Two Books on Movements for Social Change in Latin America
Legacies of the Left Turn in Latin America: The Promise of Inclusive Citizenship
edited by Manuel Balán and Françoise Montambeault
University of Notre Dame Press, 2020, 472 pp
Two books examine the recent history of movements for social change in Latin America. From the late 1990s until around 2015, voters in Latin America swept social democratic and national populist candidates into government—a trend known as “the pink tide.” More recently, voters in many countries have returned conservatives to power. In Balán and Montambeault’s timely collection, political scientists and sociologists (but no economists) seek to determine the extent to which left-leaning governments met their stated goals of economic redistribution, popular participation, and social inclusion. The record tends, not surprisingly, to be mixed in this increasingly heterogeneous region. The differences in performance between center-right and center-left governments in some areas are less pronounced than their mutual distance from more radical, populist governments (such as those that have ruled Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela). Given the inflated expectations and the many constraints that reformers faced (powerful vested interests, weak state capacity, and punishing global markets), these governments would seem to have been preordained to disappoint the authors. But the contributors pay insufficient attention to why voters abandoned the left. When the pendulum swings back again (as has already occurred in Bolivia), social reformers will want to avoid repeating the same mistakes.
Paige’s noteworthy book gathers original interviews of the key figures who have driven contemporary indigenous social uprisings in the Andes. He struggles mightily to impose some coherence on a wide range of intellectual currents. Some Andean leaders rejected outright almost anything European or Western (notably opposing mining operations for disrupting local communities and hurting the environment). Others articulated vague utopian visions of small-farm collectives or precolonial communal agriculture. More moderate leaders were willing to forge coalitions with mestizos (people of mixed European and indigenous descent) to achieve reformist redistributive gains. Unlike the Shining Path rebels in Peru, the indigenous movements in Bolivia and Ecuador overwhelmingly rejected armed struggle in favor of grassroots protests and electoral politics; they advocated not separatism but a plural nationalism that respected both indigenous cultures and local authorities. But the portraits Paige presents reveal the internal intellectual contradictions and confusions that contributed to the eventual collapse of indigenous-backed governments in both countries. Paige sees one possible future synthesis: an indigenous democratic socialism in which ethnicity and culture play as central a role as social class.