Revista THEOMAI   /  THEOMAI   Journal
Estudios sobre Sociedad, Naturaleza y Desarrollo / Society, Nature and Development Studies


número 7 (primer semestre de 2003)  
number 7 (first semester of 2003)
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Social movements and collective action in Latin America: some questions on the potential political transformer of the masses’ interventions


Marcelo Gómez *

 * Universidad Nacional de Quilmes y Universidad de Buenos Aires, E-mail:



It is a very extended idea to decree the exhaustion of the Latin America’s neoliberal policies that were inspired by the Consensus of Washington during the 90’s decade. The crises of vulnerability of the economic policies of the opening, deregulation and privatization after international financial's cycle reversion, their high social costs in inequity and exclusion terms, the reappearance of a sharp instability in monetary, exchange rate, fiscal and banking situations, seem to have triggered a contradictory and chaotic process of political changes. The reach of this process is not always well understood and it brings back to memory old categories of the revolutionary thought: organic crises, process of masses and popular protagonism related to a central position of defiant and non institutionalized collective action.

In fact: there is crisis, not only in the social regime of accumulation and reappearance of politically uncertain scenarios in the region, but also simultaneously there are changes in the forms of processing these contradictions, and challenges of novel actors arise with force, to such an extent that some analysts observe not only a situation of crisis of the legitimacy of governments or their political decisions but also an incipient process of destruction or deep reform of the parties’ political systems (Cavarozzi and ot., 2003).

The organic crises which embrace both the accumulation and the government, alter and weakens the systems of mediations and established social and political controls. On this base, the widespread mobilization of unhappy actors triggers processes of change: the first of which is the recognition of the legitimacy of the intervention of masses on the social and political order.

The verification of a strong increase of the social conflict in Latin American countries ( see OSAL, 2000/2002, Seoane, 2001, Taddei, 2002 and Levy, 2002) and the succession of protests and widespread collective actions with important institutional and political impacts in several of these countries, allows us to speak about a new upward cycle of popular struggle. The social protest has increased its capacities to question and impugn the social and political order (in fact, disorder) caused by the neoliberal policies sustained by the local dominant classes and the transnational economic organisms and interests.

We will try to approach aspects of this phenomenon in the light of one of the most important questions that worry all sectors mobilized in hopes of social transformation: which is the political change potential of these movements and collective actions?.

From the indigenous rebellion that combined with a civic-military coup in Ecuador at the beginning of the year 2000, to the urban revolts generalized in Bolivia and Peru in the last year, including the popular rebellion in Argentina at the end of 2001, and the civic-military countermobilization that restored Chávez in Venezuela, we obtain a panorama of impressive wealth. In the same way there is a development of popular organizations and movements which show innovations in ways of struggle, organization and identity: from the ecuatorian CONAIE, bolivian "cocaleros", Bolivarian Circles in Venezuela, "picketeers" (unemployed movements) in Argentina, to the MST (" landless") in Brazil, the "zapatismo", Central American indigenous movements, mapuches in Chile, the organizations of defense of the water in Bolivia, factories recovered by workers in Argentina, civic movements in Peru, Argentina, Guatemala. It is important not to forget new expressions and experiences inside syndical movement , such as the CUT (Brasil), the PIT-CNT (Uruguay), the CTA (Argentina), the COB (Bolivia), the Ecuadorian FUT, and the dynamism of the state employees and educational syndicalism in almost all countries. It is not possible to neglect either the experience of political parties such as the PT, the Pachakutik and the Popular Front of Ecuador, the FA in Uruguay, the MAS Bolivian, and smaller diverse new expressions in other Central American countries.

This background, accumulated in hardly three years, allows us to outline with better analytical elements the theoretical and political discussion about the paths the processes of political change with intervention of masses in Latin America are going through: which new relationships exist between masses and politics?; what political impact have the undertaken actions ?; how is the relationship among masses/state/accumulation modified during crises?; what is the role and the importance of democracy and the system of political parties for the mobilized sectors?.


The nature of the crisis and the collective action

Here we propose the hypothesis that the form of the crisis and the dynamic of the contradictions of the social regime of accumulation and of the political regime of the government, produce a dissatisfaction which tends to channel its way outside the system of traditional parties (social organizations, new parties, unions, etc) and it is expressed by different means (defiant direct action, news types of protest and civil desobedience)of the representative politics, and against the group of the politicians (derogatory:"politician's class").

It is doubtless that the systemic insufficiency of the regimes of accumulation that only work when there is entrance of external capitals, become critical when the international flows of capital are reverted and the perceived stabilization mechanisms are only massive expropriations or transference of costs to the weakest sectors. In many cases, the costs of the crisis are discharged on those sectors or groups that used to be supports, allies or auxiliary classes in the new model's implementation, which generates in itself a political problem.

The external character of the accumulation ("escape of capital") and the fact that the decisions are located in diffuse or extraterritorial actors ("the markets"), beyond reach of the national political systems, proves to the eyes of wide sectors the inefficiency and irrelevance of institutionalized politics in the coming of a crisis.The crises that come with a descendent phase depict in a brutal way the logic of the appropriation and externalization of benefits and an internalization and distribution of costs, without instances of political mediations, thus offering good bases for the emergence of opportunities for the uninstitutionalized collective action.

Some elites, immersed in the globalization and the market’s religion, turn political power into a secondary and clumsy administrator of decisions that have already been taken in the markets. That is to say, a mere autonomous administrator of the interests of the masses, without vinculation to the interests of its own electors.

The coming of a crisis shows that this autonomy, in the context of the globalization of the economic power, is a sign of extreme weakness that can only be hidden under the entrance of capitals in expansion phases. In the descending phases, the absence of political support is evident. The intent of sustaining "the government of the politicians" with the single electoral legitimacy reproduces what we would wish to avoid: to double the pressures on the institutional system and the emergence of conflictive actors, non registered in the established systems of intermediation of interests. The fundamental difference with the old corporatized "welfare states" consists in an overload on the systems of decision institutionalized through unions, parties or groups of interest, in a full or in a partial way. And now when the neoliberal reforms have dismantled these mediation's structures, the social pressures are exercised in direct and not conventional ways.

The same matrix of the regime of accumulation and government promotes the non-institutionalized collective action , or at least has more vulnerability against it. From the political point of view it produces a severe crisis since two legitimization principles appear in conflict: on the one hand, the electoral supporter in which the dominant classes lean on, and on the other hand, the direct participation with collective action as a form of direct expression of collective interests and wills. The falls of popularity shown by surveys some months after the governments’ assumptions (De la Rua, Mahuad, Toledo, Losada), the phenomenon of abstinence (Argentina 2001, Ecuador 1999 and 2002), the generalization of the "disbelieved and volatile vote", are weakening the place from where to counteract the upward social movements. The speech of the globalization and the religion of the free markets have collaborated in an almost innocent way to empty the legitimate effectiveness of the electoral exercise and the political competition of parties.

This situation grants what is called "political opportunity" -in the classic literature of social movements (Tarrow, 1997; Marx y McAdam, 1994; Gamson y Meyer, 1999)- for the defiant actors and for the use of not conventional collective action. The failures of the political elite’s and the absence of economic answers (except the perpetual adjustment and the authentication of the speculation and the financial rent) in addition to the subordination to the dictations of the financial markets, have provided inexhaustible sources of government’s and elite’s delegitimation, discursive themes of question to the politicians and, mainly, new discordant sectors ready to protest in the absence of alternatives and effective instances of attending to their demands and give them participation with their interests in the definition of the common welfare.

