Latin-America right-wing in the age of surveillance capitalism

Der Schoß ist fruchtbar noch, aus dem das kroch! (Bertolt Brecht)

by Marco Consolo –

Once upon a time, there was a Latin American continent ruled by progressive, nationalist and revolutionary governments. It was the end of the 1990s, and the electoral victory of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela had paved the way for new governments that had gradually conquered Brazil with Lula, Bolivia with Evo Morales, Ecuador with Rafael Correa, Argentina with Nestor Kirchner, Uruguay with Tabaré Vasquez, Paraguay with Fernando Lugo, Honduras with Manuel Zelaya and others. The bonanza of the high prices of extractive raw materials on the international market, in particular oil (and new royalties regulations), allowed more revenue and a redistributive policy to meet the forgotten needs of the populations.

At the same time, Simon Bolivar’s dream of a continental integration, not subordinate to the United States, seemed to be fulfilled with new institutions such as CELAC, Unasur, Alba, putting aside the discredited Organization of America States (OAS), the “ministry of colonies” of the United States. The international debate was influenced by the “Socialism of the 21st century” and its characteristics.

Today, very little remains of that period.  Bolivia, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador are firmly in the hands of the right or even the ultra-right as in the case of Bolivia, Brazil and Colombia. What happened? Why has the continental landscape changed so dramatically?

A part from the golpe in Bolivia, many governments have been overwhelmed by the collapse of economic growth, corruption scandals, their inexperience and heightened insecurity. Despite due differences between the various countries, the right-wing wave has common elements based both on errors committed and on the US counter-offensive to regain control of its “backyard”.

USA counter-offensive

A lack of consideration of US interference in the Latin American continent, especially its fourth generation “full spectrum war” dimension, would be at least ingenuous. The never abandoned military option has been augmented by trade, diplomatic, financial, media and lawfare strategies against progressive leaderships (Lula, Correa, Glas…), while cyber and electromagnetic war has been implemented in particular against Bolivarian Venezuela, representing a “new frontier” in the battle for the hegemony. The principal objectives of the counter-offensive include the destruction of the non-subordinate continental integration institutions (Celac, Unasur, etc.), created in the recent past, and the creation of new ad hoc alliances (Alliance of the Pacific, Group of Lima, Prosur, etc.).

Old and new right-wings: “fascism of the 21st century”

The extreme right in Latin America also has common features with fascism: an anti-establishment narrative that considers the state as having been captured by minorities, a contempt for the parliamentary system and representative institutions, an extreme and authoritarian nationalism, a demonization and repression of minorities and immigrants, an extreme homophobia and machismo, a desire to control the media, a promise to recover an idealized past with slogans that contain promises impossible to realize, a cult of the leader, as well as an idealization of force, order and security.

In Europe the growth of the right has been based on a decline in living standards of the “middle class” and workers due to austerity policies. In Latin America the situation is different. Although many Latin Americans have emerged from poverty in the last 15 years, social mobility has not been sustained over time, and the new “middle class” has generated demands that “progressivism” (after the raw materials boom) was not able to meet. The technocratic right presented itself as an efficient solution to the recession and, paradoxically, also to corruption.

The president of Chile and the ex-president of Argentina, both millionaire entrepreneurs transformed into politicians (Berlusconi docet), were considered members of an austere and conservative “new right” in economics. The right wing forces have the same old economic recipe: a neo-liberal model that aims to reduce the state, balance accounts by reducing social spending, promote investment and create jobs thanks to the collaboration between the public and private sectors. If Macri lost the elections mainly for the tragic economic and social result, Piñera is facing a massive popular rebellion since October 18, which questions deeply the first world laboratory of neo-liberalism.

They also all apply an “heavy handed” approach to crime. Bolsonaro has taken the dictatorship as a model, put generals in his cabinet, changed the laws on the possession of weapons and reduced or eliminated the sanctions for army elements who abuse their authority. Although Chile and Argentina do not have the high homicide rates of Brazil, Piñera and Macri have militarized internal security, especially for the so-called “internal terrorist threats”.

Moreover, the support for Bolsonaro from the neo-Pentecostal evangelic churches is a phenomenon that is constantly growing throughout the continent, where also
the lack of renewal of leadership within the leftist forces is particularly evident in their inability to contrast the image of apparent “modernity” of the right.

Inclusion in consumption and the battle of ideas

Progressive governments undoubtedly expanded the inclusion of new social sectors to the market and consumption. However, wealth redistribution without politicization, increased consumption without social solidarity does not lead to increased consciousness, rebellion and courage. Rather, we are witnessing electoral defeats based paradoxically on their own victories, the phenomenon of the “war among the poor” in which the second last sees the last as a threat to its own change in social status. The right has also grown thanks to the exaltation of hatred, to xenophobia, to “politically incorrect” attitudes, because politics and the mass media advance strategies ensure citizens feel culturally and territorially threatened.

On traditional media, almost twenty years ago the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights instructed states to take measures to prevent abusive concentration of property, to ensure diversity and plurality, against monopoly and abuse of dominant position. However, the rejection of the new laws by media corporations was swift and unanimous throughout the region.

The reactions, led by the Inter-American Press Association, can be summarized as follows: A) pressure governments not to approve any law (the famous axiom that states that “the best media law is the one that does not exist”; B) in the case of approval of the laws, to present legal complaints that question their constitutionality; C) before the elections, make sure that the abolition of the laws is among the first initiatives of the new governments. An arm wrestling match still going on.

Surveillance capitalism, “Big Data” and “digital social networks”

Last but not least, the strategic utilization of “Big Data” and “social networks”. Widely used in the Latin American continent (as in Europe), is still undervalued as a key element in the construction of a “mass reactionary regime” in the age of surveillance capitalism. The recent Cambridge Analytica scandal has revealed its enormous potential in a situation where more than 90% of Internet traffic between Latin America and the rest of the world passes through servers installed in the United States.

According to a recent report by the Oxford Internet Institute (associated with the University of Oxford), in 2018  information and communication warfare campaigns were fought in 48 countries, 20 more than in the previous year [1]. We are talking not only about electoral campaigns and referendums, but also about daily politics, in which “political decision-makers” on the basis of the “pulse” of millions of people obtained in real time, can decide both the type and target of messages. In other words, psychological operations (PsyOps), in vogue since the Second World War, have millions of new arrows in their bow, thanks to the enormous advances of neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

2020 landscape

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has drastically reduced its Latin American growth forecasts in 2019 to 0.6%, eight tenths less than the previous estimate. The causes of this contraction include the low dynamism of investments, the decline in exports, public spending cuts and private consumption reduction. In the last years, where the right wing governs living conditions have drastically deteriorated and the right governments in Bolivia (until May elections) and Uruguay will face a still uncertain economic result.


Una versione ridotta dell’articolo originale è disponibile a questo link: