By Asad Ismi
[Editor’s Note: The first half of this article, which is about Latin American integration, was published in the June Monitor. It dealt with the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the Bank of the South, and PetroAmerica, the petroleum company of the South.]
“This new phase of integration between our nations and our countries is truly essential. If we want to put an end to this unipolar world which we inhabit, we have to unite in South America. Not only as presidents and governments, but we have to come together as peoples. I feel this needs to be the beginning of a more permanent coordination effort that brings together the social movements and the presidents who are fighting for the welfare of our peoples.”
So stated President Evo Morales of Bolivia, speaking at the 2009 World Social Forum in Belem, Brazil. He shared the stage with four other Latin American presidents: Luiz Inácio (Lula)da Silva of Brazil, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, and Fernando Lugo of Paraguay. Each leader spoke of the revolutionary integration of Latin America.
Latin American integration initiatives extend beyond economic, political, and military areas and include even health care. Sonia Fleury is a political scientist and president of the Brazilian Centre for the Study of Health, based in Rio de Janeiro. This centre helped create a free national health care system in Brazil and now plans to set up a revolutionary continent-wide free health care system for all of Latin America.
Fleury explained to me at the Belem World Social Forum:”Now we are in this movement of integration of Latin America with the slogan that Latin America must have the free right to health care for everybody, with the similar model or approach of the Brazilian health care system. We are proposing a conference, an international conference on national health care for everybody. It will be held in December here, with other countries of Latin America.
“We have a Latin American association that is very active in this sense. Here, we have a meeting during two days with people from very different social levels, intellectuals, social movements, everybody together discussing how to push in this direction.”
A highly significant integration achievement is Telesur, which stands for “The New Television Station of the South.” Telesur is a television channel formed by the state television broadcasters of Venezuela, Argentina, Cuba, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua. Its function is to allow the people of these countries to communicate directly with one another, and not through the U.S. network CNN, as they did before.
For the first time, Telesur gives Latin Americans a clear vision of each other, which is crucial for creating an integrated community. Latin American integration cannot succeed if the people learn about each other through imperialist media that are hostile to them and distort their self-image. Such media also only promote capitalist viewpoints.
Lilian Celiberti is from Uruguay and is coordinator of Articulacion Feminista Mercosur, AFM, or Feminist Articulation Mercosur. AFM promotes the role of women in Latin American integration. Based in Montevideo, Uruguay, AFM is a collective of feminist organizations from various countries, including Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Peru, and Bolivia.
I talked to Celiberti at the Belem World Social Forum. She said about Telesur: “People need to feel represented linguistically and socially. The multiplicity of issues we are facing cannot be viewed from one single angle. We need debate among people who think differently and not among equally-minded peers, because that does not stimulate our societies. People want to form their own opinions and I feel this is a very important issue.”
In 2004, Venezuela and Cuba set up the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America, or ALBA, a progressive trade alliance that has grown to include eight countries: Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and the Caribbean countries, Dominica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda. The alliance does not trade goods in U.S. dollars but instead in the Sucre, a virtual currency. ALBA is aimed at advancing social justice and human well-being, not expanding free trade. The Alliance calls for “fair, complementary, and mutually supportive” trade so that member nations can overcome their economic inequalities and eradicate poverty.
Julio Chavez is one of the leaders of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, but is not related to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. As mayor of the city of Carora in Lara province, Julio is well-known for bringing the Bolivarian Revolution to the municipal level by introducing participatory democracy at the grassroots. He now serves as a deputy in the Lara provincial legislature for the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, the ruling party headed by President Chavez. He is also member of the Presidential Commission on Participatory Democracy and Popular Power. [See his interview in the December 2009/January 2010 Monitor].
For Julio Chavez, ALBA and his country’s other promotions of Latin American integration are the means for sharing its social programs with the rest of the continent. Revolutionaries like him do not see the spread of social rights as just a national process, but also as a critical part of regional integration. He spoke about this to students in Toronto, saying: “We want to share our social programs with the rest of Latin America, and we are doing so by advancing the process of regional integration through the creation of progressive trade alliances such as ALBA. ALBA promotes trade that answers the social needs of the people, not the dictates of the capitalist market. We reject free trade pacts.”
