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The same is true among the professionals: each sets up its NGO to solicit overseas funds. They compete by presenting proposals more congenial to the overseas donors, while claiming to speak for their followers. The net effect is a proliferation of NGOs that fragment poor communities into sectoral and sub-sectoral groupings unable to see the larger social picture that afflicts them and even less able to unite in struggle against the system. They reinforce the electoral processes encouraged by the neoliberal parties and mass media.

Political education about the nature of imperialism, and the class basis of neoliberalism, the class struggle between exporters and temporary workers, are avoided. It is no coincidence that as NGOs have become dominant in certain regions, independent class political action has declined, and neoliberalism goes uncontested.

The bottom line is that the growth of NGOs coincides with increased funding under neoliberalism and the deepening of poverty everywhere. Despite the claims of many local successes, the overall power of neoliberalism stands unchallenged and the NGOs increasingly search for niches in the interstices of power. The problem of formulating alternatives has been hindered in another way too. Some have undoubtedly been attracted by the hope—or the illusion—that this might give them access to levers of power which would allow them to do some good.

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But in any case, the offer is tempting: higher pay occasionally in hard currency , prestige and recognition by overseas donors, overseas conferences and networks, office staff, and relative security from repression. In contrast, the socio-political movements offer few material benefits but greater respect and independence and, more importantly, the freedom to challenge the political and economic system.

The NGOs and their overseas banking supporters Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank publish newsletters featuring success stories of micro-enterprises and other self-help projects—without mentioning the high rates of failure as popular consumption declines, low-priced imports flood the market, and interest rates spiral, as in Mexico today. The propaganda value of individual micro-enterprise success, however, is important in fostering the illusion that neoliberalism is a popular phenomenon.

The frequent violent mass outbursts that take place in regions of micro-enterprise promotion suggests that the ideology is not hegemonic and the NGOs have not yet displaced independent class movements. Finally NGOs foster a new type of cultural and economic colonialism and dependency.

Imperialism, Neoliberalism and Social Struggles in Latin America

Evaluations are done by and for the imperial institutions. Shifts of funding priorities or bad evaluations result in the dumping of groups, communities, farms, and co-operatives. The new viceroys supervise and ensure conformity with the goals, values, and ideologies of the donor as well as the proper use of funds.

In this competition among NGOs to capture the victims of neoliberals, they receive important subsidies from their counterparts in Europe and the United States. The self-help ideology emphasizes the replacement of public employees by volunteers, and upwardly mobile professionals contracted on a temporary basis. But, while the mass of NGOs are increasingly instruments of neoliberalism, there is a small minority which attempt to develop an alternative strategy that is supportive of anti-imperialist and class politics.

Neoliberalism and the NGOs

None of them receive funds from the World Bank, European, or U. They support efforts to link local power to struggles for state power. They link local projects to national socio-political movements: occupying large landed estates, defending public property and national ownership against multinationals. They provide political solidarity to social movements involved in struggles to expropriate land. They recognize the importance of politics in defining local and immediate struggles.

They believe that local organizations should fight at the national level and that national leaders must be accountable to local activists.

Imperialism, neoliberalism and social struggles in Latin America

Let us examine some examples of the role of NGOs and their relation to neoliberalism and imperialism in specific countries:. In the Bolivian government launched its New Economic Policy NEP by decree: freezing wages for four months while inflation raged at a 15, percent annual rate. The NEP annulled all price controls and reduced or ended food and fuel subsidies. It also laid the basis for the privatization of most state enterprises and the firing of public-sector employees.

Massive cutbacks in health and education programs eliminated most public services. The number of poverty stricken Bolivians grew geometrically.

Some Examples

Prolonged general strikes and violent confrontations followed. In response the World Bank, European, and U. The number of NGOs in Bolivia grew rapidly in response to international funding: prior to there were NGOs; by there were and growing. Of the tens of millions allocated to the NGOs, only 15 to 20 percent reached the poor. The rest was siphoned off to pay administrative costs and professional salaries. The Bolivian NGOs functioned as appendages of the state and served to consolidate its power. The absolute levels of poverty stayed the same and the long-term structural causes—the neoliberal policies—were cushioned by the NGOs.

While not solving the poverty problem, the NGO-administered poverty programs strengthened the regime and weakened opposition to the SAP. The NGOs, with their big budgets, exploited vulnerable groups and were able to convince some leaders of the opposition that they could benefit from working with the government. In Chile under the Pinochet dictatorship in , the NGOs played an important role denouncing human rights violations, preparing studies critical of the neoliberal model and sustaining soup kitchens and other poverty programs.

Their numbers multiplied with the advent of the massive popular struggles between and that threatened to overthrow the dictatorship. In July of there was a successful general strike—a guerrilla group almost succeeded in killing Pinochet—and the United States sent a representative Gelbard to broker an electoral transition between the more conservative sectors of the opposition and Pinochet. An electoral calendar was established, a plebiscite was organized, and the electoral parties re-emerged. The social movements which played a vital role in ending the dictatorships were marginalized.

Imperialism, neoliberalism and social struggles in Latin America | University of Exeter

The NGOs turned from supporting the movements to collaborating with the government. The NGOs were instructed by their foreign donors to end their support for independent grassroots movements and to collaborate with the new civilian neoliberal regime. Two of its chief researchers specialty: social movements became government ministers administering economic policies that created the most lopsided income inequalities in recent Chilean history.

