Articles 2017-09-08T23:48:22+00:00

Film Review: Chicago Boys

By | 20/September/2017|

How Salvador Allende’s progressive government in Chile in the 1970s was overthrown with the help of a small group of US-trained Chilean economists.

Millions of CIA dollars pumped into the rightwing media to undermine a socialist government. Destabilisation of the economy, creating widespread civil unrest. A potential military coup.

Venezuela, 2017?

No. This was Chile in 1973 when, following Salvador Allende’s surprise election victory, the rightwing in the country and the US were deliberating how to intervene and prevent the delivery of a socialist programme without courting worldwide condemnation.

The award-winning documentary ‘Chicago Boys’, which gets a screening in London on Saturday 23 September, takes us back to the 1950s where it all began. It was then that a small group of Chilean students had been given grants to study economics at the University of Chicago under Milton Friedman.

They were a close-knit group of ‘fun-loving’, hardworking students who jocularly dubbed themselves ‘the Mafia’. In the film they maintain that they were not ‘party political’ but some of them were rightwing Catholics and members of Opus Dei, the fascistic cult which flourished in Franco’s Spain.

The Boys’ world view ran counter to the many Latin Americans who viewed democracy and socialism as indivisible — the fight for democratic elections was indistinguishable from the fight for social welfare — but this was especially the case in Chile, where communists and socialists were able to win power electorally. But that victory was short-lived.

After completing their studies, the Chicago Boys returned to Chile to teach at the Catholic University in Santiago. Without their input and collaboration after the Allende government was overthrown, the military junta in Chile would have been incapable of governing the country. One of the group, Sergio de Castro, became the Minister for Economics in the dictator Augusto Pinochet’s government.

In this brilliant investigative film, the Boys are interviewed in depth about their involvement in economics, the Pinochet coup and the Chilean experience. They are more than happy to talk.

Asked whether he knew about the killing, disappearances and torture that took place during his time as minister during the Pinochet regime’s most brutal period, de Castro answers: ‘I didn’t know absolutely nothing’. A significant double negative.

He recalls climbing a hill in Santiago on the day of the coup to watch the bombing of the presidential palace where Salvador Allende would be murdered. As flames poured out of the palace’s windows, he felt, he says, an ‘infinite happiness’.

In statements reminiscent of leading nazis at the post-war Nuremberg trials, he and his fellow economists deny any knowledge of, or involvement in, human-rights abuses. They were ‘only concerned with economics’, not ‘politics’.

But they add that it would not have been possible to make the necessary changes in Chile without an authoritarian regime and without ‘some’ violation of human rights.

The documentary’s makers, journalist Carola Fuentes and film-maker Rafael Valdeavellano, have unearthed home movies of the first class of Chicago Boys studying and socialising in Santiago and they reveal how ideological the Chicago Boys were.

Trained not only in the technical aspects of

Best of the Web August 2017

By | 17/September/2017|

Our monthly selection of the best articles on Latin America from around the internet.

1) Brazil: rural land conflicts are part of a planned project of killing (Luciano Velleda/Latin America Bureau)

A damning report from the catholic church’s Land Commission denounces the mounting death toll in rural conflicts.

2) When Salvador Allende told us happiness is a human right (Luis Sepúlveda/The Nation)

Now, for the first time, an adviser recalls a remarkable 1971 conversation with Chile’s socialist leader.

3) Borders and the Displacements They Create are Human Artefacts (Jacqueline Bhabha/Revista: Harvard Review of Latin America)

Displacement implies some measure of compulsion to leave home, when staying put, overwhelmingly the preferred default option, is no longer viable.

4) FARC’s step towards peace in Colombia must not be met with another ‘political genocide’ (Jan Boesten/The Conversation)

Even with the peace process apparently underway, the threat is still there – and since the negotiations began, threats against social leaders and assassinations have not receded, but surged.

5) Strangling Puerto Rico in Order to Save It (Mark Weisbrot/Center for Economic and Policy Research)

A US congressional board’s remedy for Puerto Rico’s financial ills will only deepen the island’s impoverishment for decades.

