Taking back politics in Latin America – and beyond

We are living in a period of cultural revolution agitated by the omnipresence of ICTs, where social practices run into systems of government designed and created in the 19th century. Español Português

Agustín Frizzera
27 April 2017

A few months ago, the Argentine President Mauricio Macri said that "politics is about getting out of the office and addressing needs." Brazil's unpopular president, Michel Temer, has defined politics as "a religious act" which drives society to "fundamental values." Enrique Peña Nieto has confessed that his passion for politics dates from when he was very young and read in a newspaper that “the Government of the State of Mexico was handing out tractors to farmers".

Those who preside over the Latin American countries with the highest GDP and the largest population see politics as a tool which can generate "hope". Their preaching concludes that if "politics" does its job well, if it carries out the "right actions", it can change the lives of millions.

However, they rarely refer to how the very powerful structural changes in people's daily lives impact on the legitimacy of the current democratic system. And yet, we are living in a period of cultural revolution that is agitated by the omnipresence of information and communication technologies, where social practices run into systems of government designed and created in the 19th century.

Those in power do not even seem interested in dealing with this state of affairs. They simply ignore it. According to their confused "republicanism", the current institutional crisis must be dealt with by recovering the prestige of institutions conceived two centuries ago – which is impossible, in this context. For them, the citizens’ detachment and disaffection is due to the fact that "politics" is corrupt, and it is thus a matter of getting politics to cease being corrupt – which is unlikely, in this context.

Even so, their promises are projected into the future and refer to a world in which "we will get more", or in which things "will work (more or less) better" - without being clear as to how, what for, or for whom. Their discourse includes the idea of a "better future", but does not envision a different future.

In fact, social disappointment with politics has to do with its lack of results. However, results will not materialize as long as the public discourse keeps on dealing with simple versions of power, with explanations that fail to explain anything, or with discursive strategies which take advantage of people’s uncertainties and anxiety for election purposes.

For these results to be possible in the future, politics should discuss the complex issues that we must face in the region. What are we going to do with the housing crisis? What path are we going to follow to adapt to climate change? How are we to recover upward social mobility? What new productive model can we adopt in our region? How are we going to promote occupation in post-work times?

21st century problems cannot be solved with 19th century institutions. The sword of Damocles hanging over partisan politics and the body of civil servants that occupies state structures is the reproduction of power with little or no regard for legitimacy.

In and out of the region, these are queer times for politics - times of extraordinary events. Many of us who dream of a participatory, inclusive future, in which human rights are duly respected, feel that we have lost the narrative. And losing the narrative means losing our history as well. Queer times, times of extraordinary events: the right time to narrate current events putting them in the context of the history of human struggles.

Politics is the set of actions that are carried out to solve uncertainty. The big mission for politics driven by the perspective of the common good and sustainable development is to make a new social contract plausible, so as to decentralize power and enable the coordination of people’s know-how, skills and knowledge, within and without the state structures.

The challenges that lie ahead are such that state action simply will not suffice. Even though we must acknowledge the valid and fundamental role of a strong state, politics today must envisage institutions which can integrate the efforts of civil society. But what guarantees does politics that overflow institutions has to offer? What opportunities? What dangers does it recognize? What sort of "bureaucracy" do we need in the 21st century? How are we going to decentralize power without diluting responsibility?

Bearing these concerns in mind, we organized Politics Recovered. We asked 11 people, activists and politicians, from 8 Latin American countries, to think aloud and tell us their stories. We organized Politics Recovered as an escape from the traditional ideological trenches, so as to build a narrative that integrates diverse and convergent knowledge.

We organized Politics Recovered to reflect on the role of digital and analog social technologies in the path ahead. We organized Politics Recovered to project into the future an open and collaborative political culture that can effectively build different ways of living, consuming and producing.

The future is going to be different, we do not know yet if it is going to be a better one too. But in order to build it, there should clearly be less "hope" and more will in politics.

Politics Recovered is a series of interviews to 11 leading members of the Network of Political Innovation in Latin America. Taking advantage of the fact that they were meeting in Buenos Aires, Agustín Frizzera asked them what their vision of the new ways of doing politics is, and how do they approach the building of citizens’ rights and the inclusive use of technology.

Unete a nuestro boletín ¿Qué pasa con la democracia, la participación y derechos humanos en Latinoamérica? Entérate a través de nuestro boletín semanal. Suscríbeme al boletín.


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