic that the maxim of President Reagan himself synthesizes with exactitude such a situation: “The price of freedom can be high, but never so costly as to lose it”.

*Translation from Spanish by Emmanuel Guerisoli

Chile: about the end of a cycle and what is to come

The striking result of the Chilean plebiscite of October 25, 2020, which enshrined the popular option for a new Constitution to be drawn up by a Constituent Assembly (Constitutional Convention) elected exclusively for this purpose, carries several symbolisms. Above all, it ends a long period of submission of Chilean society to an illegitimate legal framework. But beyond the cycle that ends, it is difficult to predict the content of what will replace it.

First of all, we must recognize the illegitimacy of the 1980’s Constitution, drafted by the military dictatorship led by Augusto Pinochet and imposed through a simulacrum of plebiscite. Later, when the democratic oppositions agreed to participate in the 1988 plebiscite, and through the campaign for No, defeated Pinochet’s alternative of continuity at the polls, there was not only something to celebrate. Participation also symbolized a tacit recognition of Pinochet’s institutions, and was consecrated to the “conservative transition” that ended the dictatorship without leading to full democracy. With the victory in 1988, there was no way out for the democratic forces except to negotiate with the dictatorship – and to do so on the playing field chosen by it, under its rules.   

As a consequence, the analyses of hegemonic political science that gave rise to an endless “transition to democracy” in Chile became famous throughout the 1990s. In fact, it was not an endless transition, but the transition that had already been completed to a limited democracy of very low intensity.

For decades, it will be discussed whether the end of the dictatorship could have been different

For decades, it will be discussed whether the end of the dictatorship could have been different, or whether the Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia (the opposition that won most of the next presidential elections) could have advanced more decisively along the path of democratic and social reforms and in settling accounts with the past.

In any case, it was then a society marked by trauma and reorganized by the “neoliberal laboratory” initiated by the dictatorship as recently as the 1970s. The new Chilean neo-liberal society that emerged from the dictatorship was presented internationally as a successful neo-liberal case. Political stability and high rates of economic growth did not allow the vast majority of analysts to glimpse what could be happening underground and the magmas that could be moving.     

Until the social crash of October 18, 2019, it was not exactly a “ray in the blue sky”. Several important protest movements had already occurred in previous years, such as the high school student movement of 2006 (the “Penguin Revolution”). But nothing like the largest social storm in Chile happening in October 25, 2019, which occupied the streets for months and caused citizen assemblies and barricades to break out everywhere (besides the hundreds of public buildings and subway stations destroyed). The unexpected occurred in the model country. Not even centuries of mainstream political science could foresee it.

Beyond the popular violence that exploded at various times during the rebellion, one should not forget the dead, wounded, raped and humiliated people by police forces (of the 411 with injuries to the eyeball, for example). In any case, this author was in Santiago throughout the entire period, and was able to see, in addition to occasional outbursts of anger, violence and depredation, the hope, joy and liberation in the eyes of every demonstrator, every woman, every young person present at the protests.

If the explosion had begun with the increase in the prices of subway tickets, soon several protesters emerged, almost as many as those who were part of them. But the clamors for a new constitution, for reforms in private pension systems and for the resignation of right-wing President Sebastián Piñera were quickly imposed. The emergence of issues of gender equality and Mapuche sovereignty (with its flag being raised as an icon of demonstrations) were also striking. 

The social revolt without leadership was channeled into institutional change

The social revolt without leadership was channeled into institutional change, in an agreement that involved most political forces trying to understand, contain or take advantage of the mobilization. Piñera stayed, albeit at a long end of his term. Pension reform continues to be discussed. And it was agreed to hold a plebiscite to decide if there would be a constituent and what it would look like, instead of calling it at once.

Thus, after a year of uncertainty and postponement (with the Covid-19 pandemic further disrupting the process), the plebiscite finally took place. 78% approved the drafting of the new Constitution, 79% defined that its authors would be assemblies elected only for this purpose (the other “mixed” option would be with half the assembly composed of current congressmen).

