ALAI, Latin America in Movement
In January of 2006 Evo Morales became the president of Bolivia; in November of 2006 Hugo Chávez was elected by a significant majority of votes for a second term in Venezuela; and in January of 2007, one year after Morales, Rafael Correa became the president of Ecuador.
Rafael Correa’s expression in his presidential discourse “it is a change of epoch, not an epoch of changes”shall be taken seriously. Newness is one of the key words in the rhetoric of modernity, today used as a weapon to advertise “new”commodities. What is new is good and it is better. An epoch of changes fits the frame of mind and expectations of the modern mind. But a change of epoch is more disturbing. Was Correa using a catchy expression or is something more substantial meaning in it?
Correa’s presidential address is impressive (2). Analytic and far reaching, it clearly announces a shift in the conception of human relations and, as a consequence, of politics, economy, education and civility. Correa statement combines the analytical skill of an economist with historical and social consciousness with the pragmatic vision of the head of the state. It underlines the racial foundation of the modern state in its colonial version, like in Ecuador and other parts of the ex-Third World. The illusions of development and growth that nourished the discourses of democratic as well as totalitarian presidents is unveiled, as illusion, by the facts and events that Correa weave in his statement. It is a de-linking from the right as well as from the left. It is a change of epoch announced not just in the content, but in the very structure of the discourse itself. Certainly, there is a significant distance between vision and every day politics. However, visions constitute the horizon that allows for both governmental decisions and for the intervention and participation of the political society. Without an horizon of expectations, social and political struggles will rest and remains on short lived interests and increasing tendency to lawlessness and corruption at all levels of social relations.
As an economist in a peripheral country, Correa understands the economic damages of globalization first hand. As a citizen who speaks Quichua and has worked with Quichua intellectuals and in Quichua’s community, he understands very well the racism and the colonial wound that the expansion of Western interests and values have inflicted in the racialized sector of the population, deprived of their land, exploited in their labor and deprived of civilian privileges. Correa’s understanding of “a change of epoch”is grounded in the political and economic thoughts and subjectivities of the Indigenous as well as of the mestizo/as marginal population.
Correa’s discourse is also a strong contribution to better understand the projects started already by Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales (3). A “change of epoch”means that the people who vote have also their own needs and ideas of how the state and the economy shall be structured. A “change of epochs”means, as Correa stated clearly in his discourse, that it is possible in peripheral countries to do things without the guidance from industrial states or international financial institutions or the Washington consensus and he explicitly mentioned.
But “a change of epoch”shall be understood not only as a conceptual de-linking from political theory and political economy as we know it through globalization and the neo-liberal doctrine; that is, from the right. It means also a shift in relation to the left. If by “change of epoch”Correa only means de-linking from right-wing ideological orientations and interests, and not also a detachment from the left-wing ideological orientations and interests, he will remain within an epoch of changes rather than a change of epoch. A change of epoch then means beyond right and left, but not a third position in between both.
A change of epoch also means that while Correa, Chávez and Morales, are united in recognizing Fidel Castro and Che Guerva in the genealogy of changes, the differences between elected presidents and the leaders of the Cuban revolution are the differences that distinguishe the epoch of changes from the change of epoch. Correa’s expression makes clear that in spite of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara crucial contributions to changes in South America, they were still caught in the modern idea of living in an epoch of changes. The radical vision of a change of epoch was not still in the horizon. And because it was so, Che Guevara was unable to understand that Bolivia, although the poorest country in the continent next to Haiti, was not the place for a revolution in which racism was not at the forefront of the political agenda. “Change of epoch”shall be understood as shifting the accent from economic recognition that fuels class struggle, to the vindication of human dignity that has been taken away from Indians and Afro-descendent, in South America, by five hundred years of colonial dependency.
“Change of epoch”announces the closure of right/left opposition and an opening toward something else; something else that calls into question the limits (albeit recognizing their contributions) of both theology of liberation and the Marxist idea of revolution have been thought out and implemented. An “epoch of change”means also that identity, is becoming crucial in politics and it is becoming crucial because of the historical classification predicated on the inferiority of human being who do not conform to the criteria of those who established the classification. “Racism”is the proper name for the classifications and ranking of human beings according to a model that correspond with Euro-American ways of life and sensibilities. Identity in politics is a de-colonial option, disobedient of political theories build around the history of the State in Europe and in the U.S. Identity in politics is the condition for the emergence of social movements as new political actors. The “constitutional revolution”announced by Correa in his presidential discourse (as well as the “asamblea constitutyente”in Bolivia), are the consequences of the radical transformative forces of identity in politics, disengaging from the iron-cage of imperial political theory.
While Evo Morales is Aymara, Hugo Chávez and Rafael Correa are “mestizos.”Identity in politics is part of the change of epoch. The government that preceded Correa, Morales and Chávez were “white”(by South American standards) governments. But it appeared as if politics and economy do not have ethnic identities; that politics and economies are structures that transcend the ethnic configuration and racial classification that structure society, in specific countries as well as at the global scale. Immigration today is a case in point, both in the U.S. and in Europe.
“Mestizo”is a complex and problematic word in South America. The complexity however is not biological but cultural. While in its simple version “mestizo/a”describes a person whose parents where Spanish (or from European descent) and Indian; and most generally, the father from European descent and the mother from Indian descent, the complexity appears in the social and civilian roles assumed by “mestizos/as.”Mestizos/as in South America and the Caribbean are integrated to the sphere of political power identify themselves with the culture of people from European descent. Those outside of the sphere of political and economic power, marginalized or outcast, identify themselves and are identified with the Indigenous and the Afro-population. “Mestizos”Presidents have been, in the history of South America and the Caribbean, more willing to embrace the directions of Western European countries and the U.S.; they announced the epoch of changes they were initiating. Correa and Chávez are shifting the orientations that in the past related mestizo/as in power with Indians and marginalized mestizos/as. Correas ended his discourse in Quichua. The meaning of it is not the same than the use of Spanish by President George W. Bush. The meaning of Correa’s uses of Quichua, which he speaks very well, is also a sign of the change of epoch.
It is with Evo Morales, as the first Aymara president, and with Hugo Chávez and Rafael Correa, as “mestizos”who turned their head toward America (what they call after Cuban intellectual José Martí, “Our América”), that a “change of epoch”can be envisioned and implemented. Not a “new”epoch aligned in the chronological hegemony of Western history and historiography. But an “other epoch”emerging from the colonial wound, from the space of an other-history that look into their eyes the civilizing visions from the right and the manual from the Euro-American left. An-other world, as the dictum of the World Social Forum announces; a world in which many worlds could co-exist, as the Zapatistas stated, its today more than a formula. It is a vision in the making that is not an add-on but a de-colonial re-ordering.
1) The expression “change of epoch”is a key concept in of “Red Nuevo Paradigma Innovación Institucional en América Latina” lead by Brazilian intellectual and activist Jose de Souza Silva. “A change of epoch”also means to have the courage to have a vision that emerges from the local histories of peripheral countries rather than looking for models concocted from the experiences of local histories of imperial countries.