Latin America points the way for
progressive politics, and the NACLA Report is on the
Joseph Hart, Utne Reader
When the Democratic Party wrestled a slim majority in Congress
in the 2006 midterm elections, the punditry was quick to pronounce
it a ‘revolution.’ But while lefties may have raised a hopeful fist
on election night, nobody could legitimately claim that the shift
in power stemmed from an energetic, organized, dedicated grassroots
Latin America is a different story. The flourishing progressive
political climates of Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina,
Uruguay, Chile, and Nicaragua represent, to varying degrees, the
triumph of decades of political organizing.
‘Overall, these changes were a long time coming,’ explains Teo
Ballv?, editor of the NACLA Report on the Americas, a bimonthly
magazine that publishes some of the best reporting on the region.
‘Progressive groups have been engaged in movement building and
political organizing for decades. During the ’70s and ’80s, there
was a leash on those organizations, because they were under the
U.S.-supported right-wing governments. Now that more space is being
afforded those groups, there have been dramatic gains.’
The NACLA Report offers its readers a front-row view of
these changes. The magazine is the primary work of the North
American Congress on Latin America, an organization founded in 1966
to provide an alternative to the mainstream media’s coverage of
President Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 invasion of the Dominican Republic.
The NACLA Report‘s formula is to uphold academic standards
of research and sourcing, but to deliver the information in writing
that anyone can understand.
This mix of substance and style has won the journal a loyal
following; it is the most widely read English-language magazine on
Latin American affairs. Most of the work is commissioned, says
Ballv?, from academics and journalists who are happy to write for a
periodical that affords them the space to dig deep. ‘The result is
a form of intelligent journalism that’s pretty rare,’ Ballv?
In addition to shorter reports from various regions, the
magazine typically collects related articles in a feature section.
A recent issue explored Caribbean politics, with articles ranging
from a report on the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti
to a study of Jamaican gang violence. Another ambitious package
called ‘The Bio Politic’ offered wide-ranging analysis of
international politics and biology, including the appropriation of
native plants, the global trade in human tissue, and the use of
digital technology to enforce borders.
NACLA has served as a catalyst for activism in the United
States, although that work has languished as the organization
struggled for survival. ‘We began our life as a hybrid activist
organization,’ explains Steve Volk, who has been with NACLA since
1969 and sits on the board. The information in the NACLA Report
forms one arm of its activism; the other consisted of building
networks among organizations interested in Latin American policy.
‘We had a staff of 8 or 10 people on two coasts,’ Volk says. But as
budget pressures constricted the staff, ‘we withdrew more and more
into the office and we lost that vital connection with the grass
In recent years, the organization has taken steps to reconnect,
beginning with a dramatic turnover in staff. Editor Ballv?, 27,
represents the new face of the organization. ‘We brought a lot of
younger people on board,’ he says, ‘so the organization could take
a new direction. We are a new generation of activists, arising in
part from the Seattle World Trade Organization protests, and we’re
building new, organic ties to the wider movement.’
A central tool in creating these ties is NACLA’s web presence.
The group is about to launch a new site that will add breaking-news
reports to the NACLA Report‘s in-depth coverage. It will
also, says Volk, help to forge ties between activists in the United
States and Latin America.
Recent shifts in Latin American politics have made such ties
even more important. Progressives in the United States have a lot
to learn from Latin American groups, and NACLA is uniquely
positioned to facilitate collaboration across borders. ‘The
Internet allows community and coordination that were inconceivable
a few decades ago,’ Ballv? says. ‘Back then, you were lucky if you
could raise the money to bring a handful of Latin American labor
leaders up here for a week. Now you can be in constant contact with
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