Fernando Calderon Gutierrez is a Bolivian sociologist with a distinguished and extensive career in various international organizations such as the Latin American Social Science Council (CLACSO), the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). He has been a professor in a number of universities in Latin America, Europe and the United States.  He is now a visiting professor under the prestigious Simon Bolivar Visiting Chair for 2017-18 at the Center for Latin American Studies of the University of Cambridge in England. Fernando was my professor at the University of Chicago, we worked together at the UNDP, we taught together, and is a great mentor and friend.  I conducted this interview on November 2, 2017.    


Fernando Calderon

GB: In some of your writings, you argued that today’s societies must be able to take on the challenges of globalization, the acceleration of historical time, the strategic role of science, technology and information in economic restructuring and permanent changes in the daily life of people. How do you see that process today, not only in Latin America but in other parts of the world?

FC: It is a loaded question, so I will give you a summarized answer.  I think it is possible to conclude that there is a multidimensional crisis on a global scale, which has translated into greater complexity, and consequently greater global risks. This multidimensional crisis has six features, all intertwined and known: 1) the world economic crisis, in particular the financial crisis since 2008 in the real economy that has not really ended and where the financial capital that caused the crisis, today is again the main articulator of the new global change.  2) During this crisis in the countries and globally, the levels of social differentiation and economic concentration have increased, especially among the richest groups in the world. The book by the French economist Thomas Piketty highlights this issue, and argues that the levels of inequality have increased and that the concentration levels of the highest groups have been reproduced. The United States is a good example. Mexico is another example, which according to a World Bank study, the very rich have increased their income 350 times more than the richest 1% and 14,000 times more than the Mexican average per capita. 3) Another feature that associates the economic with social inequality, is the ecological crisis. The demand for a global agreement has become evident, and it is also a public good given the deterioration that exists worldwide. The world can no longer reproduce in the next 100 years, as it reproduced in the last 100 years. If the whole world developed like the United States and Europe, humanity would be destroyed nine times, according to a 2008 Human Development Report. 4) There is a very strong global multicultural crisis, which has to do with the system of multicultural coexistence, which is coming to an end in several countries, particularly in Europe and the United States, but which is being experienced in almost all countries. The relationship between cultures or multicultural coexistence is in crisis, and it has reached the limits, for that reason these ultra nationalist, closed and xenophobic responses have emerged in several countries like the United States and Europe. There is a complex multi-cultural dimension, which in addition is crossed by violence, by an absolute rationality; there is a very destructive friend-enemy war very and with terrible consequences, because fear emerges as another element that fuels this global crisis.  5) Another important element of the crisis that needs to be addressed is the crisis of politics and fundamentally of democracy. Given these global changes, the weight of globalization, the relative loss of the nation-state, the crisis of legitimacy of the party system and the mechanisms of representation is extremely high. There is no place in the world, perhaps with the exception of Uruguay, where the weight of political parties is high and legitimate before people. Throughout Latin America, political systems are broken. What partially solved this phenomenon were those neo populist and charismatic leaders, but now they are being replaced. There is no way out, and that will also happen in the United States. Charisma solves the problem circumstantially but not strategically. 6) And the last point of this multi-global crisis is that there is a new geo-economic map. In this new map the most interesting is the emergence of China as the second world economy, beyond the internal social differences it has. It already invests around 55 billion dollars a year in the United States, and the President of China has declared that they will invest by 2025, 525 billion dollars. China also plays a central role in the most important economies in Latin America, and particularly in South America, such as Brazil and Argentina.

So all these elements, these changes, and these multidimensional dimensions affect the institutional, political and management capacity, and that is why it is a multi-global crisis. The problem for Latin Americans is that we have not yet learned to sail against the wind. We have not yet been able to combine competitiveness with equity. We have not yet been able to accept the legitimacy of political pluralism, or the alternation of governments. Nor has there been focus on a more complex concept of sociology, a greater articulation between social integration and functional differentiation. Societies are increasingly differentiated and the levels of social integration, despite some progress, are still very precarious with respect to the needs that exist. So, that is what marks this historical moment.

GB: Do you see that today’s societies are assuming these challenges, do you think there is a model approach to respond or a particular experience that can be highlighted?