Only a social earthquake to break all the institutional blockade and political crystallization that had been dragging on since 1988, and to put the internationally glorified neoliberal model on hold. Once the votes of the plebiscite have been counted, where can this clear option for change go? Some important questions are still missing from the constituent process. It has already been defined that it will have gender parity, but it is not yet clear when it will begin, how long it will last, whether its decisions will be made by simple majority or by two-thirds, or whether the elaboration of the Charter will start from scratch (the “blank sheet”, hoja en blanco) or of the current Constitution.

When it comes to the streets, it is not known whether the dissatisfaction has been definitively channeled into the institutional path. The maintenance of popular mobilization will be fundamental in determining whether the transformations will go in the direction of changes in the political system accompanied by some reforms in the neoliberal model; or whether they will move toward more structural changes.

What is known is that we are witnessing the end of a cycle, but it is difficult to project what will replace it. In any case, even if in the end all the potential contained in the social stalemate is not realized, at least Chilean society will finally have a legitimate constitution – which is no small thing. But the “great avenues” are still open for the possibility of developing a high-intensity democracy and rebuilding social organization. With this, Chile would move away from two central premises of neoliberalism: authoritarianism and individualism.

And so, the whole process could be of even more transcendental importance than it has been already assumed. It could project a message of more democracy and more rights to Latin America and the world, in the midst of a regional and global context of the advance of all sorts of authoritarianism and exclusion.

Liquid autonomy: L.A. and Foreign Policy in the 21st Century

Co-author Esteban Actis

The consecration for the first time in history of an American as president of the IDB represents a historic break in the post-war architecture of inter-American governance. The advance of Washington into the bank, and also into the OAS, leaves in sight the weaknesses and fractures of Latin America, unable to find a position of consensus in the face of such arbitrariness. Is there any autonomy left? This is the question that many people are asking.

Contrary to what a conventional view implies, autonomy is not isolation. In relational terms, it refers to the willingness of a country to act independently and in cooperation with others, in a competent, committed and responsible manner, as Roberto Russell and Juan Tokatlian point out. For Latin America, the notion of power has not been centered on influence, but on autonomy. As Benjamin Cohen points out, the first is “power over” others; the second is “power to” implement policies and resist external pressures. The powers that be are asking how to achieve the former, the countries of the region are asking how to increase the latter.

Far from the unwavering strength of the Cold War and the post-Cold War era, autonomy today is still possible, but it is more liquid and fragile.

Far from the unwavering strength of the Cold War and the post-Cold War era, autonomy today is still possible, but it is more liquid and fragile. To paraphrase Zygmunt Bauman in Liquid Modernity, the conditions in which countries operate can change before the ways of acting become consolidated into determined behaviors. For this, appropriate and dynamic diagnoses of the world and the region are needed, weighing both threats and opportunities. It is a matter of enabling strategic thinking on different prospective scenarios and foreign policy options. Without foresight, there is only reaction.

Today’s world is one of quicksand. Pandemics, technological wars, cyberterrorist attacks or climate catastrophes increase global risk. The process that explains global politics is not order, but entropy, as Randall Schweller rightly points out. In turn, this uncertainty is crossed by a hegemonic transition with no end in sight. The United States, a giant with feet of clay that abdicates its vocation as a world leader, versus China, whose unstoppable rise consolidates its transition from wealth to power. The pandemic accelerates everything, but it also makes it more tangible and denser.

The salient note of the region today is its lesser systemic relevance. Relative shrinkage, self-absorption and unusual fragmentation explain this disarray. Neither scenarios of balance of power nor of regional hegemony are to be expected anymore. The regional gaps are occupied by extra-regional powers. The United States is strengthening its coercive diplomacy and military ties with Colombia and Brazil. The non-resolution of the Venezuelan crisis has as protagonists China and Russia. Norway is the only hope for peaceful mediation. In the Amazon, it is France that tries to stop Bolsonaro’s unrest. Regional crises are not resolved, they are frozen.

While the US military presence remains unchallenged, the pandemic continues to deepen the region’s economic, commercial and financial dependence on China.

