SAARC: So Little Free Trade, But So What?

Graciela Rodriguez


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Benny Kuruvilla* (1), Focus on the Global South-India

South Asia’s talking shop – the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) – held yet another annual summit from 2 -3 August 2008, with the usual entourage of ministers, bureaucrats, media, think tanks and NGOs descending into Colombo. Over 1200 delegates attended the 15th summit of the eight-member club, considered the world’s largest regional grouping. (2)  The spotlight was expected to be on the food and energy crisis, but bombings in the last week of July in the Indian cities of Bangalore and Ahmedabad ensured that the ‘fight against terrorism’ became the centre piece of the conclave.

The Colombo declaration titled ‘Partnership for the growth of our people’ emphasised, more than anything else, the need for the strongest possible cooperation in fighting terror and trans-national organised crime.(3) There were sections on climate change and a separate statement on food security. This was a positive step as concrete initiatives to deal with the climate crisis, rising food prices, declining agrarian incomes and ensuring food security will be welcome. But there was also a lame section in the declaration on the nearly defunct free trade treaty for the region, the Agreement for a South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA). The absence of any serious commitment from the SAARC political leadership to move ahead on SAFTA met with criticism from business quarters. Expressing disappointment on the lack of concrete steps to invigorate free trade in the region, Tariq Sayeed the President of the SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SAARC CCI) said ‘hunger and terrorism are undoubtedly vital issues for a region like South Asia, but promoting trade and entrepreneurship could be the best answer to deal with such issues’. (4)

This sidelining of regional trade integration is not new. Despite previous attempts beginning from the SAARC Preferential Trading Arrangement (SAPTA) in 1995, economic integration has been a consistent no-show in South Asia. And frankly other than the usual suspects — the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, a few neo-liberal think tanks and some bureaucrats — nobody is really is clamouring for free trade in the region. For sure, trade between SAARC countries is marginal; intra-regional trade accounts for only 5.5 per cent of total trade and there is merit in increasing that  substantially but, as this article argues, a deep integration Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is barking up the wrong tree.

WHAT IS BEHIND SAPTA’S FAILURE?
Despite modest expectations, a flexible structure and three rounds of preference exchange negotiations, SAPTA came a cropper. There are several reasons for this. In the 1990s member countries preferred the route of unilateral domestic reforms for trade concessions rather than through the SAPTA. (5)  In the initial rounds, although India offered, on paper, the largest number of concessions in tariff lines, it tactically left Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) off the agenda. (6) Moreover the Indian tariff cuts were not deep enough and excluded items such as textiles in which countries like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka were competitive. This ensured that the largest market in the region remained effectively closed. In short, there were not enough of the preferential aspects in SAPTA for a preferential trading arrangement to flourish. While some argue that this led to a loss of trade opportunities, the flexible approach in SAPTA did indeed address some of the sensitivities of member countries. (7)  The positive list for instance addressed the fear of a surge of imports from India into other countries in the region that already experienced enormous bilateral trade imbalances with the latter. (8) The political situation in the region didn’t help the trade liberalisation cause either; the 1999 coup d’etat in Pakistan, the assassination of members of the Nepal royal family in 2001, the 2001 election boycott in Bangladesh and the continuing ethnic strife in Sri Lanka ensured the primacy of domestic political priorities.

This slow progress of the SAPTA should have called for a rethink and directed policy makers towards more flexible options to manage trade, especially for the smaller countries in the region, but instead there was a foolish attempt to speed up the process by removing flexibilities and converting the region into a fully-fledged Free Trade Area. Predictably, this set it up for failure yet again. The SAFTA was signed in 2004 and, after arduous negotiations on revenue loss compensation, rules of origin and sensitive lists, it came into force in January 2006. Unsurprisingly, SAFTA still had long negative lists, a limited number of products for tariff concessions, restrictive rules of origin, exclusion of issues such as para-tariffs and NTBs and the exclusion of the services sector. Members gave themselves till 2016 to achieve total liberalisation and agreed that there would be a two tiered system of tariff cuts; a slower pace for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and a faster pace for others.

