The sterile illusion of change from above

Indigenous people march on the Colombian capital, Bogatá, demanding an end to killings of local leaders, and calling on the government to protect their land ownership and implement the peace agreement signed in 2016. (Luisa Gonzalez/REUTERS)

By: Raúl Zibechi

Colombia, Ecuador and Chile show us relatively similar recent processes. Governments of the neoliberal right faced with large popular revolts of long duration, which opened gaps in domination and put governability in check. The political system responded by channeling the dispute towards institutional terrain, with the approval and enthusiasm of the lefts.

During the revolts, grassroots organizations are strengthened and new ones are created. In Chile, more than 200 territorial assemblies and more than 500 community pots in Santiago when the pandemic is declared. In Ecuador, the Indigenous Parliament and the Social Movements, with more than 200 organizations. In Colombia, dozens of “points of resistance,” free territories where the peoples create new relations among them.

Results from the institutional option usually become visible a while later, when the potency of the uprisings begins to dissipate and there are almost no grassroots organizations left. The Ecuadorian Parliament no longer functions. The Chilean assemblies have weakened in numbers and participation. The same thing happens in Colombia.

The case of Chile is the most dramatic, since all the potency of the revolt was soon neutralized with the signing of an agreement for a new Constitution, although we know that the ultimate goal was to get the population out of the streets, because it is the main threat to the principal domination of the economic and political elites.

Chile is the only one of those three countries in which the electoral process crowned someone who claimed to represent the revolt, the current president, Gabriel Boric. What more could you ask for? A young man who was active in the student protest and who makes up part of the “new” left grouped around Approve Dignity (Apruebo Dignidad).

Chile: The sign reads: Mapuche territory in recuperation. No entry!

It is the greatest deception imaginable for those who bet on a change managed from above on the butts of the protest. It was Boric who signed the pact with the right and the center, with the elitist political class, to call for the constituent assembly. He was the one who said over and over again that thinks would change with his government and he promised to demilitarize Mapuche territory, the Wall Mapu.

Two months after assuming the presidency, he decided to establish a state of emergency on those lands. Just like Sebastián Piñera, the rightwing president hated by half of Chile. Just like all the previous governments, including of course the Pinochet regime.

The state of emergency is directed against Mapuche activism, which recuperates land and sabotages extractive companies that destroy Mother Earth. In particular, it’s directed against Lavkenche Mapuche Resistance (RML, Resistencia Mapuche Lavkenche), Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco (CAM) and Mapuche National Liberation (LNM, Liberación Nacional Mapuche), as well as against autonomous territorial resistance organizations.

The military occupation of Araucanía responds to the request of truckers and large landowners (latifundistas). For Héctor Llaitul, leader of the CAM, is “the full expression of the military dictatorship that we, the Mapuche, always suffer;” while the RML considers that “Boric left the new repressive policies in the hands of the Socialist Party, with organized crime’s endorsement” (

It’s only fitting to add that the economic area was delivered to one of the most outstanding defenders of neoliberalism and the economic orthodoxy, Mario Marcel. There will be no changes. Just makeup. Boric’s popularity plummeted: 57 percent disapprove of him, just two months after taking office (

The CONAIE protests against neoliberal changes in Ecuador.

Chile is not the exception, but rather the rule. Something similar is happening in Ecuador, although right-winger Guillermo Lasso won the presidency. In Colombia, lamentably, the social movement got trapped at the polls upon disorganizing its own urban territories. Some reflections.

First: electoral politics depends much more on marketing than on programs and proposals. Just as consumerism is an “anthropological mutation” (Pasolini), electoral marketing reshapes political maps and behaviors from top to bottom.

Two: power, true power, is not born from the ballot box, nor is it in the parliaments or governments, but far from public visibility in ultra-concentrated financial capital, in the invisible 1% that controls the communications media, the armed forces and police, governments of any level and, above all, the illegal narco-paramilitary groups that redesign the world.

Three: the elected governments cannot –in the hypothetical case that they attempt it– touch the interests of the true powers and the powerful. They are shielded behind various armies, state and private, an opaque judicial system and the big media.

Four: it’s about taking other paths, not insisting on those that we already know lead only to re-legitimize what exists and to weaken the other worlds that are born. Don’t dispute their power (or their health, or their media, or their education). Create our own. And defend it.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada, Friday, June 3, 2022, and Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

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