In addition to these political problems, the costs in terms of destruction of the productive net and social exclusion have resulted in the fact that one of the demands of the mobilized sectors is "order", snatching one of the fundamental alibis of the holders of the status quo. Actually, the neoliberal policies have had as a consequence not an order of exploitation and oppression, but simply processes of social disorganization, decomposition of the state, political corruption and anomic behavior in all levels (1). The ruling classes and the political elite have suffered an extreme debilitation of their legitimacy in spite of the wide control on the mass-media, wich is still kept.

One of the strongest factors that increases the predisposition to defiant collective action is the frustration of expectations (Melucci, 1994: 170). The mobilization of sectors who supported or approved the market's reforms, who have benefited from these in the past, is a central element of the process of mobilization of masses. These sectors of middle-class are suffering the principal costs of the crisis. It implies a decomposition of the supports that make possible the continuation of the "neoliberal model". The convergence of these sectors together with those that suffered the consequences of neoliberal policies since their beginnings, and that have already been accumulating an organizational experience of resistance, configure the bases of the massive political interventions in great scale that have precipitated governmental changes. The teachers and state employees, the transport drivers, the small merchants, and the rural owners, police, "savers" and middle class debtors are typical cases.

In this sense, the financial crises of Ecuador in 1999 and two years later in Argentina are archetypes: the governments of Mahuad and De la Rúa deposited their hopes in policies of "trust toward the markets and investors", supported by the international organisms with its bitter recipes. The monotony of uninterrupted fiscal adjustments, reduction of wages, increases of taxes, and finally the seizure of savings, destroyed the support of the public opinion, and transformed the recession into economic depression.

It is not a smaller fact the pattern of complicity of the traditional political parties and the indulgence of the parliamentary political oppositions that support the measures of adjustment. All of them fear more the derived ungovernability of the loss of "trust" of the markets , than the threat of unhappy masses. All of them hope to attract the unhappy electorate offering nothing more substantial than electoral marketing, expecting the party in the government to pay for the electoral costs of unpopular decisions, and so, they assure the permanence in the power. All of them minimize the electoral risks with innocuous proposals and speeches, reducing the political competition to an offer of images without signs of collective transformation or at least, intervention on social order.

In both cases, Ecuador and Argentina, the main opponent parties supported adjustment measures, carried to extremes the absence of desire to compete and to be politically different: the Argentinian opposition not only endorsed the arrival of Cavallo(2) but it also granted him "extraordinary powers", and the Ecuadorian opposition also endorsed the dolarization plan against the opinion of its own representatives in the Central Bank. It endorsed as well a project of an emergency law that contemplated reformations to the Penal Code that would permit the return of ex president's A. Bucaram, exiled in Panama since his destitution, and to face in a repressive way the social protests in an early stage. In a similar way, De la Rúa met with the ex president Menem during his prosecution in the lawsuit for smuggling of weapons.

In both cases, the widespread protests also attempted to be disarticulated and faced by the government which did not recognize movements, and repressed them or simply waited for their natural waste. The impossibility of articulating instances of reasonable interlocution and the absence of support inside the institutions for the popular demands, were factors that precipitated the character not only massive and multiclassist of the widespread protests, but also their rapid politicization. The impregnability of the political system for the popular classes and the demands of excluded people, become worse in the crisis situations. The absence of capacity to process demands left the political system without answers or with just a repressive and conspiratorial answer. The uninstitutionalization of the social conflict is observed not only in strongly defiant protest repertoires (cut of routes and accesses, "capture" of cities, regional strikes) but also for the actors that embody the challenge: the organizations of the unemployed, many of which were not recognized in Argentina, and the natives grouped under the CONAIE in Ecuador that, (even though it was a great organization), nobody could have calculated the leadership assumed in opposition to the government.

Both the intangibility of the rules of accumulation -without institutional devices of regulation- according to which the benefits are taken by the strong people and the costs given to the weak ones, and the government's regime structurally refractory to the popular demands -and with strong tendencies to the collusion that removes it the only of their attractiveness, the political competition- make those organizations with wide social visibility and social movements functioning outside the institutional system, the main protagonists of collective action.

The repressive card that both De la Rua and Mahuad tried to play was not a useful resource, and actually, it produced the opposite effect.The threats of repressive military intervention, state of emergency, and the ghost of bloodsheding finished with the explosive reaction of the Buenos Aires middle classes that knocked down the government in Argentina, and the division of the FFAA that precipitated the coup d’état civil and military on January 21st 2000, in Ecuador.

Similar reactions have recently happened in Bolivia with the repression to students and policemen that protested and ended near insurrection. The same happened in the so-called "war of the water" in Cochabamba in April 2000, and in Peru in June 2002 with the protests against the sale of the electricity companies in Arequipa and Tacna: the repressive intervention actually ended up in strong popular reaction ,and it compelled the governments to nullify the measures.

The capacity to extend the protests for a long time, the generalization of non-exposed ways of protestation such as the "cacerolazo" (pot-banging), blackouts, mobile and dispersed concentrations, blockades of routes and streets, attacks with stones and occupation of public buildings, indicate a prolongued rupture of the public order that reveals government's weakness and the impossibility to carry the repression to the end. The absence of armed organizations that take responsibility for the violence also makes it impossible to legitimize the massive repression and the search of culprit groups. The only element that favours the repression and the reestablishment of the order is the frequent accompaniment of the protests and civil disobedience with lootings and vandalism carried out by opportunists.

The combination of perpetual adjustment and absence of political alternatives in government's institutions, generates waves of indignation for what is conceived as a spurious pact of usufruct and immodest distribution of the benefits of the crisis.

That is the way in which the same nature of the accumulation crisis and the government reproduce the mechanisms of intervention of masses, which get their full potential thanks to the combination of perpetual adjustment and the lack of political alternatives. However, these forms of intervention through collective action collide with the political system but not with democratic institutions, as it could have been the case in the decades of the 60’s and the 70’s , when there was wide mobilization and political participation of the masses.


Democracy under the challenges of the collective action

Contrary to what happened in the postwar period in Europe, where the defiant social movements were strengthened in a context of political stability, the Welfare State and pluralistic democracy of parties in Latin A., the enormous development of the social movements in the last decade accompanies the inverse process: dismantlement of the precarious protective apparatuses of the state, crisis of representation , and weakness of political legitimacy. This could indicate that we are far from the plants of Touraine in the sense that the social movements are fundamental forces of the historical action system of the democratic and pluralistic societies. Between the electoral political system of alternation of governmental elites and the activity of the social movements, there should exist a synergy of reciprocal invigoration underneath the contradictions. The social movements and their fights do not weaken but strengthen the processes of social autotransformation based on the principles of the modern democracy: amplification of individual freedoms and participation in collective decisions (Touraine, 1997: 105).

