21 | NOV | 2019
A wave of mass protests is shaking the world from Haiti to Hong Kong
Protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask is pictured with a fake dollar bill. The words on the bill read, "We won't be silenced" - Photo: Susana Vera/REUTERS

A wave of mass protests is shaking the world from Haiti to Hong Kong

01/11/2019
15:47
Gabriel Moyssen
Mexico City
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As the year ends, 2019 will be remembered for the massive demonstrations that are currently shaking the world from Haiti to Hong Kong against neoliberal economic programs and corruption

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As the year ends, 2019 will be remembered for the massive demonstrations and popular movements that are currently shaking the world from Haiti to Hong Kong against neoliberal economic programs and corruption, as well as in favor of national independence.

While most of the protests are similar in its core demands—for instance, the urgent need to abandon International Monetary Fund (IMF) “structural adjustment,” and “financial assistance programs” in Latin America and the Caribbean,—other mobilizations and leaders have focused on the aspirations of freedom as illustrated by the case of Catalonia, reflecting the complex moment that globalized societies are facing.

Will they succeed in achieving their goals? In this Op-Ed, we will make a brief review of the major issues in several countries, starting from the premise that the crisis entails a deeper social, political, and economic change symbolizing the end of paradigms and the transition towards multipolar world order.

Bolivia

Once the poorest country in South America, Bolivia under leftist President Evo Morales has managed to become one of the region’s fastest-growing economies despite the fall of oil prices and other key exports, reducing poverty by 25% and extreme poverty by 43%.

Morales, who swept to power in 2006 as the nation’s first indigenous leader, won a fourth term in the October 20 elections obtaining just above the 10-point lead needed to avoid a second-round run-off against former conservative president Carlos Mesa.

The initial count, however, was disrupted, sparking an angry reaction from the opposition and allegations of fraud. Foreign Minister Diego Pary announced that the Organization of American States (OAS) would start a “bindingaudit of the vote on Thursday, while the government invited observers to the process from Spain, Mexico —which has recognized Morales’ victory,—and Paraguay.

Hours later, Mesa rejected the process, remarking that it is a “unilateral” agreement. He said on Tuesday, nevertheless, that the OAS audit would demonstrate the fraudulent election, and stressed that he wanted assurance from the government that the result of any recount would be binding. 

Catalonia

One of the three historic nations which comprise the Spanish state along with the Basque Country and Galicia, Catalonia, led by nationalists and moderate left-wing coalitions since the establishment of the post-Francoist Constitution in 1978, held a referendum in 2017 with 90% of voters supporting independence, yet it was declared illegal and suspended by the Constitutional Court of Spain.

On 27 October 2017, the Catalan Parliament declared independence. In response, the Spanish Senate approved direct rule by removing the autonomous government and called a snap regional election. The Supreme Court imprisoned seven former ministers on charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds, while several others, including then-President of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, fled to European countries.

The instability was exacerbated last month after nine Catalan nationalists were sentenced to 9 to 13 years in prison; more than 400,000 people marched in Barcelona and strikes in several industries paralyzed Catalonia.

It is considered that the protests have strengthened due to the stiff repression, the attack on democratic rights and the austerity imposed by the Madrid central government, which threatened Belgium with “taking action” if its authorities do not hand over Puigdemont.

Spain will hold its fourth general election in four years on November 10; according to surveys, the socialists of caretaker Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez would win 32% of the vote, falling short of an absolute majority.

Chile

Neoliberalism was born in Chile and will die in Chile,” is one of the slogans you can hear these days in the Southern Cone nation, alluding to the system imposed by the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990) which fostered economic growth, trade, privatizations, and financial stability, yet at the same time increased social inequality with low salaries (USD $400 on average per month), precarious jobs, and miserable pensions (USD $200 on average per month).

Protests erupted on October 18 after the government of President Sebastián Piñera, one of the richest men in Chile, raised public transport fares; nevertheless, this was only the spark that ignited the conflagration as the country suffers one of the worst education systems in South America, and one of the most expensive in the world, as well as an inefficient health care system. In addition, Chile is the only country where water is private property.

Facing massive unrest without visible opposition leaders, Piñera’s first reaction was declaring a state of emergency; this week, after removing eight members from his cabinet, including the Interior Minister and the Finance Minister, the Chilean president pulled out of hosting the November 16-17 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit and the December 2-13 COP25 climate meeting.

France

Virtually ignored by the international mainstream media, the Yellow Vest movement in France, now heading towards its first anniversary on November 17, continues to confuse observers about the political orientation of its 25 original demands, combining right-wing positions favourable to reduce immigration flows and abandoning the European Union with progressive policies such as increasing the minimum wage, pensions, and social benefits by 40%.

