One region, all voices

Peru: the time of Don Quixote

The recent political crisis in the Andean country shows that there are no longer “saviors of the Fatherland” who rise to power through coups d’état, and that is good; Peru is being rescued from literature, culture and the handful of politicians who are not burdened with corruption. It seems that they have found the right figure, an interim president -Francisco Sagasti- whom they call “Don Quixote”, to put the political process back on track after the institutional vacancy caused by the dismissal of Martín Vizcarra.

The reference to the phrase that Mario Vargas Llosa put in the mouth of his leading character -Zavalita- in Conversation at the Cathedral is inevitable: everyone is asking “At what moment was Peru screwed up” in order to address the institutional crisis that arose after President Vizcarra was removed from office by a parliamentary majority.

Everything began to go wrong thirty years ago, with the arrival of Alberto Fujimori to the presidency in 1990

Everything began to go wrong thirty years ago, with the arrival of Alberto Fujimori to the presidency in 1990, when he decided to close the Congress and become an elected dictator in April 1992. After almost a decade in power, he left a battered democracy. Of the nine presidents that Peru has had since the end of military rule in 1980, seven have been convicted, charged with scandals or with ongoing judicial investigations.

Fujimori is serving sentences for crimes and corruption. Alan García committed suicide before being arrested, Alejandro Toledo was released on bail in the U.S., Ollanta Humala is on probation, and the most recent, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski -dismissed- under the spotlight for the Odebrecht scandal, Vizcarra -also removed- was investigated for alleged bribery when he was governor, and the short-lived Manuel Merino, for the death of two demonstrators. Only Fernando Belaúnde Terry (1980-1985) and Valentín Paniagua, who governed for eight months in 2000-2001, emerged unscathed from this shipwreck of his political class.

The debacle of the traditional political parties also generates that in the Peruvian Congress personal and factional interests prevail. But it can also be seen in another way, broadening the focus of its history: the last twenty years are one of the longest periods of democracy in Peru, considering that in the 19th and 20th centuries autocratic military or civilian regimes predominated.

Likewise, as it happened in other countries of the region, the representative institutions and the democratic rules survived in this period three simultaneous collapses, on the side of the political regime and on the side of the socioeconomic model: that of the “emergency presidentialism”, played as a formula of governability, that of the traditional forms of political representation dominated by big parties, and that of the neoliberal reforms, as a program that gave way to the action of the government.

In its conjunction, and in order to add one more conceptual artifact to the categories with which political science sought to explain the drifts of Latin American democracies in those years, we call the model that dominated during the last decade of the last century “market presidentialism” (a composite of political decisionism and denationalization of the economy).

The response formulas that survived the collapse of these “market presidentialisms” can be tentatively called “crisis neo-parliamentarianisms” or “transitional neo-parliamentarianisms” and are defined as a hybrid form of presidential system with a parliamentary base and variable components of parliamentarianism in the functioning of the political system, with a search for new balances in the economic and social aspect.

Another factor to take into account is the tension between these “transitional parliamentarisms” and the political regime and traditional political culture, which remains strongly presidential. The fact that presidents who have emerged from “parliamentary power” may have greater institutional resources than presidents who have been consecrated by popular vote but who have been strongly worn out in the exercise of their government is not to be considered, in this case, as an anomaly. In the Peruvian case, if twenty years ago it was the crisis of hyper-presidentialism consummated by Fujimori that led to the effort of parliamentary rescue, now it is the Congress itself that must rebuild the damaged presidential institution.

The hopes of the rescue are placed in a new president who has emerged from Congress

The hopes of the rescue are placed in a new president who has emerged from Congress, Francisco Sagasti Hochhausler; a 76-year-old industrial engineer with vast academic and managerial experience in his country and in international organizations, who appears to be an appropriate figure to lead a transitional government until the elections in April next year: a moderate, intellectually capable and socially committed man, and not – so far – peppered with allegations of corruption, it has been a long time since a figure of this stature has appeared in the firmament of Latin American political leadership.

Sagasti is called “Don Quixote” because of his physical appearance and style. And he began well: upon assuming office, he expressed his shame for the behavior of his country’s political class and vindicated the young people of “the Bicentennial generation” who took to the streets to demand respect for the popular will. The new head of the Cabinet, which will include eight women out of a total of 19 ministries, is attorney Violeta Bermúdez, 59, an expert in constitutional and gender issues. The ministerial cast also includes the first woman, Nuria Esparch, as head of the Ministry of Defense and three former collaborators of the deposed President Vizcarra.

There are no longer any providential men or women who consider themselves “saviors of the Fatherland”, is a fact to be highlighted. Perhaps it is not bad either that the storm pilot who can take that ship to a good port has something of the Ingenious Hidalgo, between literature and politics, imagining other possible worlds to make his way through so many misfortunes and calamities.

Copyright Clarín and Latin America21, 2020.

Photo by PCM Photo Gallery, Peru. at / CC BY-NC-SA

The Amapa crisis and energy integration in South America


Amapá is a state in the extreme north of Brazil. Its capital, Macapá, is at latitude zero, over the equator. There is no communication by road to Brasilia or the other 25 state capitals of the country. Although it is possible to drive 10 hours to reach Cayenne, capital of the overseas department of French Guiana, a Brazilian can only cross the border with a visa – which would not be necessary if the visit was to Paris.

The isolation of 850,000 Brazilians living in the 142,000 square kilometers of Amapa has intensified in recent weeks.

Since November 3, the state has suffered the biggest energy crisis in its history.

Since November 3, the state has suffered the biggest energy crisis in its history. It has been four days of darkness. Then another two weeks of intermittent supply, affecting 80% of its population. The crisis has compromised access to the Internet, ATMs, gas stations and damaged public health. The municipal election in Macapá, scheduled for November 15, was postponed. On November 17 there was another total blackout. After 20 days the energy supply has yet to be normalized.

