Is There Participatory Democracy In the ALBA Countries?
Dissatisfaction with low-intensity citizenships
and purely electoral democracies inherited
from decades of neoliberalism helps explain
the rise of leftist governments in Latin America.
The ALBA governments of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador,
Cuba and Nicaragua may label themselves leftwing.
But they’re developing a perverse, conflictive confluence
between the justified expectations of full democracy
and the practices inherited from the traditional Left.
Alberto J. Olvera / Armando Chaguaceda /Israel Ceballos
Latin America is a vast field of experimentation in which different political projects co-exist that are expressed in different forms of linkage among the civil societies, political societies and nation States. The now long march of electoral democracy in almost the entire region has allowed the national political processes to be expressed as political competition among actors and projects, with a greater or lesser capacity for grassroots inclusion and legal, institutional and cultural innovation.
It’s impossible to reduce the different national experiences to common patterns. Each case represents a particular experience that can be explained only by its specific combination of long-lasting historical processes; greater or lesser success of adaptations to the neoliberal structural adjustment of the late eighties to mid-nineties; greater or lesser creative adoption/internalization of the profound social and cultural changes generated by globalization in the past two decades; forms of institutionalization/resolution of political conflicts derived from the collapse of the old party systems and past corporative deals, emergence of new social actors and—in several countries—the implosion of governments rocked by the combination of systemic crises and major grassroots mobilizations.
Mapping the field: What has happened?These profound changes have broken several of the dominant paradigms insofar as they imply changes in the way citizens understand and practice the rights to which they have access; in the linkages between State and society; in the design of state institutions and political representation; in the relations between the local, regional, national and global spheres; in the nature and very self-understanding of the social and political actors and, therefore, in political culture. These phenomena have been studied up to now either in a fragmented way, splitting their constitutive processes into separate parts (social movements, electoral processes, inter- and intra-elite struggles, legal and institutional reform processes, etc.), or as part of a macro-political narrative that subsumes the national particularities into major processes on a historical scale. There’s a need to find a balance between these tendencies. An accumulated capital of empirical research allows us to understand the complex and diverse nature of the national experiences. And there’s an interpretative debate that will be best exploited by basing the different stances on rigorous analysis of experience.
Within a greater level of research that links our experiences to the contributions of other Latin American colleagues in order to analyze the political transformation processes experienced in most of Latin America over the last two decades, we’re seeking to balance the accounts with the concepts that have guided their interpretation: civil society, political society, democratization, representation, participation, citizenship, public arenas, social movements, emancipating struggles, political projects, nation state and globalization (as a process constitutive of regional realities). It’s obviously a long-term project. For now, the idea is to “map the field,” locating the central trends, relevant processes, most important interpretative strategies and fundamental concepts that link both the interpretations and the social action itself.
Three patterns of The project is based on a selection that in itself anticipates the limits of its goals and research objective, taking certain countries whose recent historical paths demonstrate most clearly both the weight of history and the force of societal and political innovation. Certainly, each country has something to teach the others and debates have been generated in each that are transcendental for the rest of the region. We’re concentrating on certain specific cases because there are too many for an individual work and the volume of available knowledge is unequal.
Latin American experience
We grouped the Latin American experiences into three development patterns:
Pattern 1. Substantive continuity of political practices and projects within electoral democracy and the systemic economic crisis. Typical cases: Argentina and Mexico.
Pattern 2. Political stability, state consolidation and democratic innovation in the context of Latin American social democracy. Typical cases: Brazil and Chile.
Pattern 3. Emergence of new social and political actors out of the collapse of the old regime and construction of a new one. Typical cases: Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador.
We publish here the preliminary results of our research on the political development of the third pattern, its relationship/identification with other regional allies and its conflictive link with policies and arenas for participation.
What is “revolution”?The term “revolution” has been applied to various processes generated over the past decade in countries with radical democratic transformations of an anti-neoliberal bent that are organized in the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA).
It’s useful to make a conceptual distinction here: in the framework of broader theories of institutional development and collective action, revolutions distinguish a clear—and limited—guideline for socioeconomic change in the form of “rapid, basic transformations of a society’s state and class structures” that, according to Harvard University sociologist and political scientist Theda Skocpol, “culminate in the consolidation of new state organizations, whose power may be used not only to reinforce socioeconomic transformations that have already occurred, but also to promote new changes.” As US sociologist Charles Tilly argues, insofar as “a revolutionary outcome occurs with the transfer of state power from those who held it before the start of multiple sovereignty to a new ruling coalition” and “in general the greater the change in the ruling coalition wrought by a revolution, the greater is the transformation of other aspects of social life,” it’s only correct to talk about political revolutions—or radical reforms—when referring to these Latin American processes.
