The Pink Tide: Media Access and Political Power in Latin America

The Pink Tide: Media Access and Political Power in Latin America

by Lee Artz Professor of Media Studies at Purdue University Northwest (Editor)


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Over the last two decades, military and authoritarian regimes in Latin America have receded as indigenous social movements and popular protests have demanded and won peaceful transitions to democratically-elected governments. Across the entire Southern hemisphere, democracy has developed with a radical flourish, bringing dramatic changes in politics, education, civil society, and the media. Historically, revolution in Latin America has been depicted as civil war, violent conflict, and armed resistance, but recent social change has resulted from the political power of mass social movements reflected in elections and government policy change rather than guerrilla insurgencies.
The Pink Tide investigates the relationship between media access and democracy, arguing that citizen participation in broadcasting is a primary indicator of the changed social relations of power in each country. Democracy has meaning only to the extent that citizens participate in discussion and decisions. This book demonstrates that participation in public communication is a prime ingredient in democratic action and citizen self-organization, a vital means for constructing new cultural practices and social norms.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781786602404
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date: 10/16/2018
Series: Protest, Media and Culture Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 226
Sales rank: 873,881
Product dimensions: 5.95(w) x 9.03(h) x 0.72(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Lee Artz, a former machinist and steelworker, is Professor of Media Studies at Purdue University Northwest. He has published ten books (including Global Entertainment Media, Marxism and Communication Studies, and The Media Globe) and scores of chapters and journal articles on international media, cultural hegemony, and democratic communication. He is a founder and research fellow at Purdue Northwest’s Center for Global Studies.

Read an Excerpt

The Pink Tide

Media Access and Political Power in Latin America

By Lee Artz

Rowman & Littlefield International, Ltd.

Copyright © 2017 Lee Artz
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78660-241-1


Media, Power, and Democracy in Latin America

Lee Artz

In the last fifteen years, countries in Latin America have elected politically progressive governments. Beginning with the election of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela in 1998, an unprecedented succession of other populist presidents was elected, including Socialist Ricardo Lagos in Chile (2000); Workers Party (PT) labor leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil (2002); left-leaning Peronist Néstor Kirchner in Argentina (2003); Broad Front (FA) candidate Tabaré Vázquez in Uruguay (2004); indigenous union and Movement for Socialism (MAS) leader Evo Morales in Bolivia (2005); FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation Front) leader Daniel Ortega, reelected in Nicaragua (2006); left liberal Manuel Zelaya in Honduras (2006); Citizen's Alliance candidate Rafael Correa in Ecuador (2006); radical priest Fernando Lugo with the Alliance for Change in Paraguay (2008) and former FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front) guerrilla fighter Mauricio Funes in El Salvador (2009); and Ollana Humala in Peru (2011). Citizens in several countries proceeded to reelect such progressive candidates several times, most consistently in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Brazil. Seven coups, a combination of military and parliamentary (TeleSUR 2016), as well as orchestrated disruption campaigns by elite opposition in most countries, continue to challenge the radical upsurges. In several countries, where social movements faltered — Argentina, Chile, Honduras, Peru, and Brazil — rightist forces have won national elections and regained control of the government.

In the midst of continent-wide turmoil and conflict, the sudden increase in the number of governments espousing varieties of socialism and social democracy and enacting programs to benefit labor, the urban poor, and indigenous groups (with an occasional veneer of anti-U.S.-intervention rhetoric) became widely known as the Pink Tide. "Pink Tide" (Onda Rosa in Spanish) seems to concisely, albeit insufficiently, characterize the appearance of a generally left political trajectory in Latin American. This was "pink" rather than "red," as Larry Rohter of the New York Times first opined. "Pink" indicating a lighter tone — not the "red" of communism, not socialism, but a softer shade of progressive, even radical politics, with considerable variation across nations. While "Pink Tide" cogently labels the leftward trend, more is needed to understand the complexity of what's really taking place in each country and the region as a whole. What is considered "left"? How do progressive governments relate to social movements and vice versa? And what do these changes mean on a regional level? Only a closer look at the social relations and political conditions in each nation can answer these questions because, while all have considerable interconnections, each must work out relations of power within their own polities. Still, while several of the candidates, and their successors, proclaimed socialist platforms, with the exception of Venezuela and Bolivia, most of these new governments did not explicitly advocate socialism; rather, their commitment to "equality, social justice, and popular participation" contributes to openings for radical social transformation (Levitsky and Roberts 2011, 3).