FC: There are specific experiences. For example, in local governance and local participation.  There is also creative experiences of deliberative democracy to solve constitutional orders. For example, in Iceland, Catalonia, and other places. But for the magnitude of the crisis, there is none. There is no economic model to imitate. Of course, if you look at Finland, it is still the most advanced and equitable social country in the world. But even in Finland the possibility of reproducing and sustaining the model is not automatic, and it is experiencing complicated challenges. They are closing to immigration, there are ultranationalist conservative groups that have emerged, and the influence of Russia surrounds and frightens them. Then you cannot say that there is an interesting model emerging. There are more specific interesting experiences. But we cannot yet identify an emerging model on a global scale. Europe is in a crisis; I did a study in France three years ago about how Europeans see their crisis, and my conclusion was that their resilience to the crisis was very limited. A good part of the French intellectual elites, not all, expected a solution and an agreement with the United States. But that expectation has been broken. Others spoke of agreements with China, and have realized that the economic model of the European community is limited. And Brexit has also generated limited expectations. The model of European enlightenment, and European modernity is over. They are no longer a reference, without denying that they still have an extraordinary economy and culture.

GB: Alain Touraine says that you are one of the pioneers in the global analysis as a means to construct a complex and coherent image of the new type of social context we live in. From that perspective, how do you see this moment in history with regards to topics such as democracy, governance and inequality?

FC: If I am consistent with the previous answer, I believe that the developmental governments have had a set of strong societal impacts and the neoliberal ones as well. For example, in the neoliberal case, the cases of Peru and Chile are relatively consistent, although with different political matrices, as well as Mexico and Colombia. These neoliberal models and neo-developmental models have produced extraordinary changes in the region. Latin American society is no longer the same as in the past. Today we have integrated into globalization, mainly through ICTs, which has meant important cultural changes in the region, and on the other hand science and technology aimed at strengthening extractive economies. Today a good part of the Latin American economies, and the most innovation is coming from a reinforced the classical extractive industry, which has changed qualitatively through the function of science and technology, as well as management and networks in the production process. We are just finishing research in five countries in Latin America, and we have seen in specific companies and territories for example; how lithium works in Bolivia and Argentina; how the method and the fracking companies work in southern Argentina in Neuquén; how soya companies work, such as the Grobos, and the use of technology and creation of capacity for transformation and for producing knowledge and social organization that affects productivity.  In Brazil the same. Therefore, we are integrated through these industries into the global world. But that has not been able to achieve sufficient social integration. Social indicators have improved, but inequality remains. There has been an “unfavorable inclusion” (Sen’s concept), since the inclusion that has happened has not been transformed into a productive activity, and less connected to information processes. That is one of the reasons, along with the price of commodities and resources, for neo-developmentalism and neo-liberalism to have failed. In addition to struggles and conflicts of historical and social nature that have not been resolved. Because of all this, governance is once again a central issue. Governance was important in Latin America in the 1990s, when it was evident that the first democratic governments after the transition had no capacity for governance in their own countries. Be it Alfonsin in Argentina, Siles and the UP in Bolivia, and so on. The need to address governance and governability was not renewed. Today it becomes important, because precisely countries have not learned to navigate against the wind. The question nowadays for governments is no longer strategic projects, what matters now for governments in the region is the search for minimum or systemic governance, which assumes minimal or basic thresholds to manage the economy, promote integration and strengthen institutions. How do we make institutions have a basic minimum of legitimacy to make them work? How do we make the judicial and legislative power work, when the crisis of legitimacy of justice and of the parties and parliaments is extremely high? Then at this juncture the return of the issue of governance is needed. An important issue that we have to study again and see again how it can work.

GB: The focus of one of your books, Politics in the Streets, was the city and its people (in this case in La Paz-Bolivia), urban policies, and the collective action in 20th century cities.  Today in the 21st century, urbanization and the emergence of cities all over the world as axis of change, conflict and democratic legitimacy is a reality, much more than in the past.  Do you think that this analysis is still relevant for Bolivia and other parts in Latin America and the world, and what are the main challenges of urbanization?

FC: A good question. I can answer with two social movement cases. When I wrote the book on Politics in the Streets, I wrote another one with my friend Jorge Dandler, which was called the Historic Force of Peasants. We tested two interesting contrasting things with Jorge, that now with time I value them more. At that time, we are talking about the 70’s and beginning of the 80’s in Bolivia, the predominant ideological parameter was a Marxism-Leninist, worthy and interesting, but closed. The popular assembly considered the peasants petty bourgeoisie. And the indigenous cultural world was considered a super-structure. In that book with Jorge we demonstrated that the peasantry could become a culturally political class. That was very important, and at that time almost a scandal, although now if we see the government of Evo Morales, it seems normal. Therefore, the agrarian world persisted but anew, and the peasant world remains linked to the rural world, but it becomes political, and it also it re-connects with the city. That is why I wanted to mention the study as a rural feature of national politics. The other point, which is in the book of Politics in the Streets, is the weight of the indigenous and ethnicity in the cities. One does not understand the processes of urban development, in Andean and indigenous countries like Bolivia, unless you understand the reconstitution of the indigenous world and the Andean cultural conception, without the dynamics of urban struggles and movements that integrated and expanded this indigenous culture.

