L’option Mélenchon

Je ne suis pas français, mais je suis bien francophone et francophile. Je suis également Européen et internationaliste. Pour cette raison, c’est avec une attention particulière que je suis l’élection présidentielle française de cette année. Chaque élection présidentielle a eu son degré d’importance, car la vie politique française réverbère historiquement au-delà de ses frontières partout en Europe; mais celle-ci l’est peut-être encore plus, non seulement dû au contexte économique national et international, mais également à cause du contexte géopolitique mondial.

J’écris donc sur cette élection internationale et en étant conscient que ma contribution n’est que modeste, si elle a un quelconque impact, alors bienvenue soit-elle. Face à une élection terriblement serrée, j’aimerais bien soutenir un candidat ainsi qu’exprimer mon vote potentiel si j’en avais le droit : car si j’étais français, je voterais Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Je me penche sur son programme économique en premier. Mélenchon est le seul candidat à parler du réel problème qui a affaibli l’économie française et européenne depuis plusieurs années : les politiques néolibérales d’austérité. Rien que sous le quinquennat de François Hollande, les inégalités en France ont augmenté. Selon des données de l’INSEE, la France compte plus de 8.8 millions de pauvres ; un Français sur sept vit avec moins de 60 % du revenu médian, c’est-à-dire avec 1000 euros par mois. Le chômage demeure au-dessus du seuil des 10% ; 13% des salariés sont catégorisés comme précaires, tandis que le nombre de millionnaires a augmenté. Les politiques d’austérité, destinées à éviter des endettements massifs des administrations, n’ont même pas réussi leur objectif, puisque la dette publique a explosé depuis 2008 et est passée de 65% du PIB à presque 100% ; tout cela dans un contexte d’inégalités croissantes.

La solution proposée par Mélenchon est de renverser complètement ces politiques. Premièrement,  en initiant un programme de relance Keynésien de dépenses publiques, financé à travers les impôts et la Banque Centrale Européenne. La BCE prête chaque mois 100 milliards aux banques privées pour qu’elles relancent l’économie de la zone Euro, ce qu’elles ne réussissent manifestement pas. Pourquoi ne pas utiliser cet argent pour financer temporairement les états et que ceux-ci investissent dans des projets publics nécessaires ? En mettant en marche ces projets, l’État encouragera les PME, qui à leur tour, emploieront des travailleurs. Les résultats seront une baisse de chômage (ce qui entraine un double effet positif : moins d’allocations chômage à payer, donc moins de dépenses et plus d’impôts payés, donc plus de revenus), mais également une augmentation du pouvoir d’achat, de la consommation et de la collecte fiscale. Au final, les revenus engrangés seront même supérieurs à la dépense initiale !

Ce programme économique Keynésien de relance économique par l’État est amplement réalisable et l’exemple est donné en Espagne où les mairies gouvernées par les mouvements anti-austérité de Madrid, Barcelone et Saragosse ont fortement augmenté les inversions publiques et sociales depuis deux ans, créant de la richesse collective mieux répartie tout en réussissant à faire des excédents sur leurs budgets et à réduire les dettes municipales, notamment grâce aux mécanismes exposés ci-dessus. Le gouvernement central qui lui est au contraire aux mains de la droite pro-austérité, enregistre un déficit de plus de 4.5%. Au Portugal, c’est le gouvernement central anti-austérité qui a réussi à diviser par deux le déficit public tout en augmentant le salaire minimum, en récupérant les prestations sociales et en augmentant le pouvoir d’achat des concitoyens.

Je me suis concentré sur son programme d’investissement public, mais cela est loin d’être la seule mesure destinée à stopper l’austérité. Pour cela, il faut également améliorer les conditions de travail, sociales et économiques des citoyens français. Cela passe, entre autres, par augmenter le salaire minimum, engranger une politique fiscale plus distributive, abroger la loi travail El Khomri qui précarise encore plus l’emploi… Économiquement parlant, son programme est donc réalisable, soutenable et même souhaitable, puisque non seulement il vise à améliorer les conditions de vie des citoyens les plus affectés par la crise économique, mais cela à en plus le potentiel d’être la meilleure option de réduire la dette et le déficit.

Ses détracteurs lui reprochent que l’Union Européenne n’approuvera pas un tel programme et ils ont probablement raison. Les traités européens blindent et perpétuent l’austérité de façon institutionnelle et en faisant d’elle une priorité politique; il faut donc absolument les réviser, en particulier le Pacte de Stabilité et le Traité sur le Fonctionnement de l’Union Européenne, qui régule la Banque Centrale Européenne. Nombreux sont les économistes qui appellent depuis de longues années à leur révision. La seule façon de se libérer de l’austérité et de s’attaquer à sa racine, c’est-à-dire, les traités eux-mêmes.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon est également le candidat qui a parlé le plus activement de l’écologie. Le réchauffement climatique est une réalité scientifique : ses premiers effets se font déjà ressentir, mais les pires viendront dans les années à venir. Nous avons un devoir envers les générations futures de prendre des mesures écologiques dès maintenant. Par exemple, commencer une transition énergétique, en délaissant progressivement les énergies fossiles et en développant les énergies renouvelables, en protégeant les biens communs tels que l’air, l’eau ou les matières premières contre la surexploitation et la pollution. Mélenchon a aussi promis d’utiliser l’investissement public pour développer ces mesures.

Il a aussi exposé la ligne qu’il maintiendrait en affaires étrangères. Elle s’inscrit dans la tradition Gaulliste. Au niveau de l’Union Européenne, comme je l’ai expliqué, il est nécessaire de réviser les traités et de maintenir une ligne dure face à l’opposition probable de l’Allemagne (petite mention spéciale aussi à son opposition au TAFTA, le traité commercial avec les États-Unis, qui met en danger les acquis sociaux, l’environnement et la souveraineté des états faces aux multinationales). Il est clair que sa position par rapport à l’UE ne satisfera pas tout le monde : mais l’UE est arrivée à un statu quo insoutenable. Ce n’est pas Mélenchon qui risque de la briser, mais sa négative à changer. Et si les hommes politiques ne proposent pas d’alternative à ce statu quo, alors celle-ci se fracassera toute seule. Il s’est également déclaré comme un candidat pacifiste. Dans un monde qui revit une montée de tensions guerrières, avec la guerre civile en Syrie, l’autoritarisme de Poutine et l’imprévisibilité de Donald Trump, il est nécessaire d’avoir une position pacifiste, diplomatique, mais surtout indépendante.

Mélenchon propose une réforme constitutionnelle pour l’instauration d’une VIème République. C’est un aspect crucial et positif de son programme car l’actuelle constitution française date des années 60 et fut créée à un moment historique particulier. Il s’agit tout simplement de moderniser un système politique et de l’adapter au XXIème siècle. Un changement structurel de ce calibre est toujours prioritaire. Cette VIème République requerra d’une nouvelle Constitution, qui sera rédigée par une assemblée constituante de citoyens et ensuite soumise à un référendum. Les lignes directrices pour la moderniser seront de mettre fin à la « monarchie présidentielle », de doter de plus de pouvoirs l’Assemblée Nationale et de donner plus d’espace à la participation citoyenne, entre autres.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon représente également la meilleure option pour infliger une défaite à l’extrême-droite. Brisons le tabou: Marine le Pen a de sérieuses options de gagner cette élection. Le FN a déjà gagné aux élections européennes de 2014 et nous ne pouvons espérer que le système électoral puisse l’empêcher de gagner cette fois-ci.

