Alberto Acosta, former president of the Ecuadorian Constituent Assembly and one of the Latin American leaders of the anti-extractivist movement, refers to the current situation on the continent. He acknowledges an exhaustion of progressive governments and defends the letter he signed together with a group of intellectuals where they consider the Maduro government as “delegitimized and with marked authoritarian features”. However, he maintains the need to build a post-extractivist alternative on the left that is at the same time classist, feminist, environmentalist and decolonial.
Trained as an economist, Alberto Acosta (68) has spent several decades in the Ecuadorian political world. In 1995 he was one of the founders of the Pachakutik party, which comes from CONAIE, one of the continent's leading indigenous organizations. Later he was also the founder of Alianza PAIS, which led Rafael Correa to the presidency in 2006, Acosta to the Ministry of Energy and Mines, and Ecuador to a prolonged progressive cycle that contrasts with the instability and neoliberalism of previous decades.
However, the link was broken in 2008 when Acosta left the presidency of the National Constituent Assembly due to differences with the party leadership. Since then, he began to articulate a sector critical of Correa, which maintained the foundations that led him to the government. “I remember a different Correa, he was like a brother we got along very, very well. And we thought many things in parallel and then it was difficult to know who said what first. But along the way, a caudillo logic was conjugated, which is something totally contrary to what we proposed at the beginning, ”says Acosta. “Correa ends up being assumed as lightning in a clear sky. He never understood that lightning was possible because the clouds were loaded with popular struggles. And that his government is due, it is explained, only by those popular struggles ”.
His intellectual and political work made him one of the main Latin American referents of the anti-extractivist movement. Along these lines, he is critical of progressive governments, whom he accuses of maintaining the logic of dependence on the global market, through a boost to the primary-exporting economic sector such as mining, oil and soybeans. "We continue to be dependent countries, product countries, condemned to underdevelopment and violence that is not a consequence but a necessary condition of extractivism," he says.
In the context of his visit to present the book Posextractivisms and Decrease: Debates towards Good Living, we interviewed him to find out his position regarding the regional situation and, in particular, the debates around Ecuador and Venezuela. Although he acknowledges that it is "a mistake to assume that all of Latin America can be read in the same way," he dares to take a look at the panorama of the region that seems to take a turn to the right. Or maybe not so much.
- Do you share the feeling that there is a change in the cycle in Latin America?
Well, we are in a time of change. A time of change where what are known as progressive governments are entering their final phase of exhaustion. All those things that 15 or 10 years ago excited us, filled us with hope, all that strength and creativity capacity that many of these governments demonstrated, and all those changes that began, it seems that they have lost ground a long time ago, they have lost strength. . I would not come to the conclusion that progressive governments are losing space in the control of political power, what is real is that progressive governments lost the capacity, the space to innovate, to motivate, to make people mobilize as it was at the beginning.
–Why is there this exhaustion of progressive experiences?
I would say there are several reasons. Undoubtedly the Empire and all its instances have been for a long time, trying to weaken these progressive governments. But believing that this is the only explanation is a very serious mistake. If the Empire, be it the United States embassy, the CIA, transnational companies, especially North American ones, are not against these progressivisms, it means that these progressives are not faithfully progressive. The Empire fulfills its task. This is the first clear point. But it is not the last explanation.
Nor is it enough to believe that the neoliberal traditional oligarchic right-wing forces in progressive countries have recovered. If they have recovered the question is why? And there we come to one of the core aspects, the reason for this resurgence of the right in the 21st century is due to the fact that progressive governments did not do what they should have done, which is to confront the logic of capitalist accumulation. What is to begin to dismantle extractivisms of all kinds. Which is to really begin to democratize societies from below. None of this was done in Latin America. We can see that there are various nuances, but in none of the Latin American countries were steps really taken for a post-capitalist economy. It did go through post-neoliberalism for a while, but that does not mean that it is the same as post-capitalism.
Then there appears what could be called the lizard's snout paradox: when the lizard opens its mouth, its lower jaw drops and the upper jaw rises. That happened in Latin America, the lizard, the capitalist system, received huge amounts of resources from raw material exports, poverty was reduced, but simultaneously the concentration of capital increased. And that is the core point. There was no impact on the logic of capitalist accumulation.
- It is hard to think that both neoliberal and progressive governments have the same economic model. What is the difference between them?
