Americas’ Giants Meet: Much Ado About Nothing

Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, the presidents of the two largest countries in the Americas, met in Washington in the March, in a gathering surrounded by high expectations. In Brazil, the event was indeed presented as the clearest indication of the country’s main foreign policy realignment aimed at repositioning the nation along clear pro-Western, namely US lines. Once all was done, however, beyond the renewed iteration of the virulent nationalist and conservative rhetoric consistently professed by the region’s two most vocal representatives of the right-wing winds blowing over the continent in recent years, there was very little that was actually achieved in what could have been a rather consequential gathering for both countries, the American hemisphere and the world as a whole.

Trump has never really shown any real interest in Latin America. In effect, the American president has consistently portrayed the region in overt reductionist and derogatory notes – such as the scary and utterly misleading narrative about the growing hordes of illegal immigrants moving across the US southern border, which are skillfully deployed to mobilize his political base in specific electoral moments, such as during the most recent mid-term elections in the fall last year. It was thus not entirely clear what the American president expected to achieve from a meeting with his recently-elected South American counterpart. What was a bit more certain was that Trump seemed genuinely excited to potentially close ranks with someone he saw as a close ally in a region where US actions, especially overt political, economic and above all militaristic encroachments, have historically been received with a huge degree of local skepticism and often concerted resistance.

The American president’s personal enthusiasm for his Brazilian counterpart was shown right after Brazil’s presidential election last October, when Trump cherished the fact his counterpart was being called the ‘Trump of the Tropics,’ stating that he looked forward to working closely with someone he considered well attuned to the goal of making their respective countries great again. But despite what some have initially referred to as a potential “bromance”, beyond the symbolism of stated ideological alignments, Bolsonaro’s visit to DC was largely defined by poor diplomatic achievements, especially for Brazil.

Some of this was to be expected considering Trump’s views on trade. In fact, whereas Trump has consistently repudiated free trade agreements and pushed for strong protectionist positions to purportedly defend the US economy, Bolsonaro was elected on the basis of a strongly reenergized neoliberal platform of free trade and open borders for business that caused so much social pain in Latin America in the 1990s. Much in the same way, in key economic sectors of the US and especially of the Brazilian economy, such as in exports of commodities and steel going primarily to the Chinese market, Brazil and US are staunch competitors. In fact, both countries have sued each other multiple times in global judicial and trade fora, such as the WTO, over alleged trade protections put in place by both countries.

Aware of some of these challenges, the Brazilian delegation to the DC meetings centered their agenda on supplementary lines of collaboration. In effect, Brazil’s current administration was looking to increase its military capabilities by means of a closer alignment with the US military and counted on American support for the country’s intention of joining the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In return for promised support on both fronts, Brazil delivered with concrete concessions. Namely, the Brazilian administration waived its visa requirement for American tourists, slashed tariffs for US wheat imports – in a move that is likely to upset Argentina, Brazil’s main economic ally in South America and main provider of wheat to the Brazilian market

Brazilian authorities also extended access to its huge off shore oil reserves to US investors, and allowed access to its strategically placed air force base in the northeast of the country to the US, for the purpose of cheaper satellite and rocket US launching missions, without asking for any kind of technological transfer in return, a move that may upset more nationalist sectors in the Brazilian military. What is more, confirming the frustrating visit insofar as advancing Brazil’s commercial interests, Brazilian diplomats failed to gain any concession on the existing quotas imposed on Brazilian sugar exports to the US market and were not able to convince their American counterparts to overturn an on-going US ban on fresh Brazilian beef – both major demands of the Brazil’s economically central and politically powerful farming sector.

These latter points of contention are likely to come back to haunt the Bolsonaro administration, which is really constituted by a strange political alliance hastily coalesced over the past year from free-markets neoliberal economic ideologues, powerful economic elites, sectors of the military and old guard cultural and evangelical conservatives. While the first group was ready to support the decision to strengthen ties with the US on economic grounds and the latter was willing to support the same decision on ideological grounds, the more consolidated forces in the military and agribusiness may soon became disillusioned with an automatic alignment done on more symbolic than material bases of interest.

Brazil’s deeply ideologically conservative foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, has repeatedly claimed that aligning closely with the Trump administration was a matter of protecting the Western civilization from attacks of globalist forces. However, the all-powerful economic minister Paulo Guedes, despite being a staunch free-trade ideologue, has stated that Brazil expects true economic commitments from the US; otherwise, Brazil would look to alternatives in the global economy, namely China.

Pertaining to the dramatic events currently unfolding in Venezuela, despite Araujo’s effusive support for a more confrontational approach defended by Elliot Abrams and John Bolton, it is unlikely that Brazil will embark on a perilous path of military involvement in the continent. To be sure, Araujo’s enthusiasm for intervention in Venezuela was quickly curbed by Brazil’s vice president General Mourão, the senior member of the administration more closely aligned with the military establishment’s traditional and more moderated geopolitical positions, who is quickly becoming more active in taming some of the ideological excesses of Bolsonaro’s crusaders.

Bolsonaro’s ideological views, political style and path to the presidency of Latin America’s largest country seems to reflect many similarities to Trump’s trajectory, underlining logic and rhetoric. In theory, this reality could have been conducive to a closer and more productive alignment between the hemisphere’s two largest societies. Yet, this was not what was seen in DC last week. Should more consequential outcomes, especially positive ones be actually achieved, the two countries would have to engage in more effective and mutually respectful partnerships beyond the superficial political proximity of their current leaders. In fact, though it would be naïve to expect that a meeting between the two main leaders of the extreme right movement rapidly unfolding over the Americas in the last couple of years could result in actual gains for the majorities of the populations on either side, US and Brazilian societies should nonetheless continue to pursue closer engagement.

It should be remembered that this is not the first time that the two countries believed to be ready to pursue closely aligned paths, only to later discover that true cooperation requires more than rhetorical statements of friendship. This was, in fact, the pattern that defined much of the course of US-Brazil relations for much of the Cold War era. And while there are ways Trump and Bolsonaro can get on the same page, as in their vocalized desire to go after what they claim to be a return of socialist ideals in the region and beyond, the more fundamental question remains unanswered: What would closer relations between these two leaders mean for the people of the US, Brazil and the world? The unfortunate reality is that common people are likely to lose either way.

To be sure, if Trump and Bolsonaro were to collaborate further, it would likely be on the basis of an authoritarian, environmentally destructive, elitist agenda. In a minimalistic sense then, the much ado about nothing meetings in DC last week may actually be good news for Brazil, the US, and region as a whole. Conversely though, by not managing to find more common ground, especially in areas that more fully matter to people’s lives, such as employment and social inclusion, this leaves the Western Hemisphere with yet another missed opportunity for its two biggest powers to work together for the benefit of all.

In the end, one of the main conclusions from this much celebrated gathering among conservatives is to remind policymakers that ideological affinities are not necessarily the most indicative sign of effective, and especially constructive, cooperation in international politics.

Rafael R. Ioris, Associate Professor of Latin American History and an Affiliated Faculty to the Latin American Center at JKSIS, University of Denver




Resisting Democratic Erosion in Latin America and Beyond

By Kai Thaler.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro speaks at Congress, January 1, 2019. Photo via Senado Federal.

The dawn of 2019 saw Latin America’s democratic crisis continue and deepen. Most prominently, New Year’s Day saw far-right former military officer Jair Bolsonaro sworn in as President of Brazil. Bolsonaro immediately acted to consolidate power; curb the independence of NGOs; undercut government efforts to expand educational access and protect human rights; open up Amazonian lands to development despite indigenous objections; and give security forces free rein. Bolsonaro has already dispatched the military domestically. This could begin an expanded military role in Brazil’s domestic politics and security, a worrying prospect given the country’s history of dictatorship.

In Nicaragua, imprisoned activists were beaten for singing the national anthem on New Year’s Eve as Daniel Ortega’s government continues to strangle the media and civil society. Nicaraguan asylum-seekers deported from the US have disappearedon their return to the country. Most countries in the region consider Nicolás Maduro’s Venezuelan government illegitimate, and three million Venezuelans have fled amid economic collapse and authoritarian rot. Evo Morales is trying to win a fourth term as president of Bolivia, despite losing a referendum on whether he should be able to run again. Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales has repeatedly tried to shut down the UN-backed CIGIG anti-corruption commission, and last week announced its expulsion. El Salvador’s presidential frontrunner, Nayib Bukele, and his supports have taken up Donald Trump and Bolsonaro’s mantle, claiming the election will be stolen from him, fearmongering about protests and military intervention, and attacking the media.

In the face of dictatorships and serious threats to existing democracies, what can be done to resist authoritarianism and to strengthen and restore democracy throughout the Americas, and elsewhere? Last week in Denver, I convened a panel discussion with Consuelo Amat, Andy Baker, and Rafael Ioris on “Latin America’s Democratic Decline and Possibilities for Resistance.” What follows are some lessons from the discussion and my own reflections.

Can the courts be a bulwark of democracy? The Guatemalan Constitutional Court has repeatedly resisted Jimmy Morales’ efforts to shut down the CIGIG anti-corruption body, including Morales’ latest expulsion order. Supreme Court justice Rafael Solis, previously an Ortega ally, just resigned in Nicaragua, denouncing the government. Solis resigned, though, nine months into the government’s campaign of repression and after backing Ortega through years of democratic erosion. Courts can be enablers, too. Bolivia’s Constitutional Court went along with Evo Morales’ push for unlimited reelection. Brazil’s judiciary may not constrain Bolsonaro: Sergio Moro, the judge who kept former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in jail and unable to run against Bolsonaro, was named by Bolsonaro as the new justice minister. Where courts remain independent, they can check leaders and provide a vehicle for civil society to challenge anti-democratic and discriminatory policies, but citizens should not put their faith in courts alone.

Similarly, legislatures can be effective checks on authoritarian-minded leaders when they are independent. Leaders who lack majority legislative support, however, often try to undermine legislative influence, whether through decree powers, plebiscites, or persecuting legislators. Or leaders may go further: Alberto Fujimori in Peru dissolved the legislature in a 1992 ‘autogolpe’ and fractured the opposition, while Maduro created a new constituent assembly to replace Venezuela’s elected, opposition-controlled legislature. Electoral authoritarians will work to coopt opposition politicians to stave off challenges to their power. Legislators must be willing to risk their own careers—and potentially lives—to stand up to overreaching executives.

