April 22, 2021

Blog Exclusive - On the threshold of a Latin American and Caribbean tie-breaker?

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.

April 6, 2021

Political Report #1455 Ecuador's April 11 Presidential Election

Ecuador’s April 11 presidential election

by Marc Becker

 31 March 2021  
    On April 11, Ecuadorians will go to the polls to select their next president. On the
surface, the contrast between the two candidates seems stark and the choice clear.
    Out of a record number of 16 candidates in the first-round vote on February 7, Andrés
Arauz and Guillermo Lasso emerged at the top of the polls.
Arauz of the progressive Union for Hope (UNES) coalition is a protégé of former
president Rafael Correa. Like Correa, Arauz is a heterodox economist who emerges out of a
Keynesian and developmentalist framework. Redistributive policies during Correa’s
administration resulted in notable socio-economic gains, including record drops in poverty,
extreme poverty, and inequality. Arauz presumably would return Ecuador to the model of using
the country’s natural resources to fund redistributive policies, even as the current debt crisis and
relatively low commodity prices provide less favorable conditions.
    Lasso, in contrast, is a rightwing Opus Dei adherent and a banker who has been
personally responsible for many of the neoliberal ills that have plagued Ecuador over the last
quarter century. The legacy of his role as a “super minister” that oversaw an economic collapse
in 1999 stills weighs most heavily on the poor and marginalized. His regime would return the
country to the worst aspects of savage capitalism and fuel unprecedented upward redistributions
of wealth, even as now he is making populist promises in a desperate ploy to win election.
    Depending on one’s class position in the means of production, a decision in the context of
this stark choice should be crystal clear.
    But in politics, nothing is ever clear.
    Significantly complicating this narrative is the third-place challenger in the February 7
vote: the environmental activist Yaku Pérez of the Indigenous Pachakutik movement. Pérez
registered a surprisingly and unprecedented strong showing in the first round, and was only
narrowly edged out by Lasso for the right to go head-to-head with Arauz in the second round.
This led to a jockeying for position, baseless accusations of fraud, and finally a call to boycott
the April 11 elections with declarations that neither populism nor neoliberalism are viable
    Many external observers stood by while our Ecuadorian counterparts proceeded to
hammer away on each other over social media. The narratives could be nasty. Correa supporters
resorted to frankly racist narratives to denounce Pérez’s candidacy, and hanging over the heads
of Pérez and his supporters were comments from the election four years previous that they would
prefer the neoliberal banker Lasso over the “dictator” Lenín Moreno, who was then campaigning
as a stand-in for the popular president Correa. The two sides which seemingly should share the
goal of overcoming economic inequality and racial oppression appeared more interested in
attacking each other rather than fighting a common enemy of neoliberal economic policies.
    I built my academic career on the twin agenda of demonstrating that the left is not racist
and that Indigenous movements must be understood as an integral part of the left. The 2021
elections in Ecuador appear determined to prove me wrong on both counts.
    These deep-seated conflicts that are only getting worse and show no evidence of taming
any time soon emerge from a pattern of social movement organizing in the 1990s that opened the
floodgates to a wave of progressive governments across the hemisphere at the dawn of the
twenty-first century.
    Several things, however, must be kept in mind. First, and most importantly, for all the
talk of dual power, the logics of social movement organizing and political party strategies are
inherently contradictory and conflictual.
    Historically strong Indigenous movements in the 1990s that repeatedly pulled down
neoliberal governments that ruled against their interests have had difficulties translating that
pressure into electoral success. Sustained protests against Moreno’s neoliberal policies in
October 2019 paved the way for Pérez’s unexpectedly strong showing in February 2021, even as
his campaign remained strangely divorced from that grassroots pressure.
    Second, as José Antonio Lucero notes, we must think of movements in the plural and
recognize their diversity.
    Deep divisions run through Indigenous movements in Ecuador, with identifiable left and
right wings. Pérez, who had consolidated his political profile as an anti-mining opponent during
the Correa administration, emerged as the presidential candidate for Pachakutik rather than
others who forwarded a more explicitly leftist and anti-neoliberal critique of the current situation.
    Third, many of these issues appear differently when viewed internally in Ecuador rather
than through an international lens.
    With U.S. imperial forces holding the Latin American left under siege (and in this there is
little difference between Trump’s and Biden’s policies), having a faithful ally in Arauz would
give those governments seeking to rule on behalf of the poor and dispossessed a little bit of
breathing room. But, logically as is always the case, motivations for voters in Ecuador are much
more immediate and closer to home.
    Fourth, the current political landscape in Ecuador explodes a simplistic continuum from
left to right. This emerges particularly evident in gaps between seemingly progressive rhetoric
and clientelistic strategies and proposals on all sides. A long pattern in Latin America is to “talk
left, rule right,” to campaign on progressive populist promises to gain popular support to get
elected, but disavow those once in power because of the threat of entrenched economic and
political interests.
    Historically Ecuador has had a well-organized left that repeatedly has been frustrated in
its attempts to gain power. But if we understand the left as encouraging participatory democracy
and transforming the country’s mode of production, one can rightfully ask, where is that left
today and who represents it? Does it even exist anymore?
    Despite a minor and seemingly momentary blip with “pink-tide” governments at the
beginning of the century, during our lifetimes politics globally have consistently and
depressingly slid ever rightward. The 2021 Ecuadorian elections won’t alter that bearing, but
they can feed an impression of either slowing or accelerating that tendency.

