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The Latin American Revolution (Part One): Latin American Presidents Address World Social Forum

By Asad Ismi

In a historic first, on January 29, five Latin American Presidents addressed the 2009 World Social Forum (WSF) held in Belem, Brazil: Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Lula da Silva of Brazil, and Fernando Lugo of Paraguay.

The WSF, the gathering of leftist social movements and activists, is held every two years, and the latest one was the most successful so far, attracting an astounding 133,000 participants from 150 countries.

The presidential speeches formalized an unprecedented coalescing of political power and social movements in Latin America, a phenomenon that has created the Latin American Revolution, a decade-long process that has seen 12 left-wing governments elected so far.

I was in Belem for the WSF and recorded four of the presidential speeches, which are translated and summarized below. They portray a continent well on its way to creating an alternative system to “savage capitalism” (as Chavez puts it) and one which has largely broken the hold of U.S. imperialism.

President Hugo Chavez, Venezuela

Greetings to the social movements of Brazil, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the world. Thank you for the invitation to the World Social Forum. I think that the most important political event in the world is none other than the World Social Forum. It is an opportune time for Latin America because of the sea change happening here.

Our continent was the laboratory where neoliberal capitalism applied its recipe more deeply than in any other region in the world and from which our people were swept away in the 1980s, and more deeply in the 1990s. We got a dose of poisonous neoliberal capitalism, but our continent was also an immense laboratory for social movements that no one can stop.

Another world is possible–and not only possible, but also necessary–and this world is being born in Latin America and the Caribbean today.

Today, in this land of Bolivar, Marti, San Martin, Fidel, O’Higgins, Artigas, and Alfaro, we are living in a revolution, a real revolution. I ask the social movements of this continent to take a popular offensive, a revolutionary offensive. Today there are no longer guerilla columns; today there are revolutionary people in a new epoch. Let us deepen and expand the changes we have made so far.

Ten years ago, these changes started to take place with great force. Ten years ago, it was Venezuela’s turn. At that time, the Bolivarian revolution arrived there, pushed forward by a powerful popular movement that 10 years later is still there. For 10 years we have been resisting aggression, terrorism, and sabotage committed against us by the U.S. empire, and here we are on our feet and prepared to resist 100 more years of aggression, if we have to.

Twenty-first century socialism is the only way to save this planet, to save human life. Now our socialism should be a heroic creation, an Indo-American socialism, an American socialism, and a profoundly democratic socialism. The current global economic crisis will be hard for the world. This year 50 million jobs will be lost, according to the United Nations. Hunger will continue to increase and almost one billion people will go hungry because of this crisis of global capitalism. Let us confront this crisis united.

We are Presidents today (Lula, Morales, Correa, Lugo) thanks to the awakening of the people of Latin America. The people have risen like a great Lazarus, so let us hurry with our steps towards unity so as to speed up the changes that have already been carried out, such as the creation of the Bank of the South, Mercosur, the unification of our oil and energy companies, and the social programs we have implemented.

We have walked for long along this path, and now we need to accelerate the march in order to give more clarity and articulation to the great project, the transnational project of Latin America. We need to create “Our America,” and in Venezuela we are always ready to put our hearts, our passion, and our efforts towards furthering the unification of Latin America.

President Evo Morales, Bolivia

Leaders and delegates of the social movements present here at this World Social Forum, I was remembering the many encounters… where we participated to show our resistance to neoliberalism. I want to tell you, sisters and brothers, that I am the product of our common struggle against neoliberalism… these struggles which have been undertaken by the social forces of Bolivia and Latin America. I feel tonight marks the beginning of the permanent encounter between all the anti-neoliberal presidents and the peoples who are fighting against American imperialism.

Sisters and brothers, here at this World Social Forum another world has united–the other world that has not resigned itself to accepting the destruction of our planet. The other world that wants to put an end to the injustice of external debt. The other world that wants peace and an end to imperialist interventions. You are all who make that other world possible… and that is why, for me, there is nothing more important than to govern side by side with the social movements, with the common people, with those who have always struggled.

As presidents, we need to govern for all. We need to serve our peoples so that the social force that is being expressed through this World Social Forum can advance all of humanity, and stop those who have privilege and power from allocating all the wealth in a few hands.