6) Using radio to confront climate change in Peru (Neil Giardino/Al Jazeera English)

Radio hosts use indigenous language radio broadcasts in Peruvian Amazon to raise awareness and rally isolated villages.

7) The Media on Venezuela: Double Standards and First Impressions (Ricardo Vaz/Investig’Action)

A dissection of the common fake news techniques used by the mainstream media in its reporting on Venezuela.

8) A New Life for Indigenous Languages in New York City (Hannah Wallis/NACLA)

How two radio shows in New York City are uniting indigenous immigrant communities from Latin America.

9) Argentine Paper Stood Up to the Generals, but Succumbed to Market Forces (Daniel Politi/New York Times)

The Buenos Aires Herald opened its doors nearly 141 years ago, but became legendary by exposing forced disappearances during the 1976-83 military dictatorship, a chapter of Argentina’s history that other papers whitewashed.


10) The Hour of the Furnaces – Part 1: Neocolonialism and Violence (Fernando Solanas & Octavio Getino, Argentina, 1968)

Argentinian filmmaker Fernando Solanas’ controversial look at the past, current and future politics of Latin America.


The Violence of the Peace

By | 29/August/2017|

The dominant approach to peace in Colombia represents the consolidation of an economic model imposed through ongoing corporate and state-backed violence.

On 30 November 2016, the Colombian Congress ratified a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The process had required more than four years of negotiation, with the final accords signed only weeks after the rejection of a previous deal in a plebiscite dominated by a hawkish far-right.  With the ratification of the agreement, humanitarians across the world breathed a collective sigh of relief. 52 years of armed conflict was at an end. One of the last remnants of Cold War communist insurgency had been put to rest and the vicious counterinsurgency that had terrorised the country would surely have to cease.

On 6 March 2017, Colombia Reports, the main English language news source on Colombia, published an article with the ominous title, ‘Is Colombia going from war to peace to genocide?’. At least 23 social leaders had already been killed in the first three months of peace. Fears of a renewed and intensified wave of violence at the hands of rightwing paramilitaries appeared to be justified.

There has been so much opposition to the accords from bellicose beneficiaries of the war that ‘peace at any price’ is often portrayed as the only fitting response of those with progressive politics. After all, the argument goes, is anything not better than war?  Those in the most conflict-affected regions voted overwhelming for the peace deal, and surely we always knew there would have to be compromise? This is the blackmail of the either/or.  We are encouraged to think in binaries.  Either war or peace. Incivility versus civility. Evil versus justice. Either this peace or the continuation of an intolerable violence. Those who express caution about the peace deal’s prospects for paving the way to ‘post-conflict’ must be churlish or, at best, naively idealistic.

Extreme violence is often batted away as something belonging outside of modernity, the work of unintelligible Others that development and humanistic intervention is poised to overcome. Violence is framed as an absence: an absence of order, of the rule of law, of a suitably strong state. For peace to be possible, we must plug the gaps: reintegrate combatants, implement law and prosecute perpetrators, fill the stomachs of those whose poverty might otherwise constitute a grievance. The state, meanwhile, is a neutral third party, the overseer of prosperity, the source of security, the protector of lives that would otherwise (as Hobbes would have it) be ‘nasty, brutish and short’.

Yet the ongoing repression of human rights defenders and community leaders is not an aberration. The recent wave of killings is not a sign of the ineffective or incomplete implementation of the Colombian state’s post-conflict agenda. ‘Peace’ marks the consolidation of an order imposed through massacres and selective assassinations.  Violence permeates the fabric of peace. Only when we see this can we understand its distinctive colour.

A very short history of the last ninety years 

State-backed repression in Colombia

Best of the Web July 2017

By | 2/August/2017|

Our monthly selection of the best articles on Latin America from around the internet.

1) As Momentum Grows to Remove Brazil’s President, New Pressure Campaign Sparks Rage (Glenn Greenwald & Erick Dau/The Intercept)

Temer himself has now been formally charged with accepting bribes, making him the first sitting president in Brazil’s history to be a criminal defendant while in office.

