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Translation: Erika Arteaga Cruz and Todd Jailer
Latin American populisms definitely don’t get along with feminism. Their caudillismo and messianic logic is too anchored to old masculine patterns of power: changes must be imposed; therefore, they are a matter of force. Women’s agendas make them extremely uncomfortable.
Neither do they make common cause with ethnic diversity. A month after the first round of elections in Ecuador, the “progressive left” (Pink Tide) has kept a complicit silence in the face of racism unleashed against the candidate of the Pachakutik movement (the political arm of the historical indigenous organization CONAIE–Confederation of Indigenous Nations in Ecuador). Propping up the candidacy of their local franchise holder Andrés Arauz, their rhetoric seems to emerge from the moldiest trunks of the anticommunist right, where the simple existence of indigenous people is reason enough to consider them subversives.
We shouldn’t be surprised by these responses. While the Pink Tide was quiet about the victims of multiple rights violations during the first government of Alianza País (2007-2017), today their silence screams. Teenagers are imprisoned and prosecuted for abortion, students are persecuted with their mothers begging for clemency on their knees, journalists are silenced, union and movement leaders are criminalized and imprisoned for protesting, communities are violently evicted, territories are threatened by Rafael Correa’s extractivist model. But these are merely “externalities of progress.”
It is shocking to compare this icy silence with the verbal attacks received by several Latin-American feminist academics who questioned the official version regarding the coup against Evo Morales. When Rita Segato assigned responsibility for what happened in Bolivia to Evo, the populist feminists leapt for her throat for being bourgeois, elitist, white and racist. María Galindo, Silvia Cusicanqui and other Bolivian feminists who proposed a Women’s Parliament to open spaces of deliberation free from macho posturing, were also stigmatized.
Since Evo ran for reelection despite the popular mandate against him, there was no reason to publicly censor those pointing this out. But internal and regional populist officialdom resorted to the old left-right binary and attacked any critical voice. They insisted that this was not the right time to criticize because it would only strengthen the fascists, despite the fact that Morales’ decision was also a flagrant attack on democracy.
Now those who spoke out against the racism of the Bolivian right wing maintain the silence of the grave in the face of the racist attacks against Yaku Pérez made by Rafael Correa and his followers. Racism is condemned in one case, while in the other it is justified with the laughable argument that the indigenous leader is a pawn of the CIA strategy to implement ethnic neoliberalism. Could they find an idea more absurd, malicious or crazy than this?
The struggle against internal colonialism and patriarchy are essential elements in the struggle to transform society. María Galindo argues that feminism fosters unusual alliances, building spaces which may be small but have an enormous value due to the utopian forces they contain. Raquel Gutiérrez speaks of other ways of doing politics: politics in feminine, with a collective subject, without leaders, in which women’s voices count and are not subjected to male mediations.
Very much in line with the idea of unusual alliances, Angela Davis reminds us that thanks to feminism as a methodology we can have another vision of reality. She argues that academics are trained to fear the unexpected, while activists want a very clear idea of trajectories and goals. The question, then, boils down to: How do we both allow for surprises and make them productive?
That uncertainty may explain the conservative and conventional stances of populism internationally. It is a deep and disconcerting fear of these unusual alliances and forms, of these surprises, which cannot be explained either with the schematism of their populist analysis or with a rudimentary Marxism. When Rita Segato asks them to lay down their cold war baggage in order to overcome a binary vision of politics, she pulls the rug out from under them. If this March 8 has proved anything, it is that the self-styled progressives have an insufferable macho streak. It is López Obrador walling off his government palace to protect himself from women; it is Ortega criminalizing abortion in the name of religious fundamentalism; it is Evo Morales raging against his ex-partner; it is Correa insulting a journalist because she is a woman; it is the subtle homophobia of Andrés Arauz.
It has become obvious: feminism and multiculturalism are a danger to the system. And the populist projects, dressed up in leftist camouflage, are little more than proof of addiction to that system. If anything unifies the Pink Tide at the regional level, it is the pathological lack of gender solidarity. For them, the feminist agenda still has to line up behind the urgent needs of the leadership of the political parties.
Thankfully, both patriarchy and coloniality are collapsing, and women will play a decisive role in this process. But for that very reason they are threatened, raped, and murdered.
Erika Arteaga Cruz is on faculty at the Medical School, Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador, and a member of the Peoples Health Movement
Juan Cuvi is a columnist at Ecuador Today and a member of Ecuador’s National Anticorruption Commission