July 24, 2017

Political Report # 1263 The State of the Left in Latin America: Ecuador and Bolivia After the Pink Tide

Bolivian President Evo Morales (left) and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa (right) meet in Cochabamba in 2013. (flickr / Fernanda LeMarie)
As rightwing governments take power in Argentina, Brazil, and elsewhere across the region, Ecuador's leftwing Alianza País (Country Alliance, AP) and Bolivia's Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement Towards Socialism, MAS) and Bolivia have managed to hold onto power.
Despite early gains in poverty reduction and social mobility, the left wing in both countries has faltered in recent years, since the end of the commodity boom and an economic downturn has led to a decrease in social spending and services among popular classes. Meanwhile, an ongoing reliance on extractive industries has driven wedges between social and indigenous movements and their governments who rely on transnational capital and megaprojects to finance their state vision - a vision that these movements see as increasingly disconnected from their own.
In Ecuador, President Lenín Moreno, once Rafael Correa's Vice President, scraped an electoral victory this Spring, as his party faces contradictions and clashes with social movements that Correa's government increasingly repressed. In Bolivia, the once-wildly popular Evo Morales, the country's first indigenous president, has also embraced extractivism, losing the support of the social bases that brought him to power.
In this panel discussion, Thea Riofrancos, Professor of Political Science at Providence College and Linda Farthing, an independent researcher based in Bolivia, discuss the current state of the left in these two Andean countries.
Thea Riofrancos on Ecuador:
Althougth Lenin Moreno managed to win his election campaign, his Left party and the party of former president Rafael Correa, Alianza Pais (AP), no longer enjoys a legislative supermajority and has lost several important elections at the municipal and provincial levels.

Abstract, The United States and Latin America in the Trans-Pacific Partnership: Renewing Hegemony in a Post–Washington Consensus Hemisphere?

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The United States and Latin America in the Trans-Pacific Partnership: Renewing Hegemony in a Post–Washington Consensus Hemisphere?
by Rubrick Biegon                  

The nascent Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement puts the United States at the center of an expanding liberalization regime connecting the Americas to the Asia-Pacific region. U.S. power is bound up with the globalization of Latin America’s political economy, and the TPP is indicative of U.S. efforts to renew its hegemony in the region. It reinforces the importance of “free trade” on the post–Washington Consensus agenda, undercutting existing Latin American–led approaches to integration while responding to China’s growing influence in the hemisphere. As the free-trade consensus is reconstructed through the TPP process, U.S. hegemony in the Americas is potentially extended even as it continues to face challenges in the structural, institutional, and ideological dimensions of intrahemispheric affairs.

July 21, 2017

Political Report # 1262 Time for the International Left to Take a Stand on Venezuela

Venezuela is heading towards an increasingly dangerous situation, in which open civil war could become a real possibility. So far over 100 people have been killed as a result of street protests, most of these deaths are the fault of the protesters themselves (to the extent that we know the cause).
The possibility of civil war becomes more likely as long as the international media obscure who is responsible for the violence and the international left remains on the sidelines in this conflict and fails to show solidarity with the Bolivarian socialist movement in Venezuela.
If the international left receives its news about Venezuela primarily from the international media, it is understandable why it is being so quiet. After all, this mainstream media consistently fails to report who is instigating the violence in this conflict.
For example, a follower of CNN or the New York Times would not know that of the 103 who have been killed as a result of street protests, 27 were the direct or indirect result of the protesters themselves. Another 14 were the result of lootings; in one prominent case, because looters set fire to a store and ended up getting engulfed in the flames themselves. Fourteen deaths are attributable to the actions of state authorities (where in almost all cases those responsible have been charged), and 44 are still under investigation or in dispute. This is according to data from the office of the Attorney General, which itself has recently become pro-opposition.
Also unknown to most consumers of the international media would be that opposition protesters detonated a bomb in the heart of Caracas on July 11, wounding seven National Guard soldiers or that a building belonging to the Supreme Court was burnt by opposition protesters on June 12th or that opposition protesters attacked a maternity hospital on May 17.

