Latin America, from cosmopolitics to technopolitics

A distinctive feature of the new-style progressive Latin American social movements is their syncretism: 15M/Occupy culture blends with ancestral native worldviews. Español Português

Bernardo Gutiérrez González
30 March 2016

On September 18, 2013, the Munduruku indians from the Brazilian Amazon sent a note of support to the "struggle movements demonstrating in the streets." Since the so-called "June Days", the massive riots that turned Brazilian politics upside down, the country's streets were still in turmoil. The fight of the Munduruku people received the support of the urban movements, and the Ipêrẽgayũ Munduruku wrote back offering their solidarity: "We thank all the movements which have been expressing their indignation in the streets, in all sectors of society and in all the existing social classes."

While the Munduruku were fighting hydroelectric power companies in their territory, a conjunction of urban struggles and ancestral causes was turning the streets of Rio de Janeiro into a burgeoning of syncretic symbols. In the demonstrations, you could see an activist Batman running alongside a Korubo Indian, and indigenous feathers styling Anonymous Rio’s profile. And the Aldeia Maracanã, the former Indian Museum the Brazilian government wanted to pull down in order to build the Maracanã Stadium parking lot, became an icon for the revolt in which young streamers coexisted with shamans from various tribes. Cosmopolitics, a term used to define Yanomami leader Davi Kopenawa’s world vision, became urban. And the digital network and empowered crowd-era technopolitics made some unforeseen turns in Brazil as they were coloured with ancestral worldviews.

The aim of the New Communication, Organization and Social Aggregation Dynamics - Techno-political Reconfigurations research project, developed after a global call from OXFAM, was to better understand the "new forms of citizen participation" and "centre-less social processes" in Latin America. Although the study paid special attention to digital social networks, one of its main conclusions was that the ancestral Latin  American collaborative DNA (the common good-oriented systems, such as the Kichua Minga, the Náhuatl tequio and the Aymara ayni) and some worldviews, such as the Buen Vivir (Good Living or Living Well), coexist in the region with techno-political dynamics and hacktivism.

Worldviews, cosmopolitics

Cosmopolitics, the view that interprets the world outside of Western logic, is the emotional backbone of many Latin American new-style movements. It is even the inspiration for community organization for many groups which base their action on digital tools and platforms. In Colombia, the Indigenous Minga that the indigenous peoples of the Cauca Valley summoned in 2008 became the great political reference for many urban youths. The Minga, so called in allusion to the Kichua Minga collective mechanism, became a march that toured the whole country. For many young people, this was "the main event that changed the ways of organizing and undertaking social action." The coexistence of new actors (National Wide Assembly - MANE, Anonymous profiles) with classic rural movements during the agricultural strike of 2013 exemplifies some of these cosmopolitical/technopolitical resonances, assembled in a de-colonial theorists’ trans-modernity that goes beyond classical western frameworks.

On the other hand, the Good Knowing/FLOK Society project in Ecuador generated an ample meeting space for Latin American crypto-punks, global hackers, organizations and movements. Framed in the Good Living paradigm, Good Knowing launched the challenge of achieving Ecuador’s "second independence through free technologies" and a "digital Pacha Mamá of common and open knowledge." Good Living and hacker ethics blended in a project aiming at overcoming the extractivist economy through free, common and open knowledge. Technopolitics merged with ancestral practices and worldviews. Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro talks about Amerindian perspectivism, which "starts with a twice-reverse statement: the other exists, therefore he thinks", a statement that works for hacker ethics and the network culture, the real worldviews and/or world sensitivities for our times. The symbolic evolution of the Good Living crossbreeding with the hacker ethics, such as the Good Knowing and the Good Resisting, come close to the trans-modernity formulated by Enrique Dussel: "transcending western modernity (...) a multifaceted, hybrid , post-colonial, pluralistic, tolerant trans-modernity, beyond liberal democracy and the modern European state. "

Global inspiration

After the outburst of the 2011 revolts - Arab Spring, 15M, Occupy ... – social actors and governments in Latin America embraced denialism. The official version was: there were no networked revolts in the region because the progressive governments had the support of their people. Besides, it was argued that this was a déjà vu, for the historical struggles in Latin America were an inspiration for the wave of revolts triggered by the Arab Spring. True: from Zapatismo to the Chilean students’ protests, Latin America has been a social beacon for the world. The findings of the New Communication, Organization and Social Aggregation Dynamics. Techno-political Reconfigurations study show, however, that what happened at a global level in 2011 changed – to a large extent - the social dynamics in Latin America. The networked nemesis of the frantic planetary 2011 turned the Slut Walk in Toronto into the Marchas de las Putas in several countries, adapted the Spanish 15M to Indignados Paraguay (among many others), expanded the Occupy Wall Street imaginary, and imbued student movements in the region with the ideas, methods and tools of Wikileaks, Anonymous or Real Democracy Now.

At the same time, the new architecture of the rallies and the protests, the hybrid space (Internet and territories) as the interface for action, the emergence of new players, and the liquid and ad hoc adherence to certain causes are shaping a new prototype of political participation, creation and imagination in Latin America. A common pattern in the region now is a time-intensive mobilization for a particular cause, with strong symbolic disruptions and the creation of new spaces for aggregation. On the other hand, feminism (#NiUnaMenos in Argentina), digital freedom (#Pyrawebs in Paraguay, the fights against and the defense of the urban commons (such as #tomaelbypass in Peru and #OcupeEstelita in Brazil) are still active hubs. At the same time, some uprisings, such as the March of the Torches, which began calling for the resignation of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, led to the emergence of a new political subject, the Indignados de Honduras, featuring self-convening through social networks, self-organizing and emotional empowerment. As happened also in the #JusticiaYa revolts in Guatemala, the fight against corruption in Honduras is no longer in the hands of the neoliberal right. The popular classes in Central America claim this fight as their own, raising US suspicion.