If governmental institutions fail to protect democracy, it falls to the people. Domestic civil society actors are key in resisting dictatorship and democratic erosion, but their abilities and effectiveness vary by regime type and the level of repression. As Aaron Schneider pointed out, right-wing leaders try to break civil society’s independence and influence, diminishing the potential for mass mobilization, while left-wing leaders seek to control mobilization potential by creating corporatist mass organizations and unions tied to the government or ruling party. This means left-leaning leaders will paint any outside attempts to aid civil society as imperialist interference justifying the need for government-controlled civil society, while authoritarianist leaders across the ideological spectrum can always persecute civil society organizations they deem threats.

In the face of persecution, civil society leaders must adapt. Amat’s research suggests that where opposition organizations are tolerated, alliances across civil society are key for mass nonviolent resistance, even if it requires compromises among strange ideological bedfellows. Mass mobilization is difficult, however, when leaders are willing to use heavy violent repression, as Venezuelans and Nicaraguans have found. In these cases, Amat suggests, nonviolent organizations should take a page from underground militant groups and create cellular structures that limit the damage of any single arrest or killing. Nonviolent resistance may be effective in many cases at resisting dictatorship, but when citizens protest violently or take up arms in the face of repression and intransigence, it may be the best option to pressure an anti-democratic regime. It is important, though, to note that citizens themselves may not seek to protect democracy: Bolsonaro, Donald Trump, and Rodrigo Duterte were all honest on the campaign trail about their disdain for democratic norms and institutions, and voters still elected them.

Finally, international actors cannot be decisive in protecting or restoring democracy (absent the highly problematic possibility of military intervention), but they do have a significant role to play. Governments and multilateral organizations can place sanctions on repressive and corrupt leaders and government officials, as the US has done in the Venezuelan and Nicaraguan cases (but notably failed to do in Honduras). Transnational solidarity networks can amplify and strengthen domestic civil society actors, pressuring leaders abroad. Before Bolsonaro’s inauguration, scholars and activists in the US and elsewhere formed networks to help Brazilians protect their democracy by raising awareness of threats to democracy, pressuring legislators, and supporting dissidents.

It is a dark time for democracy in Latin America and around the globe. Authoritarian-minded leaders will continue to test the limits of their powers, and concerted efforts domestically and abroad across political and social sectors are necessary to resist further democratic erosion.

Kai Thaler is an Assistant Professor of Global Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara and a postdoctoral fellow at the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security and Diplomacy.

Brazil’s Geography of Genocide: The Fate of the Kaiowás

Antonio A. R. Ioris

Cardiff University, UK


What to do and say when the world is collapsing into social, cultural and ecological catastrophe? How to react to problems that seemed to belong to the history books, but that constantly re-emerge in even more threatening and devastating ways? How to prevent further grabbing and commodification of ancestral lands and shared resources? These are not rhetorical questions, but reverberations of a daily struggle.

Some readers may have heard about the Guarani first nation of South America, including, for example, narratives about the imposing architecture and a complex society managed by Jesuit priests in the centre of the continent in the 18th century. Some may also be informed about the ongoing violence against the Kaiowá, one of the Guarani peoples, in the Brazilian state of Southern Mato Grosso (considered the Gaza Strip of Brazil).

But few will be fully aware of the scale of land rights violations, systematic killing of adults and children, ferocious discrimination against people living in precarious settlements along the roads or in the periphery of the cities, widespread suicides of youngsters and teenagers, serious food insecurity, and the hideous association between large-scale landowners, politicians and law officers. If you think that you know about the Kaiowá/Guarani, you may need to think again. It is worse, much worse…

There is no other way to describe the situation of the Kaiowá under the advance of soybean and sugarcane production (among other crops) than genocide.

The application of violence and the containment in unwanted areas have only reinforced this bitter and generalised sense of genocide. It has been a regular experience of social, ecological, cultural and physical death for most members of the Kaiowá first nation. Out of the total of murders (1,004) registered by CIMI in Brazil (between 1985 and 2015), 415 happened in Southern Mato Grosso and involved the Kaiowá. See the image from the Cartography of the Assassination of Indigenous People (CACI), launched on 27/Sep/2018:

Assassination of Indigenous People in Brazil
(415 Kaiowá out of 1,004 cases throughout the country)
Source: CACI (

The Indians have reacted according to their means (it must be noted that they operate as a network, but with no central coordination, as in the case of the Brazilian landless movement MST) and formed some limited, but important alliances with national and international organisations, universities and churches. As argued by an elderly in our visit in August 2018, “To be a Kaiowá is our first weapon to get our lands back, but I know that it is a long and complex process. We have been living for 100 years [in the reserve], but we still have a memory of our past.”

However, progress is slow and patchy. The agencies of the national state are often driven to provide some kind of satisfaction only after a large-scale tragedy is reported by the international media. Their desperate attempt to regain control of the land of their family inevitably results in new rounds of violence, expulsion and murder.

Since 2003, 15 territories are to be returned to the Kaiowá, which have been demarcated and officially approved by government agencies, but the process is repeatedly frustrated because of endless court appeals by the farmers. One appalling consequence is that large groups of Kaiowá continue to live at the side of motorways and with no other choice than the legitimate occupation of their land, lost to the agribusiness.

Overall, the powerful trend of land privatisation and nature commodification, aggravated in recent years by global market pressures, has caused the expropriation of most of their remaining areas, ignoring not only their ancestors’ legitimate rights over the land, but the vital association between Kaiowá’s identity, culture, religion, livelihood and the land where they were born and their relatives were buried.

Agribusiness is bad enough in the rest of Brazil, but in areas of agricultural frontier, as in the case of Southern Mato Grosso, it gives rise to even higher levels of speculation, dispossession of common land and wide-ranging brutality. Frontier-making creates favourable conditions for the arrival of unscrupulous individuals in search of rapid enrichment and prepared to accept spurious economic and political practices. The recipe for serious conflict is there: on the one hand, adventurers and mercenaries reinvented as ‘agri-food producers’ (the euphemism of agribusiness farmers) and, on the other, native peoples who have been living in the region for many generations and have a different relation with land and society.

According to their religious beliefs, violent deaths without a body to bury is dangerous, because any person has two souls and the bad one (angue) will remain like a spectre, threatening those alive. They also have an elaborated apocalyptic narrative about the end of the world, what some Kaiowá now associate with the sea of sugarcane and soybean they see before them… but what will the rest of society do to avoid the end of our shared world?

The American Dreams Behind Bars

by Dian Agustino and Aliaksei Kharytaniuk

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” – Emma Lazarus’ The New Colossus (inscribed inside the Statue of Liberty)

“… before, when I saw the American flag, I thought I was one step away from freedom. However, I do not hold the same opinion about America and freedom (anymore). Life is not easy here. We are not criminals, but we were treated like criminals… the two-and-a-half years that I spent inside detention center changed my perception about the system of this country. There is no humanity. They talk about human rights, but the reality is totally opposite.” – Ahnaf[1]



Many Americans believe that the founding values of their nation are freedom, diversity and opportunity. They hold the belief that historically their “shining city upon a hill” has been open for anybody fleeing persecution, or searching for freedom, opportunity, and the sweet promise of the American dream.

Meanwhile, one’s eligibility to settle in the United States or even to apply for an asylum has been historically determined by racially, politically and culturally-motivated policies. The criminal and immigration law practices merged, generating the interconnection called ‘crimmigration’. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), adopted under the Clinton administration in 1996, significantly expanded the category of ‘deportable immigrants’ and introduced new barriers for those seeking asylum in the U.S. Under the current administration, increased border policing and the fusion between U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and law enforcement agencies has been further tied to the security issues and the preservation of the country’s sovereignty. However, even when trying to justify the restrictive immigration policies, the Trump administration still resorts to the country’s founding values. For example, when withdrawing from the Global Compact on Migration on the basis of its incompatibility with the U.S sovereignty, Ambassador Nikki Haley stated that, America is proud of our immigrant heritage and our long-standing moral leadership in providing support to migrant and refugee populations across the globe,”and promised that, “Our generosity will continue.”

From March-June 2018, as part of the Qualitative Research Methods course with a focus on the Denver Immigrant Community we took at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at University of Denver, we volunteered at Casa de Paz. Based in Aurora, Colorado, it is a non-profit organization that provides housing, food, and assistance for families visiting immigrants in detention as well as post-detention support for immigrants released from the GEO detention center in Aurora. There, we had the privilege to interview and interact with volunteers and former detainees who have been released from the GEO Immigrant Detention Center. We use pseudonyms to refer to the former detainees we interviewed to protect their identities. The stories they told shed light on the ill treatment that asylum seekers have been subjected to inside the private immigration detention center, and how it has changed their perception of the U.S.

Private detention corporations, such as the GEO Group and CoreCivic (former CCA) have received millions of dollars in federal contracts after lobbying for restrictive immigration policies. In 2010 alone, the U.S. Congress spent $1.7 billion for immigrant incarceration. USA Today reported that for 2018, the White House proposed a $1.2 billion increase to expand “detention capacity to 48,000 detainees a day” from around 31,000-41,000 in 2017. For 2019, the Trump administration has planned to allocate $2.5 billion for detaining 47,000 undocumented immigrants, according to CBS News.

Unfortunately, a few people we met, who fled their home countries out of fear for their lives and their family members’, did not find the security they sought. After undertaking perilous journeys to secure a new future, they found the American dreams they pursued shattered.The time they spent in immigration detention changed their hopeful perceptions of the U.S and its generosity in supporting “the tired and poor” immigrants and refugees. Disillusionment and pessimism were prevalent among former detainees with whom we spoke.

Let’s hear Ahnaf’s[2]story, for example.

Fleeing politically-based violence in his native Bangladesh, Ahnaf travelled through fourteen Central and South American countries before entering the United States in 2014. He said, “When I saw the American flag, I forgot all my sufferings and miseries. I felt like I was one step away from embracing freedom.”Sadly, his hopes and dreams were crushed not long after as he went through a life-changing and heartbreaking experience during detention.

Once he surrendered to the U.S authorities to apply for asylum, he was taken to El Paso County detention center in Colorado Springs where he was kept in lockdown for 22 hours a day. He described his experience there as “like torture”. Afterwards, he was transferred to the GEO – Aurora ICE Processing Center, where he spent 18 months and endured substandard living condition as well as lack of legal assistance and access to medical care.

