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Pachamama

Counter-power and self-defense in Latin America

By Raúl Zibechi - ROARMag, January 29, 2018

In much of Latin America, the state does not protect its citizens. This is particularly true for the popular sectors, indigenous peoples, people of color and mestizos, who are exposed to the onslaught of drugs trafficking, criminal gangs, the private security guards of multinational corporations and, paradoxically, from state security forces such as the police and the army.

There have been several massacres in Mexico, for instance, such as the killing of 43 students in Ayotzinapa in September 2014 — and they are no exception. There continues to be impunity for the 30,000 who have disappeared and 200,000 who have died since Mexico declared its “war on drugs” in 2007. Slight differences aside, the current situation in Mexico is replicated across the region. In Brazil, 60,000 people meet a violent death every year, 70 percent of them of African descent, mostly youths from poor areas.

Against this backdrop of violence that threatens the lives of the poorest, some of the most affected have created self-defence measures and counter-powers. Initially, these are defensive, but ultimately develop power structures in parallel to the state. Since they are anchored in community practices, these self-defense groups are key to forming a form of power that differs from the hegemonic powers centered around state institutions. This essay examines them in more detail in order to understand this new trend in Latin American social movements.

The commons, the state and the public: A Latin American perspective

An interview with Daniel Chavez - TNI, August 2018

What are the commons and what is their political, social and economic relevance?

In recent years, many researchers and social activists from very different countries, like myself, have rediscovered the notion of the commons as a key idea to deepen social and environmental justice and democratise both politics and the economy. This reappropriation has meant questioning the vanguardist and hierarchical visions, structures and practices that for too long have characterised much of the left. This concept has resurfaced in parallel with the growing distrust in the market and the state as the main suppliers or guarantors of access to essential goods and services. The combined pressures of climate change and the crisis of capitalism that exploded in 2008 (a permanent and global crisis, which is no longer a series of conjunctural or cyclical recessions) force us to reconsider old paradigms, tactics and strategies. This means discarding both the obsolete models of planning and centralised production at the core of the so-called ‘real socialism’ of the last century and the state capitalism that we see today in China and a few other supposedly socialist countries, as well as the equally old and failed structures of present-day deregulated capitalist economies.

At first, the concept of the commons was disseminated by progressive intellectuals inspired by the work of Elinor Ostrom, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, in 2009. Ostrom, an American political scientist, was a progressive academic, but could hardly be classified as a radical thinker or as a leftist activist. In the last decade, academics and activists from very diverse ideological families of the left have reviewed her contributions and have engaged in intense theoretical debates about the potential of the commons, based on the analysis of many inspiring prefigurative experiences currently underway.

Ostrom’s main contribution was to demonstrate that many self-organised local communities around the world successfully managed a variety of natural resources without relying on market mechanisms or state institutions. Currently, it is possible to identify various perspectives in the theoretical debates around the commons, but in general they all converge on the importance of a third space between the state and the market (which should not be confused with the Third Way outlined by Anthony Giddens and adopted by politicians as dissimilar as Tony Blair in Britain, Bill Clinton in the United States, or Fernando Henrique Cardoso in Brazil as a hypothetical social democratic alternative to socialism and neoliberalism).

Nowadays, a quick search in Google about the commons results in millions of references. Most definitions tend to characterise commons as spaces for collective management of resources that are co-produced and managed by a community according to their own rules and norms. We (TNI) have recently published a report on the commons in partnership with the P2P Foundation, in which we refer to this concept as the combination of four basic elements: (1) material or immaterial resources managed collectively and democratically; (2) social processes that foster and deepen cooperative relationships; (3) a new logic of production and a new set of productive processes; and (4) a paradigm shift, which conceives the commons as an advance beyond the classical market/state or public/private binary oppositions.

Vivir Bien: Old Cosmovisions and New Paradigms

By Pablo Solón - Great Transition Initiative, February 2018

The concept of Vivir Bien (or Buen Vivir) gained international attention in the late twentieth century as people searched for alternatives to the rampage of neoliberalism. Imperfect translations of the Andean concepts of suma qamaña and sumaq kawsay, Vivir Bien and Buen Vivir reflect an indigenous cosmovision that emphasizes living in harmony with nature and one another. As these ideas’ popularity has grown, however, their meaning has been compromised. Governments in Bolivia and Ecuador incorporated Vivir Bien and Buen Vivir, respectively, into their constitutions and governing agendas on paper, but not in spirit. Rather than radical alternatives to the dominant paradigm of development and progress, these concepts have become new branding for (un)sustainable development. The lessons are clear: to avoid state cooptation, truly revolutionary change must be based on emancipation and self-determination from below. And to succeed in our interdependent world, proponents of Vivir Bien must link up with advocates of complementary global movements on the path of a better future for all.

