Politics

Veber, Hanne, ed. Historias para nuestro futuro: yotantsi ashi otsipaniki : narraciones autobiográficas de líderes Asháninkas y Ashéninkas. Copenhague: Grupo Internacional de Trabajo sobre Asuntos Indígenas, 2009.

Veber has put together a fascinating collection of oral histories that cover the lives and struggles of seven Asháninka organizers from the Selva Central. Inspired by Wolf’s dictum, this volume seeks to enrich the growing body of literature about Selva Central history by introducing indigenous personal histories in juxtaposition against the documentary evidence marshaled by the usual suspects in asháninka historiography: Barclay, Santos Granero, Fernández, Hvalkof, Varese, etc.

The seven informants whose accounts comprise this volume were or are all leaders of regional indigenous organizations. Miguel Camaiteri, from Oventeni in the Gran Pajonal, served as secretary of defense for his community in their struggle to gain recognition as a Comunidad Nativa. He later worked with the Central de Comunidades Nativas de la Selva Central and became a crucial agent on the defense of bilingual rights and language education in the Gran Pajonal. He was also one of the leaders responsible for organizing the rondas campesinas that fought Sendero Luminoso and the MRTA through the late 1980s and early 1990s. (10) When Miguel was elected regidor of the town of Atalaya, his brother, Pascual, a leader in his own right, took over the chairmanship of the Organización de los Ashéninkas del Gran Pajonal (OAGP).(12) As the regional president of CECONCEC in Chanchamayo and Perené, Miqueas Mishari was a crucial ally of the Camaiteris and was himself responsible for expanding the organization through the Selva Central. (12) Bernardo Silva Loayza, another activist working in Atalaya, served as a militant in (OIRA) and now works as president of the Empresa Comunal Indígena de Atalaya La Minga”, while Vicente Ñaco, Adolfo Gutiérrez and Agusto Capurro were all members of other regional organizations.

Cant, Anna. “‘Land for Those Who Work It’: A Visual Analysis of Agrarian Reform Posters in Velasco’s Peru.” Journal of Latin American Studies 44, no. 01 (2012): 1–37.

Anna Cant’s treatment of propaganda posters put out in support of the 1969 agrarian reform emphasizes the ideological function of graphics while at the same time situating those graphics on a trajectory of dependency theory inspired radicalization of the Revolutionary Government’s platform and program. Generally speaking, and rooting her analysis in the critiques posed by Mayer, Seligmann and Caballero, Cant sees the Revolutionary Government’s program as contradictory, a fact especially evident in the effort to instill the values of capital-intensive production in the minds and administration of workers collectives, or in the delicate position of retaining peasant support for what was a centrally administered program. For Cant, the poster is the ideal medium for teasing out such contradictions precisely because of “its ability to suggest several things at once”. (3) However, though she adds a new and important source to the large body of primary material involving the Velasco years, I don’t know that her central contention (i.e. that posters reflected major tensions in Peruvian politics and society) says much more than someone like Mayer (Cuentos feos de la reforma agraria) or Mallon (“Chronicle of a Path Foretold”) already has. After all, the ambivalent position of a government speaking in defense of the peasantry and trying to mobilize grassroots momentum in opposition to oligarchy, while still vying for centralized, top-down administrative control, seems to me to be well established at this point. That is to say that the superficial interpretations of the Velasco regime as a crazed dictatorship, such as those advanced by Chirinos and Chirinos (1977), have been largely reduced to what they are: one-dimensional, as Cant points out. (11-12)

In my Master's thesis I used two concepts developed by Achille Mbembe that I think might help elucidate the narrative nature of tenure regimes; 1) The integral ties between spatiality and temporality he establishes in "At the Edge of the World: Boundaries, Territoriality, and Sovereignty in Africa" and 2) the form these ties take on in quotidian life, deemed by him conviviality.

