Anarchism in current Latin America: The challenge of abandoning our crutches

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If anarchism is forged in its fighting practises against the concrete domination, we wouldn’t be able to reflect upon the situation in Latin America without describing the socio-political movements that have occurred in these last years and how the libertarian universe has responded to these ever-changing situations.

Latin America transits the end of the so-called “progressive decade”, initiated in 1999, in which a series of governments identified as left-wing groups arrived into power through the electoral mechanism. Through this method figures like Hugo Chávez (Venezuela), Lula Da Silva (Brazil), Evo Morales (Bolivia), Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua), “Pepe” Mujica (Uruguay), Rafael Correa (Ecuador) and Nestor Kirchner (Argentina) formed a regional block that took control of the left-wing universe. This progressive political direction of the continent coincided with another moment in Latin America, the “years of the commodities”, which was a period of economic prosperity due to the high price of energy and mineral resources in the international markets. To give a brief idea of how lucrative this period was for Latin America as a whole; the Economic Commission of Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL) was responsible for a regional growth of 4% during the years 2004-1013, whilst the rest of the world faced economic hardship. The progressive block differentiated itself politically from the rest of the countries in the continent with more neoliberal views (México, Colombia, Chile, Perú), however they all agreed on the imposition of an economic development scheme based on extractivism and being the primary exporter for the global market. Paradoxically, it was the revitalization of international capitalism which provided the material sustenance for the promotion of these redistributive policies to the progressive governments of Latin America.  Hence, the falling price of extractivist goods coincides with the exhaustion and predictable debilitation of the governance model promoted by these progressive powers. If that weren’t enough, we must also include the social tensions which were a product of the progressive government’s failure to maintain expectations and promises, as demonstrated by the economic crisis (Venezuela, Argentina), political corruption (Brazil) and discriminatory policies, along with the criminalization of protests that have generated broad resistance movements (Bolivia, Ecuador).

This last decade of progressive governments in Latin America, instead of building alternatives to global capitalism, is also partially responsible for the Cuban state transition towards “post-fidelism”, especially following the visit of Barack Obama to the island. The deal between these two states, the Cuban and North-American, will have political, economic, social and diplomatic consequences, along with dealing a symbolic harsh blow towards the revolutionary past that has prevailed in in Cuba.

If, as proposed by Uruguayan anarchist writer Daniel Barret, anarchism as a movement survives and develops adequately in response to regressions throughout our time; how have we responded to the local historical variables described previously in Latin America? The response in Latin America, in our opinion, has been embarrassing and underwhelming.

Seditious Awakenings

It is no accident that this article references Daniel Barret, the Uruguayan anarchist that represented up until his death the best recent attempt to formulate and debate Latin American anarchism as a movement during the 21st century. Several of his texts were published under the title “The seditious awakenings of anarchism” and the majority of his annotations continue to remain relevant and widely circulated nowadays. In one of his texts he debates the resurgence of anarchist and libertarian groups across the globe, including Latin America: “If we had attempted to trace a map of South-American anarchism in any of the last 15 or 20 past years, we would have probably encountered an ever-increasingly scarce presence the more we distance ourselves from our current time”. Later on, in the chapter “Latin American movements of our times: realities and tasks” he produced an inventory to describe the state of anarchist movements between Rio Grande and Patagonia. What he found out during his research was that these movements experienced significant growth during recent years, hence why “only a small percentage of these movements can reclaim an origin dating back to the 80s”. Similarly, there are many diverse groups and categories within the current anarchist movement in Latin America: anarchopunks, anarcho-syndicalists, insurrectionists, anarcho-indigenous, ecologists, feminists, anti-militants and “the rest of the colours of the libertarian rainbow of our current age”, none of which, honestly, could be presented as the dominant group. “The breakup of the anarchist movement in Latin America must be interpreted as a consequence of our empty circumstantial paradigm, taking into account processes of sociocultural fragmentation that overflow us”.