Sisters and brothers, I want to let you all know that this Sunday past, in Bolivia, we have turned the page on neoliberalism and colonialism. Thanks in part to the collective social conscience of our people, we have placed a permanent block in our constitution that will prevent any future privatization of our natural resources and social services.

With this new state constitution, a product of 500 years of struggle, we have accomplished the full recognition of the rights of the indigenous and first peoples of Bolivia. Sixty-two percent of our citizens voted in favour of this constitution. What is most important is that more than 80% of all Bolivians collectively said NO to the “latifundio” in Bolivia (huge estates that are typically holdovers from the colonial era).

This was indeed a great display of the sovereign will of the people of Bolivia.

The world is being shaken by many crises: of finance, energy, climate, food, and institutions. But all of these crises are part of one big crisis experienced [and precipitated] by the capitalist system. If we, the peoples of the world, are not able to bury capitalism, then capitalism will bury our planet. And that is why, sisters and brothers, it is our great responsibility to stand up and defend humanity itself.

This crisis presents us with a great opportunity to build a different world, as long as we are willing to employ an alternative model. If we are not able to create this new alternative to capitalism, then capitalism will continue to destroy our planet.

That is why I have come here to propose to you four campaigns so that they can be taken up at this World Social Forum as part of the work needed in defence of humanity.

The first is a world campaign for peace and justice. This campaign aims to end all those wars that have only brought about death and destruction in Afghanistan, Iraq, and many other parts of the world. This 21st century has to mark the end of all imperialist wars…

The second campaign calls for a new international economic order based on the principles of solidarity, justice, and complementarity between all nations. This economic crisis we are experiencing has been created by neoliberal policies. This campaign proposes a new economic order, also proposes to fight against external and unpayable debt, the privatization of basic social services, and the patenting of life itself.

The third campaign that I propose is a campaign to save our planet Earth. An environmental campaign. The only manner in which we can seek to reduce the harmful gas emissions responsible for negative greenhouse effects is by changing the consumption patterns of those who, to satisfy the demands of the capitalist system, are polluting the environment the most. Our Mother Earth does not have unlimited resources which we can exploit indefinitely.

The fourth campaign I propose is a campaign for dignity, for identity, and for cultural sovereignty. This is probably the most important, since a society that knows its worth is one that is the strongest and best prepared to challange capitalism and save our planet.

Capitalism knows well that bullets and missiles will not suffice in its efforts to subjugate. That is why it seeks to erase our identity, to put an end to our cultural diversity, to convert us into mere consumers.

Sisters and brothers, it is most important that we unite and work with our presidents as we embark on this path towards our liberation from capitalism–a liberation not only of ourselves, but of all humanity, so that we can all become sovereign peoples.

President Rafael Correa, Ecuador

We, the progressive and leftist presidents, are committed to the social movements which are the ones that are providing the leadership throughout all of this Latin America that is indigenous, mestiza [mixed], and of colour. This year, the majority of Latin American nations celebrate the 200th anniversary of our political independence from Spain. But, hopefully, we will also be able to celebrate the beginning of a consolidation process and the irreversible advancement towards our next and most definite independence, as one big nation–a nation of all and everyone.

At this same time, at Davos in Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum, the representatives of capitalism are also meeting. They are meeting to come up with the solutions to this global economic crisis… Those very same people who are to blame for the crisis feel they can impart to us moral teachings with respect to the economy… But what is really in a state of crisis is a system that has resulted in immense wealth for a very few and great misery for a large majority.

It is capitalism that is in a state of crisis. And not for the first time: in the last 200 years, there have been a total of 23 different crises in various countries in Europe… Those who created this destructive financial “bubble” now wish for governments to absorb their losses by bailing them out with the tax revenues paid by working people.

Let us take advantage of this crisis, of this current weakness of capitalism, and use the opportunity to create something new and better–a 21st century socialism, and that big single nation, that beautiful Latin America, strong and sovereign for everyone… In Latin America, this change has already started to happen… In fact, it started 50 years ago in Cuba, in the revolution against the U.S. empire led by Fidel Castro, and it continued as it took the shape of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela.