Legal regimes are vast and convoluted rhetorical tapestries draped over reality until corrosion, crisis or mere circumstance lifts them up, shakes them out and judges whether they face a good washing or wholesale replacement. I'll need to look more into this, but I don't think this is a notion unknown to the legal field. The field is indeed rife with rich language that points to this fact. Take, for example the concept of “piercing the corporate veil”. Like any good yarn, that veil comes with refurbished subjectivities; it engenders a new economy of spatial configurations; and it constitutes its own temporality.

Mbembe asserts the relative nature of the interaction between spatiality and temporality as the primary explanation for the phenomenon of territoriality in Africa. Similar to the way that Bhabha posits the “ambivalence of modern society” that results from the instaneity of two conflicting temporalities as “the site of writing the nation,” (Bhabha 209) Mbembe employs the idea of instantaneous temporalities to explore the Nation’s physical limitations. Given that boundaries on the continent are in a continual state of flux—pulsating with the ebb and flow of ethnic, economic, religious, sexual and political determinants—territoriality, he argues, must always be conceived not merely in geographical terms, but in temporal ones, as well. Thus the “inviolability of boundaries among states” (Mbembe 2000: 267) (i.e. the semblance of permanence exuded by political boundaries) paints a two-tiered picture of the continent’s territorial divisions, with the static outlines of the colonial past hovering over a dynamic system of continual, relative expansions and contractions. The frequent result of this is a severing of regional idiosyncrasies—of a traditional, economic, or political nature—under the imposition of nation-state boundaries grandfathered in, and in the service of an increasingly distant colonial age.

Author: 
Burt, Jo-Marie, y Philip Mauceri, eds

Burt, Jo-Marie, y Philip Mauceri, eds. Politics in the Andes: Identity, Conflict, Reform. Pittsburgh, Pa: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004.

As a volume I have to admit I didn’t find this book too useful. The comparative framework and normative baseline use of an ill-defined—even vacuous—notion of “democracy” made its contribution too vague for my liking. While I understand the attempt to isolate regional similarities in identity politics, violence and political transformation, and situate them within “broader, historical, political, economic and social trends,” (14) I’m afraid Burt and Mauceri cast the net too far.

That said, the individual case studies are of some use. Xavier Albó’s piece takes Yashar’s comparative approach and reaches the same conclusion that Greene and García challenge: namely that of Peruvian exceptionalism. Interestingly, he relies heavily on Iván Degregori’s argument, that Peru saw little indigenous mobilization, because of migration to the coast, where “choledad” was the mainstay of ethnic identity. Collins fleshes out a case from Van Cott, looking at the way Pachakutik emerged as an electoral manifestation of CONAIE.

The only other thing I want to mention is the emphasis placed on the role of personalistic politics in the rule of figures like Fujimori (Burt) and Chávez (López and Lander) and the threats it poses to, as well as the ways it interacts with, democratization.

Author: 
Guha, Ramachandra

Guha, Ramachandra. "Mahatma Gandhi and the Environmental Movement." In Ramachandra Guha and Joan Martínez Alier. Varieties of Environmentalism: Essays North and South. London: Earthscan Publications, 1997.

This essay looks at the environmental thinking and legacy of Mahatma Gandhi. Here Guha probes Gandhi’s writings for critiques of industrialization—and the coming Green Revolution in a 1946 account of soil fertility—modern civilization and village industry and he traces those ideas through the work of Gandhian disciples such as JC Kamarrapa (public finance), Mira Behn (Himalayan forestry and agriculture) and more recent activists involved in the Chipko movement, Chandi Prasad Bhatt and Sunderlal Bahuguna.

Interestingly, Guha also takes on the myth surrounding Gandhi and Nehru’s opposing visions of national development, not by denying they had opposing views, one proto-environmentalist and the other fiercely developmentalist, but by showing how the two men, despite disagreeing, never harbored animosity toward one another, and by showing that by independence Gandhi’s village-centered vision had long-since fallen out of favour with most in the nationalist movement. Thus, Guha suggests that to have adopted the proposals of Gandhi and Kamarrapa at the time would have signified a fundamentally undemocratic move, going against the view of the polity. Further, I like Guha’s summary, stating: “One may justly honour Gandhi and Kumarrapa for being ahead of their time; but it is grossly unhistorical to, as well as unfair, to condemn Nehru for being, merely, a man of his time.” (165) That said, it nonetheless makes for a powerful myth-reinforcing illustration when you see Medha Patkar and the NBA using Gandhian tactics of civil disobedience to resist the Sardar Sarovar Dam, which was conceived by Nehru.