One of the main characteristics of current anarchist movements is their diversity, which is located in many areas of Latin America. This diversity provides an excellent opportunity to educate the masses on current topics, like the complexity of contemporary capitalism. Given these optimal factors for anarchism to thrive we must ask ourselves: what has stopped the creation of social networks between Latin American libertarians? Daniel Barret responds to this by arguing that “It’s probable that the answers must searched in our own arsenal of limitations and fears: then, we will have to find exclusive anachronisms, secular distrust and sectarianism without any future; even if it exists already through the abundant experiences that give this unreal and mythical idea of postponing all approaches until the moment in which it is possible to recognize the textual reflection of our own image”. Unfortunately, only a propaganda text could affirm any other statement for Latin American anarchism.


Our debts

Even if Barret’s book was published in 2011 the majority of his complied texts belong to the period of 2002-2005 (he passed away in 2009). After his death it is painful to recognize that nobody else has ever tried proposing ideas in regards to how the anarchist movement in Latin America should be formed, how it should respond to its diversity or how it should face current dilemmas and future challenges. Even if there are some interesting theoretical efforts from anarchist movements; the absence of mutual support and reinvention continues exacerbating the inexistence of theoretical propositions and ideas for creating a collective anarchist group. Even regional anti-authoritarian groups have been stepping back due to their perplexity on how to respond and react to the problems discussed beforehand such as the economic extractivist project imposed by the globalization of the region; the emergency of progressive governments and, lastly, the Cuban revolution as an emancipatory paradigm for the region. These problematic factors precisely demonstrate the lack of action taken by Latin American anarchist movements throughout history. This general sense of apathy and confusion has also been particularly noticeable during recent times.

Angel Cappelletti, in his book Anarchism in Latin America (Biblioteca Ayacucho, 1990) condensed three main causes for the decay and deterioration of anarchist movements during history: The first reason would be the military coups experienced across the region, which was followed by a strong repression that dismembered most anarchist groups. Secondly, the emergence of communist parties with their “successful” revolutionary reference, materials and resources that most libertarian organizations lacked due to the support from the Soviet Union and Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Finally, the apparition of nationalist-populist groups, which were backed up by the Armed Forces. These last factors, precisely, has been mixed into the progressive phenomenon of recent years.

One of the greatest tragedies and debts that international anarchists are responsible for –including in Latin America, was the inability to question the “Cuban revolution”, even during moments when libertarian activists from the island were being persecuted, incarcerated and executed. We will never forget the lack of solidarity displayed against the repression of the libertarian movement in Cuba. It was a silence that was particularly noticeable in Latin America and our reason for this was simple: lack of critical thinking skills, as anarchism in the Latin American region was progressively colonized by an anti-imperialistic vision of national liberation fights of Marxist origin, which had La Habana as their main reference. Thus, the Cuban revolution and libertarian suppression was a “politically incorrect” topic amongst Marxist circles and consequently Latin-American anarchists didn’t even talk about what was occurring under Castro’s regime. This can be demonstrated by the lack of literature produced in the region: for instance Frank Fernández book “Anarchism in Cuba” has many editions and has been distributed to many places except Latin America! A second detail for reinforcing the taboo of the topic in our own social circles: Daniel Barret wrote extensively in regards to the Cuban Revolution, however none of his texts were ever distributed or circulated in Latin America.

A second debt that we share was the hesitation to respond to the apparition of national-populist groups during the last century. Latin American anarchists simplified most of these national-populist governments as being “fascists”, like the one of Juan Domingo Perón in Argentina. This incorrect diagnosis was a terrible strategy that generated multiple consequences for anarchist groups throughout the following years. Previously, the hegemony between Marxists during the years 1960-1988 generated a great deal of confusion, especially taking into account that during that period the Berlin Wall was destroyed, which generated optimal conditions for a libertarian resurgence in Latin America and Cuba.