It was at the start of the 21st century that we witnessed the institution of these new progressive and socialist governments, sovereign and proud. And it is precisely there that we see the start of this new system that runs opposite to that other dominant system which values selfishness, individualism, avarice, and greed… In opposition to these values, we witness the birth of the 21st century socialism which speaks to us of the need to act in community to address common issues. At the social level, this manifests itself in the form of the state, society’s institutional representative.

This 21st century socialism presents us with a new development model. One of the major flaws of traditional socialism was that it did not separate development from capital; it was all part of the same and tied to materialism and consumption. Traditional socialism differed (from capitalism) in that it proposed a faster and less unjust path in order to arrive at the same destination. Twenty-first century socialism is quite different in that it is inspired by… ancestral knowledge–it proposes a development model that is not based on materialism, consumerism, or accumulation; instead it is grounded on ancestral values and principles. And this we have made part of our new constitution in Ecuador. This new development model states that human beings must live in harmony with nature and not against this Pachamama [Mother Earth] of our ancestral peoples.

In Ecuador, just like many other countries in Latin America, with a population that is indigenous, mestiza and afro, we have resisted and struggled against neoliberalism. Together, we decided to break away from that development model which brought us selfishness, misery, death and poverty. We are developing alternative economic, social, and political models based on new values. We are practising a political approach which is focused on the human being and seeks to build an engaged, dignified, and sovereign nation.

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil

First of all, I’d like to congratulate the delegates who came from all over the world to participate in this World Social Forum. I ask you to remember this moment, because today we may complain about our presidents, but the truth is that a short time ago in Latin America those who dared disagree with the presidents, with their dictatorial regimes, were pursued, tortured, and killed in many countries. The democratic rights we have gained have resulted from the deaths of many people who fought against the dictatorial regimes in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and other countries.

The world has changed a lot. Not long ago, it would have been impossible to imagine that a Catholic Bishop and follower of liberation theology could become President of Paraguay by defeating the dynasty of Conservative parties that ruled the country for 60 years. It was impossible to think that a young economist could become President of Ecuador, that an Indian, with an Indian face and way of life, could get to be the President of Bolivia. Here in Brazil, it was impossible to imagine that a metal worker could get to be the President of the Republic. Undeniably, there has been remarkable progress in our Latin America.

In my country, during the difficult 1980s, strikes and protests were officially forbidden and, during the hard years of foreign debt, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and developed countries told us what we should do; they seemed infallible and we seemed incompetent. But the world economic crisis affecting Latin America today was not caused by the socialism of Chávez or by the struggles of Evo Morales, but by the bankrupt policies and lack of financial control of these same developed states outside the continent.

The crisis began because, during the 1980s and ‘90s, the U.S. promoted the myth that the state has no purpose and that the God of the Market would develop countries and bring social justice. Now, the developed countries, after having created the crisis, who is the God to whom they have appealed? Why, it’s the state! The state is putting billions of dollars and euros into trying to save economies. Now they keep their mouths shut because they are broken.

These kinds of things happen because the developed countries’ leaders have no sensitivity. The world cannot elect any more leaders who do not meet with the social movements, who do not govern with the union movement, and do not talk with the natives… You cannot reduce the finances of a nation to just speculation; it’s necessary that the banks work in tandem with the country’s agricultural, industrial, intellectual, and cultural production.

The state should take responsibility for investments. It’s time to invest in the productive sector. Here in Brazil, we will soon start the construction of major housing projects… Petrobras [the national oil company] has discovered a lot of oil, but we do not want to make our country just an exporter of oil; we want to use a part of this wealth to resolve the problem of poverty in Brazil. Petrobras will invest $174 billion until 2013 to create jobs and raise the standard of living. Like I always say, in this country, the poor people will not be paying for the crisis; these people will not see their life get worse because of the irresponsibility of the bankers.


Published in the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor, April 2009

The Morales and Correa speeches were translated by Susy Alvarez; the Chavez speech by Robin Nieto, and Lula’s speech by Aline Santos. A very special thanks to Susy, Robin and Aline.

Asad Ismi is the CCPA Monitor’s international affairs correspondent. He went to the Belem WSF to record interviews for his radio documentary The Latin American Revolution which has been aired on 40 radio stations in the U.S., Canada and Europe reaching about 33 million people. He is also author of the anthology with the same title which can be ordered from the CCPA. This article is the first in a series on the Latin American Revolution.