Occupy Wall Street Draws Collective Yawn in Latin America

Occupy Wall Street Draws Collective Yawn in Latin America

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NEW YORK – It’s a paradox that the only foreign-language kiosk set-up in Zuccotti Park, the site that has been “occupied” by Occupy Wall Street is for Spanish-language information, when, throughout Latin America, the movement has met with little enthusiasm.

While Occupied Wall Street has resonated with people around the world, inspiring demonstrations from London to Taiwan, Seattle to Sydney and Rome to Tokyo, the movement has failed to ignite the imagination of Latin Americans.

At a time when thousands of people have gathered to protest from New York’s Times Square to the piazzas adjacent to Rome’s Coliseum, the number of protesters in major Latin American cities has been in the hundreds at best. In Mexico City, the largest city in Latin America, an estimated 250 people assembled at the Monument to the Mexican Revolution, and in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro, fewer than 40 demonstrators showed up for a protest. The largest reported assembly has taken place in Buenos Aires in Argentina, but this was a bicycle festival that showcased the work of local artists, and it is estimated that only 800 people showed up for that street-like fair.

Why are Latin Americans indifferent to a spontaneous uprising of public discontent across the U.S., throughout Europe and around the world?

The reason lies in the nature of the global discontent, and the factors that have, until now, insulated Latin America.

Occupied Wall Street may not have found its voice yet, at least in terms of articulating a list of demands and proposals for addressing the complaints expressed by demonstrators, but, in speaking with scores of the individuals assembled at Zuccotti Park – which is physically located between Ground Zero and Wall Street – there are several points in common:

Income distribution: The now-famous “We are the 99%” slogan calls attention to the skewing of the income distribution in the United States since the mid-1990s, in which the top 1 percent of the nation’s wealthy control 40 percent of the nation’s wealth. “The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year,” Joseph Stigliz, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics, wrote this spring. “In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent.”

TheHousing crisis: The burst of the housing bubble in 2008, caused by a speculation frenzy empowered by Wall Street, has resulted in millions of families losing their homes, and it is now estimated that almost half of U.S. homeowners who have a mortgage are likely to owe more than their properties are worth, Deutsh Bank reported two years ago.

Unemployment: While the economy is in technical “recovery,” it is one in which few jobs have been created. In the summer of 2010 the International Labor Organization (ILO), the labor agency of the United Nations, warned governments around the world that “recovery efforts” must focus on job creation, and yet, the labor market remains stagnant throughout the U.S. and Europe.

Collapse of Government Services: Economic pressures on state and local governments have resulted in drastic cutbacks at all levels of services throughout the United States, from the number of firemen on payroll to school lunch programs for disadvantaged youth, from monies to repair roads to public health services. Over a year ago, the U.S. Government Accountability Office warned of the “fiscal” pressures confronting state and local governments.

These concerns, however, have found little resonance in Latin America. The challenge for the largest nations of the region – Brazil, Mexico and Argentina – is managing the growth they are experiencing. Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, is confronting the possibility of an overheated economy, meaning that Brazil may be growing too quickly, overvaluing the nation’s currency and risking inflation. Last summer, Ben Laidler, a strategist at JPMorgan, warned investors that Brazil ran the risk of “overheating” its economy.

In Mexico, a sustained period of reform and growth since 1994 – when NAFTA went into effect – has fueled the growth of a sizeable middle class. “It’s people who came from the countryside to work in new industries spawned by NAFTA. This rising middle class has a powerful aspiration to dig out of poverty,” Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times. He noted in 2010 that “Wal-Mart de Mexico is expected to open 300 new stores in Mexico this year, thanks to growing Mexican demand for consumer goods.”

For its part, Argentina -- while suffering from unemployment levels that are higher than government officials would like to have -- confronts an acute shortage of skilled labor. "In the area of computer systems alone, there are an estimated 50,000 available jobs, while at the same time there are a large number of unemployed people who don't have the necessary skills, which is why there is no correlation between economic growth and unemployment levels," Caludio Flores, director of Agein, a human resources agency, said this past spring.

Latin America was largely spared from the burst of the housing bubble, meaning there are no multitudes of Latin Americans facing foreclosures, or whose homes are “under water.” The reason is that, for most people in Latin America, governments have federal-level housing agencies that control the development of housing projects, guarantee mortgages and offer mortgages that are within the ability of families to pay. In Mexico, for instance, most homes are bought through Infonavit, a federal housing agency that provides housing options for almost 60 million Mexicans.

If Mexico has a housing crisis it would be characterized as a housing shortage.

In consequence, Latin America has made significant strides in closing the income distribution gap. A growing middle class has lifted millions of Latin Americans out of poverty, and free-trade agreements have given millions more access to consumer products than ever before in the history of the continent.

Latin Americans simply have little empathy for the concerns voiced by the Occupied Wall Street protestors, and the meager number of demonstrators showing up in solidarity rallies in the major cities of the region is testament to this indifference.