The large number of items on the sensitive list (those that will not be subject to tariff cuts) is evidence of the recognition of possible negative consequences of tariff reductions on tax revenues and livelihoods. The mid 2006 lists had India with 867, Pakistan 1183, Sri Lanka 1574, Nepal 1355, Bangladesh 1254, Maldives 671 and Bhutan with 259 items which would not face the chopping block. (9) Facing a SAPTA like situation, hectic parleys began to try and prune this long list, but progress continues to be elusive as before. Part of the reason is simple. For instance in the textiles sector the presence of several products (such as readymade garments, woven and knitted garments, special woven fabrics, handlooms, handicrafts, jute and jute goods) in the sensitive list illustrates that India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan are in competition with each other. India, the benign hegemon that promises to undertake ‘asymmetrical responsibilities’, has 302 textiles lines in its sensitive list. As each country would want to protect its domestic sector, duty free quota free trade is not likely to be on when there is competition from the region.

INDIA-SRI LANKA FTA SETS A TREND
India and Sri Lanka were the pioneers in the region to experiment with a free trade agreement. Signed in 2000, the ISFTA did lead to increased trade between them but it also brought in its wake negative impacts in specific regions and sectors. The agricultural sector in one of India’s southern states, Kerala –  which directly competes with Sri Lanka in a number of products — was adversely impacted. The implementation of the FTA saw high volatility in pepper and coconut prices which resulted in farmers in Kerala facing uncertainties in their incomes. For instance, the export of pepper from Sri Lanka to India increased from 2154 tonnes in 2000 to 6167 tonnes in 2003. (10) The price of pepper per quintal declined from the all time record of Indian Rupees (INR) 21502 in 1999-2000 to INR 6980 in 2004-2005. (11) The sharp drop in prices accentuated the ongoing crisis for small producers and the initial years of the FTA saw hundreds of farmers in the pepper belt of Wayanad district in Kerala committing suicide.

Despite this, India has pushed for scaling up the ISFTA into a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) and pre-SAARC media reports did indicate that the CEPA would be signed on the sidelines of the 2008 Colombo summit. But Sri Lanka had to postpone the event indefinitely due to opposition from left parties such as the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) whose member of parliament Wimal Weerawansa argued that a CEPA would deal a crippling blow to the service sectors in Sri Lanka. (12). Weerawansa argued in the Parliament that the provisions of the deal would give Indian investors an upper hand, leaving local enterprises in the doldrums.

SERVICES AND INVESTMENT STALLS NEGOTIATIONS
The 2008 Colombo declaration calls upon SAARC members to commence negotiations for a Framework Agreement on Trade in Services and an Agreement on Investment Promotion and Protection. While India, with a relatively developed services sector, has a vested interest in this move, it is a contentious issue for others. In a February 2007 meeting at the Ministry of Commerce, industry representatives in Bangladesh came out against the liberalisation of the country’s incipient services sector under SAFTA. (13) And as mentioned in the preceding section the India Sri Lanka CEPA is now stuck on the issue of services.

There are of course proponents from civil society as well. South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (SAWTEE), an NGO based in Kathmandu agrees that Pakistani and Indian services companies in information technology, telecommunication, banking and financial services and engineering will gain from a services agreement within SAFTA. They also argue that since the potential for intra regional services trade and investment is high it is also a better option for LDCs, given that weakness in manufacturing in almost all SAARC countries except India. Moreover, since services provision is, at times, inadequate in the LDCs, it is assumed that free trade in services can add to the overall availability and quality of services. (14)

This is a dangerous and flawed argument. Given the experience of developing countries in liberalising services the reluctance of countries such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in opening up their services sector under a legally binding framework is justified. Liberalisation and concomitant de-regulation, especially in basic services, undermines the public sector, resulting in diminishing access of such services to poorer sections of the population. Liberalisation kicks in de facto privatisation in cases where big private sector operators crowd out the public sector (in sectors such as finance, insurance and telecommunications). It is thus prudent that countries be given the time to scale up regulatory frameworks and do comprehensive sector level assessments based on consultations with all affected constituencies such as industry, unions, consumers, local and regional government representatives and different line ministries before they open their services to the private sector, even if they are from neighbouring developing countries.