It is interesting, Xavier Albo has very interesting studies on new elites and factionalism for example. These two are important precedents, because it seems to me that these phenomena today have radically changed. One thing is a process of urbanization associated with industrialization, which marked Latin American socio-political thinking since the 1960s.  How to overcome this gap in high urbanization and low industrialization, and an increase in urban marginality? And, how the cities solved these dilemmas? This was important in order to place the urban issue as a strategic issue with development, but always thinking of the horizon of an industrial or development society based on an “inward” growth with high development. Today I think that is obsolete, as a proposal, although not as much as reality. Today, the new urban metropolis in Latin America and throughout the world is structured around the information economy and global networks. That is, the connection between London and Sao Paulo is higher than the connection that London can have with the marginalized interior of Great Britain, and the small and rural town, or the connection that San Pablo may have with the rest of rural Brazil. The world is built by techno-economic and computer nodes that are located in the big cities. The problem is that this is associated with the boom of financial capital. The cities do not pull and they do not integrate, and this generates a tremendous malaise. This is one of the reasons for the rise of these ultra-nationalisms in several countries in Europe and the world.

That partly explains the outcome of the elections in the United States. Why does Trump lose New York, San Francisco or Chicago and win in the middle of the United States?  There is also a sociological variable that must be understood. It arises because the city and the metropolitan areas, and these global polycentric processes along with high and modern urbanization, have no capacity for social and national integration. And they have no interest in the non-urban, because there are links between them. Where, for example, are more drug transactions transacted and where more money is laundered from drugs? Well in the big cities and their financial nodes and in the “islands of financial laundering.” In Latin America, large metropolitan cities are important, as the vast majority of Latin Americans already live in large cities. Another important fact to understand this issue is the weight of international migrations, which have made urban cultural changes more complex. You do not understand Latin America if you do not understand the migration to the United States, and vice versa, you do not understand the United States if you do not understand the migrants of Latin America in the United States. And now there is a tremendous analytical deficit in this issue, much more in understanding political aspects.  Moreover, public policy is monopolized by the media, and another result of this global phenomenon that controls the global public image, is that it concentrates enormous resources. With the resources that Walt Disney or Oglobo and its chains have, they manage to control the production of global images, with magazines, television, websites, cinematography, etc., and also the media imaginaries are produced from large cities. They build all the political and cultural images. Today in the United States the greatest conflict is with the media, precisely because the issue is who controls the public image. Decision makers now capture social media (twitter, Facebook) be it Evo or Trump and they do politics from those platforms. In that sense, politics in the streets is now also an activity in social media and networks, but to go out again in the streets. The most important social movements (the outraged, the 99%, the march of women), use the network to later be in the streets. That is, there is a new urban reality based on a new dialectic, street / network.


GB: CLACSO published recently “The social construction of rights and the issue of development,” a collection and anthology of a variety of your work on politics, development and socio-cultural movements.  One of these articles is the one you wrote with Norbert Lechner, which analyses the conditions for democratic governance.  One of the conditions mentioned was the potential of autonomous social actors with capacity to negotiate institutional arrangements.  Do you think that is has happened or is happening?  How do you see the renewal of politics, and what are the factors of the change?  