What started with a tax hike on gasoline spiraled into a larger protest, despite unpopular President Emmanuel Macron’s promise to lower taxes next year. “This is nationalism, middle-class rebellion, and protection of France’s culture, values, and sovereignty against globalization,” an activist summed up.

On Tuesday, Yellow Vest leaders Priscillia Ludosky, Jérome Rodrigues, Fabrice Grimal, and Faouzi Lellouche requested an emergency meeting with Macron prior to November 16, arguing that he had failed to offer a political solution to the crisis. In a letter addressed to Macron, the activists accused his administration of “repressing and rejecting” the citizen-led movement, stressing that “no credible political response has yet been put forward.”

Haiti

Anti-government protests have entered their seventh week in Haiti, as thousands again took to the streets of Port-au-Prince and other cities to demand the exit of President Jovenel Moïse.

More than 20 people have been killed amid the ongoing demonstrations, while on social media journalists and activists denounced the deployment of foreign mercenaries hired by oligarchs and drug lords born in the Middle East such as Gilbert Bigio.

For many in the Caribbean island, the current crisis was incubated since 2004, when the billionaire parasitic class and former military officers supported by the United States overthrew reformist President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. This was followed by a 15-year United Nations occupation, the catastrophic 2010 earthquake that killed over 200,000 people, and widespread riots last year, due to a price hike for fuel pacted with the IMF in return for a USD $96 million loan.

Honduras

One of the poorest countries in the Americas, Honduras has transformed into a narco-state under the regime of President Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH), investigated with his siblings Juan Antonio and Hilda by U.S. prosecutors and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for money laundering and drug trafficking on behalf of the Sinaloa Cartel.

Last month, former lawmaker Juan Antonio Hernández was declared guilty on drug trafficking charges by a U.S. court and could be sentenced to life in prison; however, the horrific execution in a Tegucigalpa high-security jail” of a key witness, Magdaleno Meza, served as a reminder of the impunity still enjoyed by this family.

Honduran prosecutors consider that JOH’s fraudulent re-election campaign was funded by the mafias in 2017. Chronic poverty and gang violence fuel immigration to the U.S. in Honduras, where opposition parties organized new demonstrations this week; if there was an opportunity for progress in the Central American country, it was lost when President Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a coup supported by Washington in 2009.

Hong Kong

The most important protest movement since the former British colony returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 under the “one country, two systems” principle, was triggered by the attempt to approve a bill that would let local authorities detain and extradite criminal fugitives to mainland China and Taiwan, undermining—in the eyes of opponents—Hong Kong’s autonomy and its civil liberties.

The protesters have laid out five key demands, which include investigation into alleged police misconduct, and resumption of reforms that were promised in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, yet stagnated after the demonstrations against changes to the Hong Kong electoral system in 2014

Over time, the turmoil has mutated into attacks on public property with a disturbing element of ethnic discrimination, since the majority of the population in the financial enclave speaks Cantonese, in contrast with the Standard Chinese or Mandarin used in the mainland.

Organizations as People Power, which promoted the intervention of U.S. lawmakers, and the student group Demosisto, led by Joshua Wong, have been calling for the end of the “oppression of the Communist Party of China.” Nevertheless, Wong and other radical leaders were discredited after they met with American diplomat Julie Eadeh in August.

Beijing has shown restraint facing the riots, although Wong was barred from participating in the November 24 local elections. On Thursday, for its part, the official Chinese news agency Xinhua announced that China would “build and improve a legal system and enforcement mechanism to defend national security in the special administrative regions,” composed by Hong Kong and the former Portuguese colony of Macau.

Lebanon

A key nation for the stability of the Middle East, Lebanon has been mired in protests over the last three weeks demanding the end of the corrupt political-sectarian system which helps a handful of Muslim Sunni, Shia, and Maronite Christian leaders control the entire country.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned on Tuesday, several hours after hundreds of youths overran protest sites in downtown Beirut, ransacking tents and stalls set up by demonstrators. The assault was blamed on the Shia parties Hezbollah and Amal, whose leaders have been cautious in dealing with the crisis.

Given the strategic factors involved—the war in neighboring Syria, mass protests in Iraq and the regional rivalry between Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, Hezbollah’s major ally—the powerful militia has warned of chaos and further divisions if protests are allowed to continue.

While Iran has accused the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Israel of promoting the mobilizations, Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun said on Thursday that the next cabinet should include ministers picked on skills, not political affiliation, seemingly endorsing a demand for a technocratic government.

For sure, as long as confessionalism and clientelism continue in the heart of the political system, Lebanon would remain weak and unstable as the battleground of major powers.

Editing by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen

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