He recalled that, “The food… tasted so bad that we had to buy food from shops inside where items were expensive,” and that, “the medical facilities were terrible… In any case, they would prescribe ibuprofen and water.”He also told us that he was paid $1 for 9 hours of work per day—a job that he had to take in order to survive. GEO’s failure to address the medical concerns of detainees in Aurora was reflected in a detailed complaint by the American Immigration Council and American Immigration Lawyers Association submitted to the Federal Government on June 5, 2018, where the authors uncovered cases of medical and mental health maltreatment at this detention facility.

After spending two-and-a-half years across immigrant detention facilities, Ahnaf finally got his asylum application granted. He currently works at the Passenger Assistance Service at the Denver International Airport and delivers pizza on the side. Despite this, Ahnaf is not optimistic about his future in the U.S.

“I have not yet gotten my green card here. I may consider leaving the U.S. and settle somewhere in Singapore or Malaysia… I do not hold the same opinion about America and freedom anymore. Life is not easy here. We are not criminals, but we were treated like criminals. We faced unnecessary harassments. Valuable time of my life was lost,” he said, embittered.

Akbar’s[3]story is not that different.

Fleeing his home in Central Asia to escape from political repression, he sought political asylum in the U.S., wishing to reunite there with his wife and three sons. He travelled to Mexico and crossed the U.S. border from Tijuana into San Diego.

The moment after he walked down the bridge and handed his documents over to the border guards, he was placed in handcuffs and shackles. “I was held for three days in a freezing room, and later was transferred across multiple states before being held for three months in the GEO Detention Center in Aurora. The treatment was harsh and at times I cried and thought that I do not need this anymore. The thing is I had never been jailed before,” he reminisced.

Like Ahnaf, he also mentioned the lack of access to medical care, the terrible food, the over-priced on-site shop, and the exploitative wages for the detainees who work in the facility. His testimonies are in line with a class-action lawsuit filed against GEO involving around 62,000 immigrants detained in Aurora since 2004 who have experienced exploitative labor in the facility under the threat of solitary confinement.

After his family found an attorney, Akbar was finally released for a bond to proceed with his court hearings in another state. The detention experience took a heavy emotional toll on him, however. “My first experience in America was jail. I hope that things will turn alright at the end. I’ll try to forget this ordeal as soon as I can,” he said.

His plight also instilled in him gratefulness and a somber sense of perceived privilege related to a better position in the immigration system because of his origin. “I will never forget the people who helped me… At least I am not from Latin America and had chances for my case to be presented. Folks from there are put almost immediately on the deportation conveyor belt,” he recounted. His words resonate with the long tradition of the U.S. immigration system to grant asylum not only based on the legitimacy of the request, but rather on a multitude of factors ranging from the claimants’ origin and the political climate to the immigration judge hearing the case.

The freezing room Akbar mentioned is part of a common practice in immigration detention centers. There is even a special Spanish word for it, as described by former detainees – hielera(freezer/icebox), where migrants and asylum-seekers are placed before they are transferred or repatriated. These cells, lacking basic necessities, are not designed for overnight stays and frequently overcrowded. With the lights on all the time and the constant movement of personnel, it is difficult to rest or sleep. The New York Times adds that sometimes “they are caged in perreras— enclosures that look like dog kennels.”

Sara Riva argues that these cells are a part of the deterrence strategy to discourage border crossings and asylum applications. Regardless of whether the aspiring immigrants or asylum seekers voluntarily turn themselves in to the authorities or not, they will be held in the same facilities. It is no secret that the favorable outcomes for asylum applications positively correlate with access to legal assistance, which is challenging in the harsh conditions of immigrant detention facilities.

Newly-arrived immigrants are not the only immigrants subject to the harsh conditions of private immigration detention centers. Even a valid green card may not provide protection from arbitrary detentions. Diego[4]has a green card and has lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years. He was detained in Utah and then transferred to Colorado, where he spent several months in the GEO Detention Center in Aurora before being released. “One morning they came to me and said that I am free to go, and there was a mistake. They didn’t give me any papers. Before, I hid my ICE card and reported the loss to receive another one, keeping the first one with me after the release. Now at least I have some proof that I was there,” he described his experience. Diego’s story matches with a Los Angeles Times article that reported that with its intensified fight against unauthorized immigration, the Trump administration has targeted immigrants indiscriminately, making legal immigrants more vulnerable than before. The increase in such practices rests on the legacy of the 1996 IIRIRA that made even legal permanent residents deportable for wider array of often minor and non-violent infractions.

Our interviews with Sarah Jackson (founder of Casa de Paz), Casa de Paz volunteers, and immigration lawyers echoed similar stories of former detainees and their disillusionment. Julie Gonzales, Democratic candidate for Senate District 34 in Colorado, passionately said, “Have you ever walked inside GEO?…Some are kept in detention for months or years and seeing that toll on someone makes you furious. Whatever we can do to hold private corporations, who are profiting, accountability is needed.”

Sarah Jackson is not optimistic about the current immigration situation and its near-future. “More people are being detained under Trump’s administration. New detention centers are opening up all across the country to house the people that are being detained. There is more money being made off immigrants because of the new administration. The conditions that people are held in are more inhumane,” she said.

The Detention Watch Network writes in its most recent report ICE Lies: Public Deception, Private Profit that, “current U.S. immigration policy is driven in large part by the criminalization, scapegoating and targeting of people of color, inflicting trauma on immigrant communities and our society at large,” while revealing ICE’s fiscal mismanagement, opaque operations, and misrepresentations of the needs for detention centers. The organization also describes vast financial incentives for many actors; from local governments filling the gaps in their budget with federal money, to private prisons and other subcontractors providing services like security and transportation within the facilities.

Surprisingly, insufficient public awareness on the issue of private immigration detention center was a common theme we found across the interviews with different respondents. A Casa de Paz volunteer even admitted her lack of knowledge of GEO prior to volunteering. “Well, honestly, I did not know about GEO detention centers before. I have learnt about these private profit-making prisons after starting to work with Casa,” she told us.

This comment serves as a reminder that hope lies in raising public awareness and improving perceptions of and perception towards immigrants. “I would like to see more active Congress. More education and more research can definitely help raise public awareness about this. If people know stories of lives of these detainees, I believe people will care,” said a volunteer optimistically while acknowledging the challenges in the current climate.

Ultimately, it is time for the U.S to decide who they are as a nation: a ‘melting pot’ and the land of opportunities that embrace “the tired” and “the poor” who pursue their American Dreams, or an exclusionary fortress that betrays its founding ideals by exploiting them for the profiteering of private corporations and violating their human rights.

[1]We use pseudonyms to refer to the former detainees we interviewed to protect their identities.

[2]Not his real name.

[3]Not his real name.

[4]Not his real name.


By: Christine Caldera

Data was gathered as part of a Qualitative Methods course in Spring of 2018 at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies supervised by Dr. Rebecca Galemba and in collaboration with Casa de Paz. For the project with Casa de Paz, data was gathered by graduate students Christine Caldera, Dian Agustino, Rezwan Masud, Aliaksei Kharytaniuk, Sarah Feigelson, and Alanna Wendt.

An Examination of the U.S. Private Immigration Detention System

“When I saw the American flag, I forgot all my sufferings and miseries. I felt like I was one step away from embracing freedom.” (former detainee from the Aurora ICE Processing Center) However, the U.S. leads the world in the immigration industrial complex with its extensive private immigration detention system (Small, Rkashaum and Shah, 2016) that has become increasingly lucrative at the expense of human lives. In contrast to a decade ago, the U.S. federal government manages approximately ten percent of all detention centers with the remaining 90 percent of facilities contracted out to private prison corporations (American Friends Service Committee, n.d.). Within the private prison industry, CoreCivic, The GEO Group, Inc., and Management and Training Corporation control 62 percent of the industry’s $5.3 billion revenue. Furthermore, GEO and CoreCivic run eight of the ten largest immigrant detention centers, which constitutes 72 percent of detained immigrants in ICE custody (Garfinkel, 2017). During fiscal year (FY) 2016, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) identified 353,000 immigrants for detention or removal who were detained at one of the 200 immigration detention facilities, which demonstrated an increase of 209,000 individuals from 2001 (Luan, 2018).

This brief aims to shed light on the systematic denial and violation of the right to due process as a result of the immigration industrial complex. It examines the interconnections between relevant immigration laws, the current immigration detention system, and the anti-immigrant rhetoric that sustains them. Then, the brief explores how the immigration industrial complex undermines and violates the rights of immigrant detainees, principally the right to due process, as evident in the literature and information gained from interviews for this research project.

Our research team worked with Casa de Paz, an Aurora-based nonprofit organization that provides transportation services and hospitality to recently released immigrants or their families, to better understand the reality of immigration detention in the Aurora ICE Processing Center, which is run by the GEO group. We collaborated, and conducted research with, Casa de Paz through a Qualitative Methods Course at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver in the spring quarter of 2018. We engaged in participant observation, volunteered at Casa de Paz, attended community events around immigration, and conducted interviews with 5 legal professionals and academics, 5 Casa de Paz volunteers, and 3 former detainees from the GEO detention facility while drawing upon background literature and news sources.

A Casa de Paz volunteer stated, “many people do not know that “ICE Processing Center” is actually a detention center. There is lack of knowledge on this issue. That is why nobody wants to take responsibilities. If some people know, they know that ICE is keeping us safe by keeping bad people, criminals away from us.” This remark touches on the aim of our research, as we aimed to examine the plight of immigrant detainees in the GEO detention facility in contrast to the rhetoric emanating from GEO’s official documents and website. This brief aims to shed light on the systematic denial and violation of the right to due process as a result of the immigration industrial complex. Ultimately, current U.S. immigration policies commodify, criminalize, and dehumanize immigrant communities rather than respect the inherent rights of all human persons no matter their legal status, country of origin, gender, race, ethnicity, or age.

