May 21, 2020
Demands for safer working conditions and extra hourly hazard pay during the pandemic are powering a strike wave in the Yakima Valley.
By David Bacon, Originally published by Capital & Main
by Steve Ellner
Originally published in Latin America Advisor of the Inter-American Dialogue
May 19, 2020
Every aspect of the recent attempt to topple the Maduro government points to Juan Guaidó's lack of leadership capacity. The incident cuts into his support among both the radical opposition that supports the use of force and the majority of Venezuelans, who, according to polls, favor concrete proposals to solve pressing immediate problems over regime-change strategies. In the first place, Guaidó's signature on the contract with the Florida-based Silvercorp USA disregards the history of operations of this sort in which planners go to length to ensure the credibility of a Plan B consisting of denial of involvement in case of failure. In the second place, Guaidó s commitment of 213 million dollars to Silvercorp raises questions about the origins of such a large sum of money. In the third place, even those favoring a military solution are criticizing the use of foreign mercenaries. In the fourth place, the plan envisioned one of two scenarios, one naive and the other questionable on ethical grounds. The choice of Macuto, with a strong navy presence nearby, for landing implied that the Venezuelan armed forces would spontaneously turn against Maduro, contrary to its behavior throughout 2019. On the other hand, the contract implied a possible drawn-out bloody confrontation with specified human targets including those close to Maduro and Diosdado Cabello.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the incident has “buoyed” Maduro. During his rule, Chávez counted on the backing of a sizable majority of voters. It is unlikely that most of them would support an opposition that incident after incident becomes branded "Made in the USA." Some of this sentiment gets translated into support for Maduro, even among Venezuelans who fervently oppose his policies.
Steve Ellner, who holds a Ph.D. in Latin American history, is author of over a dozen books on Latin American history and politics and is an Associate Managing Editor of Latin American Perspectives.
May 20, 2020
Employers' Organizations and Quarantine Policies in Ibero-America: A Brief Reflection on the Chilean and Spanish Case
The debate on the appropriate harmony between health protection and economic safeguard allows us to analyze an interesting aspect of political systems: the relationship between business elites and State power. Most of the policies that the pandemic has faced have been legitimized by the intervention of validated actors such as experts, technicians, advisers and also politicians of different persuasions. Their advice has contributed to protect citizens from what in biopolitical terms we could call a “letting die”, which was the dominant choice at first in several of the countries with leaders fit in with the commonly named “conservative populism” (USA, Brazil, UK). However, other social groups attempt to influence State decisions: this is the case of business elites and their organizations, acting as “pressure groups” that mobilize powerful resources in favor of their interests. Indeed, although the decisions of democratic States are supposedly sovereign, they are also influenced by demands from different social groups, such as workers, students, and, of course, those who conduct economic activity.
As the sociologist Philippe Schmitter (1991) reminds us, this is not necessarily negative. On the contrary, political systems need connection mechanisms between decision makers and society. It is, in fact, a game of balances between interests in part, expressed through participation mechanisms, and politically crystallized general interests. This is the way that those who exercise governance have plenty of authority to make independence decisions, putting the “general interest” before the requirements of groups that seek to influence the distribution of power.
Obviously, the “autonomy” of the State against pressure groups does not always and everywhere happens in the same way. The quarantine declaration against the threat of the pandemic, offers an extreme example that allows to analyze the behavior of the Chilean and Spanish business elites in the face of a decision that entails severe economic effects and that has been faced differently in both countries.
Indeed, in the face of the quarantine, the Chilean and Spanish employers' organizations have played a major role, with repeated public interventions by their leaders and official statements by the organizations. These statements and reactions show, however, differences in the way they influence political decisions. A good part of these differences can be explained in terms of “political culture” and seem to have to do with the different trajectory of both organizations during the transition to democracy and, of course, with the type of public space resulting from these transitions: more neoliberal in the Chilean case, more formally committed to a “European” type of “social State of law” in the Spanish case.
Since the transition to democracy until today, Spanish employers have accumulated experience of agreements with other actors, such as trade unions (UGT, CC.OO) and also political forces, establishing a “triangulation of power” very typical of social agreements in countries with Welfare States. The call by the President of the Government, Pedro Sanchez, to re-edit “Los Pactos de la Moncloa” between all political and social forces, in order to face the socio-economic reconstruction of Spain after the impact of the Covid-19, evokes the memory of this constituent milestone of Spanish democracy. It is also an indication of that experience that the negotiating attitude of the employers' association has been maintained, regardless of the discourse of the conservative opposition and the parliamentary battle that it undertook in the midst of the health and economic crisis.