Reflections on the energy crisis in Amapá in recent weeks focused on the precarious performance of the concessionaire, the high costs and low quality of energy distribution services in some regions of the country and the slowness of government action.

The Spanish company Isolux controlled until 2019 the concessionaire Linhas de Macapá Transmissora de Energia (LMTE), responsible for the substation that was damaged and became the epicenter of the crisis. LMTE’s management was transferred to Gemini Energy, controlled by Starboard Asset, a fund specialized in managing assets in financial difficulties. This type of asset transfer from groups that have in engineering their main activity to conglomerates specialized in financial management has been recurrent in recent years.

Amapá’s permanent energy security, however, will only be guaranteed with the construction of an infrastructure ring throughout the Northern Arc or Guyana Island, including, in addition to French Guyana and Amapá, Guyana, Suriname, southern Venezuela, Roraima and the northern trough of the states of Amazonas and Pará. Brazil’s National Interconnected System (NIS) would work best if it counted on Guyana and Suriname’s hydroelectric power generation potential.

Most of the hydroelectricity production in the Brazilian Amazon is concentrated in its southern trough (such as Tucuruí, Belo Monte, Jirau and Santo Antônio), whose pluviometry regime is complementary to that of Guyana – the station with the highest incidence of rain and hydroelectric production are different in the south of the Amazon and in the northern Guiana shield. Brazil could sell energy in the period of greater production of Belo Monte and buy in the months when its production is insufficient.

This movement would be decisive to generate economic interdependence and link the development of the Guianas to that of Brazil. Due to the expansion of oil production, Guyana will be the only country in the Americas with economic growth this year. Brazil, however, accounts for less than 2% of all Guyana’s exports and imports. This very low economic presence of Brazil also occurs in French Guyana and Suriname.

There are several positive experiences of Brazil’s energy integration with its neighbors.

There are several positive experiences of Brazil’s energy integration with its neighbors. The construction of the Itaipu hydroelectric plant has definitely linked Paraguay to the state of Paraná, the Brazil-Bolivia gas pipeline (Gasbol) has made Brazil Bolivia’s largest commercial partner in both imports and exports. The nuclear cooperation between Brazil and Argentina was decisive for the expansion of relations between them, which allowed the creation of Mercosur. Before these projects Brazil was not the main economic, commercial or political partner of either of these three countries.

Until 2023, Annex C of the Itaipu Treaty will be renegotiated, obliging the sale of Paraguayan excess energy to Brazil until the debt for the construction of the binational hydroelectric plant is paid off. Paraguay is entitled to 50% of Itaipu’s total energy (it consumes just over 10%, which corresponds to almost 90% of its internal demand). Soon, Paraguay will have paid all the debt and will be able to sell the part of the energy it does not consume to other countries, such as Chile.

The 1999 agreement to supply gas from the Bolivian state-owned company YPFB to Petrobras via Gasbol received an additive in 2020. The purchase and sale obligations between the two state companies have decreased and other Brazilian companies have been allowed to use the infrastructure to buy gas directly. While Brazil increases its natural gas production and can import less, Bolivia has more surplus to export to other markets.

Over the past three years, South America has experienced an unprecedented period of falling trade between its countries and crisis in regional governance. Fragmentation is intensifying both among and within countries. If five years ago 17% of Brazil’s exports went to neighboring countries, in the first half of 2020 it was only 10%.

The primaryzation and specialization of South American exports and the deindustrialization of its main economies (Brazil and Argentina) in recent years make it difficult to resume intra-regional trade in the short term. For regional stability, it would be important to recover positive agendas that could benefit all countries and generate greater complementarity and interdependence.

During the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), between 2008 and 2018, there were debates among the twelve countries of the region to promote energy integration. A regional energy treaty was negotiated, although not formalized, which would be the basis of a South American energy market.

In 2001, Brazil went through a widespread energy crisis, much more serious than the current one, which is concentrated in a single state. In the following years, the country’s energy planning was restructured and the system strengthened with the construction of new hydroelectric plants and significant improvements in transmission and interconnection of different networks. However, the states of Amapá and especially Roraima are still vulnerable.

The energy crisis in Amapá should lead to the resumption of the discussion on a South American energy market, necessary both from the standpoint of energy security and for political and economic stability in the region.

*Translation from Spanish by Emmanuel Guerisoli

Photo by Sebastian Raised at / CC BY-NC-SA

Could the pandemic bring a food crisis to Latin America?

Because of its productive capacity and diversity, Latin America and the Caribbean is considered by many to be the “breadbasket” of the planet. According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), between 2015 and 2019 the countries of the region exported nearly 223 billion dollars in food annually. This represents 25% of total regional exports and places Latin America as the main supplier of food worldwide.

Despite this relative advantage in food production and exports in relation to other regions, a significant number of people in Latin America and the Caribbean do not have access to adequate nutrition.

the number of Latin Americans who have difficulty in gaining physical or economic access to safe and nutritious food rose from 157 million in 2015 to 205 million in 201

According to figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the number of Latin Americans who have difficulty in gaining physical or economic access to safe and nutritious food (food insecurity) rose from 157 million in 2015 to 205 million in 2019, representing nearly 32% of the region’s population. In addition, during the same period the prevalence rate of undernourishment (caloric intake that does not cover minimum needs to maintain weight and height) increased from 6.2% to 7.4% of the population.

With the COVID 19 pandemic and its economic and social repercussions, the difficulties of the most vulnerable sectors in the region in accessing adequate food could deepen and raise the rates of undernutrition, malnutrition and overweight, becoming an additional public health problem and threatening regional food security.

In this context, it is essential for the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean to analyze, assess and mitigate the risk factors brought about by the pandemic in the four dimensions of food security: availability, access, use and stability.

in the context of the pandemic, the food supply has been affected in several Latin American countries.