The Private Prison Industrial Complex: The Seminal History of the Industry

The U.S. commitment to immigrant populations has severely diminished in the past three decades, which can be attributed to contemporary immigration policymaking. First, the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) not only reinforced the discretion of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to determine eligibility for deportation, but also allocated resources for detention facilities and renewed the rhetoric of a “criminal alien.” (Rosas, 2016) The ethno-nationalist sentiments and climate of fear towards immigrants that fueled IRCA also influenced the drafting and passage of the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) and the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA). Both of these measures expanded the grounds for mandatory detention for aggravated felonies and required detention for several groups of noncitizens. (Rosas, 2016) One policymaker we interviewed identified 1996 as a turning point for immigration detention because the legislation established the policies, structures, and procedures for the criminalization of immigrants and immigration detention to take root. Gilberto Rosas (2016: 6) asserts that the AEDPA laid the foundation for the USA Patriot Act of 2001, which expanded the grounds for indefinite detention of immigrants. A lawyer we interviewed asserted, “most people who have crossed the border without papers or documents have not committed crime, so they shouldn’t be treated as criminals…facilities should not be run as a prison.” Yet, U.S. legislation does not reflect this sentiment, as the grounds for detention continue to expand and the incarceration and criminalization of noncitizens aims to serve as a deterrent for future migration. This ideological shift in U.S. politics complimented the rise in the private prison industry with its role in immigration detention.

Since the privatization of the prison industry in the 1980s, corporations also became interested in privatizing immigration detention. The private prison industry began in 1983, when U.S. legislation shifted to prioritize mass incarceration and punishment. In 1984 and 1987, the two largest private prison corporations, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America (now CoreCivic) and Wackenhut Corrections Corporation (now GEO), both received contracts from the INS for federal immigration detention centers (Golash-Boza, 2009). The revenue earned by these corporations are linked to the movement for privatization under the Reagan presidency and the subsequent imprisonment binge that accompanied the legislation expanding mass incarceration and detention.

Evidently, anti-immigrant and pro-detention legislation has complimented the revenue and lobbying expenses from the private prison industry throughout its history. Federal government officials and the private prison industry are deeply entangled. For example, former ICE Deputy Director, Daniel Ragsdale, now serves as the Executive Vice President for Contract Compliance for GEO. As indicated in the graph, GEO and CoreCivic are also financially entangled within U.S. politics through lobbying efforts on DHS appropriations and immigration issues. In regard to corporate relationships with the U.S. federal government under President Trump, one academic stated, “he has his hands in the pockets of a lot of corporations who benefit [from immigration detention]. If not GEO or CCA [now rebranded as CoreCivic], it’s all the other businesses who operate the different kinds of services that belong to the private prison industry.”

Immigration legislation has established the necessary conditions to support an immigration industrial complex. Drawing upon characteristics of the military industrial complex and the prison industrial complex, Tanya Golash-Boza (2009) defines the immigration industrial complex as, “the confluence of public and private sector interests in the criminalization of undocumented migration, immigration law enforcement, and the promotion of ‘anti-illegal’ rhetoric.” (2009: 295) Golash-Boza (2009) recognizes the immigration industrial complex as a “self-perpetuating machine” due in part to three interlocking principal characteristics: a rhetoric of fear, the fusion of powerful, elite public and private interests, and narratives of other-ization. Given the convergence of national security with federal immigration law and enforcement since immigration enforcement was incorporated under the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, immigrant populations became perceived as threats to U.S national security and public safety. Thus, “the containment of the few therefore becomes a prerequisite for the freedoms of the many” (Inda and Dowling, 2013: 8).

Political officials and private prison corporations capitalize on the socially constructed narrative emphasizing the criminality and public fear of immigrants to justify the continued need to indefinitely detain immigrants to “protect” U.S. citizens and insulate capital. These sentiments were shared by an academic who asserted in an interview that, “the system is fueled by [a] long standing anti-immigrant stance through legislation that is driving politicians to fuel xenophobic rhetoric to incite the public and foster [a] relationship between politicians and corporate friends.” Private prison companies are a powerful nonstate actor, afforded a great degree of discretion by U.S. federal institutions, and profit from, while reinforcing, the notion that immigrants are criminals or dangerous who do not deserve the same rights as any other human being.

In addition to the rhetoric, the introduction of criminal law to adjudicate immigration related matters, which fall under civil law, has shifted the landscape of immigrant detention and challenged the inherent right to due process. The right to due process can be violated in detention, but also outside of detention due in part to the U.S. approach of governing immigration through criminal avenues such as prosecution and incarceration. Enhanced border policing, increased interior policing conducted by ICE in cooperation with local and state police forces, coupled with the expansion of the legal definition of what constitutes “criminal alien” activity under immigration law, has encroached on the right of due process for non-detained individuals and fomented a high degree of insecurity and instability for immigrant communities.  Jonathan Xavier Inda and Julie Dowling (2009: 14) assert,

“the delegation of immigrant confinement to organizations whose main purpose is to generate profits inevitably produces pressure to increase detentions…Immigrant bodies have thus become valuable commodities whose worth lies in being placed and kept behind bars.”


The priorities of the immigration industrial complex are to generate profits, maintain and earn new detention center contracts with ICE, and lobby for the passage of anti-immigrant and punitive legislation in order to render immigrants to a mere business transaction. Moreover, the system intends to deprive immigrant communities of their power and control to meaningfully participate in society by segregating this population from society (Inda and Dowling, 2009). Thus, a system that depends upon the commodification or incapacitation of immigrant communities cannot respect the right to due process when the system intentionally works to profit from the continued detention of immigrants.

Due Process for Whom?

The profitability and influence of private prison corporations further erodes the due process afforded to immigrant populations. David Manuel Hernández (2008: 151) writes that, “the trend in detention policy is to advance a variety of “undue processes” against noncitizens and detainees by depriving them of their due procedural rights.” Although the immigration detention system is one facet of the U.S. immigration system, the private prison industry and its role in immigration detention reflects how the confluence of private and public interests has created and perpetuated an intentional, well-designed, and well-funded system to control and exclude (Gomberg-Muñoz, 2016, Golash-Boza, 2009). The current U.S. legal system is undermined and hollowed out by the current state of exception concerning what is legal and illegal, moral and ethical, in light of amorphous threats due to the conflation of immigrants with national security threats.

International human rights law and U.S. law prohibit arbitrary detention and protect fundamental due process rights. However, recent U.S. case law demonstrates the contention between the limits on constitutional protections afforded to noncitizens by U.S. law. In Jennings v. Rodriguez, the majority opinion for the U.S. Supreme Court held in February 2018 that U.S. federal law does not afford detained individuals the right to frequent bond hearings throughout the duration of detention. Therefore, the majority decision held that the government has the discretion to decide that an asylum seeker or immigrant could be incarcerated for years without a bond hearing. A Casa de Paz volunteer told our research team, “the main thing I have learned is that they have zero rights.” A former detainee shared, “the two and half years that I spent inside [the] detention center changed my perception about system of this country. There is no humanity. They talk about human rights, but the reality is totally opposite.” Based upon the current trajectory of U.S. immigration legislation, policy statements and executive orders from the Trump administration, and the rise of the private prison industry in immigration detention, human rights are not protections afforded to all in the U.S.

The concept of “undue process” translated to our research findings, as information gathered from interviews shed light on lengthy detention at the GEO detention facility and on the difficulties of accessing legal representation while detained. One lawyer stated, “after [the client] learned that it would take 2 years and he’d be in detention for 2 more years… He offered to take deportation because he thought it’d be better to be deported back home than [continue] to be in detention.” The lawyer does not know the fate of this individual after being deported to their country of origin. A Casa de Paz volunteer picked up a 19-year-old individual from GEO who, “was detained for three years at GEO [at age 16], which was a gross violation of law, as a minor is not supposed to share detention with adults.” When speaking of the immigration detention system, a policymaker stated,

“I’m sure it could get worse. There are always ways it can get worse. For example, there was a man, who is a citizen, that was detained for a year while he was trying to prove his citizenship. A detained citizen!”


Moreover, interviews highlighted the difficulty in accessing legal representation and services due to expense or language barriers. One lawyer stated that in attempts to lower costs for detainees, they try to conduct as many appointments over the phone to reduce the number of billable hours since the lawyer does not have to travel to the detention facility. One former detainee explained, “I had to give $500 per visit to the lawyer when I accessed one. I had to pay him 14 times.” Although the lawyers we interviewed discussed pro bono legal representation, the pro bono hours cannot provide legal representation to all detained immigrants; thus, many lack legal representation due in part to the expense.

Additionally, reported conditions in the GEO detention center do not meet the appropriate international standards for detention. One lawyer stated,

“You can see the psychological damage that people get in detention. I’ve heard of reports from clients that the food is not great, there are only a few options for religious exceptions…people [lack access to] medical care they need.”


Additional interviews also stressed the inadequate quality of food, psychological damage, lack of access to quality medical care, as well as, highlighted the egregious suffering caused from inadequate sleeping conditions, and feelings of surveillance while in detention. Sarah Jackson, the founder of Casa de Paz summarized these findings, “GEO is here to make money. This company is all about the dollar. They have this opportunity to make billions. If their goal is to make money, they don’t give enough for medical care because it costs money”, which translates to the other services as well. In conclusion, the private prison industry, U.S. immigration law, the dehumanizing and racialized rhetoric, and the current climate of fear and ethno-nationalism upend the universality of rights, the rule of law, and democratic values in the U.S., such as the right to due process.


Unbeknownst to some, U.S. taxpayers fund private prison corporations by paying more than $2 billion each year to maintain the detention system (Small, Rkasnuam, and Shah, 2016). One of the most common recommendations that arose during the interviews was the need to raise awareness about immigration detention and U.S. taxpayer roles within the system. One immigrant rights activist stated during an interview,

“We are really trying to work with credibility and emotions to get to people who may not be swayed by logic, ideas of democracy, or what governments should or should not do. But once you reach into the emotions and the ideas of family separation and ideas of abuse, you reach to that humanity side instead of the logic side”.


It is imperative to shift the discourse surrounding immigration detention in the U.S. by challenging the climate of fear, continuing to highlight the abuses occurring within private detention facilities, and rehumanizing immigrants. With education and an increased awareness, U.S. taxpayers ought to demand accountability from its democratic institutions and political leaders by calling for an end to the immigration industrial complex.



American Friends Service Committee Investigate. (n.d.). CoreCivic, Inc.  


