Neoliberalism and Social Movements in Latin America: Mobilizing the Resistance

  • James F. Petras
  • Henry Veltmeyer


The imposition of the neoliberal imperial order in the early 1980s polarized society and sharpened the contradictions between regions, classes, and ethnic groups. This chapter focuses on the dynamic growth of social movements that organized to recover political space and reverse the regressive capitalist ‘reforms’ imposed from above with the blessing and backing of the United States. The chapter analyzes the revival and buildup of the new class-based movements in the 1990s and the ensuing class and ethnic struggles that culminated in the new millennium in the replacement of the United States’ client neoliberal regimes in the region. From the smoldering embers and the ashes of the Washington Consensus in the first decade of the twenty-first century, there emerged a new, more pragmatic neoliberal order (and several post-neoliberal ones) based on a perceived need to retreat from an unregulated form of free market capitalism and move toward a more inclusive form of development. The conditions needed to bring about this ‘progressive cycle’ in Latin American politics included the activism of social movements in their resistance to the neoliberal policy agenda. These movements, with their social base in the working class, the peasantry, indigenous farming communities, and a semi-proletariat formed in conditions of peripheral capitalism, were responsible not only for bringing about the rejection of neoliberalism as an economic doctrine and a model but also in paving the way for the emergence of a number of post-neoliberal regimes oriented toward inclusionary state activism. These regimes, brought into power or backed by the social movements, shared with these movements a concern for bringing about an alternative form of national development, ‘another world’ beyond neoliberalism—and in some cases (Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela) beyond capitalism (Burdick et al. 2009; Gaudichaud 2012; Cameron and Hershberg 2010; Levitsky and Roberts 2011; Petras and Veltmeyer 2009, 2013; Sader 2011; Silva 2009).


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • James F. Petras
    • 1
  • Henry Veltmeyer
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of SociologySUNY BinghamtonBinghamtonUSA
  2. 2.Development StudiesSt. Mary’s UniversityHalifaxCanada

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