Although three-fourths of Latin American countries have had democratically elected progressive left-leaning presidents and legislatures since 1998, the rise of new social democratic and left-populist governments was poorly reported in the world's commercial media. Presenting disconnected and recurring exposés of one or another populist leader, commercial mass media obscured and misrepresented the remarkable historic changes that have occurred in Latin America in the last fifteen years. Criticisms by liberal academics, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and more radical-left organizations have further discouraged appreciation of the momentous changes occurring.

Undeterred by such dismissals, this writing offers a perspective to help analyze and evaluate "the extent to which the actors on the left today offer alternatives to neoliberalism" and "determin[e] to what extent parallelism," mass mobilizations, and political initiatives by governments and movements "go in the direction of ... decreasing inequality between the classes and countries, economic democracy, and environmental sustainability" (Rodriguez-Garavito, Barrett, and Chavez 2008, 23). The impulse for democracy, social justice, and social change embedded within social-movement actions against privatizations and deregulation of public interest highlight several interrelated conflicts, including: 1) the conditions and operations of power, 2) the meaning and practice of democracy, and 3) the interaction of social relations of power that are instrumental in civil society, the government, and the market. As the primary means of communication, media are implicated in power, democracy, and social movements. Thus, public access to media addresses each of these questions of power — and provides a measure of democracy within each society.

Here, public access does not refer to an anonymous audience to be serviced by media as with Britain's BBC or other public-service broadcasters, but asserts the democratic right of the public to produce and disseminate content. Public-access media affirms the democratic right to communication, including the right to have access to production and distribution technologies without restriction by commercial interests. Public, understood in all its complexities, is the sum of the multiple constituencies of each country, including among others, diverse sections of the working class from industrial, service, agricultural, and informal workers to those unemployed and underemployed, indigenous nations, ethnic groups, women, youth, community-based organizations, religious, environmental, cooperative, and other social, cultural, and political collectivities. In other words, the claim is that public access to media serves as both an indicator of the democratic commitment by a political leadership and a means for organizing the powers necessary to resist neoliberalism and transform the capitalist order. A primary measure of democracy and social justice must be the extent to which those popular forces have direct access and control of the means of communication.


Referring to the election of new left, socialist-leaning, and radical popular governments as the Pink Tide delivers an initial definition that should not short-circuit its historical significance. A more robust description necessarily includes recognition of the entrance of powerful radical social movements of indigenous and working classes organizing beyond industrial worksites — portending rising labor conflicts in China, India, and across Europe. (Worker protests in China reached record proportions in 2015; in 2016, tens of millions protested neoliberal reforms in India, while labor resistance to austerity has spread across Europe [China Labor Bulletin 2015; Khan 2016; Schmidt 2015].)

The political dynamics of these several Latin America countries are globally important because Latin America is no longer part of the periphery in global production or global politics. Latin America is part of the global South, but the entire global South from BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) to Mexico, Korea, Nigeria, and Eastern Europe can no longer be easily dismissed economically or politically. Industrial, agricultural, and financial corporations in Latin America are fully integrated into an emerging transnational capitalist economic and political order. The extraction and production of energy, agriculture, and finished industrial and consumer goods in Latin America, as well as the enormous consumer market that Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, and the rest of the nations provide, are an integral part of the global economy (Robinson 2008).

