Nicolás Lynch: Latin America

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Latin America:
A Future at Stake

English | América Latina: un futuro en disputa (español)


Nicolás Lynch

Universidad de San Marcos, Lima, Peru


1. In order to have a future, we must rule our destiny

The future of Latin America depends on a democracy that allows the people to take over their destiny. This appropriation, nonetheless, is no small issue. First of all, it requires a democracy that guarantees the participation of citizens to produce well-being, i.e., a democracy that is not only political but also social. And secondly, a democracy that does not stop at national borders in order to be fulfilled, that is aimed at continental integration or the Patria Grande. The future of the region depends on the achievement of both of these factors: social democracy and the Patria Grande.

Therefore, taking over our destiny as a way to build the future is the crucial process to achieve an identity in Latin American diversity. The question “Who are we?”, which drives both history and the project, thus becomes a fundamental question. It is especially important when the developed countries, by way of initiatives such as free trade agreements, try to naturalize our subordinate status. In other words, they want to impose that “we belong to others” which is not the same as “we are others” or, better still, “we are us”. Nonetheless, from the political standpoint, the definition of our “place in the world” appears to be fundamental. National home, relationship of belonging, place of enunciation, point of support, claim platform. Without a “place in the world” as place of our own, which is a concept intrinsically opposed to that of subordination, there are no politics to do and our aspiration to get power is not only condemned to defeat but also to disappearance. Therefore, I believe that what is at stake together with our future is our identity.


2. The different meanings of democracy

Nonetheless, the understanding of democracy is divided in the region. There is no longer the saving myth that was born from the transitions of the 70’s and 80’s. It was a way to leave behind the horror of the military dictatorships, as Carlos Franco used to say, but it did not lead to different societies where there could be progress and well-being. This was especially true when the order of civil and political freedoms was accompanied by brutal economic adjustments. These adjustments, following the script of the so-called “Washington Consensus”, tend to reconcentrate and foreignize the economies with a particular impact on social inequality, in a world region that is already especially unequal. It was then what I termed the “consolidation fallacy” occurred: democratic regimes with some civil and political rights were established, but social rights were cut down or eliminated. The establishment of formally democratic institutions, which regulates the procedure to elect representatives and respect civil freedoms, clashes repeatedly with the social claim of democratizing agents, producing weak democracies in the region. As a result, the political regime cannot be consolidated.

As a respond we had large popular manifestations, among the most important ones the Venezuelan “Caracazo” of 1989, the Argentinian “Que se vayan todos” of 2001, which occurred again in different forms, before and after, in Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Honduras and Guatemala. The consequences have been diverse, but in an important group of countries, among them the largest ones, which group the largest amount of the population and a majority part of the GDP, the manifestations gave way to the election of progressive governments.

The progressive turn starts with the election of Hugo Chavez in 1998. In the last twenty years, this change has entailed up to twelve governments elected and reelected democratically that have carried out policies in the following areas: social justice, wealth redistribution, democratization, national sovereignty and continental integration, projecting the regional and world leadership of people such as Lula, Nestor Kirchner, Pepe Mujica and Evo Morales. This progressive turn has been a backlash in Latin American history, from its setup as a recognizable space in the world, which has had a history of exploitation and oppression, colonization and dictatorship. The search for a unique identity in the region from its setup –when America appears, Europe appears, says Anibal Quijano-, has had to do with this history: we have been called and we have called ourselves Ibero-America, Hispanic America, Indo-America, Latin America; in the end we have thus remained with one of the results of such attempts and probably not with the most fitting one.

The main question, therefore, is a debate on the essence of democracy, in light of the Latin American experience, which has not been realized or has been realized only halfway.


3. The current dilemma

The progressive turn is without a doubt the most important political phenomenon in the last decades and some say it is the most important phenomenon since independence. Nonetheless, this phenomenon has not reached the entire region and there are people who intend to draw again the line of the Tordesillas Treaty, which in early colonial times divided the territories of the Pacific from those of the Atlantic, for directly subordinate purposes.

The progressive trend, with its policies in the areas of social justice, participation and national sovereignty, opened up a space of independence from the great world powers, especially from the USA. This achievement is very important because it allows us to access the world in order to be integrated with relative independence from the globalization process. The progressive trend is established with the rejection of the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas), proposed by George W. Bush during his presidential term in 2005, in the Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina, which was perhaps the last great neoliberal initiative in the framework of the adjustment policies of the 80’s and 90’s. This independent space has used as tools different continental integration projects that were created or resumed in order to build continental integration. This has been the case with Mercosur, Unasur, Celac and the unsuccessful attempts to merge CAN with Mercosur. They are commercial and political integration mechanisms that have made progress at a different pace, but with the goal of creating our own space in order to be successfully integrated into the world.