Given the volume of regional agricultural production and intraregional trade, the availability of food in most countries should be guaranteed. However, in the context of the pandemic, the food supply has been affected in several Latin American countries. According to a first study of the impact of COVID-19 on the region’s food systems published by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and FAO, the availability of agricultural products is being hampered mainly by two factors.

First, because of disruptions in food supply chains. Activities such as transportation, logistics, processing and storage have been strongly affected by the pandemic. Second, the economic crisis and lack of liquidity is making food production less viable for small and medium-sized producers and microenterprises, putting the sustainability of supply at risk.

As mentioned, economic and physical access to food showed worrying figures before the health crisis. The population in areas with greater poverty had difficulties in obtaining adequate food due to lack of income or distance from market centers. The contraction of the regional economy, the deterioration of social indicators and the reduction of family income, as a result of the health crisis, makes access to such food even more difficult, especially among the most vulnerable population. This is compounded by the increase in prices of essential goods such as rice, fruit and eggs in several places in the region during the pandemic. According to ECLAC, between January and May 2020, the food component of the consumer price index increased by 4.6%.

In the last decade, the region has managed to reduce certain malnutrition indicators.

The third dimension of food security is the proper use of food and its nutritional quality. In the last decade, the region has managed to reduce certain malnutrition indicators. According to FAO, the rate of child growth retardation in children under 5 years of age rose from 11.4% in 2012 to 9% in 2019. However, child overweight increased from 7.2% to 7.5% in the same period and adult obesity went from 22.2% in 2012 to 24.2% in 2016. The pandemic brings the risk that these and other indicators related to malnutrition will present setbacks, due to the difficulty in accessing food with sufficient nutritional quality.

The last dimension to guarantee food security is the stability over time of the three previous dimensions. Climate change, natural disasters and the vulnerability of agricultural products to price fluctuations continue to be the greatest risk factors for food stability in Latin America and the Caribbean. The uncertainty and socio-economic crisis resulting from the pandemic are already generating greater difficulties in the supply of and access to food. At this juncture, the Caribbean countries and net food importers are at greater risk, as they are more vulnerable to price fluctuations.

Given this complex scenario, the risk that the pandemic will bring about a food crisis is not less. To avoid this, timely intervention by the governments of the region is required.

In this context, the reactivation of production requires policies that make it possible to mitigate the impact of the pandemic at the economic and social levels, but that do not lose sight of food security. There is an urgent need to make the region’s food supply sustainable and to guarantee access to it, especially for the most vulnerable populations. It is also necessary to provide liquidity to small farmers and businesses, strengthen self-consumption and family agriculture, and reduce speculation in distribution chains.

Despite the pandemic, early and timely action by the countries and regional institutions will make it possible to reduce the risks that threaten food security in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Foto por Eneas en / CC BY

Latin America and its eternal foreign dependence


Since President James Monroe proclaimed in 1823 the slogan “America for the Americans” and declared before Congress that any intervention by Europeans in the continent would be seen as an aggression that would require the intervention of the United States, the relations between the North American country and Latin America have been complicated and everchanging. Therefore, after Biden’s victory, it is pertinent to ask how the new administration will influence Latin American foreign policy and its global positioning.

The existence of close economic ties, accompanied by expansionist, commercial and ideological interests, have made the United States a key country on the agendas of Latin American states. For decades, when making decisions, it was unthinkable to ignore the position of the neighboring country to the north. However, the decline of U.S. hegemony and the internal tension following the last election day provide a window of opportunity to set a new direction for Latin America’s international agenda.

The United States appears today as a giant with feet of clay at the same time that China ascends in an unstoppable manner

The United States appears today as a giant with feet of clay at the same time that China ascends in an unstoppable manner and Russia becomes an ally of the Asian giant to recover its status as a global actor. While the U.S. military presence remains unchallenged, Latin America’s economic, commercial and financial dependence on China is growing. Although Russia cannot compete economically with neither China nor the United States, it is a strategic partner from the political point of view. A large number of Latin American countries have political affinities and geostrategic interests that are closer to Russia than to the United States.

The pandemic has done nothing but accentuate the strengthening of ties, causing foreign powers to see the crisis as an opportunity to push Latin America to diversify its foreign relations. A new scenario has opened up in which Latin American countries can no longer articulate their strategies and negotiating capacity by looking only to the United States, but must be able to articulate niche diplomacy. That is, they must be able to establish ad hoc coalitions on specific issues, such as health, natural resources, the environment or external financing, with different strategic partners. This contributes to a much more multipolar order that China and Russia do not intend to waste in order to exercise their power.

At a time of deep economic, health and to some extent social crisis, the capacity to adapt and anticipate will be key to gauging the fate of Latin American foreign policy. The fact that the crisis is hitting the United States like never before weakens its supremacy and the institutional crisis derived from the frontal confrontation between Republicans and Democrats means that there is not even a single voice. But we should not forget that the fact that a traditionally hegemonic force is in decline does not necessarily mean that it is no longer an actor of special relevance. We are in a system in full transition, with complex agendas and external dynamics, in which the existence of a clear and stable game board is yet to come.

This context means that, despite the fact that many have wanted to focus the debate on how relations between Latin America and the United States will be articulated in the Biden era, the particularly relevant question revolves around the search for new spaces in the international order taking advantage of the decline of the North American giant. First, because it is very likely that, despite adopting a discourse far removed from that of Trump, Latin America will not be a priority for the new administration. And second, because it is also foreseeable that Latin America will take advantage of the situation to diversify its foreign relations.

The issue is complicated by all the inertias that link the United States and Latin America, and by the structural weakness that characterizes the region. Added to this is its decreasing systemic relevance and the inability to resolve internal crises autonomously. Even regional alliances have not served to find solutions to the conflicts affecting the continent, and often the shadow of foreign powers hovers over domestic politics.

