James Petras | 20.01.2003 12:29
Grito de los Excluidos
By James Petras
The "cry of the excluded" has many meanings, depending on the historical context and the protagonist. The word "excluded" has a double meaning. In the most commonly understood context it means the social classes and social groups ( indigenous people, blacks, women etc. ) who are excluded from social services like health and education, from the products and income they generate, and from the political institutions which govern a country. Many of the "excluded" play a significant or essential role in production and distribution: as domestic servants whose household work allows the professionals and wealthy to engage in profitable activities; as construction laborers who build offices, factories and luxury homes for the bankers, industrialists and professionals; as unemployed or semi-employed who sell finished products for the manufacturers. In a word, the ' poor' are integral to the system of production and distribution but receive none of the benefits because they are excluded from the spheres of power. The basic struggle is not over the "incorporation" of the poor into the system, since they are already ' incorporated" as essentially subordinated classes/races/gender sectors, excluded from power, land, wealth, property and services. The real problem of the excluded is "transformation" of the system of property and power in order that the poor have access and control of the sources of wealth and social services.
Today the poor are "excluded" from employment, they form a reserve army of unemployed who are used to lower wages of the employed. The poor are "excluded" from clean, well paying employment â they work in dirty, low paid and unstable jobs, mostly in the ' informal sector', without pensions, vacations or health benefits. The question is who excludes who and for what purpose?
The "excluded" are mainly landless rural workers, indigenous people and peasants on minifundios or subsistence farms, unemployed and underemployed urban workers, women household workers ( domestic servants ), the mass of street venders, temporary construction laborers, factory workers on precarious contracts, young people who have never secured a stable job â in other words over 70% of the population of Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, Argentina and the rest of Latin America.
Who "excludes" the poor from the benefits they produce and who monopolizes political power? The imperialist states â the United States, the European Union and Japan â and their multi-national corporations and banks which appropriate profits, interest and principle payments, and secure commercial advantages through unequal trade. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund who are instruments of the imperial states exclude the poor via socio-economic policies that transfer national public enterprises to the multinationals via privatizations and enforce onerous debt payments, impoverishing the poor and enriching the foreign and domestic elites. The local Latin American governing and ruling classes exclude the poor through their monopoly of political power, their massive theft of the public treasury and the "rents" they receive from foreign exploiters of labor and national resources. The "excluded" and "excluders" are in fundamental conflict: the condition for the dominance of some, is the exclusion of the many. The politics of 'inclusion' is based on the transformation of this system: the "exclusion" of the foreign and domestic ruling classes and their states â the major "excluders".
The "Cry of the Excluded" is heard in different contexts and has several meanings. The first "cry" (grito) is from the pain and suffering of poverty and exploitation that erupts when the poor refuse to suffer in silence. This cry is a call to the world that the pain of poverty is no longer tolerable. The initial 'gritos' echo from one house to another, throughout the barrios of the poor and unemployed, and become a new collective cry : the 'grito' of organized social movements demanding justice, jobs, land, food, housing, and schools. The 'grito' of the social movements is one of affirmation, collective power, a cry no longer of despair but a war cry to battle. Out of the struggles of social movements emerges a new cry that goes beyond immediate concessions â the demand for popular power and the demand for the resignation of all politicians ( ' Que se vayan todos" ). The cry of popular power advances from local power within the communities to state power. The 'cry of the excluded' demands socialization of the means of production and the taking of state power. The final 'grito' is a festive one â the celebration of the construction of a new classless society without excluders/excluded. The cry of pain and suffering of the excluded becomes the cry of joy and the end of exclusion.
In the contemporary world, in Latin America and the rest of the Third World, the cry of the excluded reflects a world of imperialist exploitation and wars, of social decline and economic pillage. The socio-economic realities speak eloquently to the suffering of the excluded.
Socio-Economic Realities of the Excluded
Mass poverty has grown astronomically throughout Latin America over the past five years. Every Latin American country is experiencing massive unemployment and underemployment. Hunger runs rampant even in the former ' richest' countries in the region. In Argentina, which produces enough meat and wheat to feed 350 million people, almost 8 million people ( over 20 percent ) are indigent and suffering from malnutrition. The degradation of the excluded is not only a statistical fact â it is visually experienced. In May 2002, on the sidewalk in front of a restaurant next to the national congress, three ragged children, no more that ten years old, were gnawing on red scraps of meats from bones discarded in the trash. According to the official statistics of the Inter-American Development Bank (BID), whose statistics always underestimate the social calamity, Latin America has the worst inequalities in the world: 10 percent of the richest classes have incomes 84 times the income of the poorest 20 percent. Fifty-eight percent of Latin American children live in poverty, 33 percent of children suffer malnutrition. In Central America â Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, chronic hunger stalks the land: between 1992 to 2002 the percentage of hungry people has risen 33 percent, from 5 million to 6.4 million. The US dictated "peace accords" have added 1.4 million hungry people. The massive decline in living standards over the past 5 years is most evident in formerly affluent Argentina. Ten years ago the percentage living below the poverty line was less than 15 percent, in the year 2000 the number of poor rose to 30 percent and in December 2002, 53 percent were in poverty. According to the United Nations, in 1997 Argentina's per capita income was $8,950 dollars, in March 2002 it was $3,197 dollars and falling â a 67 percent decline in living standards. Argentina, with the richest farmland in Latin America, is now the land of hunger and even starvation: in the last weeks of the year 2002 over 40 children in the provinces of Tucuman and Misiones died of hunger. In Mexico close to 60 percent of the population live in poverty â and comparable or greater figures are found in Columbia, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay. In Brazil, over 100 million poor live at the poverty line, while in Uruguay and Venezuela, living standards are collapsing at a rapid rate. In Chile realistic poverty figures far exceed official estimates â over one-third of the population.