Common denominators among All these cases involve countries that saw the collapse of their elitist and exclusionary political systems in the nineties. In Venezuela, it resulted from the political and symbolic exclusion of the urban poor, while in Bolivia and Ecuador it was the exclusion of indigenous peoples and the urban poor. In all three cases, strong and transforming Presidents came to power through the ballot box, heading up diffuse social movements and ad hoc electoral fronts in precarious conditions and facing great challenges from internal enemies. As a result, during their first years in power they had to sustain a hard battle to simultaneously achieve the discussion and approval of new Constitutions and their own ratification/re-legitimization in office.
Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador:
These transformations were accompanied by great processes of political inclusion, which were firmly resisted by the urban middle and upper classes in Venezuela, regional elites in Bolivia and not only regional elites but also certain sectors of the indigenous movement in Ecuador. The democratizing effect was nuanced by the growing personal concentration of power in all cases and by the transformation of formal democracy—in Venezuela, at least—into the full delegation of power to the President.
Bolivia’s mobilizing tradition…Bolivia has the most notable tradition of grassroots political mobilization in Latin America, rooted in a prolonged historical stalemate between the forces of the grassroots movement and those of the political and economic elites. When Evo Morales won the presidency it was the culmination of a cycle of grassroots anti-neoliberal offensives in the heat of which a new Constitution was forged and for the first time the rights of indigenous peoples were recognized. The democratic effect of political inclusion and recognition of these rights has been enormous.
The grassroots participatory tradition is channeled through certain new forms and is kept politically activated. The urban middle classes and regional elites in the eastern part of the country form an equally highly activated conservative civil society. The atmosphere of political confrontation between the two social fronts makes it hard to evaluate the importance of the new forms of participation in exercising power.
…and the face-off between In Ecuador’s particular direction, the crisis of the old order led first to a kind of grassroots coup d’état and the formation, for the first time, of a grassroots government with indigenous participation, which unfortunately ended up divided and delegitimized due to the weight of its alliance with President Lucio Gutiérrez.
two different projects in Ecuador
President Rafael Correa was elected as an alternative to both the old oligarchy and the new grassroots leadership, which meant he came to power politically isolated. Right from the beginning he had to build a new regime through a constituent process and the creation of his own political front. The new Ecuadoran Constitution is very advanced, guaranteeing the recognition of indigenous rights and creating many forms of grassroots participation, but the President is in confrontation with a substantial part of the indigenous movement with respect to visions of development and political representation. The symbolic advance has not yet been translated into democratization at the base due to this particular face-off between projects, while a very heterogeneous urban civil society awaits the outcome. What can be observed is an unresolved crisis of political representation.
Venezuela’s hyper-The Venezuelan phenomenon is now ten years old and has a notable economic and symbolic weight all over Latin America. The Bolivarian process, which is still an economy based on capitalist income, implements a good part of its participatory processes outside of the traditional institutionality. It suffers from a persistent fragmentation and fragility of the official ideological discourse and a major weight of pragmatic interests—the solving of administrative, redistributive and security problems—in the strategies being implemented.
presidentialist, sui generis model
All of this leads certain authors to view this process not as a revolution but as a kind of reformulation of the model of representation, social control and grassroots bureaucratic patronage of the first 40 years of Venezuelan democracy. Nonetheless, the discourse and certain practices—intimately related to current situations and correlations of forces and to Fidel Castro’s decisive influence from 2002 onwards—plus the social polarization and leading role of broad impoverished masses make Venezuela a sui generis version of at least a political, if not social revolution.
Little by little, the Chávez government has built up a hyper-presidentialist regime with a unified party in which the original political front that supported Chávez has lost its plurality and with a government that has developed—from above—very diverse mechanisms for grassroots participation. Political representation has become a bi-frontal process. On the one hand is a leader-masses identification process in which the President represents all of Venezuela’s poor, with the single party being merely an administrative instrument. On the other a kind of self-representation is suggested via the barrio committees. Grassroots participation has been induced from above rather than emerging from a social movement, so its democratizing effect is dubious, but even symbolic inclusion is still relevant. The form of expanding social rights is based on patronage, so even its democratizing effect is neutralized by its potential political manipulation. The personalization of presidential power poses challenges no less important than the consolidating of the democratic advances achieved through the inclusion process.