Digging Free of Poverty

By Thea Riofrancos - Jacobin, August 15, 2017

On March 8, 2012, a few hundred marchers set out from Pangui, Ecuador, a town in the southeastern Amazon, near the construction site of the massive, open-pit Mirador Mine. Just days earlier, a consortium of Chinese state-owned companies had signed a contract to exploit the mine’s copper reserves, the first agreement of its kind in the country’s history.

The demonstrators zigzagged through the southern Andes, where more mines are planned throughout the highland wetlands, which supply water to rural farmers and urban consumers. Reinforcements from the northern Amazon joined the march along the way, intentionally traversing the route of crude oil that has for decades flowed through notoriously faulty pipelines. After a seven-hundred-kilometer trek, on foot and in unwieldy caravans, the two-week long March for Water, Life, and the Dignity of Peoples reached its end in Quito, where the state coffers, voters, and armed forces form the complex of economic incentives, democratic legitimacy, and military repression that activists contend keeps the country’s extractive model in motion.

In their words and imagery, marchers proposed an alternative model: a post-extractive vision in which the polity was not a machine that ran on fossil fuels but a plural collectivity of cultures and ecosystems.

By the time they arrived in the capital city, their numbers had swelled to twenty-five thousand.

Venezuelan Social Movements Converge on Supreme Court, Demand Injunction Against Mining Arc

By Lucas Koerner - Venezuela Analysis, June 5, 2016

Caracas, June 5, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Activists from grassroots organizations protested outside the Venezuelan Supreme Court Tuesday to demand that the body put a halt to a controversial mega-mining project spearheaded by the Maduro government.

The demonstration was organized by the Platform for the Nullity of the Mining Arc, an alliance of diverse movements and leading public intellectuals that emerged in response to a law authorizing open-pit mining in 12 percent of the nation’s territory. 

In February, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro used emergency economic decree powers granted by the Supreme Court to declare nearly 112 square kilometers of the mineral-rich eastern Amazonian state of Bolivar a “strategic development zone”, which will be opened to as many as 150 national and transnational firms for the extraction of gold, iron, diamonds, and coltan.

The government has defended the initiative as a necessary step towards a post-oil productive economy amid a severe economic crisis triggered by the collapse of global crude prices, the principal source of Venezuela’s foreign currency earnings. 

Nonetheless, the project has sparked vocal opposition from prominent leftist academics and former high officials under late President Hugo Chávez, including ex-Environment Minister Ana Elisa Osorio, internationally-renowned sociologist Edgardo Lander, Major General Cliver Alcala, former Minister of Education and Electricity Hector Navarro, Indigenous University of Tauca Rector Esteban Emilio Mosonyi, ex-Commerce Minister Gustavo Marquez, and former 1999 constitutional assembly member Freddy Gutierrez.

Also raising their voices in outrage over the decree are a plethora of indigenous, environmental, eco-feminist, and socialist collectives, who rallied together with the ex-officials outside the Supreme Court in Caracas in order to deliver a formal nullity plea to the body requesting an injunction against the mining project on constitutional grounds.

Evo Morales Greenlights TIPNIS Road, Oil and Gas Extraction in Bolivia’s National Parks

By Emily Achtenberg - Upside Down World, June 29, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

On May 20, Bolivian President Evo Morales issued Supreme Decree 2366, opening up Bolivia’s national parks—which are protected under the Constitution as ecological reserves—to oil and gas extraction. Just two weeks later, Morales proclaimed that his on-again, off-again plan to build a highway through the TIPNIS national park and indigenous territory in the Bolivian Amazon will finally be realized.

The coincidence of these announcements was not lost on TIPNIS road opponents, who have long suspected that the advancement of oil and gas interests is a major impetus behind the road. Within the TIPNIS, four areas covering 30% of the park’s territory are subject to long-standing hydrocarbons concessions. The Securé block is virtually adjacent to the proposed road.

In fact, 11 of Bolivia’s 22 national park reserves are overlapped by existing gas and oil concessions to transnationals like Brazil’s Petrobras, Spain’s Repsol, and France’s Total.  Since the “nationalization” of hydrocarbons in 2006, these companies have operated through joint ventures with YPFB, the state energy company.

Like the TIPNIS, many of these reserves are collectively titled to indigenous groups who have inhabited them for centuries, relying on their ancestral lands for subsistence.  In some cases, hydrocarbons concessions cover 70-90% of the park’s territory. These parks could become virtually extinct once the contracts are operational.