Latin America has not been able to consolidate effective internal alliances and still shows great dependence on third countries.

Examples include China and Russia’s support for Maduro’s government, France’s pressure to intervene in the management of the Amazon after last year’s fires, or the active role in managing the peace process in Colombia. Latin America has not been able to consolidate effective internal alliances and still shows great dependence on third countries. Therefore, even if the United States were to disappear from the planet, Latin American countries would still show great dependence on the outside, which makes it difficult to develop and consolidate an autonomous project.

The changes on the board could be an opportunity for the region. But only if it is able to take advantage of the competition between the great powers to strengthen its negotiating capacity, balance the scales and gain greater autonomy. If it only limits itself to progressively replacing its dependence on the United States with a new one with the China-Russia axis, little will have changed in structural terms.

Political and economic autonomy must be a goal for Latin American policy. Dependence on large centers of power has been a constant throughout its history and, it seems, at least in the short term, a reality of its present.

Foto de Presidencia de la República Mexicana en / CC BY

Constituent process and indigenous peoples in Chile

One year ago, this week, the so-called Peace Agreement was signed by almost all political parties in Congress and designed the current constitutional path in which Chile finds itself. It is important to point out that this Agreement was the result of the massive mobilizations that have taken place since October 2019 throughout the country.

The Agreement established that a plebiscite would be held to consult the citizens if they chose to remove the current constitution -the one imposed by the dictatorship- or not. Two options were also to be decided upon, in the event that the alternative of changing the current constitution was successful: through a constitutional convention (entirely elected by popular vote); and a mixed convention (composed half by parliamentarians and half elected by the citizenry). The options triumphed widely: changing Pinochet’s constitution through a constitutional convention. Gender parity has been assured for this, but not for seats reserved for indigenous peoples.

Last week, the discussion about the seats reserved for indigenous peoples in the Constitutional Convention was once again suspended.

Last week, the discussion about the seats reserved for indigenous peoples in the Constitutional Convention was once again suspended. This has caused political problems, since on the same day that the vote on reserved seats was postponed, the new Minister of the Interior, Rodrigo Delgado – the third since the beginning of Sebastián Piñera’s government – travelled with President Sebastián Piñera to the Araucanía region in the south of the country. The official visit sought to use once again the already century-old conflict between the Chilean state and the Mapuche people as a context to demonstrate a strength and control that they have shamefully lost since the revolt last October.

This situation may seem a priori to be normal, or even logical in terms of parliamentary or government procedures. However, it represents the latest expressions of a colonial relationship that the State has established with indigenous peoples. An imaginary established since the territorial consolidation of Chile as a country and in which the presence, much less the influence, of indigenous peoples was never considered, and which, in the end, was phagocytized by the idea of a state for a nation. The nineteenth-century, uninational, unicultural and assimilationist state still persists, without having changed substantially.

It is an asymmetrical relationship of domination with concrete manifestations, a naturalization of territorial, racial, and epistemic hierarchies in terms of the country’s institutionality. This situation has its political expression in the lack of systematic experiences of indigenous participation in the political life of the country. A review of the authorities appointed or elected in the country from 1990 to the present shows that the indigenous presence in important positions is marginal, with few and occasional exceptions.

Therefore, the successive suspensions of the vote on the seats reserved for the indigenous people are not surprising. This attitude not only responds to the economic and electoral accounts of the parliamentarians, but is also an expression of a continuum in terms of the way of relating to the indigenous peoples who are constantly relegated to secondary, symbolic positions with no real impact. This is despite the fact that, according to the last census in 2017, 12.8% of the population identifies itself as a member of some of the original peoples in the country. Even so, they have never been constitutionally recognized.

This turning point in the constitutional debate should be an opportunity, not only for a more than belated recognition of native peoples, but, as various indigenous organizations propose, to debate the recognition of Chile as a plurinational state. One way to contribute to this – not the only one obviously – is to approve and ensure the participation of the ten indigenous peoples in the country through reserved seats.

For the time being, this discussion is jammed. This is despite the fact that on October 30th the Senate’s constitutional commission approved the opposition’s proposal to create 24 reserved seats that would be added to the 155 general conventions approved in the October plebiscite. For the proposal to be approved, 26 votes are necessary, but the opposition only has 24.

It remains to be seen what the outcome will be. It remains to be seen what the outcome will be, if the necessary votes are reached, or if, on the contrary, it will give in to the demands of the governing coalition whose leaders use fallacious arguments, such as the president of the UDI (the right-wing, pro-government party) who states that if quotas are given to the indigenous people, they should also be given to the evangelical church. This colonialist and racist vision undoubtedly ignores the historical debt that the state has with the original peoples due to the dispossession to which they have been subjected. This vision also ignores that they are different nations, subject to collective rights as recognized in international law

There are dissonant voices from other organizations, particularly Mapuche, that do not agree with any of the proposals. They argue that they do not need to be recognized by the state and that they do not participate in the constituent process because they do not understand it as a new mode of assimilation since autonomy is not being considered. These factions affirm that they will continue their struggle in their territories in the south. 

it can be argued, as the Mapuche historian Fernando Pairican puts it, that what is at stake is “a deepening of an autonomous indigenous political power of the original nations”.

There are several aspects of the process that can be criticized. Such as the fact that the plebiscite was voted on without having previously established the details of the reserved seats, the lack of participation of some organizations in the debate, or even the electoral calculations that the political parties are making in a strategic way. But, on the other hand, it can be argued, as the Mapuche historian Fernando Pairican puts it, that what is at stake is “a deepening of an autonomous indigenous political power of the original nations”. The presence of indigenous voice and a vote proportional to its population in the Constituent would represent a significant change.

The crossroads opened in October 2019 represent a potential paradigm shift in the way the state relates to indigenous peoples. And while recent and past history is not too encouraging, it could be a turning point. This is despite the gatopardizing shadow of the transition (change to remain) that looms over the constituent process.

