Globe, Latin America, Movement, Politiks

Latin America: a rebellious spirit

A report has been published by the UNDP highlightingt Bolivia, Peru and Argentina as the countries with the greatest number of social conflicts (over 200 each, which have their origins in the social inequalities that prevail in these countries.

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America Latina rebeldía  3As a legitimate means of achieving rights that have been denied by the leaders of nations, protest has taken on particular aspects in different parts of the world and has on occasions borne fruit.

Examples include the right for women to vote in the USA (1917), the independence of India (1930), the abolition of apartheid (1976), democracy in Poland (1980) or, more recently, the end of the Second Liberian Civil War (2003).

In Latin America, that spirit of protest is ever present.

A study devised by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reveals that social, institutional and cultural tensions are greater in Latin America than in other parts of the world.

America Latina 2Furthermore, they are characterised by a high degree of citizen participation. This is the conclusion drawn from the study “Social protest in Latin America” which examined more than 2,300 social protests between October 2009 and September 2010, by monitoring 54 newspapers in seventeen countries.

The results revealed that Bolivia, Peru and Argentina were the countries with the greatest number of social protests (more than 200 each), while Costa Rica, Chile and El Salvador (with 58 conflicts each) were those with the lowest levels of unrest.

This disparity is due to social protests being closely linked to social inequality.

America Latina 8Such is also the case in Europe where the number of protests has increased in recent years as a consequence of the economic crisis.

These protests demonstrate to the European Commission the heavy price being paid by its citizens for the economic crisis.

The most active in this sense are Italy, Portugal, Greece and Spain. Their citizens are the ones who protest most against the European austerity measures.

To give an example, the economic and social crisis that Spain is suffering meant that in the first ten months of 2012 alone 36,232 demonstrations took place – practically double the figure for the whole of 2011, when 18,422 were recorded.

Institutions threatened

America Latina 5The study underlines that conflict in itself is not synonymous with war but rather it is a “dimension of diversity and interculturality inherent in democracy”.

So while people increasingly co-ordinate to strengthen themselves in the pursuit of their rights, the study confirms that public institutions, the main focus of the protests, are fragile and do not have sufficient capacity to manage the conflicts within a democratic framework.

America Latina 9The coup in Honduras in June of 2009 is an example of how a breakdown of institutions and a constitutional crisis can occur within a democracy.

The Head of State, Manuel Zelaya, was kidnapped and forced to leave the country. The military took him to Costa Rica and a de facto government was installed, with Roberto Micheletti becoming President of the National Congress.

Subsequently, the de facto government held presidential elections on 29th November. The international community described the day of the elections as “illegitimate” and despite the repudiation of the Honduran people, Porfirio Lobo (the current President of the republic) was declared the winner.

The Internet as a weapon

America Latina rebeldía  10The arrival of the Internet in Latin America has changed people’s perceptions, especially in recent years, with on-line access having spread throughout the region.

According to data from Internet World Stats, which compiles statistics on the use of the Internet, out of the 2,400 million internet users in the world in 2012, 10.6% corresponded to users in Latin America.

This accounts for just over 255 million people, which means that there is a network penetration of 42.9% in the region.

This percentage is still relatively low when compared to the 78% in North America and 63% in Europe, but it reveals the potential for growth that the internet has in Latin American countries.

America Latina rebeldía  7According to the report produced by the UNDP, this access to technology has enabled the new users to become more educated and able to interconnect at a regional and international level, especially for groups such as indigenous peoples who historically have been marginalised.

The investigation also points out that this extensive access to the internet has contributed to a reduction in poverty and inequality within the last decade.

At the same time, it has also had a positive effect on social protests by providing new public spaces that encourage civic engagement. Examples of this are Facebook and Twitter.

97 en propiedad1 (2)In this way, social movements, like the Zapatistas in Mexico, can communicate, raise funds for their initiatives and disseminate material via video.

According to the report, almost 60% of the organisations and individuals who took part in social protests in Latin America had a presence on the Web.

In the case of Costa Rica this figure was 100%, followed by Argentina (90%), Uruguay (80%) and Chile (66.6%). At the other extreme was Bolivia (15%), lagging far behind Guatemala (33.3%).

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(Translated by Martin Relph – Email: manurelph@btinternet.com)

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