While the US military presence remains unchallenged, the pandemic continues to deepen the region’s economic, commercial and financial dependence on China. Non-alignment” or “neutrality” as an alternative to automatic subordination, whether to Beijing or Washington, appears today in the retina of politicians and academics. The normative prescription of maintaining an equidistant position in the face of that great dispute is correct, but insufficient for a world and a region that have changed.

Faced with the game of growing rivalry between two economically imbricated powers, the countries of the region that seek to preserve room for maneuver must think less of the “spirit of Bandung” and more of the “spirit of ABACC”. The nuclear control agency between Argentina and Brazil, created in the 1990s, is an example that endures in a terrain dominated by nuclear powers. Also the alliance between Mexico and Argentina to produce the vaccine against the coronavirus or the Argentine-Brazilian center of biotechnology are examples of the potential of niche agendas. Faced with the impossibility of desirable multilateralism, the option is viable minilateralism.

In order to improve the negotiating capacity with the United States and China, it will be necessary to play intelligently with the deficient existing regional institutions, but in a complementary manner to forge ad hoc coalitions on issues such as health, gender, reduction of social inequalities, environmental crisis, infrastructure, technology regulation, protection of natural resources, and external financing, among others. Enclaves of autonomy” should be selected and prioritized through niche diplomacy. Not only central, but also provincial and local governments, civil society actors, scientists, entrepreneurs, and citizens can contribute to a renewed multidimensional, multi-stakeholder, and multi-level “3M diplomacy”.

In an entropic world, preserving room for maneuver depends more on anticipation and adaptation than on rigidity. The foreign policy debate seems to have left behind the dilemma between autonomy or acquiescence, to revolve around a constant transaction between the two logics in the face of a complexation of actors, agendas and external dynamics. Liquid autonomy” implies proactivity, variation and flexibility. Also, pragmatism to offer concessions on specific issues that will be functional to gain margins of maneuver and results in other battles. Today it is not a question of “autonomy in resistance”, but of “autonomy in resilience”. Sometimes you have to know how to choose what toads to swallow and where.

*Translation from Spanish by Emmanuel Guerisoli

A New Constitution for Chile

A truly historic election was held this Sunday. Chileans decided, in a convincing way, through a plebiscite, that the country will have a new Constitution. The new adjective should not be taken lightly. We are not facing a constitutional reform, but the possibility of writing a text from scratch, from a blank page. The election also had the purpose of defining the mechanism in charge of drafting the new Constitution, that is, through a constitutional convention made up of 155 members who will be elected by direct vote on 11 April 2021.

The constitutional convention have equal gender membership and will contemplate special quotas for members of indigenous communities. This deliberative body will draft the new Constitution within a period of 9 months, which may be extended for up to 3 more months. The text must be approved by at least 2/3 of its members and subsequently ratified by an exit plebiscite. If within the established period of time there’s no agreement, the current Constitution approved in 1980 will remain in force.    

the country’s main political forces agreed to an “Agreement for Social Peace” whose central axis contemplated a constitutional plebiscite.

This plebiscite is extraordinary because of the context in which it originated. In October 2019, Chile experienced a wave of mass protests, mostly peaceful but occasionally violent, that lasted for more than two months. In the midst of a social outburst of biblical proportions, which according to President Sebastián Piñera, the government did not see coming, and clearly did not know how to deactivate, the country’s main political forces agreed to an “Agreement for Social Peace” whose central axis contemplated a constitutional plebiscite. Thus, the new Constitution became a political strategy to dismantle a social conflict that otherwise did not foresee an auspicious outcome.

But was the demand for a new Constitution the main demand of the mobilized citizenry? Certainly not. The mobilized citizens did not articulate themselves around a leader, group or movement, nor did they clamor for a concrete reform. On the contrary, during the social explosion the public space was flooded with multiple demands and heterogeneous claims such as improved access to health, decent wages, quality education, the end of pension insurance companies and the reduction of inequalities around socio-structural categories such as class, gender and ethnicity, among others.  

