One region, all voices

The politics of Bolsonaro’s death

Co-author Camila De Mario

If a fundamental element of late modernity and the contemporary state is the right to kill, Jair Bolsonaro takes this characteristic to its maximum expression. Bolsonaro’s policy is based on death, the physical elimination of his country’s citizens, and particularly of his “enemies”: those who frighten him by being different from his moral standards. Bolsonaro is an exemplary expression of the policy based on death, necropolitics.

Fisrt, a clarification. Necropolitics or necropower (politics of death, power of death) is a concept developed by Achille Mbembe, a Cameroonian political philosopher. Here Michel Foucault’s idea of biopower is the starting point. If biopower is that part of life over which power has taken control, Mbembe goes beyond and states that to understand modernity and the contemporary state this idea is not enough. More than letting live or exposing to death, Mbembe highlights the right to kill. Politics is the work of death and sovereignty is the right to kill.

The perception of the existence of the other as an attempt on my life, as a mortal threat or absolute danger, leads one to understand his or her elimination as something necessary for my life and safety.

Mbembe relates state sovereignty to the idea of the state of exception. The forms of sovereignty that struggle for autonomy are not the rule: the common is the instrumentalization of human existence, the material destruction of human bodies and populations. The state of exception and the relationship of enmity are the normative basis of the right to kill. Power seeks to invent exceptions, enemies. The perception of the existence of the other as an attempt on my life, as a mortal threat or absolute danger, leads one to understand his or her elimination as something necessary for my life and safety.

Necropolitics is exemplified in colonialism, armed territorial occupations, contemporary wars, militias, and partially dissolved states. It defines as firearms developed for the maximum destruction of people and the creation of “worlds of death,” in which vast populations are subjected to living conditions that give them a status of “the undead.

It should be clarified that the Brazilian State has always practiced mass extermination of its poor, and that these have a color. In all its stages, it has been eliminating its black and indigenous population (Mbembe perceives the idea of race as a basic element of necropolitics, and modern slavery as fundamental in its development). What happened during the civil-military dictatorship, and now under Bolsonaro, is only the expansion of necropolitics to white portions of the population. When death approaches the whites, we denounce blows and the advance of authoritarianism. But the absence of the rule of law has always marked the lives and deaths of Brazil’s blacks and Indians.

It should also be mentioned that the entire political trajectory of Bolsonaro was based on hatred and death. This has always been evident, making those who supported him in the 2018 presidential elections co-responsible for the violence emanating from his power. The blood that dirty Bolsonaro’s hands and his group also extends to his supporters – be they the punctual ones or the most faithful.

Bolsonaro made his power agenda clear from the beginning. He has always strived to establish limits between a “we” made up of patriots and good citizens, and an “other” made up of leftists, communists, minorities, human rights defenders, environmentalists, all those whose discourse he characterizes as “poor” and the defense of “politically correct”.

To minorities he warned: “that they adapt or perish”.

The messages were clear. To minorities he warned: “that they adapt or perish”. To the left he promised the “tip of the beach” (allusion to a base of the Restinga da Marambaia Navy in Rio de Janeiro, used during the civil-military dictatorship for the execution of political prisoners). To the good citizens he assured that he would do a “clean-up never seen in the history of Brazil. He promised death. His campaign proposals consisted of eliminating the enemy and destroying today’s Brazil, for the only way to build something new is to “free Brazil from the nefarious ideology of the left,” as he declared at a dinner for supporters shortly after the beginning of his mandate.

Destruction is on the march, so is the promotion of death. Its necropolitics manifests itself in the afrouchamento of traffic laws, such as the end of fines for those who do not use seat belts and seats for children in the back seats of cars, or the end of mobile and hidden radars. It is in the facilitation of gun ownership and repeated efforts to free the carrying of weapons. His government promotes death by dismantling environmental protection legislation, which is evident in his omission to combat deforestation and burning in the Pantanal and Amazon.  

This same project includes the dismantling of public policies, services, and actions aimed at protecting minorities who are systematically murdered or victims of different forms of violence: indigenous peoples, quilombolas, women, homosexuals, poor blacks, all of whom are left to their own devices. Here we add denial and silence in the face of racism, a central mechanism for the march of necropolitics.

The politics of Bolsonaro’s death reaches its fullness in his management of the coronavirus pandemic. His speeches and actions have moved from denial of the pandemic to the minimization of the symptoms of COVID-19 (which would be nothing more than a “flu”), to now culminate in the adoption of anti-vaccine rhetoric and the boycott to the implementation of a national vaccination plan. Their main tactic was to highlight unemployment and poverty as deleterious effects of a “misplaced collective panic” and of the “irresponsible” actions of governors and mayors caused by fear of disease and death. This is an important point. There is an effort to naturalize death by COVID-19, as if it were inevitable – just like death itself, everyone’s destiny.

Two immediate understandings arise from this naturalization: (1) those who fear the disease are cowards; (2) those who act to fight it are enemies of the people, enemies of Brazil. It is a construction that adopts the logic of war, of polarization that operates in an anti-democratic way, serving necropolitics and feeding the opposition between “us” and “them” (who in the eyes of Bolsonaro are nothing more than “faggots” who want to flee from reality, after all we will all die one day).

At the moment we write this article, Brazil is experiencing a new wave of the pandemic. With an average daily number of cases and deaths on the rise, the country is approaching the mark of 200,000 deaths, with more than 7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19. Meanwhile, Bolsonaro declares that there is no hurry for the vaccine, because “the numbers have shown that the pandemic is coming to an end. With all this, we must stress: Bolsonaro is responsible for the death of thousands of Brazilians.

*Translation from Spanish by Emmanuel Guerisoli

Photo of the Palacio del Planalto at / CC BY

Missing persons: the state’s responsibility


The maximum exponent of human evil was the Nazi terror, which, in spite of this, kept a meticulous record of all its victims. A sinister practice that led Hannah Arendt to describe it with the famous appellation of banality. The bureaucrat scrupulously noted the steps inserted in the chain of totalitarian command. Thirty years later, however, under the umbrella of the doctrine of national security, a new systematic effort, but without light or stenographers, brought to institutionalized repression in Latin America the figure of forced disappearances. The disappeared were sucked into different places and their bodies were thrown into the sea, buried in any desert spot or unidentified in remote cemeteries. No evidence of what happened was ever left. The pain of the tortured and eliminated victim was joined by that of their loved ones who remained for years in total uncertainty in the face of the indifference or even complicity of the state.

