What can 2017 learn from the past: some lessons from Latin America

Thursday, January 5, 2017 - 12:54

This is one seriously exciting moment for ActionAid as we celebrate the sign off of a new international strategy: Action for Global Justice!  It’s particularly exciting because of the feminist lens the strategy takes in looking at the world around us. It faces up to the complex state that we are in globally, how interconnected problems are and how we need to dig deeper in challenging power in all its guises.

A feminist approach to interpreting the world has given us more clarity on how we can change things, tackling the inequality and poverty so rooted in the dominant economic model and the power dynamics that underlie it.  It is clear we need to rebalance those power dynamics that are keeping millions of people in poverty and making them more vulnerable.  And we won’t do it alone.

At this moment, progressive politics and movements have lost ground across the world. 2016 brought with it a sharp rise of expressions of populist right-wing ideologies across the globe: Brexit, the crisis in Brazil, the election of Trump and the rise of Duterte in the Philippines.   Is there a problem with how that democracy is being done? One thing is for sure: the brilliant sustainable and equitable alternatives that are out there at the roots are not making it to the surface.

In reality, nothing particularly new is being proposed by the new brand of populist leaders; it’s more a rejection of progress made in the last 70 years. Yet they are drowning out the voices of many groups of people that have rejected the populism and experimented themselves with the seeds of a viable new economy and are practicing it in their own communities locally.  This is the case of many communities practicing agroecology in Brazil as an alternative to a ruinous agri-export economic model.  I confess, 2016 made me lose a lot of faith witnessing the arrival of new governments in Brazil, Argentina and beyond in Latin America adopting policies that represent huge regressive attacks on rights. The irony is that they offer no alternative. In times of economic crisis, they continue to regurgitate the same old failed formulas of structural adjustments that increase the national debt and degrade social and economic conditions of the great majority of the population - while corporations are strengthened and power is consolidated far away from people.

I see people frustrated everywhere. But I got hope and inspiration from a brilliant international seminar in December in Rio, organised by Friederich Ebert Foundation and the Instituto Novos Paradigmas that discussed Anti- Neoliberal Political Fronts in Latin America. The event gathered a fascinating group of academics, social movements and politicians to consider new progressive alliances for Brazil and Latin America. I believe that what came out from the reflections of this seminar can easily be used in other parts of the world and can inspire ActionAid too.      

The speakers acknowledged the hints of new progressive movements and initiatives scattered across the globe. However, these initiatives are ad hoc, scattered and concentrated in the middle classes. In this sense, all of the panelists suggested that movements have to reinvent themselves and unite to propose a project that is able to bring people together. A successful example is the Frente Amplio in Uruguay, born in 1971, as a coalition of several political parties and independent citizens that united as one political movement. The Frente Amplio was able to build unity amidst a diversity of groupings. The recognition of this diversity was essential to create consensus through constant dialogue and with a vision of a more equal society. Nowadays, the movement is focused on dismantling neoliberalism through several feminist, environmentalist, small farmer, and anti- ALCA organisations, while simultaneously seeking to defend democracy and national sovereignty. The regional perspective is also key: they would like to expand the unity to the regional level in Latin America, because bigger alliances could be much stronger together when considering the likes of key negotiations with big players like the USA.

By having this common vision, this new regional progressive alliance needs to build bridges to engage with other audiences, including those that think differently. Basically, we need to be able to create new spaces to debate alternatives that connect people and convince others, especially those that don’t feel represented by any of the existing power-holders that have been in power for too long. The role of communications and media is extremely important and needs to be taken into account more strategically to capture the public opinion. Young people are part of this public opinion and the debate of ideas needs to happen in youth spaces too, especially those created by social media.

The consensus in the room was that progressive organisations, social movements and so on need to get out of a comfort zone which is no longer so comfortable. We need to make new alliances with those that agree with the minimums we are asking for to defeat poverty and build a more equal world. The idea is to think about new forms of participation and bring back the human rights agenda.  With this in mind, ActionAid International has already started some very interesting and powerful work, particularly the #fightinequality alliance across multiple countries that will be sponsoring a global week of action, 14th-21st January – just before the Davos World Economic Forum and Trump’s inauguration. Let´s make 2017 the year of mobilising across the globe that is based on past learnings, hard earned alliances and a return to solidarity.

Mais solidariedade por favor!