However, for a large part of the citizenry and the political elites, the 1980 Constitution had become a real thorn in the side of both the symbolic and the instrumental.  Symbolically, the current Constitution was written in the midst of the dictatorship and without citizen participation, something that has led many to consider it a text with an original sin. Given that the country faces a profound crisis of legitimacy, expressed in low levels of party identification, confidence in the institutions and political participation, having a democratic Constitution, the product of deliberation, seems both timely and necessary. Instrumentally, the Constitution was designed to maintain the status quo, through various rules that hinder change, and not to institutionally process accumulated demands and discontent. For this reason, some consider that in order to emerge from the crisis it is essential to have a new Constitution that does not operate as a brake on change.

What remains to be seen is whether a new constitution will resolve the deep crisis of legitimacy in which Chile finds itself.

What remains to be seen is whether a new constitution will resolve the deep crisis of legitimacy in which Chile finds itself. There is no doubt that political crises often offer opportunities to reflect on what kind of country citizens want to build and to adopt necessary transformations that would otherwise be difficult to achieve. We also know that when people perceive decision-making processes as legitimate, they are more likely to accept their results, even when they are adverse. These, in and of themselves, are powerful reasons to hope for a new Constitution.

However, this process presents enormous challenges in managing rising expectations. A good part of the citizenry could be waiting for a new constitution to bring a solution to many of the problems and demands that were manifested after the social explosion. The availability of medicines, socioeconomic inequality, gender discrimination, abuses by private companies and employment levels will not be resolved immediately or expeditiously if a new constitutional text is approved.

The context does not help either. COVID-19 hit Chile hard, with over 500,000 cases already accumulated. The economy has also suffered the effects of the pandemic, with unemployment levels around 13% and a projection of -6.3% for this year, according to the World Bank. Opinion polls show that widespread discontent still prevails.

It is undeniable that having a new Constitution is a necessary step to solve the crisis of legitimacy in which the country is immersed. However, this will not be enough. If the political class does not rise to the occasion, if the management of citizen expectations is deficient and if broad transversal socio-political agreements are not built around a common project, it will be difficult to look to the future with optimism.  

*Translation from Spanish by Emmanuel Guerisoli

Opening or closing? South American immigration policies in the post-pandemic era

The Covid-19 outbreak led to the total closure of borders in South America and, in some cases, their militarization to contain the pandemic, leaving thousands of migrants stranded trying to return to their home countries. The health crisis is compounded by an economic crisis whose dimensions are still being estimated and that has exponentially affected migrants: evictions, loss of daily sustenance, food insecurity and increased xenophobia in some countries.

In addition, the humanitarian crisis that has generated an exodus of more than five million people from Venezuela, mainly to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile, has been accompanied by regulatory changes: creation of temporary permits, imposition of visas and, in some countries, proposals to reform migration laws leading to more restrictive policies.

the reactionary movement in immigration policies is increasingly latent. 

Although in the last two decades, and with the turn to the left in the region, avant-garde immigration laws in terms of guaranteeing rights and citizenship had been proposed, such as the Ecuadorian or Uruguayan laws, the reactionary movement in immigration policies is increasingly latent. 

In this context, Chile and Colombia are debating their migration bills. On the one hand, in Chile, the enforcement of a Pinochet-era immigration law (1975), coupled with diverse migratory flows in the last two decades (Haiti, Colombia, Venezuela), suggests a necessary and urgent change in the law, especially when the possibility of a new constitutional process is being considered. Civil society and academia have expressed their views on the project, pointing out, among other shortcomings, that it does not introduce permanent regularization mechanisms.

On the other hand, in Colombia, a country that has traditionally produced migrants with 10% of its population living abroad and now is a receiving country with more than 1.7 million Venezuelans and more than 500,000 Colombian returnees, the creation of a migration law that includes all the desegregated norms is more than necessary. Colombia cannot continue multiplying decrees and must move towards an inclusive policy that guarantees rights. The new migration law cannot be a simple compilation of norms.

