African-Latin American Peoples' Dialogue on Regional Alternatives to Capitalist Globalisation and Alternative Regionalisms for Equitable and Sustainable Development

01 September 2004
Article


Portuguese version

Political Context in which the proposal emerges

Efforts towards building an African-Latin American Peoples' Dialogue go back some way before arriving at this practical draft project. In fact, there have for long been many exchanges and mutual recognition between social movements and organisations in the two regions in issue-based networks and between organised social forces. These include trade unions and other labour organisations, womens' and environment movements, grassroots rural movements; campaigns against free trade agreements and for the cancellation of the Third World debt; as well as networks such as Social Watch and many others. There have also been participations in the cycle of United Nations Conferences since the early 1990s, and in the contentious trade negotiations now centred in the WTO. Their salient feature was criticism of, and opposition to, neo-liberal globalization and its ills. But these were not specific dialogues designed for the regional peoples organisations and networks to construct alternatives from the bottom-up and to develop regional models of their own.

In late 1999, events at Seattle opened up a new and challenging context. Social movements and organisations, backed by major social mobilisations, managed to block the WTO Ministerial Conference, thus demonstrating that a nascent citizen movement was on the upsurge planet-wide and was able to intervene decisively in global processes. The wave of activity that spread from there led to the World Social Forum, in Porto Alegre, in January 2001. This was constituted as a framework for the organizations and movements of world civil society where, in their diversity of languages, world-views and cultures, they could construct alternatives to neo-liberal globalisation, in the conviction that "other worlds are possible". As the contradictions of this globalised capitalism have sharpened - accentuated still further by the USA's increasing unilateralism and imperial strategies - and given the virulence of current expressions of fundamentalism and intolerance, it is now clear, in a world situation of growing inequality and poverty, how central the logic of terror and war has become, particularly after the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The new deadlock in trade negotiations at Cancún in September 2003 completes the picture of the crisis brought on by globalisation in the service of the major corporations.

This is a challenging moment for all peoples. It calls on them to put forward their proposals and participate actively so as to play their role as the fundamental constituents and base of all economies and states. The World Social Forum is inspired by that endeavour and is itself a fundamental framework for strengthening citizens' dialogue, dialogue among peoples. The proliferation of regional, sectoral and local forums is the clearest sign of that. Holding the 2004 World Social Forum in Mumbai, India, showed once again the Forum's potential for mobilising and bringing together a vast diversity of social movements and organisations and making qualitative leaps in terms of alternative visions and actions.

One of the stimulants to this present "Alternative Regionalisms" project has been the World Social Forum. Amongst many other proactive alternatives to the current 'single globalised economy', regionalism began to be discussed as an alternative to the homogenizing steamroller effect of the exclusionary capitalist globalisation being imposed everywhere through neoliberal policies and institutions. The WSF processes also strengthened the awareness that, in order to develop alternatives to capitalist globalisation, it is fundamentally important to strengthen South-South dialogue among peoples, in addition to a similar North-South dialogue. Behind these challenges lie the clear realisation that we need to pursue further our analyses, exchanges and alternative proposals, creating public debates and political lobbying and campaigning. At the same time, we are aware of the importance of our identities and cultures, our diversity as peoples and the diversity of the environments we inhabit and how important these are to creating models of development - from the bottom up - that are participatory, equitable, inclusive and sustainable.

Given that the dominant neo-liberal policies and institutions are in crisis, popular social movements and all civil society organizations need to equip themselves with the means to act autonomously and to bring decisive influence to bear on what alternatives will emerge. That is the larger aim of this project : to nourish a movement of ideas and actions on developmental regionalism centred on human rights and social justice, based on peoples' participation and sustainability. For that purpose, the project avails itself of the favourable environment of the World Social Forum, and at the same time is designed to be a way of strengthening it with a view to holding the 2007 World Social Forum here in Africa.

The project's timeliness is made even clearer by the setting up of the India, Brazil and South Africa Trilateral Commission (IBSA), a South-South inter-governmental agreement with great potential to impact on global negotiations and on the construction of alternatives to dominant globalization. The agreement in itself is still driven by an agenda that has trade as its priority, with a view to negotiations on WTO, FTAA, NEPAD, and between MERCOSUR and the European Union, in addition to the innumerable negotiating processes for bilateral free trade agreements. What is lacking is a civil society perspective - a peoples' perspective - for the IBSA to go further and adopt developmental and inclusive regionalism with equity and sustainability as its frame of reference. Another motivation for this present project is thus also the need to inform and mobilise the social actors directly involved in the dialogue to monitor and influence the functioning and direction of IBSA.

Central Challenges and Motivations

It is now increasingly recognised throughout the world that the politically-driven and corporate-serving 'globalisation' now being imposed on all economies is causing an ever-growing concentration of wealth and anti-democratic power within gigantic global corporations. This is accompanied by and causing an ever-greater polarisation of wealth towards privileged minorities, on the one hand, and deepening poverty for the majority of the world's population, on the other. The intensified exploitation and escalating production-and-consumption cycles of 'the global economy' are having disastrous effects not only on the lives of billions of people, but also upon the world's resources, nature and other species, local and global environments, and the very economic and political stability and sustainability of the world as a whole.