Abstract, Aftershocks of Pinochet’s Constitution: The Chilean Postearthquake Reconstruction

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Aftershocks of Pinochet’s Constitution: The Chilean Postearthquake Reconstruction
by Ignacio Arana Araya                           

The criticism of the reconstruction that followed the cataclysm in Chile in 2010 has centered on contingent factors including the performance of politicians. An examination of the way structural factors conditioned the governmental response to the 8.8 earthquake shows that the constitution created by the military regime shaped the reconstruction through provisions that limited vertical and horizontal accountability in intrastate and state-society relations. The subsidiary state, executive-legislative power relations, the binomial electoral system, and the appointment rather than election of regional authorities favored a recovery effort that has been underinstitutionalized, privatized, characterized by scant participation of victims, and marred by irregularities. An analysis of governmental reports, media outlets, polls, and semistructured interviews conducted with legislators, social leaders, and scholars sheds light on the relation between the constitution and the recovery.

July 19, 2017

Political Report # 1260 Dismantling Power: The Zapatista Indigenous Presidential Candidate’s Vision to Transform Mexico from Below

The Zapatistas and National Indigenous Congress (CNI) held an assembly in May in which they chose María de Jesús Patricio Martínez, a Nahua indigenous healer, as their spokesperson and presidential candidate for the 2018 elections in Mexico.
Patricio’s candidacy and radical vision for Mexico challenges conventional politics and marks a new phase for the Zapatista and indigenous struggle in the country.
The 57-year-old traditional Nahua indigenous doctor and mother of three from western Mexico is the first indigenous woman to run for the presidency in Mexico.
Patricio joined the struggles related to the Zapatista Army of National Liberation in 1996, when she was involved in the formation of the CNI, a network of indigenous communities in the country. She began helping out sick members of her community with herbal remedies when she was 20-years-old. Her skills as a healer were passed down to her from elders in the community, and are based on a close relationship with the local ecosystem.
“Back then, there was a shortage of doctors and medicine and the health department had no answers,” Patricio told the Guardian. “But we have so many plants and so much knowledge from our elders. My grandmother would give us special teas to cure stress, coughs or diarrhea, and they worked. So I thought: why not give herbal remedies to those who can’t afford medicine?” Her work as an herbalist has influenced her political views: “The political class only see the earth and our natural resources as means of making money, not things that benefit the community and need protecting.”

Abstract, Civil Society Reconstruction: Popular Organizations in Postearthquake Concepción

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Civil Society Reconstruction: Popular Organizations in Postearthquake Concepción
by Jeanne W. Simon and Katia Valenzuela-Fuentes                               

The Chilean province of Concepción was little prepared for the impact of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that took place on February 27, 2010. Because of the destruction of roads and bridges, the power outage, and ineffective communication, each neighborhood was essentially left to fend for itself with virtually no assistance from local and provincial authorities. Within the first 24 hours, panic hit, with stores being looted and local politicians calling for a military presence, and neighbors joined together to protect their property from looting gangs, even in the poorest neighborhoods. Most of these committees were not based on the traditional neighborhood councils that had emerged since the return to electoral democracy in 1990. In the emergency camps established by families that had lost their houses, the new leaders established a more autonomous and horizontal leadership style in their search for decent living conditions and a definitive housing solution. At first glance, these new leaders appear to be a return to the autonomous popular organizations that emerged during the dictatorship but were demobilized under electoral democracy. Ironically, the earthquake and the new center-right government seem to have offered a political opportunity for the reemergence of a more autonomous civil society.

July 18, 2017

Book, The United States and Cuba: From Closest Enemies to Distant Friends

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The United States and Cuba: From Closest Enemies to Distant Friends
by Marc Becker

A valuable Cuban overview of the continuities and ruptures in the relationship between the United States and Cuba. López Segrera’s generally optimistic and nuanced account brings the story right up to date with a discussion of the normalization announced on December 19, 2014, and the reestablishment of diplomatic relations in July 2015. In a field dominated by U.S. scholarship, this Cuban-centered analysis benefits from close access to key players in the island’s foreign policy establishment. (Barry Carr, La Trobe University, Australia)

