The chapter in Latin American history that opened in 1998 with celebrations in Venezuela has ended with a coup and violence in Bolivia. As with all tidal waves, the “pink tide” recedes to reveal a terrain transformed. The left movement landscape that produced variously striped socialist governments in a dozen countries is fractured and disillusioned. Central and South America face a resurgent right and the return of austerity, often through a scrim of tear gas. This state of disarray also marks the continent’s literal terrain: the forests and mountains cleared and ripped open, their minerals and hydrocarbons sent to port and shipped abroad in the name of a socialist project whose achievements have proven fragile, temporary, and superficial. Trying to maintain a “green” version of global consumer society could lead to a scramble for rare metals to make previous waves of extractivism look gentle by comparison.
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Industrial-scale renewable energy does nothing to remake exploitative relationships with the earth, and instead represents the renewal and expansion of the present capitalist order. We have inherited the bad/good energy dichotomy of fossil fuels versus renewable energy, a holdover from the environmental movement of the 1970’s that is misleading, if not false.
On the 26th March 2017, citizens from the mountainous municipality of Cajamarca, Colombia, voted, with a 98% majority, to ban South African miner AngloGold Ashanti’s vast La Colosa gold mining project, in a ‘popular consultation’ led by grassroots youth activists and small-scale farmers.
One year on, and Cajamarca’s victory has helped inspire a much wider movement of citizens and municipalities exercising their democratic right to participation. 9 other municipalities have held consultations, each rejecting planned mining, gas and oil projects with majorities above 90%. More than 70 others have indicated their intention to do the same.
When the “pink tide” of left-leaning governments first rose to power on the back of anti-neoliberal protests across Latin America in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the initial reaction from the Left was euphoric. Striving to move beyond the “there is no alternative” mantra, many pinned their hopes on what seemed to be a new wave of actually existing alternatives to neoliberalism.
Amidst the revolutionary fervor of social forums, solidarity alliances, and peoples’ councils, it appeared an epochal shift was underway, which Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa optimistically dubbed “a genuine change in the times.”
But in retrospect, the 2005 political mobilizations that led to the defeat of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) may have been the high point of the pink tide project. Since then, the balance of power has slowly shifted back towards the Right, with the popularity and efficacy of left-wing governments rapidly diminishing.