What is also becoming more recognised is that the expansion and intensification of the operations of global capital and corporations from their bases in the most highly industrialised, riched and powerful countries is but the latest phase in the historic expansion of these dominant economies and economic forces throughout the world. The earlier phases of capitalist expansion and growth were based upon and took the form of inter-national mercantilist trade wars, inter-continental slave trade, direct colonial occupation and voracious pillage of other countries and peoples, and most recently direct and indirect neo-colonial interventions and continued exploitation.

Today, in the era of so-called 'globalisation'

  • the enforced 'opening up' of all economies, and all economic, social and cultural aspects of all countries for the operations of companies from the enriched industrialised countries of the North; together with
  • the (re)inforced external orientation of 'developing countries' through 'export-led growth' in order to supply the consumer markets and provide migrant labour flows for the service requirements of the highly 'developed' countries; and
  • the political co-optation and ideological reconditioning of the political, entrepreneurial, managerial and technical elites in the developing countries to accept and even promote such processes and the global system;

are, together, amounting to what is increasingly being seen to be the effective and/or attempted (re)colonisation of such countries, above all in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, referred to collectively as The South.

In addition to the diverse responses that peoples organisations are making to this creeping recolonisation, one of the responses and strategic reactions by some governments has been the regroupment of their countries into regional entities to resist the renewed and even more extensive and intensive subjection of their economies and peoples to external domination and exploitation.

This is the international context and these are part of the defensive motivations for the creation of the many regional groupings today between countries in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean. However, there are also more proactive initiatives and internally generated motivations for such regional strategies.

Intra-regional Initiatives

It has long been recognised by civil society organisations and even by many governments in the countries of the South that the regrouping of their countries into larger economic units can be an important basis or framework for effective and sustainable local, national and cross-border regional development programs, and for negotiating more equitable and balanced relations within and between such regional partners and allies.

There have been many inter-governmental regional initiatives of different types and effectiveness amongst countries of the South over the years. Many have faltered and failed owing to their excessive focus on trade rather than holistic development strategies. Others have been undermined by their own internal economic rivalries particularly between their national and regional business interests, intra-regional political, economic and other tensions, and the lack of economic vision or political commitment of their ruling elites; but above all the lack of active engagement of their populations.

But all such emerging regional groupings have also been subject to deliberate political and 'policy' interventions by governments of the North and international institutional agencies controlled by them, particularly the IMF/WB and the WTO. They are determined to pre-empt proposed state-led, demand-driven development strategies that depart from neo-liberal 'market' orthodoxies. Such alternative regionalised development models could potentially challenge and undermine the currently dominant liberalised and globalised capitalist economic system through regional-based programs and alliances of those prejudiced by globalisation that aim for and produce incremental processes of "de-globalisation".

Instead, there has been a concerted drive by powerful international economic and political forces to transform such actual/potential regions into 'open regionalisms' in order to incorporate them into the neo-liberal global economy and open them up to global trade and investment, and unfettered speculative capital flows. In Africa, the interaction of the above national and international processes is now reflected also in the proposed free trade, liberalised investment and other programs within the so-called New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) oriented towards the 'rapid integration' of such an internally liberalised and 'integrated' Africa into the globalised capitalist economy.

Neo-liberal Inter-regional Initiatives

However, the strategic global significance of regional groupings is now becoming increasingly evident with the ever-growing power and assertiveness of the regional groupings or Free Trade Areas created by the richest and most powerful countries in the world, namely the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) driven by the US, and the ever-expanding European Union.

In the simultaneously regionalised-and-globalised world economy being created by such global power blocks in the North, and in an increasingly competitive and hostile global environment, the political and economic regrouping and mutual strengthening of countries of the South has now become a survival imperative. But these countries continue to face many contradictory initiatives that threaten and undermine the developmental potential in their own regions.

Neo-liberal Regional Strategies from the North. The processes within the WTO leading up to and in the Ministerial in Cancún, and US and EU government pronouncements and actions since, have brought powerfully to world public attention

  • the growing recourse of the major powers to offensive unilateral, bilateral, plurilateral and regional strategies in relation to other countries and in order to counter other regional groupings,
  • even as they also formally promote and continue to use the global multilateral system and institutional regime in the interests of their global companies, their own countries and/or their own regional groupings.

These processes, already evident to civil society analysts over recent years, have now added greater emphasis to the importance of analysing, exposing and opposing these big power strategies, particularly their respective regional and inter-regional 'free trade' agreements. These include Washington's proposed FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) and the European Union's proposed Economic Partnerships Agreements (EPAs) with regional groupings of African, Caribbean and Pacific countries within the framework of the Cotonnou Agreement.

