In Bucaramanga, capital of the Department of Santander in Colombia, whose government is headed by Horacio Serpa, the SI Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean held its most recent meeting on 30-31 May 2011. It was hosted by the Colombian Liberal Party (PLC), whose delegation was headed by party president Rafael Pardo and included Socialist International Vice-President Alfonso Gómez and the liberal mayor of Bucaramanga, Francisco Vargas.
At the inaugural session, more than five hundred people enthusiastically applauded the speeches and tributes paid by Martín Torríjos, Chair of the Committee and Luis Ayala, Secretary General of the SI, to Horacio Serpa, governor of Santander, former Vice-President of the SI and a prominent leader with extensive experience in the social democratic political family.
Over the two working days, more than 60 delegates from 25 member parties and organisations reflected on the two main themes on the agenda, which were firstly ‘Energy, development and integration’, and later ‘Competitiveness and equity’. During the second working day, members of the Committee had the opportunity to hear national reports on the latest developments in countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.
In the debates on the first theme, the central role of energy in the development process of the countries of the region was emphasised. With nuclear power representing less than 15% of global electrical energy consumption, even before renewed reticence seen in recent weeks following the Fukushima disaster, and non-conventional and renewable energies holding an even less significant share of the global power supply, fossil fuels – coal, gas and oil – will continue to represent the majority of the energy mix. This very fact, it was said, should lead to a continued deepening of the reflection of the International on how economic growth and development can be reconciled with the fight against climate change and reducing emissions. Particular attention was drawn to the fact that more than one and a half billion people on the planet live in extreme poverty and that they can only aspire to better living conditions if we have the capacity and the intelligence to search for adequate combinations to ‘power development’.
It was highlighted that the region is an area of the planet which is exceptionally rich in clean and renewable energy, specifically the sun and the importance of encouraging the exchange of successful experiences, prototypes and scientific and technological cooperation at the level of renewable energy, pointing to the great importance that will be played by education and the training of new generations aware of these challenges.
The region as a whole had a surplus of fossil resources, however, the option of renewable technologies should be encouraged by respect for the environment on the one hand and the lack of homogeneity in the availability of fossil resources on the other. It was emphasised that intra-regional energy deficiencies themselves precisely justified the advance towards a plan for regional energy integration.
The representatives of the social democratic parties participating agreed that progressive political forces must continue to be the interpreters of the growing social demands for development coupled with respect for the environment in Latin America and the Caribbean. Some participants advanced the idea of ‘Energy Solidarity’ for the region, a concept to encompass energy costs, the security of provision, energy integration and respect for the environment.
Another of the issues discussed related to energy sovereignty, in particular in light of the processes of integration and of opening up to foreign investment. The question of energy production from food crops was also addressed. Taking into account the ethical debate on the advisability of producing energy from food on a planet where a good proportion of the population still suffers hunger on a daily basis, in economic terms the question was raised as to the link between this type of energy production and food shortages and price increases in years to come.
On the second point of the agenda, ‘Competitivity and equity', the participants listened to introductory statements by the Colombian delegates. These contributions, by way of example, highlighted the positive results of local competitiveness in Bucaramanga, and more broadly in the area of Santander, where a group of measures implemented under the administration of Horacio Serpa designed to secure the improvement of the infrastructure, institutions and education, have had a substantial impact. All these, moreover are priorities upon which progressive policies are based.
The participants agreed that there is no competitiveness if it does not go hand in hand with measures to curb inequality, promote inclusiveness and create better living conditions for the people. A very direct relation was established between competitivity and the progressive concern with providing not just employment, but stable employment with conditions of protection and dignity for the worker. The Committee pointed to the recently approved legislation introduced by the PLC to create employment among the youth, since in Colombia, as in the rest of the world, young people as a group are particularly hard-hit by unemployment.
Another serious problem affecting countries in the region, which has a direct relationship with employment, productivity and competitiveness, is that of migration. The Committee adopted a resolution with particular reference to migration to the US. Participants equally agreed on the holding of an SI regional seminar on current perspectives and opportunities in the world economy for the countries of the region and on issues related to the themes on the agenda of the meeting to be organised in cooperation with the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, ECLAC.
On other matters, the Committee agreed that the issue of reproductive health, the right of women to decide freely in regard to their bodies and policies which do not violate women’s human rights, should be discussed at the next meeting.
Under the agenda item of national situations, the Committee agreed on a resolution regarding the former Netherlands Antilles, expressing its concern over the decisions adopted by the Netherlands imposing the category of Dutch municipalities to the Caribbean islands of Saba, Bonaire and St. Eustatius and limiting the self-government previously agreed for Aruba and more recently agreed for Curaçao and St. Maarten. Another resolution adopted referred to Puerto Rico, supporting the call of the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation for the General Assembly to examine the colonial case of Puerto Rico and on their call for the liberation of the Puerto Rican patriots in jail in the United States. This resolution also supports the PIP’s efforts for a Puerto Rican observer representation in the CELAC (Comunidad de Estados de América Latina y el Caribe).
The Committee agreed to accept the invitation of the Mesa de Unidad for an SI delegation to visit Venezuela to observe the opposition parties’ primary elections of 12 February 2012. In relation to the legislative and presidential elections to take place in Mexico on 1 July 2012, the Committee also agreed on the sending of an SI delegation of observers, at the invitation of the SI member parties in that country.
In the analysis of regional concerns, the issue of drug trafficking and consequent insecurity of the civilian population coupled with the effects of organised crime was highlighted as a matter to be addressed with priority and a special seminar on Security, Drug Trafficking and Transnational Organised Crime, will be held within the next six months.
Finally, a document was adopted summarising the conclusions of the discussions on the two main themes of the meeting in Bucaramanga, incorporating a number of progressive public policies to be promoted, including the defence of gender equality and employment opportunities for young people.
The meeting closed with the agreement that the Committee would convene next in the latter half of the year, in October, in the city of Porto Alegre, Brazil, where the Committee would be hosted by our comrades of the PDT and SI Vice-President Carlos Vieira da Cunha.
Links to some of the press coverage:
Socialist International discussions in Bucaramanga (in Spanish), Vanguardia.com, 30 May 2011
Socialist International meeting ended with social proposals (in Spanish), Caracol Radio, 31 May 2011
Other meetings of the Committee