The 1990s saw neoliberalism leave devastation in its wake across Latin America, shifting wealth from the poor to the rich.
The 21st century began with mass mobilisations that challenged global capitalism and began to reverse the situation. Like the Zapatistas in Mexico, they said “Ya Basta”—enough is enough.
In 2000, movements rose to challenge water privatisation in Bolivia and imperialism in Ecuador, and they spread.
And in 2002 in Venezuela an attempt to overthrow the government of Hugo Chavez and a bosses’ strike were stopped by mass mobilisations.
The demands coming from the movements in every country focused on control over the oil, gas, water, copper and other natural resources. These had earned huge profits for multinational companies while the people got poorer.
A series of new governments formed around presidents like Morales, who were seen as speaking for the mass movements and defending their demands. The indigenous peoples of the continent played the central role in many countries.
They fought to regain collective control over the lands stolen from them over the centuries. They argued that nature must be respected and conserved—their religious vision coinciding in many ways with the environmental concerns expressed by the anti-capitalist movement.
New constitutions in Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela acknowledged the state’s obligation to control foreign capital.
Yet the past several years has shown how far the new left governments will or will not go to defend the demands. In Peru there have been 250 confrontations between indigenous communities and mining corporations. The same has been happening in Bolivia and in Ecuador.
The left presidents of both countries had promised to resist the invasions of the global market—yet both are buckling and renewing mining and oil concessions.
The recent attendance of these governments at a meeting in Syria, where they supported its regime as a bloc, brings home the difference.
It is the difference between the defence of a national state, and the struggle for democracy from below, that was at the heart of the movements of the century’s first decade. It is a struggle that will continue into this second decade.