Center for Constitutional Rights. (2017). Detention Watch Network (DWN) v. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS)            immigration-customs-and-enforcement-ice-and


Dowling, J., Inda, J., Ebrary, Inc, & ProQuest. (2013). Governing immigration through crime a reader. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford Social Sciences, an imprint of Stanford University Press.


Garfinkel, S.H. (2017). The Voluntary Work Program: Expanding Laws to Protect Detained Immigrant Workers. Case Western Reserve Law Review, 67 (4), 1287-1326.


Golash‐Boza, T. (2009). The Immigration Industrial Complex: Why We Enforce Immigration Policies Destined to Fail. Sociology Compass, 3(2), 295-309.


Gomberg-Muñoz, R. (2016). Becoming Legal: Immigration Law and Mixed Status Families, New York: Oxford University Press.


Hernández, D.M. (2008). Pursuant to Deportation: Latinos and Immigrant Detention in Governing Immigration through Crime: A Reader (pp. 142-153). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.


Luan, L. (2018). Profiting from Enforcement: The Role of Private Prisons in U.S. Immigration Detention. Migration Policy Institute.


Rosas, G. (2016). The Border Thickens: In‐Securing Communities after IRCA. International Migration, 54(2), 119-130.


Small, M., Rkasnuam, D., and Shah, S. (2016). A Toxic Relationship: Private Prisons and U.S. Immigration Detention. Detention Watch Network, 1-18.

Five Keys to Presidential Change in Cuba

Arturo Lopez-Levy & Rolf Otto Niederstrasser

On April 19, Cuba unveiled the first intergenerational leadership transition after the 1959 revolution. Raúl Castro, who rose to the presidency of Cuba temporarily after his brother Fidel’s illness in 2006, has led a remarkable transformation of the economy and politics of the island but leaves an unfinished legacy to his successor. The new National Assembly elected a Council of State and named Miguel Diaz-Canel, a 58-year-old former provincial communist party czar as president of the new Council of State. The new leadership introduces an expansion of black representation at the upper echelons of the government. The first vice-president Salvador Valdes and two of the other five vice-presidents are afro-descendant.

Cuba’s leadership transition triggered significant speculation about the leanings of the new Council of State and the domestic and foreign policy changes that might follow the rise of a president whose last name is not Castro. Is this presidential succession more than a change of personnel? How does this transfer of power differ from Fidel’s previous one to Raúl Castro in 2006? What implications does it have for Cuban politics and the course of reforms? Can we expect any systemic change as a result of the replacement of octogenarian Raúl Castro by a leader who is 58 years old and was born after the triumph of the revolutionary insurrection?

Few transitions of leadership in the history of Latin America and the communist countries have been so carefully designed. From now until the eighth congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) in 2021 it will be necessary to observe how skilled and unified the Cuban elite is to execute it.

This article discusses the importance of the Cuban presidential change in five dimensions: 1) the generational transition, 2) the first rise of a civilian to the presidency since 1976, 3) the separation of the heads of the Communist Party (CCP) and the government in the post-revolutionary political system, 4) the circulation of networks of influence and patronage within the Cuban elites as a result of the arrival of a new executive chief, and 5) the challenges of the new administration in foreign policy.


The Generational Change and Raul Castro’s legacy:

In his book “Political Order in Changing Societies,” American political scientist Samuel Huntington defined the intergenerational transfer of power as one of the ultimate tests of the ability of a political order to institutionalize, adapt and reproduce. “So long as an organization still has its first set of leaders, so long as a procedure is still performed by those who first performed, its adaptability is still in doubt”- Huntington wrote (Huntington 1968). This is the challenge of the passage of the presidency from the leadership that led the guerrillas to power in 1959 to other generations, born within the political system spawned by the Cuban revolution.


The shift from Fidel to Raul Castro was an intra-generational succession; the shift from Raul Castro to Miguel Diaz-Canel is an inter-generational one. The original Castroism was forged in the revolutionary war (1953-1959). They adopted the name “generación del centenario” (centennial generation) in honor of Cuban national independence hero Jose Martí’s one hundred anniversary in 1953. In terms of ideology, the centennial generation embraces a radical version of nationalism, denouncing the corruption of the previous elites and their subordination to United States’ diktat. Although many of the members of this cohort were not originally communists or Marxists, their political trajectory was marked by their autonomous taking of sides about the “Fidelist” decision to adopt communism in the verge of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.  An alliance with the Soviet Union, the alternative superpower, became the most direct and effective choice that could guarantee a nationalist triumph over American imperial hubris.


In addition to Fidel Castro’s charisma, the old generation relied on a heroic experience of open revolt against the oppressive Batista dictatorship. The greatest achievement of the centennial generation was revolutionary survival: A Cuba that could say “no” to great powers, first, the United States but at some point also to others, such as China, Europe, and the Soviet Union after the missile crisis. In contrast, the heirs of the centennial generation are mainly yes-men bureaucrats. They have risen to power, not answering or competing against the established power, but because of their loyalty, obedience and bureaucratic skills to implement the policies that today’s octogenarians dictated to them.


It was clear since the election of Mr. Diaz-Canel to the first vice-presidency in 2013 that he was the favorite to take power after the announced end of Raul Castro’s two terms. Diaz-Canel and his cohort of leaders in the Cuban government didn’t rise by proposing their own solutions but because they guessed properly with a clear left-wing bias what was in the mind of Fidel, Raul Castro or their political godfathers. At times such as the early 2000’s, when Fidel Castro insisted on his failed collectivist “food sovereignty plan – plan alimentario”, the obedient attitude of most of Miguel Diaz-Canel ‘s generation of mid-rank party leaders harmed the country and even the CCP’s political appeal. Still, they survived. The elders had to change their plans when facing their failures.


At some point in the near future, the new leaders will have to open its own debates, not in terms of what Fidel Castro or Che Guevara would have wanted, but rather on the optimal policies to deal with realities very different from those of the Cold War that their ideological godfathers faced. Their starting point is not one full of reservoirs of political goodwill, as was the case in 1991 when Soviet communism collapsed. At the current moment, the so-called “special period” now represents almost half of the time of the regime after the revolutionary triumph of 1959.


In his first speech to the National Assembly as president, Diaz Canel repeated Raul Castro’s vision of a “prosperous and sustainable socialism”. The message contained a number of slogans that seek to mobilize the population in a transition to more economic efficiency while retaining a commitment to communist goals. Skeptics abound. Under Raul Castro’s last ten years’ government, Cuba has become more diverse and pluralistic than in the past, with greater freedom of religion, travel and right to own private property. If the future of Cuba is a mixed economy, open to foreign investment, with a rising private sector, is communist ideology and suspicion toward markets the optimal vision to manage economic reform?


It is too early to say definitively whether this presidential succession will strengthen the role of the CCP in Cuban history by showing the proper capacity to govern and implement the necessary reforms with political stability. The official rhetoric surrounding the transition presents it as a relay race rather than a shift of direction. The documents of the VI and VII Congress of the CCP ended the stigmatization of markets and private property rejecting only wealth concentration. But none of the proposed changes has been presented as promoting either liberal democratic values or capitalism but to make Cuban socialism and the Communist party’s political monopoly sustainable.

One thing to notice is the loosening of what socialism is in the official discourse and the use of this label to refer to policies that were associated in the past with capitalist practices or heterodoxies within the regime. Cuban scholar Rafael Hernandez, director of reform-oriented Temas Magazine, defines Raul Castro’s legacy as the creation of a new conception of socialism. According to Hernandez, “The foundation of this transformation of the system is not rooted in the mere modernization of the development strategy, but in the construction of a prosperous, sustainable and democratic socialism, based not only on a new mentality and practices in the economy but also in politics. This shows up repeatedly in Raúl’s discourse, such as the need to “hold a dialogue with the citizens” (a more frequent term in his speech than with “the people”, and never with “the masses”), consulting with them the main policies, confronting the bureaucratic layer resisting change, the ineptitude of the media, and the stiff style of political education and ideological work (what he calls “the old mentality”) (Hernandez, 2017).


The change of public policies relates not only to the inter-generational transition but also to the inevitable end of the charismatic model of “Fidel at the helm,” reformed but not abandoned altogether in the presidency of his younger brother. This reality opens the challenge of consolidating a collective leadership, already tried in Raul Castro’s term but not completed. Raul Castro’s two presidential terms can be considered a period of post-totalitarian institutionalism, characterized by bureaucratic pluralism, less mass-mobilization, and a less rigid Leninism. Another factor that makes collective leadership more likely is the complexity of the issues the country is facing. Currency reunification, opening to foreign investment, connecting the state and non-state sectors, decentralizing economic and political power are issues that require experts, coordination, and consensus to mediate among interests and actors.


Most of the members of the new team have combined different functions throughout the system: leaders of the Union of Young Communists (UJC), first secretaries of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP) in different provinces, members of its secretariat, heads of its Central Committee departments, ministers in various portfolios, secretaries in the councils of State and ministers, and military of different ranks. Such multiplicity of roles and the tutelage exercised in the promotion of other influential intermediate leaders gives these bureaucrats a political clout beyond one or two specific institutions. However, there is no individual; including Díaz-Canel, who is the best placed for his varied institutional and geographical trajectory, with the social penetration, revolutionary credentials, and base of power equivalent to his predecessors Fidel and Raúl Castro. Therefore, no one in the new generations of leaders can aspire to a paramount position with the command that the Castro brothers used.


Cuba’s leadership transition spurred intense speculations about the new president and the domestic and foreign policy changes that might follow as a result of a different generation to the helm of the country. Part of this speculation was due to ideological disorientation. It was clear that Cuban politics of the last five years has moved towards the handover to engineer Miguel Díaz-Canel. The evidence of his career, as CCP provincial czar in Villa Clara and Holguin, and his passage through the Ministry of Higher Education and the first vice presidency, profiled Diaz-Canel as a non-liberal modernizer within the Leninist canons of the current system. The balance of power that he inherits, with Raúl Castro as a veto player from his position in the first secretary of the PCC until 2021, the hostility anticipated by the United States under Donald Trump and the local elite interests that it represents, push Diaz-Canel to a road of caution.


