Members and guests of the Socialist International from the Latin American and Caribbean region and beyond convened in Santa Marta, Colombia, on 7-8 May for a meeting of the SI’s Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean, SICLAC, hosted by the Liberal Party of Colombia.
The Committee focused its discussions on three main themes: Overcoming the challenges to peace in the region; Good governance and democratic stability, and Policies for trade which is fair, free and which promotes regional integration.
Rolando Araya, from the National Liberation Party, PLN, of Costa Rica, was elected Chair of the Committee and José Murat of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI, of Mexico and María del Carmen Viñas, of the Socialist Party, PS, of Argentina were elected Vice-Chairs.
"THE ACHIEVEMENTS AND DEFICIENCIES OF DEMOCRACY"
The Socialist International has lent active and effective solidarity to the cause of recovering democracy, and the political parties which are members of the SI Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean, SICLAC, played a central role in the process which culminated in the establishment of democratic governments in Latin America and the Caribbean.
In this context it is right to acknowledge the importance of what has been achieved. Today, the majority of men and women living on this continent elect their governing bodies in free and fair elections and have seen significant advances in respect for human rights.
All that has been gained must not, however, prevent the citizens of these countries from analysing critically the development of various democratic processes — the ability to think critically and to make changes for ourselves is an exclusive characteristic of democracy.
Although it is true that the difference between formal democracy and dictatorship may be the difference between life and violent death, it is also true that formal democracy must be accompanied by the pursuit of equality and by ‘second generation’ social and human rights which focus on human dignity and on the nature of citizenship.
The Socialist International has always upheld these principles, which are extremely relevant to the growing danger that democracy as such may come to be considered "beside the point" and thus may not be sustainable.
The central aim of democracy is to develop various aspects of citizenship, as well as the capacity of the State to resolve power struggles within society. Democracy demands genuine choices and the power to carry these out, in order to avoid the growing tendency for society to distance itself from the democratic system.
Democracy demands that the State has the institutional and organisational capacity to implement the decisions of the majority. This implies substantive power for the State, that is, that within the frontiers of a nation there should be no organisation (formal or otherwise) whose power is equal or superior to that of the State.
The relevance of democracy for citizens depends not only on perfecting the mechanisms of representation. This may be a necessary condition, but there is an equal need to develop new paths to bring us closer to a participatory democracy enabling social organisations to expand their role in the democratic process.
It is true that the military dictatorships of Latin America and the Caribbean have been routed, but we must remain alert to enduring authoritarian attitudes which are sometimes evident in national or local authorities, or in manifestations of power imposed upon or influencing the sovereign will of the people.
It will also be necessary to resolve the sad paradox whereby the majority of nations in the region, in the full flowering of their ‘democratic’ governments, have not only failed to significantly reduce the level of poverty and need, but even allowed the gulf between rich and poor to grow wider, with an ever more unjust distribution of wealth.
It is not necessarily a question of the governments or political parties in each and every nation of Latin America and the Caribbean lacking the will or commitment to change. The problem lies also in the inability of States to implement effective policies to improve social conditions, especially the conditions of those who have least. The problem is the degree of real power at the disposal of democratic governments.
The relationship between democratic reform and economic reform
The sole discourse which has sought to impose itself in Latin America and the Caribbean maintained that economic growth could only be achieved through the application of specific economic formulas, and that the role of governments in the region was to lessen the influence of politics and the State, even in the implementation of their own policies.
The report recently presented by the UNDP shows that, following these economic reforms, despite the enormous advances in electoral democracy and the application of the "suggested" solutions by the majority of governments, the growth in GDP and the reduction in poverty have been minimal, and that, on the contrary, inequality and lack of job security have increased.
The contents of this report are a most interesting illustration of the argument which the members parties of SICLAC have been promoting for many years in their respective countries and in the region, with a view to building freer and more egalitarian democratic societies.
In Latin America today the right of universal suffrage is universally upheld, with no significant restriction. But these structural economic reforms are still being applied. As SICLAC has noted on numerous occasions, it is evident that most of the region adopted the direction set out by the "Washington Consensus". The index of structural reforms shows that these reforms have been applied continuously: on a scale from 0 to 1, a rate of reform of 0.57 is shown for the 1980s, and of 0.80 for the 1990s. This index consists of five sub-categories, containing data on "international trade policy", "taxation policies", "economic policies", "privatisations" and "labour legislation".
Average per capita GDP has not significantly increased in the last 20 years. In 1980, whilst the index of structural reforms was 0.549, per capita GDP stood at
US$ 3,739. Twenty years later, following widespread implementation of reforms, per capita GDP stood at US$ 3,952, an insignificant increase in terms of the sacrifices demanded.
