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Discourse 25.1&2 (2003) 98-118

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Dictatorship and Overexposure:
Does Latin America Testify to More than One Market?

Brett Levinson

Is there more than one market, more than one globalization? And what could such queries have to do with testimony? To respond, let us examine the case of contemporary Chile, where the main concern remains, fourteen years after the fall of Pinochet, the transition from dictatorship to democracy.

I will make three main initial points; I will then align them, as straightforwardly as I can, with the question concerning testimony:

The postdictatorship's efforts (on the part of both civil society and government) to reduce Chilean democracy to free market policies turns not on the forgetting of the Pinochet atrocities, as is so often thought (and for good reason: the imposition of the free market was the reason for Pinochet's installation; the forgetting of this fact renders easier the adoption of free market values as those of democracy), but on a certain way of remembering them.Any conceivable Chilean transition to democracy that does not fall to this market turns on language, on a Saying, on a poetics. To be sure, such a poetics es muy poco: it is not enough. It saves nothing. But it is nonetheless the horizon of possibility.The coup or golpe did not occur in 1973 but is taking place today. To be sure, the golpe de estado happened in 1973, continued throughout the dictatorship, and insidiously exercised its force [End Page 98] during the first phases of transition. But it did not make a direct hit, a real golpe, until now, as Chile experiences a kind of mass concussion to which, in the end—because of the stunned state of the people and the stunned people of the state—nobody can testify. And that is the golpe: the impossibility of testimony, and through testimony (true or false), of knowledge of the event that is now striking.

Chile is the pioneer in Latin America of what has come to be called "neoliberalism." This neoliberalism should not be confused with the "late liberalism" (as I will call it) of, say, the United States of the Reagan through George W. Bush eras, although the differences are not obvious or givens. (I do not want to answer too soon the query I have just posed: if I a priori grant the division between late liberalism and neoliberalism, I presuppose the "more than oneness" of the global market.) Late liberalism consists of a relatively smooth transition from the welfare state to the market, one which barely discloses its seams. Shifts occur. But such alterations are incremental, relatively uniform.

In Chilean neoliberalism, on the contrary, the situation transforms at maximum velocity: from the too-strong (the 1973-1989 Pinochet) state dictatorship to a too-weak state that abandons almost all public responsibilities, including those of public education.

The result of this radical state pull-out, this privatization at maximum velocity is, first, the co-existence of two modes of "control": that of the despotic Pinochet regime (which does not simply disappear with the state's withdrawal, as we will see), and that of a hyperadvanced free market, which makes do with as little government as possible. The second outcome is the incapacity of the market, too rapidly thrown to the head of the class, to assume even a hint of the obligations or services formerly offered by the state. The third consequence is a shift from citizen to consumer: the state attaches the citizen's debt or duty (as citizen) to his de facto obligation to consume.

I do not mean to imply that an "unsmooth" neoliberalism is to a "smooth" late liberalism as underdevelopment is to progress—not even if we view "progress" merely as capitalism's advancement, i.e. in a negative light. In fact, at times the reverse is true. To make an international phone call from Chile in 1997 one did not need to sign up with a particular "carrier" as one did in the United States. Rather, one chose from a long list of...


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