The new president also inherited a situation of partial reform. Since 2011, the CCP made the main ideological changes that expanded policy-frontiers, reversing decades of attacking markets and private property. The changing of the guard does not amount to a significant ideological change because Raul Castro has already advanced a consensus around the Cuban elites about what was necessary to achieve economic growth and reinforce external legitimacy for the CCP rule. But the rise of a new generation with a longer political horizon than the octogenarians anticipates a more assertive course in terms of implementing the already approved reforms and breaking bottlenecks associated to the octogenarians’ deteriorated capacity for information management and thinking out of the box.


On the scale of James MacGregor Burns (Burns, 1978), Diaz Canel has the challenge to be a transactional leader at least for the first three years until 2021. Unlike a transformative leader, transactional ones coordinate incremental solutions to problems, without pursuing a systemic transformation. At least in the short term, a transactional leader has the opportunity to enhance his legitimacy by coordinating and implementing reforms already discussed and available in the CCP guidelines and following documents of the VI and VII party congresses. In the short term, He can count on Raul Castro’s support, a time and political space, he must not waste.


One of the most underestimated effects of the reform is the enlargement of the scope and diversity of actors to take into account in the design and implementation of the changes. The new president will need collegial management, open ears to experts, and to be sensitive to the discussion of public policies between personalities or factions within the party-state elites. There are also problems of political culture inherited from the decades of a command economy. There is a paralyzing deeply ingrained attitude among many Cubans that assign to the CCP and the government the initiative for almost anything. It is difficult to imagine the reforms without more autonomy for civil society but such necessity entails difficulties for the new leaders. The Diaz-Canel administration would have to develop a mixed economy market structure with a weaker and less cohesive team than the one commanded by Raul Castro: a more pluralized society and bureaucracy. If decentralization occurs, new sub-national actors need to emerge.


Implementing the already approved reforms is the most urgent challenge of the new administration. But this is not the biggest storm Diaz-Canel’s crew is entering. If the trends of partial reform consolidate, in the absence of 1) a system of control based on laws, regulation and legal contracts, 2) more transparency and accountability, and 3) the development of a new ethics of honesty within the conditions of a market economy, the political stability of the country might be threatened. There are clear signals of corruption, expansion of inequalities, and bureaucratic indolence towards situations of poverty and abandonment. Already many of the winners of the partial reform situation have begun to build fences in their neighborhoods isolating themselves and their relatives from the visible pockets of poverty and abandonment. The biggest challenge is not the implementation of the unavoidable and approved economic reforms, it is the political management of the consequences of actions like a currency devaluation or the decentralization of authority, that might well include a decentralization of corruption.


A civilian to the presidency

The succession also announces the rise of a civilian to the presidency. It is a symbolic move towards the republican ideal of subordination of the military to the elected civilian authorities. With no notable experience or a base of power in the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), Diaz-Canel as the new president of Cuba will depend on the support of Raúl Castro and the institutional legitimacy that the presidential office confers on him. But this might be not enough. Fidel and Raul Castro spoke bluntly to the military. They made clear to the generals that their corporative interests were subordinated to the revolutionary project at large. Diaz-Canel doesn’t have the military history or credentials to admonish Cuba’s men in uniform. That doesn’t mean the military is out of control but the potential for the use of misplaced power and lack of supervision exists.


Diaz-Canel is no stranger to the Cuban military but does not come from within their ranks. After graduating from the Universidad Central de las Villas, he served for two years as a lieutenant in the armed forces. In his capacity as the first secretary of the CCP in Villa Clara and Holguin provinces, Díaz-Canel served as president of their respective provincial defense councils. From there, he interacted with the high command in two of the three military regions in which Cuba is divided: The Central Army, based in Matanzas, and the Eastern Army, based in Holguín. The time he served in the two provinces, his party leadership coincided both with the older generation generals Espinosa Martín and Quinta Sola, today in the national high command, as well as with their successors and now army chiefs, the generals Onelio Aguilera Bermúdez and Raúl Rodríguez Lobaina.


These contacts mitigate but do not resolve the lack of prior control of the national security apparatus; today, the ultimate power in the Cuban political system. In the case of the Castro brothers, there was a clear hierarchy with both of them seated on top of the CCP, the FAR and the Ministry of the Interior. Díaz-Canel will be at best “first among equals” in national security discussions.  He will need to strengthen his institutional leadership by getting the CCP top post in the next VIII Congress. In the meantime, he will have to hope that the almost 87-year-old Raúl Castro can play a stabilizing role by asserting the nominal authority of the Party over the FAR-MININT complex.

This road to the concentration of power in a single leader at the top of the system seems contradictory to the successful cases of socialist survival in East Asia in which collective leadership separated the functions of head of government and head of state. The trend would also make the Cuban system vulnerable to the trajectory of Mikhail Gorbachev dismantling communism from the center in the USSR. This also raises the possibility that Cuban leaders consider the convenience of separating party leadership from government and state functions as part of the announced constitutional changes once Raul Castro retires from the first secretary position at the CCP.

Separation of functions of the CCP and the Cuban State

The new situation opens an interim in which for the first time since the adoption of the 1976 Constitution, the presidential authority from the council of State and ministers is distinct from the maximum leadership of the CCP. This offers an opportunity for institutionally clarifying the functions and the checks and balances between the government and the party.


An institutional variant would be to amend article 74 of the 1976 Constitution, separating the presidency of the council of state from that of the council of ministers. Such a change could allow the president of the state and the first secretary of the PCC to remain in one person, while the presidency of the council of ministers, and therefore the responsibility in the daily promotion and implementation of policies are located in a prime minister, as in China. An important difference is that in the Cuban case, Diaz-Canel would take the reins of the state before those of the Communist Party. In China since 1989, it has occurred in the reverse order.


The presidential succession is the beginning of the end of a long inter-generational leadership transition. After the passing of the presidency, Raúl Castro remains at the head of the PCC until his eighth congress in 2021, but people who began their political and bureaucratic career after 1959 have ascended to the top of all regional armies of the Armed Forces, every department of the Central Committee, provincial leadership of the Communist Party, and most minister position in the government.


It remains to be seen if the separation between the presidency and the leadership of the PCC can help to overcome the last obstacle to a smooth intergenerational transition: the retirement by age or term limits of the octogenarian group that has accompanied the Castros in all their political life. That gerontocracy, starting with Machado Ventura and Ramiro Valdés, has shown an attachment for the “honeys of power” -to use the expression coined by Fidel Castro- which has been unparalleled in Cuban history. Valdes, 86 years old, was ratified as one of the vice-presidents of the Council of Ministries. Machado Ventura, who is 88 years old would remain as the second secretary of the CCP at least until 2021.

If Raúl Castro does not retire these octogenarians to the condition of advisers, they will continue to impede the implementation of urgent reforms. These octogenarians are actors in an endgame situation with a very short horizon to survive because of biological and political reasons. In addition to physical limitations to carry on the functions of deciding and implementing a comprehensive reform, their politics is more about control, patronage for their acolytes and distribution of favors rather than about creation of new wealth. The more they remain in policymaking positions, the longer it will take for the system to prepare for its most difficult challenge: the political consequences of the implementation of the necessary reforms.


 The recirculation of the elites

The arrival of a new team at the highest levels of the government, and eventually the CCP in 2021, implies a circulation of the tutelage and promotion networks exercised by the top government leaders on subaltern groups and personalities within the party-state. By changing those personalities at the top, there will be new actors with more access to the new president and vice-presidents, displacing those who used to have privileged access to Fidel and Raúl Castro.


This change in the distribution of influences from the presidential transition is one of the most opaque but at the same time most important shift in areas such as the response to the spread of corruption and inequality during the last decade. The Cuban single-party system is not structured around a pluralism of cliques or factions in the style of dominant parties like the PRI and the Kuomintang, but there are regional, sectorial and shared life experiences that shape political affinities among bureaucrats.


It is almost impossible to unveil key data of these informal networks of patronage within Cuban elites, therefore, it is only wise to ask questions and venture some facts and tendencies.

Which groups or social networks of political influence have favored the promotion of Díaz-Canel and the team that aims to take the reins of the Cuban State? What is it that these groups want? Are the new leaders really a team? What are their values and interests? What place in their hierarchy of concerns sits the defense of the monopoly privileges of state corporate groups such as GAESA and Cubanacan against other goals such as the protection of Cuban consumers and the preservation of the welfare network of public education and health? What powers will those who retire and their respective protégés have? Will they lighten or increase the fiscal and political burden of the current situation of partial reform and excessive gradualism?


The preferences of three groups within Cuban politics have prevailed in the post-Fidel institutional dynamics: the CCP provincial czars, the military high command, and the managers of the new corporate sector. Having risen step by step in the political economy of the Cuban system, Diaz-Canel should know which generals, managers and party leaders he needs at his side, or at least who he shouldn’t cross. An important political decision for the new team is to present many of the challenges of economic transition and insertion in a global world (access to the Internet, for example) not as threats but as opportunities. This will be particularly difficult in the context of president Trump’s vitriolic attacks on Cuba, frequently confirming the worst fears and apprehensions of the Cuban elites towards the intentions of the United States.


It would be a fatal mistake to think of Cuban politics as a game of elites. Raúl Castro’s reforms have brought about significant changes in Cuban society and its relationship with the state. The expansions of religious and travel freedoms, the right to own private property and the incremental access to the internet have unleashed dynamics of empowerment and pluralization in a society that are not reversible. Without the magic rhetoric of Fidel Castro or the legitimacy Raúl Castro enjoyed as an original leader of the revolution, the new government team is forced to show effective performance in promoting economic development and well-being.


In addition, the Cuban revolution brought a significant improvement in the life of the poorest segments of the population. The healthcare and educational system are far from perfect but the performance of government in these areas guarantee is remarkable compared to other developing nations, other experiences of socialist reform and even developed countries (O’ Hanlon & Harvey, 2017).  This structure of government-run universal access socialized services was ingrained in the ethics and political economy of the old system. Already, the reform trend is that resources (human, financial and informational) are becoming less a monopoly of the Cuban party-state but are in the hands of state corporations, some owned by the military as GAESA, cooperatives and private sector small firms. The new government needs not only to reform the economy but also guarantee this minimal plateau of equality and protection against extreme deprivation in sensitive areas for development and welfare.


Without some important economic revitalization, the Cuban political system appears stable but fragile. A crisis in Venezuela might affect significantly Cuba’s energy and food security. Although the government is not facing any significant challenge from a disarticulated opposition discredited by its ties to United States imperial policy of regime change, a new major economic crisis could create conditions that are unthinkable today. The development of new technologies and the access to the internet is providing new and younger actors with platforms of communication and political identification that didn’t exist before.