However, this progressive turn motivates a reaction that has two stages: the creation of the Alliance of the Pacific, as an alternative to the integration proposed by the left-wing and center-left government, and a counter-offensive with a will to overthrow, i.e., the desire to overthrow by any means necessary the progressive governments elected. I will cover this last topic in the next section.

The start of the right-wing counter offensive begins with the launch of the Alliance of the Pacific, by the Peruvian government of Alan Garcia in 2009, which Chile, Colombia and Mexico quickly enter. The goal of this Alliance, unlike integration initiatives promoted by the progressive governments, is to bring about disintegration and subordination to the USA. Furthermore, the Alliance of the Pacific is not an isolated initiative in Latin America; it is an initiative that is part of the global initiative of the United States that includes the projection of the Alliance of the Pacific in the TPP or Trans Pacific Parthership, as well as another similar transatlantic agreement with the European Union. Therefore, when I hear that the Alliance of the Pacific may be compatible with other integration projects such as Mercosur and Unasur, I do not believe it is possible, since their political goals are different. They have been created with opposite goals, which are incompatible.


4. The conservative offensive and its unconstitutional will to overthrow

Nonetheless, the Alliance of the Pacific cannot be understood without political destabilization. Throughout the past fifteen years, the local right-wing factions, with the more or less visible support from the United States, have sought to destabilize the progressive governments. Such destabilization has been the reason for the attack on important processes such as those of Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador and Argentina in the past two years, in the same fashion as the attempts in Bolivia and Ecuador years ago and the successful attempts in Paraguay and in Honduras also some time ago. Different techniques have been used in the face of the bad image of the classic coup d’état; we have seen the soft coup d’état attempt in Venezuela, the market coup d’état, with several attempts in Argentina by speculative attacks and the so-called “vulture funds”, the parliamentary coup as it happened in Paraguay and the police coup d’état attempted in Ecuador.

Destabilization as such is not a democratic process. But, rather, as it has been said for a few years now in Argentina, it is a process meant to overthrow. They want a “change of regime”, in the terminology of the Department of State of the United States. The counter-offensive launched in Latin America is not, therefore, very democratic. They simply want those in power to leave and for others to come, those who were displaced by the progressive governments in the region. I believe that the how does not matter much. They want them to leave in order to organize politics and the form of government in a different way, to establish different policies in which the votes of the citizens will not have the same value. The Alliance of the Pacific and destabilization are, therefore, part of the same project of the counter-offensive to kill the achievements of the progressive turn in Latin America.

However, in a campaign in which the media plays a very important role, things can turn upside down. Those who have sought to extend democracy through forms of greater participation are described as authoritarian or simply dictatorships, many times by those who supported or participated in the dictatorships of yesteryear and today defend restricted democracies.


5. The lessons of this process

Nonetheless, the counter-offensive with its will to overthrow does not occur out of the blue. It exists because the progressive turn does not end with the previous problems of society and politics in Latin America and, at the same time, due to the conditions in which it occurs, it allows new problems to arise, which it has not been able to deal with efficiently.

Among these previous issues, the main one is corruption. The progressive governments inherited the administration of states that are heavily infested with corruption. A good example is the “mensalao” in Brazil, a form of political management in their parliament, which the government of the Workers’ Party was not able to abolish. But there are also the multiple episodes of corruption that arise when deploying various mechanisms of economic control by the State, many times necessary to establish development plans and carry out wealth redistribution policies, which are given in the midst of a clientelism that is part of the authoritarian culture in the relationship of the leader with the masses.

Furthermore, the relationship between democracy and social transformation is perhaps the great novelty of this progressive turn but at the same time it displays major problems. Let us not forget that this is a third stage in the relationship of democracy and social transformation in the region. First, it was the Cuban revolution, in 1959, when the only way to produce significant changes in the midst of the cold war was the revolutionary dictatorship. Second, the government of Unidad Popular in Chile, between 1970 and 1973, still during the Cold War, which sought to make changes in a democracy, paying a very high price for their audacity, with thousands dead, missing and exiled. Third, the current progressive turn, which has tried, throughout its fifteen-year span, to establish social changes in democracy.