February 25, 2021

Political Report #1454 Don’t Make Puerto Rico a State Now

Don’t Make Puerto Rico a State Now

by Pedro Cabán, University at Albany

    Puerto Ricans went to the polls on November 3 to elect a new governor and hundreds of other officials, and yes to vote on whether their colonized archipelago should become the 51 st American state. The results signaled a resounding rejection of both major political parties. They also revealed a far more ambivalent attitude towards the status question than pro-statehood proponents will admit.

    The New Progressive Party’s (PNP) gubernatorial candidate garnered 32.9% of the vote, besting his Popular Democratic Party (PPD) opponent by 1.4%. These two political parties have dominated politics for over half a century: the PPD a proponent of the current failing commonwealth status and the PNP, a fierce ideological proponent of statehood. Although support for both has been waning, the gains made by new opposition political parties was a shock. Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) received 13.7% of the vote, the most it has received in decades. The upstart Movimiento Victoria Ciudadana (MVC) in its first time on the ballot got 14.2%, and even the Christian fundamentalist Proyecto Dignidad, which was established just this year, became a player with 6.9% of the vote. This means that 67% of the voters rejected the PNP, a party that has based its entire existence on delivering statehood to the archipelago. Voter participation has been declining steadily, but this year’s steep drop jolted Puerto Rico’s political class. Participation plummeted to 53% from 79% in 2008, the lowest in Puerto Rico’s post World War II history. The 2020 elections revealed how tenuous the PPD and PNP’s hold over the electorate had become, and suggests a fundamental political realignment is taking place.

    Fifty-three per cent voted “yes” for statehood, while 48% voted no. At first glance the results of the so-called plebiscite appear to be a ringing endorsement for statehood. In a New York Times op-ed, Cristina Ponsa-Kraus wrote that this was a “historic vote” and proof that Puerto Ricans are clamoring statehood. But as City University of New York Professor Ana López pointed out, when you look at the figures this bullish claim is questionable. In reality about 26 % of the electorate expressed a preference for statehood since just over half of the voters turned out on election day. It is inconceivable that a decision as momentous as Puerto Rico’s political destiny can be left to a quarter of the eligible electorate.

    Unlike previous plebiscites, this plebiscite was inexplicably timed by the PNP to coincide with the general elections. Proponents of statehood conveniently ignore the political realignment that is taking place in the wake of the massive popular uprising in summer 2019. The historic protests not only forced a despised governor to resign, but they set-in motion the extraordinary electoral gains made by anti-PPD/PNP forces. According to political commentators, the 2020 election marks beginning of the end of bipartisan political rule. In this context, few serious students of Puerto Rican politics would accept the yes-no statehood popularity contest as anything more than a political stunt by the statehood party to rally its aging base to the polls and sustain the myth that statehood is attainable.

    On December 30, the eve of her last day in office, Governor Wanda Vasquez signed two measures into law. One authorizes the government to conduct elections to select six full time lobbyists who will be appointed to the Puerto Rico Equity Commission, and work full time at the Puerto Rico’s Federal Affairs Administration in Washington DC to promote Puerto Rico Statehood. In January 2021, incoming Governor Pierluisi asked the state electoral commission to organize the special elections, which are projected to cost $8.9 million. The second measure authorized Governor Pedro Pierluisi to hold a plebiscite in May 2021. But in a marked departure from past practice, the plebiscite “definitions will be decided by decree, without approval of the. According to the law, which some legislators claim is unconstitutional, the governor alone will decide the status alternatives that will be on the ballot. The non-binding plebiscite will be held without the federal government’s authorization. The measures were immediately denounced by the opposition Partido Democrático Popular “as antidemocratic.” The Puerto Rican Independence Party warned that the legislation would “convert the governor into a colonial

    But the significant take away from the elections is the people’s repudiation of the politics of status. The majority of Puerto Ricans don’t blame only colonialism for the unemployment and poverty, environmental despoilation, the collapsed health system and the deteriorated infrastructure that torment their daily. Voters punished the PPD and PNP because both are also responsible for Puerto Rico’s dystopian reality. Neither the majority of Puerto Ricans believe these problems can be resolved by either the PNP or PPD. The legitimacy of both political parties has been damaged by a history of corruption, incompetence, and support for wrenching austerity measures. Voters expressed their frustration with the status quo by supporting other political parties and wanted to break the cycle of bipartisan rule. Indeed, MVC and PIP
legislators have introduced a slew of measures to confront corruption and governmental waste, to protect labor rights and pensioner’s benefits, and to curtail the practices of environmental polluting industries. Many of the progressive initiatives to transfer the function of the state and redirect its resources to helping abandoned communities come from grass roots organizations and mutual aid societies. The MVC and PIP, as well as politically active independent organizations, including the Comidores Sociales and Casa Pueblo are challenging the political class’s embedded mentality that that Puerto Rico will forever be dependent on the United States. The new political forces reject the idea that state subsidized foreign capital accumulation is the only way to grow the economy. New plans for a smaller national economy, more inwardly oriented, that rationally uses the available and material resources are being proposed by these
new political actors.

    After decades of trying, Puerto Ricans are resigned to the futility of pressuring Congress to change their archipelago’s territorial status. The best that can be achieved under colonial rule is to elect responsible officials who will enact policies to alleviate widespread economic and social suffering. This is another key reason that the PIP experienced an unexpected resurgence, while the MVC and Proyecto Dignidad made unforeseen political gains. Young people were particularly energized for the elections and appear to have voted in greater numbers than older voters for the PIP and MVC. Young adults launched #VOTAYSACALOS (Vote and Take Them Out), an electoral campaign to increase voter turnout among younger voters who make up about 35 percent of the electorate. So, it is very likely that Puerto Rico’s political realignment was propelled by a new generation of voters. Through their social activism and participation in progressive causes young voters have created an ideological crisis for the political class, who continues to stake its fortunes on the interminable politics of status. In the context of the political realignment that is unfolding demands to “Make Puerto Rico a State Now” are ill-timed.