Foreign Policy

Diaz-Canel’s low political profile in foreign policy was occasionally brought to light when stepping out of the shadow of Raul Castro in foreign visits, interviews, and summits. On foreign policy, he has echoed in a much stricter fashion the official narrative of Fidel and Raul Castro than in some of his domestic stands and discussion of necessary reforms. In his speech in Brussels at the UE-CELAC Summit in 2015, a meeting designed to reiterate the strengthening of relations and the continuation of friendly ties between the European Union, Latin America and the Caribbean, Diaz-Canel highlighted the injustices caused by an “international economic order that is increasingly unjust and has pushed nations in crisis to adopt austerity programs of incalculable human costs that increasingly reinforces the differences between the two regions.” (UE-CELAC, 2015)


Raul Castro’s presidency left Diaz-Canel a positive legacy in foreign policy. During his term, Cuba repaired its relations with the European Union ending the interventionist 1996 Common position and signing a new framework for economic cooperation and political dialogue. In recent years, Cuba received an important relief in terms of its foreign debt from Russia, China, and the Paris Club. The stage of Cuba’s relations with American allies, Canada, Japan and the European Union offers Diaz-Canel a great win-win opportunity for advancing economic reform, attracting foreign investment and undermining the U.S. embargo/blockade. A diplomatic offensive in this area, if the approved reforms are finally implemented, might be able to compensate the damages caused by worst-case scenarios in Venezuela.

If his recent travels are a signal, Diaz Canel understands the potential of amplifying the relationship with East Asia. He has visited Laos, Japan, and China and Vietnam more than once. After becoming Vice President, he met with Chinese president Xi Jinping on several occasions, describing the traditional friendship between both nations as a bolster to increase mutually beneficial cooperation and to push for greater development between both nations (Xuequan, 2018). China and Cuba have enjoyed diplomatic relations for over 56 years and the Asian giant is currently the island’s largest importer, with an economic exchange of around $1 billion (CIAWorldFactbook, 2018). Together with Russia, China offers Cuba an important economic, political and diplomatic support given their role as strategic rivals of the United States and permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. These two countries have been key allies in solving the extreme situation of liquidity to face the two most vulnerable flanks of the system today: energy and food security.


Díaz-Canel will also have to face the Trump administration. After Barack Obama left the White House, Miami Cuban-American right hardliners once again have hijacked the Cuba policy. Although Trump has not been able to roll back most of the progress in bilateral relations, he has outsourced Washington’s policy towards Cuba to his Miami allies in Congress, particularly Senator Marco Rubio. The United States has a golden face-saving opportunity to put the whole policy towards Cuba in review. For decades, Washington has been so obsessed with the Castros, that even has put their names in the 1996 Helms law paralyzing and barring a more comprehensive approach to the island, less focused on a family and more sensitive to changes in economy and society. There are officials in the highest echelons of the Trump administration who had defended rational pro-engagement positions in the past such as General John Kelly, President Trump’s chief of staff. Unfortunately, the most recent changes of personnel in Trump’s team do not augur a White House rational position on Cuba. The new secretary of State Mike Pompeo was a rabid opponent of Obama’s opening of relations with Cuba while the new national security adviser John Bolton became famous for falsely claiming that Cuba was developing biological weapons.


In thinking about U.S.-Cuba relations and the impact of the presidential succession, observers tend to focus on who the new president of Cuba is. What does he want? Is Diaz-Canel a pragmatist or an ideologue? These inside-out questions are important but the context of the relations is more relevant than the president’s last name and trajectory. Power in Cuba’s foreign policy is also less personalized. That is why it is also useful to reverse the perspective and ask What is the impact of competing approaches of engagement (Europe and Canada) and hostility (Trump Administration) on Cuba’s internal political debate about foreign policy? How these two approaches constrain or expand reform choices?


Before the 2016 elections, particularly after Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba, the central political questions asked by many Cubans about the United States was whether a new Cuban leader would be capable of capitalizing the new friendly international environment to relaunch the reform process and undermine the logic of the embargo. After the election of Trump and his insistence on a return to hostility, dismantling the diplomatic presence in Havana, the central question has changed to whether the new president would be able to resist and defeat a return by the U.S. to an imperial policy of regime change imposed from abroad. Nationalism has been an important source of legitimacy for the CCP. The Cuban government also has decades of experience resisting successfully the embargo/blockade policies.


In earlier speeches, Díaz-Canel strongly opposed making any concessions of Cuba’s sovereignty and independence to reach a deal with the United States. He didn’t rule out that a path to normalization and dialogue is possible, but not at the expense of giving up on the socialist model and most important, nationalism. “Unity. Conviction. A message that our people don’t bow down, not to a hurricane and even less to external pressure and some people’s desire to see our system change,” he recently said. (Weissenstein, 2018)

Here is a link to the Council of Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) version of the paper –

Arturo Lopez-Levy is a lecturer of American politics and Latin American politics at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley and New York University Center for Global Affairs. He is a non-resident research associate at the Latin America Center at the Joseph Korbel School of International Studies of the University of Denver. He is a co-author of “Raul Castro and the New Cuba: A Close-Up view of Chance” (McFarland,2012).

Rolf  Niederstrasser B.A in Political Science at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Research Associate at the Council of Hemispheric Affairs (COHA).

Sadistic Capitalism: Six Urgent Matters for Humanity in Global Crisis

“Professor William Robinson of UCSD visited the University of Denver Latin America Center within our series entitled, “Capitalist Crisis and Global Disorder.” Join us for our next event in the series on April 11 with Professor Vijay Prashad.

Repost: Original Article can be found at


Peaceful protesters join in a general strike in Oakland, California, November 2011. “The systemic critique of global capitalism must strive to influence, from this vantage point, the discourse and practice of movements for a more just distribution of wealth and power,” writes William I. Robinson. “Our survival may depend on it.” (Photo: Rainforest Action Network / Flickr)

In these mean streets of globalized capitalism in crisis, it has become profitable to turn poverty and inequality into a tourist attraction.

The South African Emoya Luxury Hotel and Spa company has made a glamorized spectacle of it. The resort recently advertised an opportunity for tourists to stay “in our unique Shanty Town … and experience traditional township living within a safe private game reserve environment.” A cluster of simulated shanties outside of Bloemfontein that the company has constructed “is ideal for team building, braais, bachelors [parties], theme parties and an experience of a lifetime,” read the ad. The luxury accommodations, made to appear from the outside as shacks, featured paraffin lamps, candles, a battery-operated radio, an outside toilet, a drum and fireplace for cooking, as well as under-floor heating, air conditioning and wireless internet access. A well-dressed, young white couple is pictured embracing in a field with the corrugated tin shanties in the background. The only thing missing in this fantasy world of sanitized space and glamorized poverty was the people themselves living in poverty.

Escalating inequalities fuel capitalism’s chronic problem of over-accumulation.

The “luxury shanty town” in South Africa is a fitting metaphor for global capitalism as a whole. Faced with a stagnant global economy, elites have managed to turn war, structural violence and inequality into opportunities for capital, pleasure and entertainment. It is hard not to conclude that unchecked capitalism has become what I term “sadistic capitalism,” in which the suffering and deprivation generated by capitalism become a source of aesthetic pleasure, leisure and entertainment for others.

I recently had the opportunity to travel through several countries in Latin America, the Middle East, North Africa, East Asia and throughout North America. I was on sabbatical to research what the global crisis looks like on the ground around the world. Everywhere I went, social polarization and political tensions have reached explosive dimensions.

Where is the crisis headed, what are the possible outcomes and what does it tell us about global capitalism and resistance? This crisis is not like earlier structural crises of world capitalism, such as in the 1930s or 1970s. This one is fast becoming systemic. The crisis of humanity shares aspects of earlier structural crises of world capitalism, but there are six novel, interrelated dimensions to the current moment that I highlight here, in broad strokes, as the “big picture” context in which countries and peoples around the world are experiencing a descent into chaos and uncertainty.

1) The level of global social polarization and inequality is unprecedented in the face of out-of-control, over-accumulated capital. In January 2016, the development agency Oxfam published a follow-up to its report on global inequality that had been released the previous year. According to the new report, now just 62 billionaires — down from 80 identified by the agency in its January 2015 report — control as much wealth as one half of the world’s population, and the top 1% owns more wealth than the other 99% combined. Beyond the transnational capitalist class and the upper echelons of the global power bloc, the richest 20 percent of humanity owns some 95 percent of the world’s wealth, while the bottom 80 percent has to make do with just 5 percent.

This 20-80 divide of global society into haves and the have-nots is the new global social apartheid. It is evident not just between rich and poor countries, but within each country, North and South, with the rise of new affluent high-consumption sectors alongside the downward mobility, “precariatization,” destabilization and expulsion of majorities.

Inside the world’s green zones, privileged strata avail themselves of privatized social services, consumption and entertainment.

Escalating inequalities fuel capitalism’s chronic problem of over-accumulation: The transnational capitalist class cannot find productive outlets to unload the enormous amounts of surplus it has accumulated, leading to stagnation in the world economy. The signs of an impending depression are everywhere. The front page of the February 20 issue of The Economist read, “The World Economy: Out of Ammo?

Extreme levels of social polarization present a challenge to dominant groups. They strive to purchase the loyalty of that 20 percent, while at the same time dividing the 80 percent, co-opting some into a hegemonic bloc and repressing the rest. Alongside the spread of frightening new systems of social control and repression is heightened dissemination through the culture industries and corporate marketing strategies that depoliticize through consumerist fantasies and the manipulation of desire.

As “Trumpism” in the United States so well illustrates, another strategy of co-optation is the manipulation of fear and insecurity among the downwardly mobile so that social anxiety is channeled toward scapegoated communities. This psychosocial mechanism of displacing mass anxieties is not new, but it appears to be increasing around the world in the face of the structural destabilization of capitalist globalization. Scapegoated communities are under siege, such as the Rohingya in Myanmar, the Muslim minority in India, the Kurds in Turkey, southern African immigrants in South Africa, and Syrian and Iraqi refugees and other immigrants in Europe.

