Indigenous protests in Ecuador have prompted some fascinating debate. Jeffrey Webber has an article describing how Minister of Culture Guillaume Long criticized him and his description of those protests.
In a paradigmatic expression of passive revolution in the country today, Long weaves a technocratic thread throughout his interview, of loyalty and submission to benevolent elected officials and anxiety in the face of undisciplined, independent, social organization of workers, peasants, and indigenous communities from below. The post-modern liberal left, in this view, “exalts non-state actors, NGOs, and a nebulously defined civil society, elected by no one, who are always seen as forces for good.” The Correa government’s electoralist calculus – in which politics is increasingly reduced to choosing who rules – extra-parliamentary politics lose all texture and particularity. This is evident in Long’s inability to differentiate between Jaime Nebot and trade union activists, between Guillermo Lasso and indigenous activists mobilizing to fight mining incursions into their territories. There is no room in such a calculus for a virtuous dialectic of a Left government operating inside the contradictory apparatuses of a dependent capitalist state, on the one hand, and self-organization and mobilization of popular sectors from below. You could argue, plausibly, that such a dialectic was visible during the Constituent Assembly process of 2006 to 2008, but that time has long since passed.
No one disputes Long’s basic points on economic growth and social improvements under Correa in the realms of health care, education, income inequality, and poverty. But he misrepresents the realities of the international economic environment and exaggerates some of this social improvement, while ignoring its most recent directionality. Improvements in income inequality and poverty outcomes in Ecuador have not been out of step with the general improvement across these areas throughout much of South America (governed by gradations of Left and Right parties) throughout the duration of the Chinese-driven commodities supercycle (2003-2011). Economic growth was rapid throughout this period in South America. Therefore Long gets the timing of the global recession’s impact on South America wrong. “Economic growth has averaged 4.3 percent,” he writes, “despite Rafael Correa’s coming to office on the eve of a global recession.” This was a general regional trend, not a particular achievement of Correa’s administration.
The global recession, however, is now reaching South America in a delayed reverberation, through China’s slowdown. South America has entered what is likely to be an extended period of low growth, and Left (and Right) governments in the region are facing class decisions, made sharper by the absence of high commodity prices to lubricate social programs. Who is paying for the fall in state revenues? The rich or the poor? Mining capitalists or indigenous communities? Early signals in Ecuador are not promising for those interested in genuinely shifting costs onto the elite.