Foto de membros do Parlamento em / CC BY-NC-ND

How did Trump get this far?

To believe that Biden’s triumph is the end of the drama that has unfolded since January 2016 is an example of a mirage with fatal consequences. Pretending that those millions of voters, who have followed Trump to the end, will disappear from the map on January 20 with the inauguration of Biden and Harris reveals a blindness to how much America has changed in recent generations. But what is even worrisome is not the survival of the ideology of those who elevated Trump. But the enigma is how that long third of the electorate occupied a vital territory?

Numerous observers of the evolution of the American political soul raised voices of alarm in recent months. They wondered about the dangerous conversion of the United States political system into an unusual imitation of the fabric existing in other countries that had fallen into the nets of authoritarianism.

Worse still is they had been swallowed up by the extreme ideologies that appeared in Europe in the 1930s. These drove countries with a long cultural tradition to turn into totalitarian dictatorships. These voices advanced the comparison of what was happening by applying Trump’s whims, turned into policies that resembled the practical programs of the Hitler regime since 1933.

In the society of the United States at the beginning of the new century, the existence of broad sectors that felt cornered, disappointed, and isolated began to be detected.

In the society of the United States at the beginning of the new century, the existence of broad sectors that felt cornered, disappointed, and isolated began to be detected. They were not the traditional enclaves of racial minorities or remnants of European immigrants who had not fully fitted into the social and economic fabric.

They were, so to speak, “full-blooded Americans.” They saw that the American dream was beginning to turn into a hurtful nightmare, from which they could not wake up despite having faithfully complied with the report card that the system had given to their parents or grandparents.

Wages were not keeping up with the rising cost of living. Mortgages ate much of the income. If they were inhabitants of rural areas, they felt trapped by invisible borders. If they grew up with a basic education, access to college was limited by their income or the stratospheric cost of private institutions. An explanation had to be found for this apparent scam.

That was not the America, in short, that they had been promised. It was urgent to find the culprits for this fraud. In addition, it was necessary to detect the existence of new leaders who would not be that hateful and corrupt establishment in Washington. Suddenly, they were orphans from another direction, whose space was occupied by an “outsider”, Donald Trump. He arrived pristine, without the blemish of traditional politics. It guaranteed the decontamination of the Washington swamp.

In a reasonably educated nation, it would truly be a feat to have followed the tunes of a flute player, who had revealed the causes of their misfortune.

In a reasonably educated nation, it would truly be a feat to have followed the tunes of a flute player, who had revealed the causes of their misfortune. As Hitler enthralled a cultured people like the troubled interwar Germans, Trump fascinated the Americans with his simplistic solutions.

In Germany of 1930s, urban decay was attributed to the alleged capture of certain businesses by Jews. The solution began with the breaking up of the shop windows, the prohibition of certain professions, and finally imprisonment. The German people, educated and disciplined, swallowed the lie without question.

The regime accurately sold the supposed need to expand the territory by the call of the Lebensraum. The simple solution was the Anschluss of Austria, and then the bite into the ethnically German territories in Czechoslovakia. The people applauded, but did not seem satisfied: Poland had to be invaded and then respond to the Anglo-French protest with the forceful Blitzkrieg. The German people cheered, as Hitler paraded triumphantly around the Arc de Triomphe.

As Trump ascended the throne, many Americans who had been drawn to urban areas found that the neat neighborhoods of the suburbs ended up being contaminated by the invasion of racial minorities, previously hardly detected. They felt uncomfortable sharing the space with blacks and, what was more hurtful, with Hispanics, who also spoke an incomprehensible language. And most of them were accused of being drug traffickers.

The remedy from the White House was to close the border to the invaders with a wall. Trump also promised that the Mexicans themselves would pay for it. He continued by dividing the families of those who had already entered, making it difficult for them to attend university, and delaying their citizenship to the maximum.

The “lifelong Americans” were enthralled. And the Republican Party was satisfied with the renewal of its positions in the Senate. Arbitrary measures bordered on unconstitutionality. But the goal of “making America great again” became the central watchword.

In the Germany of Hitler’s rise, everything was subordinated to the very end of reestablishing or inventing the glories of the past, to the chords of a Wagner opera. The absence of questioning the sovereignty of the Fuhrer guaranteed the fulfillment of the script.

Believing itself to be the best nation in Europe justified the madness of the invasion of the Soviet Union, without realizing that such an operation caused the downfall of Napoleon. The National Socialist Party guaranteed order and the SS inherited the role of the Brown Shirts to tame the Wehrmacht that swallowed up the professional military, who had not digested the defeat of 1918 well.

The disaster that began in Stalingrad and culminated with Russian troops raising the flag at the top of the Reichstag, was riveted by Allied bombardments that left Dresden and Hamburg in ruins, populated by millions of wandering soldiers, while the furnaces were still smoking in the death camps and a million German women of all ages were raped. The sentence was so forceful that only in this way did the Germans learn their lesson and became a model of cooperation in Europe and the world.

But it is unknown how the application of the same strategy could have ended if Trump’s misrule plan had followed the same path. Now only the seventy million who have voted him to “make America great again” have remained silent. But the SS in the Republican Senate and the recent infiltrators in the Supreme Court also remain unscathed. It’s a gigantic denazification task for Biden, without Nuremberg-style trials.

Photo by alisdare1 on / CC BY-SA

Pandemic, Economy and Politics: A View from America

The COVID-19 pandemic abides. Growth in the number of infections and the number of positive people in Europe and America indicate that the disease is re-emerging in these areas. In some countries the spread of the disease hasn’t been significantly controlled and, in recent weeks, there has been a further escalation in the numbers. The United States stands out, in the midst of its long electoral process, with contagion figures nearly exceeding one hundred thousand people per day, indicating that in the coming weeks, pressure on its health system could be significant.