July 17, 2017

Political Report # 1260 Dying and Drying: The Case of Bolivia's Lake Poopó

 By Clayton Whitt | NACLA

I have never seen Lake Poopó from up close. The last time I tried to reach the lakeshore, I could not find it.
I made my last attempt in June 2014 while carrying out anthropological field research in the municipality of El Choro, in Bolivia's Altiplano region, the high plain of the central Andes. Lake Poopó, the principal body of water in the region, is the terminus of the Desaguadero River, which drains Lake Titicaca and much of the northern high plain. El Choro's municipal territory is located between the Desaguadero's two main channels and stretches down to the northern shores of the shallow, salty lake.
After 15 kilometers on improvised cross-country tracks, I was surrounded by an almost otherworldly parched and plantless landscape.So I thought it was simple: just head south on my bicycle from the capital village of El Choro until reaching the lakeshore. After 15 kilometers on improvised cross-country tracks, I was surrounded by an almost otherworldly parched and plantless landscape. Five kilometers later, there was still no water in sight. Disheartened by the sight of dusty whirlwinds yet ahead, I turned back.
The presence - and lack thereof- of this disappeared lake loomed over my research. In meetings and casual conversations, people in El Choro expressed great concern over the health of the lake and the impact of pollution and falling water levels on the local fishing industry. But it was not until just after I left, in November 2014, that the lake made headlines with two pieces of startling news. First, Lake Poopó suffered a massive fauna die-off in November 2014. Then, a year later, it was reported to be completely dry. The lake had suffered a potentially fatal one-two punch. Why did this happen? Will Lake Poopó ever come back?
The Lake Dies, Then Dries
What happened to Lake Poopó in 2014 and 2015 was probably not a surprise to anyone who had been attentive to its deteriorating condition. As the La Paz-based newspaper Página Siete wrote in an editorial following the December 2015 drying event, "Although it has caused great impact and alarm, the disappearance of Lake Poopó...was not unexpected news." I heard warning after warning in 2014 from people in El Choro that the lake and its watershed were in bad condition, mostly due to discharges from upstream mines.

Abstract, Social Policy Responses of the Chilean State to the Earthquake and Tsunami of 2010

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Social Policy Responses of the Chilean State to the Earthquake and Tsunami of 2010
by Walter Imilan and Luis Eduardo González                                   

Decades of neoliberal policy have left Chile with a skeletal state that administers social policy through targeting and outsourcing in public-private partnerships that lack coordination. The reconstruction after the 2010 earthquake and tsunami responded to the emergency largely according to these same principles. While official reports on the reconstruction effort show a state that is complying with its goals, evidence from fieldwork in the city of Constitución illustrates that this method is highly inadequate in the context of a natural disaster. Chile should establish a social policy structure for natural disasters that allows for a rapid response to a social emergency based on universal or near-universal allocation criteria.

July 14, 2017

Political Report # 1259 Honduran Melon Workers Push for Union Rights

 By John Wash, LaborNotes

"Those melons are contaminated by exploitation." That's what one melon worker in Choluteca, Honduras, told me she would say to a US consumer thinking about buying the fruit grown, harvested, and distributed under the control of the multinational Sumitomo and marketed under the brands Fyffes and Sol.
"They don't use that money to pay us well," she said. "What happens is they wind up with their pockets full, and we wind up with our bellies empty."
Seeking to improve their wages and working conditions, melon workers in the politically marginalized southwestern corner of Honduras are fighting to win recognition and a contract for their young union, a local of the Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Agroindustria y Similares (STAS, the Union of Agricultural and Related Workers).
The vast majority of the four to five thousand melon workers in Choluteca are women paid less than the country's official monthly minimum for agricultural workers: 6,848 lempiras ($292.15).
While the workers do get paid the daily minimum wage, 228 lempiras ($9.73), the boss, by limiting their number of days of work per week to maybe four, can get away with paying only about half the monthly figure. It's another example of how "flexibility" for management can translate into poverty for labor, especially in an area such as southern Honduras where employment opportunities are limited.
Melons Are Big Business
It's not that the melon sector is small. In 2016 Honduras exported some 268 million kilos (295,419 tons) of cantaloupes, honeydew, watermelons, and other melons with a value of $53.3 million, according to the statistics of the Central Bank of Honduras. Melons are the country's fourth-largest export, after coffee, electronics, and fish.