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Neoliberalism and Human Rights in Latin America

"Equality and justice are distorted with new contents: equality as initiative and justice as opportunity. Despite the efforts to celebrate economic and social successes, the effects of the neoliberal strategy on the working multitudes and the poor majorities in Latin America are pathetic. Poverty and unemployment have increased enormously. Education, health care and housing problems remain unsolved and deteriorate.."
Neoliberalism and Human Rights in Latin America

By Jairo Estrada Alvarez

[This article is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.rosaluxemburgstiftung.de/Einzel/Barbarei/Estrada.htm. Jairo Estrada Alvarez, b. 1957, is a professor of economic policy in Bogota, Colombia.]

On the Social and Economic Misery of Neoliberalism and the Situation of Human Rights in Latin America

During the 1990s, the situation of human rights dramatically worsened in Latin America. The social and economic misery grew significantly although the political democratization processes (in the sense of the end of military dictatorships and the return to civil "electoral democracy") that began in the 1980s have advanced further.

The transition to a new accumulation phase in neoliberal strategy and policy was stylized as the only possible way out of crisis of the growth- and development model. Neoliberalism established on the domestic market and import substitution engendered radical changes in the economy, encouraged a capitalist reform process of the state and provoked a shameless redistribution of produced income to the disadvantage of the working masses and the poor majorities. At the same time Latin American countries experienced new bonds to the capitalist world economy on the basis of an extreme liberalization of trade-, services- and financial capital flows and the opening of national economies for the direct investments of transnational corporations. The neoliberal discourse on globalization and "the world market as practical necessity" was used to deepen relations of dependence and legitimate a new phase of neo-colonial rule.

Neoliberalism is not limited to economic reforms and new forms of inclusion in the capitalist world economy. Its strategy accompanies a policy of participative democracy as an answer to the crisis of representative democracy and concentration (Focalizacion) of social policy on the poorest of the poor. A cultural project is underway for the individual- and private initiative society in which human capital has the priority. Equality and justice are distorted with new contents: equality as initiative and justice as opportunity.

Despite the efforts to celebrate economic- and social successes, the effects of the neoliberal strategy on the working multitudes and the poor majorities in Latin America are pathetic. Poverty and unemployment have increased enormously. Education, health care and housing problems remain unsolved and deteriorate. Scandalous concentration of wealth and impoverishment of the middle classes are obvious. Limited access to information and to the spread of ideas, oppression of ethnic and social minorities, discrimination against women and child labor are everyday occurrences. Subordinate forms of political participation, repressive responses to political and social protest and in some countries like Colombia murder on account of political, social or religious ideas are expressions of the exercise of state authority. Seen nationally, peculiarities and differentiations exist. Only the predominant tendency is underlined here.

In short, the strategy of neoliberalism has led to a crisis of human rights. Civil and political rights are constantly violated or not acknowledged in the praxis of politics. This occurs even though the legal form of the state is defined as "social public law" or "social constitutional law" and protection of human rights is elevated to state policy.

This characterization must not lead to fatalism. In Latin America, interesting movements are underway, starting from resistance and defensive positions and leading to different forms of alternatives with diverse political insights from democratic reform positions to socialist programs with new social subjects that like the "historical" subjects oppose neoliberalism, with forms of struggle including armed struggle, with differentiated forms of autonomy toward the state and with different organizations (national, regional and local).

The following questions remain open for future alternatives in Latin America: How can the segmentation and splintering of movements be overcome? How can coordination develop? How can local, regional or national struggles be connected with the global (transnational) struggles for a democratization of the world order?

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