Under ALBA, Venezuela’s “Operation Miracle” which provides free eye operations, has been expanded to all of Latin America and the Caribbean and has restored the sights of a million people. After Bolivia joined ALBA, it gained doctors and teachers, and technical assistance for managing its hydrocarbon sector, and a market for its soy beans. In exchange, Bolivia provided natural gas. Rosemary Irusta is an activist on housing issues in Bolivia. I interviewed her at the Belem World Social Forum. She described ALBA as “a form of integration that will enable greater cooperation between our countries. It will help our economies and will allow us to share our needs and resources.”
Ramon Cardona is Secretary of the World Federation of Unions, which includes unions from 84 countries. Cardona was formerly on the secretariat of the CTC, Cuba’s trade union central. Cuba was one of the two founding members of ALBA, along with Venezuela. I spoke to Cardona at the Belem World Social Forum.
“Cuba and the World Labour Foundation, the organization that I represent,” he said, “are both members of ALBA. This is a great alternative for cooperation that we don’t want to impose on anyone. Yet, like UNASUR, it is quite an advanced model towards an integration that goes beyond economic collaboration and trade, but addresses our political and social mechanisms. It is an alternative model that adheres to the principle of solidarity. It is not the market that rules it, but a conviction and willingness on the part of governments and their citizens to truly work together and in solidarity.”
Doris Miranda is an educator from Nicaragua and former vice-mayor of the city of Esteli. According to her: “The integration of these countries is valid on many different levels. For instance, in Central America you have poorer countries than in South America. But when you form alliances with countries whose economies are much stronger, like Venezuela and Brazil, it puts you in a better position when confronting neoliberal politics and globalization. It strengthens everyone, just because we are working together on strategies that will not only benefit our individual countries, but also the entire Latin American region.”
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UNASUR, the Bank of the South, PetroAmerica, Telesur and ALBA signify the triumph of the Latin American Revolution at both the national and continental levels. The Revolution is aimed at eliminating poverty and exploitation all over Latin America, and providing free education, medical care, and basic needs to all its citizens. In moving towards a united, socialist Latin America, its citizens have looked to the example of Simon Bolivar, Che Guevara, and to their indigenous leaders and philosophies. The philosophy of the Revolution is that life is about sharing and community, and that society exists to uplift everyone, not just a privileged few.
That Latin America appears headed towards becoming a socialist community of nations that takes care of its people is a tremendous victory for them over the barbarism imposed on the continent by 500 years of capitalism and imperialism. A hundred million indigenous people were killed by European colonialism in Latin America, and about one million Latin Americans have been murdered by U.S.-imposed military dictatorships since the 1950s. In the 1980s and ‘90s, the U.S. forced neoliberalism on Latin American countries, destroying one economy after another, and creating mass poverty.
The military dictatorships set up or supported by the United States and some European countries in Latin America oppressed and impoverished most of the people in order to enrich international investors and a small domestic elite. Civilian neoliberal governments continued this policy. Now Latin Americans have risen up against this imperialism and exploitation by putting 10 left-wing governments in power to implement what President Chavez calls 21st century socialism.
In doing so, Latin America has shown the progressive way forward for all nations of the South that comprise 80% percent of humankind. For more than five centuries, this majority has been enslaved and slaughtered in the hundreds of millions, and made destitute by the élites of Europe and North America. The Latin American Revolution today is leading the global poor majority towards reclaiming a world that rightfully belongs to them.
As Doris Miranda describes it: “The countries are waking up;they are realizing that those neoliberal policies don’t respond to the needs of the majority. I think the most important thing is their vision which is to liberate the people from extreme poverty, to give them stable economic status, and to do it together, because no one group can do this on its own. And so they need to rise up in a communal way in order to make one battlefront. This is a process that has started, but is not going to end, and I think this is due to the awakened conscience of the people. And now we are going to see a new model whose focus lies in human rights and human development.”
Published in the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor, July-August 2010.
Special thanks to Susy Alvarez, Sara Loureiro, and Dr. Maria Paez Victor for translations of the interviews and speeches cited in this article.
Asad Ismi is international affairs correspondent for the CCPA Monitor. He is author of the anthology The Latin American Revolution (which can be ordered from the CCPA) and the radio documentary of the same title which has been aired on 40 radio stations in the U.S., Canada and Europe reaching about 33 million people.