However, on the one hand, it is clear that in our countries the social movements are social forces that have precipitated political crisis of enormous magnitude but, on the other hand, movements have not been seen, in any place, as categorically challenging the principles of the democracy of parties, the electoral régime and the constitutional organization of the power. What is more, not always have they been presented as the government's alternative elite, that is to say with pretensions to seize the direction of the society, thus displacing the traditional dominant classes. But, in a great majority of cases it is undoubted that social movements have not limited themselves to rehearsing a defensive resistance and claims in front of the exclusion and social disintegration policies. It is also true that movements intervene in the political sphere with a marked objection to the established order and an explicit will of changes. What kind of relationship and what orientations have the movements developed in front of the politics and the access to power?.

An element to keep in mind in order to understand the new characteristics of the social movements and of the conflictive collective action of the last decade, is the tradition in Latin A. of the impossibility of the victory and consolidation of the most formidable revolutionary efforts. The process of the bloody Mexican Revolution with the failure and murder of Madero is paradigmatic, falling into the trap of the "traditional porfirist oligarchy", and the divisions in the insurrection (Carranza y Orozco against E. Zapata and P. Villa) that made impossible the consolidation of a revolutionary government.

However, this frustrating experience in the control of the state power can be associated to the "varguismo", the "peronismo", Gaitán in Colombia, the revolution of 1952 and the later attempt of Torres in Bolivia, Velazco Alvarado in Peru, or the very S. Allende in Chile, and more recently, the Sandinism in Nicaragua. It is unecessary to say that those revolutionary movements that have not been able to demolish the established powers as the Guatemalan, Colombian, Venezuelan, Argentinian, Uruguayan and Salvadorian guerilla movements, have been dissolved without leaving trace or they have been incorporated to the effective political regimes in a subordinate and docile way . This does not allow us to consider them like successful revolutionary experiences.

The revolutionary processes seem to suffer in our countries of a true "state trauma". In our historical experience, there was an evident fracture among the four moments of all revolutionary process: while the crisis and decomposition of the regime and the popular rebellion are frequent phenomena, the transfer of the power toward the insurgent groups is rarer, and when it is achieved it is extraordinarily difficult for these groups to stabilize and to impose transformations significant for whose they have been fighting for (3). The proportion between rebellions and significant transfers of power, and between transfers and revolutionary stable changes is low too. The counter-revolutionary processes of deep regression that managed to transform popular fights and apparent revolutionary victories into dictatorships genocidists (Bolivia, Chile, Argentina of the ‘70 are typical cases)are not rare.

In the last years, however, there is a strong rupture with the last decades: the great variations in the context of conflicts, in the characteristics of the crisis, in the composition of the mobilized classes, like in the ideas and the cognitive frameworks (Rivas, 1997) of the movements.


The rupture of the "zapatismo": the revolutionary minimalism

The zapatista movement has been precursory in the deconstruction of the habitual relationships between social mobilization and political fight. Although it would be exciting to approach extensively the theoretical and political implications and the meaning of the discursive, political and social practices of the zapatismo, we will just mention them briefly.

To begin with, the zapatismo proposes to surpass the contradiction between particular identity and interests and common good in a theoretical and practical way: the rights of the indigenous communities are joined with claims and popular fights of all type, without exclusions. The slogans: "everything for everybody, nothing for us", "detrás de nosotros estamos ustedes" ("behind us there is you" would be the approximate sense in English) and "to fight for a world which fits all the worlds", are sufficiently eloquent about discarding a restrictive definition of indigenous interests and identities. The interests of each sector get richer in the realization of the interests of the entirely oppressed and exploited classes. The identities get rich in the differences. The zapatista fight is a universal metaphor of all fights for humanity.

In agreement with this, it proposes to surpass the contradiction between claim fights for particular demands and political fights for general changes in society: the process of conflict and negotiation for the indigenous rights clearly shows the strategy of "wrapping" the vindication struggle inside the general political strife. The permanent interpellation to the rest of the popular classes and the national and world public opinion, the reciprocal supports of some parts of the political system, the articulation in the collective action with vast mobilized sectors, including the institutional political sectors, and the emphasis in the necessity to open democracy and to weaken the political monopoly "priista" at state level, is very clear in this sense.

However, it is also clear that the zapatista movement doesn't fight to seize power. Zapatistas do not have the pretension of retaining neither the authority nor the government's direction. They do not attempt to dispute the sovereignty of the Mexican State. We can define their fight for the recognition of the indigenous rights of autonomy like a clear intent of not subordinated political integration, more than of open challenge to the authority of the state. The March of Indigenous Dignity, the march of the color of the earth, is maybe the incarnation of this universal conception of the particularities, unvanguardist but from the front, and inclusive and selective at the same time.

The characteristic principle of the social movements, the self-limitation of challenging actions and demands (Cohen, 1985), rules fully in the zapatismo. It doesn't reduce its reaches , but just the opposite way (4). In the zapatismo governs -if I am allowed to use the expression- a "minimalist" conception: we make ourselves smaller in order to become untouchable and non-comprehensible for the power, and therefore we get bigger.The strength found in the humility of the weak ones is the mirror that reflects the weakness of the omnipotence of power .

The "minimalism" reaches as far as the very definition of the strategic goal: "It is not the conquest of the power or the installation (using peaceful or violent ways) of a new social system, but something previous to the first and the second ... we are not proposing an orthodox revolution, but something much more difficult: a revolution that makes the Revolution possible " (5) "... The one who thinks about transforming the things from above admits that the revolution has already been frustrated..." (Marcos, 1999).


It could be assumed that, with these conceptions, the zapatismo is an innocuous movement of mass-media’s preachers that outlines a type of revolution of the conscience, a new subjectivity, while the power is accepted, etc. But the zapatismo continues to sustain ideas of insurgency and resistance. It is a sui generis army, but still an army.

It is an army that doesn't try to defeat another army, it is an insurgency that doesn't try to transfer the power towards itself. "The problem of the civil insurgency is not who is in the government, but how to guarantee that "the one who rules, rules obeying" ("mandar obedeciendo") (EZLN, 1996). The autoexclusion of the fight for the power, the denial of the pretense of governing, the invocation of the right to a good government, and the definition of such a humble political objective and at the same time, so difficult, have extremely delicate consequences.

A first possible reading is that it means an unpolitical conception , dangerously enrolled in the subject of the politics's posmodernization sacrificed in the altar of the civil society, taken as a category which denies the antagonism of classes (Borón, 2001). But seen in the light of the following idea "a revolution that makes revolution possible" and the supremacy of the concept of rebelliousness over that of the revolution, it is clear that insurgency as a systematic rebellion, the civil disobedience and the continuous, diverse, dispersed but articulate resistance, constitute the same form of a new politics and possibly a new way "to make power" and also of "power to make", paraphrasing Holloway (2002: 51 y ss).

The idea that the failure of a revolution strengthens the power system (the revolutionaries end up being politicians, but not the rebels, says Marcos), that a premature triumphant revolution is a future frustration, and that a continuous rebellion weakens the system (6), and generates the conditions for a new type of Revolution, introduces a certainly sophisticated alternative but this is neither necessarily postmodern, nor reformist.

In the same way, it would fit to say that zapatismo does not try to make politics autonomous from the civil society against the political society and the State, but to structure a political intervention of masses against the power at all levels, and not a policy to seize the power.

Nobody can be surprised by the idea that politics is much more than a fight for the power, if we bring to memory Lenin’ words: " politics begins where the masses meet to speak of their situation and their destination". To consider the politics of masses as a simple instrumental form to seize the power is an ideological deformation that doesn't do justice to any revolutionary process in history.

