My research on climate change has spanned more than a decade, focusing primarily on NGOs within the climate movement. I have surveyed thousands of civil society participants at UN negotiations, and many of them have expressed frustration with the challenges of having a meaningful impact at the negotiations. NGOs participating in negotiations do so under very strict limitations and constraints. Whether it is controlling access to plenary session via tickets or shutting down protest events in the hallways, civil society is strictly controlled by the United Nations and must fit themselves them into existing institutional structures. Government delegates are increasingly sequestered behind closed doors for negotiations, limiting the degree of interaction with those from civil society (Orr 2006).
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
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
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
In Benjamin Dangl’s 2010 book Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America, he analyzes the tense interplay between social movements and elected left leaders. In countries such as Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, and Venezuela, we observe a growing trend of presidents elected with major support from social movements, but once in office, both movement and the president awkwardly struggle to master unfamiliar roles on this new dance floor. Presidents accustomed to taking uncompromising stances abruptly find themselves in pursuit of re-election, and the choices they make alienate segments of the base that elected them. Continue reading