A wave of popular uprisings has swept over Latin America in the past few months. While “taking it to the streets” is not uncommon in the region, what seems unique to these recent uprisings is both their scope and intensity. In Chile, for example, what started as discontent over an increase in the price of public transport quickly turned into the largest protests in the country since the revolts against Pinochet’s dictatorship in the 1980s.
Chilean protests quickly came to symbolize opposition against wider injustices
related to steep and rising inequality, cost of living, and lack of economic
opportunity. While these large-scale protests have no central leadership or single
union, group or organization behind them, the country’s indigenous populations,
namely the Mapuche, have played a particularly visible role in the uprisings.
In the following
piece, Patricia Rodriguez, Associate Professor of Politics at Ithaca
College, draws on her research with Christian
Martínez Neira and David
Carruthers to give an insightful account of the role that indigenous
movements and resistance play in these recent popular mobilizations and the
territorial, political and cultural claims they articulate.
We are excited to feature a new group of posts this month on contemporary activism in Latin America. Essays in this round address protest movements in Brazil, focusing primarily on the most recent wave of demonstrations that begin in June of 2013. Many thanks to the following contributors:
John Burdick, Syracuse University (essay)
Ann Mische, University of Notre Dame (essay)
Federico Rossi, Tulane University (essay)
Luciana Tatagiba and Karin Blikstad, University of Campinas, Brazil (essay)
The nature and the political meanings of the June protests are not yet clear. The streets of the major cities in Brazil have been taken by a massive number of people not seen since the impeachment of president Fernando Collor de Melo in 1992. At that time, the protesters had a very clear goal: to remove the president from office after a corruption scandal and a series of unpopular measures. The recent protests are much more heterogeneous in terms of participants, demands, and strategies in the streets, mainly regarding the use of violence. From very different point of views, analysts, activists, and politicians try hard to understand the current mobilization’s demands, meanings, and possible outcomes. In this article we try to highlight the relationship between the current street demonstrations and the Brazilian Left, especially the Left organized around the Workers’ Party. We’ll refer mainly to the protests in São Paulo, which we have followed more closely. Continue reading
The Movimiento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST)–the Rural Landless Workers Movement–is the main social movement organization (SMO) of the land reform/tenure movement in Brazil. The origin and characteristics of the MST are traceable to three processes: the social consequences of the Brazilian modernization of agriculture in the 1980-1990s, the emergence of Liberation Theology in the 1970s, and the legacy of pre-1964 coup land struggles.
Origin and goal. The MST was founded in 1984 as a result of the coordination of peasants’ local struggles for land. In 1975, during the last authoritarian regime, the Brazilian Catholic Church created the ecumenical Commissão Pastoral da Terra (CPT), the commission for the organization of rural Comunidades Eclesais de Base (CEB). Inspired by Liberation Theology, the purpose of the CPT was to organize peasants for land reform (Poletto and Canuto 2002). Continue reading
As Mimi Keck and Rebecca Abers described in a thoughtful set of posts here last month, Brazil has recently experienced its biggest national protest wave since the impeachment movement in 1992. Coming as they did on the heels of the Gezi Park protests in Turkey, and beginning to ebb just as Egyptians were returning to the street in huge numbers (with tragic consequences), the June 2013 protests were, in equal measures, exhilarating, perplexing, and troubling. Keck and Abers have provided excellent discussions of the historical context and political questions raised by the protest. I’d like to take their discussion a step further to ponder some of the analytical and tactical issues that I saw in play, focusing in particular on the intense rejection of partisanship that was one of the hallmarks of these protests. In the process I hope to raise some broader questions about the relationship between social movements, political parties, and institutional politics the recent wave of global protest. Continue reading
It has by now become commonplace to interpret the June Days of Brazil (the surprisingly massive mobilizations that occurred in over a hundred cities between June 6 and July 1, 2013 to protest government failure and fraud, and to call upon the state to fix Brazil’s broken public services), as an expression of deep-seated dissatisfaction on the part of the new middle class, fruit of the PT’s policies over the past decade, now paying up to a quarter of their income in taxes, with the sorry state of their nation’s public services. It has also been common to point to the horrifically wasteful sums of public monies being spent on the mega-sporting events of the World Cup and Olympics as triggers for these mobilizations. While I think these interpretations are basically correct, I want to focus in what follows less on what prompted the mobilizations, and more on what they may mean for the future. Continue reading
Recently I went with friends to visit Alberto Patishtán Gómez, a Tsotsil indigenous schoolteacher and social activist from the Chiapas highlands municipality of El Bosque who is 13 years into his 60-year prison sentence on charges of participating in the 2000 killing of seven police officers.
The case of “El Profe” Patishtán illustrates many aspects of contemporary Latin American social movements that find it necessary to continue the struggle for justice outside of state institutions, even after the supposed metamorphosis of the authoritarian regimes of yesteryear. Supporters say Patishtán was framed on preposterous charges because he is an activist. He is an adherent of the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle, a sympathizer of the Zapatista movement. The 1994 rebellion of mostly Maya indigenous, poor peasants in the southeast corner of Mexico was part of an upswing in the Latin American cycle of protest going into the 21st century (Stahler-Sholk, Vanden & Kuecker 2008). The Zapatista rebellion has struck a chord with a wider disillusionment with the political class that continues to fuel resistance across Latin America and beyond, as seen in recent creative protests from Spain to Turkey to Brazil. Continue reading
The news out of Latin America today shows protest alive and well in many quarters: the student movement for educational reform in Chile and Colombia, the indignados and #YoSoy132 movements in Mexico, the indigenous movements against mining in Ecuador, and more recently, the movement against national corruption in Brazil during the lead-up to the World Cup. For years, social movement scholarship on Latin America focused on the leftist movements of the 1970s and 1980s. But for this month’s dialogue, we asked contributors to discuss how contemporary Latin American movements are both building on and moving away from past movements. How are the goals of today’s movements, their types of tactics, and the involved actors on both sides different or similar to past movements? How does drawing attention to today’s movements challenge assumptions both about Latin America and about social movement activism more generally? Moreover, most of these movements are decidedly local and have local idiosyncrasies and grievances, but they also seem to share larger themes with the rest of the recent global movements. What lessons, innovations, and/or conclusions can social movement scholars draw from this recent wave of global south movements? We are posting a few essays now and will add others periodically throughout the month. Many thanks to our distinguished contributors.
Rebecca Neaera Abers, University of Brasília (essay)
Francisco Dominguez, Middlesex University (essay)
Paul Dosh, Macalester College (essay)
Margaret Keck, Johns Hopkins University (essay)
Salvador Martí i Puig, University of Salamanca (essay)
Richard Stahler-Sholk, Eastern Michigan University (essay)
This post and its companion piece by Rebecca Abers draw heavily upon an ongoing email conversation about the Brazilian protests between Rebecca Abers, Kathryn Hochstetler, Margaret Keck, and Marisa von Bülow, and these essays have benefited from all of their suggestions.
At its height, the surprising wave of street demonstrations that rocked Brazil in June reached over 100 cities and involved well over a million people. Among foreign observers, it seemed to invite comparison with the almost concurrent demonstrations in Turkey, triggered by urban renewal plans for Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park, the Occupy movement in the US, Chilean student protests, and Argentina’s gigantic panelaços, to say nothing of the Arab Spring. In almost all of these protest events, young people played a prominent—even predominant—role, and social media was widely used to mobilize people to come out onto the streets and provide information and images. There has clearly been diffusion of symbols, styles, and to some extent a rejection of traditional rally repertoires involving podiums, speakers, loudspeakers, and the like. On a host of social network sites, participants have condemned leaders and hierarchy, embraced horizontality and self-representation, and disavowed representative institutions and organizations. Continue reading
This post and its companion piece by Margaret Keck draw heavily upon an ongoing email conversation about the Brazilian protests between Rebecca Abers, Kathryn Hochstetler, Margaret Keck, and Marisa von Bülow, and these essays have benefited from all of their suggestions.
Brazilian blogs, talk shows, and op-ed sections have been flooded in recent weeks with attempts to make sense of the sudden wave of protests that swept the country in June. Most commentators interpret the protests as an outpouring of frustration on the part of ordinary Brazilians with the political system that has emerged since the transition from authoritarian rule in late 1980s. That interpretation is certainly correct. But the protests are also a message from organized civil society, which has undergone important changes in the last decade. Continue reading