“Watch out when you go around a corner” warned young Tropicalia artists in late-1960s Latin American music festivals. In the agitated political and cultural universe of that decade, the slogan repeatedly reminded us to be alert and strong, to pay attention to the high-up windows when we step on the asphalt, to the blood on the ground. Humankind does not walk the same block round and round, but anyone who has been following global political events in recent times may also find themselves asking the Tropicalists’ questions: Are we rounding a corner? What comes next? As with them in the 1960s, it is hard to know and to predict new developments. We can, however, follow their advice and keep our eyes steady, “for this sun, for this darkness”.
This fourth Alternautas issue gathers the articles published during the first half of our third year of existence. We are an academic blog focused on discussing development through critical lenses and from a Latin American perspective. During the last three years, we have published original and translated articles from young and prominent scholars from Latin America and the world, contributing not only to academic discussions, but also to create a fertile environment where non-mainstream ideas and perspectives on development can flourish.
This issue collects the articles published by the blog during the first half of 2016. Through their own perspectives and problems, all of them contribute to a collective effort to map, understand and propose alternative paths to our contemporary scenario. While the first section is dedicated to alternative development thinking in a broader sense, the second section features the first dossier that Alternautas has organized. Our guest editor, Gerardo Muñoz, curated an insightful collection of essays and interviews focused on the current crisis of the progressive governments of Latin America.
The first section starts with a theoretical contribution by Aníbal Quijano, translated by Sebastian Garbe. Here, Quijano places the idea of “buen vivir” emerging from indigenous populations in Latin America as an “alternative form of existence” that directly tackles the problem of “coloniality of power”, a theory that the author has been engaged with since the early 1990s. In this piece, Quijano sums up the promises and limitations of the development paradigm in Latin America, reaching deep contradictions by the end of the last century with the emergence of neoliberalism, financialisation, globalisation and a growing environmental crisis. According to him, these elements imposed a truly “existential crisis” to the global coloniality of power, in a process that profoundly questions Eurocentrism and the separation between humankind and nature, taking for granted the exploitation of the latter by the former. He proposes a “de/coloniality of power” based on new social practices, such as social equality of heterogeneous and autonomous individuals, reciprocity between social groups, egalitarian distribution of resources and products, and communal association at local, regional and global scales. Quijano argues that the emergence of critical development theories and alternatives particularly from Latin America is not accidental, since the region had a foundational role in the constitution of the coloniality of power through its centuries of colonisation and therefore later also acquired an important role in its subversion.
With similar concerns, but tackling the environmental crisis more directly in a perspective stemming from critical economic thought, Alberto Acosta discusses the need to adopt a “post-growth” and “post-extractivism” development paradigm. In his article, translated by Dana Brablec, he criticises mainstream economic theory for establishing “growth” as the only way to fight the major problems facing humankind today, such as poverty, social inequalities and even the environmental damage caused by growth itself. Drawing on a number of scholars, particularly Enrique Leff, he proposes a change in the global economic rationality, which would assume the task of seriously discussing “de-growth” in the global North and overcoming the extractivist model in the global South. This alternative framework would pursue a re-encounter between human beings and nature, as Quijano argued, in which capital would be subordinated to the demands of both, now understood as interdependent elements. The idea of “buen vivir” appears again as an important concept stemming from indigenous practices in Latin America, supporting the redistribution of wealth, the democratisation of the economy, and the decentralisation and re-territorialisation of social practices.
The other three articles presented in the first part of the issue present exciting new studies on Latin American economy and society. Nicolás Perrone interrogates power mechanisms behind international arbitration procedures that became increasingly important since the 1990s, when foreign investment started to be the dominant development model for the global South. Studying the dispute between Ecuador and Occidental Petroleum (Oxy) II, Perrone argues that that international arbitrators equated “harm” with “economic loss”, ignoring damages imposed on a country because their sovereignty has been limited. Thus, these mechanisms of arbitration, the author argues, create a “commodification of sovereignty” that seriously undermines local societies’ ability to determine their own strategies of development.
Iokiñe Rodríguez and Mirna Inturias recount in their piece a fascinating experience with participatory videos, a methodology of action research, among the Monkox people of Lomerio, Bolivia. The Monkox people live in an indigenous autonomous territory in the lowlands of Santa Cruz department, with an economy highly dependent on forestry management. The videos served as tools to examine and give public visibility to local notions of environmental justice in community forestry, opening a process of community self-reflection. Through the videos, Monkox people were able to narrate their own history of land struggle across successive generations and to expose problems of unequal distribution of forestry resources, particularly among elders and women.
Finally, the last contribution of this first section is a compelling study by Juliette Roguet that analyses the phenomenon of bricherismo in the highly touristic district of Cuzco, Peru. The article discusses the amorous encounters between bricheros, “technician[s] of seduction and a romantic expert in conquering travellers”, and female Western travellers that perceive them as authentic and exotic “Inca successors”. Roguet describes the complexity of the power relations that emerge with bricherismo, since its intersection of gender, sexuality, class and race constantly shifts dominated and dominant positions.
The second part of this issue comprises a special dossier dedicated to discuss the “end of the progressive cycle in Latin America”. Edited by Gerardo Muñoz and including articles from Bruno Cava, Sergio Villalobos-Ruminott, Salvador Schavelzon, Michela Russo, Diego Valeriano, Jon Beasley-Murray and Gerardo Muñoz himself, this timely collection of essays critically reviews the contours of contemporary politics in Latin America. Even though the contributions collected by the dossier come from different theoretical and regional perspectives, there is a common thread that unites them: the identification of the limitations of the Latin American “pink tide” and of the need to propose a new political imaginary in the continent. This imaginary, our authors argue, is deeply committed to expanding the democratic horizon of Latin American societies, seriously questions the centripetal forces of populism, directly tackles the problem of the extractivist model, and seeks to overcome the limitations of identity politics. The dossier also presents a special interview with Maristella Svampa, a poem by Andrés Ajens and a review of Ticio Escobar’s book Imagen e interperie, by Michela Russo.
Throughout all of the contributions in this new Journal issue, we wish to invite readers and contributors to retrace the path that we have explored in this first half of 2016 in the hope that it will elicit new questions, ideas and perspectives. We are facing an exciting second half of the year, with new members joining the Editorial Board and our new team of English editors, a new dossier on Water and Extractivism (the call for papers is still open!), new initiatives with the Latin American Bureau, and new conference projects in the pipeline. We are enthusiastic about the future and grateful to all of our contributors, readers and collaborators of every kind for continuing to accompany us in the Alternautas journey off the beaten path!
The Alternautas Editorial Team,
Adrian E. Beling, Ana Estefanía Carballo, Gibrán Cruz Martínez, Emilie Dupuits, Anne Freeland, María Eugenia Giraudo, Sue Iamamoto, Juan Jaime Loera González, María Mancilla García, Louise de Mello, Diego Silva, Martina Tonet, Julien Vanhulst and Johannes M. Waldmüller.
From a virtual Abya Yala, July 2016.
 The expression comes from the popular song “Divino Maravilhoso”, composed by Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. It was sung for the first time by Gal Costa in a music festival of Record, a Brazilian TV channel, in 1968 and became one of the most representative songs from the Tropicalia movement. The movement arose in the late 1960s, combining a fusion of traditional Brazilian culture with foreign influences and offered strong political criticism, in particular of the dictatorship that followed the 1964 Brazilian Coup d’état.