Author: 
Guha, Ramachandra

Guha, Ramachandra. "The Environmentalism of the Poor." In Ramachandra Guha and Juan Martínez Alier. Varieties of Environmentalism: Essays North and South. London: Earthscan Publications, 1997.

Guha’s essay on the environmentalism of the poor treats three case studies: the foundational struggle of the Indian environmental movement, known as the Chipko movement, in which peasants in Garhwal Himalaya resisted logging between 1973 in 1980; the poster struggle of Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA); and the resistance against Karnataka Pulpwoods Limited (KPL), a joint-sector company (owned by the state and Harihar Polyfibres) monocropping eucalyptus in Karnataka. This last case is treated in more detail.

In trying to mark the distinctions between post-materialist, Northern, pristine-nature environmentalism and the environmentalism of the poor, Guha portrays Southern struggles against degradation as a new class conflict: “Where ‘traditional’ class conflicts were fought in the cultivated field or the factory, these new struggles are waged over gifts of nature such as forests and water ….” (5) Further, these struggles pit “ecosystem people” who rely on their surrounding environment against “omnivores” whose primary aim is surplus production and export. Those who submit to the rule of the omnivores, watch their subsistence evaporate and become ecological refugees in the ever-growing slums surrounding megalopolises like Mumbai … and Lima.

Whereas the environmentalism of the poor takes on class dimensions and is marked by social justice more than a reverence for empty nature, Northern environmentalism is presented as the opposite: the product of affluence, it tends to be organized around new social movements rather than village structures (18) while resorting to mechanisms characteristic of more complete democracies, such as court cases, lobbying and media campaigns.

Author: 
Chambers, Sarah C

Chambers, Sarah C.. From Subjects to Citizens: Honor, Gender, and Politics in Arequipa, Peru, 1780-1854. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999.

Chambers uses a study of honor in political culture to deconstruct the process by which Arequipa acquired the myth of the White City, the idea that it has always been a bastion of liberal democratic ideals and ethnic homogeneity. Instead, She argues that what seemed the idea that Arequipa has been a constant source of unified opposition to Lima, was in fact the result of a continual hegemonic process, which to be fully understood requires looking at the role of plebeians, or artisans, traders and tavern workers. She takes her cue from Mallon and gives us a story of politics from below, although this one deals with the urban popular classes of a Spanish American provincial city.

Drawing mostly on court documents, Chambers shows how plebeian actors vigorously contested notions of honor, and ultimately fueled the process by which honor changed from a colonial code rooted in status to a republican signifier of virtue.
 

Author: 
Mallon, Florencia

Mallon, Florencia E. Peasant and Nation the Making of Postcolonial Mexico and Peru. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

In Peasant and Nation, Mallon’s treatment of the central highlands takes a turn toward what she deems political history from below. By examining the way in which ethnicity- and gender-based hierarchies influenced the way rural communities generated nationalist discourses (she calls this communal hegemony), Mallon foregrounds the agency of rural actors in the process by which a state becomes hegemonic. This time comparing the case of Junin with cases from Puebla and Morelos, Mexico, and Cajamarca, Peru, she concludes that the Peruvian state would not become hegemonic until the Velasco regime based on the way hegemonic national discourses played out at the local, regional and national level. In the case of the central highlands of Junin, the separatist tendencies of the Comas Federation and the inherent rejection of Lima articulated at the regional level made the achievement of regional consent for state policy impossible until well into the middle of the twentieth century, even despite the flourishing communal political culture that arose in the fight against Chile. What I want to highlight about this case is that in her treatment of this three-tiered conflation of hegemonic processes, Mallon is still reliant on the articulation approach.
 

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