Forty years ago, the practice of disappearance of political enemies spread to most countries in the region

Forty years ago, the practice of disappearance of political enemies spread to most countries in the region under the protection of parastatal bodies, if not directly the state itself, \with the encouragement of U.S. administrations absorbed by the Cold War. Although the cases of the Southern Cone countries were the most well-known, the figures were even more terrifying in Guatemala, as well as in Mexico.

Barbarism sanctioned a practice that Spain had experienced during the civil war by planting anonymous corpses in the ditches of roads. The legacy of that still continues in a process of necessary clarification and urgent reparation in which the state has a primary role to play.

Héctor Castagnetto da Rosa disappeared on August 17, 1971. He was last seen in a central location in Montevideo at mid-morning according to the report of the Human Rights Secretariat for the Recent Past of Uruguay. Miguel Sofía, a 70-year-old businessman who had been wanted since 2009 for aggravated homicide as the perpetrator in that and other cases, was recently captured and the judge in charge of the case charged him with responsibility for the kidnapping, torture, and disappearance of Castagnetto.

The judge issued a house arrest order for Sofia, who was a member of the death squads, also known as Comandos Caza Tupamaros or Defensa Armada Nacionalista (DAN), which were parapolice groups that operated in the 1960s and 1970s. The defense imposed an appeal of unconstitutionality based on the prescription of the facts.

On the other side of the Río de la Plata, last December 4, the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team detailed that there are more than 600 bodies buried as NN (no name, -in Latin nomen nescio-) with their genetic profile that have not yet been identified. They then asked people looking for people who disappeared during the dictatorship to come forward to take blood samples to check for DNA matches. This circumstance occurred during the trial being held in the city of La Plata for crimes committed in three clandestine detention centers during the last dictatorship.

Cases of forced disappearance are permanently present and require an efficient response.

The drama, therefore, is not over. Today the events are framed in a different context in which the actors causing this monstrous attempt on human life are varied, but the presence of the state should not cease to be required. Cases of forced disappearance are permanently present and require an efficient response.

Thus, on December 12, the Section for the Absence of Recognition of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace in Colombia noted the existence of 2,094 persons who were victims of forced disappearance in the area of the Hidroituango dam in the department of Antioquia. The forced disappearances were allegedly carried out by paramilitary groups (Bloque Mineros and Bloque Metro), the 18th, 36th, and 5th fronts of the FARC-EP, and by the public forces. The bodies were located in the process of construction of the huge dam. In other parts of the country, the disappearances were caused by drug trafficking.

in Mexico the case of the 43 high-school students of Ayotzinapa disappeared in September 2014 remains unsolved.

Complementarily, in Mexico the case of the 43 high-school students of Ayotzinapa disappeared in September 2014 remains unsolved. To date, the remains of only three of them have been found. The remains of one were found far from the dump where the official version stated the bodies had been burned, so it can be assumed that the bodies of the students were dispersed in several places, adding to the violence.

In these cases, the political character of the victims vanishes in a framework drawn by poverty and belonging to excluded communities marked by a type of marginalization that mixes the territorial with the social. The inequality gap generates a division that expands the contingent of subjects susceptible to being easy grazers of a gratuitous disappearance, sharpening its probability.

In a very different context, but with similar effects, the list of disappeared persons in Guatemala and, above all, in Honduras, after the passage of hurricanes Eta and Iota last November, has not yet been closed, so that there will be cases of people who have died, but of whom there will be no record. In these circumstances, the state, which today is governed by the law in the great majority of Latin American countries, has the imperative to provide a response not only in terms of reparations and the exercise of justice, but also in terms of prevention.

*Translation from Spanish by Emmanuel Guerisoli

Photo by blmurch at / CC BY

Nayib Bukele, a media president

Bukele is one of those people who awaken passions. Either you love him, or you hate him. It is not common being indifferent to his character. To date, he is the most popular president in the country’s democratic history. Neither his many mistakes as president nor his notorious authoritarian vocation have made a dent in his popularity. And although it is true that he no longer attracts as much support as he did at the beginning of his administration, this decline has not been very significant.  

The qualities of the young president

Nayib Armando Bukele Ortez, born in 1981, became a star who, apparently, could do everything to move the country forwards. A very well-orchestrated electoral campaign, plus a perfectly studied presence in the social networks gave him in the elections of February 3, 2019, what he and his environment were longing for: the presidency of the republic. The electorate did not notice the several complaints against him as mayor of Nuevo Cuscatlán and San Salvador for corruption, nepotism, misogyny, and abuse of authority.

The Salvadoran president came to power in a context marked by the ineffectiveness and corruption of the previous governments of the National Republican Alliance (ARENA) and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). These governments undermined the hopes of a population that, tired, gave in to the siren songs of a young, but not inexperienced, businessman and politician who had just become mayor in Nuevo Cuscatlán and in the capital, San Salvador.

The president, who with his arrival to power broke the bipartisan hegemony that had prevailed since the end of the civil war in 1992, has governed at the pace of social networks, but he has warned that it’s not enough. Both he and his brother Karim, practically his right-hand man, are skilled in communications. Nayib is so because of his charisma and his histrionic capacity, while Karim is so because of his intelligence and sagacity when it comes to devising a campaign.

“In this long year and a half of the presidency, Bukele has demonstrated that his vocation is not dialogue, but confrontation, slander, lies and persecution”. This is how a former colleague of the current president describes it, from when he was one of the rising figures of the FMLN. This source, for security reasons, has requested anonymity.

His “squeezing” of the National Assembly, as well as the invasion of its headquarters together with the military and police, can be considered violations of the independence of powers that the National Constitution marks. However, there is so much discredit in politicians and institutions that few raised their voices to denounce such an outrage. “On this, President Bukele bases his actions”, expresses the same source.

