“What will the future bring? … A century ago, Latin America’s liberal rulers imposed their economic model with little regard for the wishes of the poor majority. Today, the neoliberals have their own model to impose, but they also have free elections to win…” (Chasteen 328)
So what happens when a neoliberal does win free elections, and does begin imposing their vision of economic prosperity? Let’s take the case of Bolivia.
In 2002, Gonzalo “Goni” Sánchez de Lozada, a puppet of US neoliberal policy, narrowly won presidential elections with just 22% of the popular vote (and after a run of empty-promise campaigning). Once in office, and firmly under the advising and surveillance of US political consultant agency Greenberg Carville Shrum (GCS), Goni began to wreak havoc socially and economically in Bolivia. In essence, Goni began instating a series of reforms that the popular masses decidedly did not want: the privatization of water utilities, the exportation of natural gas through Chile’s coastline, the refusal to have a Constitutional Assembly “for the people” and neglecting pressing issues of education, housing and social security reform. After managing just over a year in office (6 Aug. 2002-17 Oct. 2003), Goni resigned under pressure of mounting social manifestaciones, increasingly violent street protests. His vice president Carlos Mesa took office, but managed only just about 8 months before himself resigning.
Goni is not the neoliberal leader to be overcome by popular factions; in fact, he is one of eleven global leaders to bow down to popular revolt since 2000 (“Leaders who quit” AFPR 2011). What happened?
In part, the Washington Consensus happened. Representing the “crystallization of a paradigmatic shift in economic policy making regarding Latin America,” the Consensus manifests the neoliberal, free-market dreams of the US, IMF, WTO and the World Bank (Cypher 47). The Consensus has opened the doors to many Latin American countries by touting “market-friendly” policies: deregulation of markets and capital flow across borders by the elimination of tariffs, privatization of state-owned goods and services, and “flexible” (exploitative, cheap) labor markets (47). These reforms in Latin America usually led to a rising disparity between the rich and the poor, decreased and/or stagnant wages, and increased rates of poverty (48). The Consensus and its supporters dismissed these results, deeming them simply “transition costs” of a new, efficient system. Yet how long will this “transition” last; where is that promised influx of capital flow at the end of the neoliberal tunnel?
A multinational corporation’s profits will, roughly, never translate into profits for factory workers. Many Latin American countries are now “locked in” to a vicious cycle. As James Cypher describes the Mexican crisis of the 1990s: “[It is] locked into a neoliberal cycle of external dependence that hinge[s] upon the subminimum wages of its long-suffering workforce” (49). Where capital has flowed in, it has accompanied ecologically and socially exploitative industries: mineral and petroleum mining, monocultural agriculture and ranching, fishing and timber; strip malls and “asset-switching” foreign-owned offices and banks; and “hot money” speculative investment (49-50).
As Chasteen asks, “Will globalization solve Latin America’s basic problems of social inequity?” (328). Not likely. And what of the neoliberal policies of the Washington Consensus, introduced to Latin American countries by people such as Gonzalo “Goni” Sánchez de Lozada in Bolivia? As Cypher concludes, “the death-rattle of neoliberalism is the sweetest sound to be heard from Washington in a long time” (51). And this death-rattle is indeed being wielded in the gripping fists of the dissidents of neoliberal policy, from the Zapatistas of Mexico, the Shining Path of Peru, and the cocalero workers of Bolivia.