Si le deuxième tour dépare un face à face entre Marine le Pen et Fillon ou Macron, la France se retrouvera avec une situation similaire à l’élection présidentielle américaine de 2016, entre un candidat représentatif de l’establishment et un candidat d’extrême-droite. Hillary Clinton avait derrière elle tout le support de son parti, des pouvoirs financiers et des médias, comme c’est le cas d’Emmanuel Macron en France actuellement, par exemple. Mais les médias français répètent les erreurs de leurs homologues américains contre lesquelles mettaient en garde les journalistes américains Thomas Frank et Sarah Smarsh.  Si aux États-Unis on pouvait lire des « Hillary Clinton a plus de 80% de chances de gagner l’élection présidentielle américaine » ; aujourd’hui en France nous lisons des « Macron battrait largement le Pen au deuxième tour ».

Le problème des principaux journaux américains, comme des français, est que les journalistes proviennent généralement de milieux financièrement aisés et hautement éduqués et donc que les rédactions manquent cruellement de diversité socioéconomique. Et même si l’information est honnête, les médias présentent des opinions très biaisées, éloignées des réalités sociales et qui manquent de représentativité. En France, les médias parlent peu des cités, des tensions raciales, de la désindustrialisation, de la pauvreté, de la précarité au travail, ou du rejet grandissant envers la politique traditionnelle. En soutenant Macron de façon ostentatoire, par exemple en listant ces appuis publics, mais en attaquant Mélenchon en car « il inquiète les marchés financiers », les médias réaffirment ce clivage. Après avoir vu les erreurs commises aux États-Unis, les médias français devraient réfléchir à comment parler avec les couches de la population sous-représentées dans l’opinion publique.

Il existe une frustration de la population envers la politique indéniable ; elle s’est accumulée depuis des années et a empiré à cause des mauvaises conditions économiques. Le Front National a surfé sur cette vague en canalisant la frustration populaire de la pire façon possible, avec un discours identitaire et xénophobe. Ni le Parti Socialiste, ni les Républicains ont été capables de récupérer ces électeurs désabusés et à l’évidence, ne le feront pas non plus à cette élection. Il est difficile d’imaginer Macron, qui au final est le candidat préféré des partis traditionnels en cas de deuxième tour, réussir à récupérer ces citoyens qui ne feront que l’identifier au système qui les a délaissés. Et même si Marine le Pen perd, une victoire de Macron ou de Fillon ne fera que repousser cinq ans le problème. L’austérité, le libéralisme, et le statu quo ne feront qu’accroitre la précarité, la pauvreté et les inégalités, aggravant encore plus la déconnexion des gens de la politique et les poussant vers les bras de l’extrême-droite.

Pour les raisons présentées ci-dessus, le meilleur candidat est Mélenchon. D’ailleurs, la montée dans les sondages est un reflet de cette réalité. Beaucoup de gens qui étaient indécis, ou ne se sentaient pas représentés par les partis actuels ont finalement décidé de voter pour lui. Sa politique économique, destinée aux citoyens français avant tout, est la meilleure. Mais en plus, il offre une représentativité positive à tous ceux qui ont été laissés de côté par le système. Une représentativité positive basée sur l’espoir et non sur la haine comme le fait le FN. Pour toutes ces raisons, et bien d’autres, comme européen, mon choix est fait : ce serait Jean-Luc Mélenchon que je voterais avec espoir.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon

© Mario Cuenda García

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Small communiqué to the readers of the “Promise on the Belgian Left”

If you have arrived to my blog from Jacobin Magazine, this short text is for you.

First of all, thank you for visiting my blog. It is truly an honour.

As you may have noticed, the blog is set up in Spanish. However, you may find interesting articles in English if you click on the Category “English” at the bottom of the page. Topics range from Brexit, the rise of authoritarianism in the EU to the Zapatista movement in Mexico.

I am currently working to make the pages of the blog available in English and in French as well, but it might take some time. Articles are written in Spanish, French and English, depending on the topic, but I try to maintain a parity (and to translate when possible).

I will make a short introduction about myself. I am a finalist Philosophy, Politics and Economics student at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom. I am Spanish but I was born in Brussels. I am interested in freelance journalism and I like writing about a vast variety of topics on my blogs. I will write a more extensive biography in the English version.

In the meantime, enjoy the articles in English and subscribe to the blog, so that you receive a notification when the English version is available. My contact details can be found in the section “Contacto” at the top of the page.

Thank you very much for visiting and feedback is very much appreciated.

P.S.: Visit also the blog of my friend and fellow interviewer and freelance journalist, Tommaso Segantini: https://tomhazo.wordpress.com/

© Mario Cuenda García

Hasta Siempre Comandante

Fidel Castro ha fallecido un 25 de noviembre de 2016, con 90 años. Hace exactamente 60 años, un 25 de noviembre de 1956, se hallaba en una playa de México, rodeado de 81 revolucionarios, entre quienes estaban su hermano, Raúl Castro, Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara y Camilo Cienfuegos. Esa misma noche, embarcaron en un pequeño yate comprado a un americano, llamado Granma en honor a su abuela, y se lanzaron al mar Caribe. Durante siete días surcaron el mar, hasta desembarcar el día 2 de Diciembre en la parte oriental de Cuba, refugiándose en la Sierra Maestra y dando comienzo a la Revolución Cubana. Dos años más tarde, el 1 de enero de 1959, la Revolución triunfaba y el 8 de enero, Fidel Castro entraba como un héroe en La Habana, apoyado por cientos de miles de cubanos.

Puedo entender las caras de incredulidad, de enfado o puede que hasta de desprecio al mostrar mi apoyo público a Fidel Castro. ‘¡Pero si era un tirano! ¡Un dictador! ¡Un asesino!’ son los argumentos más repetidos por sus detractores. No comparto en absoluto esa visión simplista y me niego a dar crédito a muchos argumentos repetidos hasta la saciedad, muchas veces desde la ignorancia, otras desde la falsedad, que no por ello se vuelven válidos. Ciertas críticas son acertadas y reconozco el carácter polémico de mi defensa, la más polémica que puedo hacer dentro de mis convicciones al estar defendiendo a un líder autoritario, pero no por ello renuncio a ella. Con toda la información en mano, si algún día, delante de un tribunal ficticio, tuviera que ejercer de abogado defensor de Fidel Castro y la Revolución Cubana, lo haría sin pestañear, reconociendo los errores, vehementemente defendiendo los logros y con la voluntad de mejorar ahí dónde se cometieron equivocaciones.