While the land area conceded to gas and oil companies in Bolivia has vastly expanded under Morales—up from 7.2 million acres in 2007 to 59.3 million in 2012—activity in the national parks has been largely paralyzed due to the lack of a coherent regulatory framework for extraction—until now. Under the new Supreme Decree, permits for hydrocarbons extraction can be granted under existing or new contracts, as long as the company promises to mitigate any adverse environmental impacts, and contributes 1% of its investment towards poverty reduction and economic development in the affected area.

Critics say these measures won’t begin to compensate for the true costs of hydrocarbons exploitation, especially since the environmental and parks agencies responsible for administering them are strongly biased towards extraction. According to Jorge Campanini of the non-profit research organization CEDIB, Supreme Decree 2366 will be a "terminal sentence” for protected areas already under assault from illegal mining, deforestation, and land invasions by coca-growers.

Morales’s twin announcements highlight a central challenge and contradiction for the  MAS (Movement Towards Socialism) government, which has relied heavily on oil and gas extraction to finance its successful redistributive programs. This strategy has increasingly put Morales at odds with indigenous, environmental, and other civil society organizations who argue that extractivism destroys nature and communities, perpetuates dependence on transnationals, and obscures the need to develop a sustainable economic model for the future.

In contrast, the MAS government defends its extractivist and developmentalist policies as a necessary means to alleviate poverty in the present, and to create the resources for a post-extractive economy that will transition towards “communitarian socialism.”  Political scientist George Gray Molina has noted that the Bolivian government’s effective take of hydrocarbons taxes and royalties, at 72%, is among the highest in Latin America.[1]

These contrasting visions crystallized in 2011-12 around the TIPNIS controversy, the most divisive conflict of Morales’s nine-year tenure. The protracted dispute ruptured the alliance of indigenous, campesino, and urban social movements that originally brought Morales to power in 2005.

On Climate Satyagraha: Interview with Quincy Saul

By Javier S Castro - CounterPunch, April 10, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s. 

The socio-ecological catastrophe that is global capitalism is clear for all to see. We are in dire need of an alternative system which does not ceaselessly destroy nature and oppress and impoverish the vast majority of humankind, including our future generations, whose lives may very well be highly constrained if not outright canceled due to prevailing environmental destructiveness. It is in this sense of contemplating and reflecting on alternatives to capitalist depravity that I was fortunate enough recently to discuss the present moment and some of the possible means of displacing hegemonic power with Quincy Saul of Ecosocialist Horizons (EH). Quincy and the rest of the members of this collective have envisioned a compelling means of overcoming the environmental crisis: that is, through climate Satyagraha.

The latest biological studies show a decline of a full half of animal populations on Earth since 1970, and an ever-burgeoning list of species and classes of vertebrates at immediate risk of extinction: a quarter of all marine species, a quarter of all mammals, and nearly half of all amphibians are on the edge.1 Moreover, two independent studies published in Science and Anthropocene Review in January conclude that the present rate of environmental destruction essentially threatens the fate of complex life on the planet.2 Meanwhile, global carbon emissions continue in relentless expansion, with each new year bringing a new broken record, whether in terms of total greenhouse gas emissions, average global temperatures, or both. Truly, then, this is a critical moment in human history, one which could lead to utter oblivion, as through the perpetuation of business as usual, or alternately amelioration and emancipation, as through social revolution.

Quincy, could you share your assessment of the global climate-justice movements at present, some seven months after the People’s Climate March (PCM)—a development of which you were famously highly critical—and five months after yet another farcical example of the theater of absurd that is the international climate-negotiation process, as seen at the Twentieth Conference of Parties (COP20) in Lima, Peru?

Thank you Javier for compiling those statistics. There’s such an immense range of data out there, and it’s important to hone in on the key information. In terms of the climate-justice movement, the problem I see is that the whole doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts. So you have this amazing, fearless, courageous work that’s happening on local levels, all over the world—too numerous to even start listing. When it comes to resistance struggle, people are resisting mines, pipelines, and destructive development projects from the Altiplano of Peru to central Indian jungles, the Amazon River, indigenous reservations in the U.S., the factory-cities of China, the Niger Delta—uncountable acts of courage that people are taking to defend their ecosystems and their lives, whether climate change is the central issue, or it’s about defense of a single ecosystem. And then on the prefiguration side, there are people on every continent who are working really hard laying the foundations for the next world-system. Seed-saving, agroecologies—people are combining ancestral productive projects with appropriate technologies, building community resilience, and constructing community democracy in the context of war and natural disaster. So this is hopeful and wonderful work that has be encouraged. But somehow it’s not adding up.

Indigenous Anarchist Critique of Bolivia’s ‘Indigenous State': Interview with Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui

By Bill Weinberg - Upside Down World, September 7, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Originally published on June 7, 2014 at World War 4 Report, with a shorter version on May 26, 2014 at Indian Country Today Media Network.

Bolivian historian and social theorist Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui is author of the classic work Oppressed But Not Defeated: Peasant Struggles Among the Aymara and Quechua in Bolivia, and has recently emerged as one of the country’s foremost critics of President Evo Morales from an indigenous perspective. Indian Country Today Media Network spoke with her in New York City, where she recently served as guest chair of Latin American studies at New York University’s King Juan Carlos Center. The complete text of the interview appears for the first time on World War 4 Report.

What are you doing here in New York City?

I have been invited as chair of Latin American studies by the King Juan Carlos Center, which is sort of funny, it sounds like a horrible place for me. But Spain should give us back a little bit of what they took! And my salary is like a millionth part of what they owe us.

And what are you doing now in Bolivia?

I used to teach at the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, which is the biggest public university in Bolivia. And I was very much involved in university politics, because I was trying to fight corruption in the university. In 2005, I had a 15-day-long hunger strike, and we managed to kick the dean out. But he left a lot of corruptos were still there, and I was forced to retire.

Since then, I have been doing community things, trying to network and create micro-politics… Since I wrote my study on anarchism, I discovered the importance of community to politics, as opposed to the individualist liberal conception…

What was the title?

Los Artesanos Libertarios y la Ética de Trabajo (Libertarian Artisans and the Work Ethic), based on oral history.

What kind of artisans?

Shoe-makers, carpenters, masons. In La Paz. They founded the Local Workers Federation. The foundation date is uncertain. We more or less think it was 1926 or ’27. ..

An anarcho-syndicalist federation?

Yes. It actually started with discussion circles as early as 1908—purely workers, without any intellectuals. Only intellectuals that were workers at the same time. I discovered that my great-uncle, from an estranged part of the family—because he was a worker, a mechanic, so my mother wanted nothing to do with him—was an ideologue of this movement.

This federation still exists?

No, no, no. It was destroyed by the MNR [National Revolutionary Movement, which took power in 1952]. Because under the Marxist view of the labor movement at the time, the artisans are not workers, and therefore they deserve to be erased from history! Only “proletarians” count, only the slaves of the machine count.

The final blow was in 1964, with the dictatorship. Only one union remained from the Federation, it was all-female union of flower vendors, in the Mercado de Floristas. We managed to find them still alive and conduct these interviews in 1985, ’86. And that archive, which is 100 cassettes, I have been working full-time digitizing here in New York…

And this relates to your current community work?

Yes, I am still working with artisans, with urban self-reliance groups in La Paz, ecological and feminist groups, working in the qhatu, or traditional peasant fair or market. This is a very ancient tradition form colonial times, in which indigenous communities used the market to prevent being used by the market. There is always a barter section, negotiation of prices, at the local level. It is a market that is not depersonalized; it is a conscious market, where people are there, not just prices and commodities. It is against the supermarket, against the mall. It is against the corporations and brands and selling things that are pre-packaged. You harvest lentils from your own garden, and you never put it in a plastic package. So the qhatu is a form of resistance to the world market. It is resisting the market with market—it is almost like a vaccination!

I am part of a collective that produced hand-made books and hand-woven bags frmo recycled plastic, as well as lettuce and potatoes and fava beans and sweet peas and medicinal herbs. Grown in community gardens in La Paz. And we sell them at the traditional markets in La Paz.

And we have made campaigns—a campaign against plastic bags, a campaign to promote walking instead of taking trucks or buses or cars. Walking is very difficult in La Paz if it’s uphill, because of the altitude. So we have a slogan, Camina La Paz, aun que sea la bajada—Walk through La Paz, even if it’s only downhill! At least just get a bus ticket one way!

So we try to link every public issue where human rights, indigenous rights, and the rights of the Pachamama are involved. So we joined with TIPNIS, we joined CONAMAQ, we joined the support network for the human rights office that was almost taken over by the government. We are defending the CONAMAQ people who were kicked out of their office… We are just there for them, if they need shelter for the night or a good breakfast, we go and do that. We are not many, but we do whatever we can.

We call ourselves Colectivo Ch’ixi—from the Aymara word meaning “stain.” We are mestizos, but we have a strong Indian stain in our souls. We are “impure.” We are not “pure” people. And we have to recognize also that there is a European stain in our bodies and in our subjectivities. And the good part of that stain is the idea of freedom and individual rights. From the Indian part we get the idea of community and of cycle, intimacy with the cycles of nature. But we do recognize the value of individual freedoms and rights—sexual rights, the right to have a sexual identity that is different from the rest, or of abortion. All this comes from the best contributions of European civilization and the Enlightenment.

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