“The way out for Bolivia? Free elections or the chaos. “
That is what the Spanish sociologist and economist said during the presentation of his latest book ” La nueva América Latina” , a thorough analysis of the situation in Latin America. “I have had this book in my head for 53 years,” said Manuel Castells (77) at the international book fair in Mexico. Together with Bolivian sociologist Fernando Calderón, Castells attempted to define “the definitive characteristics of Latin America in the 21st century”, an ambitious venture that is becoming even more complex in the current context. The publication is the result of research that lasted more than a decade and for which both authors often traveled around the region. Castells was in Buenos Aires by the leading newspaper Clarínasked for his opinion on various countries of Latin America. Walter Lotens translated the interview from Spanish.
“Latin America is at a turning point. There is confusion and there is a need for reorientation. From there, a different company model can be searched for. ” For the Spanish academic, the current turmoil in the region reflects the impossibility of the ruling elites to solve the dilemma of Latin America, in particular promoting economic growth and also reducing inequality. “The people need not only a future, but also a present, because the hardships are great.”
-How do you explain the growth of evangelical churches in the region?
‘That has to do with the crisis in the Catholic Church. In the past ten to fifteen years, religiosity in the world has increased. The only religion that constantly loses its feathers is Catholicism. According to studies I consulted, it is estimated that by 2040 there will be as many evangelists as Catholics in Latin America. That is really a revolution. “
– How did that happen?
‘That has to do with structurally inhibiting factors such as continuing to claim that youth would preserve their virginity until marriage. You must be crazy to believe that. Also denying the equality of men and women. Thirdly, there is the systematic silence of pedophilia within the Church from the top to the base. The Church has not understood that new world, especially because of the resistance of the equipment among the bishops. “
-How do you judge the performance of that evangelical movement?
– They can work on site. They go to the favelas and mix under the arms. After that, those people are exploited, because the evangelists are trading in salvation. They organize major concerts in the US and in Africa in which well-known artists are involved to raise funds. If you want to honor God, you have to pay for it, except for the powerful and certainly for the politicians. Someone like Bolsonaro cannot be understood without involving the power of the evangelists. “
-How do they perform in Brazil?
-‘Let me clarify this through an anecdote during my fieldwork to indicate the influence of the evangelists. There was a demonstration against Bolsonaro in which millions of women participated who carried a ‘Not with him’ banner. However, during the elections there were more voices from female evangelists than from middle-class women who hate him. How could that be? How did the evangelists work with this? Via social media they launched a campaign in which Bolsonaro and his associates participated. They only wanted to emphasize one idea: these women were all feminists and … they don’t wash. In this way, the evangelists claimed, it is easier for the devil to enter the female soul. That was not just an insult, but a concrete explanation for what happened to them. Evangelical women, however poor they may be, pray every time they go to church (at least three a week), they perfume and put on their best clothes. They go impeccably to the encounter with their God and that in contrast to the feminists who supposedly would not wash themselves. ‘
Do you think that the power of those movements is underestimated?
People need a God. That certainly works to the advantage of the evangelical churches. That is something that the anticlerical left does not understand. The people are not surrounded by the comfort that agnostic intellectuals have, who are attracted by deep philosophical issues or by their curiosity for Buddhism. Those who cannot hold on to politics, who do not believe in what governments or ideologies proclaim, find comfort in God. Meditative activities are only good for people who earn more than 100,000 euros a year. “
-Refuse neoliberalism nor neodesarrollismo [i] may provide an answer to the current problems. Which model can inspire Latin America?
‘That is indeed the big question. I believe we should stop thinking in terms of models. Latin America must de-ideologize itself, disengage from both the neo-liberal ideology and the traditional ideology of the left. In the first place, this means respecting organic developments in society. A new political system can only come about through debates, discussions, confrontations and reconciliation. New participation mechanisms must be developed for this. Imposing economic measures to solve political and social problems inevitably leads to the reproduction of neo-liberalism or neo-sarrollism. Why is it that nobody, despite repression and internal corruption and other problems, has succeeded in eradicating peronism? The answer is simple: because it is organic. One can think what one wants from Peronism, but it must be clear that it had and still has historical support from major social sectors of Argentine society. “
-Do you see other organic movements in the region?
– What is happening in Chile right now is an example of this. There is an elite there that is completely separate from the population and, moreover, there is still the constitution from under Pinochet. This means, among other things, limiting trade union rights and privatizing various aspects of daily life. Apart from vandalism and violence, we see something very beautiful in those Chilean mobilizations. A generation of young people has risen who no longer have any fear, who have not experienced the dictatorship. They are aware of the great injustices in their society and certainly also of the fact that their parents are in debt all over their heads. Healthcare and education are privatized and in many cases bad.
-What do you mainly notice in the events in Chile?
-‘The symbolic value of all those protest demonstrations is very strong. Many of those events pass through the Costanera Center,to the tallest building in Latin America. It is a symbol of consumerism that has driven them into that situation and, moreover, it is the building that desperate, impoverished elderly people choose to commit suicide. Young people do not want their grandparents to come to an end this way and that is why they say ‘get rid of that building’. The metro is another example. Some claim that the revolt started because the young people did not want to pay the price increase. That is not correct because they had affordable school subscriptions. They revolt primarily for their parents who do not have that option, who can barely pay their bills to reach the end of the month. Interesting cases are also happening in Colombia. In a country that still has to recover from years of guerrilla war, cities such as Medellín and Bogotá give the example of a progressive policy of a different type than the old left. These new projects are now starting to come to power. In those cities that happens in an organic way. “
– What needs to happen in Bolivia now to get out of the impasse?
-To get out of the impasse, we must first state what happened. A coup has taken place in Bolivia. That is a technical and not an ideological definition. When the army command suggested to Evo Morales to abandon the presidency, it was a coup. However, something that remained dormant throughout the Evo Morales reign was the ethnic division in the country. I personally know middle-class left-wing intellectuals who were able to study in the US, but who could not have indigenous people coming to power. That was not just about the figure of Evo Morales, but also about the fact that indigenous people held high positions in the government. Peru and Chile are societies with an elitist character, but in Bolivia, the elites have always been white and intolerant. And that in the midst of a society with an indigenous majority or of indigenous origin. In all countries where such a large indigenous population is present, there is tension. “
-Do you think that outside influences have played?
“Trump would certainly have been very satisfied, but I don’t think the US, as in the past, played a decisive role. My hypothesis is that this role was previously fulfilled by Brazil. Bolsonaro also went on a ‘crusade’ against Evo Morales from the beginning and it is clear that there was a great evangelical influence during the events that took place in Bolivia. Moreover, Santa Cruz de la Sierra is historically a province that is more in keeping with Brazil than with the Altiplano . “
-What opportunities do you see for Bolivia at the moment?
-There are only two. The first are new elections in which Evo Morales can participate. The other is chaos. Bolivia is a divided country – more than 40 percent of the population voted for Evo Morales – in which the two parts display very different ethnic and social characteristics: indigenous and poor, whites and rich. National reconciliation of these sectors cannot simply be imposed. Writing elections without Evo Morales, for example, would undoubtedly be a dictatorial measure. “
[i] Social development economy that took off in Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s. The economist Raúl Prebish then argued for inland industrialization instead of relying on the export of natural resources. Neo-extractivism is also often referred to, a method of accumulation based on the over-exploitation of natural resources, little or no transformation, and mainly intended for export. In that sense, the term includes both mine extractivism, as well as the production of petroleum and the monoculture of soy.