Levels of poverty decreased slightly in relative terms. In 1990, 46 per cent of the population were living in poverty; in 2001 this had gone down to 42.2 per cent. However, in absolute terms, the number of people living below the poverty line had increased. In 1990, there were 190 million poor Latin Americans. In 2001, in a population of 496 million, the number of poor people had increased to 209 million.
The percentage of inequality, as expressed in the relationship between highest and lowest incomes, has not decreased. In 1990, the richest ten percent of the population of Latin America had an income 25.4 times that of the poorest ten per cent. In 1997 this had increased to 26.4 times. In 2002 the region’s richest 20 per cent was receiving 54.24 per cent of total income, and the poorest 20 per cent only 4.71 per cent. This region has the greatest inequality in distribution of income.
Over the last 15 years the labour situation has deteriorated almost everywhere in the region. Unemployment and employment in the informal economy have increased significantly. Furthermore, workers have less social protection (health, pensions and unionisation). This is linked to the worsening distribution of income and increase in poverty, adding up to a picture set to have extremely negative - and to some extent inevitable - consequences in the medium and long term.
SICLAC regards it as very important that its member parties, in their own national and regional context, should help to promote these vital debates on real power and democracy, the content and relevance of politics and its institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean. There must be a break with the restrictions and prejudices established during the advance of neo-liberalism and a new discussion of the State, the economy and globalisation.
A review of the role of the State in strengthening democracy, that is of the real capacity required by the State in order to develop and expand democracy, is vital.
It is not true that there is only one way to organise economic relations in a democratic society. We must look again at the economy, from a democratic viewpoint, emphasising that different economic policies exist and that each of these has its own impact on democratic development. Economic questions must again become part of politics.
Poverty and inequality are a challenge to democracy and politics: they cannot be viewed only as social problems which may one day be solved purely by economic development. Those who are poor in material terms also find it difficult to assert their other rights.
However, the imbalance of power should not lead us to an attitude of resignation with regard to the model of globalisation without solidarity. We must win back the ability to define our own political policies and in this context we need to reaffirm the commitment to regional political integration, since the action of most Latin American nations on their own is not enough to influence, monitor, regulate or benefit from the globalisation process or resist its tendencies.
The AFTA negotiations
We must bear in mind, above all, that the establishment of AFTA is an aim and an instrument of US foreign policy, aimed at the opening of American markets to US exports.
The ostensible aim is to establish a free trade zone with the progressive elimination of barriers to trade and investment. The importance of these negotiations should not be minimised: they will affect, in one way or another, the bulk of foreign trade for all the countries on this continent.
But Washington’s ambition is not limited to covering questions of trade within the AFTA negotiations. It wants AFTA member countries to commit themselves to agreements based on its own interests on matters as diverse as government purchasing, investment, intellectual property, the environment and labour standards. There is no chance of establishing alliances within AFTA which will be capable counterbalancing the immense power of the United States.
We are facing the clear challenge of the establishment in this hemisphere of a system even more hegemonic than the present one. This implies, on the one hand, the existence of a State body capable of imposing on others a structural norm which will determine the rules of financial and commercial play. On the other hand, our business men and women will have to understand that this hegemonic State will bring additional advantage to its own powerful "mega businesses": the ability to obtain for themselves through political pressure benefits additional to those which can be acquired through the market.
Neither should we fail to recognise the capacity of the US government and businesses to influence, from outside our countries, our discussions and decision-making.
The relationship is an unequal one and we shall be subject to strong pressure from the Bush administration itself, whose policies have become a threat to the stability of the whole world.
The most serious problem, however, is that the Congress of the United States has given the Executive a negotiating mandate - in the multilateral WTO environment, in the regional ACLA negotiations and in bilateral talks - which is particularly rigid as regards the defence of its own trade and agriculture.
On the question of trade protectionism, they have instructed their negotiators to preserve the ability of the US to rigorously apply its own trading legislation, including anti-dumping and compensatory rights. In this way they are seeking to ensure that trading agreements do not limit Washington’s capacity to act unilaterally. Paradoxically, this same negotiating mandate, so respectful of their own sovereignty, requires US negotiators to secure significant changes in the domestic legislation of other countries, so that these meet the US norms in areas such as investment and intellectual property.
On agricultural questions, this negotiating mandate requires that in order to secure improved conditions of access to the US market, a country must first comply with a mechanism for consultation with the US Congress, which will reduce still further our ability to secure product concessions in our own interests.
In this context, our countries must not be immobilised in the face of the external challenge, but take proactive measures, fighting to create a regional market, strengthening their own internal cohesion in a context of solidarity and peace where democracy and individual rights may be preserved.
At the same time, we must push forward negotiations with those countries around the world which are truly disposed to improve conditions of access for our products.
Finally, if the result of negotiations does not allow for sufficient counterbalancing measures to justify the costs to us of establishing AFTA, we still have the ultimate recourse: that of refusing this project and looking to greater Latin American integration to open up other opportunities.