Health care systems have been stretched to the limit, with insufficient investment in expanding and modernizing their infrastructure, let alone insufficient recruitment of qualified health care professionals over the course of the pandemic. In Europe, street demonstrations by various citizens groups over new confinement measures are noteworthy.  In Germany, as in Spain and England, there are expressions of this nature that, by themselves, do not help to curb  COVID-19 contagions. In several countries in America there are also protests, and yet they are motivated by other purposes. The common sign in the region is to protest against the results of the economic and social management conducted by the authorities for many years

In the United States there is a broad social movement against racism, police brutality, and violence against women. In recent weeks, it has been linked to the presidential elections, House of Representatives, part of the Senate and some governorships. This is an issue that requires specific analysis. For the time being, consider the remarkable extent of the social movement against inequality. This in a context where the proposals of the Republican Party, led by Donald Trump, have the electoral support of more than 70 million citizens — 47.7% of those who exercised their vote. In the meantime, the management of the pandemic and economic-policy measures will advance with difficulty amid this context.

In Latin America, in the political scenario, the social movements and political parties located in the space of the struggle against social inequality

In Latin America, in the political scenario, the social movements and political parties located in the space of the struggle against social inequality and the political expressions that make it possible stand out. In Chile a broad movement of citizens managed to win the plebiscite to legislate a new Constitution that will be the subject of deliberation in a constitutional convention starting in April 2021. 

Popular action must continue. Precisely, the continuity in popular action and the capacity to achieve common goals is a relevant fact of the recent triumph of the MAS in Bolivia. It will still be necessary to complete the restoration of legality with the inauguration of President Arce and then, as the president-elect recognizes, to carry out the most important tasks in the area of redirecting the economy and politics in order to make progress in reducing social inequality and creating conditions for a dignified life for the majority of the population.

This is the point at which other countries, such as Mexico and Argentina, find themselves with governments that declare their distance from neoliberal positions and must advance in a notable economic and social reconstruction that will be the seat of new political relations in each country. The pandemic further complicates the scenario, but in a sense it forces more far-reaching decisions in the reorganization of the economies. 

In other countries in the region, social movements are continuing, with their specific forms of development as in Colombia, adding the demands of the original inhabitants, women, urban dwellers and the full implementation of the peace agreements. In Ecuador, in a few months, presidential and legislative elections will be held, which could be the space for the multiple partisan and social movement built against the program of restoration of the structural reforms of the current government to achieve an electoral victory. The social mobilization is taking place in the difficult context of the continuity of the COVID-19.

the multilateral financial organizations are considering the emergency situation, but they are not proposing measures that effectively overflow the space of structural reforms.

All of this is happening while the multilateral financial organizations are considering the emergency situation, but they are not proposing measures that effectively overflow the space of structural reforms. The thesis of the external shock is maintained and that once the pandemic is overcome, it will be possible to return to normal economic behavior. 

There is no recognition of the long period of weak growth in the economies of Europe and America and the advance of social inequality. In October, within the framework of the meeting of the IMF and the World Bank, the 42nd session of the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC) was held, composed of the finance ministers or the presidents of the central banks of the largest developed economies and other guests, which recognized the difficult situation resulting from the pandemic. 

But it also notes that, going forward, once the health crisis is behind us, action will be taken based on what the IMFC defines as its pre-health crisis agenda. This means moving forward with structural reforms. 

For the time being, the functioning of the international monetary system is placed in first place, which includes the provision of substantial resources by central banks that allow for the benefits of a small group of participants in these markets, without improvements in the rest of the economic activities. For most of the population there is no improvement in their living conditions. In Latin America it means the maintenance or increase of social inequality.

*Translation from Spanish by Ricardo Aceves

Foto de Eneas en / CC BY

21st Century: Polarization in America

Co-author Ana CarolaTraverso-Krejcarek

The pandemic turned the world upside down, shook institutions, generated new social conflicts and deepened existing ones. Various political systems in the Americas were affected by social and ideological polarization, the emergence and strengthening of extremes, and distrust of democratic institutions. Making matters worse, this was spiced up by waves of fake news. In both the north and south of the continent the situation has been just as critical. What parallels can be drawn? Are there lessons to be learned?

Let’s look at the case of the United States. The success of quasi-guerrilla tactics in positioning messages once considered peripheral or extremist was overwhelming. Among them is the use of media apparently unwelcome to new information technologies-such as amplitude modulated (AM) radio-for the dissemination of ultraconservative messages. To cite one example, Brian Rosenwald’s research, published in 2019, accounts for how the radio industry was co-opted by the radical right, expanding from fifty-nine to over a thousand radios since the 1980s.

ultraconservative rhetoric amassed unquestioned political power, convincing the country to support a candidate tailored to its needs.

In the process, ultraconservative rhetoric amassed unquestioned political power, convincing the country to support a candidate tailored to its needs. Today it continues to demand even more radicalism through its rhetoric and power to penetrate the homes of hundreds of thousands of inhabitants. The use of radio for political purposes in countries with high concentrations of rural populations is therefore not new and is reflected both in the United States and in many Latin American countries.

Another phenomenon to be pointed out is the fact that, in states like Florida, the rejection and fear associated with the Democratic Party’s link to the international socialist agenda and the authoritarian governments of Cuba, Venezuela and even Bolivia or Nicaragua took on a profound significance. A similar situation can be seen among first-generation immigrants in other states, moved to the right primarily by their desire for social and economic mobility.

This shows that hyper-segmented propaganda, with messages directed towards publics with concrete characteristics, does work, because they were used relentlessly and they worked. And, certainly, the voting of important minority groups such as Latinos is not monolithic; they do not vote in bloc.

