Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Governing Leftist Parties Discuss 'Change of Era'

By Ana Artigas MONTEVIDEO Supporting leftwing parties in government, strengthening democracy, redirecting the state towards its role in redistributing resources and promoting Latin American integration were major points of agreement at the 14th Sao Paulo Forum, which took place in the Uruguayan capital. "We’re not just living through change, but a change of era, reflected in 13 Latin American countries," said Federico Gomensoro of Uruguay’s Frente Amplio (Broad Front), the party that hosted the Forum, which brings together leftwing political forces from Latin America and the Caribbean. Gomensoro was referring to the countries, like Uruguay, currently governed by leftist, centre-left or progressive parties or coalitions. The main challenge faced by these governments is to initiate projects to reverse the situations of injustice created by the neoliberal (free market) policies implemented in the 1980s and 1990s, he said. The final document adopted by the Forum on Sunday emphasises the new situation in the region, especially "globalisation for the benefit of big capital," as well as environmental degradation, the financial crisis, soaring oil prices and speculation leading to food shortages -- all of which require new initiatives from the left, it says. The political parties represented in the Sao Paulo Forum also expressed solidarity with the governments of Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela, which are embattled from within and without, and congratulated former bishop Fernando Lugo, who is soon to take office as president of Paraguay after six decades of rule by the rightwing Colorado Party. "The Latin American and Caribbean Left in the New Era: The Richness of Diversity" was the theme of the conference that brought together 844 delegates from 35 countries, including 74 leftwing groupings in the region as well as observers from Belgium, China, Germany, Iran, Italy, Japan, Libya, Norway, Spain and Vietnam. The Forum was founded in Sao Paulo in 1990, at the invitation of the Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT) and its leader, now Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. At the closing ceremony of the Forum, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said he grieved the death of the founder and leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), "Manuel Marulanda", who died of a heart attack on Mar. 26, which was not confirmed by the leadership of the guerrilla group until Sunday. "I want to express my condolences and my solidarity to the FARC and to Comandante Marulanda’s family. He was an extraordinary fighter who battled for many long years in the longest uninterrupted armed struggle in the history of Latin America and the Caribbean," he said. "The struggle, which has its roots in the inequalities between the people of Colombia, is against the Northern power that also established itself here in the South, in Latin America, and we have fought against its global tyranny of capitalism," he said during his speech. Ortega added that "the empire (the United States) and capitalism are diseases preying on humanity, and we are their victims…Who can judge who are terrorists and who are not? We can: the ‘Yanquis’ are the terrorists." A large section of the Sao Paulo Forum’s final declaration was devoted to the civil war in Colombia, which "is the main risk factor threatening peace and stability in the region," it says. Therefore, a "humanitarian agreement" is necessary for an exchange of hostages held by the FARC for imprisoned guerrillas, which is "fundamental for a solution to the conflict," the document says. The final declaration also condemns the "attempt to privatise the oil industry in Mexico," and the Mar. 1 incursion into Ecuadorean territory when the Colombian military launched an aerial attack on a FARC camp in that country. In addition, the document sets out the need to democratise the media, and calls for social equality and access to technology, a comprehensive approach to fighting drug trafficking, and the promotion of public policies to curb emigration and to defend the free movement of persons worldwide. Although left-leaning parties govern many countries in Latin America, few high-level leaders of those parties were present at the meeting. "Attendance by presidents is an exception; this forum is designed mainly for the parties," Valter Pomar, the PT’s secretary for international relations, told IPS. The plenary session on "The Left in Government" took up much of Sunday’s deliberations. It emphasised that confronting economic power is one of the challenges facing these administrations. "We were elected to government, but we did not win power: the same people still own the companies and the media," said Uruguayan Minister of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries Ernesto Agazzi. Other items discussed were the need to maintain the level of social participation, which tends to fall once leftwing parties reach government, and the importance of redefining the role of the state. "We have to think about how we live within a state that we did not design. We do not have access to all the political power," said Gustavo Ayala, of the Ecuadorean Socialist Party. Osvaldo "Chato" Peredo, of Bolivia’s ruling Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party, highlighted "the indigenous factor" which, he said, shows that "the revolutionary process does not only have to be led by the working class, and that the classical elements of Marxism-Leninism are no longer in play." As for policies towards Latin America, Marco Aurelio García, Lula’s chief adviser on international affairs and vice president of the PT, stressed the enormous opportunities the region has to build real integration, and the need for "complementary" strategies. García acknowledged that the integration process faced unresolved problems, because the region is made up of asymmetric economies. For example, in the Southern Common Market (Mercosur), the disadvantages of the smaller countries, Uruguay and Paraguay, cause difficulties in relations with the larger members, Brazil and Argentina. Industrial and agricultural complementarity are needed to solve this impasse, said García. "The integration process requires institutions, but also a steady vision and concern for renewing the political culture of the left," he said.

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