    Since its inception, the PNP has campaigned on the promise that statehood is the only way out of poverty. PNP patriarch Luis Ferré coined the term “estadidad jibara,” in 1968. Under estadidad jibara “all that is good about our culture and our traditions as well as our Spanish language” would be preserved, while the “financial resources of the federal government that are necessary to solve our serious problems,” would flow into the archipelago. Twenty-three years later Rubén Berríos, PIP president chided the PNP for promoting welfare dependency to gain support for statehood. Testifying before a Senate committee, Berrios commented that the patriotic PNP’s “battle cry is ‘Statehood is for the poor,’ a far, far cry from ‘Give me liberty or give me death.’” PNP governor Carlos Romero Barcelo, Ferré’s successor, also assured Puerto Ricans that "If it were a state, Puerto Rico would be absolutely assured of enormous amounts of federal money.”

    To this day the PNP’s key message is that under statehood Puerto Ricans can be assured of increased federal transfers to individuals. Noted columnist Benjamin Torres Gotay recently penned an essay cleverly titled the “la virtud de depender.” He observed that the PNP promises “More money for this, more money for that. Millions here, millions there. Dependency has stunted the entire value system of our society.” Moreover, Torres Gotay questioned whether the plebiscite result was an accurate measure of support for statehood since the PNP made no effort to educate the people about their “responsibilities as members of the American federation.” Puerto Rico’s propensity to become an immense welfare burden on the U.S. has been a constant preoccupation in Congressional deliberations on Puerto Rico’s status.

    If indeed the PNP’s major concern is federal funding equity for Puerto Ricans, the party could petition Congress to convert Puerto Rico into an incorporated territory. The Uniformity Clause of the constitution would then apply, and Puerto Ricans would no longer be subject to discriminatory funding decisions made by federal bureaucrats. Incorporation would not alter Puerto Rico’s status as a possession of the United States. Congress would continue to exercise its plenary powers, and could still grant Puerto Rico independence if it chose to do so. While incorporated status means a territory is destined for statehood, the process can take decades. Nor does incorporation guarantee that the territory will ever be admitted into the Union as a state.

    The experiences of Arizona and New Mexico territories are instructive. For decades Congress refused to grant these territories statehood, even though the inhabitants had been collectively naturalized. Arizona and New Mexico were admitted as states only after white settlers had displaced Mexicans as the majority of the population. Why did it take Congress so long to act? Because of racism. In 1899 a prominent Yale legal scholar explained that “the character and traditions and laws of a Latin race are still so deeply stamped upon her people and her institutions’ that no demand of party exigency has been strong enough to secure her admission to the privilege of statehood.” The perception that Puerto Ricans cannot fully be Americans because of their culture and language is as potent among members of Congress today as it was over a century ago.

    Racism was also at the root of the Supreme Court’s 1901 decision not to incorporate Puerto Rico as a territory because its inhabitants were of “an alien race.” In 1990 racist attitudes doomed a status referendum bill that was under consideration by a Senate committee. New York Senator Bill Moynihan denounced the behavior of his colleagues as the “most shameful display of nativism I have yet to encounter in my15 years in the Senate. One Senator after another took occasion to say he was not sure Puerto Ricans belong in American society.” Patrick Buchanan, a prominent right political commentator, has a relentless opponent of Puerto Rican statehood. In 1998, he argued that Puerto Ricans “are a distinct people, an embryonic nation whose culture, language, faith and traditions look back across the sea to Madrid.” Buchanan was certain that “statehood would make seditionists of Puerto Rican patriots.” Puerto Rico would become America’s Quebec, a French speaking, fiercely nationalist province of Canada with a long- standing secessionist movement. Ironically, the Summer of 2019 uprising proved Buchanan’s point. More than just a repudiation of a corrupt administration, the protests were a massive and jubilant expression of Puerto Rico’s multifaceted culture and distinctive national identity. After 122 years of colonial rule Puerto Ricans have shown they refuse to succumb to the homogenizing ideology of Americanization.

    The PNP doesn’t mention “estadidad jibera” when it lobbies for statehood in the halls of Congress. Instead, it tries to convince Congress it is indefensible to refuse Puerto Rico statehood. The PNP also tries to shame Congress into acting morally by calling on it to end its discriminatory treatment of Puerto Rico. The United States is clinging to a racist policy enunciated by the Supreme Court in 1901. But the PNP argues since Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since 1917 it is high time they have the same rights and privileges as citizens who reside in the United States.

    But this argument specious. Puerto Ricans, as well as non-Puerto Ricans who live in the archipelago, are assigned a special category of citizenship reserved for the residents of a territory that belongs to but is not part of the United States. Puerto Ricans are denied the 14 th amendment citizenship not because of their nationality, but because of where they live. The inhabitants of Puerto Rico are disenfranchised at the national level since they cannot vote for the president and congressional representatives. Unfortunately, the only way to attain the rights and privileges guaranteed by 14 th amendment is if Puerto Ricans, either island-born or resident migrants, establish residency in a state in the U.S. The residents of Puerto Rico have a statutory and territorially based citizenship. In 1940 the Congress decided that people born in Puerto Rico had birthright citizenship, or the same citizenship as people born in the U.S. But this citizenship is not the same as the 14 th amendment citizenship that is enshrined in the constitution. It is a
citizenship conferred by Congressional statute. Since the Supreme Court has not been asked to decide if the citizenship granted by Congress is tantamount to U.S. birth right citizenship and thus irrevocable, it leaves Puerto Ricans born and living on archipelago in a legal limbo.

