April 15, 2013

Visiting Cornell, Professor Talks About Political Shift In Latin America

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Prof. Leslie Gates, sociology, Binghamton University, spoke at Cornell Monday about the relationship between corporate power and politics in Mexico and Venezuela. Gates said that with the exception of some regions, there has been a broad shift — characterized by both the emergence of an electoral process and its opposition to neoliberalism — toward the political left in Latin America.

Gates said she is dissatisfied with some of the proposed reasons for this ideological shift in Latin America.

“Some argue that people elected leftist [politicians] because they were frustrated with their political institutions and their leaders. They sought political change, but not necessarily change in the economy or change in the policies,” Gates said. “Others argue that the rise to the left really represents a reaction to neoliberalism and frustration with the economic situation of their country — a desire to change the course of economic policy more specifically.”

Referencing her studies on Mexico’s turn toward neoliberalism and Venezuela’s turn against it, Gates said she is seeking to highlight the relationship between corporate power and politics — understanding how personal ties between the corporate world and the economic elite influence politics.

“It is the politicization of business, more specifically the concern regarding the increased power of corporations in the society. This helps to boost the chances of the left in Latin America. This is something that can help us explain the general tilt to the left,” Gates said.

In her new book, Electing Chavez: The Business of Anti-Neoliberal Politics, Gates proposes how the ties between corporations and politics led to the election of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s first anti-neoliberal president.

Gates’ book also notes how Chavez was able to win the support of elite business leaders. According to Gates, this connection between corporate leaders and politics has spurred the ideological, anti-neoliberal shift to the left in Venezuela.

“This argument offers a rationale for the overall tilt to the left in that the structural changes in the underlying power structure of society associated in neo-liberalism resulted in greater cynicism regarding business power — a key factor in predicting left victories,” Gates said.

Original Author: Jordan Jackson