From the September-October issue of News & Letters
by Eugene Walker
Though Latin America’s “Left” governments undeniably face threats from various neoliberal right-wing forces, often backed by the U.S., they have, at the same time, undertaken a developmentalist, statist economic strategy that runs roughshod over grassroots social movements—Indigenous, campesino, environmentalist, and others. These governments could never have come to power without the social movements’ mobilizations, yet in power, these state bureaucracies—all forms of state-capitalism—are using vague expressions of anti-capitalism, socialism, resource nationalism, anti-imperialism, etc., etc., to impose developmentalism on their populations, often in collaboration with neoliberalism.
‘SOCIALISM’ FROM ABOVE
In Bolivia, Evo Morales, claiming extractivism as an anti-poverty strategy, has signed decrees that that open up Bolivia’s national parks—supposedly protected under the Constitution as ecological reserves—to oil and gas extraction. This was followed by a decision to complete a highway through the TIPNIS national park and Indigenous territory in the Amazon.
Land area conceded to gas and oil companies has vastly expanded under Morales, up from 7.2 million acres in 2007 to 59.3 million in 2012. Morales and the Movement Towards Socialism government argue that this is needed to obtain finances to overcome Bolivia’s extreme poverty. But all decisions are made from above, with no genuine consultation with the people most affected by environmental and human destruction.
INDIGENOUS PEOPLE VS. PETRO-STATE
In Ecuador, Rafael Correa’s developmentalist economic program seems intent on transforming the country into a petro-state, as well as additional resource extraction through mining. Protesting Indigenous Shuar activists have been murdered.
This August is witnessing important Left protests against Correa’s policies: The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador began a march from the southeastern Amazonian province of Zamora Chinchipe to the capital city of Quito. There they joined a general strike called by the Workers United Front in opposition to the government’s labor policies. Tens of thousands of Indigenous activists, unionists, and environmentalists blocked roads in a number of cities.
In Venezuela, statism united with statism as President Nicolas Maduro issued a decree that grants the Chinese state-owned Sinohydro, the largest hydroelectric construction firm in the world, a 30-year lease to exploit the immense coal reserves of the Perija mountain range in Zulia state. In protest, activists arrived at the Ministry of Energy and Mining in Caracas to demand repeal.
“The mining will harm the ecosystem, the water, the crops, its all related,” noted Monica Saltarin of the Popular Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Union. “What are our children and grandchildren going to eat, and their grandchildren? What water will we drink?” In place of coal mining, social movements are demanding that the Bolivarian government invest in solar and wind power.