However, all the big revolutions have had organized groups that have intentionally pursued the objective of reaching the monopoly of the power and of changing the social organization from the power.

The zapatista idea of guaranteeing a power that "rules obeying" doesn't exclude the transfer of the power toward new sectors, but it doesn't end there. We cannot mistake the functions that the World Bank and the modern social democracy grant to the new social movements and NGOs : the surveillance and the external civic control of the democratic political administration. In this outline, the civil society appears as a compensation for the excesses of the political system, and the fundamental principle of the self-limitation of the social movements consecrates what seeks to amend: on the one hand, the inaccessibility of the masses to politics, understood as a professional matter in the "synthesis" of sectorial interests and moldering of demands, only valid form of conformation of the common good. On the other hand, it condemns the sectors mobilized with autonomy in the civil society to play the role of defenders of particular interests, since the social movements should not seek to participate in the making of the common good, activity reserved to the political parties, and therefore, movements don't have other field than the expression of particular identities and demands.

The zapatismo proposes a sort of permanent insurrection that guarantees the execution of the principle that anyone that governs, governs obeying, and refers to a situation of besiege of the power by the systematic and continuos rebellion which acquires all the forms, methodologies, individual and collective levels of engagement in all the fronts. It is not possible to give up fighting space for the simple reason that the problem is not who holds the power or how to hold it, but who exercises power and how we can exercise it every time, every where.

Finally, it is important to remark that the zapatismo, being a movement that exceeds the EZLN, outlines the traditional strategy of the massive social movements, according to the brilliant analysis that McCarthy (1999: 413) has applied to the movement for the civil rights in USA in the ‘60 (the SCLC of M. Luther King).

Its strategic formula seems to be based on the combination of two seemingly incongruous elements: on one hand, speeches and claims moderated with high universality levels that could address vast audiences and sectors with success; on the other hand, spectacular disruptive tactics of threats of alteration of the public order that will attract the attention of the mass-media and the public opinion, besides introducing strong political problems and alteration of the government’s agenda. This strategy, instead of challenging immediately the constituted power, submits it to waste and isolation and is directed to making impossible or extremely expensive the repression and the delegitimation of the demands of the mobilized sectors.

Although the zapatismo is directed to the recovery of the indigenous towns, it cannot be mistaken with a movement of a "single matter" that could be integrated to the systems of intermediation of interests through concessions and institutional positions.

The maintenance of deep questions to the social, economic, political and cultural order not only makes the zapatismo a sort of inexhaustible source of inspiration for the radical emancipation and "alternativity" (Guajardo, 2002:86) of the Mexicans, but it stands for all the world’s defiant movements too.

It could be said that the zapatismo represents the first successful"subrevolutionary’’experience (it will fulfill one decade with undeniable vitality), far away from the ideological grandiloquence and the ostentation of power of apparatuses, and also from the exemplary exaltation of moral values (militant sacrifice, heroism, ideological fanaticism ) orchestrated as political resources.

It could be said that the zapatist’s word and attitude settle and germinate in the desire of change, desire that agglutinates and unites without uniformity.


We all are zapatistas but not everything is zapatismo

In Latin A.,several types of experiences have been developed beside the zapatismo in the last years. They outline important ruptures with the revolutionary traditions too.

The zapatismo has chosen a political profile nearer to a pure social movement: it does not intrude in the institutionalized politics (exception made to the blink to the PRD in 1995 elections), neither has it participated in a non-institutionalized fight by the state power nor has it constituted a group of pressure or of interest inside the system (7), preserving the universality of their positions and their speech. However, this is not the norm but the exception in the context of popular fights in Latin A..

One of the best developed experiences of political protagonism and capacity of intervention of masses is the indigenous movements from Ecuador (8) which has played a spectacularly growing process since 1986 with the creation of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) that gathered together Quechua ethnoses of the mountain and the amazonia. They surprised everyone with their speed to organize the development of local and transterritorial structures with a growing convocation and mobilization capacity. All of this made possible the national native uprising of 1990, with a civic strike of one week, blockades, ceasing of supplies, marches to the capitals, and occupation of public buildings. The scenes of indigenous uprising were repeated against the regressive land law proposed for the ultraliberal government of Durán Ballén between 1993 and 1995. The outcomes and the efficacy demonstrated in these fights is remarkable: it has stopped very important political decisions.

However, the most novel orientation of the CONAIE is its strong and early vocation of institutional political intervention and the duplicity of its operation: strong organizational development (below) and strong starring role (above). In turn, that starring role is not only present in the vindication struggle but also in political strife. Although the movement has taken care not to acquire a political tonality, it has not hesitated to participate with success in electoral coalitions (in 1996), to achieve its own parliamentary representation (9), and positioning leaderships at the political scene (Antonio Vargas, Ricardo Ulcurango, Manuel Lluco). CONAIE participated in the removal of the government of Buccaram in 1997 and, what is more important, achieved the recognition that the Ecuador is a multiracial and multicultural country ,according to the constitutional reform of that year. The Conaie contributed to install a multiethnic identity in the Ecuadorian society (Barrera, 2002).

In the Amazonian, the Indians organized and mobilized by the CONAIE successfully opposed the oil explorations and they negotiated new terms with companies. The year 1999 saw the beginning of a process of widespread resistance to the plans of adjustment of the Mahuad’s government that derived in the indigenous uprising of January 21st, 2000 with the overtaking of the public powers and the assumption for a few hours of a revolutionary triumvirate made up of representatives of the social indigenous movements (Conaie) and also non indigenous (CMS).

The political vocation, (sarcastically, the political "voracity" of the CONAIE) has carried out its participation in all the forms of struggle and intervention (excluding the armed fight): electoral, pressure for the collective action, military civic conspiracy, uprising and revolt.

There is not rejection to the institutional forms of political fight and neither exists a speech of radicalized demands, but Conaie insists in being presented as an antisystem movement: in January 2000 they began the experience of the Parliament of the People convoking non indigenous sectors, and it ended up demanding the massive resignation "... of those responsible for the three powers of the state in the face of the evident failure of the current political leadership". The claims for the breakup of the three powers is precursory of argentine’s "out with them all" ("que se vayan todos"). It shows a remarkable strategic versatility attentive to the opened opportunities in different moments.

The Conaie has also developed a politics of alliances: with left parties (Popular Front, where the educational sectors and state employees are important), with the social non indigenous movements (Coordinator of Social Movements CMS), and strong coordination in the action with labor organizations (FUT) and peasants, transport, educational, and of course, military sectors which it usually adresses openly, etc. The vision of the Conaie is similar to the zapatismo in avoiding the engrossment in identities and fixed interests that would surely end up transforming them into a pressure group . The watchword of 1999: "Nothing just for the Indians" ("Nada solo para los indios") was key to guide the type of political practice that privileges the articulation with other sectors.

The ex colonel Lucio Gutiérrez, leader of the coup d’etat and the indigenous-military insurrection in the year 2000, won in first and second turn of the presidential elections in last November (10). This means the access of the Conaie to the political administration of the State. That is to say, a consequence of the widespread insurrection of the 2000 has taken place two years later in a differed way: a transfer of power toward new social groups that have access to peak positions in the apparatus of the State with electoral legitimacy.