Corruption: nothing has changed

The renowned Salvadoran political analyst Napoleon Campos expresses that during the pandemic, (Bukele) exhibited the same pattern of corruption of his predecessors. “At this point, the Attorney General’s Office of the Republic (FGR) has accumulated more than 17 files on anomalous and irregular purchases typical of corruption involving ministers such as those of Health, Agriculture and Livestock, Public Works and the Environmental Fund, among others”.

Campos adds that, as if these were not enough, in the face of international accusations of violating the rule of law and judicial independence – in particular the accusations of US congressmen and members of the European Parliament – “Bukele has not desisted in undermining the foundations of democracy”, while the economy has collapsed by 9.0% or more as indicated by the World Bank and the IMF. Within this framework, “the country has begun to see foreign aid programs such as the US Millennium Fund cancelled, and other programs may be in danger of not being rectified…”, the analyst consulted concluded.

Total nepotism

President Bukele has appealed from day one to some of his brothers and other relatives as advisors and operators of his full confidence. Nayib has nine siblings, but only three of them, the younger ones, constitute the main core that surrounds him, advises and operates on his behalf. They are: Karim Alberto (33 years old), and Yusef Alí and Ibrajim Antonio (twins of 30), all of them children of Armando Bukele Kattán, who died in 2015, and Olga Marina Ortez.

None of them hold public office, meaning that they are not government officials, but operate with total ease and freedom with the explicit or tacit approval of the president. Since they do not hold public office, they are not subject to any of the comptroller’s laws that allow for the evaluation of the conduct of officials and are therefore exempt from political prosecution.

Nayib and Karim are the strategists that define the direction of the Presidency. Meanwhile, Yusef and Ibrajim are advisors who deal with specific areas. While Yusef works on the economic cabinet, Ibrajim is in charge of the negotiations with economic groups and of the special missions of his brother Nayib, among which the projects of economic reactivation stand out. For her part, Gabriela Rodríguez, the president’s wife, is in charge of the social cabinet, an area that is usually the favorite of the first ladies.

In conclusion…

Bukele has reached the top of his country’s political-institutional life thanks to the population’s weariness in the face of the galloping corruption and inefficiency of the ruling class, and a very intelligent media campaign.

However, after a year and a half of administration, the president has not shown himself to be inclined to introduce deep and positive changes in a country plunged into poverty and hopelessness. “A people like the Salvadoran people, known for their capacity for work and initiative, will not follow this president for much longer, since he does not respond to the most pressing needs or fulfill his campaign promises,” says a Central American diplomat stationed in San Salvador, who wishes to reserve his identity.

And although the president still maintains high approval ratings, a decline is noted, which, although not significant, “is taking the form of disenchantment,” the diplomat concludes.

*Translation from Spanish by Emmanuel Guerisoli

The “disappeared” Venezuelans

When on December 18 we were commemorating the International Day of the Migrant, in Venezuela there was fear of bodies being thrown into the Caribbean Sea. A peñero, a fishing boat that was carrying more than 30 Venezuelans without papers to Trinidad and Tobago sunk, in what is the last episode of a long tragedy that has been happening in the last years.

Trinidadian Prime Minister Keith Rowley initially denied that the dead had been deported to Venezuela in the same precarious vessel in which they arrived on the island, being forced to return with more people, and without being refueled. Two weeks earlier, the government of Trinidad had returned a peñero carrying 16 children and 13 adults. On the other hand, without the regime of Nicolás Maduro admitting the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, it is difficult for the relatives and neighbors of the small town of Güiria, where most of these migrants were born, to find any authority that would take responsibility for the tragedy. Maduro chose to affirm that these were people who were going to visit their relatives in Trinidad for Christmas. 

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, as well as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, have called attention to the violations of the international principle of non-refoulement by the government of Trinidad, but so far there has been no firm response or policy change in the forced return practices of the Trinidadian government.

For its part, the government of Nicaragua declined to discuss what happened at the OAS Permanent Council, while some members of the Latin American political elite used the incident to reinforce their own ideological agendas. The former Colombian mayor Gustavo Petro, for example, blamed the tragedy on U.S. sanctions, again ignoring the causes and the very chronology – long before the 2019 sanctions – of the Venezuelan crisis.

Faced with the late and inefficient response of the Venezuelan State in this, as in previous cases of “disappeared” boats, the Guireños turned to organizing vigils with the candles that the Chinese merchant of the town donated to them, to protest against the laziness and complicity of the local authorities and to organize themselves with the gasoline-thirsty peñeros that the fishermen offered to search for the bodies at sea.

The trafficking of immigrants, smuggling and trafficking in women (including young females) to Trinidad, has become a common phenomenon on the Venezuelan Caribbean coast.

The trafficking of immigrants, smuggling and trafficking in women (including young females) to Trinidad, has become a common phenomenon on the Venezuelan Caribbean coast. The eastern peninsula of Paria is one of the places most used by these businesses. Just over 130 kilometers of sea separate Güiria from Trinidad. During the last years, the extreme pauperization of the Venezuelan coastal towns makes dozens of people willing to pay around 300 dollars, in a country where the minimum wage is a little more than one dollar, to cross the Gulf of Paria and arrive at the promise of a dignified life.

Most of the time, in order to cross, migrants are forced to resort to mafias composed of members of the Bolivarian National Guard, the Trinidadian “water police” and binational prostitution networks. Last year, at least two boats were reported to have capsized and there are still about 40 missing persons. 

The figure of the “disappeared” linked to the Southern Cone dictatorships during the second half of the 20th century, seems to be resignified in the Venezuela of the 21st century. It is not only the forced disappearances by state security forces that are documented in reports such as that of the Venezuelan NGO Foro Penal and the United Nations Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, both in 2020.  It is also about the fact that many of those who embark precariously to reach islands like Trinidad, Aruba or Curaçao “disappear”, either swallowed by the sea or subsumed by the black holes of human trafficking, causing the relatives and close friends of the victims to never hear from their loved ones again.

Each Venezuelan peñero that leaves with a handful of migrants is like a fragment of the country that is being torn apart.