Most of its leaders became government functionaries who co-opted local leaders, while undermining rank-and-file style community assemblies. Interviews with women active in the shantytown Lo Hermida revealed the shift in the post-electoral period. The NGO functionaries continued to use their participatory rhetoric to hustle votes for their parties in the government and to secure government contracts.

With over five thousand organizers and several hundred thousand sympathizers and activists, it has been directly involved in hundreds of land occupations over the past few years. A representative from a Dutch NGO appeared on the scene and insisted on participating. The MST women pushed for a class struggle perspective, combining direct action land occupations and the struggle for agrarian reform with gender equality.

The NGO professionals insisted that the MST women break with their organizations and support a minimalist program of strictly feminist reforms. The end result was a tactical agreement opposing domestic violence, registering women as heads of families, and encouraging gender equality. The MST women, mostly daughters of landless peasants, perceived the NGO professionals as divisive careerists, not willing to challenge the political and economic elite that oppressed all peasants. Part of our collaboration involved the joint development of a project to fund a peasant-directed research and training center.

He explained the proposal and its importance for stimulating peasant-based participatory research. He pointed to the head. The peasant leaders were furious. That study will never be read by any peasant, nor will it be at all relevant to our struggle for land. From Tijuana to Patagonia, implosions of the neo-liberal model since have ushered in a period of intensified class struggle in almost every country.


Neoliberalism in Latin America Neoliberalism consists of a package of economic policies that include privatization, labor flexibilization, debt repayment, balanced budgets, and trade liberalization. Proponents argue that neoliberalism creates economic growth in the countries that adopt it. In fact, no correlation exists under neoliberalism between economic growth and social improvement. The opposite is true: neoliberalism widens the gap between rich and poor.

Chronic malnutrition plagues Urban unemployment across the continent grew from 6 to 9 percent between and , while underemployment went from 50 percent to 56 percent. By , unemployment affected At the same time, more than seven million children aged ten to fourteen were exploited in industrial and agricultural labor. Thirty million youth under the age of eighteen dropped out of school in order to work to help their families.

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Even the U. State Department calculated in that Latin American unemployment averaged In many Latin American countries, the working class as a whole has suffered an experience of fragmentation. A huge net outflow of debt payment from Latin American nations to foreign creditors results as governments borrow in order to try to keep state services minimally intact.

This means that Latin American capitalists generally sell their products on the international market without having added much, if any, value e. Neoliberal theory tells them that profits from exporting such basic goods are sufficient to help Latin America to continue to modernize. Mass struggle in Latin America The most important feature of the present period in Latin America is the reemergence of the masses—mass actors and forms of mass struggle—onto the stage of history.

In most Latin American countries, the main protagonists of the mass actions directed at neoliberalism since have been peasants or rural workers, unemployed urban workers, the poor, indigenous peoples, and neighborhood organizations—in contrast to unionized, urban, and employed workers. In Argentina and Ecuador, the amorphous middle class has on occasion played an important role in social rebellion.

Shunned by the CGT because they were unemployed, the piqueteros next approached the dissident wing of the CGT—with the same results.

Pros and cons of neoliberalism

When they went on to ask for organizing help from the alternative Argentine Workers Confederation CTA , they still got the familiar bureaucratic song-and-dance. The piqueteros finally had no choice but to organize themselves and to attempt to flow around the politically passive and compromised leaderships of the traditional unions in order to pursue their goals and demands.

Thus it came as no surprise that the piqueteros figured as key actors in the Argentinazo of December [the uprising of struggles that year], while, with the exception of teachers from La Matanza, the organized workers of the two CGTs and the CTA remained conspicuous by their absence. Bolivia, Venezuela, and Argentina have recently become exceptions to this general pattern of a lack of participation by the unions and employed urban workers in the major social struggles of Latin America.

A subway strike last year won the six-hour workday with no cut in pay and hundreds of additional jobs. The government of Ecuadorian President Jamil Mahuad fell in January at the hands of two million peasants and poor workers who took over the streets in protest against dollarization. In April, a coalition of factory workers, peasants, irrigators, coca growers, and neighborhood associations in Cochabamba, Bolivia, won the first great victory against corporate globalization.

After several days of battling police, they halted the privatization of water and ran the U. Since then, struggles across Latin America have continued apace. Argentines mounted eight general strikes, and as many as fifty roadblocks per day, throughout In the process, the MST weathered an assassination campaign carried out against leading members by paramilitaries connected to big business. In , extraordinary mass direct actions blocked the privatization of electric power in Peru; halted the sell-off of state banks and social services in Paraguay; defended the rights of coca farmers in Bolivia and of indigenous peoples in Chile; and protected small savings accounts and the security of employment in Uruguay—to name only a few of the best known struggles.

No doubt, the most spectacular mass action was the avalanche of poverty-stricken Venezuelans who descended the hills around Caracas and defeated U. The highpoint of struggle in occurred in Bolivia.

Between sixty and eighty people were killed by the government over three weeks of conflict that also won the promise of a national referendum on the future of control over natural gas and oil.