Then, the case of Ecuador shows a significant transfer of power in qualitative terms of class contents: Gutiérrez comes to the `power hand in hand with ethnoses and oppressed peasants and a great part of the popular classes. There is no trace of divided sectors of the traditional dominant classes inside the social supports to the new government.

However, it is a weak transfer from the quantitative point of view. The electoral success guarantees access to the executive power, but it has not changed the force relationships in the other public powers and apparatuses of the state. The risk of institutional crisis due to the sabotages and institutional blockades that will be the likely strategy of the displaced classes in order to recover the executive's control, will outline a dilemma to the mobilized sectors and the government casts: if they plan to find a solution within the formal respect to the institutions, they run the risk of giving way to traditional interests with danger of losing the support of the mobilized popular sectors; if they plan to compensate the weakness inside the political power through mobilization, they run the risk of relapsing in situations of open conflict, such as the division of the FFAA and the reappearance of an insurgent scenario.

The experience of the coupe d’etat on January 21st 2000 with the military/indigenous/popular alliance and with a program of dissolution/renovation of the three powers, demonstrated an evident fragility in front of international pressures (the positions of USA, the countries of the region, and the international organisms were very difficult) and the division of the armed forces (11). It becomes evident, therefore, that the electoral legitimacy is an element not easy to replace with sectorial alliances. In turn, the open political systems combined with the waste of the historical parties leads to the modification of the electoral proposals and the variation of the preferences of the electorate . This offers few opportunities to obtain good degrees of electoral legitimacy, even for the groups that appeal most to the collective action and the autonomous organization. It is clear that the conditions of the electoral fight lead to miscarriage, or they limit possible radicalization processes and soften the social antagonism.

Another well- known experience is the Workers’Party (PT) in Brazil, without going into details and comparing with the case of Ecuador:

  1. the process of masses doesn't offer challenges with institutional implications, there is no widespread questioning neither to the institutional performance and political elite nor to the institutions themselves. In this sense, the transfer of the power is clearly a political alternative in a context of strong institutional legitimacy, towards a party with a popular base that has learned how to articulate diverse sectors and claims.
  2. the collective actions, protagonized in the last years by new social movements (Landless, MST, or Roofless People, MTST) and work movement (CUT), didn’t mean threatening alterations of the public order (the most advanced item in this point is the occupation of lands by the MST and the repression and persecutions that they are subjected to) and they have never used insurrectionary repertoires. There aren’t any sectors with ideas about non- institutionalized access to the power.
  3. there is a clear division of the elite and the local dominant classes, a significant part of which decides to support the PT access to the government. These sectors intend to take advantage of the "radicalization threat" as a factor that will improve their situation of permanent negotiation with the financial internationalized fractions. These sectors of internal bourgeoisie prevent financial sectors from transferring on them the costs of the international crisis and the exhaustion of the internal pattern of accumulation, just as it happened in Argentina or Venezuela. In this sense, the political meaning of the PT is clearly a peaceful and institutionalized amplification of the interests for social groups excluded until this moment. This role is the same that the PT had carried out quite decorously at local governments' level during the last decade.

The danger of radicalization is checked by a double internal and external control: internally, by the gravitational presence inside the official political power of the elite and of the local dominant classes that constitute decisive support pillars (12). On the other hand, the government of Lula is a product of a process of masses which doesn't end up producing a significant transfer of the institutional political power: at legislative and governments levels the traditional elites conserve a capacity of evident control, forcing the new central government to a totally negotiated transactional politics.

As all the processes in which the popular classes have a chance to seize the power under restrictive conditions and on the basis of the concurrence of an important sector of the dominant classes, the risk is a scenario of scarce answer to the demands of the deferred social sectors, which are simultaneously the weakest and less significant from support to the government.

The "radicalization’s danger" could come from an increase of the economic and financial crisis that derives in the impossibility to sustain the alliance that composes the PT government. Thus, the expectations would be frustrated and the mobilized popular classes should return to the fight, enlarging their support not with fractions of the dominant classes but with the pauperized middle classes, amongst whom a distrust toward the traditional elite’s would begin to prevail, following the steps of the Argentinean political crisis.

The Venezuelan case is totally atypical. Superficially it is assimilated to the Ecuadorian case, as it can be interpreted like an alliance between fractions of the FFAA and wide unhappy sectors of the popular classes. These sectors find through the FFAA and personalized leadership an expression of their interests and demands. The Chávez’s leadership of masses and its resulting electoral prevalence can also be interpreted as a differed effect of transfer of the military coupe d’etat with popular support of one decade ago.

But all resemblance ends at this point.

  1. in Venezuela there are no significant autonomous social movements that have developed extensive previous fight experiences. Nevertheless, from the "caracazo" to nowadays, and in presence of the complete sinking of the mediation systems of traditional parties, it is possible to observe a tendency to the direct collective action of political character. The successions of gigantic concentrations and acts for the active support of the government show a collective will and a political dynamic related to the old device of the direct relationship leader-masses, which is absent in Ecuador.
  2. the spectacular electoral victories of the MVR (Mov. 5th. Republic) and the remarkable leadership of masses in the figure of Chávez mean the complete abandon of the bipartisan system and its perfect alternation between "adecos" and "copeyanos". The Venezuelan traditional economic and political elite could not modify the electoral offer so as to pave the way to the ascent of Chávez, while the Ecuadorian elite could make it with Noboa.
  3. the most important feature to highlight out of the experience of chavismo is the great reach achieved by the transfer of the power: constitutional reforms, electoral minimization of the traditional elite with loss of parliamentary positions, and finally control of the judicial system. The important political control on the apparatuses of the state can be classified as a quasi selective exclusion of the elite’s and traditional dominant classes of influence in the state spheres. Other examples of this strategy: the advance on the CTV (Central union traditionally controlled by the "adecos") with an attempt to modify the mechanisms of perpetuating the leaders and the emergence of the Federation Bolivariana of Workers impelled by the government, the interventions to the Universities, the reformations to the education systems and public health, and finally the offensive on PDVSA. In this way they pushed the displaced elite’s and their auxiliary classes into the mass-media and the collective action of civil protest, and joined conspiracy to the residual opposition in sectors of Army. The strategy of total control of the state and of unification of the political power has been carried out to such an extent that the government ended up expelling and forcing their dialogist figure, J. L: Miquelena (ex Minister of the political wallet), to move to the opposition.

As a result of this situation of brutal transfer of the power, in an unusual interchange of roles, the frightened and threatened dominant classes adopted as a political resource the mobilization of the unhappy fractions and the public opinion, in a similar strategy to that followed against S. Allende in Chile 30 years ago. It is the civil society that, giving refuge to the elite’s and traditional casts and the defiant collective action against a strongly hostile State, became their main resource .

The attraction of the strategy of Chávez is that this strong fight for the control of the State has been accompanied with some relatively moderate -although not innocuous- economic and social policies. Lately, in the year 2002, with the sanction of the reformation of the Law of Lands and of the regime of PDVSA , the ingrained interests of the dominant classes and the addicted bureaucracies have been affected.