Each Venezuelan peñero that leaves with a handful of migrants is like a fragment of the country that is being torn apart. The small scale speaks to the extent of the entire country: We are talking about hungry people, with a shortage of water and insufficient gasoline. They are people subjected to the networks of the military, police and criminal gangs whose journeys come to emulate the most terrible episodes of the Caribbean yolks and rafts, but who in a caustic reversal of history, flee from the mainland to take refuge on the islands. Each peñero is a confirmation of the abolition of the rule of law in Venezuela. We contacted a Pander analyst who said that over 240,000 women work as prostitutes in the country. One third of them are sex slaves.

On his third voyage, Christopher Columbus sailed through the Gulf of Paria and called it the Mouth of the Dragon because of the unruly waters and the strength of its currents.  Such intensity made him believe he was before one of the gates of the earthly Paradise. More than five centuries later, the idyllic promise is revealed as a sea turned into a cemetery, a mirror of absent bodies of the so-called Socialism of the 21st century. The mouth of the dragon swallowed the utopia to which the castaways and their loved ones never arrived.

*Translation from Spanish by Emmanuel Guerisoli

Photo from, the Coast Guard news at / CC BY-NC-ND

Political parties: between love and hate

Political parties are necessary for democracy but at the same time they can provoke antipathy in the citizenry. For the famous political scientists Levitsky & Ziblatt (2018) they are the guardians of U.S. democracy, however, in Latin America the confidence in them reaches only 13% (Latinobarómetro 2018). This feeling of the citizens of the south of the continent towards political parties is worrying because of their importance for the conservation of representative democracy.

What does the academic literature say? For Santano, Barbosa and Kozicki (2015), “it is a fact that such organizations generate a duality of perceptions. It seems that, if there is politics, there are parties, since their existence is necessary for any democratic regime. However, they are also directly linked to the more nebulous side of public institutions, holding perhaps the most uncomfortable position within the public arena”. For political scientist Manuel Alcantara (2019), “For a century now, political parties have been a central element in democratic operations”.

parties are necessary for representative democracy because someone has to be elected through a political organization in order to govern.

Undoubtedly, parties are necessary for representative democracy because someone has to be elected through a political organization in order to govern. For example, in the year 2018 the Law of Political Organizations was approved in Bolivia – at the time of its application it was considered hasty and favorable to officialdom (MAS) – to regulate the activity of political groups. This is a necessary and relevant institutional design when the political personality is imposed on the party organization and the militants do not have much chance to decide.

Gender equity, internal democracy, financing and primary elections are aspects that contain the norm for improving the Bolivian party system. However, for now, the tactical pragmatism of the political actors continues to prevail: the internal democracy of the political organizations is subordinated to what is popularly known as “dedazo” (imposition of candidates from the top to the bases), therefore, they only serve as instruments that seek to win elections to administer the State and to grant public positions to its militancy.

According to Latinobarómetro 2018, the country with the greatest confidence in Latin America is Uruguay with 21%, while support in Venezuela is at 14%. This difference, of barely seven points, is very worrying due to the great differences in qualitative terms between the two countries. While in Uruguay, alternation in government works as a symptom of respect for the rules of the game, in Venezuela, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) wins all elections due to institutional manipulation.

This distrust towards the parties is a constant that, for the time being, seems to remain in place since corruption, corporatism, inequality and the absence of new narratives in a context of political polarization will remain in the medium term.

The parties are necessary to access the government. They are the ideal instrument of certain leaderships and personalities who are influential in the public sphere to obtain the legitimacy of the popular vote and, thus, to constitute themselves as representatives of an electoral majority that, when the public institutions and the parties are weak, decide on public matters according to their personal passions and the interests of the factions they lead.

In Latin America it is not strange that the president elected by popular vote is more important and decisive than the party

In Latin America it is not strange that the president elected by popular vote is more important and decisive than the party (now its instrument) in the political processes. For example, Jair Bolsonaro, Nicolás Maduro, and at one time Evo Morales, are political actors who represent a certain political-ideological current and embody presidentialism as gravitating political personalities who have often been above the law and respect for common sense.

They are personalities that reach power thanks to the popular vote as an effect of their sympathy with the demands of certain sectors of society. The other side of the coin is the institutional anemia of the political parties and the citizens’ distrust of their role as intermediaries and representatives. In Gramscian terms, its condition as the first cell in which the germs of the collective will that tend to become universal are synthesized no longer applies. They are simply useful as legal instruments that serve as ladders, but not as legitimate structures that generate identities, stories and commitments.

Being with and against political parties seems an oxymoron, but it is part of the Latin American socio-political reality. Moreover, parties have been suffering from a gap in social transformations as an effect of the development of communication technologies, and have not provided serious attention and forceful responses to climate change, among other problems. However, they are the guardians of democracy despite their weak institutionalism and high citizen distrust. 

Political parties are, without a doubt, the tools for accessing the exercise of government for charismatic leaders who strive to be heard, loved and voted for. But their condition as structures of democracy has expired. Nevertheless, these old vehicles still function as representative democracy has withstood the test of time. However, they have been reduced in space because they no longer express the collective will.

*Translation from Spanish by Emmanuel Guerisoli

Foto de Globovisión en / CC BY-NC

Vaccination (election) campaign in Brazil

If there is one thing that cannot be blamed on Bolsonaro it is his lack of consistency in dealing with the health crisis unleashed by the coronavirus. If, since the beginning of the pandemic, he integrated, together with Trump, Johnson, or López Obrador, the group of country leaders who denied the need for social distancing, today, with the first one at the end of his mandate and the others adhering with the faith of the convert to different vaccination programs, the Brazilian president is the only one who continues to question the recommendations of the international scientific community.

Being consistent, however, is not the same as being consistent. Regardless of the terrible cost in human lives that this attitude is imposing on Brazil, the fact that the president is opposed to leading the fight against the pandemic in his country, a central issue in the global political agenda, may be a wrong strategy in order to maximize his chances of being re-elected in 2022. Denial may serve to entrench the most radicalized voters, but they are clearly insufficient to repeat the results of 2018.

when those who should be taking the lead give up their responsibility, alternative candidates immediately emerge to take their place.