    Puerto Ricans have proven their loyalty and patriotism to the United States. Puerto Rican men and women have fought and died in every one of America’s foreign wars. They have shed blood to protect American interests. The PNP wants Congress to acknowledge these sacrifices by making Puerto Rico a state. This is a compelling argument, but ultimately inconsequential. Puerto Ricans are in a situation similar to that of non-citizens in the United States who are politically disenfranchised but serve in the armed forces. Neither is Puerto Rico different from American Samoa when it comes to military service. Samoans have the highest rate of per capita military enlistment of any U.S. state or territory. Like Puerto Rico, American Samoa is an unincorporated territory. But unlike Puerto Ricans how are U.S. citizens, Samoans are “nationals.” Hundreds of thousands of U.S. resident non-citizens and nationals have served in the military, and thousands have been wounded or perished in combat. The sacrifices Puerto Ricans have made in fighting America’s foreign wars cannot be diminished. But it is morally unsustainable to argue that the United States is obligated to grant statehood because Puerto Ricans have paid a “blood tax.” America’s debt to Puerto Rico is no greater or less than its debt to politically disenfranchised people, the majority of whom are black and brown, who served in the military and live in the mainland and in the territories.

    The PNP wants to convince Puerto Ricans that as a state the racism which has characterized U.S. treatment of its colony will vanish. The PNP propagates the notion that Puerto Ricans would enter the American polity as equals to white citizens, and would be spared institutionalized and systemic racism. But the PNP willfully ignores America’s centuries-long ignominious treatment of African Americans, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, Filipinos and Asian Americans. The American empire was built on the exploitation of these racialized populations, and they continue to be economically marginalized and portrayed as threats to society. American citizenship does not correlate with equality before the law, nor with racial equality. Puerto Ricans in the diaspora are routinely victims of discriminatory labor, educational and housing policies and targets of police brutality. In response Puerto Ricans created a myriad of organizations to confront the racism that denied them equal opportunity. It remains to be seen if America’s enduring racism will affect how the state of Puerto Rico will be treated in Congress.

    No number of plebiscites will move Congress to end Puerto Rico’s colonial status. Congress will act when it is in the best interests of the United States. In today’s ideologically fraught political climate, it is unlikely that a divided Congress will act to change Puerto Rico’s status. Republicans oppose admitting Puerto Rico into the Union. Recently Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, warned that the Democratic controlled House might try to “make Puerto Rico a state” in a move that “would give them two more Democratic senators. “Adding stars to the American flag cannot be allowed, yeah, as long as I am majority leader in the Senate, none of that stuff is going anywhere.” Congress has opposed granting Puerto Rico statehood for over 120 years. That is not about to change any-time soon.

Now more than ever, it is time to dismiss the clarion calls to make Puerto Rico a state.

February 18, 2021

Political Report #1453

Afrodescendientes in Paraguay: the 209-Year Struggle for Recognition

by Valencia Wilson


A glimpse of Afro-Paraguayan contributions occur through the annual Kambá Cuá festival on January 6th.  Kambá refers to the Afro-Paraguayan community, and this proud community with Kenyan roots participates in this festival using vivid colors and dances.  The problem is that this annual tradition consistently falls short of the recognition they deserve. In simple terms, Afro-Paraguayan activists are fighting an uphill legislative battle for Paraguay to acknowledge that they exist. Existence in the Afro-Paraguayan context means opportunities for formal, cultural education and a variety of employment opportunities; it is weaving their historical and current efforts into the national consciousness demonstrating their relevance today. 

The Proyecto de Ley de Reconocimiento de Afrodescendientes en Paraguay began as a blueprint.  A report submitted to the UN stated that Congressional support would ensure the acknowledgement of Afro-Paraguayan contributions to its citizens. This article explores more than the history of Afro-Paraguayan contributions in historically significant black towns like Kambá Cuá, San Agustín de Emboscada de los Pardos Libres, and Kamba Kokué.  It delves into an exhausting struggle for the bare minimum of being recognized for their contributions and how it has shaped Paraguay today. This also elevates Afro-Paraguayan voices and activists on-the-ground demanding that their diverse voices be celebrated every day in their own country.

El Supremo and his authoritative style of nation building

While Paraguay is often overlooked in Latin America, the historic policies of Dr. José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia or “El Supremo” are not. Dr. Francia’s dictatorship (1814 – 1840) brings up mixed feelings of the vision he had for the country.  Paraguay became independent in 1811, but this path to independence rested on El Supremo’s distrust of Europeans and foreigners.  This became apparent when ‘foreigners’ began to witness increases in their taxes.  However, the most notable of Dr. Francia’s sanctions were strict mandates that “the [marriage] to Europeans were only [reserved] [for] Indian, “known mulattoes”, or blacks”;  this mandate was in effect for 26 years. Essentially, white ‘Europeans’ could not elect to marry anyone who looked like them; this was a ‘genetic revolution’.  

In addition to the marriage laws, Dr. Francia’s very liberal derecho de asilo (asylum laws) allowed many to seek refuge in 1822. To some El Supremo was a dictator, but to other enslaved peoples he provided a place for better opportunities relative to their experiences at that time.   Archives show Dr. Francia ordering his highest commandant at Concepción to not return any runaway slaves.  The asylum laws also included Jose Artigas and at least 200 of his black soldiers from the Banda Oriental.  These elite black soldiers were routinely called upon to defend Paraguay.  In return, the land Dr. Francia provided is what is now Kambá Cuá, San Agustín de Emboscada de los Pardos Libres, and Kamba Kokué.  Afro-Paraguayan contributions are fundamental to the perspectives of their descendants, and their massive efforts today.

