Academic journal article Social Justice

The Pace of Neoliberal Globalization: A Comparison of Three Popular Movement Campaigns in Central America

Academic journal article Social Justice

The Pace of Neoliberal Globalization: A Comparison of Three Popular Movement Campaigns in Central America

Article excerpt

Introduction

IN THE LATE 1990s AND EARLY 2000S, THE POPULAR SECTORS IN CENTRAL AMERICA were embroiled in the largest acts of mass defiance since the national liberal .liberation struggles of the late 1970s and early 1980s. In Panama, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Honduras, a series of battles over government austerity and neoliberal restructuring are contributing to ongoing, heightened social conflict. The political turmoil derives from a new round of the region's integration into the capitalist world economy along free-market lines (Robinson, 2003). As the countries of the isthmus entered a foreign debt crisis in the 1980s, their respective governments initiated phase one structural adjustment policies such as currency devaluations, subsidy cuts to basic consumption goods and services, and economic deregulation (Stahler-Sholk, 1994). As these policies curbed inflation and led to short-term spurts in economic growth, the republics of Central America continued to accrue foreign debts in the billions of U.S. dollars through the 1990s, while maintaining sizable internal budget deficits. In the mid-1990s, in response to this ongoing fiscal crisis, international financial institutes (IFIs) encouraged a second phase of structural reforms that involved the privatization of publicly administered services and infrastructure, deeper reductions in the state sector, and the implementation of regressive sales taxes to overcome budget shortages and secure loan repayments (Green, 2003). Since the late 1990s, these second-stage reforms appear to be shaping some of the key mass struggles in the region.

Indeed, in 2005, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador experienced national days of protest against the signing of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFFA)--a key measure seeking to further integrate the region in a neoliberal fashion. The anti-CAFTA mobilizations in Guatemala in March 2005 alone brought Mayan peasant associations into coalition with university students, schoolteachers, state-sector unions, and a variety of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in a month-long series of nationally coordinated demonstrations and roadblocks. In Panama, between May and July of 2005, in another type of neoliberal policy conflict, construction workers, state employees, schoolteachers, university students, health care employees, and social security workers coalesced into an oppositional coalition that demanded the repeal of a newly imposed national pension law that increased the age of retirement by five years. In the end, the anti-CAFTA forces failed to prevent their respective governments from signing free-trade accords, while the campaign in Panama forced the Torrijos government to postpone the pension reform and negotiate with the most affected social sectors. What accounts for the varying outcomes of popular struggles such as these that continue to contest the character and content of neoliberal reforms throughout the developing world? Below, we examine three campaigns against the implementation of second-phase neoliberal policies in Central America to better assess the kinds of situations in which movements challenging globalization-induced reforms influence the pace and character of the policy implementation process (see Table 1).

The campaigns represent some of the larger mass mobilizations in Central American in the late 1990s and early 2000s. We specifically examine the role of public opinion, the breadth of mobilization, and alignment with oppositional political parties as key dimensions conditioning the impact of the campaigns. While several studies demonstrate an upsurge of anti-neoliberal globalization protests in Latin America in the 1980s (Walton and Shefner, 1994), 1990s (Lopez Maya, 1999), and early 2000s (Almeida, 2002; Auyero, 2002), we know less about the relative successes (or failures) of specific campaigns to prevent unwanted economic policies (Rhodes, 2006). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.