At the February 2007 SAARC business leader’s conclave in Mumbai investment was identified as a key sector to be integrated into SAFTA for an effective increase in regional trade. At the event Indian Minister of State for Commerce Jairam Ramesh stated that countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan would not be able to have a positive trade balance with India, because of the nature of their economies. The key to resolving this issue was not trade but integration of investment rules in the region through protocols in SAFTA that provide market access and protection to FDI. This, according to Ramesh, would make it possible for other countries in the region to improve their trade balance with India. It is unlikely that policy makers and the business sector in other SAARC countries will fall for this logic that is reflective of Indian business’ mercantilist interests. Applying free trade principles of non-discrimination to FDI would seriously limit the ability of countries to reach national development objectives through proactive industrialisation policies. Policy makers in many developing countries have recognised the importance of the quality of the FDI received and have attempted to improve it through selective policies and by imposing performance requirements on foreign affiliates and by providing incentives for high quality investments. For example, East Asian countries such as South Korea have in the past pushed FDI into high technology and export-oriented sectors using various policy instruments. (15) These include provisions on localisation, contribution to development of modern industries, transfer of technology and export orientation.

The national treatment clause (Article 5) in SAFTA would prohibit member countries from using several of these policy instruments. Regulations such as equity ceilings (regulation on a maximum of FDI allowed in a national company), obligations on technology transfer, universal services provision (legislation that obliges private providers in basic services such as health, education, water to supply services to marginalised sections) and employment of local labour will fall foul of SAFTA rules. Such an investment framework under SAFTA rules will maximise investor rights at the cost of development priorities.

LESSONS FROM WTO NEGOTIATIONS
In the ongoing WTO trade talks, South Asian countries have been reluctant to cut industrial tariffs under the WTO Agreement on Non Agricultural Market Access (NAMA). They have argued that under the formulas proposed in the WTO they would have to implement steep tariff cuts which would severely impact local industries, balance of payments, tariff revenues, policy space and employment, all of which are crucial components of national development and poverty reduction policies. As SAFTA follows a similar logic of progressive tariff cuts, the effects on small industries that are as yet not ready for competition will be similar.

TIME TO THINK BEYOND FREE TRADE
Trade and development policies for a small vulnerable economy such as Nepal will be significantly different from those of countries such as India and Pakistan. For Nepal this would entail product diversification, deepening of local industrial activity and scaling up technology. An economically integrated South Asia will not allow the Nepalese Government to follow policies that allow this. National policy space is both needed and justified to create an enabling environment for local industry and employment. This is not to say that trade cannot happen among the SAARC countries. In fact reports indicate that there is vibrant ‘informal’ trade within the region which shows that complementarities do exist. It is up to policy makers to go beyond lofty empty rhetoric at summits and instead meaningfully engage with traders and agriculture groups to find ways of creating a bottom-up trade co-operation framework for the region. Or they can wait for the next SAARC summit in the Maldives to insert another paragraph on the importance of implementing SAFTA.

* Benny Kuruvilla is a research associate with Focus on the Global South based in Delhi, India. bennyk@focusweb.org

NOTES
1. With inputs from my colleague Afsar Jafri and Susana Barria, a former intern at Focus. Comments can be sent to: bennyk@focusweb.org
2. With a population of 1.5 billion, the SAARC is the largest regional grouping in the world. Member countries include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The second largest regional group is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) with 526 million followed by the European Union (EU) with 500 million. 
3. SAARC (2008). ‘Declaration of the Fifteenth  SAARC summit’
4. Anonymous, ‘SAARC chamber concerned over sidelining of trade issues’ , The News, August 06, 2008
5. Research Information Systems (2003), ‘Regional Trade Liberalisation under SAPTA and India’s Trade Linkages with South Asia’. New Delhi 
6. Non-tariff barriers include government measures such as quantitative restrictions, import licensing and variable levies.
7. The SAPTA was based on a positive list approach and did not have any strict deadline for implementation. A positive list approach allows countries to choose products that will be liberalised as opposed to a negative list in which all products are deemed covered unless specific exceptions are made.  
8. Bhutan is the only country which has a positive trade balance with India largely due to energy imports by the latter.  
9. Government of India. (2006). ‘South Asian Free Trade Area, Annex-I- Sensitive Lists of Member States’. Ministry of External Affairs: New Delhi.  http://www.saarc-sec.org/main.php. Note that where member countries have 2 sensitive lists (for LDC and NLDC) the longer list has been used. 
10. Report on Export of Pepper from Sri Lanka to India under ISFTA –Implications, by Sri Lanka Export Development Board, Page 7, http://www.srilankabusiness.com/eresearch/pdf_files/ISFTA-Implications/pepper%20Internet.pdf
11. Dhar Biswajit and Verma Poornima (not dated), ‘India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement: Regional Implications for India. Working paper. Unpublished. 
12. Anonymous, ‘Sri Lankan MPs clash over CEPA with India’, Economic Times, 6 August 2008. 
13. Anonymous, ‘Bangladesh sets SAFTA strategy tomorrow’, South Asian Media Net, February 11 2007.
14. Raj Bhatt Shiv, ‘Services under SAFTA: how to make it work for South Asia’, SAWTEE, September 9 2006.
15. Nagesh Kumar. (2002). ‘Globalisation and the quality of FDI”, Oxford University Press: New Delhi.

