2004 August 04 Wednesday
Identity Politics Building Ethnic Conflicts In Latin America

Mark Falcoff of the American Enterprise Institute surveys the current state and trends in Latin America and finds the Andes is politically in the greatest trouble.

The most troubled region politically is the Andes--Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Colombia. Recent issues of this Outlook have discussed four of the five of these countries in some detail. Colombia has an unusually close relationship with the United States, thanks to a plan inaugurated by the Clinton administration to provide it with economic and military aid to confront the combined menace of a guerrilla insurgency and a movement of narco-gangsters both left and right. So far the U.S. role in that country has enjoyed considerable popular support, despite continual complaints from various human rights organizations. And under President Alvaro Uribe, Colombia has become one of the sturdier allies of the United States within inter-American councils, partly because both countries share an adversary in Venezuela’s president Hugo Chávez.

Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador are societies slowly being strangled in the roots of their own history--the exploitation and neglect of indigenous populations is coming home to roost. Identity politics, driven by urbanization of rural folk and often funded by European NGOs, bids fair to replace the traditional class-based electoral left. The U.S. drug eradication program is unwelcome to the Indian peasantry, particularly in Bolivia, all the more so because ordinary folk have not benefited significantly from the larger export industries--minerals, oil, and natural gas. In the case of Bolivia, the political class has cleverly turned popular resentment against the foreign companies who make possible extractive activities, as opposed to the politicians who squander (and steal) the royalties they generate. The fact that many are based in the United States adds a soupçon of “anti-imperialist” flavoring to the ideological stew.

The term "indigenous populations" refers to the Amerinds who have been ruled over for centuries by the Spanish white upper class ever since the Spanish Conquest.

The Spanish white upper class in Venezuela has lost power to President Hugo Chavez becaue the poor people have voted so overwhelmingly for Chavez and his party. Chavez used the strong position of his party in the elected national assembly to rewrite the constitution to give himself more power. The poor Amerinds support Chavez against the upper class Spanish whites.

Immediately after taking office in 1999, Chavez called for the election of a Constitutional Assembly in order to reform the 1961 Constitution of the Republic of Venezuela. His party won more than 90 percent of the assembly's seats; this allowed Chavez to obtain a new, tailor-made constitution. The assembly modified the structure of the three branches of government: dissolving the existing bicameral congress, which had been controlled by the opposition, to create a unicameral congress; reshuffling the judiciary to appoint loyalists in key positions; and extending the presidential term from five to six years while allowing for immediate reelection, which had previously been prohibited. As a result of these constitutional changes, a general election took place in 2000. Chavez again won with 60 percent of the vote. To counterbalance the six-year presidential term, the 1999 constitution included a provision for one recall election following the president's first three years in office and in accordance with the wishes of 20 percent of voters.

Chavez's populist style and his unwillingness to negotiate alienated the middle class, the mainstream media, the trade unions and the business sector. Unable to request a recall election for three years, however, the opposition attempted to illegally remove Chavez from power.

In late 2003, the opposition groups collected nearly 2.5 million signatures requesting the recall of the president and 33 pro-government legislators. After several debates on the verification of signatures presumed to be forged, the National Electoral Council set the date of the referendum for Aug. 15. The question on the ballot reads: "Do you agree with terminating the popular mandate given through legitimate democratic elections to citizen Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias as president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela for the current presidential term?"

"The [Chavez] administration now confronts three challenges: the mainstream media is adamantly anti-Chavez; the international public opinion distrusts the current administration; and the Venezuelan middle class, who supported the president in the 1998 election, has abandoned the boat," Perez-Linan explained. "On the other hand, Chavez still has much personal charisma and controls the Venezuelan oil revenues that sustain his education, health, and labor programs for the poor. As a result, the president remains popular among the poorest sectors in the country, which may represent as much as 70 percent of the Venezuelan population."

It says a lot about Venezuela (none of it good) that a Venezuelan President can alienate the middle class, the mainstream press, the trade unions and the business sector and yet still have favorable odds of beating a recall referendum. When the lower class is very large, of a different ethnic group than the upper class, and politically enfranchised with the vote then democracy inevitably becomes a way for the less successful to seize assets from the more successful.

On the one hand the white upper class in Latin America have been too corrupt. This process of corruption inevitably seems to happen when nations have smaller ethnically-based upper classes that are far more successful than than larger lower classes of different ethnicities (in case you were wondering what is in store for the United States in the future). On the other hand the Latin American Spaniards are on average relatively more talented than the Amerinds and so they were more competent to rule. So the loss of power by the Spanish whites and other Latin Americans of European ancestry places into power people who are less able to rule effectively.

This brings to mind Amy Chua's World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability. The market dominant Spanish white minority of Latin America are going to fare poorly under a trend toward democratization as the Spanish whites in Venezeula are learning. Even without the ethnic divisions it is unlikely that a country like Bolivia with $2400 per capita GDP or Ecuador with $3300 per capita GDP would have slim chances of maintaining their democracies for long periods of time because poor countries rarely remain democratic. Peru with $5200 per capita GDP has better odds but the continuation of its democracy is by no means assured. Of course, maintaining a democracy is no guarantee of good government, non-confiscatory taxes, prosperity, or freedom of speech. The winds from Washington DC may continue to blow in support of democracy for some time to come. So my expectation is that we will see the maintenance of the outward appearances of democratic forms of government in Latin America while some countries such as Venezuela become more authoritarian. Though popular dissatisfaction with democracy in many Latin American nations is so high that even the continuation of the outward forms of democracy is by no means certain.

