Latin America: Local Resistances, Global Movements

Source: La Journada

In June 2002, just 10 years ago, the first popular consulta (vote) of a communal character about mining on a large scale in the world was held in Tambogrande (northern Peru). More than 90 percent of the voters, some 25, 000 people, rejected the project to exploit gold, silver and zinc by Canadian Manhattan; only 350 voted in favor and just 6 percent of the residents did not turn out to vote. The municipality organized the consulta and its results were interpreted as a victory for peasant agriculture, which depends on water for its survival.

The consulta in Tambogrande was followed by one in Esquel (southern Argentina) in March 2003, where 80 percent voted against a Meridian Gold project to extract gold by using cyanide. In June 2005 another referendum was held in Sipacapa, Guatemala, with similar results. These consultas were the form of struggle found by the local communities for breaking their isolation and avoiding that their arguments were drowned out by official and media silence. Now it can be said that they had a more than successful result.

In Peru, resistance to mining led to the National March for the Right to Water, in February, in which the weight of the Peruvian social movements came together. In Argentina, the Esquel victory activated the creation of dozens of local assemblies that coordinated with each other in the Union of Citizen Assemblies, which just held its 18th meeting in Mendoza. In Guatemala, there are now 56 municipalities that have declared themselves free of mining, due to formidable pressure by the population. In Peru, Brazil and Chile, popular resistance to hydroelectric mega-dams continues advancing, and is interlaced with the struggle against mining and monocrops.

After more than a decade of resistances it is possible to establish a pattern of action by movements that have largely transcended the local and are installed as the principal alternatives to the model settled on the expropriation of the commons. “It is the most important popular mobilization since the epoch of Fujimori,” wrote Hugo Blanco, evaluating the March for Water (Lucha Indígena, February 2012).

The first feature of this pattern is that the movements attained such deep and massive support among the local populations that it permitted them to transcend the isolation and harassment. A good part of these resistances were made strong by being rooted in relations of a community character, which permitted them to make visible the existence of a conflict between big multinational corporations and local communities that seek to assure their survival. They appealed to specialists for translating their arguments into the language of the urban middle classes and looked for the protective umbrellas of local institutions and authorities, which is what the oppressed always do to legitimize their demands.

Even when small groups or even a fistful of people mobilize, like often happens with the Argentine citizen assemblies, the stubborn resistance to authority by the communities in movement has permitted them to neutralize the criminalization of protest. Local communities have shown a novel ability to elaborate a discourse capable of tuning in with other people in the most remote places, emphasizing that it’s about the defense of life in the face of the greed of accumulation.

In second place, although the demand is strictly local, they sought from the beginning to weave ties with other social sectors to widen the echo of their struggles, and in that way they began to weave broad regional alliances first, then the national and now international. The ability to break the information and political circle is what has permitted them to transcend the repression and get massive support in the cities, something that up to now seemed difficult to get.

The forms of struggle, in third place, are neither legal nor illegal, neither peaceful nor violent, although they are of all types, but all legitimate, as much the demands as the ability of the members to put their bodies before the gigantic trucks of the corporations and the blows from the police. There is no contradiction between the option for the ballot box in Tambogrande, or later in Majaz (northern Peru), and the outstanding action of the Baguá warriors in 2009, in the Peruvian Jungle.

In fourth place, is listed the confluence of the most diverse social sectors (like happened during the march in defense of TIPNIS in Bolivia in 2011, and in those moments in Aysén, in southern Chile) with the reactivation of the peoples’ traditional internal mechanisms for making decisions and guarantying their security, like the campesino patrols did during the recent March for Water in Peru.

Lastly, we are facing an acceleration of the times. In the first months of this year the March for Water happened in Per and the Aysén Uprising, which has been blocking bridges and highways for three weeks, with a list of 11 demands, among them that the opposition to the Hidroaysén Dam occupies an emphasized place, while last March 8, the March for Water began in Ecuador. It will arrive in Quito on March 22, after touring the country’s three regions. And now a new march is announced in Bolivia to avoid the highway being imposed in TIPNIS.

We are not facing a conjuncture of mobilizations, but a movement against the multinationals and financial speculation, in defense of water, life and the peoples. It is the most formidable, broad and varied continental movement since the struggles of the 1960s and 1970s and the resistance to the first phase of neoliberalism in the 90s. This impressive movement for the commons occurs as much in countries governed by the right as in those that have progressive or left governments. It is not legitimate, therefore, to look for stylish excuses of “who benefits” from the movements to throw a mantle of shadows over the struggles of those below.

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Translation courtesy of the Chiapas Support Committee.