But none of this is happening in Chile, since the model of democracy and development, which, of course, includes the role of the state and social actors, has not been discussed sovereignly by the citizens, until very recently and in the midst of a social explosion that has not yet had an institutional translation. In this sense, the maintenance of a "restricted democracy" with a radical neoliberal economy by the post-authoritarian governments has made it impossible to question the institutional rules and revise the role of the State and social actors in the public space. This was one of Philippe Schmitter's fears when he uneasily condemned neoliberalism as the enemy of social concertation. The Chilean case would be a perfect example of this situation, since the employers' associations, since the 1988 plebiscite until today, have never acted as a subordinate actor to politics as an activity that watches over the "general interest". On the contrary, the public development of Chilean employers has always consisted of exerting pressure on a weak state that does not have the constitutional tools to subordinate private interest to the "common good".
Both in Chile (revolts in autumn 2019) and in Spain (15-M and its aftermath in the party system), the constitutional framework has recently been subjected to pressure and questioning with a strong social content and it is not to be ruled out that popular movements in the same direction will continue to take place. This challenge has not yet had an adequate institutional fit, either in Chile or in Spain, and it remains to be seen how the sphere of public intervention by the economic powers and their corporate organizations will be redefined in this scenario. Coming from different traditions in relation to public space, it is almost certain that they will also reach different places, something that only time will clarify.
Alejandro Osorio Rauld: Doctor en sociología por la Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Investigador en el GESP UCM-UNED. Correo electrónico: firstname.lastname@example.org
José Reig Cuañes Doctor en historia por la Universidad de Alicante. Profesor de la Universidad Castilla-La Mancha. Correo electrónico: Jose.Reig@uclm.es
May 18, 2020
By Andrew R. Smolski, Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at North Carolina State University and member of the Latin American Perspectives editorial collective
On May 3rd, 2020, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) published “Algunas lecciones de la pandemia COVID-19”. In this brief document, the President of Mexico makes clear that neoliberal policies, such as privatization and austerity for public universities, have led to a crisis in public health exacerbated by the pandemic. AMLO has consistently pointed to four decades of neoliberalization as creating many of the ills Mexico confronts, from a majority of the population employed in the informal sector to almost a majority of the country living in poverty. And he is not wrong.
For instance, in public health neoliberalization has had a major negative impact. Since the late 1990s, Mexican public health institutions, like the Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social (IMSS), have seen market reforms that reduced the amount and quality of care. This is the case, even while healthcare expenditures increased in Mexico since 2000. So, you have reductions in care with increasing costs and poorer outcomes. In 2006, a year before the drug war began in earnest, life expectancy stalled, a trend continuing to the present. That ended more than four decades of increasing life expectancy.
AMLO’s administration has sought to reverse that trend through a reinvigoration of the universal right to healthcare, itself enshrined in Article 4 of the Mexican Constitution. The major policy has been the Instituto de Salud para el Bienestar (Insabi), which is meant to augment public health by covering people not covered by IMSS or the Instituto de Seguridad y Servicios Sociales de los Trabajadores del Estado (ISSSTE). Through an increase in public provisioning of medical services and pharmaceuticals and a rollback of market reforms, Insabi could reverse the neoliberalization of public health and return Mexico to a positive trend for life expectancy.
“Algunas lecciones de la pandemia COVID-19” also develops an alter-modernist vision, one that is strikingly reminiscent of liberation scholars. AMLO writes “that the bottom, marginalized, and scorned…are in reality filled with solutions.” This bottom-up vision is also reflected in the administration’s response to COVID-19. On April 5th, AMLO unveiled an economic package in the National Palace to confront the adverse effects of COVID-19 on the economy. That package largely focused on small businesses (microempresas) and the informal economy. In response to critics of the package, AMLO stated that “there is not going to be a rescue for big companies, banks, much less the biggest.” Such a statement would have been anathema to any of the previous administrations, wedded as they were to a vision of corporate Mexico.
Yet, there are contradictions in the Fourth Transformation (4T), the label AMLO and MORENA have given to the administration’s policies. While the public health policy is rhetorically about the universal right to healthcare, the budget has not reflected a sufficient economic investment to provide such a right. Although, it’s important to note, that in theory no one in Mexico will have to go into debt for treatment, unlike in the United States. But this may be of little consolation if there is little to no healthcare facilities to access. Furthermore, the years of hollowing out from neoliberalization have left the public system without a sufficient number of hospital beds to treat COVID-19 patients. This fact led to a voluntary agreement with private hospitals on the part of the government. The agreement will have the government cover costs at private hospitals for treatment, which will mean the government becomes a source of profit for those entities that in pre-COVID-19 times excluded the majority from healthcare.
Additionally, the economic response to COVID-19 crisis in Mexico does not lend itself to a Keynesian conception of counter-cyclical spending. The creditos solidarios of 25,000 pesos for up to a million micro-businesses are relatively small, although they do not have to be paid back. The other micro-credits the government is dispensing reproduce a neoliberal policy that was popular with NGOs. Businesses that receive these small loans will have to pay them back within three years, even though there is no clear indication that they will keep businesses afloat or out of a cycle of debt. Even more, the refusal to raise taxes or create new taxes means that the government will have limited fiscal options to expand programs without accumulating debt, also rejected by AMLO.