REFERENCES
Gallagher, Kevin P. (2005). Putting Development First: The Importance of Policy Space in the WTO and IFIs. London: Zed Books.
Nath Mukherji Indra. (2004). ‘Towards a Free Trade Area in South Asia: Charting a Feasible course for Trade Liberalization with Reference to India’s Role’. RIS: New Delhi, December
Research Information Systems (2003), ‘Regional Trade Liberalisation under SAPTA and India’s Trade Linkages with South Asia’. New Delhi

How Petrocaribe is providing hope during the devastating food crisis

On August 11 and 12 the Executive Technical Committee of the Council of Agricultural Ministers of Petrocaribe met for the first time in La Habana, Cuba, to discuss progress on the regional energy initiative’s proposed Food Security Treaty. To put the Nicaraguan government’s successful food policy into its regional context, Tortilla con Sal reports on how the powers behind Petrocaribe are providing the region with an alternative to the dismal perspective of continued implementation of the type of food policy prescribed by imperialist powers.

 

Read the full article here.

SADC People's Summit Declaration (Gauteng South Africa, August 2008)

Dot Keet, AIDC Regional Briefs 6/2004

Following a three day conference, in August 2000, of twenty four independent peoples civil society organisations, sectoral networks and coalitions from many sectors and from all the countries of Southern Africa, the following declaration was produced. This expresses the perspectives of peoples organisations from across the region, and calls on other such organisations to endorse these positions on some of the broad economic dimensions of regional cooperation and integration that are being considered by the governments of the Southern African Development Community (SADC); and for other such peoples organisations to join together to add their own proposals and demands in other areas of concern which are all integral to a holistic program of regional development cooperation.

Declaration

“Making Southern African Development Cooperation and Integration a People-centered and People-driven Regional Challenge to Globalisation

As members of community-based development coalitions, trade union and other labour organisations, faith-based social development organisations, campaigning networks for debt cancellation and reparations, alliances against the IMF and World Bank, a women and trade network, development NGOs and popular education, information and capacity building bodies – and as participants in the ‘Southern African Peoples Solidarity Network’ (SAPSN) gathered together in Windhoek on the occasion of the Summit of the SADC Heads of State, 1-7 August 2000, we as

Peoples’ organisations state

  • We are united by our common history of colonisation and mutual support in our struggles for national liberation, as well as our shared experience of the depredations of apartheid and its destabilisation and devastation across the whole region. We are also conscious that we are part of a region enormously rich in human and natural resources which has the potential to become a community of nations enjoying peace and human security, guaranteed human rights and equitable human development. But these aims will only be achieved if peoples organisations give an effective lead to the governments of the region in order that they work together towards this historic goal.
  • We are committed to a vision of a united Southern Africa in which local and community-based development is the fundamental substance of national development programmes. These, in turn, will be strengthened by coordinated and combined programmes of people-based regional development, and the creation of an integrated development community in Southern Africa. Such an integrated region would also be a building block towards broader African peoples cooperation and unity, and could be an effective economic and political base from which to challenge capitalist globalisation.
  • We note, however, that the overwhelming majority of the people of our region are living in conditions of appalling poverty and already suffering the effects of an AIDS epidemic of potentially catastrophic proportions; but that the governments of our countries
    • have for long mainly engaged in rhetorical declarations about national development, and development cooperation and regional integration, with few effective achievements;
    • are mainly concerned with preserving and promoting their own individual and group status, power and privileges, and their personal and aspirant-class appropriation of our nations’ resources; and, for these reasons, are frequently engaged in divisive competition and even dangerous conflicts amongst themselves at the expense of the interests of the people at national and regional levels;
    • are, at the same time, committed to supporting and defending each other whenever the interests and power of the ruling elites come into conflict with the human rights, and the democratic and development aspirations of their own populations; and are using SADC as a self-serving ‘old boys’ club’ for such mutual support;
    • are increasingly responsive and subordinate to external inducements and pressures from governmental agencies in the richest industrialised countries, and their global corporations, banks and other financial organisations, and the ‘multilateral’ institutions dominated and used by them.