Poverty is the result of unemployment and under-employment which is growing. In Argentina in the year 2001-2002 unemployment increased from 16.4 percent to 25 percent, in Brazil from 6 percent to 11 percent, Uruguay from 15 percent to 20 percent, in Venezuela from 14 percent to 17 percent. In Latin America so-called 'informal workers' â without pensions, health plans, or stable employment and low income now exceed 60 percent of the labor force. In Mexico economists estimate the decline in real income for workers is over 60 percent since 1994 and that it will take 30 years to recover the level of the early 1990's and 60 years to recover income levels of the 1970's â before the neo-liberal policies were implemented.
Mexican workers have experienced the greatest decline of the minimum wages in Latin America over the past 20 years ( 1982-2002 ) â 81 percent loss in purchasing power. Twenty years ago the minimum monthly salary could purchase 25 kilos of tortillas, today it buys only eight kilos of tortillas. In 1982, the minimum wage could acquire 93.5 percent of the basic food basket, in December 2002 it can only purchase 19.3 percent. The cost of living has increased 4 times over the rise in minimum wage. In the first two years of President Fox's presidency ( 200- 2002 ) purchasing power has declined 11.7 percent.
Rural poverty and unemployment is caused by the concentration of ownership â the growth of export-oriented agro-business, foreign capital's purchase of large landholdings â state and para-military terrorism and forced displacement. In Colombia, the successive counter-revolutionary regimes and their allies among the paramilitary death squads have displaced 3 million peasants from their land. In Ecuador, almost one-third of the countryside has emigrated to the coast, to the urban slums or overseas in the last decade. In Brazil, between 1995-2002 over 1.5 million small farmers and landless laborers have been forced to abandon their land, homes and communities.
Neoliberal "free market" policies have not only led to massive unemployment, declining living standards, the bankruptcy of small farmers and the theft of middle class savings, it has also led to the impoverishment of pensioners because of the appropriation of workers' pension funds by "private managers". During the 1980's and 90's, the neo-liberal regimes "privatized" pension funds â turning their 'administration' over to private managers. The result is that an exorbitant percentage of the pension funds are "appropriated" by the private managers as "administrative costs". A comparison of the costs of public versus private management of annual contributions demonstrates the advantage of the public sector. In the U.S. public administration of pension funds costs 0.5 percent; private administrative costs in Argentina is 23 percent, Chile is 15.6 percent, Mexico is 22.1 percent, and Colombia 14.1 percent. Clearly the private administrators' "high costs" significantly reduces the pension the workers will receive, while the owners of the private pension management companies increase their wealth by billions of pesos.
The sight of millions of hungry pensioners throughout Latin America is directly related to the pillage of their contributions as a result of the privatization of pensions â a central part of the neo-liberal program.
The massification of poverty has led to increased dropping out of school by the destitute, over 40 percent of the children of the poor do not finish primary school. Only 20 percent of those who enter secondary school complete their studies. Hospitals and clinics are being closed or lack basic medicine or facilities to treat long lines of poor who wait eight to ten hours to be attended. Work accidents increase as protective labor legislation is abolished and the number of labor inspectors decline. In Mexico in 2002 workers filed 308,000 complaints of labor rights violations by employers.
The transition from military rule to electoral politics has been accompanied by a decline in living standards, greater unemployment and mass impoverishment. The "transition" has been from a military-oligarchial regime to a civilian-oligarchial regime, from one form of elite-authoritarian rule to another form. The growth of mass exclusion under elite-electoral regimes is the result of the absence of democracy not because of it. The elite electoral regimes have deepened neo-liberal policies and pillaged the economy via massive corruption and theft. The lowering of tariff barriers has allowed subsidized U.S. and European grain and foodstuff to destroy millions of local family farmers. The ending of food subsidies in Latin America has led to massive urban hunger. The deregulation of the financial sector led to massive bank fraud costing depositors is Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador, and Bolivia losses of tens of billions of dollars in savings. Cheap subsidized imports have destroyed local industries increasing industrial unemployment. Today the informal self-employed outnumber the formally employed workers by 5 to 1.