Much of these contradictions arise from AMLO’s “austeridad republicana”. That has involved cutting government salaries, moves against corruption, and at times, reductions in budgets to certain agencies. It is based on a not incorrect belief that the state misallocates funds, because the neoliberal state had become a support for businesses, rather than the public good. It is from this idea that debt rejection arises, whether private or from international institutions like the International Monetary Fund, as a vehicle for funding government programs. And, this is understandable, as debt has been a primary way that privatization was pushed, just as corruption has been an endemic problem for Mexico. But, it also means that AMLO’s transformation of Mexico away from neoliberalism takes place within a state already constrained by four decades of neoliberalism.
It is not clear that what is entailed in the 4T is a transformation of Mexico’s political economy, or that it will be sufficient to address the COVID-19 crisis. Or, possibly better put, there is a lack of confrontation with the entrenched oligarchy, ever ready to use capital strike, capital flight, and other measures to stall the economy and harm the chances of a Left-led revitalization. One can only speculate as to why AMLO and his administration do not act more aggressively, whether it is current international conditions, too much emphasis on corruption and not enough on class struggle, or a general philosophy of “doing more with less”.
Of course, AMLO is constrained, as Mexico can’t just print money like the US, and there isn’t a commodity boom to finance the expansion of a welfare state. Actually, there is the exact opposite, an oil crash harming a state that receives large amounts of its funding from the sale of oil. As well, AMLO is constantly attacked in national and international media outlets, with his administration’s move under a magnifying glass to make claims about authoritarianism. Plus, the peso has been consistently devalued over the past decade eroding purchasing power, with an ever-present threat of inflation cutting purchasing power even more. Thus, there are clear reasons that AMLO and his administration seek a route that seeks to re-orient the state within current coordinates, as opposed to a more frontal challenge to Mexico’s class structure and entrenched corporate power.
AMLO and his administration are correct in noting the corrosive effects of neoliberalization on Mexico and human dignity. And many moves should be commended, such as Insabi. And, there is the expanded role of the Fondo de Cultura Economica in supplying discounted books to the populous under the directorship of Paco Ignacio Taibo II. That is, AMLO and his administration have produced an ideological space that provides real opportunities for 4T, for a political economy to transition away from neoliberalization and for a general education of the populous about demands that should be made on the state. But for now, with austeridad republicana the policy driving this transition, 4T is much less than promised. And that will be more than problematic, as the COVID dead mount and 4T stalls.
May 17, 2020
By Alfonso Gonzales Toribio, Associate Professor and Director of Latin American Studies at the University of California Riverside.
May 16, 2020
Latin American Perspectives would like to invite its readers, editors, and authors to submit short reflections and or photographs to our blog about how communities in Latin America and Latinx communities in the US are confronting the COVID-19 crisis. Blog posts should run between 200 to 1000 words and can be in English, Spanish or Portuguese.
Please send your submissions to email@example.com, subject line “COVID-19 Blog”
While social distancing and quarantine protocols are necessary to stem the spread of the virus, we are witnessing ways in which these measures can also reinforce economic and social inequalities and hurt working-class families across the Americas. LAP has a rich history of questioning the empty promises of social mobility and progress that often go hand-in-hand with neoliberalism, neo-colonialism, imperialism, and globalization, and we feel the need to be on alert as military forces take on more predominant roles and as governments threaten to institutionalize draconian austerity measures.
The COVID-19 virus exposes the weaknesses of the capitalist market to provide health care, food security, safety and education to millions of Latinx in a crisis. It also puts women in dangerous situations when asked to remain at home with potential abusers. Colombia has seen a 79% increase in calls of help due to intra-familial violence or sexual abuse.
LAP has always been committed to document and reflect on the critical work of social movements, grassroots organizations to pressure local governments to ensure the well-being of vulnerable communities, for example, prison populations or the elderly. This pandemic is a heavy blow to the pathos of globalization and Latin Americans will have to ascertain radical ways to rebuild infrastructures, support impacted communities and foster a culture of solidarity and collective prosperity.
We invite LAP readers to use this space on the blog to share their experiences, fears, and hopes for the near future and strategies to transform political goodwill into action. We can all learn from each other and our research to prepare for whatever tasks lie ahead. Please be aware that blog entries are often reposted in LAP’s social media outlets (Facebook and Twitter).
May 6, 2020
By Monserrat Sepúlveda, Santiago, Chile
May 5, 2020
Trump’s disregard for immigrant life amid the pandemic bring us closer to a collapse of civilization
April 28, 2020
By Carlos Fausto
Professor of Anthropology at the National Museum of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Versão em Português:
Esta peça foi publicada originalmente pela Somatosphere e pode ser encontrada aqui: