Synopsis: In the past decade, grassroots social movements played major roles in electing left-leaning governments throughout Latin America, but subsequent relations between the streets and the states remain uneasy. In Dancing with Dynamite, award-winning journalist Benjamin Dangl explores the complex ways these movements have worked with, against, and independently of national governments. From dynamite-wielding miners in Bolivia to the struggles of landless farmers in Brazil and Paraguay, Dangl discusses the dance between movements and states in seven different Latin American countries. Using original research, lively prose, and extensive interviews with workers, farmers, and politicians, he suggests how Latin American social movement strategies could be applied internationally to build a better world now.
By Benjamin Dangl
“Throughout much of the 1970s and early 1980s, South America saw a wave of military dictatorships come to power that crushed labor unions, political dissidents, students and regular citizens. Tens of thousands of people were tortured, murdered, or disappeared by regimes in a coordinated effort between dictatorships spanning the continent. This Washington-supported nightmare officially ended for many countries in the 1980s. Though the dictatorships were gone, their economic policies remained.
While dissidents at the time condemned the overt violence of the regimes, many protested the equally torturous effects of pro-corporate economic policies. In a letter investigative journalist Rodolfo Walsh sent to the Argentine junta immediately before his murder in 1977, he condemned the dictatorship’s violence against Argentines. After describing the crimes of the dictatorship – including murder, torture and disappearances – he said “the greater atrocity” was the regime’s economic policy, which “punishes millions of human beings through planned misery.” He was referring to neoliberalism.
Neoliberal economic recommendations involve slashing government spending on public works and services, such as education, healthcare, and transportation, and advocating for the privatization of public-owned services and businesses. (…) This ideology spread with the help of willing elites and leaders in South American governments, as well as pressure from international lenders such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which played a vital role in using debt to force crippling neo-liberal austerity measures on governments.
Therefore, many of the South American presidents’ actions, today and in the past, against social movements were due in part to the constraints they found themselves in as leaders of states enmeshed in global capitalism and beholden to Washington, the financial market, military powers, corporate interests, corrupt officials, bureaucracy, and the stranglehold of debt, among other factors.
While neoliberalism appealed to some South American policy-makers, the results for most people were disastrous. Throughout the 1960s and beyond, nascent neoliberal economists (like Milton Friedmann) used South America as their laboratory. In recent years, South Americans have lived the results. Instead of promised jobs, economic mobility, and expanded freedoms, neoliberalism has increasingly concentrated wealth in the hands of a few and impoverished millions. The region’s shift to the left in the recent decade is largely a response to this devastating economic ideology: voters sought an alternative, and presidential candidates promised to provide such alternative.”
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“Utopia is on the horizon. I go two steps, she moves two steps away. I walk ten steps and the horizon runs ten steps ahead. No matter how much I walk, I’ll never reach her. What good is utopia? That’s what: it’s good for walking.” – GALEANO