Raúl Zibechi: “What the progressive governments have done is deepen capitalism”

Raúl Zibechi

[Part 1 of a two-part interview]

By: Gloria Muñoz Ramírez

“The result of the progressive governments in Latin America is negative,” Zibechi concludes in an interview with Desinformémonos, after participating in a series of meetings with social and indigenous movements of Chiapas and Oaxaca, during a brief tour through Mexico in which he presented his most recent book: Los desbordes desde abajo [The overflows from below]. Raúl Zibechi is a Uruguayan journalist, writer and an accompanier of different social movements on the continent for more than 30 years.

Regarding the arrival of Andrés Manuel López Obrador to the presidency of Mexico, Zibechi points out that he doesn’t represent any change for the region. And his consultations (votes), he opines, “are mechanisms of disarticulation of protest.” There will be resistance, he says: “because the struggles are not going to disappear just because there’s a government that smiles.”

The disarticulation of social movements, the inclusion of cadre from below in the new government, the imposition of extractive projects, the isolation of critics, the polarization of the press, the role of the United States, among others, are the themes of this interview.

–What is the balance of the progressive governments in Latin America?

–The result of the progressive governments in Latin America is negative. The result is Bolsonaro, the result is Macri, is a Venezuela destroyed. The result is Daniel Ortega, genocidal and a rapist. As Chico de Oliveira said in Brazil, the founder of the Workers Party, “Lulism was a political regression.”

And when we say that we’re not talking about those millions that were lifted out of poverty but have now returned to it, we’re not talking about some interesting questions that were asked, like the quotas for black people in Brazilian universities. What we’re talking about is that they destroyed the emancipatory power of the peoples because they dispersed the social movements, put the leaders in [government] ministries and thus corrupted them.

There is no country with a progressive government in which there has not been cases of corruption. The man who was vice president of my country, Uruguay, who has a noble surname, Raúl Sendic, had to resign the vice presidency due to a case of corruption. In Argentina they threw bags full of money inside a convent to escape the undue appropriation matter that existed.

The balance is negative, but that doesn’t mean that the people don’t understand that they voted for them, that they supported them and that they continue supporting them, because the alternative to that is a frightening right. But in a balance of accounts the results are negative.

–Concretely, what are the results in the economic ambit?

 –In the economic ambit there was no agrarian reform, but there was not a reform of the tax system. There were structural reforms. There was higher income for the popular sectors, but that income was banked, financed, and then they attained through the social policies that people had a little more money, but they also have a card like a credit or debit card, which they need to be able to draw money out of the social policies from the bank and with that go to the malls or shopping centers to buy plasma televisions, motorcycles and cars. It’s integration through consumption.

During the time of Lula in Brazil, the sector that profited most and that had the greatest gains in their history was banking. So, it was integration of the popular sectors, but through consumption, and that de-politicizes and also enriches banking as an intermediary.

–And the megaprojects in indigenous territories?

–Extractivism, soybeans, the expansion of agribusiness and mining generated displacement or corralling of indigenous peoples. There is a case in Brazil that is insane and it’s called Belo Monte, which is the dam, the third largest in the world, which diverts 100 kilometers from the Xingú River, and in that basin that is emptied fishermen are going to die of hunger or they will have to emigrate. The inhabitants of the riverbanks, all the people that live from the river are original peoples. The boundaries of indigenous lands are also not respected.

On the other hand we have the paradigmatic example that is Bolivia. In Bolivia the popular movement had five organizations that made the unity pact, and after the march in defense of the Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro-Sécure (Tipnis) in 2011, the government began to divide the organizations.

There are two organizations, and outside of Bolivia this is little known: the Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Markas del Qullasuyu (Conamaq) and the Confederación de Pueblos Indígenas de Bolivia (Cidob), two historic organizations of indigenous peoples, to which Evo Morales and Álvaro García gave a State coup. They sent the police, threw out the legitimate leaders and afterwards leaders related to the government, the State, arrived protected by the police. That is an authentic State coup and it happened in Bolivia.

When we say that progressivism has resulted in a regression, for the indigenous peoples it has meant a double or triple regression, because it has “folklorized” them. Now there are men in sombreros and women in traditional skirts in Parliament, but folklorized, not politically representing their peoples. It is a policy of dispossession that forces them to displace. And in that, there is not any difference between the progressive governments and the conservative governments of the right, like the ones in Peru or Colombia. The anti-indigenous attitude is a constant in both cases.

– We’re entering the terrain of freedoms. What happened in these [progressive] governments to freedom of speech and the freedom to demonstrate? Did they carry out [extrajudicial] “executions” of those on the left who opposed them or questioned what they were doing?

 –During the first years there was an expansion of freedoms, to demonstrate, criticize, but beginning with the 2008 crisis there was a withdrawal of these governments. Once again Brazil is a paradigmatic case because in June 2013, 20 million young people went into the streets in 353 cities for one month, initially against the increased cost of transportation, which is very expensive in Brazil (each bus or metro ride costs between 20 and 25 Mexican pesos), but ended up being a revolt against inequality.

São Paulo is the city that has the most heliports and helicopters in the world because the bourgeoisie doesn’t deign to drive a car over the surface.