2) Which Way Out of the Venezuelan Crisis? (George Ciccariello-Maher/Jacobin)

As Venezuelans go to the polls this Sunday, the country faces a choice between deepening revolution and an elite-enforced rollback.

3) Why I Chose to Not be Latinx (Hugo Marin González/Latino Rebels)

Being of Latin origin resonates as of being a colonial trophy for Latin Europe, while “Hispanidad” only covers a very limited percentage of my cultural heritage.

4) Being Arab in Latin America (Lamia Oulalou/Le Monde Diplomatique)

The first wave of migrants from the Middle East to Latin America were accepted by the locals as hardworking mercantile successes. Newer arrivals have had a harder time.

5) Is Guatemala the Next Uber Frontier? Taxi Drivers Say ‘Hell No’ (Jeff Abbott/In These Times)

More than 1,000 taxi drivers took to the streets of Guatemala City on June 7 to protest the arrival of the ride-sharing app, Uber, to Guatemala. The workers blocked bus routes and shut down sections of the historic center of Guatemala City, before they drove to the municipal building to demand a dialogue.

6) The Surrealist Continent (Oriana Baddeley and Valerie Fraser/Verso)

Throughout the twentieth century the concerns of artists in Europe and North America have had an obvious impact on the art of Latin America, yet it is important to recognize the particular significance of movements such as Surrealism or abstraction within a non-Western context. 

7) A New Generation of Paramilitary Groups is Killing Social Activists in Colombia (Bladimir Sanchez Espitia/The Real News)

Bladimir Sanchez Espitia discusses recent cases of human rights violations by paramilitaries in Colombia.

8) Tropical deforestation in Paraguay and our BBQ (Toby Hill/Open Democracy)

On a vast, hot plateau in Paraguay, a little-known environmental crisis is playing out.

9) Is Lula’s sentence ‘another coup’? (Vanessa Baird/New Internationalist)

Brazil’s ex-president was the favourite for next year’s election. Are the corruption charges politically motivated?


10) A young mother commutes from Mexico to the US (Andrea Kurland/Huck Magazine) 

Karla Nutter commutes every day from Juárez, Mexico to El Paso, Texas, straddling a line that her husband is barred from crossing. Her story is shared in Mitad Y Mitad (Half and Half), an original Huck film.



Fidel Castro, Global Statesman

By | 7/December/2016|

The achievements of the Cuban Revolution created the most profound socialist model anywhere in the world.

Fidel Castro Ruz was in my view the greatest popular leader of the 20th century; certainly the greatest to emerge since the Second World War. He inspired and led to victory a revolution of a profoundly radical character in a small country barely a stone’s throw from the greatest imperialist power in history, and turned that revolution into a beacon of social and economic justice for Latin America, indeed for the world. Against the expectations even of the great majority of his followers, he successfully steered what was initially a democratic and reformist process towards complete rupture with the hegemonic power and rapid transition to one of the most profound, if not the most profound, socialist model anywhere on the globe.

Relying initially on the participatory democratic consensus of a mass movement inspired by revolutionary momentum, Fidel and his comrades later accepted the need for institutionalisation of a popular democracy, expressed in the 1976 Constitution and further refined in the 1990s. Although unashamedly a one-party system, it incorporates more effective measures than in most similar systems to ensure popular participation and separation of party and state.[1] When in the mid-1980s the Soviet Union embarked on the controversial course of glasnost and perestroika, Fidel was alone among communist leaders in warning that the manner in which these reforms were being implemented could lead to the complete collapse of the USSR. For this he was vilified by many as a Stalinist, but as those who knew him and knew Cuba pointed out, this was far from the truth: Fidel was simply reaffirming the need for clarity in maintaining independence and socialism, and simultaneously the originality of the Cuban process.