The theoretical importance of the political strategy of chavismo lies in the fact that it seems to be directly opposed to the outline presented by the zapatismo. The State is seen as a high-priority object of the political fight and its control is desired in order to carry out the reformations. The autonomous organization of the masses is relegated and subalternized by a direct leadership. Although the initiatives like the Circles Bolivarianos and others of local promotion and of attendance to popular sectors should not be forgotten, many of them reproduce the same bad habits of the traditional political parties. Nevertheless, the main source of legitimacy continues to be the electoral support from the population to government's administration.

Thus, the Bolivarian revolution offers an analytic importance: the wide control of the political power supposes the absence of internal limits to the radicalization. In facts, the loss of loyalty of the Armed forces to the dominant classes, and the exclusion or reduction of its influence in the apparatuses of the state, supposes that there are not internal limits to the political power to establish more advanced orientations toward changes on the social order. The leadership and the vertical styles inside the government prevent or minimize the risks of fractures or important divisions. All this means that the administration of the State has an important degree of free control of resources and implementation tools. The cost of this strategy has been mentioned: the sectors which defend the previous status quo try to establish an external limit through the control of the mass-media and collective action at the level of civil society and public opinion. With the isolation of the government and its discredit, they plan to seize the opportunity to recover the control of the State by means of a civic-military coup.

Accordingly, it is absolutely certain that neither a logic of social movements nor a logic of civic control exists. All the conflicts and disputes seem to be guided toward the state power. The civil and military insurrection of April 2002, the popular and military counter-insurrection that followed it and the insurrectionary strike at the beginning of this year clearly show that the interventions of masses are immediate and crudely political, almost exclusively directed to establishing the right to govern.


Interventions of masses without effects of political power transfer: efficacy of the collective action on the political system.

Although the cases of Argentina, Bolivia and Peru, are very different in several aspects, they have in common the fact that they haven’t operated important processes of transfer of power.

In the Argentinian case, the detonator of the widespread mobilization of masses was the government's inability to control the financial crisis and the looting of supermarkets. After the De la Rua government decreted the state of emergency and threatened repressive action, the middle-class sectors of Buenos Aires reacted immediately with a spontaneous and gigantic "cacerolazo" (pot-banging) that was the beginning of the popular uprising on the night December 19th 2001 that continued until the next day, and culminated with the Minister Cavallo ‘s resignation first and that of president De la Rúa later on.

The events of December produced two effects at political level: an enormous hole in the traditional elite’s that panicked and couldn’t give a quick answer (like in Ecuador). At the beginning, they just let go. Before the presidential resignation, they delegated in a marginal figure the unpleasant task of confronting a society that rejected all politicians in an unanimous way. This facilitated the access of figures and marginal sectors of the traditional elite, which saw a unique political opportunity to play the strategy of the "tribune of the people". A synthetic description of the brief government of the peronista A. Rodríguez Sáa, a provincial leader, who kept a low profile until that moment and who arrived at the political scene of the crisis accepting the challenge of assuming as interim president, a post that all the important political figures had refused to fill. The announcement of the suspension of the payment of the foreign debt, the abandonment of the economic neoliberal model and social policies of massive attendance, together with the unexpected approach to the whole spectrum of the mobilized sectors (combative syndicalism, "picketeers", unemployed people, human rights and social organizations) denounced his attempt to set himself free from the traditional elite that had taken him to the post in the first place.

However, this elite, scared by the audacity of "their monster", didn't hesitate to remove all support, leaving him defenseless. The new government was exposed to a mobilization of the middle classes that continued using the slogan against all "political class": "out with them all" ("que se vayan todos") . The proliferation of spontaneous neighbors assemblies in the Federal Capital presented the new president with a challenge impossible to face. The "cacerolazos" and a new day of violence in Square of May and in the Congress put an end to his illusion of disabling the protests. All these reasons forced him to resign.

Finally, the traditional elite decided to face the situation and they bet on one of their main heads: another peronista, Eduardo Duhalde, ex presidential candidate and one of the Argentinian top political figures. He had obtained enough support out of a wide agreement of the traditional political sectors (the justicialismo in all their variants and the radicalism) with very few exceptions. He assumed his responsability like interim president under the watchword "government of responsible transition" trying to differ completely from his predecessor. Duhalde impelled a devaluation, the exit of the convertibility, a politics of agreement with the financial international organisms, the increase of taxes to exporters, and a gigantic inflationary adjustment of the real wage together with the liquidity of the entrepreneur’s debts and the deposits seized by the banks.

However, the wave of mobilizations didn't stop. Only the unions of the private sector maintained a situation of passive waiting. The unemployed sectors, public employees, educators, and the neighbors’ assemblies maintained during almost six months a wild activism that included "cacerolazos", concentrations, "escraches" to politicians, officials, judges, banks, supermarkets, and foreign companies, union leaders, cuts of routes, marches, etc. This process of continuing mass mobilization culminated with the treacherous murder of two members of the Unemployed movement by the police in an access bridge to the Federal Capital. The mobilizations against the repression were of enormous concurrence. Faced with the threat of a new unmanageable situation, the interim president decided to change the economic politics and to announce a premature electoral chronogram to accelerate the times. The ceasing of the rising pressure of the free dollar on the prices and the quite successful implementation of a plan of universal attendance for unemployed family heads helped to decompress the explosive social situation.

Although we cannot speak about political change in terms of transfer of power to new sectors or elites, it is clear that the electoral horizon began to be dominated by a replacement of casts with the appearance of figures moving from the background to the foreground. The main effect produced by "December 2001 winds" seems to be the replacement of electoral offers but always within the "political class"; leaderships or references don't appear from the exterior of the political system. The latest news are the divisions of the traditional parties. The crisis has broken into fragments the internal unit and the leaderships of the biggest political party in Argentina (the peronismo) and it has taken the other traditional party (the radicalism) to a situation close to extinction. In the same way, the influence and power of the financial sectors and of the transnational companies of public services that had reigned in the last decade, are now replaced by the fractions that still survive from the local entrepreneurs, and the production and trade sectors. Undoubtedly, some processes of transfer of power and their influences have occurred inside the same dominant classes and political elite (13).

We may also add that the main teaching of this process is that, mainly from the fall of De la Rua to the stabilization of the economy, the social movements and the widespread protest became a sort of continuous political intervention of masses whose main effect was to control political power. This pressure, the population's massive dissatisfaction and the sudden rejection to the repressive solutions, were decisive to explain the changes of politics in almost all the areas and the acceleration of the replacement process of protagonists.

The Bolivian case is significant because it is a state under total political control of the dominant classes. Until 2000 the political elite associated to the neoliberal order seemed to control completely the institutional and political mechanisms almost without opposition. The COB seemed to be absent and the protests lacked organizational and political reference. There was an increment of the social protest but it did not achieve significant political impacts.

However, in April 2000, a conflict exploded in Cochabamba which originated one of the most original movements in the history of the popular fights of this highland country: the Coordinator of Defense of the Water and Life (CDWyL) made up of "regantes" (irrigation and water distributors), environmentalists, teachers, students, neighbors, young people, whom without legal recognition, developed a practice in assembly, promoted local defense committees of the water and maintained a unified vocation and coordination with a wide range of unions and opponents.

A mayor of Cochabamba has recently been reelected with 52% of the votes, supported by political megacoalition and the central government, together with the World Bank (with its policies of "full cost recovery"), a transnational Consortium ("Waters of Tunari" integrated by companies of USA, Spain and Bolivian investors) and some local elite’s interested in seducing investments for selling public resources, were the powerful opponents of the movement for the defense of the water. Everything seemed to indicate that the resistance should be quickly disjointed and the privatization would come without further trouble.