That revolt against inequality touched the limits of progressivism, which was limited to distributing salary income a little better, but not the total profit, and it didn’t touch the inequalities. When that movement emerged there was a withdrawal of the Dilma Rousseff government, of the PT and the left as a whole, and they sent the police. Of course, what a leftist government should have done was to take the side of the people, but by sending the police they generated a political vacuum and demoralization so strong that the right came to take advantage of that until this very day. 2013 was a parting of waters in Brazil and throughout the region. The movements are the irruption of people tired of being teased, of being mocked, one of the two or three main causes of the crisis of the progressivisms in Latin America.

–And the communications media? What role did they play and do they play?

–There are various dynamics about the communications media. There are countries where the States have been advancing about the media, like Venezuela, closing them, domesticating them or buying them. The bulk of the Venezuela media are state or pro-state. The other extreme could be Argentina, where there are around 200 cultural media, self-managed digital and paper media, like Desinformémonos in Mexico. Those 200 media have between five and seven million monthly readers, in a country of 40 million inhabitants. These are minority media, but they are no longer marginal. Moreover, when there is a conflict, like when a Monsanto factory was going to be installed in the Argentine Malvinas, and from Uruguay, if you wanted to know what was happening, you entered the rightwing press, La Nación, Clarín, and nothing appeared. If you entered the left-wing press, like Página 12, and nothing would appear either. You had to get informed in these community or alternative media.

These media are no longer a marginalized minority, but rather have a critical mass, and fulfill the role of informing our people of what others don’t report.

–We have seen that there has been a polarization of the media during these years. Those that are with the government, in this case progressive, and those that the extreme right has…

 -Yes, for sure! In Brazil, something incredible is happening. Bolsonaro campaigns against Red Globo, which is hegemonic, and against Folha de São Paulo, which is the newspaper of the elites, and is supported in social networks and the evangelical communications media, which are both extreme right. There is a very interesting reconfiguration of the media, which one must follow, because Bolsonaro even threatened to close Folha de São Paulo, which is a scandal; it’s like closing a rightwing daily newspaper in Mexico. It’s the same attitude that Donald Trump has towards the media. But other media are emerging, as is the case of the evangelical media. They are a political and social force that deserves to be studied in depth, and are already competing with Red Globo in Brazil. On the other hand, in the majority of countries there are media like ours, alternative, but not all of them are strong.

– There are other media that are not alternative or marginal, but large left media, or critical of power, and well placed in their countries, such as Brecha in Uruguay, or Página 12 in Argentina. What role do they play with the progressive governments?

 –I should say that Brecha was criticized before the arrival of those governments and during the progressive governments. We have always been a critical newspaper. Página 12, on the other hand, became like Kirchner and depended until today on resources from the State. Everything bad has a good part, and here in Mexico they are going to exist. The bad part is that the progressives destroy us or create lots of problems for us. The good part is that the scenario is clarified, there are no longer places for the middle-of-the-road media: you are with the State or not. When you are with the State the excuse is that now the left governs, but you are with the State, that is the main thing. And those who are maintained in their work of autonomy work outside the institutions.

Página 12 gave up; in the ‘90s it was a very important newspaper, not only in Argentina. It had a particular aesthetic and an impact with very powerful page covers. On the other hand, there are other media that have remained loyal to their trajectory. I don’t want to exaggerate, but I would say that Brecha, in South America, is one of the few that have crossed through progressivism with many economic difficulties. We do not live from Brecha, we are bad economically, but we maintained our dignity and an independent position, although there are nuances. There are some journalists inside closer to the government, but always critical.

– And what are the costs of being critical of the progressive governments from the left?

 –The costs of maintaining a critical posture are isolation, they don’t call you to take interviews and/or they ignore you. There is personal economic deterioration, we have to look for little jobs to survive, and that is an important cost, but we must pay close attention, there is a trap of progressivism that we have managed to overcome, because just like the journalism profession, in the case of Brecha, it now has a very low salary, but has had a generational and gender renewal. And now most staff members are young people and women. Those who want to earn more have gone with the government or create newspapers akin to progressivism, and those who remain with us, well, we earn little, but we are there.

– Is what you’re telling us that it’s going to go very badly for us if we maintain a critical posture, in Mexico, towards Andrés Manuel López Obrador?

– I would not say: “go very badly.” The isolation is hard, but you become stronger. And we also don’t aspire to get rich. For example in Brecha, with 35 workers, there will be five or six with a car, the rest of us take public transportation, and that seems very important to me because it marks something that at this moment is a planting; it is not seen, but the seeds are there and at some point they will bloom.

But one must read what’s happening in Mexico another way for two reasons. The progressive cycle in Latin America began in 2000 and ended in 2014, and is a cycle that was possible thanks to the high prices of commodities, oil, soy and iron ore, because it didn’t matter much to the bourgeoisies in that epoch of economic boom that they raised taxes a little, and because the popular sectors were calm. But nowadays we experience the 2018 post-crisis. The world’s dominant classes have become more bestial, more brutal. The one percent has a wealth it never dreamed of having in history and they have become much more intransigent, more extreme, and they are against the peoples.

The López Obrador government comes at a time in which the dominant classes are not willing to cede anything. There is a situation what will very quickly lead the government to align with business interests. These few days that I have been in Mexico, I have seen something surprising. I turn on the television and in the parliament some PAN deputies put up a banner that says: “#NoALaDictaduraObradorista” (#NoToTheObradorDictatorship). They are terrible, but from the first day they are already opposing, they don’t give him any chance. It seems that that is going to designate: You yield completely or you are going to have an implacable opposition like Dilma had in her last years in Brazil.

(To be continued)

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