FC: I am glad you remember that study, not everyone remembers it. For me it was a pioneering study. It denoted a strong intellectual and personal injection.  I got closer to Norbert’s thinking and his work. It helped me a lot to do the human development reports that we did not only in Bolivia or Chile but also elsewhere. The thesis is still valid. The growing complexity in Latin American dependent societies could not be managed, neither by the institutions nor by the political forces, and that this created situations of generalized governance crisis. That was the thesis. We, as you well argued in your question, wanted to give answers to this thesis. We focused on what you highlighted, the construction of actors. In retrospect, perhaps we were too naive because the real actors had other logics, including some patrimonial and corporativist responses. Rather, the governance crisis of the neoliberal model in Latin America, was replaced by a progressive national movement, a second generation of populists, whose central political epicenter was charismatic leaders. With Norbert we could have come to that conclusion. Because the truth is that thanks to these charismatic leaders, and a demand from the state, is that we were able to have almost two decades of governance, with social integration and economic growth, thanks to the market. And the model in that most successful sense has been the Bolivian one. With all the limitations of a small economy, what has been achieved is truly extraordinary. In spite of the authoritarian tendencies. Inequality has gone down, poverty has gone down, extreme poverty has fallen by around 11%, the economy has been boosted, savings are being made, the Monetary Fund is betting on Bolivia. It is the country that for the fifth consecutive year the economy that is growing the most in the region, and all this accompanied by a charismatic political leadership and an interesting economic management capacity. This is running out, it has already run out in other countries. In the case of Bolivia, the neo-developmental model is solving problems of the mid-twentieth century. But the rest of the countries of Latin America now look to systemic governance, and how to build that systemic governance in the short term. That is the problem in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Chile and Uruguay.

GB: ¿Has a cost of this political renewal been these authoritarian tendencies, and the lack of institutional arrangements that could be the basis for this minimal and systemic governance?

FC: That is the question I asked. Everything is fine, but how are you going to institutionalize this? Neither neoliberalism nor neo-developmentalism have been able to solve this, in terms of how to navigate against the wind. And it is difficult to combine equity with competitiveness, indigenous pluralism with other pluralisms (in the case of Bolivia with Amazonian pluralism), or the urban middle class. It remains a pending issue. But they have all failed. There has been some progress.  Chile was the most successful model that Latin America has had.  For 20 years, it has had a neoliberal economic model with a social democratic state, and a practical reformist policy, based on the Concertación. The economy has grown, poverty has fallen, the country has modernized, but it has generated a tremendous malaise that today has created the consequences of the most brutal crisis of politics and political ethics in Chile. The challenge for the new government in Chile is how governance can be rebuilt in the midst of a culture of distrust and centralism.

GB: I read the presentation you made last October 16 in Cambridge entitled, “Modernity as an intercultural network, uncertainty and new challenges in a global Latin America.”  I liked a lot the allusion to the concept of Kamanchaka.  In closing, what reflection can you make on democratic governance, societies and change, using the concept of Kamanchaka?

In the presentation I used the notion of Kamanchaka, which is an Andean miner belief when a haze appears and penetrates their lives, work and spirit, as a reference to the pessimism of the hard thinks that happen in life.  It is also German, in reference to the foehn winds. The thesis is that enlightenment projects have ended in Europe and have also ended in Latin America. The belief that reason, rationality and action associated with progress, which entailed an emancipatory leap, has ended. And that we who have made ourselves looking to the West, are also bewildered. Today, I think, the thought should be more global, and if we do not seriously study what happens in China, we will not understand what happens to a vendor on a corner of a street in La Paz. We need to seriously understand the transformations that are happening in the global economy, and obviously this includes the United States and Europe. That’s why the epistemological challenge is so huge. We can no longer learn from Africa through Paris. It is important to study Africa seriously. It is a long-term task. But since today on the intellectual level we are experiencing a culmination, we have to create a new Latin American project and hopefully one that is universal, from interactions and understandings with other parts of the world. It does not exclude the West, but it does not stay in the West. Perhaps the most novel thing is that a new political and cultural, ethnic, ecological, human rights, youth, local, etc. movements have emerged, that give new meaning to politics, and redefine the realism of politics. There I return to Lechner, the local is key, and especially the conflicts in the network society. Nowadays everything is informational, but in Latin America to follow-up with another Andean/quechua concept, it is also chenkoso (entangled, confusing, chaotic, uncertain, doubtful), since it has not solved twentieth century problems in institutional terms for example. In any case, as the Quechuas say, what is finished does not end. It is like the painting in old paintings, and after 50 years, the old repainted painting reappear and overlap the previous one. That’s why I say it’s Kamanchaka. I learned about this concept when I had a conversation with Domitila Chungara, the well-known Bolivian mining worker leader, who was key to the fall of the dictatorship. She was fantastic, and she told me “we are in the Kamanchaka” and I told her what can be done these cases because in the thick mist you cannot move. And she said, “there are only two things left to do: resistance and patience.”

Written by Gerardo Berthin

This is a conversational blog written and maintained by Gerardo Berthin, a political scientist, who specializes in applied governance policy issues. This personal reflection is not intended to reflect the positions of organizations he is and/or has been affiliated with. All pictures unless otherwise noted are attributed to the author.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s