Regional Strategies from the South in relation to the North - In part as a response to the added economic and political pressures on their countries and regional groupings by the major powers, many developing country governments are also utilising regional and inter-regional strategies:

  • either turning their attentions towards revitalising and strengthening their existing regional groupings as bases from which to resist the Northern imposed 'regions' - which seems to be the case of Brazil within MERCOSUL and in relation to the US' FTAA, and had been posed earlier in relation to SADC during South Africa's FTA negotiations with the EU;
  • or using their dominance in their own regions, as in the case of South Africa within the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) to actually promote an inter-regional free trade agreement with the US, and which is now underway also between MERCOSUR and the EU.

Which of these approaches strengthens or becomes dominant will depend on the shared information, and experiences, cooperation and proactive interventions by alliances of civil society organisations within and between these regions.

Inter-regional South-South strategies - At the same time, however, these governments are also giving greater emphasis to South-South economic relations, partly with the revived Global System of Trade preferences (GSTP), but also in the form of proposed free(er) trade agreements between themselves: bilaterally, as between South Africa and Brazil, between Brazil and India, South Africa and India and so on, and/or between their respective regions, in this case MERCOSUR and SACU, and/or MERCOSUR and SADC, and others.

Although starting with 'preferential' trade arrangements but intending to become much more open and comprehensive agreements, these South-South alternatives also reflect the business interests of producers/exporters and investors in these respective countries/regions. They do not challenge but reinforce the currently dominant neo-liberal trade and investment paradigm, and could even encourage competitive 'neo-mercantilist' relations between these countries unless countered by alternative people-driven developmental regionalisms.

Equally, such free trade and investment agreements between large and powerful 'South' economies, such as Brazil, India and (relatively-speaking) South Africa, on the one hand, and on the other hand much smaller and vulnerable countries in their respective regions, would also replicate the imbalanced and exploitative relations that characterise North-South relations ... . unless smaller governments adopt proactive positions alerted by civil society cooperation within and between these regions, which together persuade or pressurise such South-South programs to adopt cooperative and mutually developmental approaches.

Peoples' Alternative Regionalisms

Clearly then, these recent initiatives

  • from governments within the North and in relation to countries in the South individually and in regional groupings, and
  • from governments in the South in relation to the North, but also in relation to each others economies and to their respective regions,

both pose significant and urgent challenges to CSOs which are opposed to the expansion and continued international domination by the global neo-liberal capitalist system whether promoted by governments of the North or the South.

All the above developments are adding urgency and greater impetus to the long-standing commitments of many social movement analysts and activists in these countries and regions with regard to their engagements and cooperation around strategies and programs in economic, socio-economic, social, cultural, environmental and other areas of cooperation and development. These many changes and challenges are also

  • reinforcing the importance of political cooperation through cross-border initiatives between civil society organisations, themselves, for direct people-driven processes in all these spheres in their regions;
  • as well as raising more acutely the challenges posed in relation to the official inter-governmental regionalisation processes and the official structures that have been created over the years - but which are being targeted to become further instruments of capitalist globalisation.

The above government-to-government, country-to-country and region-to-region interactions carry significant implications for the lives of the peoples of these countries and regions and demand equivalent people-to-people interactions, sharing of information and experiences, and building of solidarity and cooperative relations between themselves in all sectors and at all levels. Such processes could create popular intra-regional and inter-regional alliances between different sectors of civil society, and between the peoples, countries and regions involved.

In this context, this project proposes to build on popular contacts and organisational relations already existing within and between the MERCOSUL and SADC regions and bring together a range of civil society organisations from both regions in a series of Peoples Dialogues to pose and discuss key strategic questions facing them, their governments, their countries and regions. These challenging questions include:

  1. Taking as reference the political and economic aspects involved, what policies and programs could make these regions effective frameworks for different intra-regional development programs and relations that are balanced in terms of race and gender and equitable, democratic and sustainable?
  2. What are the necessary political and economic policies and programs to develop different inter-regional South-South political and economic relations that are equitable and sustainable and that do not replicate the currently dominant international economic relations?
  3. What are the necessary political and economic strategies to make these regions and inter-regional agreements effective strategic bases from which to challenge and change, or incrementally undermine the currently dominant global system and regime?
  4. How do peoples organisations create the necessary political will and commitment by the governments concerned within their countries and within their regions - or, if necessary create different governments - to actively build and effectively use these regions economically and politically?
  5. How can the respective peoples organisations cooperate to develop the necessary civil society political capacities in all sectors and at all levels to strengthen their own independent role, and in order to get governments that will do what is needed, in 1 to 4 above?
  6. How do popular organisations in these regions develop the economic, environmental, social, cultural, and political peoples alternatives in analyses - and in concrete practice to create the alternatives to be directly implemented on the ground, and/or promoted - or imposed on - governments?
  7. How can such experiences, aims and achievements be shared also with other similar peoples organisations in other countries and regions of Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific?
  8. How can such experiences and urgent needs be shared also with counterpart democratic/peoples organisations in other countries of the North and other regions of the world, to engage them in challenging and changing the global policies of their own governments that are contradictory to the above? And even changing the internal character of their own regions?