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  • Perplexing Entanglements with a Post-Neoliberal State
  • Japhy Wilson

An enormous abstract condor of concrete, glass, and steel soars above the humble dwellings on a roadside leaving Quito. This is the headquarters of the United Nations of South American States (UNASUR), constructed by the Ecuadorian government at a cost of over US$50 million. UNASUR was created in 2008, at the highpoint of twenty-first century socialism, and the condor stands as a symbol of Latin American liberation from the eagle of US empire. Since the election of Rafael Correa Delgado as President of Ecuador in 2006, the “Citizens’ Revolution” has cast itself as one of the more radical of the post-neoliberal experiments underway in the region. In 2008, a new constitution was framed in terms of the kichwa indigenous principle of sumak kawsay (Buen Vivir, or “Good Living”), and Ecuador became the first nation in the world to recognise “the rights of nature.” The most recent National Development Plan challenges “capitalism… which is premised on accumulation, regardless of how this is achieved,” and promotes “the dismantling of the bourgeois state”; “the egalitarian redistribution of resources”; and the inclusive participation of the indigenous peoples of Ecuador, who will finally cease to be “objects of ‘civilization’, indoctrination, and colonial subordination” (SENPLADES 2013).

It was in this context that, in 2013, the Marxist human geographer David Harvey, and the activist architect Miguel Robles-Duran, accepted the invitation of the Ecuadorian government to establish the National Centre of Strategies for the Right to Territory (CENEDET) – a research institute that would offer critically constructive policy advice to the planning ministry; train civil servants in radical social thought; and open spaces of engagement with social movements and marginalized sectors of the population. I joined CENEDET in the summer of 2014, as part of an interdisciplinary team of Ecuadorian [End Page 177] and international researchers keen to make the most of this rare opportunity for anti-capitalist scholars to contribute to the transformation of a capitalist state. All, however, was not as it seemed. The story of CENEDET will be told more fully in the future. In this short essay, I share a few reflections on my own peculiar positionality of simultaneously critiquing and constituting the ideological state apparatus of a simulated revolution.

I had come to the UNASUR headquarters in July 2015, to attend an international conference on sustainable development. One of the speakers was Rene Ramírez Gallegos, Secretary of the National Secretariat of Science, Technology, and Higher Education (SENESCYT), and one of the ministers who had brought CENEDET to Ecuador.1 Ramírez is a key organic intellectual of the Citizens’ Revolution, and the pioneer of bio-socialism, conceived as an accumulation strategy consistent with the rights of nature, which promises to replace Ecuador’s dependence on the finite resources of Amazonian oil reserves with a development model based on the infinite resources of knowledge and biodiversity (Ramírez 2012). The flagship projects of bio-socialism are Yachay – a knowledge city in the highlands, and Ikiam, a biotechnology university in the Amazon. My research line at CENEDET was focused on the Amazon, and I was attending the conference as part of our work on Ikiam.

Prior to coming to Ecuador, I had published a book on Jeffrey Sachs, the notorious architect of the shock therapy package of neoliberal reforms first implemented in Bolivia in 1985, and subsequently repeated in other countries across South America, Eastern Europe, and the ex-Soviet Union (Wilson 2014). In the late 1990s, Sachs served as economic advisor to the Ecuadorian president of the time, Jamil Mahuad, prescribing a standard recipe of orthodox reforms, based on fiscal austerity, privatizations, and the abolition of fuel subsidies. The result was a profound political and economic crisis, which led to Mahuad being thrown out of office in 2000 by an indigenous uprising, backed by sectors of the Ecuadorian military. Sachs, it is fair to say, personified everything that the Citizens’ Revolution claimed to oppose, and I had welcomed the chance to shift my focus from his neoliberal social engineering to the possibilities of a twenty-first century socialism. Yet things were about to take a very peculiar turn...

A red carpet...