Emir Sader: “This is where the new strategy of the left in Latin America is being articulated”

Hernán Argandoña A, La Epoca

The postgraduate course in Development Sciences (CIDES, UMSA [Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, La Paz]), the Colectivo Comuna and the Fundación por la Europa de los Ciudadanos [Foundation for a Citizens’ Europe] organized the seminar “Pensar el Estado y la sociedad” [Thinking About the State and Society], in which well-known intellectuals, both foreign and national, participated.

Emir Sader, the executive secretary of the Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales (CLACSO – Latin American Social Sciences Council), one of the leading Brazilian intellectuals of today, an author and editor of 77 books (including the Enciclopedia Latinoamericana and La Venganza de la Historia [History’s Revenge]) was asked about his perspective on Bolivia. He stated:

Bolivia was never an object of attention abroad. As an Indian woman said when Evo Morales was elected: “You only came when governments fell,” when the picture was one of institutional instability. What is happening now, seen from outside, is that the last year appears to have been the most important year in Bolivia’s history.

In the first place, with an indigenous leader becoming president of Bolivia, reflecting the identity of two thirds of Bolivians. Secondly, because the hydrocarbons and other natural resources have been nationalized. Thirdly, because the Constituent Assembly has been convoked to try to refound the Bolivian State with recognition of the rights and ways of life of the indigenous peoples.

Fourthly, because a process of agrarian reform has begun. So major steps have been taken in meeting the demands of the social movements, of the people of Bolivia over the last five or six years. Therefore, this is a process that is being watched with great sympathy, identity and hopes, because it is here that the new strategy of the left in Latin America is being articulated.

How do you see the constituent process that is now taking place in Bolivia?

Clearly, you can look at the trees or you can look at the forest.

I think the fact that topics are being discussed that never have been before is an exceedingly positive “forest”, as if the reality was what is and could not be otherwise. Secondly, the participation of social layers that have never had any decisive say over what happens to them. Thirdly, the fact that an institutional solution has been achieved — which apparently is going to work — in which the topics that are not being defined by two thirds will subsequently be put to a popular vote, so popular sovereignty is maintained with the later decision. Therefore, I think this is a good solution, I think it is a very positive perspective.

In South America new left-wing leaders have emerged. What are your thoughts on this?

Latin America was the laboratory for political experiments by neoliberalism, which were generalized over virtually the entire continent, so now it is experiencing a backlash against what it has suffered. And so the people are voting for changes. Some governments have carried out their changes in more decisive processes. Others, to some extent, have joined the process of regional integration but without abandoning the model. The dividing line today in Latin America is not between a good left or bad left, it is between countries that are signing free-trade treaties with the United States and those which, to the contrary, are prioritizing regional integration processes. These include some that have broken with neoliberalism — this is the case with Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Cuba — and others that have a foreign policy that favours regional integration but maintains the model. These include Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, so there are some significant differences among them.

But let’s not forget that the fundamental difference is between the countries that have given up being co-opted by the USA and those that have mortgaged their futures on free-trade agreements; Chile is the clearest case.

What is your opinion of the social movements?

The Latin American social movements have been the major protagonists of the resistance to neoliberalism. But once this model was exhausted, it was necessary to deal with dispute alternative, dispute governments. Some social movements delegated this to other forces. The case of the Ecuadorian indigenous movement is very clear, it delegated to Lucio Gutiérrez and was betrayed even before his government was formed. And the Bolivian social movement — and apparently now the Ecuadorian movement — have realized that they have to build their own alternatives, so it is a new the fact that the social movements have built a party, with all the problems that entails, because it is a big leap forward.

Furthermore, they are not building a party to argue in Parliament, but a party that now has a governmental alternative, something they have never had throughout the history of Bolivia, so this is not a mere exercise but it is a very promising road, because the social movements cannot simply carry on in resistance. To remain at the level of so-called civil society is a road to defeat, because it fails to challenge hegemony at the national level. Autonomy makes sense to prevent the interests of other forces being imposed on the social movement, but it is autonomy to contend for hegemony; if it is an autonomy to not recognize the State, to not recognize the government, I think it is a road that leads nowhere, that leads to exhaustion, to demobilization and the cooptation of some sectors. It is not a question of governing with that State.

In Venezuela a Constituent Assembly was carried out; in Ecuador they have opted for this, and in Bolivia they have started to do this in practice, it is about building another instrument of power and the social movements have all right and ability to so, they are demonstrating it, to fill the vacuum that has been left by the political parties.

Should the social movements be circumscribed by democracy?

What would you say democracy is?

Government of the people by the people.

I would say that, interpreted that way, there are few democracies. The democracies have been governments of the elites to reproduce the power of the elites, so we must not limit ourselves to that type of State that is there, which was made by inertia, by the reproduction of the existing power relationships. I think the social movements will have to do what they are doing in Ecuador or Bolivia, which is to reconsider their instrument of power, to become a transformer, not a reproducer of existing relationships, that smashes the private monopoly of the oligopolies over the media, over the ownership of energy resources, over the banks, the financing capacity, etc.

What are the challenges that lay ahead for Evo Morales?

To build a new Constitution, a new State with recognition of the rights, the way of life, the customs of the indigenous peoples who are the majority in this country.

An impression of your visit to Bolivia...

I made a brief visit to Bolivia in the Seventies, I was here for the election campaign, and for Evo Morales’ inauguration, so I am relatively informed as to what is going on in Bolivia. I am unable to give an impression after a bit more than a year of government. I have become aware of the problems, the difficulties, but my impression is that the process is going well, the perspective of transformation is going to offer a horizon and we can be optimistic provided that we don’t give up in the face of the enemy’s attacks. If the enemies are reacting so forcefully it is because their interests are being undermined. It would be sad event if that white bourgeoisie of Santa Cruz were in agreement with the government. It would mean either that it had no class consciousness — but clearly it does have that, as it has demonstrated — or that the government was not affecting its interests.

Their level of reaction reflects the extent of the transformations in power relations that are being carried out in Bolivia.

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