Bolsonaro’s refusal to take a strong stand against the pandemic, first by avoiding social distancing measures and later by refusing to lead a vaccination campaign, has left a huge political hole. In the public sphere, however, these gaps are rapidly filling. Thus, when those who should be taking the lead give up their responsibility, alternative candidates immediately emerge to take their place.

The so-called rally ‘round the flag effect could be defined as “the phenomenon of rallying behind the flag” under exceptional circumstances such as a war or a crisis of great magnitude. This effect has been seen during the coronavirus crisis where one can see how citizens often give massive support to the government.

However, since Bolsonaro, instead of taking a statesman’s attitude and leading the nation, has dedicated himself once again to his culture wars, blaming sometimes the scientific community, sometimes China and sometimes governors and mayors, the flag of the fight against the pandemic, which was on the ground and trampled on, ended up being raised by others. The opportunity began to be taken advantage of  already during the months of confinement by different governors who had to take charge of the situation. The most prominent is João Doria in the state of São Paulo.

if Bolsonaro intended to slip away from his responsibility and transfer it to the lower levels of government, the fact is that the move did not end up going the way he had hoped.

But if Bolsonaro intended to slip away from his responsibility and transfer it to the lower levels of government, the fact is that the move did not end up going the way he had hoped. Doria, the governor of the largest state in the country, immediately took over a large media space to present himself as the ruler who would lead the fight against the pandemic.

The media projection of Doria, from the State of São Paulo to the rest of the country, started to happen once, after the launching of the different vaccines, the exit from the crisis started to be seen in the horizon. However, its success will be consolidated as long as the population is massively immunized.

On the other hand, Bolsonaro, besides ignoring the measures of social isolation, dealt with the issue of vaccine provision in an ideological way. He refused to guarantee the supply of those coming from China, while negligently being unable to guarantee the priority in the supply of those developed in Europe and the United States. 

Taking advantage of the opportunity, the state of São Paulo has guaranteed, through the Butantan Institute, a research center dependent on the São Paulo government, the production of the Chinese vaccine developed by Coronavac. In this way, Governor Doria is currently able to implement a vaccination campaign not only for his state, but for the whole country.

If Doria’s expectations are met, he would become the authority to lead the way out of the health crisis, in the face of the obstructionist attitude of a president who by voluntary neglect, incapacity, or both, has been more of a problem than a solution in this crisis.

In this way, the vaccination campaign, besides being an extraordinary effort to restore public health conditions in the country, becomes the first episode of the 2022 elections. For this reason, the Bolsonaro government is trying to stop the aspirations of Doria’s plan to vaccinate the entire Brazilian population, which would make him a leader at the national level. Either by trying to jump on the bandwagon of the campaign and trying to centralize it, or by discrediting the effectiveness of the vaccines and discouraging their use by the population.

However, the fact that Doria may, on his own merit and due to presidential ineptitude, momentarily become the flag bearer of the national vaccination does not guarantee him, by any means, an advantageous starting position in the next elections. Given that there are still two years to go before the election, which is an eternity in Brazilian politics, at this moment the only thing that can be said is that Doria has presented his credentials.

To become a candidate to be considered, first of all, the axis of the confrontation must leave the “Lula vs. Bolsonaro” dynamic in which the President is currently quite comfortable. This would require the more than unlikely resignation by the Partido dos Trabalhadores to present a strong candidate in 2022. In turn, the center-right Brazilian Social Democracy Party, to which Doria belongs, should improve its electoral penetration throughout the territory, currently limited to the southeast, specifically the state of São Paulo.

Bolsonaro decided to bet on the denialist position

Be that as it may, what is clear is that in the present circumstances, the fundamental factor in explaining the rise or fall of the various political leaderships throughout the world is the way in which the pandemic has been dealt with. Bolsonaro decided to bet on the denialist position and, true to his style, to opt for confrontation against imaginary enemies instead of trying to manage the crisis.

Although it is too early to assess whether this strategy could cause him to lose his mandate in 2022, what is clear is that with his mistakes he has allowed the emergence of alternative candidates in the right-wing camp. It seems, therefore, that in the next elections there will be new contenders, and that the “petismo-antipetismo axis” will not be the only relevant one. In these circumstances, João Doria will be able to present himself as the candidate who led the fight against the pandemic.

*Translation from Spanish by Emmanuel Guerisoli

Photo by Senado Federal on / CC BY

Presidential Instability and the “Survival” of Sebastian Piñera


Since October 18, 2019, Chile has gone from being one of the most stable countries – “a true oasis in a convulsed Latin America” in the words of President Sebastián Piñera (Oct. 9, 2019) – to one whose government periodically struggles to stay afloat. Since 1990, none of Chile’s presidents had experienced a scenario in which there was any doubt as to whether they would be able to complete their presidential term or not.

Not even the massive street protests of 2011 came to destabilize Sebastián Piñera (first administration, 2010-2014) to such an extent. Demonstrations demanding profound reforms to the education system had a serious impact on Piñera’s popularity. But at no point was there a widespread call for his resignation. Nor had a constitutional indictment (impeachment) been attempted in Congress against a president in the post-Pinochet era.

Growing Presidential Instability

However, that pattern changed dramatically after W18, as discussion and requests for early termination of the Piñera administration became frequent. Massive protests – especially during October-December 2019 – against the political class and the president, demanding his resignation, have been commonplace. In addition, in December 2019, there were attempts to bring constitutional charges against Piñera, an initiative that, however, failed. This request for a constitutional indictment was the second against a sitting president in the history of Chile (the first president to be indicted constitutionally was Carlos Ibañez in 1956, although that initiative was not successful).

For Piñera, the risk of being forced out of office was much greater at the end of 2019. His public interventions declaring that Chile was in “war” against a “powerful enemy” were at odds with the need to offer a political solution to the crisis. The brutal use of police repression that left hundreds of people with temporary and permanent eye damage illustrated how the Piñera administration did not have much to offer in terms of a way out of the crisis.

Fortunately, as is often the case in countries with relatively strong parties with a medium to long term vision, on November 25, 2019 sectors of the ruling party along with those of the center-left and left opposition agreed to sign an agreement that set in motion a process to decide whether to change the 1980 Constitution. This temporary solution to the crisis gave Piñera a breathing space.

Early elections: A solution to the crisis?