Afrodescendencia y La Negritud in Paraguay

The Afro-Paraguayan community lacks political representation that effectively communicates cultural and socio-economic challenges they face. Cultural education, land rights and titling, and joblessness relative to their white and mestizo counterparts are key issues.  In 2006-2007, the Kambá Cuá Association, government’s census office (DGEEC), and the Inter – American Foundation launched a household survey to compile statistics on those who may self-identify as Afro-descendants.  The purpose was to gather more reliable data.  An initial survey suggested 2% of the entire population is of Kambá descent. However, public criticism increased due to poorly constructed questions and survey methodology. Nonetheless, the DGEEC revealed common knowledge; many Afro-Paraguayans live in the Central, Paraguarí, and Cordillera provinces. 

As such, those provinces are frequently relied upon to teach their own Kambá history and ranges from member meetings to charlas which provide safe spaces to talk about Afrodescendencia and La Negritud in Paraguay. Recurring themes also involve self-discovery, stigma, discrimination, and blatant racism with adults and children. As the 209-year wait continues, these spaces also serve as an opportunity for those white and mestizo Paraguayans to do their fair share of work. By educating themselves and challenging their friends and colleagues, they become true allies working to build a more inclusive society.

Educate & Uplift: Kambá Descendientes

Community organizations and projects are often just that: personal and group projects pushed by black activists. Despite no funding from the government for these cultural activities, the work falls on younger black activists and “artivists” like Alma Areco. Alma, a Kambá Descendiente and student at Universidad Nacional de Asunción, lives in the Central Department, on the outskirts of Asunción. When she was young, her father taught her the importance of their Kambá ancestry, oral storytelling, and traditions as his Afro-Paraguayan father did. Alma embraces oral traditions, and she and her sister wear trenzas despite societal stigma and the racism they face. In addition to the societal stigma and racism they face, it is the audacity of those who are not part of the Afro-Paraguayan community questioning who should wear trenzas. Those who are not part of the community end up placing societal controls based on their perception of ‘blackness’; to be clear, that is unacceptable. These sorts of interactions led Alma to create Kambá Descendiente bringing Afro-Paraguayan women together to discuss the situations they continually face.  In addition to Kambá Descendiente, Alma created Voces.Negras that unites both men and women to discuss perceptions and realities of being Afro-Paraguayan.  This is not just an educational tool, but it helps build strong ties and passes their cultural contributions to the next generation. 

Congressional approval of the Proyecto de Ley de Reconocimiento de Afrodescendientes not only helps fulfill their commitment to the UN, but recognizes that Paraguay must do more to educate its populace.  This admission is a starting point – and these improvements works towards amplifying contributions of Afro-Paraguayans in cultural education, social development, and increased employment opportunities.  Even more, by recognizing Afro-Paraguayans it could galvanize its citizens and politicians to approve Anti-Discrimination Laws that remain untouched in Congress. To date, Paraguay does not offer any protections for those who are being discriminated based on their race. These communities should not bear the burden alone, and after 209 years in the shadows, approving the Proyecto de Ley de Reconocimiento de Afrodescendientes acknowledges and safeguards Afro-Paraguayans endless contributions which are long overdue.

A special thanks to Alma Areco, an activist and Afro-Paraguayan feminist and Maximiliano Britez, a colleague and native of Asunción for their support throughout the development of this post.


1 For more information, see Paraguayan Senate webpage at http://silpy.congreso.gov.py/expediente/119313 as“Proyecto de Ley “Que reconoce a la población afrodescendiente del Paraguay como una minoría étnica e incorpora el legado de las comunidades afrodescendientes en la historia, su participación, y aportes en la conformación de la nación, en sus diversas expresiones culturales (Arte, Filosofía, Saberes, costumbres, Tradiciones, y Valores)”
2 In Guaraní, Kamba Kokué means “black people’s farm”.
3 John Hoyt Williams. “Paraguayan Isolation Under Dr. Francia: A Re-Evaluation.” Hispanic American Historical Review 52, no. 1 (February 1972): 102–22. https://doi.org/10.1215/00182168-52.1.102.
4 Lawrence Edward Crockett, Jr. “Landlocked and Unwanted: The Afro-Paraguayan Dilemma” (PhD diss., University of Texas at Austin, 2017), 73, https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/bitstream/handle/2152/62965/CROCKETT-DISSERTATION- 2017.pdf?sequence=1.
5 Williams, 119
6 While Artigas was accompanied by 200 black men, there were their women and children. Reports indicate a total of 400 people joining Artigas.
7 There are still land title issues for Afro-Paraguayans due to Dr. Francia’s land titling procedures.

January 21, 2021

COVID-19 in El Paso: A Spectacle of Injustice

By Amy Reed-Sandoval

The French philosopher Michel Foucault famously described the nature of a “spectacle” in Discipline and Punish, in which he explored 18th century public executions in France. The purpose of spectacle, he argued, is “to bring into play…the dissymmetry between the subject who has dared to violate the law and the all-powerful sovereign who displays his strength.” Such “Foucauldian spectacles” are about inequality and, above all else, power.

Despite the various forces striving to invisibilize COVID-19 as much as possible, COVID-19 has become, I argue, a Foucauldian spectacle in the U.S.-Mexico border city of El Paso, Texas, which is now being described as the COVID-19 epicenter in the United States. We need to study this heart-breaking spectacle in order to learn vital lessons from it.