In addition to these two projects, several bills on the subject of migration have recently been presented to the Peruvian Congress, including Bill 5349 of 2020. In this bill, it is intended that Peru withdraws from the United Nations’ Global Compact for Migration signed in December 2018 and creates the crime of irregular entry, criminalizing immigrants, contrary to international standards in this regard.

Now, with these reforms, what are the scenarios at the regional level in a post-pandemic era? Are we facing a generalized restrictive scenario? Although it is still early to answer these questions, in principle South American countries have two paths.

The first is to close the borders definitively, a scenario that is not very viable since it has been seen that, even with the closure, the population continues to move across porous borders and sometimes with the help of traffickers. The case of migration from Venezuela is the most evident: at the beginning of the pandemic the population began to return and currently the walkers are already wandering on the roads of Colombia going south.

The second is to continue strengthening some regional spaces for dialogue such as the Quito Process, which, although not binding, puts regional migration policy on the table. While this process has focused on denouncing the Maduro dictatorship, the member countries not only face the great challenge of regularizing the Venezuelan population, but also its socioeconomic inclusion. It is clear that this population came to Colombia to stay, although some governments refuse to accept it, creating temporary measures rather than long-term ones.

regional migration policy cannot focus exclusively on Venezuelan migratory flows.

But not everything is black and white. First, regional migration policy cannot focus exclusively on Venezuelan migratory flows. On the route to Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia there are thousands of migrants in transit who require international protection. What are governments doing about this? So far, they seem to be doing nothing.

Second, the possible reopening of Colombia’s border with Venezuela next month will bring more migration movement to the region. It is expected to lead to thousands more migrants leaving Venezuela. Given this situation, what possibilities will the governments of the region give migrants to regularize themselves permanently? In a context of growing xenophobia, where half of the more than 5 million people who have migrated lack the necessary documentation for a regular stay in these countries, the post-pandemic scenario is of concern.

In times of crisis (humanitarian or health), it seems that more restrictive migration policies are the solution, and some measures adopted to contain migratory flows in the region suggest this. Now it seems that South American countries have left behind all vestiges of moving towards a South American citizenship, as was proposed at some point in the extinct UNASUR. Some government responses do not seem to correspond with this vision of free mobility once promoted in regional integration spaces.

The idea of a South American citizenship is still utopian. For now, South American governments will have no choice but to continue confronting intraregional migration in the midst of an economic and health crisis. The question is how? Let us hope that it will be with welcoming responses that appeal to solidarity, hospitality, but above all, that they will be guarantors of the rights of migrants and their families.

*Translation from Spanish by Emmanuel Guerisoli

Photo by Andrés Gómez Tarazona in / CC BY-NC-ND

Parliamentary elections and the advent of a new hegemonic political system in Venezuela

Parliamentary elections in Venezuela have been held every five years since the first legislature of the National Assembly (NA) in 2000. However, in order to understand the political context of the 2020 election, it is necessary to examine the dictatorial turn of the Nicolás Maduro regime after the defeat of Chavism in the 2015 legislative elections.

As of December 2015, the government, together with the Judiciary and the state security forces, began an unprecedented offensive against the opposition. This systematic siege on parliamentary autonomy accelerated the deterioration of electoral conditions that were already questionable back then.

Shortly after the results of the parliamentary election, with the largest electoral turnout in history, giving a qualified majority of 2/3 of the seats to the opposition, the presidential counterattack began. The Supreme Court of Justice would be the main battering ram of this site that persists to this day with 141 sentences that seek as a whole to annul the constitutional powers of this parliamentary majority.

One of the first rulings was challenged for insufficient burden of proof, negating the right to defense, and the lack of a final ruling regarding the deputies of the state of Amazonas. In this way, in addition to curtailing the territory of parliamentary representation, the consolidation of the qualified majority was prevented, and with it the constitutional powers that this type of majority has in terms of political control. This attack would mark the rest of the rulings and actions against the NA. The swearing in of those deputies was the alibi for declaring the parliament in contempt and with it, nullifying all decisions and the full exercise of its institutional powers.