Cuba en los años 1950 era una dictadura militar bananera, dónde Fulgencio Batista gobernaba al servicio de Estados Unidos. La larga carretera que une Varadero a La Habana fue construida por la Mafia americana, que quería urbanizar toda la costa norte con hoteles, casinos y burdeles para convertirla en Las Vegas caribeña. La United Fruit Company, también conocida por la masacre de 3000 trabajadores en Colombia en los años 20 y luego famosamente recordaba en Cien años de Soledad de Gabriel García Márquez, tenía grandes extensiones privadas, incluidas playas, en el cual el acceso a los cubanos estaba prohibido (no hablemos ya de la explotación a los guajiros). Existía la segregación racial, al igual que en Estados Unidos. Las tasas de analfabetismo y malnutrición infantil eran altísimas y la concentración de tierras estaba en manos de una minoría oligárquica.

La Revolución Cubana no fue un golpe militar obra de un loco: fue una verdadera revolución popular. Cuando Fidel Castro y los barbudos salieron de Sierra Maestra, eran apoyados por miles de compatriotas. La Revolución requería de grandes reformas, incluidas expropriaciones de tierra y empresas para hacer de Cuba un país más justo. Reformas, que Estados Unidos no pudo aceptar: primero intentaron derrocar a Fidel Castro con una invasión marítima conocida como la invasión a Bahía de Cochinos. Al fracasar, impusieron un embargo comercial absolutamente devastador que dura ya más de 50 años y es en gran parte, culpable de la miseria de la isla y de los errores que se cometieron a posteriori.

El valor moral de Fidel Castro y la Revolución fue más allá de Cuba. Demostraron a los demás países latinoamericanos que podían escapar de la doctrina Monroe, una doctrina informal según la cual Estados Unidos se otorgaba el derecho de intervenir en Latinoamérica para proteger sus intereses. Eso le ha permitido hacer y deshacer gobiernos a lo largo de muchas décadas. La CIA participó en el golpe de Estado a Allende, los marines invadieron la minúscula isla de Granada cuando los comunistas ganaron las elecciones, y la administración americana financió la contra nicaragüense. Estados Unidos ha apoyado a muchos tiranos latinoamericanos, desde Trujillo a Pinochet, siempre que estos se mantuviesen en su área de influencia. No pudieron con Fidel Castro, que sentó un precedente de soberanía nacional frente a las constantes injerencias extranjeras: muchos nunca se lo han logrado perdonar y de ahí el encarnizamiento de muchos sectores contra su persona.

Fidel Castro y Cuba fueron importantes también en la lucha contra el Apartheid, al intervenir directamente en la Guerra Civil Angoleña de Angola. Cuando Angola se independizó de Portugal en 1975, se desencadenó una guerra civil entre varias facciones, entre las cuales estaba el UNITA, apoyado por la Sudáfrica pro-apartheid y el MPLA, un movimiento marxista de liberación nacional, apoyado por Cuba y la URSS. Cuba envió tropas a Angola y la derrota del UNITA años después marcó el principio de la caída del régimen segregacionista sudafricano. Por esa razón eran Nelson Mandela y Fidel Castro íntimos amigos.

Es cierto que los hitos de la Revolución Cubana distan mucho de ser los ideales, lo sé perfectamente. He leído en detalle sobre el siglo XX en Cuba e incluso visité la isla en 2015, en un afán por ver con mis propios ojos lo que allí se vivía. Podría escribir un post igual de largo sobre los errores y los puntos negativos de la Revolución Cubana. No existe la libertad de prensa, no existe la libertad de asociación y no hay elecciones libres. Ha habido exilios masivos y hambruna. Sigue existiendo pobreza, y están emergiendo incipientes desigualdades económicas. La Revolución Cubana, con todo su idealismo, se encontró con la cruda realidad y tuvo que enfrentarse a ella también.

Sin embargo, la falta de desarrollo y la pobreza, son característicos de países tercermundistas o en vía de desarrollo, independientemente de su sistema político y económico. Un ejemplo cercano: Haití nunca ha experimentado el comunismo y no deja de ser un país dictatorial, pobre y subdesarrollado. Lo realmente admirable es que un país rodeado por un embargo económico, habiendo aplicado una versión caribeña del socialismo, en muchos aspectos defectuosa, haya sido capaz de mejorar la educación y la sanidad a niveles de países desarrollados. Son éxitos innegables. Ahora toca mejorar lo que no ha se ha conseguido: la libertad individual y colectiva, así como las condiciones económicas de los ciudadanos.

Y sí, Fidel Castro era un líder autoritario. Es el aspecto que más difícil se hace defender como demócrata europeo, habiendo sido educado en una tradición democrática y anti-autoritaria. Pero será el único al que defenderé, por su excepcionalidad histórica, por su significado moral para millones de personas y porque su figura e influencia positiva sobrepasan ampliamente su papel autoritario. Puesto en perspectiva, Fidel Castro representa una excepción singular absolutamente digna de estudio y en mi opinión, perfectamente defendible. Afrontaré la defensa de esta opinión con argumentos en otro billete.

Fidel Castro, a día de hoy es odiado o amado, insultado o alabado a partes iguales. No fue un santo, pero sí un ejemplo en muchos aspectos. Personalmente, no me cabe duda de que sopesando todos los argumentos, que no puedo sintetizar en un solo billete, Fidel Castro era un idealista, un hombre que se opuso al poder establecido y a la injusticia, que creyó firmemente en la construcción de un mundo más justo y luchó por conseguirlo. Creo, que con todos sus errores y defectos, hay que reconocerle el bien que hizo pero también tener la honestidad de criticar lo que hizo mal.

No deseo replicar el sistema estadista cubano en mi país. Pero haciendo un análisis histórico y político de Cuba, poniéndolo en perspectiva, me encontraré siempre defiendo a Fidel Castro y sus ideales de revolución y justicia social.  Y aun así, ¿qué gano defendiendo a Fidel Castro? Personalmente, absolutamente nada. Lo que busco evitar es que desde la hipocresía, y muchas veces desde la ignorancia, se impongan ideas históricas erróneas y se perpetúe un discurso falso. Frente a la desinformación, hechos y realidades para que cada cual se forme su opinión. Yo personalmente, con toda mi información en mano, que es mucho, no me avergüenzo de defender a Fidel Castro. Hay quién se alegra con su muerte. Pobres, solo ha muerto un hombre: las ideas y el legado permanecen.

¡Hasta siempre, Comandante!

Fidel Castro y Che Guevara

Fidel Castro y Che Guevara

PD: Hace dos días, falleció a los 96 años Marcos Ana, poeta comunista y preso político más largo del Franquismo: 23 años pasados en las cárceles franquistas por un crimen que nunca cometió. Un hombre que luchó toda su vida por los ideales de justicia social y libertad. También se merece un homenaje en este billete de blog. Que en Paz Descanses, camarada.

© Mario Cuenda García

La «Trumpisation» de Sarkozy

Le parti Les Républicains est en campagne pour désigner son candidat à l’élection présidentielle française de 2017. Parmi les candidats, il y a l’ex-Président de la République, Nicolas Sarkozy. Un Nicolas Sarkozy qui depuis plusieurs semaines, a « trumpisé » (si l’Académie Française de la Langue me permet d’inventer ce terme) son discours.»,  Par là j’entends que Nicolas Sarkozy s’est rapproché fortement dans son discours du show man américain, et s’éloigne ainsi de plus en plus du prototype d’homme politique européen traditionnel.