First, let’s establish what’s being seen: devastating images of ten mobile morgues set up outside the El Paso medical examiner’s office, and circulated photos of prisoners carrying corpses into those very refrigerated trailers. El Paso’s grand convention center was converted into a makeshift medical center, while overrun hospitals have set up “heated isolation tents” to serve even more of the gravely ill.

Some patients are being airlifted out of El Paso, to hospitals in other Texas cities. And it’s not just El Paso: hospitals in Ciudad Juárez, El Paso’s “sister city” across the border, are also filled to capacity.

For it to be a Foucauldian spectacle, however, it has to be a display of state power and social inequality. But one might argue that this is a public health crisis best understood in terms of death tolls and hospitalization numbers—tragic, but not unjust, and certainly not orchestrated by the state.

However, the COVID-19 spectacle in El Paso sends a much bigger message that we must take care to understand. The mobile morgues and the airlifted bodies also constitute a spectacle about belonging, borders, and immigration injustice. To see why, let us step back and consider the background injustices that help shape it.

Note, first, that it has not been lost on international commentators that this spectacle is occurring on a highly politicized site: the U.S.-Mexico border, a spectacle in and of itself. Indeed, anthropologist Leo Chavez has described practices of U.S.-Mexico border surveillance in terms of a “spectacle in the desert” that serves to distinguish citizens from “illegal” Others.

And the U.S.-Mexico border is a “spectacle in the desert,” with its giant walls—many of which were constructed long before the southern border became Trump’s pet project—its military helicopters, its drone planes and militaristic immigration enforcement techniques.  In the United Statesian psyche, the southern border is a site of danger, and its residents—particularly Latin Americans and Latinx among them—are necessarily suspect.

As a result of this background injustice, public images of the pandemic in El Paso exacerbate an already-widespread sense that the Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in U.S.-Mexico borderlands are simultaneously vulnerable and threatening. This message is punctuated by current pandemic immigration policy, in which U.S. citizens and legal residents can freely cross the border in Ciudad Juárez, while citizens of Juárez, including those who have visas to legally enter the U.S., can only cross the border under very special circumstances.  

So even while COVID ravages the nation, the El Paso spectacle makes it seem like the COVID is “there,” at a border we all knew to be dangerous, while “we,” in comparison, are safe.

Here, one might object that unlike public executions in 18th century France, the United States did not purposefully orchestrate the El Paso COVID spectacle in order to, in Foucault’s words, “deploy its pomp in public.”

However, the background injustices shaping this spectacle were the result of a carefully orchestrated undermining of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans by government officials and white supremacists for much of U.S. history. The COVID-19 spectacle only serves to support this narrative in the eyes of such groups.

Furthermore, Texas governmental officials have, in fact, taken recent steps to perpetuate the tragic spectacle—such as when a state appeals court blocked El Paso County’s mandated closing of nonessential businesses through December 1st, generating an outcry from many locals.

Finally, the El Paso COVID-19 spectacle needs to be viewed against the backdrop of an extremely inequitable health care system in which wealthy and powerful people like Donald Trump are able to receive exceptional medical care if they contract COVID-19. While the city of El Paso sets up mobile morgues and exploits prisoners to heave corpses into them, the very U.S. President who called Mexicans rapists, separated immigration children from their families, and obsesses over building a U.S.-Mexico border wall received the best medical care imaginable upon contracting COVID.  Once again, the El Paso COVID-19 spectacle also reinforces ad unjust, racist social hierarchy that has been purposefully perpetuated by dominant social actors.

So, this is a Foucauldian spectacle—and we need to learn valuable lessons from this. The COVID-19 tragedy cannot be understood exclusively in terms of the devastating “numbers counts” of infections, deaths, and available hospital beds. It also makes a major public statement about who belongs, who is entitled to basic social services like health care, and which regions of this country ought to be regarded with ongoing fear and suspicion. While a great deal of this tragedy has occurred behind the “closed doors” of hospital rooms and quarantine shelters, to the frustration of public health officials pleading with the public to take the pandemic seriously, its public face—its spectacle in El Paso—should also worry us all.

Amy Reed-Sandoval is a former El Paso resident and current Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where she specializes in Latin American philosophy, immigration ethics, and bioethics. She is the author of Socially Undocumented: Identity and Immigration Justice (OUP, 2020), for which she conducted bioethics research in the El Paso-Juárez region.

December 9, 2020

Political Report # 1452 A Global Police State is Emerging as World Capitalism Descends Into Crisis

Political Report # 1452

A Global Police State is Emerging as World Capitalism Descends Into Crisis

by William I. Robinson, Pluto Press

Visit our new website!

The following is an extract from the Introduction to The Global Police State, a new book by William I. Robinson that was released early this fall by Pluto Press.

In her novel Everything is Known, Liza Elliott describes a future dystopia where five global mega corporations, dubbed Affiliations, rule the planet. “Infested with the inescapable surveillance industry, the five global Affiliations manipulated Big Data to commodify and commercialize all human activity for profit.” The Affiliations had subordinated states to their domination: “George Orwell got it wrong. Big Brother did not come from a totalitarian state, but from a totalitarian non-state.” Big Data was “a relentless cybernetic grandmaster who with sneaky eyes and listening ears spied on everything: your clothes, your friends, recording every word you spoke or wrote. It kept account of all this and more to amass the info power it needed to control the market, the heartbeat of the money economy.” The world’s population had become divided into three segregated social clusters, the members of the Core, the Peripherals, and the Outliers who comprised a majority of humanity:

Outliers were the discarded people. If they could not function in the Affiliation run world, they were cast off. Their lives, such as they happened, were their own fault. There would never be sympathy. They scrounged out a life with the dregs, the overruns, and the un-sellable excesses from the opulent Core and stark Periphery. Some worked unpredictable marginal field-labor jobs while others scrounged in the leftovers, the scraps, and the trash.

