Latin America: 2015 -2016 Centrality of Social Conflict

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By RAUL ZIBECHI / Source: Resumen Latinoamericano / The Dawn / January 2016. Although the most popular news in 2015 were the Brazilian crisis and the electoral victories of the opposition in Venezuela and Argentina, for many Latin Americans the most important issue in their daily lives were the resistance to the extractivist model and the defense of their territories and ways of living. Everything indicates that community and popular conflicts will be one of the key issues that will be presented throughout this year that has just begun. The growth of the resistance takes place in all countries, both those with conservative and progressive governments, in rural areas as in cities, between farmers, informal and formal workers.There are several causes, but in addition to the traditional open pit mining, monoculture and large infrastructure resistance, the first signs of a new crisis that is already affecting people living from their work, throughout the rising prices, falling employment and wages, and increased job insecurity.


There are old conflicts that are acquiring now, new profiles. Weeks ago Mapuche communities that are close to the city of Freire, in the Araucania, occupied for the second time in a month the Quepe International Airport to complain about environmental, cultural and territorial damage, generated by the airport located in Mapuche ancestral territory. On December 29, President Michelle Bachelet made an almost secret trip to southern Chile, the first of her current mandate. Apparently the visit was carried out to install a working group with organizations of Mapuche’s people, but things went backwards because no one understood the reasons of her secret visit and she received harsh criticism from several organizations, including the Association of Municipalities with Mapuche Mayors.

In Ecuador the most relevant issue was the indigenous and urban workers uprising in August. Organized mobilizations were carried out to reject the claim of the government of Rafael Correa to nationalize intercultural bilingual education which was in the hands of indigenous organizations and of constitutional reforms that prevent the unionization of workers in state enterprises. The strength of the uprising toppled Correa’s popularity, who announced in November that he will not stand for reelection as he had decided earlier.

In Argentina, the women’s movement made huge demonstrations, the largest in its history. Last June, the mobilization called “Not One Less” (Ni una menos), against gender violence brought together more than 300,000 people in Buenos Aires and hundreds of thousands more in other Argentine cities, which were the largest in the region. 30th National Conference of Women held in October in Mar del Plata city gathered 65,000 women, tripling the annual attendance at this event held since the return of democracy in 1983. This overflow is announcing that the next cycle of struggles have a female role, which can change the mechanisms of organization and action of the popular movement.

In Paraguay the high school students and university student’s movement broke up rejection corruption.and demanding more budget for education. On September 18, there was a massive mobilization of students which broke urban passivity against the neoliberal and repressive government of Horacio Cartes. Three days later they occupied the National University of Asuncion denouncing the use of university structures and public money for education that the ruling Colorado Party has been doing since Stroessner’s dictatorship (1954-1989).

The mobilization brought down several deans and the rector, who not only resigned but was prosecuted, and also some corrupt student leaders who received money from power were reported. In this new climate, on December 21 and 22 was held a general strike called by the Plenary of Trade Union Federations, with the participation of old movements as farmers and workers, and new ones as students and residents of the ‘Bañados’ community, urban fringe on the Paraguay river, which have become a reference of social struggles and gathers informal garbage collectors, women rearing pets and the poorest and more vulnerable ones of the city.

In Bolivia, one of the most mobilized countries in the region, there was a long struggle in Potosi civic committees in demand of outputs for the extractive model, due to the fall in international commodity prices.

Uruguay saw the largest popular mobilization in a decade against Tabare Vazquez’s ‘essence’ decree on educational services, which involves penalties for teachers who carry out strikes, demanding higher education budget. The rejection of this kind of measure was so strong that the government had to back down.

In Peru the resistance to extractive model was focused on the south, but this situation can be described as a “mine war”, where hundreds of communities are showing their willingness to prevent further spreading destruction to convert rocks in goods (GARA, October 4, 2015).

In Brazil we attended a large student movement in opposition to the reorganization of secondary centers determined by the neoliberal governor of Sao Paulo, Geraldo Alckmin, which consisted of regrouping students, closing 93 schools and transferring 311,000 students who live in the periphery. Thousands of young people occupied 196 study centers and took to the streets, forcing the governor to suspend the reform aimed at saving public resources.

The importance of this movement is that it shows that the energy of the Days of June 2013 (millions of people  demonstrating for a month in 350 cities) is far from being exhausted. It reappears in the most unlikely places: in the favelas, where social and cultural groups are created to resist military-police occupation; among the poorest layers of formal workers, as the victorious strike of garbage collectors in Rio de Janeiro during Carnival 2015.

Finally, solidarity with the relatives of Ayoztinapa’s 43 missing toured Mexico, Latin America and most of the world throughout the year. It is too early to know if the war against the underdog is changing its course due to the strength of hundreds of thousands of Mexicans. For now, we know that the brutal repression that has already cost over one hundred thousand dead and thirty thousand disappeared, has not been able to stop the resistance as shown by the more than 300 environmental conflicts only in Mexico

We are facing a bend in recent history in Latin America, and probably in the world. In the ongoing realignment, the elites plan to cause the greatest harm to the popular classes to remain on the top, without losing any of their privileges. It is not possible to know if they will achieve it. But what we do certainly know is that they will have to face millions of people who are not willing to have their lives or their property robbed. Maybe it is the first step in  designing  the NEW WORLD that everyone dreams of, based on the good living for each one, in harmony with the nature and all living beings.



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