January 2020 Newsletter: January Engagement

Event: What is happening in South America and why?

Photo: Marcoantonio Segura

On Monday, the 13thof January, the discipline of Development Studies and the Academy of Finland Research Project: Citizen Utopias in the Global South, brought together a group of Latin American experts to discuss and make sense of the turbulent fall in South America. The event was organized in ThinkCorner at the University of Helsinki.

In the past fall, South America went through a wave of protests and political turbulence. People from Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia and Colombia took the streets urging deep changes in disequalizising government policies.

The stormy fall rose many question in the air on the past, present and future of the continent. What led to a sudden chain of turmoil across South America? Who were the people marching on the streets? Is the continent drifting towards increased authoritarianism or can the protests help to strengthen democracy?

With these questions in mind, a diverse group of panelists with background in academia, journalism and activism having experience working in Chile, Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador, were brought together to discuss the turbulent fall of the continent.

The panel consisted of Dr. Auli Leskinen, who has conducted her PhD research on Chile’s democracy development and has also a long experience working as a journalist for YLE in Chile. Currently Aili works in education export to Latin America at EduPark Finland. From academia, we had Dr. Paola Minoia a senior lecturer at Development Studies leading a research project on eco-cultural pluralism in Ecuadorian Amazonia, PhD Candidates Germán Quimbayo Ruiz researching environmental conflicts in Colombia and Laura Kumpuniemi conducting research on economic alternatives in Bolivia. Laura is also an activist in human rights issues. Moreover, we had Jennifer Garrido, a member in the group Solidarity with Chile from Finland. The discussion was moderated by Anna Heikkinen, a PhD Candidate in Development Studies.

The panel begun with a discussion on the background of the political crisis and the current situation in each country. Based on what the panelist discussed, it became apparent that the grievances and the groups of people who had decided to take the streets vary between each country.

In Ecuador, the indigenous people rose to oppose the rise in petroleum prices and austerity policies required by the IMF loan agreement. In Chile, young people took the streets to protest a hike in metro ticket fares. They were later joined by students, indigenous and other groups across the country urging an end to disequalizising government policies. Bolivians were protesting against the suspected fraud of the president in office, Evo Morales. At the same time in Colombia, people were marching on the streets against deep inequalities, human rights violations and weak enforcement of the 2016 peace agreement.

What seemed to be common in the protests was that the new generation of young people in these countries was no longer willing to stay quiet and accept disequalization, corrupted political systems and trampling of human rights.

The panelists also brought up that mostly peaceful demonstrations were in many countries responded with over-scaled violence, declarations of state of emergency or as in Chile, even a war. During the manifestations across the continent, hundreds of people were injured and dozens lost their lives due to violent interventions of government-led military and police forces. In many countries, this created even wider rage among the protesters against their governments

After the discussion – Professor of Latin American Studies from the University of Helsinki – Jussi Pakkasvirta provided his thoughts on the current situation in the continent. Jussi highlighted that that the traditional left- and right-wing governments had not been successful in abolishing corruption or strengthening democracy. In the era of wide access to social media, people in Latin America seem to find that their societies are getting worse off and no longer accept it.

We had also some insightful questions and comments from the audience on the impact of international and other actors – such as the role of Venezuelan immigrants, the US or the charismatic religious movements.

Two hours was short to discuss the complex features behind the stormy fall across South America. What can be drawn from our discussion is that in diverse countries a tipping point in supporting inequalities, corruption and injustice in the government policies was reached.

Although in some countries, as in Ecuador and Chile, the protesters have been successful in achieving some agreements with the governments, it is clear that the pitfalls cannot be transformed overnight. However, the protests have given people hope for a change towards more democracy and just societies.

We want to thank all our panelists for participating in the panel and for creating a fruitful discussion. It facilitated to make a bit more sense on what had made the cattle to boil over in diverse countries in South America and think about the future trajectories of the continent.

The January EXALT Podcast with Sanna Komi is out now!

This month we Sophia and Chris sit down with Sanna Komi, a doctoral student at the University of Helsinki in Development Studies. Her research is part of the CONVIVA project which explores the concept of convivial conservation which offers an alternative to the model of conservation through capitalism. Sanna’s work within this project is specifically connected to wolf conservation in Finland and the attitudes towards wolf conservation. In general, her work concentrates on moving beyond the nature/society dichotomy and the model of conservation by commodification (i.e. conservation coming from a neoliberal point of view that seeks to extract something from nature by conserving it.) In this conversation we talk about apex predators, capitalism, values, and the role of extractivism in conservation.

Listen now or catch up on earlier episodes on:

Find out more about the EXALT Initiative and the podcast here and engage with EXALT on Facebook here.

Watch: (Re)purposing the university to tackle the climate emergency

On January 16, 2020 Professor Barry Gills from the University of Helsinki gave a talk about the global climate emergency. You can watch his talk on YouTube here.