last time we looked at the rise of military and authoritarian regimes during the 1970s and 1980s in itself dictatorship was nothing new for the region in some ways the regimes installed by AugustoPpinochet al was simply a continuation of the caudillo tradition of the 19th century which in turn drew on a sadly familiar story of violent and anti-democratic rule inherited from the colonial era. But in other ways these dictatorships were different In the first place they employed new tactics of terror and intimidation systematic and unsparing the practice of forced disappearance became their hallmark leaving victims relatives in the dark as to whether their loved ones were alive or dead combined with the use of censorship secret police clandestine detention centers and paramilitary death squads these states of exception traded in uncertainty and doubt and as the exception became the norm doubt led to a climate of impunity and complicity neighbors and friends of the detained and disappeared could shrug their shoulders and mutter but there must be a reason no smoke without fire everyone was under suspicion nobody was to be trusted in the second place the dictatorships ushered in an unexpected and perhaps inadvertent revolution Rather than simply trying to turn back the clock to some imagined golden age they ended up fundamentally remodeling latin american societies in a process that had global repercussions the region’s authoritarian regimes provided a test bed for neoliberalism which transformed economics by giving markets free reign politics by promoting technocracy over debate and everyday life by fostering atomized individualism and from latin america this drive to restructure social relations spread from new zealand to canada from the united kingdom under thatcher to reagan’s america We are all living with its consequences now The dirty and civil wars of the second half of the 20th century were partly prompted and certainly exacerbated by cold war rivalries west versus east inspired by or as a response to the perceived threat of the cuban revolution but by the time the last of the dictatorships and proxy wars eventually came to an end argentina’s military regime ended in 1983 brazil’s in 1985 but augusto pinochet remained in power in chile until 1990 peace accords were not signed in el salvador until 1992 in Guatemala until 1996 and in colombia as recently as 2016 by the time all these came to an end the soviet bloc was history another consequence then of this long period of internecine strife was a reconceptualization of what it means to struggle for liberty and equality against exploitation and oppression this was partly a function of the effects of that oppression and also of the ways in which exploitation itself and its attendant violence took on new forms over time for we should not assume that the celebrated transitions to democracy of the 1980s and 1990s in fact ushered in anything like real peace or real freedom for the majority of latin america’s population indeed many parts of the region central america and mexico for instance have seen more violence

since the coming of democracy and or the end of organized hostilities than they did before authoritarianism was particularly brutal towards traditional left-wing political actors and their forms of association as well as seeking to eliminate armed groups the military targeted political parties and labor unions the state came down hard on student activists intellectuals peasants the organized working class and even priests or churches that were suspected of spreading subversive views such as liberation theology protest and resistance therefore had to express itself in other ways and often came from or helped to produce new political actors the argentine Madres de la Plaza de Mayo for instance were women who entered the political stage accidentally and reluctantly compelled to do so in the search for their missing sons daughters or husbands Dressed conservatively with white headscarves they fit the image neither of the traditional male militant nor of the radicalized feminist indeed that premise was the traditional ideals of maternal love and family integrity that the military regime allied with right-wing catholicism had pledged to uphold and they turned these values against the dictatorship their protest was dignified and often non-confrontational as befitted the role that they performed as guardians of propriety they appropriated the symbolic power of the central square at the heart of the capital city buenos aires making public their private grief and anger in front of the cathedral and the presidential palace and they tapped into the capacities of the photograph and photographic enlargement and reproduction by carrying black and white images of their missing loved ones rendering visible the unspeakable void that structured argentine society under the military regime in turn these portraits were repeated in the international press giving faces to the victims of repression and establishing networks of outrage and solidarity similar tactics were adopted by other groups of relatives up and down latin america in chile women took a traditional folk dance the cueca, normally danced in pairs, and performed it alone making evident the absence of partners disappeared by the military pinochet’s regime had promoted the cueca in 1979 declaring it to be the country’s national dance and now his opponents turned it against him it was also taken up by the british musician sting his 1987 song they dance alone depicts this form of protest in october 1990 only a few months after the resumption of civilian rule sting played santiago’s national stadium once used as a torture center he brought on stage representatives of the families of the disappeared who carried placards with photographs in the question “¿Dónde están?” where are they as he sang this song in spanish the search for justice continued and continues long after the end of authoritarianism in 1998 while visiting London pinochet was arrested and in a landmark case faced extradition to spain to answer charges of torture and assassination though the ex-dictator was eventually allowed to return home on health grounds a precedent was set in international law

