On Saturday 12 December 2020, the Socialist International held a meeting of its Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean with the participation of members of the SI Presidium, leaders and representatives of the SI member parties from the region. The discussions included reports on national situations, the impact and consequences of Covid-19, the social and economic challenges in the region, as well as the defence and strengthening of democracy and its institutions throughout the continent.
At the beginning of the meeting, the Committee observed a minute of silence in memory of the recently deceased Honorary President of the Socialist International, Horacio Serpa, who had also previously held the responsibility of vice-president of the organisation, and who was leader of the Colombian Liberal Party. The Committee also remembered Tabaré Vásquez, from the Frente Amplio of Uruguay, who had served two terms as president of the Republic and who sadly passed away in Montevideo some days prior.
In his opening remarks, the Chair of the Committee, Miguel Vargas, stressed that the pandemic had brought important challenges to the countries of the region to which the social democratic forces of the continent - in government or in opposition - must respond with solidarity, guided by the principles of democratic socialism. Promoting public investment, stimulating demand, directly supporting vulnerable groups, increasing spending on scientific research and ensuring timely access to vaccines, among other things, are actions that SI parties in the region should pursue. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of new technologies and the internet as a support for development. Its use in education, remote work and new ventures associated with social networks, can be seen as positive experiences. The unity of our political forces across the continent will help to overcome the crisis of the pandemic and promote the health, economic and social recovery of the region.
The SI Secretary General, Luis Ayala, highlighted that at the global level the Socialist International has been committed to addressing matters of priority: the fight against Covid-19, the defence and strengthening of democracy, facing the rise of populism, the achievement of real social justice in the framework of an economy with environmental and social sustainability, the resolution of conflicts and the work in favour of peace, gender equality, and the solidarity that defines this political family. Regarding these concerns, the SI is working in contact with all its member parties in the different continents. In relation to the global pandemic, the International has insisted on the urgency of having vaccines available to all, as well as quality health services. The search for greater social justice and solidarity within our countries and globally must today also be concretely expressed in our response to the challenges of the pandemic.
At the beginning of the debates, the participants received greetings and a message from Pedro Sánchez, President of the Government of Spain, Secretary General of the PSOE and vice-president of the SI, who highlighted the bond that unites the people of Spain with the region and reiterated his commitment to cooperation. The socialist and social democratic responses to the current crisis, he said, must be oriented in favour of the well-being of all, without allowing for populism or austerity solutions. This was a task that today must unite the forces of the Socialist International. (see video)
At the beginning of the Committee’s debates it was highlighted that the current crisis will generate the largest global economic contraction since the Great Depression of 1929. According to figures from multilateral organisations, world GDP will experience a decrease of more than 5% this year. In Latin America and the Caribbean, this figure will be close to -9% according to ECLAC estimates and some countries will have particularly worrying contractions, such as the case of Venezuela, whose output is estimated to contract by 26%. The export sectors and the production of raw materials and food will be severely affected in their production and exchange volumes as well as in their prices. Activities that are especially relevant to some countries in the region, such as tourism, will experience a major blow. This scenario is bringing internal conflicts, increased unemployment and poverty. The responses of the authorities lead to an increase in debt and public spending, which is prompting fiscal deficits to grow in many nations in the region. A social democratic response to the challenge should boost public investment (private investment will also be affected by the uncertainty surrounding the normalisation of health conditions and the restrictions that these entail) and public spending, reactivating employment and household demand. In Latin America and the Caribbean in recent years, governments have been making efforts to reduce national debt and balance fiscal accounts; however, it was stressed that the magnitude of the crisis we are facing forces us to assume the need for smart, efficient and environmentally responsible public spending to promote reactivation in 2021 over the choice of austerity policies. At the same time, it is urgent and essential that countries mobilise resources, bonds and other types of direct aid to the most affected and vulnerable groups; the moment is propitious to strengthen the institutional framework and the benefits of social services in our nations. The region must strengthen integration and cohesion in scientific and educational matters and reinforce action for cooperation for development, both economically and socially.
In addition to a general reflection on the economic situation, the Committee also identified certain economic challenges in view of particular national realities. For example, Paraguay, despite presenting a lower economic contraction than many countries in the region, faces the problem of a strong connection with illicit and criminal activities, and with the collusion – if not participation – of its authorities in them. In Peru, the problem of informality has affected the economy and employment for many years. In the case of Haiti, concern was expressed about the existence of criminal gangs protected by the authorities that ransack property without control in the rural and urban areas of the country, which undermines the economy, the security of its citizens, its institutions and democracy. In Argentina, the severe economic effects of the pandemic have been aggravated by the adoption of particularly restrictive health measures, such as extensive quarantines, which among other factors have left the country with 50% of its population living in poverty.
With regard to democracy in the region, the Committee reiterated the commitment of the SI member parties in Latin America and the Caribbean. The moment makes it necessary to be vigilant in the face of the emergence of authoritarian leaderships and populism that end up undermining democratic coexistence. At the same time, the adoption for political purposes of initiatives disguised as health measures that violate fundamental rights and personal and collective freedoms, was rejected. For restrictive measures to be legitimate, they must be timely, adopted with technical and scientific criteria, well explained to the population, and respectful of the country’s institutions.