Similarities and differencesThese three cases are important as they represent the most substantial advances in political representation in Latin America and offer new solutions to the lack of grassroots political representation. They constitute attempts to erect alternative societies to the demoliberal market economy model, whose evolution involves redefining the scope of grassroots participation and relationship patterns between society’s actors and the state agencies, establishing the guidelines for institutional development and political culture. Within the panorama of the respective national Lefts, political projects coexist in those attempts that harbor alternative ideas, values and practices, from democratic, socializing and pluralist formats to authoritarian, centralist and nationalizing ones.
Nonetheless, we can find among the ALBA nations various coinciding elements of orientation, although not in profundity. In these countries, the official party in power controls a state apparatus—understood as a complex of institutionalized relations and arenas aimed at maintaining and reproducing political domination in a specific social and territorial context—whose actions appear to be acquiring increasingly asymmetrical influence relative to their respective civil societies. But, again citing Skocpol, insofar as the State’s real expansion and autonomy can only be analyzed and explained in specific terms of particular types and sociopolitical systems in international historical circumstances, it’s understandable that today’s Venezuelan dynamic is different from countries like Bolivia—where the weight of social movements influences government policy—and Ecuador—which is governed by a President imbued with economic rationality and interested in a viable neo-developmentalist model.
Cuba and Nicaragua areNotwithstanding their differences, these three processes have converged within the ALBA alliance with two other historical paths with their own political logics. The group of these three nations has close links with Cuba, a socialist state regime typical of the 20th century, and with the current government of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, whose anti-capitalist rhetoric, neoliberal continuity and authoritarian and patrimonial practices make it a hybrid that’s hard to classify.
allies with different logics
Grouped within ALBA, these five nations have operated jointly in response to various regional crises—Ecuador-Colombia in 2008, Honduras in 2009—and have established more complementary economic links and political con¬sultation mechanisms. They also appear to be moving toward a certain convergence with political patterns and models typical of the traditional Left, which—in the case of Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela—distance them from the actors and participatory democratic contents inserted in their original profoundly innovative and anti-neoliberal political platforms, pushing them closer to the classic state socialism of last century, represented by the Cuban case.
Cuba’s bureaucratic block on participationCuba’s attraction for broad segments of the Venezuelan, Bolivian and Ecuadoran leadership and grass roots can be explained by the fact that, despite its evident stagnation and structural crisis, the Cuban Revolution’s experience persists as a paradigm of great symbolic capital for the Latin American Left.
With the prehistoric exception of the continent’s recalcitrant right wings, it is a widely recognized fact that half a century ago the Caribbean nation produced a radical revolution led by representatives of the middle class with broad grassroots participation that involved massive social mobility, a total change of the political system and a head-on confrontation with imperialism that involved the early breaking off of all diplomatic and commercial links. The Cuban revolution belongs to what Tilly describes as “the traditional subclass of great revolutions, in which divisions are profound, struggles massive, transfers of power sweeping, consequent transformations of social life extensive and enduring.”
However, that legacy has been subjected to a strong erosive process, whose causes are not to be found only in the repercussions of the hostility of successive US administrations. The ancient Cuban leadership, immersed in a succession crisis and facing declining hegemony, persists in maintaining an organizational mode of collective life in which society melds into the State and the potential for socialist reform is bureaucratically blocked.
Cuba needs profound reformsThe State, interested in preserving its economic, political and ideological power monopoly, is banking on incorporating into its networks increasingly diverse, but still atomized, social actors; imposing forms of coaction/cooption that erode the emergence of autonomous social organizations; and reproducing the asymmetry between state power and the associative arena.
Technocratic reforms of the institutionality are being attempted from a state-centric, top-down, centralist organization that fuses the State, government and party, but the construction of a rule of law is being impeded. Spatially targeted and thematically narrow consultative forms of participation are being prioritized and the grassroots debates that are called are fragmented, with the data gathered and processed without any feedback. State power—whether as interlocutor or enemy—holds a privileged place in the everyday debate and language of both the citizenry and the mass media, establishing the guidelines of the public behavior and communications of a population that has largely lost its sense of citizenship.
In today’s Cuba we’re witnessing an overloaded and excessively centralized institutionality that must simultaneously respond to growing demands for openness and competitiveness derived from the country’s insertion into a still neoliberal global order and silent—and not so silent—pressure from an increasingly educated, diverse and aging population. The Cuban regime finds itself in a governance dilemma: it can’t provide the costly universal social benefits, but also can’t reduce their reach or quality without violating the two basic pillars of grassroots consensus and revolutionary ideology: national sovereignty and social justice.