Several analysts have indicated that Piñera’s government ended on October 18, because from that moment on he only had to administer the country in a situation of socio-political crisis and, now, of public health. The reforms of Piñera’s program, if any, will not be implemented. To the calls from the “street” to leave office (although from increasingly reduced groups), one must add the recent proposal of some leftist deputies to bring forward the elections for president and Congress.

There are several problems associated with the current president not finishing his constitutional term. First, the request of the deputies does not make much sense, since they are asking to hold presidential and legislative elections in April 2021, even though general elections are scheduled for November of the same year. In other words, the advance is -in the best of cases- symbolic, benefiting mainly those who request it because of the media’s protagonism, and not the country.

Second, the crisis that Chile is experiencing would be solved by Piñera’s early departure if only its origins depended on the presidential administration itself. In Latin America, several presidential crises have been solved by removing the president when they has either been directly involved in corruption scandals or has tried to subvert the constitutional order. Undoubtedly, President Piñera’s performance has been poor. But Chile is not living a crisis of government, but of politics, caused by years of disconnection of the parties from the citizenry, while maintaining an unhealthy relationship with the large economic groups. Removing the president does not solve the problem.

Third, the premature end of Piñera’s government does not in itself mean a way out of the crisis. It would only be if there was a sufficiently organized coalition with strong electoral support. Unfortunately for the country, although fortunately for Piñera, this does not exist. What most characterizes Chilean politics today is a growing anarchy. There is a vacuum of power in the political leadership in the hands of the executive and a growing indiscipline, radicalism, short-termism and personalism in Congress. On the other hand, there are no leaderships with broad popular support that can replace Piñera, since only a couple of politicians surpass the 10% of voting intention as president in the polls.

The busy 2021 electoral calendar may help Sebastián Piñera to finish his term as he will focus the attention of the citizenry and the energy of the parties. That doesn’t mean the president will escape the political responsibilities of his administration. It is perfectly possible that the opposition will consider it prudent to allow him to complete his presidential term, and then seek to indict him constitutionally once he leaves office, similar to what happened to former Presidents Carlos Ibañez in 1931 and Arturo Alessandri in 1939.

Better times after Pinera?

On the other hand, Chile must be alert to the emergence of potential personalist and anti-party leaderships from the power vacuum evidenced by Piñera. But optimistically, there is still time for coalitions and parties to organize for the 2021 elections. Moreover, these same parties demonstrated pragmatism and long-term vision when they signed the agreement for a new Constitution in November 2019.

Finally, the recent primaries, the November 2021 presidential and legislative elections, as well as the April 2021 elections for mayors and councilors at the municipal level, governors and councilors at the regional level, and those who will make up the Constitutional Convention, should allow the parties to organize and think more strategically. This is an opportunity to reconnect with their militants and try to charm again a citizenry that wants to be heard.

*Translation from Spanish by Emmanuel Guerisoli

Photo by Vocería de Gobierno on / CC BY-SA

Chile and State Repression


Last week again a person suffered the loss of an eye during a protest in Santiago de Chile. A photojournalist, who was keeping records of the demonstrations, joins the shameful list of hundreds of eye victims since the beginning of the October 2019 revolt. This happens shortly after the return of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Andrés Allamand, who walked through different countries in Europe trying to clean up the international image left by the government of Sebastián Piñera. Praise for the constituent process, the inevitability of social upheavals in countries that “progress” and the positive image of the country abroad were part of the discursive battery deployed by the Foreign Minister. Needless to say, the four reports of human rights violations that occurred in the country in the last year were not a central part of his journey.

Currently, thanks to popular mobilization, the country has become involved in a Constituent process of unprecedented characteristics. There are and will continue to be, as is to be expected, discussions that hegemonize public debate such as who will be able to participate in the process; how the constituents will be elected; the implementation of parity, quotas reserved for indigenous people, the election of candidates, the formation of coalitions and alliances, among many other topics. 

it is not without significance that in the 21st century the distinctive characteristics of the State’s response are the use of violence and human rights violations.

However, despite this democratizing transit that seeks to change the Constitution, it seems not only necessary, but imperative, to learn from our recent past. That the right wing, heir to Pinochetism, denies, trivializes or makes invisible human rights violations is not new. But it is not without significance that in the 21st century the distinctive characteristics of the State’s response are the use of violence and human rights violations.

The extensive use of repressive practices was believed to be a thing of the past. At least for the common people who considered that the police actions that left a sad toll of death, torture, mutilation, and massive repression had been eradicated and were incongruent with democracy. This is true for the majority, since the Mapuche communities and organizations that are politically active have been denouncing the harassment, militarization, criminalization, and racism that the Carabineros systematically suffer.

In the imaginary war against the internal enemy, also imaginary, that President Piñera declared on October 21, 2019, no resources have been spared in vehemently and violently protecting the status quo, resorting to the Armed Forces, the Investigative Police, but mainly the Carabineros as the institution at the head of the repression. The ethically reprehensible or directly criminal action of the police, however, is not new and has resulted in a progressive and lapidary discrediting of the citizenry.

Nor are the concepts and ideological practices of war and the internal enemy already used by the dictatorship, which resulted in a myriad of killings, disappearances and torture, new.

Despite this, in the transition that was agreed upon with the dictatorship, there was little justice. Many of the human rights violations perpetrated by the security agencies remained unpunished and usefully forgotten, leaving phrases such as “justice insofar as possible” of former President Patricio Aylwin for transitional memory. Or the warnings about the impossibility of investigating torture that occurred during the dictatorship, as the then Minister José Miguel Insulza stated.

However, thanks to the persistent work and dedication of organizations that were part of the then strong human rights movement, the state was pressured to make two important contributions to the country’s historical memory. The report of the National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation (Rettig Report) which addressed executions, disappearances and political violence after the military coup. And the report of the National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture (Valech Report) which addressed the abject torture and degrading treatment carried out by agents of the dictatorship during its 17 years.

Both reports were relevant because they exposed many of the falsehoods built up since the dictatorship to justify the horrors committed. However, neither report provided data on the perpetrators of the violations, despite the numerous testimonies collected. There was partial truth, but no justice. There was memory, but not justice. 

