Panel sheds light on Latin American social revolts

Solidarity. Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy

Protests rage on

As mass protests against neoliberal economic reforms, violent oppression, and military coups in a number of Latin American countries turn deadly, the University of Regina hosted a panel discussion about the ongoing social revolts in Ecuador, Bolivia, and Chile. Dr. Liisa North, Visiting Professor at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences and the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar; Dr. Miguel Sánchez, Associate Dean and Associate Professor at the University of Regina Faculty of Social Work; Dr. Simon Granovsky-Larsen, Associate Professor in the U of R Dept. of Politics and International Studies; and David Gray-Donald, journalist and Publisher of Briarpatch Magazine, spoke about the causes and consequences of the people’s uprisings, as well as Canada’s role in the destabilization of the region.

North, who co-edited the 2018 book Dominant Elites in Latin America: From Neoliberalism to the ‘Pink Tide,’ spoke about the protests that took place in Ecuador between Oct. 3 and Oct. 14.

“For eleven days Quito . . . and other cities in Ecuador were paralysed by protests against the elimination of a subsidy on diesel fuel and gasoline,” North said. The end of the subsidy, along with massive cuts to wages and benefits for public sector workers, was part of a deal with the IMF to obtain a loan of more than four billion dollars to cover the country’s fiscal deficit. North said an estimated 35,000 people showed up for the largest demonstration, including student groups, labour unions, and 20,000 people from Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE). Initially peaceful, the protests soon turned violent and North said that by the time CONAIE and President Lenin Moreno reached a deal that saw the return of the fuel subsidy and the end of austerity measures, 20 people were dead and more that 1,340 were injured in altercations with the police.

Gray-Donald, who also spoke at a solidarity march for Chile and Bolivia on Nov. 16, said the coup in Bolivia was “anti-Indigenous” as well as being about resource extraction. Although Bolivia is a majority Indigenous nation, recently exiled President Evo Morales was its first Indigenous leader since the Spanish colonized it in the 1500s. He added that mining – an industry that Canada plays an enormous role in – is also a huge factor in the region’s destabilization. In addition to silver, Bolivia is thought to have around 70 per cent of the world’s lithium, a key component in many green technologies, as well as large stores of indium, a component in LCD screens.

In Chile, where a group of high school students jumping over subway turnstiles in protest of a hike in transit fares sparked a fire that has turned into a full-scale uprising, Sánchez said it remains unclear how the government of Sebastián Piñera will manage the crisis. Far from being just about subway fares, the situation in Chile is rooted in what Sanchez called “unrestrained capitalism” and massive inequality. Although Chile is often held up as an example of stability and prosperity in Latin America, hidden behind the economic growth is massive inequality – Chile is one of the top 20 most unequal countries in the world – and the staggering amount of personal debt owed by lower- and middle-class Chileans. “Everything is privatized,” Sanchez said. From health care to education to water to pensions, Chileans are paying out of pocket and their debt payments are frequently more than they earn every month. Although 23 people are dead, thousands injured, and at least 230 people who have been shot in the eye and blinded by rubber bullets and pellets fired by police, Sanchez said that there has been “absolute silence” from Canada, though this country is quick to condemn Latin American countries that criticize U.S. foreign policy. “Canada’s concern with human rights ends where Canadian corporate interests begin.”

Granovsky-Larsen said that none of this should come as a surprise. “There has been a series of coups since 2004,” he said, starting with the US-led overthrow of democratically elected Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He said that the neoliberal governance model that is taking the place of leftist governments is backlash against the progressive demands that accompanied the so-called “Pink Tide,” which saw a revolutionary shift away from neoliberalism in Latin America between 2000 and 2015. He said that each of these coups has had “the blessing” of the Canadian government. He said that it’s important for Canadians to “double down” on solidarity organizing. “It’s just as important now,” as it ever was, he said. “It has just as much potential.”

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