Je veux bien préciser qu’il faut se méfier des comparaisons à la légère. Il y a des nettes différences entre Trump et Sarkozy. Sarkozy a déjà été chef d’État ; Trump est un homme d’affaires. Le discours de Trump est tout de même bien plus exagéré, mensonger que celui de Sarkozy. Trump est une anomalie politique et il faut le traiter comme tel. Néanmoins, il y a lieu de faire certaines comparaisons. Notamment dans certaines des idées, dans les formes et dans le discours. En effet, j’ai retrouvé dans une série de déclarations de Nicolas Sarkozy tout au long du mois de septembre, des phrases frappantes, dignes du candidat américain.

Il y a tout d’abord eu la négation du changement climatique. Trump flirte avec les théories de la conspiration : pour lui, le changement climatique est une invention de la Chine. Sarkozy a lui déclaré que l’homme n’est pas totalement responsable du changement climatique. Des déclarations surprenantes qui vont contre l’avis de scientifiques et experts et dans un pays qui a tout de même accueilli la conférence mondiale COP21 il y a quelques mois.

Nicolas Sarkozy

Nicolas Sarkozy dans une image d’archives

Par après, Sarkozy a déclenché un débat politique en disant qu’à partir du moment que l’on acquiert la nationalité, « on vit comme un français et nos ancêtres sont les Gaulois ». Nouveau point commun avec Donald Trump : l’appropriation sélective de certaines racines ethniques et sa revendication face à l’étranger. Trump parle de l’orgueil américain face aux étrangers, en omettant que les États-Unis est un pays formé et issu de l’immigration (Trump est d’ailleurs d’origine allemande). Dans le cas de Sarkozy, nous sommes aussi face à un discours erroné. Le choix des Gaulois n’est pas incorrect, mais bien arbitraire, car la France compte bien d’autres peuples qui ont habité son territoire. De plus, d’un point de vue historique, la France actuelle a été bien plus influencée par l’Empire Romain que par les Gaulois. L’objectif est donc clair : dans une société inquiète par l’immigration et où le racisme monte, jouer la carte ethnique et donc l’identification a un symbole national porte gros.

La comparaison la plus fragrante entre Trump et Sarkozy m’est venue à l’esprit en lisant une déclaration de ce dernier dans un meeting à Calais. Dans une de ses multiples bravades, Trump a un jour dit qu’il commencerait à expulser des personnes en situation illégale aux États-Unis dès le premier jour de son mandat. Sarkozy déclara il y a deux semaines, à deux pas de la fameuse jungle où 9000 personnes vivent dans l’insalubrité: « Le problème de la jungle sera résolu avant l’été 2017 », laissant sous-entendre qu’il s’y attaquerait dès le premier jour de son mandat. Mot pour mot.

Un jour après, des étudiants gabonais ont interrompu un meeting pour protester sur la situation dans leur pays. Sarkozy leur a sèchement répondu : « Ici c’est la France, c’est pas le Gabon. Si vous voulez retourner au Gabon, allez-y ! » Il y a quelques semaines aux États-Unis, le Vice-Président Joe Biden, se faisait constamment interrompre dans un meeting de campagne en faveur de Hillary Clinton par un vétéran qui lui criait que ses amis étaient morts en Irak. Biden, dans la douleur, lui répondit que son fils aussi était mort. Il lui pria de lui laisser finir et de venir en reparler avec lui à la fin du meeting. Ce qu’il fit. Trump au contraire a multiplié les phrases violentes chaque fois que quelqu’un protestait à un de ces meetings : « I’d like to punch him in the face », « Get him out of here… Are you from Mexico? », « Try not to hurt him. If you do, I’ll defend you on court ».

Il eut un temps, où il aurait été diplomatique de la part d’un homme politique européen de répondre qu’il se pencherait sur le sujet, signe d’intérêt pour les relations internationales. Dans le discours de Sarkozy, le « Tout pour la France » et sur la France prime. Un recours à la politique identitaire et réactionnaire, qui éclipse d’autres sujets bien plus importants et qui jouent sur les tensions déjà existantes et exacerbées. Le discours raciste est d’ailleurs de plus en plus assimilé, au point qu’il est vu comme acceptable politiquement que les étudiants gabonais aient été remballés avec une phrase ouvertement raciste : « Si vous voulez retourner au Gabon, allez-y ! ».

Je pourrais écrire également sur l’islamophobie des deux candidats, mais ceci n’est pas un sujet qui touche uniquement à ces deux hommes, mais bien une vague d’intolérance qui touche beaucoup de pays et de sociétés. Par conséquent, il mérite mention dans ce billet, mais devra être développé autre part dans le futur.

Pourquoi ai-je inventé le mot « Trumpisation » en me référant à Sarkozy? Car Donald Trump est probablement l’expression la plus visible de l’antipolitique et de l’intolérance au niveau mondial actuellement. Mais en  réalité, son discours ne fait que d’un avec celui des partis d’extrême-droite européens. Il y a tout de même quelque chose qui distingue Trump des hommes politiques comme Wilders, Farage ou Le Pen. Trump est rentré sans complexes en politique américaine et sans aucune pression. Cela lui a permis de repousser les lignes du politiquement acceptable très loin, car il n’avait rien à perdre. Et c’est sur ces lignes repoussées au niveau mondial que l’extrême-droite européenne joue aujourd’hui.

Il est donc inquiétant qu’un ex-chef d’État comme Nicolas Sarkozy joue sur cette vague identitaire d’extrême-droite pour obtenir des votes. Ses défenseurs argumentent que de cette façon il dispute le vote au Front National. Cela peut être effectif à court terme électoralement, mais très dangereux au long terme politiquement. La droite française, mais encore plus important, la société française en entier, ont besoin que ses candidats à l’élection présidentielle soient des hommes intégrateurs, ouverts, inclusifs et à la hauteur du monde en 2017. La France a suffisamment à faire avec le repli identitaire et raciste du Front National et de Marine Le Pen. Elle ne peut accepter la version délavée de Nicolas Sarkozy dans Les Républicains.

© Mario Cuenda García

Has the EU successfully promoted democracy in its neighbourhood?

There is a long-running debate in the European Union (EU) over where should the final borders be set and by default, there is controversy over neighbours. The question is which countries are considered potential entrants and which ones permanent neighbours. All the neighbouring countries present a fair lack of democratic governance and it is in the EU’s interest to promote democracy and stability in the neighbourhood. It proved in the past that it could do so, but can it successfully promote democracy in its neighbourhood now? To answer this question, this essay will categorise as neighbours the countries which have no accession prospections. Neither the Balkans nor Turkey are considered neighbouring countries. Russia is deliberately excluded, because of the EU special relationship program. Thus, the following countries fell into the neighbourhood category: Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Belarus, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Israel and Palestine. This essay will argue that the European Union has not yet successfully promoted democracy in its neighbourhood. It will analyse EU policies towards the neighbourhood: firstly, the European Neighbourhood Policy, followed by the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and the Eastern Partnership. Subsequently, it will present a series of case studies and examples. It will analyse the Ukrainian case study and will briefly explain the situation in the Eastern states. Then, it will analyse Egypt and the particular case of the 2006 Palestinian election. Finally, this essay will conclude that the EU fails to promote democracy in the neighbourhood due to structural imbalances which do not allow it to be successful.

