Social movements meet with presidents

ALAI, América Latina en Movimiento | 2009-01-30

Social movements meet with presidents

At the World Social Forum taking place in Belem, Brasil, Latin American social movements held a dialogue on regional integration from a peoples’ perspective, with the leaders of four South American progressive governments. Presidents Hugo Chavez (Venezuela), Fernando Lugo (Paraguay), Evo Morales (Bolivia) and Rafael Correa (Ecuador), met with 1500 representatives of social movements to exchange about past and future collaboration around integration initiatives such as the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA) as solutions to the global economic crisis.

Speaking for the social movements congregated, Magdalena Leon and Camille Chalmers presented the progress already made on the road to peoples’ integration in Latin America; but they also stressed the need to invent new mechanisms to further stimulate social energy for change and harness it in favor of an accumulation of forces between peoples and progressive governments. They pointed out a series of challenges for confronting the global crisis of the present system.

Leon, a member of the Latin American Network of Women Transforming the Economy, stated that a radical situation such as the present economic crisis of a model that is in clear decay, calls for radical solutions. Otherwise, she said, we run the risk of giving a new lease of life to that model, legitimizing it, saving obsolete institutions and restoring power relations of a neocolonial nature.

Camille Chalmers, a member of the International Coordination of Jubilee South, recalled the process of change taking place in Latin America, which is at present the only region in the world that has moved on from resistance in the face of domination by neoliberal transnationalized capitalism, to the construction of concrete alternatives.

"We have learned important lessons from the emergence of new forms of coordination between governments and social movements, in inventing new forms of interconnection between political struggles and popular cultures", he said, underlining "the wise decision to put the struggles of the masses as a priority, overcoming the trend towards bureaucratization, inventing new and authentic forms of popular practices of participatory democracy."

The four presidents, in turn, then addressed the meeting, speaking about their respective projects and accomplishments for change and greater social justice. They also recognized, in different ways, the significant contribution of the social movements towards defeating neoliberalism in the region. Evo Morales - the most warmly applauded of the four as a member himself of the indigenous and campesino movements present - referring to his colleagues on the stage, told the audience: "if we are now Presidents, we owe it to you. The people here are my teachers in the social struggle."

Correo denounced the so-called "Washington consensus", imposed on Latin American since the 1980s without its participation or consent, and went on to enumerate the features of the new socialist proposal. These include collective action versus individualism, selfishness and unrestrained competition; the role of planning, understood as projects and shared visions to achieve synergy within and between countries; the supremacy of human labor over capital; emphasis on values of usage rather than trade; and social equity, expressed as generational, gender and ethnic equity. He referred to the need for a new concept of developement, in harmony with nature, "good living" and cultural differences.

Lugo, the newest of the presidents, insisted that "in Paraguay, we believe in this different Latin America and in our country aspire to regain our dignity. We want to be treated as equals." He considered that genuine integration has to come from below, hence the urgent need to democratize our societies to make more space for people’s participation. Lugo’s call to activists participating in the WSF, was to be impatient, in order to "break down the many walls and barriers to build more quickly the better world that we deserve and that is already becoming a reality".

Morales referred to the new Bolivian Constitution, ratified by referendum this past month, that establishes basic services as human rights - such as water, health and education - that can never be privatized. He also noted the constitutional principle that prevents the presence of foreign military bases in Bolivia. He underlined the defeat of the national oligarchy, that had vowed to prevent the Constitution, mentioning that in that fight, new enemies emerged, in addition to the right-wing press, in particular anti-popular sectors of the Bolivian Catholic church hierarchy. Given this attitude, he stated his belief that "another church is possible", provoking enthusiastic applause from the audience.

Chavez recalled that, although his government began in 1999, previous to the first WSF, it was at the third forum in 2003 that he first announced that the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela would take the road to socialism. Referring to the new US government, he called for a new direction in international relations, and respect for the revolution taking place in Venezuela; though he expressed scant hope for change, since "the empire remains intact".

Following the discourse of the presidents, the leader of the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST), João Pedro Stedile, gave the closing touch to the gathering, noting the identity between those present and calling for concrete measures that can respond to economic crisis and for united action of the popular forces with progressive governments. He emphasized that this is not simply an invitation, but a summons to continue a process that is being built. He recalled that the presidents and the movements present had met before in Havana, together with Fidel Castro, to concert action against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA - subsequently derailed, in 2005). Further meetings took place in Vienna, Quito, Caracas and Porto Alegre.

According to Stedile, despite the popular governments installed in Latin America, people have not yet won all the achievements they aspire to, due to an insufficient accumulation of people’s power.

"These achievements are not just a matter of will. Class struggle depends on the strength that people accumulate, not on speeches. We spent ten years fighting neoliberalism and we made institutional advancements, reflected at this table and in other countries, with Lula, Kirchner and other governments. But we haven’t yet achieved the rebuilding of a mass movement capable of changing the power relations in the hemisphere," he stated.

He challenged the presidents to hold a new summit and invite social movements of their countries to discuss with them the real solutions to the crisis. On closing, Stedile pointed to the need to democratize communication, to create media as a mechanism to accumulate strength among the peoples. And he called for continued consolidation of regional integration through ALBA.

source: ALAI