Grassroots activist and de-professionalized intellectual
Gustavo Esteva spoke recently at the Center for Latin American
Studies, arguing that a vast majority of Mexicans reject
globalization and economic growth, and that Vicente Fox will
do little to benefit the majority of Mexicans.
pointed to grassroots initiatives in Mexico as the real agents
of social change, saying that after centuries of repression
by political institutions and in the face of a global system
that has increased poverty and environmental destruction,
Indians, peasants and urban marginals are designing their
own social and political landscapes. "What I am seeing
everyday . . .is the conviction that we are in the middle
of the first social revolution of the 21st century
. . .something radically new," he said.
July 2, we did not transform Mexico into a democracy, but
organized the funeral of the oldest authoritarian regime
in the world," said Esteva. The electoral outcome was
not in favor of Fox, but in opposition to the PRI. Democratic
institutions do not exist in Mexico and the political process "was
as dirty as in the past," he added. Mexicans should
not expect much from this transition to democracy because
the "neoliberal catechism" that both the PRI and
Fox support obscures concern for social equality.
to Esteva, the contradiction inherent in neoliberal doctrine
is that economic prosperity does not signify economic equality
or the advancement of democracy. Indeed, the PRI had planned
to remain in power for the next 25 years, that is, until
the Zapatista uprising in 1994 changed the course of history.
To illustrate the popular frustration that caused the rebellion
in Chiapas, Esteva says that the elite have long boasted
that a first world Mexico, "will have all the beautiful
things of the American life, plus criadas," or
maids, meaning that a prosperous economy would not alter
the unequal social structure. For this reason, democracy
is merely a "good umbrella" for a more profound
grassroots social and political order.
high expectations for economic growth in Mexico are clearly
illusory, Esteva claims, because economic growth does not
alleviate inequality and poverty, but instead exacerbates
it. Esteva writes, "the perverse association between
economic growth and injustice is well known . . .[because]
a good part of what is augmented when the economy grows is
a social cancer: speculation, irrational and destructive
production, extravagance." The balanced international
accounts and foreign investment that drive Mexico's prosperity
are very fragile. In addition, approximately 30% of the people
in Mexico live below the poverty line. In such an environment
Fox will not be able to fulfill the enormous expectations
he created during his campaign and violence and opposition
to market driven policies will likely increase.
this troubling reality, Esteva and many other Mexicans are
full of hope because the presidential election created "an
opportunity to establish a new political regime that can
be an alternative to globalization." Esteva considers
this new regime to be one of radical pluralism and "ecological
endurance" and he says that most Mexicans, the "Mexico
Profundo" as coined by Guillermo Bonfil Batalla,
support such a system.
EZLN uprising in 1994 was the first expression of this new
social and political order. The Zapatistas received immediate
support from millions of discontented Mexicans, as well as
from abroad. Though many opposed the use of violence, the
rebellion gave legitimacy to a much larger opposition movement
and served to inspire and unite many social movements that
until that moment had been fragmented and disarticulated.
The EZLN understood the dominating nature of the state and
the limits of representative democracy, which, according
to Esteva, allows citizens to elect their oppressors, and
sought to create a new system.
EZLN and other social forces in Mexico are advancing the
idea of "localization," a philosophy opposed to
globalization, which attempts to raze local identity, and "localism," which
is an isolationist attempt to withstand globalization. Localization
is the creation of identities within the "abstract space
constructed by the market," but instead of causing isolation,
localization projects its identity outwards. Though reluctant
to embrace technology, Esteva said that the Internet has
proven useful in connecting such social movements around
the past two years Gusteva has held workshops throughout
Mexico that have brought together various social and grassroots
groups to develop alternative visions of the "good life." Hundreds
of organizations have participated in these forums and have
published "proyectos," or projects, for
their states and for Mexico. "Un proyecto para Mexico," is
a rejection of Western attempts to develop Mexico and a strategy
for community based political and social development. The
goal of the proyectos is not to increase exportation,
spur economic growth, or integrate into the global capitalist
system, but to minimize the role of economics in the lives
of the poor, thereby increasing their own self-determination.
argues that poverty is largely created by failed or misguided
attempts to help poor Mexicans. Over the course of time poverty
has come to represent an endemic condition that only development
can alleviate. Yet, Esteva argues, aid such as the Green
Revolution, in which chemical pesticides were given to rural
farmers as a way to increase productivity, but which had
a destructive long term impact, has exacerbated poverty considerably.
Esteva proposes an alternative to globalization. Localization
gives control back to the people, weans them from foreign
aid, and creates broad coalitions of grassroots organizations.
As stated in "Un proyecto para Mexico," "We
want to remedy our limitations and failures, but from our
own perspective . . .We want to decide for ourselves what
we want, in terms of our culture."