Given this panorama, all the assessments and proposals growing out of the demoliberal and/or socialist transitology agree on the need to quickly undertake profound reforms that increase economic viability and the social insertion of new actors, and to legally democratize political relations, reducing the opaque and discretionary way state power operates.
Nicaragua’s process is very different Cuba’s difficult situation makes its leadership’s search for new economic partners (Venezuela, Brazil, China, Iran) very logical. And it’s possible to understand—if not agree with—the Cuban government’s realpolitik about-turn regarding Daniel Ortega—whom they had kept with a low profile since his defeat in 1990—as a prize for his sustained anti-imperialist diatribes during summits such as the one in Trinidad y Tobago, and for his closeness to Venezuela, which has become a financial support for both Havana and Managua.
If Cuba represents the old Left, the depository of anti-imperialism and statism as pillars of its socio-political model, the Nicaraguan case offers greater enigmas. As recognized by various Nicaraguan and foreign observers, it is a government that can adhere simultaneously to ALBA and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) with the United States, accept Venezuelan subsidies and IMF credits, and proclaim support for a continental Bolivarian armed force while sending its soldiers to train at the School of the Americas and inviting the DEA to patrol the nation’s coastline. It’s a government that condemns “savage capitalism” then receives Carlos Slim, the Mexican multimillionaire who has most benefited from the neoliberal reforms in Latin America. And it’s a leadership that presents ALBA as an alternative for economic independence of the region’s peoples, while guaranteeing fat profits for the Esso-Exon and Unión Fenosa transnationals at the expense of national producers and consumers.
One differentiating factor that should be highlighted with respect to the Andean processes, the Cuban-Caribbean history and even the Sandinista past is that the current Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) government in Nicaragua did not emerge in 2006 as a result of the collapse of the party system, a terminal socioeconomic crisis or pressure from an overwhelming social movement. Nor does it have in its favor the kind of majority support—or apathy—that allied governments can point to. It’s favored by the terrible results of 16 years of savage neoliberalism and the reversal of the social conquests of the 1979 revolution and is built on the foundations of an exclusionary pact signed by the top leaders of the FSLN and the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC), widely denounced by Sandinista and Liberal dissidents and a good part of the citizenry organized in civil society. It’s a government that’s attempting to consolidate its power by linking populist authoritarianism aimed at grassroots sectors with the corporative authoritarianism of the business elite.
Both leaderships—Cuban and Nicaraguan—come from the radical leftist matrix of the 20th century, in which members were politically active in Leninist-based parties or guerrilla movements whose goal was “to take state power.”
Features shared by the political leaders of Havana and Managua include disdain for procedural matters and institutional mediation within the political process; the identification of the collective subject as “masses” and their more or less passive insertion in campaigns decided by the “vanguard.” This seal appears to impregnate the projects of their “21st-century socialism” neighbors, thus undermining much of their renovating authenticity.
Participatory democracy with Analyzing political processes requires considering, within the general context, the options, perceptions and actions of the multiple subjects that interact with different logics, sometimes within the same political field. History teaches us that behind any prominent institutional change lies a battle of ideas upon which the reformulation of the transcendent political questions is based.
For some time now, various authors (Dagnino, Olvera, Panfichi) have tried to analyze the expansion of participatory practices and ideas promoted by actors essentially located within the broad and heterogeneous Latin American Left. Rooted in movements distanced from the statist policies of real socialism or classical social democracy, these processes are grouped within what is called the democratic-participatory project, an analytical platform that reminds us of the existence of alternative forms of civic politics, at the same time that it reveals the combined processes of citizens’ preference for democratic regimes and questions concrete performances on the regional scale.
This democratic-participatory project isn’t a coherent, homogeneous discourse and/or set of defined practices and institutions, but rather a collection of principles, orientations, practices and institutions developed experimentally through social struggles in different Latin American countries. The expressions adopted by this project vary from country to country and fence it in spatially and temporally, limiting its cultural impact, given that the relationship with social environments and cultural matrices is a tribute to the project’s internal heterogeneity. They are also limited by both current neoliberal policies and the most recent neopopulist stances of different ideological signs.