that nobody should be immune to prosecution for such crimes against humanity it would be nice to tell a story of just desserts and punishment for those guilty of abuses during the dirty wars but the very fact that pinochet had to be arrested in england rather than chile indicates that the reckoning of the past has been patchy at best in latin america truth commissions were launched in several countries some official and some unofficial and they issued reports with titles such as nunca mas never again in argentina in brazil these investigations collected individual testimonies and also tried broadly to establish what had happened and who had been responsible during the years of civil war and dictatorship but such reports did not necessarily put an end to violence in guatemala bishop juan jose gharari who had led the catholic church’s recovery of historical memory project there was killed just two days after presenting its final report guatemala mass in 1998 more generally transition to democracy often involved a trade-off whereby reconciliation seemed to demand impunity and even amnesia sometimes such unsatisfactory outcomes were baked into the very protests that helped to oust authoritarianism take the chilean plebiscite to decide the future of the dictatorship in 1988 as alexander dawson notes the coalition of parties opposing pinochet harnessed the power of television and marketing with a brilliant campaign that took the regime by surprise against expectations in a country governed by fear censorship and intimidation they won with over 55 percent of the vote preparing the way for the return of civilian rule they did so by presenting a negation no as an affirmation with upbeat music and images of rainbows and smiles musicians and mimes dancing and drawing oh in place of a critique of the present or of the past they offered a positive but vague and almost entirely contentless vision of the future achieving consensus required a certain complicity of repression insofar as the trauma of the preceding years had to be denied it would also be nice to tell a story of blundering authoritarians facing ever more sophisticated opponents from this distance at least it may be easy to make fun of heavy-handed military rulers and no doubt it is true that as Dawson suggests the proliferation of digital technologies from the internet to smartphones puts new resources for resistance and organization in the hands of ordinary people making it more difficult for centralized states to control the historical and political narrative just as argentina’s madres used photography and the chilean coalition for no realized the possibilities of commercial television to build alliances and make dissidents visible so also the mexican EZLN zapatista army for national liberation were a guerrilla force very different to their predecessors from their emergence in 1994 their masked spokesman subcomandante marcos sent out regular email communiques circulated worldwide via discussion lists and electronic bulletin boards

other rebels such as che guevara may also have been writers but marcos’s texts were playful and knowing particularly suited to the new medium while the zapatista’s military capacity is minuscule sometimes they’ve even paraded with wooden guns here everything was performance a nimble play of appearances that repeatedly wrong-footed the mexican state but one might ask how much the state is truly the enemy today i have two questions then about the changing landscape of power and resistance in latin america and around the world over the past 25 years for this has been a period that has seen the rise of commercial operations many linked to high-tech apple google facebook others to the manufacturer and distribution of illegal substances the mexican cartels that if they have nothing else in common similarly deal in sums of capital and cash that will be the envy of many governments and similarly seem to escape or evade state regulation so does the main threat to freedom and in latin america personal security really come from the state or from private enterprises second then can we still be a sanguine about the potential of technology to empower us rather than to exploit us in ever new ways pause the video here and write down some answers the nights are drawing in so i’ll have a hot chocolate but i’ll be right back during the 1970s and 1980s the fundamental opposition in latin america was sometimes cast in terms of civil society against a dictatorial state since then both with the rise of neoliberalism whereby the state abdicates key elements of what were once thought to be its social role and with the increasing prevalence and strength of non-state or parasite actors from corporations to gangs power can seem to be more dispersed and conflict more complex i suspect that most people in the region would no longer believe the state to be the main threat to their liberties in fact in the early 2000s with the so-called left turns that saw the election of more or less left-wing governments from argentina to venezuela ecuador to brazil many people were calling for the re-establishment of a social contract with the state at its center we’ll examine this phenomenon next week these left-wing governments were also a response to or effect of the emergence of new forms of social protest some of which drew on new technologies but most of which did not the first of the years was perhaps the carracasso a large and mostly spontaneous uprising in the venezuelan capital in february 1989 in the wake of the introduction of a packet of neoliberal policies by president carlos andres perez perez was recently reinstalled after a previous mandate back in the 1970s when he had governor as a populist flush with the profits of a thriving oil industry in 1989 however he preached austerity um when that translated into something as apparently trivial as increased bus fares and other major cities for days foreign

at the cost of hundreds perhaps thousands of dead and injured foreign then at the turn of the millennium in bolivia protests erupted over other aspects of the neoliberal agenda in the city of cochabamba in 2000 a wave of demonstrations reversed the privatization of the municipal water supply in 2003 further unrest around the country centered on the exploitation of natural gas reserves and strikes and road blockages led to the resignation of president gonzalo sanchez de Losada when two years later his successor carlos mesa refused to approve a new hydrocarbons law he too was forced to stand down most dramatic perhaps were the events in argentina of late 2001. here in the context of economic crisis with foreign debt devaluation capital flight and a run on the banks widespread urban protest some of it violent resulted in a succession of resignations and unprecedented instability the president had to be helicoptered out of the presidential palace and his successor lasted barely a week before he too fell on his sword in all including interims and caretakers argentina went through five presidents in less than a fortnight the slogan of the multitude on the streets tired of the failures of an entire political class was quest throw all of them out we see a similar exasperation in javier Sicilia’s open letter to mexico’s politicians and criminals we have had it up to here with you politicians or in the editorial published by the diario de juarez which likewise rails against the incompetence of authorities who have failed to do their job but which questions whether the politicians are even in charge anymore turning instead to the narco-trafficantes to ask what is it you want from us by the beginning of the 21st century distrust and doubt were rampant throughout latin america and also elsewhere and the stage was set for a last gasp of something like populism but also the invention of more radical alternatives and that perhaps is where we still find ourselves now

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