By Armando Chaguaceda
I went for a walk this morning in bucolic Jalapa, Mexico. It’s not just another normal Sunday, because midterm elections are being held for congress and several state and local executive offices.
The Federal Electoral Institute endorsed my participation as an international observer in these elections, marked by citizen disenchantment and the threat of massive vote annulment and abstention.
For that reason I’m visiting several polling stations of the urban center, where the slow and scant influx of voters seems an indication of people’s indifference.
I spoke with the electoral officials seated in front of government palace, who described the atmosphere as generally normal, but blemished by the complaints of residents from other states who have seen their right to vote denied at tables specially set up for that effect.
Citizen dissatisfaction with the formal powers (political parties, government authorities, and electoral entities) and the real powers (business groups and the media) is palpable in Mexico.
The transition to democracy – conservative and incomplete – although expanded into the public sphere and guaranteeing electoral rotation, enthrones in power a system of increasingly similar parties, heirs of political office-buying and the authoritarianism characteristic of the political culture of the PRI (the Institutional Revolutionary Party).
Likewise, there are the monopolies, nurtured by neoliberal privatization, which promote like-minded candidates that gut or block any deeper reforms, such as the Media Act and the State Reform Act.
To make matters worse, organized crime permeates the nation’s economic and political structures, becoming a threat to all citizens and confronted by the government with security policies of dubious value.
The consequences of all of this have generated growing uneasiness, which today seems to be the force behind an ambiguous and spontaneous protest campaign known as voto nulo (or null vote). The movement appears capable of articulating the diversity of voices and citizen groups.
I want to believe that something living will come out of this transition from protest to electoral proposition. This could be a lesson for our countries and movements of the region at an increasingly difficult junction, one marked by electoral victories by the right, violent coups, messiahs of all ideological brands seeking reelection, and the erection of roadblocks against a true leadership role for the general population.
At the beginning of the year, I warned of an eminent conservative shift as well as the gradual decline of progressive experiences, born out of the coordination of social protest and institutional reform that has typified the past decade in Latin America. Today I’m returning to take another look at those notes, and – apprehensively – I believe I can verify that my predictions weren’t off.
The combined effects of the global crisis (whose national impacts are administered with difficulty by the “progressive” governments), the still unresolved demands for social policies of short-term assistance, and governmental and political party resistance to deepening participative innovations from the majority, may be warning lights at the end of the road.
Without deep structural transformations in these progressive governments and in Cuba, and with the visible strengthening of statist tendencies (authoritarian or social democratic) that limit the reach of civic empowerment, we won’t go very far.
The re-grouping of alliances between transnational capital – environmental predators hungry for new consumer markets and raw material sources – and homegrown elites are advancing toward the formation of dominant blocks with connections that are more solid than those that progressive forces can use to oppose them.
“Conservatism of the 21st century” today seems to be borrowing from two expressions in Latin America: On one hand, there is a soft version that limits the leading role of the popular masses and favors autocratic and reformist solutions. It justifies itself in the massive discrediting of neo-liberalism (amplified by the current crisis) and the results of broad social policies being applied from Caracas to Brasilia. On the other hand, the hard version of neo-neoliberal counter-reform relies on the powerful oligarchies and their intellectuals, who are expanding their activities within and outside our countries.
We human beings too frequently adapt to comfortable situations, which generate dangerous conditions of historical amnesia and sterility of critical thought. The left governments of the 20th century, despite the revolutionary epic and the daily sacrifice of so many people, wasted the opportunity to erect an alternative civilizing project to that of the class formerly in power.
We hope the same thing is not happening now, as the supporters of the oligarchy seem to be returning to their privileged positions while the left governments encourage the techno-bureaucratic solutions of the “control, discipline and growth” model.
Fortunately the game has not been decided; times and people are not static, and even the Organization of American States, a mirror of the changes, seems to be rejecting its servility of the past. However, a decade since the post-Washington Consensus shift, the cumulative tasks needed to overcome underdevelopment and to win independence along a post-capitalist road still wait to be completely carried out.