Our Brazilian colleague Evelina Dagnino has contributed the notion of “perverse confluence” to denote the confusion generated by the use—and abuse—of terms such as parti¬cipation, citizenry and democracy seemingly shared by actors from different and often opposed political projects. The dissimilar contents and meanings of those concepts are expressed in the political actions developed by the subjects. Thus patronage and cooption practices and state control of the citizenry can be deployed as community participation initiatives, dressing them up in the sacred cloak of “grassroots empowerment” and criticism of the traditional “partiocracy.” Our theory is that what is currently developing within the ALBA governments is a perverse and conflictive confluence of actors and authoritarian cultures and practices inherited from the traditional Left and correlates born out of the clamorous struggle for the participatory democratization of public life.
The low-intensity participationTo explain this, it might be useful to apply a philosophical-political differentiation between the notions of “project” and “power.” “Project” refers to a broad horizon—socio-cultural, symbolic, etc.—of collective emancipating change. “Power” embodies the institutional armature created and reinforced—through bureaucracy—to stably and comprehensively achieve the changes. It implies its capacity to become self-referring and to generate particular logics of domination—different from those of capital—to a greater or lesser extent disconnected from liberating ideals and from the citizenry’s capacity to exercise autonomous social auditing and grassroots participation.
of grassroots councils
The often asymmetric interaction between actors embodying these projects can be more clearly perceived in the local arenas, revealing the plurality of proactive and conflictive interfaces established between societal and state subjects. It must be specified to what extent councils have been alternative civic expressions, given their characteristics and the official stamp with which they have been promoted, and whether they constitute mere forms of restructuring the state-centric matrix or a hybridization of both tendencies. But it is a fact that the reforms implemented in Cuba during the nineties, with constitutional modifications and the expansion of the novel Grassroots Councils; the pro-participation discourse reflected in the 1999 Constitution and creation of Communal Councils in Venezuela; and the conflictive expansion of Councils of Citizens’ Power in Nicaragua since 2007 were aimed at a model of low-intensity, fundamentally executive participation subordinated to decisions taken at the top of the system.
Cuba is far from participatory socialismPost-1959 Cuba saw the emergence of a model of citizen-militant as a central vision that identifies state order and nation and leans toward unanimity as a form of expression of criteria and a kind of mobilizing participation. With a reference point of public service with republican matrices, this militant citizenry positively emphasizes the grassroots redistribution of wealth and the rejection of social polarization and exclusion based on gender and race. Despite the display of enthusiasm and creativity resulting from the revolutionary triumph, however, the gradual institutionalization of the political regime—and its rituals—has been gathering force over the last 50 years to the detriment of a more autonomous participation.
The Grassroots Councils in Cuba have served as the incubators of interesting local practices, bringing people closer to the self-managed solving of community problems and developing committed neighborhood leaders. However, both these Councils and the few neighborhood movements associated with structures such as the Workshops for Comprehensive Neighborhood Transformation and different community projects promoted by Cuban and foreign NGOs have seen their efforts to empower the citizenry limited by the state-party schemes of political organization at all levels.
As a result, many of these promising local actors display no levels of inter-connection, lean toward informality and territoriality, have limited access to economic resources and show a dependence on international, exogenous sources. Despite generating a vocation for self-management aimed at comprehensively transforming their communities based on socio-cultural considerations, they only manage to put together modest thematic agendas characterized by a narrow targeting of problems.
Cuba’s state agencies have played a contradictory role in their development. On the one hand, they have fostered technology and material resources in areas such as urban organic agriculture and alternative constructions, providing specialized advice in various fields through psychologists, physical planners and communicators, and contributing money to cover the salaries of the leadership team of these local structures. But while the existence of all of these structures is implicitly recognized, their legal recognition has been impeded or restricted, the creation of experiences of grassroots economics on their land has been rejected, and an attempt is being made to absorb the emerging productive endeavors.
In an environment in which the capitalist class and its political organizations left the playing field at the beginning of the Cuban revolution, dissidents and actors such as human rights associations and independent journalists find their work penalized, as a result of which not even the critical Left has been able to take full advantage of the relative democraticity of these local structures. In summary, the Grassroots Councils and other local actors haven’t served to expand reformist conceptions favoring a participatory socialism and have been unable to generate a change within the traditional political culture.
Venezuela’s centralized participationIn Venezuela and Nicaragua, regimes still formally attached to the canons of representative democracy, new local political structures are being established that are rejecting or confronting existing experiences—the Municipal or Departmental Development Committees (CDMs and CDDs) in the Nicaraguan case. These new structures favor the representation of grassroots actors who sympathize with the government, serving as a platform for electoral campaigns and attacks on the opposition.