It is vitally necessary to intervene with the Carabineros

In a country that for decades has shown itself to be an epitome of democratic quality, the repetition of denialist discourse about human rights violations and the omnipresent possibility of impunity for the crimes committed is not acceptable. It is vitally necessary to intervene with the Carabineros, an institution that according to the CEP survey has gone from having relatively high levels of institutional confidence (57% in 2015), to being one of the institutions that produces the most mistrust (17% in December 2019). 

This is due to the media exposure of the million-dollar corruption case involving high ranking officers of the institution, where a group of special forces tried to hide the murder of a Mapuche community member in 2018 and the frame-up of eight imprisoned Mapuche leaders with false evidence, in 2017. This added to the actions of the institution in the framework of the protests unleashed since October, in which for 88% of Chilean Carabineros human rights were violated.

This leads us to ask ourselves at what point these situations stop being “just isolated cases”, as argued by the government, and are only representative of a systemic evil? Or, to put it another way, shouldn’t the Carabineros be urgently intervened by the civil power or be directly refounded? Possibly this would be the only way for the institution, or another that succeeds it, to enjoy legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry.

On Wednesday, December 14, a journalist surprised President Piñera by asking him: how can you continue to govern with 7% approval? Beyond the iterative common places of his answer, one might ask if it is not the bullets, the gas and the repression of the Carabineros. All of which are unacceptable in a real democracy.

*Translation from Spanish by Emmanuel Guerisoli

Photo by on / CC BY-NC-ND

The Feminization of Politics


Two processes are taking place today that refer us to important flags of the feminist and women’s movement. We refer to the constitutional process in Chile and the bill for free and voluntary abortion in Argentina. The Chilean constituent will be the first constituent in the world that will have total gender parity, and the bill in Argentina responds to the commitment expressed by Alberto Fernandez to refer to the legislature an initiative that includes the demands of the movement for free, free and safe abortion. 

President Alberto Fernandez’s initiative, which has already received half a vote of support from the legislature, is probably the most delicate because it deals with an issue that triggers a polarization of public opinion and opposition from the Churches and anti-rights movements (self-styled “pro-life”). Both with great influence in society. Gender parity as a concept has not generated that level of polarization, but the regulations designed for the Chilean constituent have an unprecedented character, which is surprising.

Both processes would qualify as examples of a “feminization” of Latin American politics. For this reason, we would like to say the following: there is an emergence of political positions that include issues mobilized by the feminist and women’s movement. These positions are not easy to come by in electoral and transition situations.

Unless they are political parties or movements with a clear institutional positioning in favor of the feminist narrative, the choices made by parties and movements that are more electioneering, catch-all or center, center-left, are often tinged with cost-benefit calculations that depend on the direction that public sentiment on these issues is taking.

The ability to affect those calculations and choices has always been one of the challenges of feminist pragmatics. Even President Fernandez, who seems to us to have a genuine commitment to the above-mentioned initiative, had to be pushed by the social movement. Peronism, being a very plural and varied political movement, cannot be considered a political actor that would certainly be allied with feminism, but there is currently a certain shift.

The Chilean initiative also reflects the strength of the feminist and women’s movement. Its protagonism in social demonstrations and protests was particularly noteworthy. Chilean politics, beset by a phenomenon that questioned its own representative function, moved towards this parity armor as a result of pressure from the social movement.

The question we ask ourselves is whether these two processes are a harbinger of what could happen in the new electoral cycle that is approaching, with elections in Ecuador, Peru, and Chile in 2021 and others in 2022. There are countries in which it is clearly unlikely that a feminization of politics, in the sense we are giving it, will emerge with any force.

Paraguay, perhaps one of the most conservative countries in the region, will certainly not build those bridges with the women’s movement. The Peruvian elections will be a new Pandora’s box, but one can expect new young actors to enter the scene carrying that flag. If the last municipal elections in Brazil are any indication, Bolsonaro’s misogynist and neo-fascist tone is likely to decline, but a centrism without major innovations in the area of gender policies will remain.

the palette of options brought about by the feminization of politics is quite broad.

Nevertheless, the palette of options brought about by the feminization of politics is quite broad. The 2017-2019 electoral cycle saw a shift to the right in the region, but still several important issues were well established and represented consensus along the political arc. 

The generic concept of gender equality and the need to end violence against women were factors that virtually no one disputed. Equal pay and opportunities that give women a greater role in decision-making at all levels, as well as co-responsibility with men in domestic work and family care, were relatively stable parameters.

A breakdown in consensus occurred around issues related to sexual and reproductive rights, voluntary termination of pregnancy, and social and collective empowerment of the feminist movement. The famous “performance” of LasTesis about the “rapist in your way” and the accusing finger pointing at the State and systemic factors, are manifestations of autonomy and assertiveness that hurt the concessionary and patriarchal tone that the leaderships assume with respect to certain demands of women.

The more structural inequalities also caused significant opposition. For example, the whole debate on care and domestic work. The call for gender co-responsibility in domestic work as a private matter, resolved within the household, was one thing, but the valuation of unpaid domestic work and its inclusion in national accounts was another.

Feminism affects masculinity and views of it, the deeper aspects that clash with traditional patriarchal cultures

Culture and values are other decisive factors. Feminism affects masculinity and views of it, the deeper aspects that clash with traditional patriarchal cultures, or the practices of organized crime groups that somehow organize violent masculinity to exercise their dominance in certain territories.

Based on this experience, we will have to observe during the next electoral cycle if political positions shift to the right or the left of the palette of options brought about by the feminization of politics.  Obviously, this process will depend a lot on the strength of the social movement and its ability to articulate a series of other demands and positions that demand equality and inclusion.

Although these are not defining aspects, we have no doubt that the engine of the movement will be significantly boosted if the Senate approves the initiative of the Alberto Fernandez government and if the performance of the Chilean constituent process demonstrates that gender parity adds value.

*Translation from Spanish by Emmanuel Guerisoli

Colombia’s multiple wars

It has just been four years since the Peace Agreement was signed between the FARC-EP guerrillas and the Colombian government. An agreement that was signed, not without difficulties, after four years of dialogue in Havana, one day before the death of Fidel Castro, and as a corollary of a long 20th century, farewelling Eric Hobsbawm. The Colombian conflict, besides being the longest lasting one in Latin America, is also the last remnant of the guerrilla experience that, since the 1950s, took place in the continent.