Now let’s look at the Argentine case. The “cracked” citizens are a symptom of the polarization in the south of the continent due to the ideological distance that currently characterizes them: in favor or against Kirchnerism. With a pandemic in the air, the political decisions of the government of Alberto Fernández deepen the malaise of the dissidents. This is a very critical situation that divides families, couples, co-workers and transcends the political plane. If we consider the effects of COVID-19 and the economic crisis, it is worrying to note the polarization in a country whose political center is now almost non-existent. 

Now let’s look at the case of Bolivia. The polarization of the cloistered country is experienced between those who support the MAS (recently elected party) and a heterogeneous opposition block. The electoral triumph of MAS marks a territorial and ideological split that divides the country in two and evidences the failure of the opposition to produce a proposal for political renewal. The return of the indigenist discourse in a mestizo country (according to the results of the 2012 census) constitutes the new political moment that will not be exempt from deep unresolved tensions.

Discerning between real facts and wild ideas like conspiracy theories or unscientific ones becomes a difficult task.

In this scenario of polarization, change and uncertainty, many succumb. Discerning between real facts and wild ideas like conspiracy theories or unscientific ones becomes a difficult task. And as if that were not enough, one of the most disturbing examples in the northern hemisphere, Q Anon’s conspiracy theory now has supporters even among newly elected candidates.

The hatred fostered by false news is probably one of the parallels that have plagued electoral processes in the United States and other countries. Added to this is the mistrust of its electoral courts promoted by extreme right-wing political forces. In summary, one of the toxic effects of polarization is the deconstruction of democratic institutions and the questioning of reason and science.

The pandemic has marked a before and after in our way of life, social relations and work. Today this health crisis finds us in the midst of what we hope will be a paradigm shift driven by the American political shift. The lesson of the U.S. electoral process is the conviction that the deep, open wounds generated by Trump’s ongoing discourse will take years to heal.

It is important to emphasize the urgent need to build bridges of communication and dialogue that will lead us to know, talk and share opinions in a constructive way with those who do not know and think as we do. If in the past it was believed that social networks would help break down the physical boundaries between people, today we know that the business model of these networks is based on hyper-reality, tailored to the user, isolating him even more from the rest of his community and strengthening certain beliefs and prejudices.

We hope, for the sake of humanity, that one of the skills widely capitalized on by President-elect Joe Biden – empathy and the ability to negotiate with the opposing party – will have a multiplier effect on the titanic task of redefining our everyday democratic exercise. If there was any point in sitting on tenterhooks the first week of November waiting to see what would happen in the United States, it was to rekindle hope and a sense that a new and better version of society is possible.

Polarization in North and South America will mark the second decade of the 21st century given the effects of hatred of what is different and the political corrosion produced by mistrust of democratic institutions. The co-responsibility between those who govern and those who are governed in order to overcome it is, without a doubt, a challenge for the countries of the new world at the beginning of this five-year period.

*Translation from Spanish by Emmanuel Guerisoli

Photo of the Palacio del Planalto at / CC BY

The Vacancy of a President without a Party

Peru has a new president. On Monday, November 9, Martin Vizcarra was vacated in office on the grounds of permanent moral incapacity. Manuel Merino, congressman for the department of Tumbes, who was presiding over Congress until that day, has assumed the Presidency of the Republic following the Constitution. An overwhelming vote surpassed the required two-thirds.

The new Congress that has taken this decision was elected in January of this year to complete the period of the dissolved congress. It is made up of nine political parties, none of them reaching 20 percent of the seats.

How do eight of the nine parties manage to agree to vacate a president with popular support? According to Ipsos, Martín Vizcarra achieved a 79% approval rating after the dissolution of Congress; 87% in the first weeks of the fight against the pandemic and 54% in October, after the first impeachment process was carried out.

Martín Vizcarra was a president without a political party or a party.

In the first place, Martín Vizcarra was a president without a political party or a party. Upon dissolving Congress, he did not attempt to ally himself with any of the 24 parties with current registrations to present candidates to Congress.

Secondly, there is an institutional problem in Peru. Governments without a majority until 2001 ended in coups d’état. Between 2001 and 2016, governments without a parliamentary majority prevented an opposition coalition from prematurely ending their mandate. This has not happened since 2016. In the last four years, Peru had the first divided government in its history, four presidential vacancies due to permanent moral incapacity, the early resignation of a president, a referendum that prohibited immediate parliamentary reelection, a request by the president to bring forward elections that was denied; the first dissolution of the unicameral congress, extraordinary parliamentary elections, the first motion of confidence denied to a new cabinet, a vice president who assumes the office of president and is vacated with five months to go before general elections.

Thirdly, the vacancy due to permanent moral incapacity is an institution that has been questioned to the extent that it constitutes an open term subject to an interpretation that depends on the congress. Within the framework of reforms to optimize democratic governance, the political reform commission proposed that it be eliminated, broadening, in a limited way, the cases for which the president can be accused during his term of office.

In the public debate there are two interpretations of the cause of vacancy. The first links it to a historical interpretation that links it to mental incapacity. The other, points to conduct that is at odds with the exercise of office. In any case, the vacancy of Fujimori (2000) and that of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (2018) were based on the qualification of the conduct of the former presidents. The debate on the vacancy of President Vizcarra revolved around various issues related to his government. However, the motion that triggered the vacancy process linked him to the reception of bribes, when he was regional governor of Moquegua.

In his defense, he maintained that in the Peruvian constitutional model, when criminal accusations against high officials occur, no definitive decisions are made, “even less so to vacate a president of the Republic, altering the presidential term and modifying the regime that the Constitution grants to said position. In our country, according to the constitutional design, presidents remain in office for five years; therefore a vacancy is an exceptional measure, which should only be promoted in extreme circumstances, not every month and a half”. He added “it has been made public that 68 congressmen have processes under investigation in the Public Ministry. Would they also have to leave their positions because of this, without the fiscal investigation having been concluded”?

