Latin America in the New World Order

By Veltmeyer, Henry | Canadian Journal of Sociology, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

Latin America in the New World Order


Veltmeyer, Henry, Canadian Journal of Sociology


Abstract. This paper argues that capitalism in its neoliberal form has begun to generate the social forces of its own demise. The argument is constructed with reference to the dynamics of adjustment and the resulting conditions of social inequality and poverty in Latin America. Here it is argued that the major means of internal adjustment involves the restructuring of the capital-labour relation. Parts four and five examine the efforts in the region to contain the social discontent and forces of resistance and opposition to policies of structural adjustment, with particular reference to Mexico. These efforts are shown to be ineffective.

Resume. Cet article avance que le capitalisme dans sa forme neoliberale engendre les forces de sa propre destruction. Ce raisonnement se fonde sur la reference aux dynamiques de l'ajustement structurel et les conditions sociales resultant de l'inegalite et de la pauvrete en Amerique Latine. On discuie du fait que les principaux moyens d'ajustement interne impliquent un changement radical dans la relation du capital et de la main d'oeuvre. Les parties IV et V examinent les efforts gouvernementaux dans la region pour enrayer le mecontentement social et les forces de resistance (et l'opposition aux politiques neoliberales d'ajustement) en tenant particulierement compte du Mexique. On en arrive a la conclusion que ces efforts sont vains.

Introduction

The collapse in 1989 of socialism in the former USSR and Eastern Europe formed the final chapter in what Francis Fukyama and some others view as "the end of history," with reference to the idea of freedom, instituted in political terms as liberal democracy and in economic terms as the free market. (1) In the Latin American context, this struggle for political and economic freedom has been associated with a neoliberal agenda of market-oriented economic reforms -- the liberalisation of trade and capital flows, privatisation of public enterprises, deregulation of private activity, and a diminution if not the end of state intervention in the economy, with a cut-back in expenditures and other measures of fiscal austerity. (2)

In the 1970s, experiments with neoliberal reforms were instituted by several military regimes in the Southern Cone (Chile, Argentina, Uruguay) in the context of what later emerged as a "dirty war" against "subversives," supporters of a process several decades in the making -- the incorporation of the working class into the national process of economic development. (3) All of these experiments were short-lived and failed. But in the 1980s, in a very different context of a region-wide debt crisis, neoliberal policies of stabilisation and structural adjustment were reinstituted by a newly formed class of transnational capitalists and an intelligentsia of economic technocrats, under the direction of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and other organisations of international financial capital. (4) In this context, the neoliberal agenda of structural adjustment and associated market reforms were imposed on country after country, and by the end of the decade only four countries in the region had not opened up their economies to the world economy -- liberalising imports and removing restrictions on the movement of capital. And by the early 1990s, despite the apparent failure of the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) to place the regional economy on a sustainable growth-path and the clear evidence of its "extraordinarily severe social costs" (to quote from an Inter-American bank study), these countries (with the exception of Cuba) jumped on the neoliberal bandwagon. Even Brazil did so in 1995, under the Presidency of Fernando Cardoso, a well-known sociologist who in years past had been a major exponent of a Marxist-oriented theory of Latin American dependency.

In policy-making and intellectual circles, in both politics and academia all over the world, there has emerged what Williamson (1990) has termed a "Washington-Consensus" on the necessity of free market reforms, viz. …

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