The electoral process is controlled by the mass media, the candidates are intimidated by the international banks and U.S. imperialism and the electoral campaigns are completely dissociated from the practices of the elected politicians. In other words even those politicians who campaign on an "anti-neoliberal" program of "social change" to win voters, once elected implement neoliberal programs â austerity for the poor, mineral, agricultural and tax concessions for the rich, especially the foreign rich.
The Excluded Strike Back: Popular Alternatives
A recent poll found that support for neo-liberal elite electoral regimes ( described as "democracies" ) is declining: only 48 percent of the people support these regimes. In Brazil only 30 percent trust the electoral regimes to carry out their promises. In Argentina the most popular slogan is " Que se vayan todos" ( All politicians get out). Only 30 percent of the electorate trust the Presidents, 25 percent the Congress and 20 percent the traditional parties.
The reason for popular rejection of electoral regimes is a combination of mass immiseration and state repression. Under President Cardoso of Brazil ( 1994-2002 ) over 100 rural activists were killed by state and paramilitary groups. In Bolivia dozens of cocaleros were killed or wounded. In Argentina over 31 were killed in overthrowing the de la Rua regime ( December 19/20 , 2001 ).
In response, the excluded have successfully revolted, overthrown presidents, created autonomous movements, liberated territories and taken over and managed factories. The " grito de los excluidos" in struggle has changed from sufferers to fighters, the cry of advancing movements, of celebrations of successful struggles and partial victories.
In Ecuador, indigenous and urban uprisings successfully overthrew two elite neo- liberal regimes. In Argentina, the urban uprising of impoverished middle class and unemployed people overthrew 3 presidents in two weeks. In Venezuela, a massive popular uprising defending President Chavez defeated a U.S. orchestrated civil-military coup in April 2002 and resists a prolonged assault by the bosses in December 2002. In Mexico a massive peasant movement blocked President Fox's attempt to expropriate farm land to build a new airport. In Cochabamba, Bolivia, a mass alliance of popular forces defeated an attempt to privatize water. In Peru, a massive movement beginning in Arequipa and spreading throughout the country blocked President Toledo's privatization agenda. In Colombia, the guerrillas â FARC/ELN â have battled the U.S. financed military and paramilitary forces to a standstill with the territory evenly divided.
Increasingly the popular movements have created their own economic institutions â embryos of dual power. In Argentina, over two hundred enterprises with thousands of employees have been taken over and run by the workers. In Bolivia, the cocaleros have created co-operatives and municipal governments responsive to popular assemblies. Workers have occupied factories which the bosses had closed, defended them against the government's efforts to dislodge them and are now producing and marketing their produce. When the state tries to seize these factories from the workers, thousands of workers from other factories, people from neighborhood assemblies, students and the unemployed confront the police, putting into practice the slogan "Tocas uno, Tocas todos."
In Bolivia, a national coalition of cocalero farmers, domestic servants, factory and self-employed workers, pensioners, urban poor, landless peasants and small farmers have united to demand the re-nationalization of privatized industries, the right of cocaleros to cultivate a half hectare of land, public investments and several other social demands. These demands will be enforced by national blockage of roads. In Ecuador, a coalition of social movements, led by petroleum and electrical workers has, to date, defeated state efforts to privatize the petroleum and electrical industries, while the indian-peasant movements have created an electoral political party "Pachakutic" which they hope will better represent their interests.
In Mexico, the electrical workers have successfully defeated the Fox regime's efforts to privatize the electrical sector, while the Zapatistas and other peasant- indian movements continue the struggle for land and political and cultural autonomy.
In Brazil, the landless workers movement (MST) has settled 350,000 families, occupying lands, resisting repression and producing crops while continuing the struggle for integral agrarian reform. In Venezuela, millions of urban poor ( mostly blacks and mulattos ) are organized in "Bolivarian circles" defending the democratically elected Chavez regime against the savage, unrelenting opposition of the white elites and their middle class supporters, financed and directed from Washington.
The new millenium has been inaugurated by a continental struggle of all the excluded of Latin America against ALCA, the effort by Washington to recolonize Latin America. Everywhere, from the jungles of Chiapas to the cornfields of the Mayas in Central America, from the ranchos of Venezuela to the mountains of Colombia, through Andean villages to the urban mobilization in Buenos Aires, there is a common cry: "ALCA no pasara."
The excluded have cried in pain from the death and sickness of their children, in defiance blocking highways for jobs, land and food, in victory as they take over factories, land and municipalities, and with determination as they advance toward transforming the unjust system of neo-liberal capitalism. To a few intellectuals the problem is to make a few reforms to offer "opportunity" for some of the leaders of the poor; for reformers it is to share some of the wealth with the poor, for the revolutionaries the demand is to transfer social, economic and political power to the excluded to build a new self-managed socialist society.