The world Elliott describes could well be, with not much of a stretch, a portrait of the one we live in. The unprecedented concentration of capital at the global level has cemented the financial power of a transnational corporate elite that uses its economic power to wield political influence and control states. In 2018, just 17 global financial conglomerates collectively managed $41.1 trillion, more than half the GDP of the entire planet. That same year, the richest one percent of humanity, led by 36 million millionaires and 2,400 billionaires, controlled more than half of the world’s wealth while the bottom 80 percent had to make do with just 4.5 percent of this wealth. It is this mass of downcast humanity that make up Elliott’s Peripherals and Outliers, what in the pages to follow are referred to as surplus humanity.

Yet the technical infrastructure of the twenty-first century is producing the resources in which a political and economic system very different from the global capitalism in which we live could be achieved. Through popular political control of the new technologies we could collectively transform our world for the better. Machines are accomplishing tasks that were unimaginable a decade ago. As Srnicek and Williams remind us, the internet and social media are giving a voice to billions who previously went unheard, bringing global participative democracy closer than ever to existence. Open-source designs, copyleft creativity, and 3D printing all portend a world where the scarcity of many products might be overcome. New forms of computer simulation could rejuvenate economic planning and give us the ability to direct economies rationally in unprecedented ways. The newest wave of automation is creating the possibility for huge swathes of boring and demeaning work to be permanently eliminated. Clean energy technologies make possible virtually limitless and environmentally sustainable forms of power production. And new medical technologies not only enable a longer, healthier life, but also make possible new experiments with gender and sexual identity.

If we are to free ourselves through these new technologies of the fourth industrial revolution, however, we would first need to overthrow the oppressive and archaic social relations of global capitalism. At a time when both fascism and socialism again appear to be on the agenda around the world, it behooves us to study the system of global capitalism, less as an intellectual exercise in itself than in order to struggle against its depredations with a view towards replacing it with one that can avert catastrophe and meet the material and spiritual needs of humanity. Rather than serving to liberate humanity, the new technologies are being applied at this time by the agents of this system to bring about a global police state.

While I am hardly the first to talk about a police state, I mean in this book considerably more than what we typically associate with a police state — police and military repression, authoritarian government, the suppression of civil liberties and human rights. Certainly, we see this, and more, around the world. In this study, however, I want to develop the concept of global police state to identify more broadly the emerging character of the global economy and society as a repressive totality whose logic is as much economic and cultural as it is political. By global police state I refer to three interrelated developments.

First is the ever more omnipresent systems of mass social control, repression and warfare promoted by the ruling groups to contain the real and the potential rebellion of the global working class and surplus humanity. Savage global inequalities are politically explosive and to the extent that the system is simply unable to incorporate surplus humanity it turns to ever more violent forms of containment. The methods of control include sealing out the surplus population through border and other containment walls, deportation regimes, mass incarceration and spatial apartheid, alongside omnipresent new systems of state and private surveillance and criminalization of the poor and working classes. They also include the deadly new modalities of policing and repression made possible by applications of digitalization and fourth industrial revolution technologies. The global police state brings all of global society into what in Pentagon jargon is called “battlespace,” concentrated in the world’s megacities that are now home to more than half of humanity.

Second is how the global economy is itself based more and more on the development and deployment of these systems of warfare, social control, and repression simply as a means of making profit and continuing to accumulate capital in the face of stagnation — what I term militarized accumulation, or accumulation by repression. If it is evident that unprecedented global inequalities can only be sustained by ubiquitous systems of social control and repression, it has become equally evident that quite apart from political considerations, the ruling groups have acquired a vested interest in war, conflict, and repression as a means of accumulation. As war and state-sponsored violence become increasingly privatized, the interests of a broad array of capitalist groups shift the political, social, and ideological climate towards generating and sustaining social conflict — such as in the Middle East — and in expanding systems of warfare, repression, surveillance and social control. The bogus wars against drugs, terror, immigrants and refugees are enormously profitable enterprises. We are now living in a veritable global war economy.

And third is the increasing move towards political systems that can be characterized as twenty-first century fascism, or even in a broader sense, as totalitarian. The increasing influence around the world of neo-fascist, authoritarian, and rightwing populist parties and movements, symbolized above all by Trumpism in the United States, has sparked a flurry of debate on whether fascism is again on the rise. There has been a sharp polarization around the world between insurgent left and popular forces, on the one hand, and an insurgent far Right, on the other, at whose fringe are openly fascist tendencies.

A project of twenty-first century fascism is on the ascent in the civil societies of many countries around the world. The project has made significant advances in recent years in its competition to win state power, and in some cases, it has gained a foothold in the capitalist state. At the same time a neo-fascist culture appears to be emerging through militarism, misogyny, extreme masculinization and racism. Such a culture generates a climate conducive to mass violence, often directed against the racially oppressed, ethnically persecuted, women, and poor, vulnerable communities. But a fascist outcome is not inevitable. Whether or not a fascist project manages to congeal is entirely contingent on how the struggle among social and political forces unfolds in the coming years.

This global police state is emerging at a time when world capitalism descends into a crisis that is unprecedented, given its magnitude, its global reach, the extent of ecological degradation and social deterioration, and the sheer scale of the means of violence that is now deployed around the world. In the first instance, the global police state is a story of control and repression of the poor and working classes. There are growing movements against the many expressions of global police state — mass incarceration, police violence, U.S.-led wars around the world, the persecution of immigrants and refugees, the repression of environmental justice activists.

