When in 2016, the Network for Political Innovation for Latin America was created, there were already dark clouds on the horizon after the end of the pink tide across the region.
This week, the third Meeting for Political Innovation will take place in Mexico City, and will bring together social leaders, politicians and activists from across Latin America who will face the challenge of rethinking political innovation in the region in a context of democratic backslides, repression and inequality.
The cases of Brazil, Venezuela and Nicaragua are particularly worrying. In Colombia, the quality of democracy is also suffering, and in Argentina, four months from the presidential elections, the economy has plummeted and apathy is widespread.
What’s more, Mexico is another scenario of uncertainty, in which there are few guarantees of what could really occur once AMLO’s administration has consolidated itself.
The challenges are numerous, but the key is optimizing political innovation in order to combat violence, repression and the diffusion of hate speech throughout the region.
Narratives that encourage citizen participation must be recovered more than ever as the scenario is worse than previously imagined.
This new political climate manifests itself through perverse political mechanisms: the use of direct violence to dissuade activism, the strengthening of the police state.
Political innovation is fundamental in combating these backslides that are seriously undermining achievements and democratic progress that we mistakenly thought to be far more consolidated.
Political innovation in Latin America: why?
The project Latinno which measures political innovations across Latin America has demonstrated that since 1990 until 2016, political innovations in every country have been increasing, beginning with around 100 and rising to 1676 in 2016.
However, now more than ever, we face new challenges in the region to maintain this level of innovation.
However, political fragmentation has been significant and we must reflect on the real impact of these innovations in producing changes in political institutions of Latin America. Perhaps the biggest challenge faced is that these initiatives are effective in challenging a growing climate of authoritarianism that ignites emotions against rational arguments. We must react.
As pointed out by the Network of Innovation, this new political climate manifests itself through perverse political mechanisms: the use of direct violence to dissuade activism, the strengthening of the police state, and the narrative control over hate speech.
The region has become a breeding ground for political discourse that promotes exclusion and the protection of traditional values such as patriotism, religion and the family.
Politics has lost its capacity to meditate and governments are coopted by the likes of the military, the church, massive extraction companies, and the elites.
Today in Latin America, participating in politics is increasingly risky due to the impunity in which anti-democratic speech often occurs, and that is why a renovation of democratic forces is necessary so that new strategies and tools can be put into action.
With the presidency of Bolsonaro in Brazil, activists and political innovators are in an increasingly dangerous and risky situation.
Bolsonaro, who declared during his campaign that he was going to put an end to all activisms in Brazil, has already created a scenario where hate speech prospers and where activists are terrified to continue defending the causes for which they’ve spent their entire lives fighting.
In Venezuela and Nicaragua, government repression of activists, protesters, and opposition politicians have created a scenario where it is increasingly difficult for innovations to take place.
This scenario of impunity mustn’t be tolerated and has already created a Brazilian diaspora that is afraid to remain in their home country.
In Venezuela and Nicaragua, government repression of activists, protesters, and opposition politicians have created a scenario where it is increasingly difficult for innovations to take place in these countries, and for democracy to thrive.
In Colombia, the new conservative government of Iván Duque has not been able to protect the hundreds of social leaders and activists that have been murdered since the peace agreements have been signed, which has created an enormous barrier in the effective implementation of social innovations, especially in rural areas of the country.
What can we expect from this year’s meeting?
The network meets every year and every time they do so it is with the intention to continue supporting and creating collaborations of innovative and disruptive initiatives throughout the region, which promote more horizontal structures, open-minded ethics, and that reinforce citizens’ capacity to influence the future of democracy in the region.
In this space, the participants will look for ways to connect ideas that reinforce democracy and to plan actions that could help combat the rise in antidemocratic values throughout the region and beyond.
In such dangerous times for democracy in the region and around the world, it’s vital that ecosystems of civic innovation are strengthened based on shared values and practices which is precisely what activists in Mexico City strive to do.