When Fidel’s foresight was vindicated with the fall of the Berlin wall and Soviet collapse, accompanied by the abrupt loss of 85 per cent of Cuba’s overseas trade and the tightening of the US blockade, virtually all observers assumed that Cuba would soon follow suit. That it did not, that it survived the extraordinary privations of the ‘Special Period’ of the 1990s, which would have brought down most governments in a matter of months, was a tribute not only to the revolutionary unity of the Cuban people, but also to the vision and determination of their leader. It was not only a matter of will-power (although that was essential): it was also the refusal, even in the most extreme economic crisis, to adopt the ‘austerity’ logic of cutbacks in social services and benefits. Workers kept their jobs (even if they were idle for lack of supplies), health care and education remained free, utility rates were frozen, rations were still distributed to all (when available): everyone could see that socialist principles were maintained even in the most adverse conditions.

Despite the grudging admiration of even the most hostile observers for this stoical resistance, many argued that both Fidel and socialist Cuba were ‘dinosaurs’ doomed to extinction in the New World Order. But here again they failed to

Soundtrack to the Struggle

By | 6/December/2016|

Contemporary Latin American women musicians are addressing pressing social issues through music.

¡Ay, qué manera de caer hacia arriba y de ser sempiterna, esta mujer!’ (‘Oh, the way this woman has of falling upwards and being eternal!’)

These are the opening lines to Pablo Neruda’s poem ‘Una Elegia para Cantar’ (An Elegy for Singing) in which he praises the virtues of Chilean singer, songwriter and artist, Violeta Parra. Parra’s exploration and popularisation of Chilean folk music was at the heart of the Latin American Nueva Canción movement of the 1960s and 70s. This radical period was defined musically by the fusion of folk-inspired instrumentation and lyrics advocating social and political change. Parallel movements such as Tropicália in Brazil and Nueva Trova in Cuba, which also arose at this time, created a platform for social and political dialogue. The contribution made by female artists played a central role in the development of these musical protest movements.

Through their deeply political lyricism and incorporation of African or Indigenous musical traditions, artists such as Gal Costa and Maria Bethânia in Brazil, and Mercedes Sosa in Argentina, contributed to the fight against injustice and oppression.

The legacy of these inspirational women continues to this day. Within the vast world of contemporary Latin American music, amongst the ever-growing range of styles and genres, there are powerful Latina voices channelling the spirit of the protest generation. In this musical selection, artistic genres range from Latino trap to cumbia through to Afro-Cuban jazz. Despite their musical diversity, they come together in building a new narrative for Latin American women.

Female solidarity, inequality, internationalism, racism and police brutality; a whole raft of issues are covered by these contemporary artists. In some cases, overt political messages are relinquished in favour of descriptions of the daily struggles. In other songs, the act of protest lies in the female artist’s defiance of traditional gender constraints that had previously limited their access to certain genres of music.

Hip-hop has a strong presence in this list. Flying in the face of the misogynistic and patriarchal undertones so often present in mainstream hip- hop, these artists are returning to the genre’s tradition as a platform for cultural resistance. Their rhymes draw attention to issues such as gender violence, lack of access to education and the struggle to make their voices heard within their own community.

When we put this music in the context of the urgent problems facing Latin America today – rising inequality, gender violence, poor education, environmental degradation and human rights abuses – the importance of protest music cannot be understated. Equally, neither can the important role Latin American women are playing in finding the solutions.

¡Arriba las Mujeres! Playlist

Listen to Ursula’s 16-track ¡Arriba las Mujeres! playlist on Spotify here and below, or on YouTube here and below. Ursula has written about six of the songs featured on the playlist below.

‘Poesía Venenosa’ by Rebeca Lane

Guatemalan feminist rapper Rebeca Lane’s socially conscious lyrics deal with the day-to-day realities of being a female hip-hop artist. In Lane’s view “hip-hop is a political movement”

Turning Tides

By | 6/December/2016|

The right’s resurgence in Latin America has led to declarations of a new political order in the region, but while the left has made mistakes it is not yet defeated.

On being sworn into power on 15 January 2007, Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa proclaimed that ‘Latin America is not living through an era of change, it is living through a genuine change of eras.’ His enthusiasm was shared by many, and with good reason: after years of intense social struggles from below against rightwing neoliberal governments, new left forces were winning election after election across the region.