The political process of decision about water privatization and its implementation could be analyzed in terms of "hot cognition" (Klandermans y Goslinga, 1999:444) as a construction of the sense of injustice and threats that derived in the privatization process. In a context where the "anticoca" fight threatens with fateful consequences local agrarian systems, added to the authoritarian handling of the privatization with its secret negotiation of confidential clauses, with a Committee of the Congress controlled by the Executive, with microspaces of spurious deliberation, impunity, corruption, with users and involved organizations excluded. It didn't take long for privatization to become a scandal. The contract transferred the whole hydro resources violating ancestral structures and old community practices. Water became a traversal demand for its social composition and condensation point of other problems and claims.

The tariff increase and all type of abuses in the bills were the cause of an acceleration of the organization process and massive use of the defiant collective action.

The Manifesto to Cochabamba of the CDWyL is eloquent about the political role that is assigned to collective action: "the rights ...must be conquered, no one will fight for us... either we make it together or we tolerate the humiliation of the bad governments" (OSAL, Nº2/2000).

In January, when the privatization is sanctioned, the organizations began the protest with the cutting of the entrance and exit to the city. This was followed by an intense sequence of actions of all kinds, for example: dramatizations, graffiti’s campaigns, regional strikes, "occupation of the square", "peaceful occupation of the city", combining traditional repertoires with others that look for a great repercussion in the mass-media. The government's isolation becomes evident and the implementation of a popular consultation by CDWyL. The recalcitrant position of authorities was reticent to negotiation , and aggravated the conflict with a new protest: occupation of headquarters of the company, buildings and continuous blockades of routes. Finally the government chose repression and , by means of a stratagem, sent to prison the CDWyL members of the same negotiation commission.

The same day that the government, together with the archbishop, announced the repeal of the contract, house breaking was immediately produced, and illegal deportations too. The incident was baptized as "the day of deceit" and caused the indignation of the population. In front of the inflamed resistance, the government decreed the "state emergency", bringing about the condemnation of the Media and an unrestrained popular fury.

The indignation derives in a peaceful "occupation" of the city with a mobilization of about 60 thousand people and an insistent resistance to the repression in the square (14). Neither looting nor outrages take place.

The government couldn’t resist the pressures of popular mobilization: it had to liberate prisoners and began negotiations that ended up in the modification of the law and the cancellation of the privatization contract.

The so-called "war of the water" and the acceleration of the popular protests of all kinds, especially those of the rural "cocaleros" of the Chapare, caracterized the last months of the government of Banzer and the electoral process during the 2002. It came to an end with a remarkable process of political change: fragmentation and electoral weakness of the traditional parties and emergence of a left opposition of peasant base with parliamentarian presence which was close to winning the presidential election (Zalles Cueto, 2002).

However, the electoral canalization didn't stop the mobilization and radicalization process of masses: an avalanche of blockades of routes, rural marches with hands full of coca plants , occupations of government headquarters, "escraches" to international meetings, teachers, transporters and miners mobilizations and the reappearance of the COB. This process culminated with the popular uprising during last February in La Paz.

The cause of the outburst was the military repression to civils, policemen, and students that protested against the tax of 12% on state wages previously agreed with the IMF. Students showed their solidarity to mutineer policemen that claimed an increase in their salaries. After the policemen’ mutiny and the repression, there were concentrations, stones thrown at government's houses and the forces of the Army, a national strike with mobilizations, looting, attacks and fire set to government buildings and headquarters of traditional political parties (MIR, UCS, and official MNR) and foreign companies as Quilmes of Argentina and french Lyannaise des Eux.

Evo Morales, "cocalero" leader, parliamentarian and ex candidate to the Presidency by the MAS (Movement to Socialism), claimed the resignation of the government. Peasants and natives cut routes . The CEPB (entrepreneurs) supported the strike of the COB. Thus, these were the first signs of a crack in the political elite. The government's legitimacy was seriously damaged. The government received support only on part of the Army, USA and the OAS. Finally, wage reduction was annulled, all Ministers resigned, and "the dialogue’’ was announced.

The discredit of the government, of the neoliberal economic policies, and of the traditional parties combines with the absence of significant political transfer. So much so that Evo Morales, point of reference in the social movements, was expelled from parliament. The perspectives of a permanent political besiege by the collective action and the absence of answers from the institutional political system and of changes in the traditional parties can derive in new insurrections.

Despite the fact that the revolt of Arequipa and Tacna in Peru against privatizations of the electricity companies service in June 2002 had a content similar to that of the "war of the water" in Cochabamba, they present a totally different structure of the conflict.

The beginning of the resistance to the privatization comes from the mayor Manuel Guillen who questioned the sale of companies (Egasa and Egesur) by central government without considering their local property , just as some judges had declared the sale illegal. As a result, there is not only a division of the government elites, but also a delicate jurisdictional conflict among the same apparatuses of the state combined with the jealous defense of attributions and local powers: "The south always united" was a password during the fight days.

The framework of the collective mobilization was given by the deceit, the non fulfillment of promises with respect to the non privatization that Toledo had promised to carry out during his electoral campaign, by the fear to labour reduction and tariffs’ increase.

The protest and collective actions were very varied: from the hunger strike of about 30 local mayors, to concentrations and disturbances that came to an end when a student died.

The Civic Wide Front of Arequipa and the Patriotic Front of Tacna (that groups unions and social organizations) were gathering together with other civic and social organizations, most of which had arisen and achieved protagonism in the mobilization days of the resignation of Fujimori, impelling regional civic strikes and "flag washings" ("lavados de bandera"), "cacerolazos", concentrations and protests. The central government answered with the political-military intervention ("State of exception" and Army with control of the public order), and subversion accusations. This detonated a widespread popular reaction.

The generalization of collective action included permanent concentration in "Square of Weapons", throwing stones at government buildings, suspension of classes and public transportation, blockades of roads and occupation of airports, international isolation, looting and disturbances, a "cacerolazo" against the Army and policemen, and the solidarity in Cuzco, which implicated the threat of the geographical extension of the conflict. Faced with the insistent resistance that lasted four days of social convulsion, the central government decided to step back and they sent a negotiation commission that was attacked with stones on arrival.

Once the central government agreed with all the Mayors on the annulment of the sale of the companies, the matter was left in hands of the Justice. Simultaneously, and as a way of exerting pressure on the judicial power, mayors and social organizations of all kinds published a declaration calling to a referendum.

The result of the conflict could not have been more favorable: invigoration of the local powers, strongly legitimated by the popular mobilization, and reciprocally a strong legitimization of the local elites to the popular collective action and the function of the social movements. Symmetrically, the central government's tremendous weakness was demonstrated: the fallen of popularity of Toledo was catastrophic. It accelerated a ministerial replacement once the president sent a message to the country with an explicit request of public pardon. This event stopped the process of privatization, maybe in a definite way.

Nevertheless, the outcome of the radicalization of collective action doesn't seem to operate transfers of power. The only change is the most favorable electoral behavior to the current opponent party of ex president Alan García. The social movements and the collective action in this case were supported by the political systems and local states. It seems to be limited to the civic control of the central power and the resistance to the socially threatening political decisions.