As with its 20th century predecessor, 21st century fascism hinges on such manipulation of social anxiety at a time of acute capitalist crisis. Extreme inequality requires extreme violence and repression that lend to projects of 21st century fascism.

2) The system is fast reaching the ecological limits to its reproduction.We have reached several tipping points in what environmental scientists refer to as nine crucial “planetary boundaries.” We have already exceeded these boundaries in three areas — climate change, the nitrogen cycle and diversity loss.

There have been five previous mass extinctions in earth’s history. While all these were due to natural causes, for the first time ever, human conduct is intersecting with and fundamentally altering the earth system.

If the capitalist system stops expanding outward, it enters crisis and faces collapse.

We have entered what Paul Crutzen, the Dutch environmental scientist and Nobel Prize winner, termed the Anthropocene — a new age in which humans have transformed up to half of the world’s surface. We are altering the composition of the atmosphere and acidifying the oceans at a rate that undermines the conditions for life. The ecological dimensions of global crisis cannot be understated.

“We are deciding, without quite meaning to, which evolutionary pathways will remain open and which will forever be closed,” observes Elizabeth Kolbert in her best seller, The Sixth Extinction. “No other creature has ever managed this … The Sixth Extinction will continue to determine the course of life long after everything people have written and painted and built has been ground into dust.”

Capitalism cannot be held solely responsible. The human-nature contradiction has deep roots in civilization itself. The ancient Sumerian empires, for example, collapsed after the population over-salinated their crop soil. The Mayan city-state network collapsed about AD 900 due to deforestation. And the former Soviet Union wrecked havoc on the environment.

However, given capital’s implacable impulse to accumulate profit and its accelerated commodification of nature, it is difficult to imagine that the environmental catastrophe can be resolved within the capitalist system. “Green capitalism” appears as an oxymoron, as sadistic capitalism’s attempt to turn the ecological crisis into a profit-making opportunity, along with the conversion of poverty into a tourist attraction.

3) The sheer magnitude of the means of violence is unprecedented, as is the concentrated control over the means of global communications and the production and circulation of knowledge, symbols and images. We have seen the spread of frightening new systems of social control and repression that have brought us into the panoptical surveillance society and the age of thought control. This real-life Orwellian world is in a sense more perturbing than that described by George Orwell in his iconic novel 1984. In that fictional world, people were compelled to give their obedience to the state (“Big Brother”) in exchange for a quiet existence with guarantees of employment, housing and other social necessities. Now, however, the corporate and political powers that be force obedience even as the means of survival are denied to the vast majority.

Global apartheid involves the creation of “green zones” that are cordoned off in each locale around the world where elites are insulated through new systems of spatial reorganization, social control and policing. “Green zone” refers to the nearly impenetrable area in central Baghdad that US occupation forces established in the wake of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The command center of the occupation and select Iraqi elite inside that green zone were protected from the violence and chaos that engulfed the country.

Urban areas around the world are now green zoned through gentrification, gated communities, surveillance systems, and state and private violence. Inside the world’s green zones, privileged strata avail themselves of privatized social services, consumption and entertainment. They can work and communicate through internet and satellite sealed off under the protection of armies of soldiers, police and private security forces.

What is required is a redistribution of power downward and transformation toward a system in which social need trumps private profit.

Green zoning takes on distinct forms in each locality. In Palestine, I witnessed such zoning in the form of Israeli military checkpoints, Jewish settler-only roads and the apartheid wall. In Mexico City, the most exclusive residential areas in the upscale Santa Fe District are accessible only by helicopter and private gated roads. In Johannesburg, a surreal drive through the exclusive Sandton City area reveals rows of mansions that appear as military compounds, with private armed towers and electrical and barbed-wire fences. In Cairo, I toured satellite cities ringing the impoverished center and inner suburbs where the country’s elite could live out their aspirations and fantasies. They sport gated residential complexes with spotless green lawns, private leisure and shopping centers and English-language international schools under the protection of military checkpoints and private security police.

In other cities, green zoning is subtler but no less effective. In Los Angeles, where I live, the freeway system now has an express lane reserved for those that can pay an exorbitant toll. On this lane, the privileged speed by, while the rest remain one lane over, stuck in the city’s notorious bumper-to-bumper traffic — or even worse, in notoriously underfunded and underdeveloped public transportation, where it may take half a day to get to and from work. There is no barrier separating this express lane from the others. However, a near-invisible closed surveillance system monitors every movement. If a vehicle without authorization shifts into the exclusive lane, it is instantly recorded by this surveillance system and a heavy fine is imposed on the driver, under threat of impoundment, while freeway police patrols are ubiquitous.

Outside of the global green zones, warfare and police containment have become normalized and sanitized for those not directly at the receiving end of armed aggression. “Militainment” — portraying and even glamorizing war and violence as entertaining spectacles through Hollywood films and television police shows, computer games and corporate “news” channels — may be the epitome of sadistic capitalism. It desensitizes, bringing about complacency and indifference.

In between the green zones and outright warfare are prison industrial complexes, immigrant and refugee repression and control systems, the criminalization of outcast communities and capitalist schooling. The omnipresent media and cultural apparatuses of the corporate economy, in particular, aim to colonize the mind — to undermine the ability to think critically and outside the dominant worldview. A neofascist culture emerges through militarism, extreme masculinization, racism and racist mobilizations against scapegoats.

4) We are reaching limits to the extensive expansion of capitalism.Capitalism is like riding a bicycle: When you stop pedaling the bicycle, you fall over. If the capitalist system stops expanding outward, it enters crisis and faces collapse. In each earlier structural crisis, the system went through a new round of extensive expansion — from waves of colonial conquest in earlier centuries, to the integration in the late 20th and early 21st centuries of the former socialist countries, China, India and other areas that had been marginally outside the system. There are no longer any new territories to integrate into world capitalism.

Meanwhile, the privatization of education, health care, utilities, basic services and public land are turning those spaces in global society that were outside of capital’s control into “spaces of capital.” Even poverty has been turned into a commodity. What is there left to commodify? Where can the system now expand? With the limits to expansion comes a turn toward militarized accumulation — making wars of endless destruction and reconstruction and expanding the militarization of social and political institutions so as to continue to generate new opportunities for accumulation in the face of stagnation.

5) There is the rise of a vast surplus population inhabiting a “planet of slums,” alienated from the productive economy, thrown into the margins and subject to these sophisticated systems of social control and destruction. Global capitalism has no direct use for surplus humanity. But indirectly, it holds wages down everywhere and makes new systems of 21st century slavery possible. These systems include prison labor, the forced recruitment of miners at gunpoint by warlords contracted by global corporations to dig up valuable minerals in the Congo, sweatshops and exploited immigrant communities (including the rising tide of immigrant female caregivers for affluent populations).

Furthermore, the global working class is experiencing accelerated “precariatization.” The “new precariat” refers to the proletariat that faces capital under today’s unstable and precarious labor relations — informalization, casualization, part-time, temp, immigrant and contract labor.

As communities are uprooted everywhere, there is a rising reserve army of immigrant labor. The global working class is becoming divided into citizen and immigrant workers. The latter are particularly attractive to transnational capital, as the lack of citizenship rights makes them particularly vulnerable, and therefore, exploitable.

The challenge for dominant groups is how to contain the real and potential rebellion of surplus humanity, the immigrant workforce and the precariat. How can they contain the explosive contradictions of this system? The 21st century megacities become the battlegrounds between mass resistance movements and the new systems of mass repression. Some populations in these cities (and also in abandoned countryside) are at risk of genocide, such as those in Gaza, zones in Somalia and Congo, and swaths of Iraq and Syria.

6) There is a disjuncture between a globalizing economy and a nation-state-based system of political authority. Transnational state apparatuses are incipient and do not wield enough power and authority to organize and stabilize the system, much less to impose regulations on runaway transnational capital. In the wake of the 2008 financial collapse, for instance, the governments of the G-8 and G-20 were unable to impose transnational regulation on the global financial system, despite a series of emergency summits to discuss such regulation.

Elites historically have attempted to resolve the problems of over-accumulation by state policies that can regulate the anarchy of the market. However, in recent decades, transnational capital has broken free from the constraints imposed by the nation-state. The more “enlightened” elite representatives of the transnational capitalist class are now clamoring for transnational mechanisms of regulation that would allow the global ruling class to reign in the anarchy of the system in the interests of saving global capitalism from itself and from radical challenges from below.

At the same time, the division of the world into some 200 competing nation-states is not the most propitious of circumstances for the global working class. Victories in popular struggles from below in any one country or region can (and often do) become diverted and even undone by the structural power of transnational capital and the direct political and military domination that this structural power affords the dominant groups. In Greece, for instance, the leftist Syriza party came to power in 2015 on the heels of militant worker struggles and a mass uprising. But the party abandoned its radical program as a result of the enormous pressure exerted on it from the European Central Bank and private international creditors.

The Systemic Critique of Global Capitalism

A growing number of transnational elites themselves now recognize that any resolution to the global crisis must involve redistribution downward of income.

However, in the viewpoint of those from below, a neo-Keynesian redistribution within the prevailing corporate power structure is not enough. What is required is a redistribution of power downward and transformation toward a system in which social need trumps private profit.

A global rebellion against the transnational capitalist class has spread since the financial collapse of 2008. Wherever one looks, there is popular, grassroots and leftist struggle, and the rise of new cultures of resistance: the Arab Spring; the resurgence of leftist politics in Greece, Spain and elsewhere in Europe; the tenacious resistance of Mexican social movements following the Ayotzinapa massacre of 2014; the favela uprising in Brazil against the government’s World Cup and Olympic expulsion policies; the student strikes in Chile; the remarkable surge in the Chinese workers’ movement; the shack dwellers and other poor people’s campaigns in South Africa; Occupy Wall Street, the immigrant rights movement, Black Lives Matter, fast food workers’ struggle and the mobilization around the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign in the United States.

This global revolt is spread unevenly and faces many challenges. A number of these struggles, moreover, have suffered setbacks, such as the Greek working-class movement and, tragically, the Arab Spring. What type of a transformation is viable, and how do we achieve it? How we interpret the global crisis is itself a matter of vital importance as politics polarize worldwide between a neofascist and a popular response. The systemic critique of global capitalism must strive to influence, from this vantage point, the discourse and practice of movements for a more just distribution of wealth and power. Our survival may depend on it.