The most exhilarating and the most promising things going on at this particular moment in history have hardly made news in the USA, or bits and pieces have without a summary that says: Latin America is on fire with revolutions that suggest how the world might change, for a change, for the better. -------------------------------------------------------- http://www.oriononline.org/pages/om/05-5om/Solnit.html Orion September | October 2005 Fire in the South If you want to see what democracy could be, look to Latin America By Rebecca Solnit The most exhilarating and the most promising things going on at this particular moment in history have hardly made news in the USA, or bits and pieces have without a summary that says: Latin America is on fire with revolutions that suggest how the world might change, for a change, for the better. The current fire season began in the spring of 2000 when the people of Cochabamba, Bolivia, kicked out Bechtel Corporation, the San Francisco-based multinational that had privatized their water and raised rates beyond what the poor could afford. Since the victory in Cochabamba, mass mobilizations of Bolivia's largely indigenous population have ousted two presidents and prevented the privatization and sell-off of the country's considerable natural gas resources. These fires, in Bolivia and beyond, are attempting to burn out neoliberalism: the ideology of unfettered capitalism manifested as deregulation, as privatization of resources and services, as drastically reduced social services, and as dismissal of the value of community, civil society, and the public-as in public lands or public good. Or, in a nutshell, the opening of a place to unregulated plundering. Neoliberals assert that their activities provide widespread benefits despite massive evidence to the contrary. Or perhaps widespread benefits were never really a serious concern for those who subscribe to this system of spreading environmental degradation, sabotaged rights, and starvation wages. In December of 2001 there was a splendid conflagration in Argentina, the nation that was supposed to be neoliberalism's poster child until its economic policies led to a collapse. Then, the proud middle class became poor, the country ran through several presidents in several days, and the people took to the streets, banging pots and pans and shouting, "¡Se vayan todos!";-"All of them [politicians] out!" Since then Argentina has become a brilliant laboratory of social experiments, from the shuttered factories reopened and run by workers' co-operatives to consensus-based neighborhood groups functioning as both salons and soup kitchens. And more recently Nestor Kirchner, who became president in 2003, directly defied the International Monetary Fund, recognizing that its policies are what brought the country to its knees in the first place. Meanwhile Brazilians, led by the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, the powerful landless rural workers' movement, chose former steelworker and union organizer Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as their president in 2002. Though the MST has been bitterly disappointed by Lula's failure to bring about profound land redistribution, his administration has done some noteworthy things, such as leading third-world nations to defy the World Trade Organization in Cancun in September of 2003. And the fires keep spreading. As the investigative journalist Greg Palast recently put it, "Ecuador has a new president, and George Bush has someone new to hate." Palast recounted how, in April of 2005, "100,000 angry Ecuadorians, from Indians to accountants, forced the last president to flee the country. They called him 'Sucio Lucio' (Dirty Lucio) Gutierrez, for going along with demands of George Bush and the World Bank to cut government spending on health and education." Former vice-president Alfredo Palacio, who assumed the presidency, shows signs of being more genuinely democratic and concerned with the plight of the poor. Ecuador has oil, but Venezuela has more: it supplies 15 percent of the U.S.'s huge oil diet, which has kept the oil barons at the helm of our country both attentive and resentful. Populist strongman Hugo Chavez, first elected in 1998, has distributed Venezuela's oil profits more equitably to try to lift more people out of poverty. He has so angered the Bush administration that it helped sponsor a coup against him in 2002-one overturned by people in the streets of Caracas-and blames him for "unrest," as they call it, also known as insurrection, elsewhere across the continent. And last November, while the world mourned the re-election of Bush, the people of Uruguay elected their first left-wing president and passed a plebiscite forever preventing the privatization of water. Of course you can trace these radical stirrings back much further, to the administrations of Salvador Allende in Chile and Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, which the United States helped to overthrow in 1973 and 1954 respectively. But those regimes and the movements that sprang up in their defense were squashed again and again, sometimes with U.S. tax dollars and intelligence operations. This time the chances of success seem better, in part because the U.S. has been both weakened and distracted by its misadventures in the Middle East-better even though Chavez is a strongman building up a cult of personality, Lula has compromised too much, and even Kirchner is far from being a revolutionary hero. After all, it's not really about presidents, but about the people who put them in power, or take them out, and who never surrender the right to determine the fate of their nation. The anonymous masses of people who have launched these changes are the real heroes, and they are only at the beginning of their power and invention. This is what is truly exciting about South America: the sense of populist movements and indigenous insurgencies feeling their way through the dark to the idea of what a just society might look like. Or perhaps what is most significant in this incendiary era, this continent on fire, is the passion and the power of the people who fight these battles for water, for justice, for a voice in their society. In my own society, even our dreams seem to have been privatized. Up here in the north, neoliberal policies have demolished the American dream for many Yankees who can no longer afford education, or decent housing, or who are bankrupted by illness. The great gains brought about by union struggles, the New Deal, and the Great Society have been whittled away steadily since Ronald Reagan was first elected and brought the neoliberal agenda to power with him. But too many in this Horatio Alger nation fail to see the situation as a political crisis with political solutions that can be realized collectively. Nowhere is this more deeply apparent than in the obsession with home ownership and home improvement, where the power to live well and change things is confined to the tiny compass of the personal, privatized realm. Our dream has been reduced to a couple of thousand square feet at 6 percent interest, rather than that old sea-to-sea vision of justice and equality, that sense that one's own fate is inseparable from that of one's fellow citizens, or that a whole society or country can be the home you love and work for (which summons up the amusing notion that revolution is remodeling on the grand scale). What is it that makes Latin Americans so much more politically potent than Yankees? Is it the memory of how horribly things can go wrong, that the doors of even the nicest houses can be bashed in by death squads? Is it fear? After all, the era when much of South America was governed by dictators and when torture, murder, and disappearance were common is not very far in the past. Or is it hope, the hope of cultures where not all dreams have been privatized into the realm of the apolitical, where individual good is still connected to civil society and social justice? Poverty, violence, and environmental devastation are still terrible problems for Latin America, but the region is rich in people-power, and the future that power may shape looms on the horizon. As my brother David says, when it comes to the real practice of democracy, the U.S. is an underdeveloped nation that needs help from abroad. Nowhere are the lessons more inspiring than to the south. And we're going to need a lot more people-power in one version of the future, in which we need to stop our own government from once again preventing South America's move toward the kind of democracy we should dream of, and could. Rebecca Solnit lived in Peru when she was two years old and hopes to return to South America soon. She is a regular columnist for Orion Magazine and contributor OrionOnline. Her latest book is A Field Guide to Getting Lost from Viking Books. *************************** Robert S. Rodvik Author/media analyst "Everything faded into mist. The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became the truth." George Orwell - 1984 -- http://cyberjournal.org "Apocalypse Now and the Brave New World" http://www.cyberjournal.org/cj/rkm/Apocalypse_and_NWO.html List archives: http://cyberjournal.org/cj/show_archives/?lists=newslog Subscribe to low-traffic list: •••@••.••• In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.