Vizcarra could not avoid this second vacancy process in less than two months. 

Thus, without a political party to support him, in a context of escalating conflicts between the executive and legislative branches, with a ruling pending before the Constitutional Court for the demand of competence for the improper use of the vacancy cause by permanent moral incapacity, Vizcarra could not avoid this second vacancy process in less than two months.  Popularity was not enough. On Monday night he announced that he was leaving the Government Palace and would not take legal action, abiding by the decision of Congress. He said goodbye “until another opportunity”.

The country is in a state of emergency because of the fight against COVID -19. During this state of emergency, the right to assembly and free movement are restricted. However, today there were demonstrations in different cities of the country. It is premature to foresee if these demonstrations are isolated events or if they may grow in the course of the days. General elections were called for April 11. What happened this week and the agenda to be developed by the executive and legislative branches will have a direct impact on the campaign.

Manuel Merino belongs to one of the oldest political parties in Peru, Acción Popular; the party of Fernando Belaunde Terry, who was twice president of Peru, and Valentín Paniagua, the most recent predecessor of a President of Congress who took office in a very different context, during the political crisis of 2000.  As I write these lines, Antero Flores Araoz Esparza is being announced as President of the Council of Ministers. A politician with much experience, he was president of the Popular Christian Party, presided over Congress during the government of Alejandro Toledo and later was Minister of Defense during the government of Alan Garcia. He has been a deputy member of the Democratic Constituent Congress. The democratic disposition of the new President of the Council of Ministers and his ample parliamentary experience will allow him to have the vote of confidence in the Congress, which must occur within 30 days after the swearing-in. Flores Araoz will facilitate an understanding with Congress, where Acción Popular has just under 20% of the seats in order to guarantee continuity until July 28, 2021, when the President who will celebrate the bicentennial of Peru’s independence takes office.

*Translation from Spanish by Emmanuel Guerisoli

Photo of Presidency Peru in / CC BY-NC-SA

Trump’s Lies: A Lesson for the Media

Donald Trump lost the U.S. presidential election, but he still prefers to live in the alternative world that his own propaganda has created for him. In this bizarre universe, he is considered an invincible hero of mythical proportions who decides what is right and wrong, what is false and what is not. In truth, Trump first lied that he won the election and then for days denied his undeniable defeat, but in the trumpworld, the leader is still considered the winner. This fanatical denial of reality is a key essence of Trumpism.

We need to think about the causes that made it possible for the United States to produce, elect, and now fire a leader who presented such a disastrous right-wing populist combination of denial of science regarding the Covid and racism, violence, corruption, and failed positions and actions in terms of economics, politics, health, climate change, taxes, and income inequality. A key part of the explanation is the lies. In short, a fundamental cause of Trumpismo’s success was that the Trumpistas manufactured, circulated, and sold lies and many Americans bought these lies.

The manufacture of disinformation will be remembered as the trademark of the history of Trumpismo.

The manufacture of disinformation will be remembered as the trademark of the history of Trumpismo. But we must not forget that an equally significant lesson is that Trumpism succeeded because real news has been constantly minimized in the media by the amplification of government propaganda.

As a candidate in 2016, and before that, Trump used “birtherism” (racist lies claiming that President Barack Obama was not born in the US), and other conspiracy theories to present himself as a key political player. As president, he reached a whole new level of propaganda with his falsehoods about minorities, immigrants and, last but not least, the Coronavirus.

Thus, of all the things that have been said about Donald Trump, the comparison with one of the most infamous liars in history, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, remains the most extreme and yet the most accurate. The reason for this is simple: Trump is lying through fascist propaganda techniques.

In explaining why Donald Trump lies so much, President-elect Joe Biden recently resorted to a proper historical comparison, saying that Trump lies “like Goebbels”. You tell the lie long enough, you keep repeating it, repeating it, repeating it, and the lie becomes common knowledge. Like many historians of fascism and populism, I believe Biden is correct, although, as I explain in my work on the history of fascist lies, Goebbels never said that repeating lies was part of his strategy. In fact, like Trump, he believed in the lies he fabricated.

To be sure, most politicians lie, but as a liar, Trump plays in a different league. From a historical perspective, there is no doubt that Trump participates in a tradition of totalitarian lies that have nothing to do with the conventional lies of traditional politicians on both the left and the right. And here Biden’s criticism is correct.

Trump lies like a cult leader.

Trump lies like a cult leader. He believes that his lies are in service of a larger truth based on the faith that he himself embodies. The history of fascism presents a multitude of cases of such liars who believe and want to change the world to fit their lies, from Benito Mussolini to Adolf Hitler and many other dictators and ideologues.

There is a chronology of totalitarian lies. The fascists increased and dominated the fabrication of lies after years of being in power. The same thing happened with Trumpism and the paroxysm of the lie reached its peak in the last days with the lies about fraud and illegal votes.

But the real news is that Trump will no longer be able to manufacture and spread lies from the White House. And at least these days, there is no longer a news cycle centered on Trump. The media circulation of Trump’s lies was commonplace for the past four years, but this has changed with Trump’s defeat. But will the media learn the lesson and not put Trump’s propaganda above all else in the coming weeks, months and years?

This lesson also applies to Trump’s allies on a global scale. Like Trump, post-fascist populists like Jair Mesias Bolsonaro in Brazil or Narendra Modi in India have lied for many years, most recently about the coronavirus, and like Trump, have used it as an excuse to promote their totalitarian vocations. It is not by chance that repression and violence increased in the United States, India and Brazil at the same time that these countries became the most affected by the virus.  Biden is right, Trump has lied like Goebbels. If this lesson is not learned and fascist-type lies are uncritically circulated, democracy will again be threatened by future forms of Trumpism.

Photo by Gage Skidmore at / CC BY-SA

*Translation from Spanish by Emmanuel Guerisoli