There are other reasons for Latin America’s collective yawn at Occupied Wall Street. For starters, the Occupied Wall Street protestors have ignored the three major complaints that people in Latin America have.

Foremost is the growing demand to decriminalize some narcotics as a way to reduce the “drug wars” raging from Mexico to Bolivia, Colombia to Guatemala. Second is the demand – spearheaded by Mexico at the United Nations – that arms-producing countries impose strong export controls on weapons, another strategy for ending drug-related violence in Latin America. The third complaint is the growing conviction that the movement of labor across the continent should be left unfettered – where the continent moves towards the European Union’s model of allowing workers to move freely across borders. Mexico sees this as one way of ending the racism that has characterized discussion of immigration and immigration reform in the United States.

There is one other reason, one seldom articulated directly, but often alluded to with resentment: Why should Latin Americans take to the streets to support the complaints of fat Americans who, for the first time in more than half a century, are confronting the harsh realities of diminished expectations, when Americans went about their lives when it was Latin America that was in upheaval in the 1980s?

The international debt crisis that exploded in the region on August 5, 1982 after Mexico announced it could not meet its debt obligations plunged the region into a crisis, and the 1980s are remembered as a “lost decade.”

Food riots erupted in Caracas in February 1989 to protest the rise in prices under the presidency of Carlos Andres Perez, in what became known as the “Caracazo”uprising." Riots spread throughout South America, reaching Buenos Aires later that year to protest the government of Raul Alfonsin. At that time, Americans showed very little concern for the plight of millions in Latin America – certainly no one was out in the streets in Lower Manhattan demanding that Latin America’s hungry be fed.

This time around, it is Latin America that is relatively well off, moving toward creating robust middle class societies, and enjoying a period of sustained growth that has, thus far, been insulated from the worst effects of the Global Recession. And although millions of Spaniards are taking to the streets from Madrid to Barcelona, Valencia to Toledo, they are doing so not as Hispanics, but as Europeans, who, burdened by the crisis engulfing the euro economies, are caught up in Europe’s crisis.

In Latin America, for now, Occupied Wall Street is a fascinating social movement – as seen on TV.



Posted Oct 24 2011

are you completely missing the fact that indigenous resistance in latin america and Mexico has existed for 500 years, and that resistance is deeply connected to occupy wall street. They have been exerting their own grassroots possibilities for the past 30 years in a much more democratic way, then any occupy wall street movement. You also forget that 1994 marked the beginning the economic war on mexico with NAFTA and the EZLN stood up and continues to stand up against it. and that has spread thanks to the Other Campaign.


Posted Oct 24 2011

almost all of latin america would considered socialist by american standards. you don't need to protest big business when the government is already stepping on its neck.


Posted Oct 24 2011

FASCINATING SOCIAL MOVEMENT INDEED! THIS IS THE BEGINNING OF REVOLUTION, GET IT? Yawn all ya want, we the people be there to bail you out when the THYME comes. LOVE & PEACE, have hope & faith, be inspired !


Posted Oct 24 2011

"Occupied Wall Street may not have found its voice yet, at least in terms of articulating a list of demands and proposals for addressing the complaints expressed by demonstrators"

big money out of big government

how's that for articulation? stop spreading this stupid lie.


Posted Oct 25 2011

So if these economies are booming why does the USA have 4,000,000 illegal immigrants and more on the way north?


Posted Nov 1 2011

well said, I couldn't have said it better, but lets not forget the protectionist meassures taken in the last decade by Latin American politicians to protect the local market from piracy, occupation, and the destruction of the enbironment including the dimilirarization of the land to invest it in social programs, wich by the way have being the reasons for western controled media to voice irrational verbal attacks on Latin America's leaders, with cover up slogans such as "populists" "socialist" including even "communist" or "lefty". there is something wrong with a society that invest all it's resources and wealth in weapons for war, the inevitable result is death, we got to use our wealth for life and pease, greed distracts people and corrupts their souls, we need to work for a better world and struggle with a world consived by siners, everyone of us is an activist, protesters, anarchist or spy, even the teller at a bank who has to stand all day, or the government office worker who has to file documents of land thieves and corrupt thieves, do you ever wonder about the confidentiality agreement they made you sign ? and the real purpose of the instrument ?? the best advise I can give to everyone at every level is start acting like you care and you wouldn't even need the Latin Americans to care for you, in any case as stated in this report there are enought US finaced weapons to worry about including something like over 10.000 death a year from drug traffiking in Colombia and Mexico alone where USA and other EU nations trade weapons for resources wich makes the population detest dealings with EU, USA, including IMF, UN and WTO wich by the way are all at the heart of the financial meltdown and the reason for the occupy wall streets movement, as you seen in Libya they will like the population to kill eachother, but I say we linch them one by one as they did with Gaddafi and Saddam.

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