For 2016, the petition for a recall referendum by the opposition mobilized in the elections was scorned by the National Electoral Council with unfounded accusations of fraud in the collection of signatures. This, in addition to once again fueling the crisis of governance, renewed distrust in the electoral process among citizens and among leaders of the MUD, a coalition of parties already disbanded.

The forging of a tailor-made electoral system became state policy to the point of allowing for an unconstitutional call for eletions, as was the election of the National Constituent Assembly in 2017, which was aimed at drafting a new constitution. In practice, however, only a parallel parliament was imposed on the NA. This practice employed by Chavismo, when some electoral result had been adverse to it, ended up emptying the vote of civic sense as a means of political expression and institutional change.

With this new imposition, the persecution of the deputies and the bloody repression of the more than 6,700 social protests registered in 2017 would continue, while the opposition continued to be divided regarding its strategies for political change. For the regional elections of 2017, the electoral demobilization would be undeniable and the internal division between abstentionists and electoralists would deepen. This reached its maximum expression with the 2018 presidential convocation, which was full of vices.

The blind street of abstentionism

The current opposition abstentionism began to take shape at the end of 2016 and grew with the lack of knowledge of the 2018 presidential elections and the irruption of the interim government of Juan Guaidó in January 2019.

The expectations of a democratic transition and the request for the cessation of the functions of a government catalogued as usurper by that questioned election, was a new strategic framework to pressure a political change supported by more than 50 democracies. With the establishment of a diplomatic and financial siege on the Maduro regime, the opposition leadership considered that sooner rather than later an internal breakdown would occur, especially among the security forces.

But the strategy did not work, nor did the subsequent attempts at negotiation with the regime. On the contrary, this miscalculation served Chavismo to purge its ranks of defectors and succeeded in dismantling the opposition from the only scenario in which it has been successful: the electoral arena.

After the military expulsion of the deputies from the Federal Legislative Palace in January 2020 and the establishment of a new board of directors, Chavism disregarded the powers of the current legislature and imposed new electoral authorities, new regulations, new boards of directors in the majority of the parties, and unconstitutionally expanded the number of seats in the National Assembly. These actions occur while the accelerated impoverishment of the population continues, massive forced migration continues, and vulnerability increases in the face of the expansion of the COVID19 in a country with an almost non-existent health system.

It should be noted that Venezuela has a bitter precedent on issues of abstention. The withdrawal of the opposition from the 2005 parliamentary elections brought about disastrous political, economic and legal results, the effects of which are still felt today. During the 2005-2010 legislature, the current anti-democratic legal architecture was built and all parliamentary mechanisms for budgetary control were handed over, which allowed the consequent expansion of plundering and Chavista corruption.

Despite this precedent, the opposition has reiterated its lack of knowledge about the legislative elections of 2020

Despite this precedent, the opposition has reiterated its lack of knowledge about the legislative elections of 2020 and has proposed instead new mobilizations and even a popular consultation. However, abstaining will not lead to a strengthening of unity, nor will it help to maintain international support once the constitutional mandate of the parliamentary opposition ends in January 2021.

While current electoral conditions could not be worse, abstention would end up being a blind alley with no strategic value for the future. For even in the face of defeat, the organizational effort involved in any election could allow the opposition to rebuild the strategic unity lost, renew its leadership and progressively recover the social support of a new demographic reality. In this way, it could recalculate its strategies in the face of a geopolitics that is increasingly disjointed and erratic about the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis.

For now, these controversial legislative elections could end up consolidating the transition to a much more restrictive regime. A new political system in which all public powers are hegemonically controlled and the new opposition is kept under guardianship, imprisoned, disqualified, exiled and divided. All this in the face of the humanitarian suffering resulting from a political collapse that today seems far from being resolved.

*Translation from Spanish by Emmanuel Guerisoli

Photo by Carlos Adampol at / CC BY-SA

U.S. Politics resembles third world countries ‘ones

When Donald Trump surprised pollsters and analysts by winning the 2016 election, South African comedian Trevor Noah said the United States finally had an African president and I would add a Latin American one too. Trump lives up to former Ecuadorian President Abdullah Bucaram in his vulgarity and machismo. While Bucaram claimed that his rivals had watery semen, Trump bragged about grabbing any woman he wanted. Like Latin American politicians who don’t separate the office of president from their business, the New York Times reported how Trump’s hotel and club businesses benefited during his presidency. Similar to other populists who deny the possibility that people will not vote for them, Trump has said that if he loses it will be by fraud and has not committed to accepting the election results.