Therefore, despite the challenges and limitations that Barret’s analysis presents of Latin American anarchism, during the start of this century the situation for an anarchist resurgence was promising. For instance, these were times in which the apparition of an anti-globalization movements emerged, which were values shared among many other social movements: “The most complex and diverse problems that affected these social movements –during a relatively long period, which felt endless- were eventually overcome and the morale of the revolt grew. Lucid and mobilized societies searched for new ways to protest, overcome oppressive barriers, they ignored the promises of the bureaucratized left-wing integrated within the system”, Barret wrote. However, the expansion of progressive governments neutralized the growth that autonomist anti-state movements- including anarchism- promised for Latin America through the beginning of the 21st century. Paraphrasing what the Uruguayan writer wrote, the resurgence of anarchist revolutionary change was postponed by the new institutional domination of progressive political parties.


“The Libertarian state”

If we have argued beforehand that the Cuban model of anarchism didn’t generate any shared collective responses, then what happened to the other two questions raised? Progressive governments furthermore facilitated the creation of capital-extractivist economic schemes, as expressed by Barret: “The process of renovation that we consider essential (…) has not created any ideas that could work as a revolutionary paradigm or a reference in which to find a group of articulated answers and resources to process ongoing problems”.

The apparition of progressive governments divided Latin American anarchism into three trends: Those who considered them as another variant type of capitalistic domination. Then there were those who were faithful to their principles and didn’t support any progressive parties but didn’t openly criticize them either. Finally, there were also the anarchist sectors colonized by Marxism under the logic of focusing on the “bigger enemy” (the North-American government). This last trend, in an attempt to try to take advantage of the glory years of progressivism, was a strategy of conformation of popular “left-wing” fronts, promoting the flag of “popular power” by creating a new anarchist group associated with adjectives like “organized” and “classist”. However, detailing the exact reasons why a sector of anarchism would support governments, armed authoritarian organizations and asked their members to vote would take us an entire article to write.

What is certain is that the lack of common references, exacerbated by the progressive decade, also prevented a coherent collective anarchist response to the expansion of extractivist capitalism in the Latin American region. Thus, the progressive policies had supposedly recovered regulatory capacities and attraction of capital by being the main promoters of extractivist activities, which created favourable conditions for foreign investment. It was then that it was assumed by everyone that the extractivist policies conducted by the progressive parties were “benevolent” because 1) The sovereignty of the states had to be strengthened and protected at all costs; 2) Under the argument of the construction of a multipolar world”, all investments that didn’t have the American flag were welcomed and 3) The money from the extractivist revenue allowed the development of redistributive policies to solve poverty.


Possibilities and Horizons

Other than the diaspora of anarchist practises, we currently find in Latin America the development of what we denominate as “extramural anarchists” –groups and individuals that work under libertarian practises without recognizing theirselves as anarchists- who belong to the autonomist movement whose main reference is the ‘Zapatista’ experience in Mexico. The groups identified under this category have generated a series of reflections under the label “Beyond the State and Capital”, whose connections to anarchists vary depending on the country, however we can all learn and contribute through this.

Factors and current events like the inevitable implementation of capitalism in the Cuban state through the Cuban thaw with the United Stes, the absence of progressivism in power, new domination methods of globalized capitalism, offer the same conditions for the leadership of libertarian ideas that were formulated previously in Europe during the fall of the Berlin Wall. We come back to the potential scenarios described by Barret: “It is the fusion of these new theoretical productions, these new forms of organization, these practises adjusted to the requirements of our time and this recuperation of leadership in the social fighting spaces which constitute this new revolutionary paradigm which we are now required to build”.

The challenges are as big as the possibilities. Paraphrasing Daniel Barret: Can somebody sustain that changes are not fundamental and that they don’t oblige us to form a re-categorization of the theoretical-ideological concept of classic anarchism?” Indeed, we must abandon our crutches –from Marxism and intellectual apathy- and venture ourselves to walk with our own feet.

Translated by Pietro Casati (

Article taken from Venezuelan newspaper El Libertario and Spanish magazine Libre Pensamiento:





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