An unpredictable world
The questions of the hegemonic pretensions of the Bush administration and the war against Iraq received due consideration at the Congress of the Socialist International in São Paulo; however, we cannot of course omit all consideration of these issues. The present stance of the US may result in all kinds of repercussions and pressures on Latin America and the Caribbean. Furthermore, all the predictions of this Committee have come to pass. Far from seeing an end to terrorism (a term which requires definition), we have seen it grow exponentially and, far from an end being reached to a war begun on the basis of shameful and fallacious arguments, a war has begun in which no territory is disputed, no time span is envisaged and no humanitarian standards are respected. What is more, this war may lead to a grave economic crisis and bring to pass the terrible prophecy of the clash of civilisations. Only multilateralism and respect for International Law offer the possibility of bringing about world peace.
The Socialist International Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean, wishing to express most strongly its solidarity with the Colombian people, will appoint a working group to draft a proposal, within 60 days, addressed to parties and governments in the region in order to contribute on all possible fronts to the peace process in Colombia.
The recently declared intention of President Bush to intensify the blockade on Cuba by imposing restrictions on remittances and travel by Cuban residents of the United States is giving great cause for concern. We fear that these measures could be the prelude to an armed invasion of this Caribbean island and therefore pose a risk to the security of the countries in that region.
In ratifying the Resolution adopted by the XXII Congress of the Socialist International, held in São Paulo last October, we wish to convey to the Cuban government our concerns about the situation with regards to political prisoners and detainees on the Island and request their immediate release.
The Socialist International Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean, meeting in Santa Marta, Colombia, on 7 and 8 May 2004, welcomes the unity of the Uruguayan progressive parties in support of the presidential candidature of Dr. Taberé Vásquez, who also counts on the support of the two SI member parties, the Socialist Party of Uruguay and the New Space party.
We also hope that these progressive Uruguayan forces will succeed in achieving the national government in the next elections in October so that better living conditions for the Uruguayan people can be secured and the country can overcome the deep crisis caused by the neo-liberal policies adopted in the last few decades by the traditional Uruguayan parties in government.
This Committee and the Socialist International will, as they usually do, closely follow the forthcoming electoral campaign, in the hope that it will be carried out with the transparency that has characterised the electoral traditions of this country.
The Socialist International Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean expresses its solidarity with Venezuelan democracy and its support for the principles and values involved in preserving democratic freedoms. The International is committed to maintaining the stability of these democratic institutions and therefore supports the efforts made by the various political players in favour of democratic and constitutional processes involving civic participation, with a view to fostering a climate of inclusion, tolerance and national reconciliation, intended to strengthen democracy in the country.
The Committee puts its trust in the effectiveness of the referendum mechanism provided for in the Constitution, and calls upon the Venezuelan government to provide the resources and guarantees required to find a solution to the political crisis in that country.
To this end the Committee will monitor the process by setting up a working group which, within the legal and constitutional parameters, would lead to a peaceful, democratic and institutional outcome.
The Socialist International Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean wishes to express its deepest gratitude to Dr. Raúl Alfonsín, who for nearly five years was at the forefront of the work of this Committee, for his commitment, his leadership and his enthusiasm, which found expression in all our activities and achievements in this period.
Secretary General of the SI
Socialist Party, PS
María del Carmen Viñas
Radical Civil Union, UCR
Luis Alberto Cáceres
People’s Electoral Movement, MEP
Revolutionary Left Movement, MIR-NEW MAJORITY
Radical Social Democratic Party, PRSD
Miguel León Prado
Socialist Party of Chile, PSCH
Liberal Party of Columbia, PLC
Camilo Sánchez Ortega
Edith Camerano Fuentes
Piedad Córdoba Ruiz
Joaquín José Vives Pérez
Martha Virginia Diago Castro
Ramón Ballesteros Prieto
Juan Fernando Cristo Bustos
Juan Manuel López Cabrales
Juan Pablo Camacho López
Clara Cecilia Mosquera Paz
Alfonso Gómez Méndez
Julio César Turbay Quintero
Boris Zapata Romero
Jorge Pastrán Pastrán
Alpher Rojas Carvajal
Eduardo Verano de la Rosa
National Liberation Party, PLN
Dominican Revolutionary Party, PRD
Hatuey De Camps
Democratic Left Party, PID
People’s National Party, PNP
Party of Democratic Revolution, PRD
Juan José García Ochoa
Angélica de la Peña
Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI
Samuel Aguilar Solís
Sandinista National Liberation Front, FSLN
Revolutionary Febrerista Party, PRF
Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, PSOE
Social Democratic Party of Sweden, SAP
Socialist Party of Uruguay, PSU
Hugo Rodríguez Filippini
Democratic Action, AD
Movement for Socialism, MAS
The Socialist International Women, SIW
Independent Democratic Group, PDI
Jorge Arturo Reina
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