Well, there is a difference, without a doubt. The main difference, I would say, lay in the fact that in progressive governments the presence of the State was strengthened. And the State became an important actor in the management of the economy. And a greater participation in the income of natural resources was disputed, be it mining, oil, agricultural, forestry, fishing. I would also note as something that differentiated them, the attempt to strengthen state companies. But this does not assure us of a change in reality. We must think that it is not only about the control of the property but about the management, what management do they do? And we have state companies that act with much more perverse logic.
- Why do you think that extractivism is the economic sign of progressive governments, why were alternatives not sought?
For several reasons. The first reason, because it was very easy for them to obtain resources by exporting raw materials to expand consumption capacities, promote public works, expand social investment, without having to confront power groups. Surely they thought, this is how we strengthen our electoral political base to be able to continue in the future. But they made a serious mistake, a historical mistake, of believing that extractivism is obtained with more extractivism. That was the message of the Ecuadorian government: to get out of extractivism we need more extractivism; to overcome oil and mineral exports we need to export more raw materials that allow us to invest, they said, for example, in science, technology and higher education.
And a second point that explains it is that they were not governments that set out to overcome capitalism. The maximum that they raised is the overcoming of neoliberalism. Overcoming neoliberalism does not mean that you overcome capitalism. And thirdly, they did not have the height, the capacity to promote these great transformations, because they did not tune in with the popular sectors of the environment. They created vertical, authoritarian, caudillesque structures of government.
- Going to the specific case of Venezuela, together with a group of intellectuals they published a letter calling for an end to violence and calling the Maduro government authoritarian, in a context of intervention and instability. Don't you think it was a political mistake to go out and say something like that at a time like this?
Look, I believe that criticism and self-criticism, always, at all times, is essential. And that is one of the great lessons for Latin American countries. Many times, on account of confronting imperialism - it would be necessary to see if it is really facing imperialism or not - we remain silent.
It would have been very good if critical voices were raised from the beginning, which does not mean oppositional voices, when authoritarian, undemocratic, even totalitarian, drifts began to appear in many of these progressive governments. The case of Ecuador, for example, would have been very interesting for the Latin American comrades who supported the progressive processes to complain when the government begins to criminalize popular protest. Now, in the Venezuelan case, we are in a very complex moment and what worried us, and that is why I gladly joined that letter, is the issue of violence. That violence must be stopped, that violence does not even benefit the Chavista process itself, which, in my opinion, has lost much strength because the government that succeeds Hugo Chávez no longer has the capacity for creativity, nor the capacity for action and it has not deepened in revolutionary processes; it has nationalized it, it has made it more and more authoritarian.
- However, it is precisely the Venezuelan process that was more audacious in its attempt to overcome capitalism
That is why I told you that you have to differentiate, and in Venezuela yes. And that whole experience of the communes was very interesting, that was a valuable experience. We will have to see what is left of that later. That germ, those deep and structural changes, are what can sustain a process of transformation into real in the future. Now for that very reason, the fascist groups are determined to overthrow everything, eradicate everything that a cultural imaginary of Chavista-inspired transformations could mean. And this is the worrying thing. That is why we are asking for the violence to stop, because not all the people on the streets are fascists. They are people who complain for various reasons. And what there is, is that you open the door to find a peaceful solution in Venezuela.
-Do you think these debates are taking place because in Latin America there is a clearly anti-extractivist sector that, however, does not necessarily seek a socialist solution?
It seems to me that one of the key elements of a post-extractivist transformation is that it requires transitions, which cannot be made overnight, but rather go through overcoming the anthropocentric vision. All living things, not just human beings, have the right to exist. So to overcome anthropocentrism is to question the idea of traditional progress, which manifests itself above all in the permanent accumulation of material goods. That is why we also question his most wicked child, which is development. That leads us, then, to question one of the elements that were fundamental to the logic of socialism, that of the development of the productive forces, in broad terms, simplifying the matter. However, I think that socialism has a lot to say.
I maintain that the struggles have to be class-based, that has not been overcome. But there are, at the same time, various contradictions. Then a basic contradiction could begin that is reflected in what we know as the coloniality of power, racism. It is the main contradiction on which global capitalism is based, the idea of race. Then comes the capital-labor contradiction. Then comes, simultaneously, the contradiction that is given by the patriarchy. Then comes the contradiction that is given by the destruction of nature. So, the struggles have to be simultaneously, at the same level, classist, environmentalist, feminist and decolonial. Or put it the other way around, we start with colonial, feminist, environmentalist and classist, all at the same time.
