The end of democratic societies in Latin America

This painting by Daniel Camacho was exhibited at CompArte 2017: the Emiliano Zapata Community Festival at the Omni Commons in Oakland, CA. On display at the Asian Resource Gallery in Oakland’s Chinatown thru December 2017

By: Raúl Zibechi

Scene 1: Weeks ago, a cultural center of Munro, a place in the northern zone of Buenos Aires, presented the Orquesta Típica Fernández Fierro, one of the more potent tango bands in current Argentina. At a certain moment near the end of the recital, one of the 13 musicians took the microphone to say: “We want Santiago Maldonado to appear.”

Half of the audience of some 500 people withdrew from the place with shouts and insults against the musicians. They left suddenly, “as if there were a spring in the seats,” according to one member of the band. Among the insults they came to hear something that left them perplexed: “You broke everything and we have to pay for it.” That brutal reaction was produced because they asked for the life of a young man in solidarity with the Mapuche and disappeared by the Gendarmerie (riot police).

Scene 2: The Queermuseu-Cartographies exhibition of the Difference in Brazilian Art, which had been on display at the Santander Cultural Center in Porto Alegre for a month, was canceled by the bank that sponsored it because of the gale of reproaches that it received in the social networks. The critics accused the artistic display of “blasphemy” and of “apology for bestiality and pedophilia.”

We’re talking about 270 works from 85 artists that defend sexual diversity. The criticisms basically came from the Free Brazil Movement (Movimiento Brasil Libre, MBL), which played an outstanding role in the fall of the Dilma Rousseff government, calling together demonstrations with millions of participants. As the chronicle points out, we’re dealing with “a conservative group born in 2014 that has been gaining strength with the turn of Brazilian society to the right.”

In a statement, Santander called to reflect “on the challenges that we must confront in relation to questions of gender, diversity and violence, among other things.” But the threat of an MBL boycott had more effect than any reasoning.

One can imagine the level of aggressiveness that the popular sectors bear, if a multinational bank and a famous orchestra are attacked in that way. At this point I would like to reflect on what I consider as the erosion of the cultural and political bases of the democracies, facing the brutal social polarization that the is experienced in the region’s principal countries.

The first point consists of observing the deep social crack that exists, which is aggravated with the extractive model and the Fourth World War underway. One part of the societies opted for becoming entrenched in their privileges, of color and class, which is summarized by living in consolidated neighborhoods where there is no lack of water and houses are secure. This sector encompasses half of the population, which has access to education and health care because it can pay for them, those who have fairly well-paying but above all stable jobs, those who can travel even in airplanes, inside and/or outside of their countries. They are the citizens that have rights and are respected as human beings.

The second point is that electoral democracy has been only for that sector, although they are not the only ones that go to the polls. They can elect the candidates that represent them, who are usually of the same skin color (generally white males) that have university studies, who the communications media recognizes, esteems and to whom it generously opens its spaces.

It’s not true that democracy does not exist in Latin America. It is a democracy tailored to the “integrated” part of the population. We are facing two societies that don’t recognize each other. The Argentine media maintain that those who ask about the whereabouts of Santiago Maldonado “have declared war on us.” Or worse, the big media that say they are “respectful” of democracy, linked the Mapuche to the Islamic State.

The third point is the feedback between the political power and society. It’s often argued that this rightwing and conservative part of the society takes the offensive when the right governs. In part, it’s true. But it’s also true that the activism of that sector is what brought the right into the governments, above all in Brazil and Argentina.

I think that it’s necessary to ask why a new right emerged so reactionary, so incapable of dialoguing, which has torn the social fabric, from the United States to South America. Trump is the consequence, not the cause.

The cause is in the extractive model and the Fourth World War. When progressivism has administered the model that right emerges with even greater intransigence, because it detests the poor and those who often must share “their” spaces. We can say that we are faced with some middle classes functional to the Fourth World War, disposed to smashing those below without scruples.

The fourth point, finally, is about us, those who want to overthrow capitalism but don’t know how to do it. The first thing is being clear that the “system” is disintegrating and one of the consequences is the rupture of society.

Those above and those of the middle class are protected; those below have no place in their schools, or in their hospitals, their media or their ballot boxes. That’s not to say that we don’t complain, don’t demand, and don’t negotiate.

When we complain, we are able to do it because we really hope that they are going to give us what corresponds to us, or as political pedagogy, to show “us” the limits of the system. Because an “us” and “them” does exist, as the industrial workers always made clear until, let’s say, the last third of the last century.

If we come to the conclusion that a society of laws no longer exists, our strategies must adapt to this new reality. We must create “our” strategy, with our rules of the game in our territories, because this model of war and dispossession has eroded the social and material bases of democracies.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Friday, October 13, 2017

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee


One Comment on “The end of democratic societies in Latin America

  1. Pingback: Zapatista News & Analysis | Blog of Zapatista Support Group Wellington, Aotearoa/New Zealand

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