Dancing with Dynamite


Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America

Interview with author Benjamin Dangl


Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America, By Benjamin Dangl, 206 Pages, (Published by AK Press, 2010), $15.95.


Available from AK Press: http://akpress.org/2010/items/dancingwithdynamite

And Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/9pJa5h

Visit www.dancingwithdynamite.com for more information.



Can you tell ZNet, please, what Dancing with Dynamite is about? What is it trying to communicate?


In the past decade, grassroots social movements played major roles in electing left-leaning governments throughout Latin America, but subsequent relations between the streets and the states remain uneasy. In Dancing with Dynamite, I explore the complex ways these movements have worked with, against, and independently of national governments. From dynamite-wielding miners in Bolivia to the struggles of landless farmers in Brazil and Paraguay, I discuss the dance between movements and states in seven different Latin American countries, showing how Latin American social movement strategies could be applied internationally to build a better worldnow.


This book deals with the dances between today’s nominally left-leaning South American governments and the dynamic movements that helped pave their way to power in Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, Brazil, and Paraguay. The discussion surrounding the question of changing the world through taking state power or remaining autonomous has been going on for centuries. The vitality ofSouth America’s new social movements, and the recent shift to the left in the halls of government power, make the region a timely subject of study within this ongoing debate. Though often overlooked in contemporary reporting and analysis on the region, this dance is a central force crafting many countries’ collective destiny.


Each chapter in the book focuses on this contemporary relationship in a specific country. In Chapter 1, I discuss Bolivia’s Movement Toward Socialism, a “party of social movements,” and the complex relationships between various movements and the Evo Morales administration. In Chapter 2, I examine the rise and influence of Ecuador’s indigenous movement and the Rafael Correa administration’s betrayal of this dynamic group. In Chapter 3, I look at the Argentine piquetero, occupied factory, and human rights movements, their participation in the 2001–2002 uprising, and their subsequent relations with the Néstor Kirchner administration. In Chapter 4, I discuss the history of the Frente Amplio (FA) in Uruguay, both as a movement and party, and examine the interplay of grassroots and party logic within the FA’s electoral successes and the administrations of Tabaré Vázquez and José Mujica. In Chapter 5, I examine the popular Venezuelan forces leading to Hugo Chávez’s rise to power and the current landscape of movements, state-initiated programs, and party politics making up the Bolivarian Revolution. In Chapter 6I look at the parallel stories of the landless movement and the Workers’ Party in Brazil, and rocky relations between the two since President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s 2002 election. Finally, looking at Paraguay in Chapter 7, I present the campesino movement’s fight against the soy business and agro-industry, and how the Fernando Lugo administration has largely worked against this movement.


Dancing with Dynamite concludes with a suggestion that lessons from South American social movements could be applied in the US by activists facing similar state, party, and economic challenges. To illustrate this proposal, I give the examples of specific actions and groups that have drawn from South American strategiesincluding the 2008 occupation of the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago which drew from tactics in Argentina, the movements for access to water in Detroit and Atlanta, which reflected tactics and struggles in Bolivia, and the Take Back the Land movement in Florida, which organized homeless people to occupy a vacant lot and pairs homeless families with foreclosed homes, mirroring the tactics and philosophy of the landless movement in Brazil.


Advance Praise for Dancing with Dynamite:


“Ben Dangl breaks the sound barrier, exploding many myths about Latin America that are all-too-often amplified by the corporate media in the United States.  Read this much-needed book.”—Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!


Dancing with Dynamite dares to navigate the cloudy waters of Latin American social movements in the wake of the neoliberal wave, something which increasingly fewer thinkers and activists dare to do, but which turns out to be urgent.”—Raúl Zibechi, Uruguayan journalist and author of Dispersing Power: Social Movements as Anti-State Forces


"Dangl brings complicated politics to life by infusing them with the magic, mystery and unbridled joy that invigorate social movements and permeate Latin American life in general."—Kari Lydersen, author of Revolt on Goose Island: The Chicago Factory Takeover and What it Says About the Economic Crisis


“Dancing with Dynamite gives a strong sense of the vibrant social activism underway in many different countries of Latin America… A recommended read for anyone interested in the possibilities of social change in Latin America today.” – Sujatha Fernandes, author of Who Can Stop the Drums?: Urban Social Movements in Chávez’s Venezuela


“Perhaps the most important book this year, Dancing with Dynamite is road map for social change from the bottom up.” – Michael Fox, Co-Director, Co-Author, Venezuela Speaks!: Voices from the Grassroots

Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making the book what it is? 


Dancing with Dynamite is a product of nearly a decade of traveling and reporting throughout Latin America, countless interviews, political rallies, protests, street barricades, elections, bus rides and press conferences. The bulk of the content for the book, and its central arguments, are based in these experiences and exchanges on the ground in Latin America.


I was living in various Latin American countries when social movements rose up against neoliberal presidents and policies, then ushered in leftist presidents. After these left-leaning presidents came into office, I watched as friends, colleagues and activists in social movements became frustrated with their supposed allies in power. The focus of this book on the relationship between movements and governments grew out of both the frustration with these governments, and some incredible examples of collaboration between the streets and the states. 


In the corporate, right-wing media in the US there is this misconception that the various left-leaning presidents that have been elected inLatin America over the past decade are striving to be dictatorships. And among some US activists there is this understandable, and often well-founded, tendency to look uncritically at the Latin American left governments, and only support their work and policies in the face of US imperialism. With Dancing with Dynamite, I wanted to go a bit further, and tell a side of the story of this past decade that is often overlooked or under appreciated: the story of how movements and governments worked together or against each other to negotiate this new terrain after winning state power.


The book is based on the analysis of various movements, and the story of this decade is largely told from their perspective. It isn’t always a rosy picture, but my hope is that the book serves as a resource for activists in the north looking to learn from the victories, challenges and mistakes of their Latin American counterparts.



What are your hopes for the book? What do you hope it will contribute or achieve politically? Given the effort and aspirations you have for the book, what will you deem to be a success? What would leave you happy about the whole undertaking? What would leave you wondering if it was worth all the time and effort?


I hope the book contributes to a greater understanding of Latin American politics and social issues over the past decade. If activists find the strategies, tactics and analysis of these various Latin American social movements useful, the book will have served its purpose. I hope it contributes to debates surrounding changing the world through taking state power, negotiating political party dynamics in and around elections, and working autonomously to change the world from below. 


If this book contributes at all to the transformation of American politics and social activism in a way that empowers communities and ends corruption, wars, corporate looting, poverty, inequality and other ills that plague democracy in the US, the time and work that went into researching and writing the book would have been well worth it.


From Paraguay to Detroit, people are working from below to build their utopia today. They know a better world can be created by walking toward it. “She’s on the horizon,” Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano writes of utopia. “I go two steps, she moves two steps away. I walk ten steps and the horizon runs ten steps ahead. No matter how much I walk, I’ll never reach her. What good is utopia? That’s what: it’s good for walking.” I hope this book contributes to our collective journey toward utopia.



About the author: Benjamin Dangl has worked as a journalist throughout Latin America for the Guardian UnlimitedThe Nation, and theNACLA Report on the Americas. He is the author of The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia, and the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events and UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics inLatin America. He teaches Latin American history and globalization at Burlington College in Vermont. Email BenDangl(at)gmail(dot)com

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