The most important and ambitious policy towards the neighbourhood is the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), which was launched in 2003. In 2004, the EU would have had borders with Russia and Ukraine and the possibility of Turkey joining the EU was also real at that moment; it would have expanded borders even further until Syria and Iraq. Hence, the ENP was a policydesigned to achieve stability, security and prosperity in the neighbourhood as a way to minimise risks and instability across flowing across EU’s border’.There was a high degree of self-interest on the part of the European Union: Romano Prodi, the ex-President of the Commission talked of ‘creating a ring of friends’. The ENP wanted to avoid exclusionary feelings within the new neighbours but ironically, it defined de facto permanent non-members, which did not please all the participants. Therefore, the EU offered deeper political and economic integration to these states, for example through Association Agreements, in exchange of democratic reforms and moves towards a market economy. As several EU officials expressed, the long-term idea was to share ‘everything but institutions’ with neighbouring countries. When it was launched, the ENP had the potential for being an attractive policy framework; the structure used was practically the same than for the 2004 enlargement processes. This is considered the most successful EU foreign policy ever, and it was thought that the ENP could achieve similar results. Unfortunately, the ENP contains structural deficiencies which prevent its success and its ability to promote democracy in its neighbourhood. Firstly, it lacks strategic finality. The objectives proposed are vague and the final objectives of the policies are not clearly stated; it affects its credibility in the neighbourhood. Secondly, it uses an inappropriate ‘one-fits-all’ approach: Eastern and Mediterranean states are fundamentally different, for example when it comes to their accession prospects. Thirdly, the EU does not use strong conditionality incentives. Not offering the prospect of membership, for instance, weakens enormously EU’s attractiveness. Fourthly, the EU focus much more on stability than democracy. The neighbouring countries feel that as long as they maintain stability, they will not be bothered on political matters. Overall, the ENP has failed to fulfil its main objectives. Richard Whitman and Stefan Wolff even argue that the ENP has failed in minimising risks of instability in the neighbourhood.

The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP) and the Eastern Partnership (EaP) are the two other relevant policies. The EMP was a partnership between the EU and the Mediterranean states signed in Barcelona in 1995. It ‘aimed at the promotion of stability, economic integration and cultural dialogue across the two sides of the Mediterranean’. The idea was to turn the Mediterranean into a shared geopolitical, strategic and economic space, based on three pillars: political and security cooperation, economic and financial partnership, and the enhancement of social and cultural ties. Once again, the EU did not mention democracy promotion as a principal objective and like the ENP, the EMP had also serious institutional imbalances. Firstly, the Mediterranean states which signed the Partnership, as mentioned by Hollis, ‘were not well placed to form a common market among themselves.’ Secondly, the EU did not remove tariffs on important goods for the Mediterranean states, neither did it allowed free movements of people. Finally, the EMP was reformulated in 2008 into the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM). The idea was to ‘bring together all the Mediterranean coastal states to revitalise and strengthen cooperation across the Mediterranean’. There are two arguments on why neither the EMP nor the UfM successfully promoted democracy in the Mediterranean basin. First, the EU thinks that the promotion of economic development will eventually lead to democratisation. This is a problematic thinking: it relies on a strong liberal assumption which has yet to be proven. Moreover, dictatorships can retain much power even with a liberal economy. Second, the EU has always been reluctant to push for democracy in the Mediterranean. Long before the eruption of the ‘Arab Spring’, EU officials felt that if they pushed for regime changes in the area, their likely replacements could threaten European stability in its borders; it indeed proved right.

The Eastern Partnership was launched in 2009. It looked for a more specialised approach towards the Eastern neighbourhood and it targeted Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. The European Union understood that post-Soviet states which could still be under the sphere of influence of Russia needed a special policy. The EU had three major interests in creating the EaP. First, it allows it to deal with the special cases of Ukraine and Moldova, which have clearly stated their accession aspirations. Secondly, it needs good relations with the Caucasian republics which are important providers of EU energy, especially Azerbaijan. Thirdly, as Michalski contends, the EU has ‘an interest in encouraging a strengthening of the ties among EaP countries themselves both to deal with the EU as a group and to improve stability and economic and social development in the region’. The EaP, like the two previous policies, fells short in democratising the Eastern state and it has faced criticisms from the neighbouring and participating countries. Firstly, the participant countries have different visions of the EaP: Armenia and Azerbaijan, which do not want to join the EU are satisfied with its proposals, while Ukraine and Moldova are not. Secondly, it is a policy which focuses mainly on the governments and does not focus enough on democratic groups which already exist in the neighbouring countries. Thirdly, and this is characteristic to Eastern states, the EaP offers materially no perspectives for conflicts resolutions. Except Belarus, all the countries are entrenched in conflicts. Some are frozen, like the Transnitrian question in Moldova and some are quite recent, like the low intensity warfare in Ukraine’s eastern regions. Unfortunately then, as Nielsen and Vilson write, ‘all the partner countries remain fragile, undemocratic, economically underperforming, torn by frozen conflicts or all four at once’.

This essay’s first case study is Ukraine, which is the most populous country in the Eastern Neighbourhood. Even though it is more democratic than most of the participants in the ENP and the Eastern Partnership, Ukraine scores poorly in democracy and transparency rankings and there is still a strong economic oligarchy. Together with Moldova and Georgia, Ukraine has clearly stated its aspirations to join the EU. However, the EU is reluctant to accord membership perspectives. In fact, neither the ENP nor the Eastern Partnership offer such possibility. Nonetheless, Ukrainian officials considered the ENP as a springboard for membership. Ukraine is definitely one of the most active participants in the ENP, in spite of some significant domestic resistance. Even though the political elite has declared support for Ukraine’s integration with the EU, it has contributed little to advancing it beyond declarations. On the other hand, the EU has not yet successfully promoted democracy in Ukraine. However, it has made positive steps. It offers credible rewards in order to bring about domestic reforms, even though it does not want to use the accession incentive. The EU knows the political and economic class accept reforms as long as they fit their interests. Hence, it should pressure for these reforms to happen. However, these positive steps are somehow overshadowed by EU decisions itself. For instance, the EU postponed ratification of the Association Agreement signed in 2012 and Ukrainian officials hinted it might be due to some European countries not wanting closer links to Ukraine; it was signed, the Netherlands decided in a referendum in 2016 not to ratify it.  The lack of a unified position inside the EU puts a brake to any policy targeting the neighbourhood. Moreover, there is yet another reason why Europe does not successfully promote democracy in Ukraine. The European Union has mainly commercial interests with Ukraine; it exports more to Ukraine than it imports. It has signed free trade, financial and modernisation agreements relying again on the liberal assumption that liberalisation will bring democracy. So far, the reality is that while commercial agreements are signed, democracy has yet to come.