What is happening in Latin America also holds obvious lessons for Iraq and for the demographic future of the United States.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 August 04 04:44 PM  Civilizations Decay

John S Bolton said at August 4, 2004 10:13 PM:

One or two of these may be among the first sovereign countries to have gone from white to non-white majority classification, and thus be examples of what might be expected if tropical-adapted populations were at similar proportions to the others, but potentially becoming dominant.

noone said at August 5, 2004 3:26 AM:

"may be among the first sovereign countries to have gone from white to non-white majority classification, and thus be examples of what might be expected"

Zimbabwe and South Africa already show us what will happen.It will be interesting when California's white elite suddenly realize that their maids and gardeners are running Sacramento.Immigrants are largly indifferent,or even hostile to,the causes dear to the hearts of upscale,trendy white leftists.

A couple of people with thoughts on the issue,take it for what it's worth:
http://www.fredoneverything.net/FOE_Frame_Column.htm and click on the link to Derbyshire at the bottom.

Google Carol M. Swain or look up her book on amazon.Frontpagemag.com also did an interview with her,search their website.

Kurt said at August 5, 2004 1:09 PM:

California and Texas are both at most 20 years from Hispanic majority populations. Whether the hispanic majority votes as a single voting block is open to question. What is not is that this new majority will not be sympathetic to the touchy-feely issues of the rich white liberals. I also do not expect them to be like white conservatives either. The hispanics (like the blacks) seem to have a more collectivist attitude towards economic and social issues than "economic" conservatives (libertarians) such as I would care for.

Kurt said at August 5, 2004 1:12 PM:


So, you read Fred as well?

I love his column, even if I don't always agree with everything he says.

Andrew said at August 5, 2004 2:24 PM:

As far as what this portends for the United States, doesn't this suggest that we should try to end the racial gerrymandering of legislative districts as quickly as possible and start the process of building cross-racial coalitions at the local level?

John S Bolton said at August 5, 2004 8:39 PM:

You may not have noticed that balkanizing the country is the objective of those officials and scholars who enthuse over such policies as the racial gerrymandering which you mention. There is no public demand for racial representation of minorities as such, and never has been any to speak of; it is a tool of power-seekers. The anti-voting rights act position is the morally strong one.

Brock said at August 6, 2004 10:15 AM:

Randall Said:
"This process of corruption inevitably seems to happen when nations have smaller ethnically-based upper classes that are far more successful than than larger lower classes of different ethnicities (in case you were wondering what is in store for the United States in the future)."

Actually, I think that corruption is the natural state of man - which is why it took so long for Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian cultures to rise above it. People are incented by own personal interests to do whatever's best for them. Being non-Corrupt is only the 'best' solution when you can trust everyone else to be non-corrupt as well. If you can't trust others, your best course of action is to take the money and run.

The danger of Race-based and other Group-based thought is that it encourages people to distrust each other. If you know that the majority in power thinks of you as 'other', how can you trust them? You can't, and so you cheat and become corrupt as well. The process we're seeing in Latin America is the passing of power from one type of curruption (racial-oligarchy) for another (racial-socialism).

The good thing is that I believe 99.9% of the human race can learn to trust people. There are preconditions, such as their willingness to learn and their willingness to drop past hatreds. These are mature, adult-like emotions, however, which are hard to come by in immature cultures. These emotions also need to reach a critical mass in the culture's mind-sphere, and there are terribly hard bootstrapping problems. The whole culture has to move forward as one, and it's deathly hard for a small elite to drag the whole country forward.

That being said, there is an escape valve for both Latin America and the south-west United States. Latin American culture has to change. I know how pessiministic Randall & other readers are about that happening - but how did Anglo culture change in the first place? England had to figure it out for itself, and it took a REALLY long time; but Latin America doesn't have to do that. It can learn from our example. They will also benefit from the increased speed at which information travels. If Venezuala goes completely down the toilet (as very well may happen), maybe Ecuador or Peru will learn from that example.

These nations also have to develop property right systems which respect the labor and property of the nations' poor. Amerinds have very reasonable grievances at this time since they've been locked out of the property right systems which are the source of wealth to the upper classes & foreign corporations in these countries. A fair & egalitarian property law will deserve the trust & respect of the poor, and given the chance, has the ability to earn it.

I believe that our only barrier to a quick (1-2 generations) integration of Latin American immigrants into the US is our (Anglo-cultured, if not Anglo-descended, American citizens) willingness to hold them to a higher standard and expect them to adapt and learn the things which have made this country great: trust, and rule-of-law.

Randy McDonald said at August 9, 2004 12:15 PM:

I'm not sure how social dysfunction in early 21st century Andean South America is qualitatively different from social dysfunction in early 20th century southern and eastern Europe (slow to nonexistent economic growth, high population growth, ethnic nationalism and rivalries).

Jay M said at August 17, 2005 11:06 PM:

So you guys {Brock and Randy} are willing to wait a century, an industrial revolution, 2 world wars, and reconstruction to see IF Latin America can play catch up with Europe? And in the meantime stake the survival of America upon it? Brock believes that they will happily "learn from our example." It seems to me that they have hit a winning strategy of reconquista and have zero incentive to change. Similarly, Islamic infiltration of Europe actually lends hope and encouragement to Salafist extremists.
Protect us from the disastrous folly of wishful thinkers and universalist Jacobin liberals!!

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