For decades, Latin America played a prominent role in world history and the development of capitalism as a supplier of agricultural products and raw materials, a consumer market, and a source of cheap labor. "The continent where neoliberalism was first applied — in Chile and Bolivia" — it was also "the site of the greatest resistance to that same neoliberalism, and of the most developed alternatives to it" (Sader 2011, 2).

Unsurprisingly, Latin American alternatives to neoliberal privatization directly challenge the transnational capitalist system, raising real-life examples that might be emulated and advanced elsewhere. In each case, the capitalist state and its social relations survived the elections, but a change in governmental power brought new social programs — to the exact extent that the new government relied on and organized mass organization and political mobilization. Those "left" governments that blocked mass participation and substituted their own political bureaucracies (as in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile) shied away from dedicated social change and instead accommodated the capitalist order, in a vain attempt to compromise and avoid social confrontation.

The Pink Tide is not a coordinated, intentional political project; rather, it is the unfolding outcome of uneven successes of social movements resisting similar material and social conditions within specific and fairly unique national and cultural contexts. The initial actions by the new governments in each country varied widely: from modest reforms raising the minimum wage and protecting pensions to more radical structural adjustments that redistributed wealth, introduced land reform, and nationalized industries and natural resources. Moreover, the diverse social programs of each government reflect the wide range of political agendas for equality, social justice, and multiculturalism by the various "left" politicians. Neither Kirchner nor Lula da Silva opened doors to power for the working class, but "after the Movement for Socialism (MAS) took national office in 2006, Bolivian national sovereignty took a decidedly egalitarian turn: hydrocarbon resources were nationalized and participatory democracy moved beyond electoral politics to collective self-management of public services" (Tapia 2008, 224–25).

As the theme of this book proposes, some of the clearest indications of each government's commitment to equality are the changes to media practices, the new laws, regulations, and in some cases constitutional guarantees affording citizens the democratic right to communication, including access to media production, largely corresponding to each "left" governments' orientation and commitment to full democracy.

In short, the political expression embodied in the Pink Tide is a powerful but unexplored marker of the culmination of mass mobilizations that have achieved some semblance of political power through populist and socialist electoral successes and fairly progressive reforms in policies and programs of governments of the "left."


Left is a broadly descriptive term indicating a general commitment to social equality, some redistribution of wealth, social welfare, an expansion of democratic rights, labor rights, civil rights, and the protection of disenfranchised groups. The "right" defends market capitalism and its political order; the "left" advocates radical democracy and social justice (Bobbio 1996; Levitsky and Roberts 2011). The left includes socialists, communists, anarchists, new social movements of resistance to neoliberalism, and radical indigenous, labor, environmental groups, among others. The left also encompasses the traditional social democratic parties, what Jorge Lanzaro (2011) calls "institutionalized parties, with socialist leanings and kinship to the labor movement, which have replaced their revolutionary ideologies with moderate reformism" (349). Some call the Pink Tide a "new" left to describe its disconnection from the traditional social democratic parties in Latin America, its distance from armed resistance, and its willingness to electorally vie for government power (Barrett, Chavez, and Rodriguez-Garavito 2008). The Pink Tide designation thus includes avowed reformists like Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Frente Amplio's Tabaré Vázquez in Uruguay, Liberal Party president Manuel Zelaya in Honduras, Ecuador's radical progressive Rafael Correa, the Workers Party (PT) in Brazil, as well as those more explicitly socialist, like Hugo Chávez, Nicolás Maduro, and Evo Morales. The range of political strategies and policies from neoliberal reform to calls for 21st Century Socialism is as specific and varied as each new "left" government.