The remaining states of the Eastern Partnership look no brighter than Ukraine. Moldova is in a similar situation than Ukraine; Belarus is still a dictatorship and the EU does not want to give legitimacy to its executive power by interacting with him openly; Azerbaijan has severe democratic deficiencies, but it is also the largest EU trading partner in the region which means that little pressure is put over its government; Armenia is historically closer to Russia; finally, Georgia is an instable republic with two de facto independent regions. Overall, as mentioned previously, the Caucasian states are all entrenched in conflicts. Armenia and Azerbaijan fight over Nagorno-Karabakh. Possibly, if the EU was a strong actor capable of resolving these conflicts, it could gain significant leverage to promote democracy in these states. Today, pressure remains insignificant and little real progress has been achieved towards democratisation and respect for human rights.

It is important to note two main differences between the Eastern states and the Mediterranean states. Firstly, the EU has had diplomatic relations with Mediterranean countries long before that with the Eastern states. Therefore, Arab regimes have been indirectly legitimised by the EU for years. Secondly, since 2011 the Arab countries have experimented the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, a series of protests and revolutions which have brought significant regime changes in several countries and to which European policies have had to adapt. The most interesting case study in the Mediterranean basin is Egypt. As Ukraine with the Eastern neighbourhood, Egypt is the most populated country in the Mediterranean. Furthermore, it historically exerts an influence on the rest of Arab countries. Egypt was governed since 1981 by Hosni Mubarak, a dictator with whom the EU worked closely for the sake of security and stability. The EU never pressured the Egyptian government even though there were strong evidences of serious human rights abuses. The EU even withdrew funds allocated to civil society organisations over accusations of the Egyptian government that the money could be used for terrorist purposes. On the other hand, the EU heavily funded the dictatorial government in its anti-terrorism plans. Therefore, it is fair to argue that the EU has not promoted democracy in Egypt. In fact, democratisation came from the Egyptian population itself, with the ‘Arab Spring’. The EU indeed welcomed the first free elections, but was not really pleased with the victory of Mr. Mursi, from the Muslim Brotherhood. When he was overthrown in a bloody coup d’état by the Army, putting an end to the ephemeral democracy, the EU protested slightly but nonetheless legitimised General Al-Sisi as the new Chief of State by continuing the diplomatic relations. Another interesting cases study is the 2006 Palestinian elections won by Hamas. The elections were supervised by the EU and acknowledged to be fair and free; nevertheless, the EU froze help funds to Palestine, because Hamas was outlawed as a terrorist organisation. This gave a huge blow to the EU credibility in Palestine and in the Arab world because the action was interpreted by Palestinian and Arab observers as a sign of the EU ignoring the democratic expression of the Palestinian people. The contradiction was far too evident: the EU did not accept the legitimate victory of Hamas in a democratic election but it financially supported the Egyptian dictatorship.

This essay contends that the EU genuinely believes in democracy. The EU itself is an organisation composed of 28 functioning democracies and it has proven in the past that it can successfully export its example of democratic governance: it did so with the 2004 enlargement, but also with Portugal, Greece and Spain previously. However, despite a reasonable amount of good will and successful previous examples, the EU has failed in successfully promoting democracy in its neighbourhood so far. There are four main reasons. Firstly, the policies targeting the neighbourhood are inefficient. The ENP, the EMP and the EaP are structurally defective policies with important flaws. Most importantly, none of them makes democracy a main objective. It could be argued that even though the policies do not mention democracy promotion, they offer the necessary set of political and economic policies to democratise the neighbourhood. However, this assumes that democracy follows economic liberalisation, an assumption yet to be proven. Secondly, these policies are fundamentally state-oriented. The state is fundamental in transitions to democracy but historical precedents show that non-state actors are generally the ones which push for democratisation. A famous example is the Polish trade Union Solidarność in Communist Poland. By leaving these actors out of their structures, the EU does not bring real democratisation prospects to the neighbouring states. Thirdly, the EU fails in promoting democracy because it lacks a true common policy towards its neighbours. The ENP, the EMP and the EaP are attempts to harmonise such differences but they do not erase it. It is obvious that Mediterranean states have a stronger interest in its Southern neighbours while the European Eastern states have an interest in looking eastward. Until the EU do not tackle this issue, foreign policy measures will be weak, and so will be democracy promotion. Fourthly, the EU does not successfully promote democracy simply because it is subject to geopolitics contradictions. It knows that in some states where there democratic culture is lacking, it is extremely costly and long to promote a stable democracy: transitions to democracy are costly and painful, both for the country experimenting it and for the EU. Hence, a dictatorial state with a strongman can be a better short-term solution and it is not in the EU interest to remove an ‘ally’ which guarantees stability and security in its neighbourhood.

To summarise, the EU has developed several policies to deal with its neighbouring countries, but none of them has successfully promoted democracy. The ENP is the most ambitious one: it deals both with the Mediterranean and the Eastern states. It aims to bring stability and prosperity to the neighbouring states but it has important flaws which impede its success. Firstly, an inappropriate one-fits-all approach; secondly, a lack of strategic finality and thirdly, a lack of differentiation. The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and the Eastern Partnership tackle the differentiation problem, but they also present defects. The EU has low credibility in the Mediterranean because it has always maintained friendly relations with the dictatorships. Moreover, the EU wrongly assumes that economic liberalisation will bring democracy. With respect to the Eastern States, it aims to create a special framework for Moldova and Ukraine and to secure a stable zone between Russia and the EU. The case studies given by this essay have looked at concrete examples. On the Eastern part, Ukraine, which is an active participant in EU programs, has nonetheless failed consistently in consolidating a stable democracy. On the Mediterranean, the EU maintained a friendly relationship with the Egyptian dictator Mubarak, generously funding his government but on the other hand it cut funding to the Palestinian Authority when Hamas won a democratic election. Finally, this essay presented four reasons to sustain its claims that the EU fails to promote democracy. Firstly, the policies targeting the neighbourhood are structurally inefficient. Secondly, they focus too much on governments, leaving aside important non-state actors. Thirdly, the EU lacks a real common vision when it comes to foreign policy in the neighbourhood. Fourthly and lastly, having relations with dictatorships sometimes fits the EU geopolitical interests, when these guarantee stability and security in the neighbourhood, offering no incentive to change. In conclusion, the European Union has failed to promoted democracy in its neighbourhood so far due to structural mistakes that can nonetheless be improved in the future. Promoting democracy is a long term process. The EU might be unsuccessful in the short term, but this does not mean it cannot revert this path in the future.

Note: To make it easier for the reader, I have not included footnotes nor the bibliography. However, this can be found for further consultation on the original paper, which is uploaded and available in the website academia.edu:

 

https://www.academia.edu/28245471/Has_the_EU_successfully_promoted_democracy_in_its_neighbourhood

© Mario Cuenda García

Las Lágrimas de San Lorenzo

Pronto son las lágrimas de San Lorenzo, y este año vienen más amargas que nunca.

Sobre el cielo de Extremadura lloverán las estrellas fugaces.

En el frescor de la noche, bajo la luna nueva,

Me tumbaré en la dehesa, rodeado de encinas.

Escucharé el canto de los grillos y el susurro de las cigarras.

Callaré y miraré al firmamento azul oscuro,

Veré la bóveda celeste girar y girar.

Estará la Osa Mayor y la Estrella Polar, Casiopea junto a Castor y Pólux.

Y empezarán a llover las estrellas fugaces: una… dos… tres… cuatro… así hasta noventa.

Toda la noche.

Cada una será un recuerdo, a cada cual más bonito.

Llegar del campo y verte sentada en el patio, entre tus macetas recién regadas.

Despertarse una fría mañana de invierno y verte desayunando en la cocina.

Ayudarte a caminar por las calles del pueblo, una muleta en la mano y mi brazo en la otra.

Verte apoyada en el marco de la puerta de entrada, por las tardes,

Esperando nuestra llegada tras largos meses de ausencia.

De niño, hablar contigo todos los domingos por teléfono.

Verte pasear por el porche del campo, observando los atardeceres y los árboles frutales.

Verte disfrutar de unos higos campestres, recogidos expresamente para ti.

Verte recoger orégano y guardar el ramo con mimo hasta llegar a casa.

Escuchar las anécdotas de tu infancia y tus recuerdos de la Guerra Civil.

Verte sollozar al despedirte de nosotros cuando nos íbamos a Bruselas.

Y lo más importante, cuidar de ti, todos, en los largos años de enfermedad.

Ayudarte en cada acción cotidiana, darte de comer, visitarte en la residencia,

Escucharte siempre, darte conversación, hablarte y besarte.

Absolutamente todo ha valido la pena.

El amanecer ahuyentará las lágrimas, pero no los recuerdos.

Y a la noche siguiente, habrá una nueva estrella, fija esta vez, en el firmamento.

Hay vínculos con una tierra que son inquebrantables.

Has sido y serás siempre un vínculo que me une a Salvaleón para la eternidad.

Descansa en paz, Abuela María. No te olvidaremos.

Escrito en Salvaleón, Extremadura, la noche del 3 de agosto del 2016.

© Mario Cuenda García

What might alternative social movements learn from the Zapatistas about transforming social relations?

The first of January 1994 marked the start of the free-trade agreement NAFTA between the US, Canada and Mexico. This very same day a group of armed indigenous peasants emerged from a rainforest occupying villages and cities in the southern state of Chiapas, Mexico. They called themselves Zapatistas. For many observers, they first looked like another mainstream Latin American revolutionary group; indeed, they were immediately attacked by the Mexican Army. However, the rebels managed to get incredible popular support, until the Mexican Government had to call for a cease-fire over popular protests. These rebel indigenous peasants were so interesting and sympathetic to public opinion because they were a radically different revolutionary group: they changed their demands, their communication strategy and their organisation. Some of the Zapatista’ features can be applied to anti-capitalist struggle all over the world. Hence, this essay will address the question of what might alternative social movements learn from the Zapatistas about transforming social relations. The structure of the essay will be the following. It will first quickly introduce some background explanation, to understand the origins of the Zapatista uprising. Subsequently, in a different paragraph each time, it will explain five features of the Zapatista movement. The first paragraph will look at the relationship between power and the state. The second one will be about discourse. The third will analyse their social organisation. The fourth one will talk about inclusiveness. The fifth and last one will be about the role of women in their society. In the last paragraph, this essay will explain how these features can be turned into lessons for alternative social movements. Finally, the essay will conclude that the five main features presented here are also five lessons that alternative social movements can and should learn if they want to transform social relations.

The Zapatista uprising occurred in the State of Chiapas, which is an agricultural and mostly indigenous state in South-West Mexico. The indigenous population descends from the Mayas and is generally composed of land workers. There are also ladinos, who are Mexicans who descend from Europeans who used to be landowners.In 1994, Mexico was a corrupt semi-democracy under the rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party since 1929; the institutions in Chiapas were corrupt and heavily militarised. The Institutional Revolutionary Party had promoted a series land reforms throughout the 20th century which had important social and political implications for the Zapatista uprising of 1994.The evolution of the land reform process was the following: before the 1970s, land reforms promoted by the Mexican State were mainly redistributive. In 1970s, the redistribution promoted by the state bureaucracy started to slow down, sparking protests in Chiapas. This was followed by neo-liberal reforms in the 1980s which reverted the redistributive path, making land access even more difficult to poor people. Tired of this, the people of Chiapas decided to recover their lands by force, making land a central claim for Zapatistas. This essay will deliberately not touch the important topic of land because in Western alternative social movements, claims for land are generally not a central demand. However, alternative movements should note that men and women need a material basis to survive. In the case of Chiapas, it was land. In developed societies it could be guaranteed work or perhaps, a Universal Basic Income. Those are questions to be explored more in depth when furthering in the Zapatista influence over alternative social movements. The following paragraphs of this essay will now outline the most interesting features of the Zapatista uprising.

Firstly, the Zapatistas correctly identified one of the major neo-liberal forces: the state. Historically, liberalism has always considered the state as a negative actor, but in the 1980s there was a shift in neo-liberal ideology: in economically weak countries like Mexico, the state needed to be a strong actor to enforce the law. Hence, the state became an important actor of the neoliberal forces. The Zapatistas understood this and in opposition to 20th century left-wing Latin American guerrillas, such as the FARC or the Cuban revolutionaries, which wanted to win state power, the Zapatistas renounced to this objective. In fact, when the Mexican government announced a cease-fire and proposed negotiations, they collaborated and exposed their demands. The Zapatistas did not want to win state power because they understood that the state was so embedded in the emerging neo-liberal global structure, that winning it did not mean the possibility of achieving significant change. The Zapatista revolution was thus destined to be radically different:  a revolution without seizing state power. They created their own structures of government, such as the Juntas del Buen Gobierno. Using Olin Wright’s rhetoric, the Zapatistas achieved an interstitial transformation and proved that important achievements can be accomplished at the margin of the state.  Hence, the Zapatistas understood an important characteristic of the modern nation-state: winning ‘the state’ does not mean winning power. Alternative social movements should be aware of this observation and understand that winning the state should no longer be the only and principal objective. The Zapatistas also proved that social relations can be transformed at the margin of the state. Therefore, social movements should aim to build alternatives outside its boundaries. This observation proved to be accurate when the left-wing party SYRIZA gained state power in Greece in January 2015. It appeared to many observers that the problems of the country were going to be solved, but embedded in the nets of international finance and the European Union, the state failed to find a solution.

Secondly, the Zapatistas achieved a significant change in discourse. Throughout the 20th century, revolutionary groups or communists parties used traditional Marxist and Marxist-Leninist rhetoric, with terms such as ‘vanguard’, ‘proletariat’ or ‘class struggle’. The Zapatistas overcame this traditional discourse and used an alternative language to promote their own revolution. With a strong emphasis on the term ‘dignity’ as the central claim, they built an alternative rhetoric to the traditional Marxist one and most importantly, a rhetoric which undermined the legitimacy of the Mexican state. They used broader terms along with ‘dignity’, such as ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’. Through the use of communiqués, full of poetry and traditional histories, they promoted an immense sympathy for their cause. Furthermore, there is a confrontation between a culture of ‘talking’ by Marxist-Leninists and the Zapatistas, who want to inculcate a culture of ‘listening’. The Zapatistas were not talkers, they were listeners and by listening they learned to think ideas in a different way. In fact, alternative social movements have already started to use Zapatista rhetoric.  In 2013, more than two million people marched to Madrid, in a movement called “Marches for dignity” (“Marchas de la dignidad”). They shouted “Pan, Trabajo, Dignidad” (“Bread, Jobs and Dignity”) instead of “Pan, Tierra, Trabajo” (“Bread, Jobs and Land”), the classic Leninist chant. Thus, alternative social movements should note that Marxist and Marxist-Leninist rhetoric are completely obsolete and marginal in the 21st century. Nevertheless, the Zapatistas proved that the use of an appropriate language to transmit a message is crucial. Alternative social movements should develop a language which mobilises people.

Thirdly, the Zapatistas developed a new social organisation. They came from an indigenous background, where the feeling of community was strong and deeply embedded. Thus, there was a sense of collective responsibility when it came to taking decisions. Everyone had the right to participate in the decision-making process and ‘all important decisions were discussed by the whole community to the point where a consensus was reached’. The Zapatistas organised assemblies and forums to discuss, where everyone was allowed to participate, rejecting any form of centralist organisation. Back in 1994 they obviously had leaders like Comandante Marcos; but they were just an expression of popular will, who represented the larger community. They were always subject to the decisions taken by the assemblies and they were immediately recallable if they did not satisfy the community. They called this radically democratic decision-making procedure mandar obedeciendo (‘ruling by obeying’). This decision-making procedure also acknowledged that there was not a single ‘grand’ vision driving this revolution. The Zapatistas believed that they could only go forward through a process of collective questioning and debating. They would listen to all opinions, debate them and only if a consensus was reached, would the decision be adopted. The Zapatistas did not invent this radical vision of democracy and decision-making through assemblies, but their example was especially successful and has often been replicated. In 2013, in the State of Michoacán, also in Mexico, citizens decided to defend themselves without help from the army against the drug cartels. They called themselves Autodefensas and all decisions were taken collectively in squares. In Europe, the Spanish 15-M movement which emerged in 2011, took all its decisions through assemblies in squares; the Nuit Debout movement currently happening in France, also takes all its decisions in assemblies where 4/5 of approval is needed. Organising through assemblies empowers people who were voiceless before and it gives the genuine possibility of taking decisions collectively instead of letting the decision-making in the hands of a few ones.

The fourth feature of interest is Zapatista’s ‘transversal nature’. The Zapatistas were ‘transversal because their demands were not only valid for Chiapas, but for many social change actors around the world. It is true that they called themselves Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) and at first sight, they could look like a National Liberation Army, which always has strong nationalist components and claims of independence. Even though the Zapatistas were fiercely nationalistic, constantly mentioning Zapata, the Mexican revolution and using the Mexican flag, their movement was not merely a Chiapas-based autonomist or indigenous movement. There are two main arguments to sustain the claim that they were a transversal force. Firstly, they were an inclusive and open force; they invited diverse actors to interact with them in the negotiations and since the beginning, they were open to suggestions and propositions from different external actors. Secondly, some of their demands were universal, demands to which everybody could subscribe. For instance, their demands for indigenous rights where echoed by different indigenous groups in Mexico but also in South America. Furthermore, their demands of justice, democracy and freedom were demands that could be echoed by all the people of the world. The Zapatistas understood that in order to be effective, they needed to mobilise national and international support. Furthermore, solidarity is not sufficient to successfully transform social relations: there need to be active participation from many fronts at the same time.

The fifth and last feature social movements should learn from the Zapatistas is the role of women in the Zapatista uprising. It is not widely mentioned, which can give the misled idea that the Zapatista uprising was mostly a men-lead movement. This is not true. In fact, some of the Zapatista leaders were women: Comandante Ana María was responsible of occupying San Cristóbal in 1994 and one of the first laws drafted by the Zapatistas was the Revolutionary Women’s Law. The Zapatistas encouraged the political participation of peasant women and their rebellion against their subordinate position in society.  Thus, they empowered them by supporting their struggle for emancipation. Since then, indigenous peasant women from Chiapas have become increasingly empowered, and have begun to participate in the struggle for gender rights. Furthermore, as Mercedes Olivera writes, ‘the gender specific advances that have been achieved have been made by women for themselves’. Probably the most important achievement of empowering peasant women and introducing them into the EZLN was the legitimisation of female participation in politics. It is interesting to note that the Zapatista influence not only achieved more female participation in Zapatista communities. They have also improved it on non-Zapatista’ ones. Since then, in Chiapas, it not uncommon to see women, both in Zapatistas and non-Zapatistas areas occupying positions of power. Obviously, in Western societies, women have more rights than women had in rural Chiapas. However, it is the idea behind the inclusion of women that we should retain. The Zapatistas included a marginal actor in their structure and empowered them; alternative social movement in the West should also include marginal actors and empower them.

The Zapatistas opened a whole new spectre of possibilities to achieve significant changes in social relations. The five main features of Zapatismo this essay has explained can be extrapolated to many other anti-capitalist struggles around the world. Firstly, transforming social relations can and should be done at the margin of the state, because the state itself is now part of the problem. Secondly, language is fundamental to transforming social relations. Old Marxist rhetoric is no longer attractive, thus alternative social movements should work on an alternative mobilising language. Thirdly, transforming social relations implies transforming the decision-making procedure: social movements should organise themselves in assemblies. As previously mentioned, this is a way of organisation which offers an enormous amount of participation and empowerment to people. It allows to take decisions collectively, attending to the needs of everybody and it avoids power concentration. Fourthly, alternative social movements should be transversal and inclusive. Small and inward-looking movements are totally ineffective in bringing changes. Alternative social movements should include the most progressive actors possible and the most progressive demands. And it should be done in collaboration and solidarity with other movements. Fifth and lastly, social relations will only be transformed when all elements of society are included in such transformation. The Zapatistas included women; in the rest of societies, other marginal actors should be included in the force wishing to transform social relations.

To summarise, the Zapatista uprising occurred in the region of Chiapas, a region where there had been historical disputes over land. The Zapatistas presented five interesting features which can be learnt by alternative social movements to transform social relations. First of all, the Zapatistas understood that the state was no longer an actor of change, but another neoliberal actor. As such, any transformation should be done at the margin of the state. Secondly, they understood that Marxist and Marxist-Leninist language was obsolete. Therefore, they used an alternative one which granted them worldwide support and sympathy. Thirdly, their decision-making procedure was collective, through assemblies. This empowered people and avoided abuses of power. Fourthly, they were a transversal force. This means that they were open to many different actors and that they demands were not exclusive for themselves, but that everybody around the world could subscribe. Fifthly and finally, they included women in politics in a macho society, showing that transformation can only be achieved when all the marginal actors participate in the transformation process. In conclusion, these five features explained throughout the essay are also lessons that alternative social movements should and can learn from them if they wish to transform social relations.

Note: To make it easier for the reader, I have not included footnotes nor the bibliography. However, this can be found for further consultation on the original paper, which is uploaded and available in the website academia.edu:

https://www.academia.edu/26836592/What_might_alternative_social_movements_learn_from_the_Zapatistas_about_transforming_social_relations

© Mario Cuenda García