Latin America's Democratic Revolution and the Greening of the Left

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by Daniel Denvir

Global warming, indigenous rights, energy sovereignty and Latin America’s democratic revolution were on the top of Ecuador’s colloquium celebrating the Action Week / 2008 World Social Forum here in the capital.

The set of panel discussions, entitled “Another Latin America: Where Are the New Revolutions Going?” took place on Friday January 25th, at the Simon Bolívar Andean University. The Ecuadorian celebration of the 2008 Forum will close at today’s Global Day of Action event in solidarity with the Bolivian people today at noon.

This past Thursday, several of the panelists visited Ecuador’s Constituent Assembly, meeting with a variety of the working groups and assembly members, including Assembly President Alberto Acosta. The new government of Rafael Correa convened the new Constitutional Assembly in response to demands to address Ecuador’s persistent poverty, environmental degradation and social exclusion, among other issues. The Correa government is considered a step in the right direction by most social movement activists but is bitterly opposed by the nation’s wealthy and largely European elite.

The first panel of the colloquium focused on the environment, indigenous rights and the necessity of building alternatives to the system of industrial capitalism where “growth” is premised on resource extraction.

Esperanza Martínez, of Acción Ecológica (Ecological Action), emphasized that Ecuador’s Left was one of Latin America’s most environmentalist. Although there are still tensions between environmentalists and some sectors of the Left, a type of “ecologismo popular,” or popular environmentalism, has emerged in recent years. Ecological populism connects environmentalism with the struggles for economic justice and indigenous rights. This framework implies that Ecuador cannot just shift an unsustainable industry from private to state control. Martínez implored the Constituent Assembly to consider the economic, ecological and human costs of Ecuador’s petroleum-based economic model.

The indigenous and campesino leadership of Ecuador’s Left is one of the main reasons that social movements here have such a green hue. Marlon Santi, the new president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities and Peoples of Ecuador (CONAIE), focused his talk on the demand that the Constituent Assembly explicitly declare Ecuador as a plurinational state, recognizing the country’s indigenous and afro-descendent peoples. He warned the Assembly that the new Constitution would amount to nothing if it excluded the diverse peoples of Ecuador. He pledged that the CONAIE would mobilize to make their voices heard.

Santi argued that a plurinational State would be a more sovereign one, noting that the Ecuadorian “government has long subjected itself to global economic powers,” premised on a neoliberal ideology developed in Washington, D.C. In contrast, a State that recognized indigenous and afro-descendent people and their territories would increase participation in the democratic process and in the control of Ecuador’s natural resources and thus be sovereign. Santi is from the Amazonian region of Ecuador, where indigenous communities and rainforest ecosystems have been devastated by Texaco’s oil extraction.

Venezuelan intellectual Edgardo Lander’s speech drove home the urgent demands of global warming: radically change our economic relationship with the environment now or cease to exist. Referring to the current arrangement of the global political-economic order as a “systematic war against life,” Lander argued that rich countries must cut energy use by 90% and that marginalized countries like Ecuador should not repeat the error of “wanting to consume just like the United States.” Lander emphasized that there is only a finite amount of natural resources. The overexploitation of resources by wealthy countries exhausts the planet’s reserves and leaves the planet’s poor majority with the table scraps, without potable water or healthcare. Despite the pronouncements of global elites, this problem does not have a “technological or market fix.” A revolution that overthrows the model of industrial resource extractive capitalism is our only hope for survival.

In the second panel, Bolivian intellectual Elizabeth Peredo discussed Ecuador’s process of constitutional change from the vantage point of Bolivia’s ongoing and conflict-ridden Constituent Assembly. Peredo joked that Thursday’s right-wing demonstrations in the Ecuadorian city of Guayaquil made her “feel right at home.” Bolivia’s draft constitution, which recognizes plurinationality and the rights of indigenous people, workers, campesinos and women, has been met by a determined elite reaction that has brought the nation into gridlock. Peredo warned Ecuador that they had only seen the beginning of elite counter-mobilization in defense of the political and economic status quo. She advised Ecuador’s social movements to be ready.

from ALAI, América Latina en Movimiento, January 26, 2008.


  • I too think that this summary, as limited as it is in terms of coverage of LA (Chile, Brazil, Argenitna, Venezuela left out in a meaningful way), was excellent.

    Depending on how one views “the Left”, it should be noted that the most effective green technology, nuclear, has been embraced by wide sectors of the left in Argentina, Brazil, and, most notably by the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela. I think all three countries are strirring up much need debate on this important quesiton.

    David Walters

  • Thanks for the summary of the colloquium, it looks like some important issues were discussed. I also agree with your conclusion that Ecuador’s indigenous leadership on the Left has helped in the greening of their social movements. Now if we can just get that to happen in Brazil…