Correa’s election came almost ten years after Hugo Chávez, a leftwing military officer elected on a promise to end poverty by giving power to the people, kicked off the trend in 1998. A decade later, Latin America’s ‘pink tide’ – a commonly used phrase that grouped together all regional progressive governments, irrespective of differences – had swept left presidents into power, including in most South American countries bar Colombia and Peru.

More importantly, real change was evident. Alongside dramatic improvements in social indicators, key demands of the social movements were being implemented: the US-pushed Free Trade of the Americas Agreement was defeated, control over natural resources was recovered and new constitutions enshrining a range of hard-won rights were adopted in a number of countries.

Fast forward to 2016, however, and the region looks very different. The past year has seen the left lose a string of elections, and in some cases governmental power. In addition, dubious judicial processes have been used by the right in Brazil and Paraguay to impeach those they could not beat at the ballot box. Overall, rightwing forces have taken the political initiative and in some cases even taken over the streets, a terrain the left traditionally viewed as its exclusive purview. Corruption scandals have plagued leftwing parties, particularly in Brazil and Chile, while important sectors of their social base have taken to the streets, decrying that, in power, the left has lost its way or worse, become indistinguishable from the right.

This situation has led many to ask: has the pink tide reached the end of its cycle? And if so, what lessons can be taken from this shift? Discussing these issues necessitates drawing up a balance sheet of the last two decades. It is therefore worth looking at what this ‘change of era’ entails in order to come to grips with the challenges facing a Latin American left that is today on the back foot.

Beyond ballot box defeats

The most obvious sign of these troubles has come in recent electoral performances. Having largely risen from the margins, new leftwing parties became seemingly invincible by the turn of the century. This illusion came to an abrupt end when rightwing candidate Mauricio Macri won Argentina’s presidential election in November 2015. A few weeks later, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) was outpolled 45-55 per cent in National Assembly elections which saw parliament swing from a roughly two-thirds majority for the left to a two-thirds

Displacing Dilma

By | 5/December/2016|

The impeachment of Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff installed a regressive neoliberal regime which has implemented a major reversal of the social advances made under successive PT governments.

‘On this day of glory for the Brazilian people… in the memory of Colonel Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra: Dilma Rousseff’s terroriser… for Brazil above all and for God above all, my vote is yes!’

These were the words of the far-right deputy of Rio de Janeiro, Jair Bolsonaro, on 17 April 2016, when Brazil’s congress voted to impeach the country’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff. His homage to the head of the intelligence unit that imprisoned and tortured Rousseff during the military dictatorship (1964-1985), when she was a member of a guerrilla organisation opposing the regime, was the darkest moment on the night Rousseff was suspended from the presidency.

Rousseff was elected president in 2010 for the Brazilian Worker’s Party (PT); her PT predecessor, Luis ‘Lula’ Ignacio Da Silva, left office with record approval ratings. In a Brazilian senate vote on 31 August 2016, Rousseff was permanently removed from office and replaced by her former vice president Michel Temer of the rightwing Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB). Unelected Temer will now be president until the 2018 election despite having been found guilty of overspending on elections campaigns in 2014, an offence that prohibits him from being elected to office for eight years, but has not prevented him from assuming the presidency following the impeachment.

Political hypocrisy

Rousseff was accused of delaying loan repayments in order to pay off social programmes, a tactic known as ‘fiscal peddling’, without the approval of congress. That this represented, as her opponents claimed, a ‘crime of responsibility’ worthy of impeachment is untenable, particularly as many elected officials who preceded her have performed similar manoeuvres without repercussion. Moreover, it is clear that those who were instrumental in her displacement were not motivated by budgetary legislation.

The fallout from an investigation into allegations of corruption at the state-owned oil company Petrobras, known as Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash), was crucial to Rousseff’s removal from office. Launched in March 2014, it has uncovered a vast corruption network at Petrobras. In light of the investigations, much public anger was directed against Rousseff due to her former role as chairwoman of the company’s board of directors. The sharp downturn in her popularity, especially among the middle and upper classes, was also in the context of Brazil’s economic recession following the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis.

In contrast to many of those who voted to impeach her, Rousseff was not accused of personal corruption. According to the corruption watchdog Transparência Brasil (Transparency Brazil), over half of the representatives in both congress and the senate are currently implicated in judicial processes or audit courts. Even Temer’s newly-appointed cabinet swiftly saw three ministers resign after being implicated in the Lava Jato corruption investigations, satirically including the Minister for Transparency. Fresh corruption claims against Temer himself came to light in a plea bargain made by Marcelo Odebrecht, the CEO of Brazil’s biggest construction company, in


Berta’s Life and Legacy

By | 5/December/2016|

The murder of environmental defender Berta Cáceres highlights the repression and impunity which make Honduras one of the world’s most dangerous countries for activists.

At midnight on 2 March 2016, Honduran activist Berta Cáceres was shot dead while sleeping inside her home. News of her murder shocked the international community, but in Honduras, as Berta herself said, ‘it is easy to be killed in the fight for the environment’.

Berta Cáceres was co-founder and coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH). As an indigenous Lenca woman, Berta opposed the construction of the internationally-funded and government-supported Agua Zarca dam on the Gualcarque River, which is sacred to the Lenca people and vital for their self-sufficiency as an indigenous community. In her acceptance speech for the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, Berta said:

‘The Lenca people are ancestral guardians of the rivers… COPINH, walking alongside people struggling for their emancipation, validates this commitment to continue protecting our waters, the rivers, our shared resources and nature in general, as well as our rights as a people. Let us wake up! Let us wake up, humankind! We’re out of time. We must shake our conscience free of the rapacious capitalism, racism, and patriarchy that will only assure our own self-destruction. The Gualcarque River has called upon us, as have other gravely threatened rivers. We must answer their call.’

Defender of the land

Throughout her years of activism, Berta faced fabricated criminal charges for ‘endangering the security of the Honduran state’ as well as verbal and physical threats and attacks. These intensified when she started resisting construction of the Agua Zarca dam. She was granted emergency protection measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which the Honduran government failed to provide.

The Agua Zarca dam was one of dozens of projects made possible after the 2009 US-backed military coup which ousted left-leaning president Manuel Zelaya. The new Honduran government privatised land and rivers, granting concessions to international interests, disregarding the rights of indigenous communities over their ancestral lands. From the start, Berta Cáceres denounced the coup for exacerbating the multiple oppressions affecting indigenous people, and indigenous women in particular, for centuries. In an interview with, she criticised the ‘tragic situation in Honduras’ and the ‘advancement of big transnational investment with companies linked to the powerful economic, political and military sectors, with those neoliberal, extractivist policies that have also augmented the repression, criminalisation and dispossession of forcefully displaced communities’.

Her capacity to mobilise her community through resistance and cultivation of their indigenous, anti-patriarchal worldview made her a target. After her death, it was reported that Berta Cáceres’ name was on a hit list belonging to a Honduran military unit trained by US Special Forces. The former Honduran lieutenant who revealed the story and asked to remain anonymous for fear for his life said he was ‘100 per cent certain that Berta Cáceres was killed by the army’.

The violence of the company behind the dam, Desarrollos Energéticos (DESA), towards those opposing its construction was repeatedly denounced

Where Now for Chavismo?

By | 4/December/2016|

Although Venezuela has suffered instability and economic turmoil since the death of Hugo Chávez, the legacy of the Bolivarian Revolution endures at all levels of society.

On 28 July 2016, Hugo Chávez Frías would have been 62. Despite his death from cancer in March 2013, his figure and the mass-movement he inspired, Chavismo, looms large over the country, dominating the political scene and everyday conversations. From the Caracas barrio where I live, the unusually named ‘El Manicomio’ (Madhouse), the night-time fireworks celebrating Chávez’s birth can be heard from the Mountain Barracks where he is laid to rest, piercing the Tuesday night hum of the community and the conversations of my neighbour’s local store, which still boasts a small shrine in his honour.

Anybody who has read news articles about Venezuela in the past year can be under no illusions about the current situation that the country faces: economic meltdown, spiralling inflation, scarcities of basic goods, and an opposition hell-bent on unseating the president by any means possible before the end of the year. For those who have looked towards Venezuela as a beacon for a more just society, it’s a particularly painful sight. Triumphant headlines pervade virtually all mainstream press: socialism has failed (yet again!) and Chavismo hovers on the brink of extinction.