The situations of crisis of the government and economic regime which Latin American societies are going through after a decade of neoliberalism, offers opportunities and favorable contexts for the irruption of conflictive collective action of a large scope, not only in terms of protest and sectional claims, but also of political changes. The proliferation of varied and wide organizations of masses, including a new type of political expressions and the starring role reached by new social actors such as the unemployed and the native people, configure a scenario of dynamism and plenty of experiences and alternatives.

However, one of the main theoretical, political and practical problems is the link between mobilization of masses and political changes, which offers some difficulties for the contrasting of the national situations.

The most evident effects are, at the same time, cause and consequence of the generalization of collective action: there is a visible realignment among the groups holders of the status quo. The auxiliary classes and middle-class sectors, which supported the pattern in their expansible phase, are divided. Some of these sectors were even added to the collective action (Argentina) and others were added to the support to opposite political options (Brazil). The Brazilian case is particularly important for the central participation of an important part of the national entrepreneurs in the political framework of the PT’s government. Nevertheless, the cases of Venezuela and Ecuador are in the antipodes: there are no sectors of traditional dominant classes and their auxiliary classes that sympathize with the governments of Chávez and Gutierrez.

The weakness of the social and political support of the neoliberal order is evident in most of the countries, and dominant classes have reduced their political intervention capacities.

We may add that the repressive answer that has been rehearsed (Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia) does not seem viable: the strong popular reactions against the imposed "state of emergency " were categorical in all cases. It is evident that the mere electoral and constitutional legitimacy of government is not enough to legitimate the repression of the social protest, and without a minimum support of the public opinion the attempt to discourage the collective action for repressive resources is impossible, and has enormous political costs. In most cases, the intervention of the armed forces only made the conflict worse.

The other side of the strong resistance to repression is the enormous increase of the legitimacy and public acceptance of the collective action as a political and vindictive resource.

Thus, the relationship between the movements of masses and the political change is excessively variable. In some cases, more or less significant processes of transfer of power have been achieved (Venezuela, Ecuador and Brazil) by means of the electoral competition, although in no way the importance of the mobilization of masses can be overlooked (especially in Ecuador). In every case, the incoming governments bring about proposals of economic and social policies which differ in variable degrees from those established up to that moment. The threats onto new governments and their weaknesses make the forecast of their evolution a difficult task. Up to now, those that have advanced the most in terms of implementation reform or structural changes in some items are the Venezuelans, at the cost of a true besiege on part of all the sectors that oppose the process of the "Bolivarian revolution", making the social antagonism with danger of division of army and civil war even deeper.

However, in other cases, very important processes of mobilization and organizational development (Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru) have not had effects of power’s transfer. But this does not mean that there were other effects of change: new offers and electoral preferences that can announce future transfers, or direct effects of popular veto and defensive control against the government's political decisions.

In Mexico, the zapatismo has achieved enormous success in terms of legitimacy and inclusion of its demands in the public, state and political agenda. It has also achieved enormous advances in the dialogue and the demilitarization of the conflict in Chiapas, although it has not been able to unblock the closed opposition of an important part of the political system in order to grant the conditions that would allow the zapatismo to integrate fully to the Mexican political life. In terms of political change, the rupture of the electoral monopoly of the PRI can derive in new modifications in the political offer and internal realignments in the parties.

In Bolivia there are now new actors with electoral force that threat to break the control of the three traditional parties, while in Argentina the process seems to consist on the reestructuring of the traditional parties with divisions and internal displacements of leaders, but without irruption of new actors from outside the established political system.

In Peru the apparent beneficiary of the crisis and of the collective mobilization seems to be the traditional party APRA.

On the one hand, in those cases where access to the political power and the government has been achieved (Ecuador, Venezuela, Brazil) the continuation of the process of mass mobilization and organizational development may not be expected. Even if these governments fails, the costs for the involved social movements could be enormous. Besides, if they manage to get stabilization and success, it is possible that new elites will capitalize them, rather than the new social movements.

On the other hand, in the cases where significant transfers were not achieved and where the political change of electoral offers is smaller (Argentina, Bolivia, Peru) the organizational development may continue and sustain or increase its mobilization and political intervention capacities, exerting pressure on the system of parties and the leaderships, becoming a true "sword of Damocles" for the elite and a dynamic factor of political processes.



1) Frequently the contradiction between democracy and capitalism (Meiskins Wood, 1996) has been pointed out but it is not less certain than the excluding device of the market outlines very serious problems to the politics democratic and not only in our countries (see the argentine case in Galafassi, 2002). Although, in the latinamerican experience of neoliberal democracy happens: bad democracy but worse markets. The looting and the confiscation of bank savings, are samples of this situation which can be interpreted like "hot cognition" and "cognitive liberation" (Zald, 1999: 369 and ss) that shows sudden significant of some events and the direction of processes to vast public.
2) Ex Minister of the Carlos Menem government and principal responsible of economic neoliberal model based on the convertible money. He had never been peronist.
3) We use the classic sequence of Skopcol (1984): crisis – insurrection - transfer of power - change of the social order from the power. The first two moments constitute the revolutionary situation, and the last ones the revolutionary exit.
4) "Reality the only thing that we have intended is to change the world, the rest we have improvised it " C.C. Indigenous Revolutionary. CG of the EZLN
5) According to the played upon words and Marcos style revolutionary thinking: it can say that the zapatist propose an "subrevolution" or subterranean revolution, maybe for these, Marcos is the "sub" commander.
6) The idea of a continuous, patient and diverse erosion that, at the same time, is gestation of new organization’s forms, cultural frames and political action, is related with the plants of Wallerstein (1994) about a transformation process for overload of the system.
7) Nevertheless the zapatism has been careful to institutionalize the public dialog and negotiation with government (Diálogos de la Catedral, COCOPA Comision, Acuerdos de San Andrés).
8) They are three million natives on 12 millions.
9) Formed their own political party: Plurinational Unity Movement Pachakutik-New Country (Movimiento de Unidad Plurinacional Pchakutik Nuevo País).
10) With a party recently formed, Gutierrez was imposed with 21% of the votes in first turn and with a categorical 55% to 45% on the banana magnate A. Noboa, in the second turn.
11) It is remarkable that the traditional political leadership practically could not oppose resistance from any type to the coupe d’Etat. On the other hand it was decisive the international pressure that in turn precipitated the division of positions in the armed forces.
12) It would be not very imaginable a government of the PT limited to the support of the CUT, the MST, and the left parties.
13) So much in the case of the new minister of economy (R. Lavagna), like in the official candidate's election for the peronismo (N. Kirchner). Figures like De la Sota, Reutemann, Ruckauf, Alfonsín, C. Alvarez, the leaderships of last decade, has missed under this pressure of the social dissatisfaction and the opinion public. The ex president C. Menem monopolize the "representation of the past" but his electorals support is descending.
14) The youths that resist the repression are baptized as the "warriors of the water".



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Theomai: palabra de origen griego que significa ver, mirar, contemplar, observar, pasar revista, comprender, conocer
Theomai is a word of greek origin wich means: to see, to contemplate, to observe, to understand, to know

Revista Theomai es una publicación de la Red de Estudios sobre Sociedad, Naturaleza y Desarrollo
Theomai Journal is published by  Society, Nature and Development Studies Network

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