This last process includes the problem of the relationship between the government and the opposition. On the one hand, the opposition, almost always from the right-wing and extreme right, is against any proposal for change because they affect their material interests. This makes them develop behaviors that lead them to move from democratic adversaries to authoritarian enemies with relative ease. This situation produces a political polarization that affects pluralism, both by the opposing behaviors as well as by the replies from the governments, which range -in accordance with the political culture and the institutional strength of each country – from intolerance to direct repression. This turns the democratic competition into a confrontation and includes within the political agenda the temptation of the coup d’état in its various forms. The only way out seems to be the elections; however, in the face of the repeated electoral success of the progressive governments, their oppositions seem to be wary of this process, which they denounce as being manipulated and thereby try other non-democratic methods, which we have already distinguished as having the will to overthrow. This point is crucial because if everyone bets on the elections, beyond whoever loses or wins, the future remains on the horizon.

Another important issue has to do with the economic difficulties of the progressive governments that have been intensified in times of crisis. Most of these governments have benefited from a boom in the prices of raw materials, which have allowed significant rates of growth and developed redistribution policies. Nonetheless, they have not succeeded in laying the foundations for an economic development that may flourish as a diversified economy, with greater national added value production. In varying degrees, this situation has brought about difficulties for economic redistribution policies after the economic boom.


6. A future to be achieved

The future of Latin America is not assured.  In order for the immense progress made in the last fifteen years to become a reality in a different region, there is the need to face the counter-offensive with its will to overthrow and at the same time face the problems encountered and raised again in these years. This task, therefore, still has a difficult and uncertain future.

The goal is the one we pointed out at the start: taking over what belongs to us, namely, to be sovereign. Distinguishing this goal may seem a simple task. However, the concept of sovereignty has been veiled with such a contrary ideological discourse due to the neoliberal status quo that, certainly in some places more than others, it is complicated to distinguish it. There is an effort to naturalize the subordination and worse still the submission to the imperial powers, which has been the reality of Latin America for most of our history, falsely identifying sovereignty with backwardness and subordination with progress and modernity. It is true that the region has spent his entire history fighting for sovereignty, but it is also true that because it was not achieved, except for fleeting moments or the progress made in recent years, this old/new idea becomes very relevant today.

The main point of this fight is the issue of democracy. Only by establishing a majoritarian democracy that develops an alternative status quo to neoliberalism will it be possible to have the necessary legitimacy to proceed to the aforementioned appropriation and develop an identity on the basis of the Patria Grande, beyond each national home, which finally renders irreversible our condition as an independent region that is totally distinguishable in the world. Sovereignty and democracy that are not only national but also continental are therefore needed to be someone on this planet.

Under these conditions, which are difficult to achieve, we may say that there will be a future for Latin America.



Lynch_Nicolas - portraitpicNicolás Lynch Gamero, PhD in Sociology, New School for Social Research, New York, Master in Social Science, FLACSO-Mexico, Licenciado in  Sociology, Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos.  Professor of Sociology at Universidad de San Marcos.  He taught Political Science at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú and the Instituto de Gobierno of the Universidad San Martín de Porres.  Political Columnist of the daily La República and Director of the Blog of Political Analysis Otra Mirada.  Invited Professor at Johns Hopkins University, the New School for Social Research, and University of Wisconsin at Madison. Invited Researcher at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.  Premio al Mérito Científico from the Universidad de San Marcos el 2005.  Honorary Profesor of the Universidad Nacional de Piura and Universidad Nacional del Cusco.  He published many scholarly Articles and books, among which are: “Los jóvenes rojos de San Marcos”, “La transición conservadora”, “Una tragedia sin héroes” , “El Pensamiento Arcaico en la Educación Peruana”, “Los últimos de la clase”, “¿Qué es ser de izquierda?”, “El argumento democrático sobre América Latina” y “Cholificación, república y democracia”.  He has been Dean of the Colegio de Sociólogos del Perú, Director of the Escuela de Sociología and Doctoral Program Coordinator at the Universidad de San Marcos, Peruvian Ministro of Educacion, Political Advisor to the Presidente of Peru, and Peruvian Ambassador to Argentina.


Banner Image: Plaza San Martín, Buenos Aires: The Bolivian President Evo Morales visiting Argentina, July 2015 (Photo by the Editor).


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