Controlling the fire : new-left governments and contentious movements in twenty-first century Latin America

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2022-02-27

Authors

Burt, Thomas

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Abstract

How did the progressive governments of Latin America’s “pink tide” respond to the pressure of contentious social movements? Whereas the conventional wisdom depicts a “bottom-up” dynamic in which leftist presidents helped radical groups achieve long-term goals, I claim instead that left-wing rulers also employed “top-down” mechanisms to bring these organizations under control. In some cases, governments developed friendly ties with movements, helping them pursue long-sought objectives. In others, however, presidents neglected their demands and subjected groups to tactics of suppression. What explains this variation? I argue that two essential variables shape executive responses to radical mobilization: 1) the levels of compatibility between government and movement objectives; and 2) the degree of power concentration enjoyed by the executive. Based on eight months of field research about the new-left presidencies of the Kirchners in Argentina and Evo Morales in Bolivia, I demonstrate how these two factors conditioned the strategies that “pink-tide” presidents employed to handle the pressure of progressive social movements. Specifically, I argue that the interplay between these variables will produce one of the following results: a) alliance; b) cartelization; c) co-optation; and d) coercion. In considering a breadth of possible outcomes, my explanatory framework captures the varied patterns of government-movement interactions, and presents a novel take on the relationship between these actors during Latin America’s political move to the left.

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