A new reality

Despite the gaping craters of missing information in these reports – not least the role of Washington’s hawkish foreign policy and the violence of the national political opposition – it is true that Chávez’s Venezuela of endless possibilities has now been replaced with a veritable minefield of previously unimaginable activities. Repairing broken fans and blenders with leftover screws and wires, flirtations with rooftop urban agriculture and home-made deodorant, three hundred and one experiments trying to make corn bread out of yuca or plantain in order to avoid four-hour queues, and collective endeavours to break the private market’s stranglehold over food production and distribution through community organised markets, are all now part of day-to-day life.

These Herculean efforts to find alternative ways of being, remaking both ourselves and our communities in the face of a raging economic crisis, rarely permeate the hysteria of the mainstream press. Perhaps because, to paraphrase Arundhati Roy, they allow us a momentary glimpse of the potential new world that still continues to breathe just below the chaos of Caracas.

But despite facing these everyday trials and tribulations, do those at the heart of Venezuela’s current storm believe, like the mainstream press, that the economic crisis means that the bell has tolled for Chavismo? Can these past eighteen 18 years be relegated to the history books with the wave of a presidential recall referendum, as the opposition hopes?

Far away from BBC corridors, not only are the answers to these questions a resounding ‘No’, but they also describe a complex picture which reveals vital insights for building socialism in the 21st Century, and more crucially, for correcting the current errors in Chavismo.

A view from the ground

‘The idea of Chavismo for us is a way of living, a different

Latin Elephant

By | 4/December/2016|

Latin Elephant’s Patria Roman Velazquez on how Latin Americans in London are fighting gentrification.

Walking past the Elephant & Castle shopping centre, all that really stands out is the unusual statue of a bright red elephant with a castle on its back, erected along with the building itself in 1965. But take a look inside or under the railway arches in Elephant Road and the Eagle Yard, and you will find a thriving hub of nearly 100 shops, cafes, restaurants and bars from different parts of Latin America.

After the 1970s wave of immigration that saw Chileans, Colombians, Peruvians and Uruguayans flee civil unrest and settle in London, the first Latin American businesses started to appear around The Elephant, as it is affectionately known, in the 1990s. They were followed by migrant workers from Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador who took advantage of low rent in the run down and neglected shopping centre in order to start their new livelihoods. Around 20 years later the area experienced another surge of migrant workers moving to the area, this time from Spain where their hopes of a better life were shattered by the 2008 financial crash.

Today there are 110 Latin American-run businesses in Elephant & Castle and the surrounding borough of Southwark. Despite being small in size, they have built up a network of places for people to work, eat, drink and socialise, as well as providing vital information to help new arrivals find jobs, doctors surgeries and a friendly face. But in spite of its growing and vibrant client base, which has extended to other minority groups and the wider community as well, plans to demolish and regenerate the shopping centre started looming in the early 2000s.

After years of research, Puerto-Rican born academic Patria Roman-Velazquez set up the charity Latin Elephant in 2014 to help ensure business owners’ futures in Elephant & Castle’s urban regeneration process. ‘I know how overwhelming it can be to have to start a fresh in a new place, I’ve had to do that in New York, Philadelphia and London, so I suppose that’s why I have a particular connection with The Elephant,’ she says. ‘I wanted to give something back, because the Latin American community has really breathed life into an area that was pretty dead before they arrived.’

Although plans to knock down the shopping centre have been in place for over a decade, what the regeneration plans will actually mean for Latin American business owners is still unclear. ‘There will probably be a small payout for businesses who lose their premises, but compared to how much time, money and culture they have invested it won’t be nearly enough,’ says Patria. ‘Compensation won’t even cover their removal costs. There are absolutely no guarantees and it’s the most disadvantaged who stand to lose the most.’

Property developer Delancey’s plans for Elephant & Castle claim the redevelopment of the shopping centre will create ‘a new town centre that serves as the hub and focal point of the local community.’ But a recent

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