The OXFAM study also highlights the fact that political dichotomies and the antagonist narrative generated by the progressive governments in Latin America, but also by the opposition, is the main edge for technopolitics in the region. In most cases, statist intervention disqualifying any revolt as "neoliberal" or "rightist" can cause a depletion of the streets or a shifting to the right of the demonstrations, as evidenced in Ecuador and Brazil.


Graph study Ayotzinapa´s case.

From Zapatism to Ayotzinapa

Is there an end of cycle for the Latin American left, as Uruguayan journalist Raúl Zibechi warns? Does this mean that the neoliberal right would return to power? What will be the impact of the sequence of networked revolts in the region? The answer does not lie in mystifying the legacy of the progressive bloc, as some leftist European media do. Nor does it lie in criminalizing the bloc’s policies. The Latin American change of skin is more subtle, complex and multifaceted. It is neither Bolivarian nor its exact opposite. There is a new wave of sensibilities and political practices in the region, despite the growing polarization. In addition to the aforementioned outbursts and movements and the cosmo-technopolitical synergies, the region is living intensely the emergence of a new political subject that catches classic social organizations offside. In some cases, it incorporates a new imaginary to these organizations.

The emergence of the #YoSoy132 movement in Mexico (2012), the #tomalacalle in Peru (2013), the #VemPraRua revolts in Brazil (2013) and #JusticiaYa in Guatemala (2015) confirms a pattern of communication, action and self -an organization that goes beyond traditional definitions and social structures. In most cases, these are networked movements which evolve over time, mutate and even change names. The Technopolitics: the power of connected crowds study defines the phenomenon as a "distributed temporary leadership", a definition that explains many of the mutations of the Spanish 15M and the Mexican #YoSoy132, the structure of which "transforms dynamically."

The rise of #YoSoy132 in Mexico was particularly relevant for the region, as it perfectly symbolizes the continuity and simultaneous breaking off the new movements generate. #YoSoy132, which feeds non-linearly, symbolically and organizationally on Zapatism but breaks from it, was not an isolated outburst. It wove a new social ecosystem that has evolved over time. Some nodes in some particular action (the early #YoSoy132) link up with new spaces (for example, #PosMeSalto against rising tariffs). In this ecosystem, whoever temporarily leads an action may not have participated in any action in the past.

When the 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teacher Training School disappeared on the night of September 26, 2014, few expected that, a year and a half on, Mexican and global networks would still be demanding justice. Nor was it anticipated that this process would cause the interaction of such diverse social ecosystems as Zapatism, the 1999 student strike and #YoSoy132. The Ayotzinapa case was the meeting point for many Mexican causes and for social movements in Latin America and the world. The specific data study on the Ayotzinapa process, which analyzed dozens of Twitter hashtags, comes to prove researcher Guiomar Rovira’s thesis: the outbursts owe more to "syncs" than to solid ideological allegiances. #YoSoy132, despite the efforts of those who claim that the movement died off, was key to establishing the connection between disparate social ecosystems.

Transnacionalism, transmodernity

During the Ayotzinapa indignation, the different Mexican ecosystems interacted with the networks of global revolts, such as the Spanish #15M, the protests in Brazil and Occupy Wall Street, through hashtags such as #Caravana43 (in the United States), #EuroCaravana43 (in Europe) and #caravana43sudamérica. In turn, Ayotzinapa connected global struggles and heterogeneous symbologies which had emerged in different historical moments, as shown by Noam Chomsky’s support and that of Real Democracy in Spain. It is interesting to note here the reciprocal identification of Ayotzinapa with #BlackLivesMatter. Moreover, the Ayotzinapa case has left a deep impresssion in Latin America, where it has produced momentary connections between different student movements. It aroused support from such assorted movements as Yasunidos (Ecuador), the Madres de Mayo (Argentina) and the fans of the Bolivian football team The Strongest. However, despite the emotional empathy caused by the Ayotzinapa case and the new connections stemming from other processes, it is too early to say if it will have an impact on regional macropolitics, or if it will result in a new movement or pan-American political paradigm. The same could be said of outbursts such as #VemPraRua in Brazil and other revolts.

The global struggles sequence unlocked by the Arab Spring began to blur western symbologies, frameworks, and fictions. As they hatched in Latin America and coexisted with southern epistemologies, they also interfered with some dichotomous narratives forged by local governments. The transnational connection of these revolts is weaving a new world sense that goes beyond global neo-liberalism and developmental statism, which put modern state as the epicenter. This bordering, trans-modern knowledge connects the global South with the precariat and other political subjects from the North, producing a new commons geopolitics. An unexpected rebound is this: Latin America's progressive legacy has a new leakage point in Spanish municipalism, which has won the main mayorships in the country. The Zapatista Good Government Juntas, the Good Living and the Latin American Living Culture are today active political lines at different levels in cities such as Madrid and Barcelona. Post global capitalism could emerge from the recombination and synchronization of Latin American and South European worldviews, sensitivities and practices - cosmopolitical and technopolitical.

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