A Dialogue with Raúl Zibechi



A dialogue with journalist Raúl Zibechi (left), who reviews the irruption of new social movements in Latin America within the framework of the end of the cycle of the progressive governments.

By: Mirko Orgáz Garcí, journalist

Bolivia, March 13, 2016

Journalist Raúl Zibechi was at the XXIV Marcelo Quiroga Free Seminar “Analysis and alternatives to dependence and extractivism [1] within the framework of the global economic crisis,” held on Tuesday, February 16 in the auditorium of the UMSA [2]. He asserts that extractivism is a global war from those “above,” from the multinationals and the States, against the peoples to appropriate land and water for themselves. “The particularity of Latin America in the last 10 or 15 years is that this extractive model, this accumulation by dispossession, is the fourth world war and it has been headed by progressive governments,” he says. He proposes getting out of extractivism, which not only is an economic model but also a political, social and cultural one, driving the financial system, “that 1% that dominates the world and every one of our countries.”

What are the characteristics of the current global political economic crisis?

We are not facing an economic crisis but rather a systemic re-composition, the system as such cannot continue without fundamental changes, and a civilizational crisis that basically affects Western civilization. The system rests on two pillars: the international division of labor, the fruit of creating a center and a periphery five centuries ago. The second transfers wealth to the first, through different mechanisms throughout time, from the unequal colonial trade to the financial system’s most recent transfers thanks to the petrodollar. But the strengthening of countries previously on the other side of the globe is provoking a collapse of that stability, affecting principally Europe and the United States. It’s the creation of the multipolar world that we are seeing.

The end of the progressive governments in Latin America is talked about. Why do these governments appropriate the banners of social revolution?

I prefer to talk about the end of a cycle, because in reality having progressive governments will continue but now they are becoming conservative governments. What happened is that one of the pillars of their governability, the high international prices of commodities, came down. It was a long cycle of super-high prices that permitted improving the material life of the majority of individuals without modifying the productive model and without touching the privileges of the richest 1% of the population.

They appropriate banners with the same logic as the system, which needs to subsume everything that rejects it as legitimate. Now Mauricio Macri talks about never again in reference to the violation of human rights. The system functions like this, independently of those who are at the head. We have discourses about green and sustainable mining and all of that.

Did Latin America live through a lost decade with the progressive governments?

I don’t believe that it is a lost decade. People learned a lot, in several senses. On the one hand, it has been gaining in self-esteem, happenings like the water war or the two gas wars leave sediments, as well as the march in defense of the TIPNIS, to mention the big events in Bolivia. Inverting the previous question, we can say that the peoples in movement are so strong that the governments need to appropriate the banners of those below in order to have a minimum legitimacy.

How does society confront this end of the cycle?

With much calm and a lot of patience. The pendulum is not only going from left to right, it’s also going from above to below. It is the common people’s turn, the Indian peoples’, the women, youth, all the oppressed, those that were quiet these years because they had to listen to those above.

There is a very strong contrast between what happened on the afternoon of October 17, 2003 in San Francisco Plaza, when the crowd cried out “Yes we can,” and what came afterwards. To whom did they cry out the day of the fall of Goni? [3]

No to the President that was already a political cadaver. They were shouting at themselves, it was a shout of self-esteem, “Yes, we can take the sky by assault,” as Mao would say. But in the following years that empowerment disappeared, in part because some leaders said what the people wanted to hear, but also because many people wanted to let them govern, which the governed the good or their own, which is always the easiest path.

But now the limits of government from above were shown. And now the pendulum goes down again, perhaps as in the decade of the 1990s, before the 1990 march when the peoples slowly started to self-organize. I believe that things are going in that direction, but one will have to follow things very closely because the professionals of discourse are going to do their job.

About what new subjects are we talking and what is their political horizon?

This is the million-dollar question that we are still not able to answer, except in the case of Brazil and even there only partially. I tend to think that old-style movements, those called social movements, championed the TIPNIS March. But June 2013 in Brazil, with the irruption of millions of youths in the cities, the new-new movements that are small collectives that function based on autonomy, decisions by consensus, outside the political parties and horizontally. They no longer want leaders or apparatuses that mark the path for them, they decide for themselves where to go and towards where they walk.

I believe that we are going to experience movements of a new kind, because the progressive cycle moved many things and demonstrated the inability of the big apparatuses to do anything better than permit their leaders to become palace lackeys. Those big structures are more empty shells, hierarchic and patriarchal all the time, incapable of promoting anything that has any relation to emancipation.

To the contrary, we see a infinity of small groups with young people, which express themselves through cultural forms opposed to the established powers. It’s still too soon to know the reach of these new subjects, but there is learning: “it’s of little value to organize for entering the palace because in a little while those who enter will be just like the ones we threw out.” In other words, we’re dealing with creating something new, different, on the basis of what we learned.

Toward what type of society does that society in movement lead us?

We cannot know that. We hope that it is toward a fuller life, democratic, free, not subject to states or parties that come to substitute for the old churches. We aspire to a society where people govern themselves in the greatest number of spheres possible, where others do not govern them. For that, one must create a communitarian culture, not in the image and likeness of the old ayllu [3] that is very useful as an inspiration but that must be reconstructed above other bases, overcoming patriarchate, generational hierarchies and strongmen. It won’t be anything simple because we’re dealing with a very profound cultural revolution that, necessarily, will be expanding gradually, because culture changes over long periods of time.


Translator’s Notes:

[1] Extractivism – What David Harvey calls accumulation by dispossession Zibechi calls extractivism. It consists of financial speculators taking away something from the common people to obtain corporate profit; for example, the use of land, clean water, clean air, natural resources. Zibechi applies this concept to both rural and urban settings in South America. The urban setting often involves real estate speculation (flipping houses, replacing old single-family homes with condos, shopping centers, etc.). These are transfers of wealth from the poor or the working class to the rich, involving physical and cultural displacement.

[2] UMSA – Higher University of San Andrés, located in La Paz, Bolivia.

[3] “Goni” refers to Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, who served two terms as president of Bolivia.

[4] Ayllu – An indigenous local government model across the Andes region of South America, particularly in Bolivia and Peru.


Originally Published in Spanish by Movimientom4.org

Friday, April 6, 2016


Source: Página Siete


Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee



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