On the 15th of August, president Rafael Correa of ecuador announced the authorisation of the extraction of petroleum from Yasuni National Park. The decision will have to be voted on by the country’s congress, but should it agree, it brings to an end one of Correa’s emblematic decisions on matters of environmental policy. In 2007, before the UN, Correa launched the Yasuni-ITT project, in which he committed his government to the interdiction of petroleum exploration in the Park, in exchange for international financial compensation (some 3.6 million dollars, half of the estimated value of promised 850 million barrels of oil). The result would be the preservation of Yasuni Park’s extraordinary biodiversity and the human communities that make the region their home. The money requested however never materialized (only 13.3 million dollars were raised) and Rafael Correa’s original proposal with it.
That the future of a tropical forest should depend on the value of the resources to be extracted from it is odd, but it is the oddity or obscenity of capitalism itself. However, that Correa’s initiative should have been deemed positive, or even “leftist”, is no less odd. And yet it is perhaps emblematic of so much that has characterised the leftist governments of south america of the last 15 years, a “movement” that Hugo Chavez once hopefully referred to as 21st century socialism. Protests against the policies of such governments by indigenous peoples, workers, students, the unemployed, the homeless, the landless, and so on, during this same period and ongoing, have always served as sceptical reminders that not all is well with the revolution. And this holds perhaps even more emphatically for the anarchist left.
What follows is a short essay by spain’s Carlos Taibo on this very issue, that we translate and share.
The latin american models: a libertarian reflection
The debate is open: do the leftist governments of Latin America offer an inspirational model that would provide answers to the many dead ends that we find ourselves in, in the opulent North or, on the contrary, and fireworks aside, should we remain cautious in relation to what these governments do and signify? Let us not forget that for many who take the first stand, that the experiments, like those of Venezuela, Ecuador or Bolivia, demonstrate the possibility of respecting the norms of liberal democracy – in these countries, there are reasonably pluralistic elections – while at the same time implementing social policies that are changing scenarios in ways that are truly and fortunately benefitting the disadvantaged.
Before taking up the question, allow me to say that from my perspective, this is not a matter of denying that the governments in question have outlined policies preferable to those of their predecessors. It would be equally problematic to reject dogmatically and aprioristically all that they signify, especially given the harassment that they suffer at the hands of the powerful and which they relieve. Lastly, it would not be wise to close one’s eyes before certain eventually stimulating movements that appeal to options of self-management or to projects linked not to governments, but to indigenous communities and their unique forms of organisation and conduct.
However, having noted the above, and to get directly to the most important point, we are I believe under the obligation to ask ourselves if experiences like the Venezuelan, the Ecuadorian or the Bolivian configure a suggestive and convincing model for those of us who find inspiration in a libertarian worldview. And the answer, which seems to me obvious, is negative. And it is so, if we can so put it, for five reasons. The first of these emphasises the visibly personal character of the models here under discussion, constructed in large measure from top to bottom, and in some cases, in addition, dependent on the armed forces. In a world such as ours, the libertarian world, in which there is a pride in and an explicit rejection of leaderships and personalisms, it is difficult to accept projects that evidently move in an opposing direction.
I have to underline, secondly, that this is not just a matter of leaderships and hierarchies: the other side of the issue has to do with the weakness of the formulas, in the models here under scrutiny, which should permit, beyond a mere control from the grass roots, the open development of projects of self-management. To this may be added the many illusions that derive from the evident acceptance of the norms of liberal democracy, and one in particular: that which holds that there is no problem in delegating our capacity to choose to others.
I will note thirdly, that in these models, the State is almost everything. It is assumed that an institution inherited from the old powers will labour in the service of projects whose emancipatory potential I very much fear will be consequently significantly weighed down. Under the cover of this new optical illusion, it will be difficult not to be surprised with the persistence, as a consequence, of the vices of bureaucratisation and, in parallel, corruption.
I am obliged to signal, fourthly, that there exists an obvious confusion at the most basic level in the majority of the projects embraced by the leftist governments of Latin America. These projects have almost always pointed in the direction of an amplification of the welfare functions of the institution of the State. Nothing would be more lamentable than to confuse this with socialism (unless of course we remove from this notion much of the wealth associated with its meaning). If on the one hand there is no record of any socialisation of property – or in the best of cases, such socialisation has been marginal – on the other hand, the rules of the market and of capitalism have unequivocally survived.
I will allow myself a fifth and final observation: even in the cases where there has been a connection to indigenous communities in certain institutional projects which may have to some degree minimized the concern, the models have commonly and sadly succumbed to the spell of productivist and developmentalist projects that tentatively reproduce mimetically many of the miseries that the opulent North has exported, more often than not – let it be said – with reasonable success.
Returning to the main argument: if there is no great doubt as regards the fact that the leftist governments of Latin America have contributed to – some more, some less – to improve the conditions of the lower classes, from a libertarian perspective it would seem necessary to remain cautious. And this for one principal reason: that which is born of the certainty that with what these governments have deployed, that it is extremely difficult to imagine future societies characterised by equality, self-management, the contestation of the misery of patriarchy, de-commodification and the respect for the rights of future generations. In this regard, nothing would please me more than to be mistaken.
Carlos Taibo’s original text is posted on his personal blog, nuevo DESorden.
An excellent anarchist source for information/analyses of events in latin america is El Libertario.