- Going to the current Ecuadorian situation, Lenin Moreno's triumph over Guillermo Lasso seems to have put a brake on the advance of the right at the regional level
I am quite frank, for me they were both worse. Because one represented the right of the 20th century, the banker; and the other represented and represents the right of the 21st century, led by Correa. So, in terms of the proposals for change, transformation, I did not have any illusions, nor do I have any illusions. I did not vote for either of them.
And the serious thing, and we are already entering matters on unfortunate grounds, is that there are still left groups that believe that Correismo has progressive and left-wing elements. Correa himself has said, what he promoted is a modernization of capitalism. With clear features and characteristics of conservative restoration. As an example, it prohibited the issue of abortion for rape from being discussed in the National Assembly. And he sanctioned a couple of assembly members from his party because they tried to introduce that discussion in the assembly.
Correa returns to neoliberalism. It delivers the four largest ports without bidding to large transnational economic groups, linked to the large national economic groups. Delivers large mature oil fields, without bidding. Open the doors to privatization with the Law of Public Private Alliances. Go back to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. It favors agribusiness, large plantations, overturns the constitutional provision that prohibited transgenics, the introduction of transgenic seeds and crops. We also see everything that the repression of women means, abortion is criminalized. There are many women who are being criminalized, with an explicitly macho discourse.
What Correa achieved is to strengthen the State and, through that strengthened State, he introduces more changes of that neoliberal inspiration. That is why I speak of a transgenic neoliberalism. Because it is a strong state that drives neoliberal transformations
- However, you are part of the sector that came to power with Correa. Do you feel that there was a shift in the government's position?
Until the Constitution is approved, I believe that we have a first phase of the Correa government, since 2009 it begins to change. And there were certain elements that were shaping these trends of change. In the same constituent process, we approved, for example, the mining mandate to try to put the mining system in order and the mining situation in Ecuador. Mining did not end, it was a very tepid first instance of moving towards post-extractivism. But two or three days later, I found out about this later, Correa was negotiating with the big miners. And he said: 'Don't worry about the law, we fix everything.' Then gradually this man is concentrating his power and is becoming a leader. And there we also have a point of reflection for Latin America, we cannot promote isolated figures, if not more solid collective processes. I do not deny that there is a need for leadership, but leadership is that it makes reality what the indigenous say they command by obeying. In other words, with solid, clear mandates that respond to a proposal.
We knew that at the beginning, in 2006, that we need governments that make horizontal, participatory decisions, respectful of the opinion of others, to overcome individualist, authoritarian, caudillesque regimes. We backfired. Why? Because we launched a presidential candidacy without any social basis. And Correa ends up creating it from the government.
Correa ends up assuming himself as lightning in a clear sky, so he says to the indigenous: "If you want to change things, change the elections." He did not understand anything, he did not understand anything at all, he criticizes them because they represent 2% of the vote. And that his government is due, it is explained, only by those popular struggles. He denies all that in practice.
-What happened later with your sector and the indigenous organizations that left the government?
In that first stage I never tried to dispute him, and when I later intervened in the 2013 electoral campaign, I did so aware that we could not win, because it was the best moment of the Correa government, with a lot of money. We did it because we had three things we wanted to defend. One, protect the Constitution, not because the Constitution is written in stone and there is no way to improve it, but the basic principles of that transformative constitutionalism. Second, because of the need to incorporate other debates from the left, to make a left that is simultaneously colonial, feminist, environmentalist and classist; not just the old classist left. And thirdly, to try to form a left front, the plurinational unity of the left.
The electoral result was catastrophic [3%], but I did not aspire to win, that was impossible. The serious problem is that it was a political defeat and then we did not have the capacity to sustain this plurinational unity of the left for many reasons. And then in this year's elections we tried with General Paco Moncayo to form a national agreement for change, incorporating social democracy, a little more open. And it also fails, in electoral [6.7%] and political terms.
- Isn't there a way out to the left of correismo?
Not this time.
- How can you intervene, then, at this stage?
Well, the exits of correismo are going to be to the left, the exits of extractivism must be to the left. The exits from capitalism have to be from the left, but there is not this time, because the left is in a process of dissolution, crisis, exhaustion and must rethink again. And then, things that we must begin to rethink, are the problems are not solved by storming the winter palace. Believe that you control the State simply because you are in the ministries, in the Presidency, with a team of bureaucrats. We need another State, another logic, we must begin to strengthen everything from the community, from the participatory. It will be longer, more difficult, but it will be.