What happened to American democracy? How did it get to the point where a president and about half the population would seem willing to ignore the elections results if they don’t win? Unlike when the Democratic and Republican parties competed for the average voter and had similar proposals, these parties have become polarized. The culture wars marked two camps that now have different lifestyles.

The Republicans are majoritarian white, Christian, anti-sate intervetionist party that seeks to reverse policies of cultural recognition

The Democrats are more secular and progressive, including feminists, non-white groups, and LGBT communities. The Republicans are majoritarian white, Christian, anti-sate intervetionist party that seeks to reverse policies of cultural recognition for non-whites, women, lesbians, and gays.

Primary elections that sought to democratize political parties have allowed radicalized groups to manage their agendas. While right-wing activists took over the Republican party, Democratic party elites contained left-wing groups. The parties acted with the logic of social movements. The left politicized socioeconomic differences between 99 percent and 1 percent. The right rebelled against changes in racial, generational, and gender power, seeking to return to a mythical past in which women, non-whites, and homosexuals were in place.

When Trump announced his candidacy by stating that Mexicans are criminals, the ground was prepared for a politician who would give voice to xenophobic, racist sectors and those who sought to impose their faith over all of society. Trump was the spearhead of a movement of whites who felt crushed by “political correctness”. They found Trump’s words liberating. Christian fundamentalists and Catholics supported him as he promised to put in place conservative judges to end abortion rights, gay marriage, and state meddling in health policy.

After four years, Trump has maintained the support of conservative groups, the fundamentalist churches are mobilizing the faithful in his favor, and he has resurrected anti-communism and fear of change. His big advantage is that his followers will go out and vote and probably support him if he says there was electoral fraud. The Democrats are benefiting from Trump’s inability to control Covid, the economic crisis, and polarization fatigue. However, it is less certain that Democrats will go out and vote, mainly because many Bernie Sanders supporters do not feel represented by Joe Biden nor Kamala Harris.

Populism is legitimized at the ballot box, when elections do not decide populisms mutate into dictatorships.

Populism is legitimized at the ballot box, when elections do not decide populisms mutate into dictatorships. 2020 could be the year of the pandemic, of the strongest economic crisis since the 1930s and the year in which American democracy died. Or, alternatively, the year in which democracy survived despite all adversities.

Trump is more a symptom of a political system and a society in need of reform than its cause. The United States is a deeply unequal country, where police kill ethnic minorities with impunity and where the bonds of solidarity among citizens have been cut. It is a polarized society in which politics cannot be discussed at family gatherings and in which wearing a mask in an epidemic is a political act. If Trump is unmindful of Biden’s triumph, he could be inviting confrontations in the streets and for the military to decide who is the future president, as happened in so many so-called third world countries where the armed forces are still the arbiters of democracy.

*Translation from Spanish by Emmanuel Guerisoli

Photo by Alek S. at / CC BY

The return of MAS (and Evo Morales)

The short summer of the anti-MAS bloc in Bolivia lasted almost a year, as the newly elected president, Luis Arce Catacora (MAS), will have to be sworn in November or December of this year. The possible return of Evo Morales generates joy to some and discomfort to others, but the triumph of his candidate (dolphin) is evidence that his political scent is highly developed. For their part, the defeated candidates, Carlos Mesa and Luis Fernando Camacho, will have to assume the role of the opposition – a fragmented minority – with the burden on their shoulders of having repeated the same political errors of the past: not recognizing that the national-popular logic is predominant in popular sectors and indigenous groups (the majority) that live on the peripheries of the capital cities of La Paz and Santa Cruz.

How do you explain the new political scenario in Bolivia?

