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Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America Paperback – November 9, 2010
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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
The relationship between mass movements and left-leaning governments is enormously complex. The subject requires careful handling. You don’t have to agree with all of Dangl’s characterizations of Latin American leaders to get a great deal from this thoughtful and well-reported book. Dancing succeeds in illuminating the gray zones between passion and power that must be negotiated on the road to building a humanist society everywhere.—Conn Hallinan, Foreign Policy in Focus
Dancing with Dynamite is more than a simple romantic fascination with far-off, exotic revolutions. It offers a glimpse of what we might find beyond the crisis that has paralyzed us, the first inklings of that process that, should it come to fruition, is guaranteed to strike terror in the hearts of the Great Men of History.—Clifton Ross, for CounterPunch
On the whole, Dangl guides the reader through a rapid and fascinating survey of South America’s pink tide”, capturing the vicissitudes of today’s relationships between social movements and states. That the book is more a combination of journalism and polemic than an academic text generally works to its advantage in terms of readability and accessibility, although it does miss opportunities to dialogue with, and be informed by a broader body of thought on the nature of the state and its relationship to society. However, Dancing with Dynamite serves as a good primer for the newcomer to the region’s contemporary politics, while its revealing interviews add additional texture for closer observers of Latin America.—Jason Tockman, North American Congress on Latin America
This book is important and, I dare say, necessary for everyone who cares about the potential of social movements to take the lead in their dance with power.—Malcolm Bell, Interconnect
The book prompts the reader to think about what we mean when we talk about social movements being co-opted or undermined by the state’. The state is complex and if we treat it as an undifferentiated institution we may not identify clearly enough what the problem is.
The lessons of this book for us in the UK concern both the possibilities and the pitfalls of the dance as well as the need to support the progressive changes now sweeping Latin America.—Mike Geddes, for Red Pepper
Dangl’s latest offering provides an opportunity for the subjects of the social changes underway in Latin America to speak for themselves and tell their own story.—Federico Fuentes, for Green Left
At the moment South America is a laboratory of practice. Dancing with Dynamite is a fascinating account of the experiments happening there.—Matt Wasserman, for The Indypendent
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Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay Venezuela, Brazil, and Paraguay each get a chapter. Apart from Hugo Chavez and Venezuela, which have their own issues, the question is, Why have these governments shifted to the right of these movements, sometimes becoming merely "the lesser of two evils," sometimes actually betraying the movements and the people? I asked as I read, Why has Obama done this too?
The answers are complex, vary from nation to nation, and to some extent remain state secrets. Mr. Dangl describes each dance well and goes far to explain it. Bureaucracy, corruption, the perceived need to get along with international capitalism and to woo moderate voters, the ever-present threat from the right and pro-exploitation pressures from the US all help to call the tune. Yet except perhaps in hapless Paraguay, the peoples of all these nations seem to be largely better off than they were before. US corporations still poison land, water, and humans, though in fewer places than before. And hope remains, especially to the extent that popular movements maintain their integrity, autonomy, and effectiveness. The last chapter makes a strong case for activist movements in the US.
"The challenges for movements are similar in the north and south," Mr. Dangl writes. "The same type of economic ideology seeks [to] undermine workers rights from Buenos Aires to Chicago.... The same emphasis on corporate profit over human needs displaces people from Brazil to Miami.... South American nations have been grappling with the horrors of neoliberalism for decades, so it makes sense that US activists might consider successful tactics and strategies from the south. ...
"When connections are made across borders to identify both the systems of oppression and the strategies to overcome them, a better world will indeed be possible.... How movements dance with political parties, aspiring and incumbent presidents, and the government itself will decide the future of the planet."
I take exception to Mr. Dangl's conclusion, for which he quotes Howard Zinn, that, "Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for ... direct action by concerned citizens." Don't both matter? More votes for Gore would have saved the planet from the worst US President ever. Fewer votes for Obama would have placed the fickle finger of Palin a McCain heartbeat from the nuclear button.
This point aside, this book is important for everyone who cares about the inevitable collisions between political ideals and reality. I dare say it is essential for everyone who cares about the potential of social movements to take the lead in their dance with power.
Latin America may lead from the front stead follow from behind because the Oligarchs' greed was so great that real change is now occurring in many countries.
His country by country account shows that when leftist governments finally come to power the results can be more than disappointing as social movements are politicized by association with political parties and lose their drive, less their criticisms aid the opposition. Vote for lesser evil and hope, existing power does not just drift away. This is a reoccurring theme.
He gives one clear example of this not happening in Brazil where the MST Landless Movement helps the PT party of President Lula win elections but then refuses to be absorbed, maintains independence and achieves goals without government support or approval including the expropriation of some thirty-five million acres of land occupied by nearly 400,000 families, building schools and health facilities and wielding independent political influence.
And an overwhelming example of the opposite occurring in Paraguay where a president, promising changes and reform comes to power but is captured by the former ruling elite. He tells his supporters what they hope to hear but nothing happens. Social activists simply come to accept voting for the lesser evil -- sound familiar?
Lesser of two evils or not?
In the U.S.A. the Tea Party cracked that nut by demanding the election of their own even if it cost them the seat - they scared the remaining moderates to move right. Have they benefited from this? Yes, has the country - probably not but the TP's feels successful and they have reshaped their party
Imagine this, if the left had rallied around Nader in any of the elections he entered the Republicans might have won as Bush ended up doing in 2000, being elected rather than appointed; or they might not because the Democratic Party would not have become the equivalent of the other party it has become as Nader charged.. Americans would have had real choices of direction. Political choices would not be dictated by the 1%, or Wall Street or the Bankers as many now claim has happened.
Dangl's story gives the full range of possibilities of the democratic election processes where the choices are ambiguous at best.
Latin America far exceeds North America in social movements aimed at change and reform, one simple reason being the indigenous peoples were never completely suppressed but also because the neoliberal policy of privatization favored by the IMF, World Bank as well as local elites gave the social movements the enormous momentum to capture governments because of the devastation of the poor workers and landless classes and stress on the middle class as well. Change is definitely happening there, 500 years is a long wait, but it is a jerky process. Is it unidirectional?
Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, What if Latin America Ruled the World argues it is and spends time describing the intellectual debates that have reshaped thinking in Latin America and why the neoliberal crowd failed so miserably. And for those following foreign policy, the Empire is quickly loosing its grip on the South it once had as many have describe.
Do look at Dangl's footnotes, there are rich inquires covering Latin America; much of it available online.*
*"...Latin America has done quite well over the past decade, since its people became free enough to elect left governments. These have subsequently led the fight for independence and transformed regional relations. Regional poverty dropped from 41.5% to 29.6% from 2003 to 2009, after showing no significant improvement for more than 20 years. Income per person has grown by more than 2% annually over the past decade, as opposed to just 0.3% over the prior 20 years - when Washington's influence over economic policy in Latin America was enormous.
The left governments' detractors attribute these improvements to a "commodities boom", but this is just a fraction of the story. The region would never have seen such improvements in employment and poverty reduction if the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had still been calling the shots." Mark Weisbrot, The Guardian