Members of the Committee expressed their grave concern at national situations in the region where democracy is threatened. The Committee was interested in the situation in Haiti, where President Jovenel Moïse has not called the planned elections and has been governing and legislating by decree, concentrating public powers. The Committee welcomed the efforts of the Haitian opposition parties against the authoritarian drift of the government and their work for unity with a view to demanding free elections as soon as possible and to preventing President Moïse's attempt to modify the Constitution and remain in power beyond February 2021. Peru has found itself outside of democratic normality since the accession to the presidency of Martín Vizcarra in March 2018. The current president, Francisco Sagasti, came to office following a declaration of vacancy removing his predecessor in the month of November and comes from a party with only nine seats in the Peruvian parliament, which makes it foreseeable that he will experience difficulties in governing the country. The Committee expressed its confidence that the elections on 11 April will be carried out properly, with the participation of all political forces, and will allow Peru to return to democratic normality.
In the Paraguayan case, it was recalled that the Colorado Party has been ruling the country since 1947, with the only exception of the coalition government between 2008 and 2013, which was part of the social democratic political family. Accusations of corruption and criminal acts against Colorado’s leaders are a constant that affects Paraguayan democracy, the case of former President Horacio Cartes being the most recent and well-known. The democratic opposition forces, based on the experience of unity with which they faced the last presidential election, must continue to work with confidence with a view to the 2023 elections to achieve the alternation of power and a democratic change in Paraguay. With regard to Bolivia, the Committee analysed the reasons for the recent presidential triumph of MAS candidate, Luis Arce, and the lessons to bear in mind for the future to strengthen the democratic institutions.
In the Committee's opinion, Brazil should be seen in the region as a particularly serious case of how populist policies can quickly, drastically and directly impact people's lives. With more than 180 thousand deaths so far, Brazil is the second worst hit nation in the world in terms of the number of deaths as a result of Covid-19. This dramatic situation is a consequence of the irresponsible policies of President Bolsonaro in health matters. The explicit denial of scientific evidence and reality has generated an unacceptable loss of life and a serious damage to the country's institutions and its democracy. The Committee welcomed the consolidation, after the last municipal elections, of its member party PDT as the first opposition political force and expressed its confidence that progressive proposals will prevail in Brazil and contribute to its sustainable development and that of the region.
As a hopeful sign for the future of democracy in the region, the Committee welcomed the constituent process that is advancing today in Chile, where after the massive demonstrations of a year ago - with demands for a deepening of democracy, respect for social rights and an end to the abuses - there is a climate of broad consensus to replace the text of the Constitution and the model imposed by it during the dictatorship. Eighty per cent of the Chilean electorate opted for a new Constitution, which will be drawn up in an assembly with gender parity and with representation of indigenous peoples, an experience without international precedent. The Committee expressed its support for the Chilean progressive and democratic forces in their work to imprint a new Social State of Law in the new constitutional text, leaving behind the mark of Pinochet and his neoliberal model.
Once again, Venezuela had a central place in the Committee's discussions on democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Committee expressed its rejection of the legislative elections held last Sunday, 6 December, already denounced as illegitimate by the SI and by the international community, and in which an abstention of close to 70% was observed according to official figures. Every day sees a deepening of the very serious political, economic and social problems that have plagued the country for years. The number of Venezuelans fleeing their country is estimated at between five to six million, creating a humanitarian drama and a massive migratory flow, a reality that is particularly complex for neighbouring Colombia. The seizure of power, the destruction of the productive apparatus and infrastructure, and uncontrolled hyperinflation are just some of the manifestations of the magnitude of the crisis in Venezuela. The Socialist International and the international community as a whole must remain firmly involved in supporting the Venezuelan democratic forces in their demand for free, fair and transparent elections, with independent electoral authorities and international observation. The Citizen Consultation (Consulta Ciudadana) convened by the Venezuelan democratic opposition that coincided with the holding of this Committee meeting should be welcomed and understood as an action in favour of democracy in Venezuela.
For democracy to be strong in Latin America and the Caribbean, it is essential to have solid, legitimate, credible and efficient institutions at the national and regional levels. Countries with robust institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean have been better able to respond to the pandemic and mitigate its consequences. The strength of institutions and the strength of democracy are two realities that go hand in hand. Populist proposals threaten the quality of institutions and end up eroding democratic coexistence.
The Committee listened to Nadia de León Torres (UNE, Guatemala), who read a letter addressed to the delegates by her mother, Sandra Torres, a vice-president of the International, denouncing her judicial persecution for political reasons. Torres appealed to the Committee for the SI to take action on her case to allow her and her party to resume their role in their country. In this regard, the SI Secretary General reminded the Committee that the accusations against the vice-president were presented without grounds or evidence and that one year and three months have passed since charges were filed. This status quo threatens and prevents the regular exercise of Sandra Torres's rights and he proposed that the SI take action to obtain her freedom and identify a group of jurists from within our organization to this end.
During the closing of the meeting, the Committee heard a message from George Papandreou, President of the Socialist International, in which he referred to the many challenges we face today. (see video)