The fall of the Soviet system and electoral defeat of the Sandinistas has been recognized as the end of one era for the left and the beginning of a new one — in the most favorable light as the appearance of movements for 21st Century Socialism and socialist democracy based on broad participation of indigenous and subordinate classes. At the same moment that transnational capitalism celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall, the severe structural adjustment program meted out in Venezuela in 1989 released a massive popular reaction against neoliberalism and privatization in Caracas, Venezeula. Known as the "caracazo," the popular classes put international capitalism on notice that resistance was mounting against the accumulation of wealth by dispossession and theft of public resources. In Argentina, the monetary stabilization plan exploded as privatizations brutalized the working classes and poor: "one of the most advanced systems of economic and social integration, which linked economic growth to the extension of the domestic consumer market, was torn apart," disrupting mass support for Peronism and a "wide range of groups with doctrinaire politics and limited mass support. It was left to the organizations of the unemployed, known as "piqueteros," and of factory occupations to take the lead in resisting neoliberalism — a situation that was repeated in almost all of Latin America" (Sader 2011, 13).

Previously in Latin America, communist, social democratic, and nationalist movements organized political parties, while guerrilla groups and a social left of trade unions, peasant groups, and even Christian-based communities led mass protest movements. Each of these projects declined or was reconfigured by the "combined effects of rising unemployment, privatizations, the 'flexibilization' of labor regulations, rural bankruptcies and mass migrations to the cities, the growth of the informal economy, and financial crises that undermined the social bases of trade unionism" and social democratic reformist parties (Rodriguez-Garavito, Barrett, and Chavez 2008, 7). "In place of the formal work positions that were lost in the public and private sectors, enormous populations of chronically unemployed, informal, and migrant workers emerged, forming a dispersed working class distinct from the organized proletariat that had sustained trade unionism in earlier periods (Portes and Hoffman 2003, 7). At the end of the twentieth century, the material conditions for the left had shifted.

The rise of the rabid right under Pinochet, Reagan, and Thatcher was so startling and overwhelming that for a short while it appeared that there was no alternative. Negative growth and rising unemployment, inequality and poverty brought on by neoliberal shock therapy, and structural adjustment programs drove millions to resist in diverse ways, from the Zapatista autonomous zones and the Brazilian landless workers movement to the indigenous uprisings in Ecuador and Bolivia, the Bolivarian socialism project in Venezuela, and the resurgence of the Broad Front in Uruguay, while neoliberalism sputtered with the economic collapse of Argentina. Ironically, the return of the repressed working class in rising social protest movements and the tide of left-infused electoral victories caught the Latin American elite, leading transnational politicians, and commercial media off guard.

This "new" Pink Tide left signals neither the end of class contradictions, nor the reduction of the political centrality of the working class for social change. Rather, the contours of resistance indicate the political, economic, and structural changes wrought by the imposition of neoliberalism by national and transnational forces. Three effects of neoliberal privatizations on social-class relations are manifest in Latin America: 1) the restructuring of global production, 2) the restructuring of the Latin American working class, and 3) the subsequent weakening of the power and legitimacy of existing political parties.


Excerpted from The Pink Tide by Lee Artz. Copyright © 2017 Lee Artz. Excerpted by permission of Rowman & Littlefield International, Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Public Media Access, Democracy, and Power, Lee Artz / 2. Venezuela: Freedom of Expression, Public Access, and Participatory Democracy, George Ciccariello-Maher and Ewa Sapiezynska / 3. Bolivia: Power and Information Pluralism in Bolivia , Pascal Lupien / 4. Ecuador: The Citizens’ Revolution and Popular Communication, Philip Kitzberger / 5. Uruguay: Hidden in plain sight: obstacles to media reform in Uruguay, Evan Light / 6. Argentina: The Role of Alternative Media in Latin America’s Pink Tide , Summer Harlow, and Stuart H. Davis / 7. Brazil: From Tide to Ripple to Tsunami: The Brazilian Leftover, Gilson Schwartz / 8. Latin America: Communication Sovereignty: Media and Cultural Policies of ALBA, UNASUR, and CELAC, Katherine Reilly / 9. Change Through Power: Media Reform as Participatory Democracy, Lee Artz / Index

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