Two recent lectures inspired an interesting discussion in CEDLA. James Holston spoke about Brazil’s recent protests in which young people demonstrate in favor of free public transport and ‘occupy’ shopping-malls. Claudio Fuentes discussed the possibilities of the new Bachelet government bringing about a cultural revolution in Chile.
The role of the new generations was central in these lectures. Two countries which made so much progress the past decades, experience new and unexpected forms of protests. Young people, and often not the most disadvantaged, are at the forefront of these protests. They make very clear that they feel excluded. They have turned their back on formal politics and abstain from voting. In many ways they do not even address the political system anymore. Where the ‘que se vayan todos’ in 2001-Argentina could still be seen as an appeal to political society, many youngsters in Latin America seem to have lost all interest, let alone faith in their politicians. With the use of social media they organize their own meetings and demonstrations. Their appeals for better education and free public transport are symbols for a deep feeling of discontent. They are fed up with the ‘old’ politics. Their demands are not necessarily left- or rightwing; they want change. They reject the ideas and values of their parents’ generation. The young no longer ‘remember’ the repression and inequality of dictatorships of the 1980s. In this way, the Brazilian and Chilean protests can be connected to what is happening in Venezuela today. Today, they protest against the Concertación in Chile, the hegemony of the PT in Brazil, the all-pervasive dominance of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela. They want change and they do not believe in the institutions that were the result of the democratic transition.
Latin American politics stands at a crucial crossroad. Politicians should accept that the current social discontent not only concerns material issues. It is the result of a crisis of representation in which the younger generations have lost faith in the system and no longer feel represented by political society. After the consolidation of democracy, a new challenge has emerged: To connect to the younger generations and, with them, to create a cultural revolution. This will mean that the political establishment has to make space for new groups. Authorities and politicians in power hardly ever give way voluntarily. However, the unrest and demonstrations by the young are a sign that again ‘the times they are changing’. Whether the politicians want it or not, to address this cry for change will be the great challenge of Latin American politics in the 21st century!

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CEDLA, Centrum voor Studie en Documentatie van Latijns-Amerika

CEDLA IS TURNING 50 THIS YEAR! Founded in 1964, the Centre for Latin American Research and Documentation (CEDLA) is celebrating its 50th …
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