written by Félix Pablo Friggeri y Angélica Remache López
The description of the regional situation and its integration process has gone through a series of conceptualizations with diverse political intentions. We propose a characterization based on the concept of “catastrophic tie,” seeking to highlight elements that may be studied prospectively, considering recent events. These include aspects of the electoral processes and popular demonstrations that have taken place in recent times. We raise the question of whether we are moving towards the possibility of a resumption of the predominance of popular governments and regional integration processes.
Regional catastrophic tie
We understand that there are two mistakes in the interpretation of the Latin American-Caribbean regional reality, it is, therefore, important to overcome those in order to understand the current situation and generate an analysis that serves as the source of the political debate oriented to respond the popular needs and popular struggles of our region.
In the face of the relative predominance of popular governments in at least part of the first two decades of this century, the idea that we had entered a “post-neoliberal era” resonated throughout the continent. Some studies used this term, which had accurate elements of the analysis of reality, but its reading in the sense that the neoliberal conformation had been fundamentally overcome was not in line with what was predominating in the economic world and, in a good part, of the social imaginary of our countries. Latin America and the Caribbean was the only region on the planet that, as such, formed a regional bloc to contestation to neoliberal hegemony. The neoliberal hegemony, however, continued to define the fundamentals of the economic dynamics and social imaginary, especially those related to socio-economic mobility. The predominance of popular governments represented a strong and relatively sustained challenge to the hegemony of global capital, but never its definitive defeat. Neoliberalism continued to define the fundamentals of labor relations, capital accumulation processes, the people-nature relationship and the rural and urban property system. This explains why popular governments achieved significant advances in income distribution but did not achieve a considerable modification in the distribution of wealth, which is what modifies the correlation of social forces (Schuldt 2013). The core of the explanation of the regional crisis in the face of emerging progressive governments with popular characteristics suffers, therefore, opens a way to a relative predominance of the forces of the neoliberal right.
The second mistake was to understand the advance of the forces of wild capitalism as the “end of the populist cycle.” An interpretation clearly organized by the right, but which was accompanied by some versions of the intellectual left, generally conditioned by the economic view. The right-wing achieved a relative hegemony based on several coups d’état (Honduras 2009; Paraguay 2013; Brazil 2016; Bolivia 2019), on the pressure and encirclement of governments and peoples (Cuba and Venezuela), on some electoral processes that represented defeats for popular forces, but, above all and fundamentally, by multiple forms of u.s. interventionism. At the internal level, they played in favor of what Álvaro García Linera (2016) called “declassification” processes. Because of this process, part of the same population that benefited by the so-called “inclusion policies” of the popular governments ended up voting against them. This phenomenon has happened in several countries of the region and should be analyzed rigorously: people who were poor and who began to have access to some goods they had never had and who were identified -with more or less reason- as people who came out of poverty and began to be part of what was identified as “middle class,” adopted the discourse and political options of the bosses, stopped voting “as poor” and voted as “middle class” and adopted criteria against the working majorities to which they still belonged. This was a partial phenomenon, perhaps conjunctural, but it influenced the advance of the right wing in the popular spheres. This is what we would call the “mercantilization of social mobility.” Another mercantilizing process that collaborated in this “right-wing” of a part of the popular sectors was that of spirituality, driven, above all, by the so-called “Theology of Prosperity” that orients a good part of what is called the Neo-Pentecostal movement.
We understand that the situation that has been developed in the region for several years may be described as a “catastrophic tie.” The political concept of “tie” arises from the work of Antonio Gramsci, but was developed, especially, by two Latin American authors to describe the conjunctural realities of their countries. One was the Argentine Juan Carlos Portantiero (2003) in the 1970s. He described the reality of his country as a “hegemonic tie” because the groups fighting for power were not strong enough to lead the country, but they did have the strength to veto opposing projects. The other approach, with which Álvaro García Linera (2008) described the reality of Bolivia, opted for the expression “catastrophic tie,” highlighting the existence of two political projects with the capacity to attract and mobilize social forces with an extended scope, but whose confrontation resulted in a “paralysis of the state command.” For him, the way out of this situation was the election of Evo Morales. This theoretical approach, which the authors use to describe the reality of their countries, can also be used to analyze the current regional situation.
On a regional tie-breaker?
The victories of Andrés López Obrador in Mexico in 2018 and Alfredo Fernández in Argentina in 2019 were key to the advance of a change in the regional landscape. Both countries have a population and economic weight, behind Brazil, among the most important in the region. Their articulation, given in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), in the Puebla Group and in joint actions among which the action to save the lives of Evo Morales, García Linera and other Bolivian officials at the time of the coup d'etat in that country, highlights the possibility of an “Argentina / Mexico Axis” that can promote policies different from the purely neoliberal ones and a resumption of the process of regional articulation.