Posted December 4th 2011 at 5:49 pm by
in Perspectives on Current Events

The Occupy Movement seen from Latin America

The Occupy Movement has become a global urban movement. The Arab Spring inspired the world by showing the enormous power that insurgent movements can gather through decentralized internet social networks. However, Occupy has not achieved any significant support in Latin America and most other so-called developing countries. Why is it so?

The movements in Spain (the largest and oldest in high-income countries), in other European countries, and in the U.S. and Canada have their roots in a general discontent with the economic system as a whole — the profound economic crisis and massive unemployment that they are currently suffering. The non-hierarchical structure of the movement has helped shared concerns to converge in a way that cross ideology, class and culture boundaries. The most conservative and skeptical are gradually withdrawing, which remains a challenge for the movement, but it still very much represents a widely shared discontent rather than an ideology.

Occupy’s meager size and political incidence in developing countries can be explained by numerous factors. First, the most common problems (massive poverty and extreme inequality) in these countries are not new and have not been created by the current financial breakdown. In fact, most developing countries suffered several of these sorts of crises in the last 20 years or so, some of them far more catastrophic. Most of them cannot be afraid of losing a welfare state they never had.

Second, their economies have not stopped growing because of the crisis. Economists in Ecuador, from where I write, are more concerned with how a possible collapse in Europe would affect the global economic chain that starts in Latin America and Africa with their exports of prime materials that China and India need to produce for the European well-paying market.

In some cities we can observe a third factor, directly related to urban planning and management: public space. In Europe and the U.S. public spaces enjoy higher investment than in most cities in developing countries, which make them much more adequate for camping and for planning and, generally, for experimenting with insurgent ways of using them. In a few Latin American cities public spaces are also used for social protests and demonstrations. The most recent case is Santiago de Chile, where a large proportion of its middle class and youth are putting forward their demands for a more democratic education. However, in most Latin American countries it is rather rare to see middle class and high-educated people protesting in any way, perhaps due to their small size compared to high-income countries.

In Ecuador, for instance, before Rafael Correa became president, Quito was the scene for yearly massive popular demonstrations to get rid of corrupt, incompetent or undemocratic presidents. The sufficient quality of public spaces in these cities makes it possible. On the other hand, it is difficult to imagine an Occupy movement or a massive social protest of any nature in Guayaquil, another city in Ecuador, and I would argue that people there are partly unmotivated by their insufficient and inadequate public spaces (attributes that include insecurity). Cultural patterns and a tropical climate (which alternates between extreme heat and heavy rain) may also be important contributors to conformist behavior in some cities.

The Polis Blog has published a number of posts related to the movement in different parts of the world:

Insurgent public space

Manuel Castells speaks to Occupy London

Protests in the USA

Occupy London against financial power

Occupy NY against financial power

Occupy London

Occupy South Africa

Insurgent citizenship

Occupy in Spain

CoLab Radio has published these posts, among others:

The View from a Wall Street Bank

The View from Inside Occupy Boston

Public Space Planning inside an Occupy Camp

Misappropriation of Public Safety at Occupy Oakland

Credits:  Photo of Occupy Barcelona by Jacobo Méndez. Aerial photo of Occupy Oakland from

Post by Jordi Sánchez-Cuenca.

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