In Venezuela, there’s ongoing tension between the autonomy of a social movement that pre-dates Chávez—and was to a great extent his decisive promoter in 1998—and the “new” practices of patronage-based cooption by the Bolivarian State, heirs of the denounced tradition of the Fourth Republic. The legal deficiencies in civic participation and social auditing are currently eroding the capacity of actors such as the Communal Councils to exercise their implementing and auditing functions with respect to public administration. Meanwhile, there’s a clear intent to integrate these Councils into the state institutionality or turn them into “community bureaucracy” in an environment in which the rapid transfer of responsibilities for the management of different public services reveals voluntarism and lack of planning.
Similar to what’s happening in Nicaragua with the CDMs, the limited powers of Venezuela’s Local Public Planning Councils, pre-existing structures defined in the constitutional framework, have been further reduced by the Communal Councils, which are supported by their direct material and symbolic links to presidential power. At the same time, the reform of the Law of Public Administration Organization, implemented via an enabling procedure, has given President Chávez the capacity to design special regional authorities, eroding the competencies of publicly-elected governors and mayors.
In this process, actors autonomous of the Chávez movement, such as the Community Housing Organizations, Technical Water Roundtables and Urban Land Committees, have seen a reduction in their insertion in the programs and discourses of the government, which has decided to favor its links with the Communal Councils and strengthen the unstable local structures of the young ruling party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. All of this backs up the theory describing the evolution of the Chávez movement’s participatory model in which the early phase was opportunistic participation (1999-2002), then moved through promoted participation (2003-2006) on its way to the centralized participation approach implemented since 2007.
Nicaragua’s party-based participationIn Nicaragua, the creation and expansion of the Councils of Citizens’ Power (CPCs) has generated tension in organized civil society by overlapping these new structures with the system of citizens’ participation established by Law 475. The CPCs combine logics of community organization and of para-state and para-party organization to benefit the ruling FSLN. With their structures closely linked to the executive branch, the FSLN’s political secretaries fulfill the party mandate to control decisions made by the CPCs, ignoring what is established in municipal and participatory legislation.
In the context of the 2008 municipal elections, the CPCs took to the streets and plazas to block protests by civil and opposition organizations. Their members were involved in an active pro-FSLN campaign through the conditioned distribution of the benefits of the Zero Hunger and Zero Usury programs and the conducting of house-to-house political propaganda campaigns, thus revealing their stamp as party entities. These actions augur new conflictive scenarios surrounding the participatory arenas and policies in this impoverished Central American nation.
An alternative, post-neoliberal,To study a historical pattern of institutional development we must identify the relationship between the institutionalized subjects (leaders, activists and citizens) and the institutional environments (whether state, party or associative). This involves detecting the key trends (engendering or refounding) of a political system deployed at historical moments that will have the capacity to influence institutions over a prolonged period of time, hemming in the opposition options and reversing the agendas already underway.
democratic leftist project
In recent times, the dissatisfaction with merely electoral democracies and with low-intensity citizenships inherited from the decades of neoliberalism has fueled demands for participation, accountability and reforms of the current institutionality in the whole of Latin America. In some countries, the seriousness of the crisis has led to the replacement of traditional political actors—essentially from the partiocracy—with new leaderships of outsiders or the leaders of social movements.
Once in power, however, the combination of opposition hostility, grassroots pressure for radical change and undoubtedly centuries-old caudillo-style traditions have shrunk the participatory component in the new governments’ exercise of power.
It’s not about the “rights of the Right.” It’s about the fact that a growing penalization of dissidence within the official camp and attempts to restrict civil society’s autonomy from the government and its institutions threaten a rerun of the worst legacies of the past century’s state socialism, and a repeat of the authoritarian Hispano-American political tradition. There’s an urgent need to dismantle the binary logic in both the discourse and civic practices that impels us to choose between logics of domination, between political rights and social rights, between liberties and benefits and between a charismatic authoritarianism and a neoliberal partiocracy.
Nor is it a question of banking on some imprecise “third way,” which in our countries constitutes nothing more than social neoliberalism with meager yields in the construction of citizenship. There’s a need to defend the Left—and its post-neoliberal project—as an arena for democratic, plural and socializing construction with rights and values of coexistence. Upon this depends the legitimacy and sustainability of a truly emancipating alternative able to halt the mercantile and colonizer State logic regarding arenas for civic participation and grassroots power that have been fought for so hard.
Alberto J. Olvera Rivera is a researcher at the University of Veracruz’s Institute of Social Historical Research. Armando Chaguaceda Noriega is a political scientist and historian at the University of Havana and a member of the Latin American Social Science Council’s Latin American Social Observatory.