Preliminary results have corroborated the idea that in much of the Bolivian social imaginary Luis Arce has the best profile to lead the country’s economy. His condition as ex-finance minister during the time of economic prosperity, when many people came out of extreme poverty and the middle class expanded, has been his best presentation card at a critical moment: when the pandemic left many families unemployed and dragged them back into poverty, even worse, with the poor management in the economic and public health areas and the acts of corruption in the administration of interim president Jeanine Añez.

On the other hand, the campaign of candidate Carlos Mesa was weak and without impact. His political discourse said nothing new; in fact, it was deployed under the discursive parameters of the MAS in relation to the administration of strategic state enterprises. A pragmatic position if we consider that the role of the State in the management of the economy and generation of sources of employment has a high level of acceptance among the citizenry. In summary, Mesa was a candidate for television and video in social networks, not on the street. Social distance (his age a risk factor during the pandemic) was taken very seriously during the campaign, but its cost was quite high. 

In the case of Luis Fernando Camacho, his discursive strategy was based on the fact that he was a candidate who represented the renewal of the Bolivian political class, a man devotedl to the religious faith (Catholic and Christian) and the new political leader that the eastern region of Bolivia (mainly the department of Santa Cruz) needed. His background: having confronted Evo Morales in 2019 and then provoked his resignation -when there was supposedly fraud- generated his credentials to run for president. However, it was a failure. The region-youth symbiosis had an effect on only 14.1% of the voters – according to the Jubilee quick count (an institution with high credibility in the development of surveys of voting intentions) – and marked a social polarization with the East versus West divide.

What are the challenges of the new president-elect?

Although for a large part of the population (voters) Luis Arce has the necessary credits to manage the State’s finances in the context of a pandemic that has economically affected the most vulnerable population, he also has the great challenge of strengthening democratic institutions. If the majority in the new Plurinational Assembly (parliament) is represented by his party (MAS) – as is planned – then he will have a free hand to set the agenda for various pending issues and problems. However, if the agenda of issues of the minority is made unfeasible in its entirety, not much progress will have been made. If the officialdom neutralizes the opposition politically and the opposition remains fragmented and disoriented, we will have a new administration characterized by the cacophony of the opposition and the onslaught of the opposition. Nothing new under the stars in Bolivia.

It is necessary to emphasize that, in the international context, the triumph of MAS has been a half-court goal by the Latin American progressive left. Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel touted: “Congratulations to MAS, which has recovered at the polls the power that was usurped by the oligarchy, with the complicity of the OAS and imperial guidance.  For his part, the former Ecuadorian president, Rafael Correa, wrote: Jallalla Bolivia! A hug to the brothers Luis Arce and David Choquehuanca. With their leadership, together with Evo and Alvaro, our beloved Bolivia returns to its people, returns also to the Great Homeland”.

a great doubt that remains in the air is the independence-dependence and closeness-leaving between Arce and Morales.

Now then, a great doubt that remains in the air is the independence-dependence and closeness-leaving between Arce and Morales. Will Luis Arce have his own style of governing? Or will Morales be the one to pull the strings of power? Only time will tell. For now, the truth is that he has won an election with his own merits and will have as his running mate the former foreign minister David Choquehuanca – he is considered to be “the last Inca” – who was elected by various indigenous and popular organizations, mainly from the west of the country, to be the vice-presidential candidate. Here another question arises: to what extent are their respective visions and agendas on the state, economy and society of Arce and Choquehuanca coincident?

This will be the fourth time that MAS reaches the national government with broad electoral support and a new pair with different profiles from their predecessors: a president with the image of a technocrat and a vice president with the face of an indigenous person. The return of MAS to the government and of Evo Morales to the country are two political events that transmit, in parallel, anger for some and hope for others. “We are going to govern for all Bolivians, we are going to build a government of national unity,” was one of Arce’s messages as president-elect. Let’s hope that these words are not carried away by the wind and that the new president shows that he will do everything possible to put them into practice, because there is a lot of need.

*Translation from Spanish by Emmanuel Guerisoli

Foto por Casa de América en / CC BY-NC-ND