The signing of a Peace Accord does not imply a reduction in the levels of violence per se.

The signing of a Peace Accord does not imply a reduction in the levels of violence per se. Central America or the coffee producing country itself invite us, with its violent realities, to reflect on this. Nor does an Agreement necessarily imply, as the renowned political scientist Pippa Norris shows us, a positive advance in the quality of democracy. Likewise, in general, in the years following an armed confrontation, the well-known peace dividend does not end up arriving, by which, the expenses associated with a conflict, when it disappears, allows the reinvestment of public spending in other areas and needs of society.

To the contrary, the dynamics of spending on security and defense remain stable – as is the case in Colombia – and the processes of reincorporation into civilian life are never full, and far from lacking in dissidence or new mobilizations toward violence. In this regard, recent experiences tell us how natural it is for new criminal structures to form, at least, between 8% and 14%, of the total number of old members of an armed structure.

A Peace Agreement is only the beginning of a process of structural, territorial and institutional transformations of a once violent scenario, and is almost always as imperfect as it is complex. In the case of Colombia there are no exceptions, and it is necessary to start from these premises, even though the Agreement signed with the FARC-EP may well be the most ambitious and complete in recent decades. However, with the one and only extraordinary exception that it is the Government, unlike any other comparative experience, the main saboteur and the one most responsible for the breaches so far noted.

Be that as it may, the violence associated with the internal armed conflict and the illicit sources of financing associated with it – drug trafficking, illegal mining, extortion, etc. – today is substantially higher than it was during the last eight years. Although the country has a rate of violent deaths per 100,000 inhabitants that is lower than 25 homicides, representing the best record of the last 25 years, this figure is also more than double in previous scenarios with greater violence associated with the conflict.

Furthermore, since the signing of the Accord, not only have more than 700 social leaders and 250 former guerrillas of the FARC-EP been murdered, but the old geography of violence, mostly peripheral, has intensified, as a result of an increase in the territorial dispute of the criminal actors. Among others, the National Liberation Army, the poorly named dissidents of the FARC-EP – since they are mostly made up of new recluses – or the criminal groups of Los Pelusos or the Gulf Clan, are the protagonists of a dispute for hegemony in which there are dozens of armed structures and a total of more than 7,000 members in dispute.

The disarmament of the FARC-EP, the lack of occupation of the territory by the military forces – in a country traditionally with more territory than sovereignty – and an enormous disposition of illicit resources – such as the more than 150,000 coca-cultivated hectares  – have fed a variable geometry of violence. This in a space where alliances and confrontations between all these criminal actors have been subsumed into a changing and opportunistic logic, in continuous transformation.

In the first place, it is possible to identify around 30 armed groups that consider themselves to be the continuation, in one way or another, of the extinct FARC-EP. Although this guerrilla group had a presence that exceeded 240 municipalities at the end of 2012, the current continuity of the violence is present, according to the Fundación Ideas para la Paz, in at least half of these municipalities.

Some historical fronts, such as Front 1 or Front 7, from the first steps of the implementation of the Accord, disassociated themselves from the process and raised the continuity of the extinct guerrilla, dissatisfied with the scenario of exchanges and concessions that had been signed with the government. This is how the groups commanded by “Gentil Duarte” or “Iván Mordisco” stand out.

Against these, the names of the two main commanders of the FARC-EP at the head of the peace dialogue in Havana, “Iván Márquez” and “Jesús Santrich”, make up the criminal structure “Segunda Marquetalia”. This structure was established as a continuation of the FARC-EP, once they abandoned the process of reincorporation into civilian life, in August 2019.

Initially, the leaders assumed that the natural step of armed reorganization should lead to a process of convergence, at least, with the structures of “Gentil Duarte” or “Iván Mordisco”, closer to the guerrilla essence. Nothing could be further from a reality characterized by confrontation in the control of territory and resources, especially in eastern Colombia. All of these groups are present there, as well as others no less important, with greater roots in the northeast (Arauca and Norte de Santander), as is the case with Los Pelusos and, principally, with the ELN with nearly 4,000 troops.

On the other hand, the Caribbean region is dominated by post-paramilitary groups, among which the Gulf Clan, with 1,800 members, stands out, and to which must be added the distribution and confrontation with ELN structures and other FARC-EP dissidents with special roots on the Pacific coast – Chocó, Cauca, Valle del Cauca and Nariño – or in the southern departments of the country, such as Caquetá or Putumayo.

There, the armed structures that are the heirs or continuators of the FARC-EP act with a more flexible and clientelist character, subject to the correlation of forces and the particularities of the local environment. Although the structures of “Duarte” and “Mordisco” tried to coordinate a good part of the criminal groups in the Pacific region, they were not successful in their attempt. On the contrary, the result has been a war of all against all, partly motivated by the autonomous nature of some of the most powerful structures, such as the redefined “Óliver Sinisterra” front.

a much more fractured, complex and changing conflict than the one that existed when the FARC-EP operated.

The result of all of the above, therefore, is a much more fractured, complex and changing conflict than the one that existed when the FARC-EP operated. With the objective of local hegemony, three enclaves have emerged that are particularly violent today. First, southern Cauca, where the ELN and the “Carlos Patiño” Front are in dispute; then, southern Putumayo, where a “Duarte” structure faces the Mafia Sinaloa group; and finally, Nariño, where there are more than ten armed actors fighting each other. In all three, the common factor is also the absence of the State. And this is because other complexes such as Catatumbo -in Norte de Santander- or Chocó are not taken into consideration.

In conclusion, we find ourselves faced with multiple wars at the local level that are leading and blurring a violence that is increasingly difficult to characterize, although with an unaltered explanatory pattern, which has proved unresolved over the years. All of this violence continues to take place in forgotten, peripheral and coca-growing Colombia, where the Peace Accord and any hint of implementation remain today a mere chimera.

*Translation from Spanish by Emmanuel Guerisoli

Photo by Globovision on / CC BY-NC