Yet often these movements are based on moral appeal to social justice, which by itself begets, at best, mild reform. If these movements are to attack the global police state in its jugular vein, they must identify global capitalism as the driver of the systems of social control and repression that they are combating. This book attempts to do just that. It sets out to identify the contemporary dynamics of capitalist transformation and the novel forms that are emerging. This concept of a global police state allows us to specify how the economic dimensions of global capitalist transformation intersect in new ways with political, ideological and military dimensions of this transformation….

I offer a “big picture” of the emerging global police state in a short book that is eminently readable. The book may startle many readers and make them angry. I trust the work will serve as a warning to the dystopic future that is upon us. More importantly, by exposing the nature and dynamics of this out-of-control system, I hope it will contribute to the struggles to bring about an alternative future based on human freedom and liberation. We do face a crisis of humanity. The destruction under global capitalism of the social fabric worldwide and the extreme alienation of labor, our very species being, raises fundamental questions about what it means to be human and how to recover our humanity. It is in the nature of our species to work together to assure our collective existence. But the capitalist system that throws up a global police state turns such cooperation into a process of destruction for masses of humanity as we are made to compete with one another to survive. Crises of values, identity, meaning, and community ensue.

If we are to recover our humanity we must — contra capital — re-embed ourselves in relations of reciprocity and mutual well-being. [What are] the prospects for a renewal of emancipatory projects around the world? [We must] face [the] challenge of revitalizing a Left that could help bring about an ecological socialist future. Once we have exposed the brutal world of global capitalist inequality and exploitation the most urgent matter becomes how we can move forward toward greater social justice.

Original article can be found by clicking this link: HERE

November 26, 2020

Abstract: Environmental Violence and the Socio-environmental (de)Evolution of a Landscape in the San Quintín Valley


:::::: Abstract ::::::

Environmental Violence and the Socio-environmental (de)Evolution of a Landscape in the San Quintín Valley

by  Nemer E. Narchi, Sula E. Vanderplank, Jesús Medina-Rodríguez, Enrique Alfaro-Mercado

"The social and environmental effects of industrial agriculture in the San Quintín Valley of Baja California are closely related. An environmental history of the valley from European contact to the present demonstrates that modern schemes of globalized agricultural production erode biological diversity while fostering labor exploitation. A critical model drawing on the concept of environmental violence— historically structured asymmetrical power relations that are reproduced and maintained to foster capital accumulation—describes how neoliberalism shapes and exploits agro-industrial landscapes and livelihoods in San Quintín to produce a crisis of underproduction.



November 24, 2020

Abstract: Forced Disappearance as a Collective Cultural Trauma in the Ayotzinapa Movement


:::::: Abstract ::::::

Forced Disappearance as a Collective Cultural Trauma in the Ayotzinapa Movement

by  Tommaso Gravante

The disappearance of 43 students of the teachers’ training college at Ayotzinapa in 2014 has inspired a broad social movement. Ethnographic work and interviews conducted at several of the demonstrations to show solidarity with the parents of the students reveal that their forced disappearance has been framed by participants as a collective cultural trauma. The politicization of this trauma has led to a change in the relationship between citizens and public    institutions and produced a new social narrative.



November 19, 2020

Abstract: Enrique Mendieta and the Ghosts of Leftism Past: The Aftereffects of Mexico’s Dirty War in Élmer Mendoza’s Detective Fiction


:::::: Abstract ::::::

Enrique Mendieta and the Ghosts of Leftism Past: The Aftereffects of Mexico’s Dirty War in Élmer Mendoza’s Detective Fiction

by  Michael K. Walonen

The continuance of the revolutionary strife of Mexico’s dirty war into the present day, both as a legacy and in the form of its survivors, resonates strongly in the work of the novelist Élmer Mendoza. Mendoza’s early novel Janis Joplin’s Lover uses its protagonist to portray a 1970s Mexico torn between a revolutionary path of collective social amelioration and the corrupt, mercenary self-interest embodied by Mexican narco-traffickers, with the country pushed toward the latter through the repression of student activists by the Mexican state. Mendoza’s five subsequent novels that center on the exploits of detective Lefty Mendieta focus on the fallout from this period of repression, using the figure of Lefty’s brother Enrique, a former leftist guerrilla, to represent a lost (but not totally lost) egalitarian and socially just alternative to the neoliberal political economy that has ravaged the living conditions of most Mexicans for almost four decades.


November 17, 2020

Abstract: Fast-track Redevelopment and Slow-track Regularization: The Uneven Geographies of Spatial Regulation in Mexico City


:::::: Abstract ::::::

Fast-track Redevelopment and Slow-track Regularization: The Uneven Geographies of Spatial Regulation in Mexico City

by  Jill Wigle

Some of the increasingly evident contradictions between spatial planning and social policy in Mexico City are apparent in the way land use regulation folds into and articulates with exclusion and marginality. In downtown areas, regulatory approvals and various planning measures have facilitated the escalation of land and housing prices and more exclusionary forms of urban development. At the periphery, land use regulation now conditions access to urban services, property titles, and even some social programs for settlement areas designated as “informal.” Comparing the state’s role in planning at these distinct sites uncovers a pattern of selective and uneven spatial regulation in different socioeconomic territories of the city, characterized by “fast-track” development approvals in downtown areas and “slow-track” regularization of settlements in peripheral areas. The analysis suggests how this pattern of uneven spatial regulation contributes to (re)producing urban space in ways that call into question the local government’s stated support for the “right to the city.”