    We note also the grossly uneven development within and between the countries of the
    region caused by a long history of deliberate political and economic programs in favour of the needs of South African and international companies, and privileged (mainly white) elites; and that, with the increasing penetration of the region by South African business, the dominant role of the South African economy in the region has not diminished but actually increased since 1994.

Peoples’ organisations demand

  • The Governments of SADC must reject claims that the transformation and development of the regional economy should (and can) be driven by national and regional ‘market forces’ and should be structured to serve and further the business interests of ‘indigenous’ private enterprise and ‘national’ capital in the countries of the region. This applies particularly to South African trading companies, banks and corporations, often operating in conjunction with their international partners, which will reinforce not reduce the inherited inequalities within, and imbalances between our countries.
  • The governments of SADC must desist from their collaboration and collusion with national and international political and economic forces and neo-liberal agencies, particularly the IMF and World Bank, to turn SADC into an ‘open region’ of free trade, free capital movements and investment rights, to the benefit of international traders, transnational corporations and financial speculators. This runs counter to the potential for full and effective, internally-generated and rooted national and regional development.
  • The governments of SADC must provide for the effective participation of organised forces of civil society, and respond to the voices and needs of the people of the region for peace and security, democracy and development; and actively commit all the governments of the region to multilaterally negotiated cooperation and equitable development throughout the region. This must go hand in hand with independent popular initiatives for the empowerment of people in their own organisations and communities and at all levels of the regional community.
  • The governments of SADC must insist upon the illegitimacy of our purported national ‘debts’ and the continuous outflow of our hard-earned national financial resources into the coffers of the governments of the richest industrialised countries, private banks and the IMF and World Bank. Our governments must actively prepare, together with other ‘debtor’ countries like ours – and with the support of international peoples movements against debt – for collective and concerted repudiation of those debts if they are not promptly and definitively canceled. This must be carried further with demands for reparations for the long-standing economic, social and ecological damages imposed by such agencies upon our countries.
  • The governments of SADC must unite and act together with other countries in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific, and with democratic forces everywhere, to challenge and replace the currently dominant neo-liberal ideology and globalising capitalist system. This process must be started immediately by dealing with the dominant instruments of globalisation , particularly the IMF, World Bank and the WTO, whose policies and programmes are so manifestly detrimental to our economies, environments, societies, cultures and people.

Peoples’ organisations propose

On trade

Our governments must drop their uncritical embrace of the arguments for ‘free trade’ within our region which are reflected in the SADC trade agreement; and, instead,

  • create a negotiated variable and graduated preferential trade area within and through which to create clear and effective production development and diversification strategies for communities, national economies and the region as a whole;
  • replace the liberalisation, privatisation and deregulation policies in national and regional programmes and create trade and development cooperation agreements for Southern Africa which address region-specific issues and are not predetermined or constricted by ‘compliance’ with WTO terms and trade-related conditionalities, or any similar terms in ‘post-Lome’ agreements;
  • convince the South African government to revise its free trade agreement with the European Union where it is in conflict with the declared priority goals of cooperation and development in the SADC region, including South Africa.

On investment

Our governments have to abandon the futile illusion that foreign investors will respond to ‘positive macro-economic signals’ and an ‘open region’; and that such reliance on private capital will create development; and, instead

  • recognise that capital is a social relation not a neutral and disinterested financial instrument and, as the embodiment of social/class interests, any growth that such capital produces is distorted and incidental to its main aim of self-expansion (or profit);
  • build on the widespread experiences in the countries of the region, and elsewhere, that the free or ‘liberalised’ movement of capital is not conducive to financial stability and sound economic development, and requires strategic regulation;
  • base national and regional investment and production policies on the strategic direction of private national and international capital projects – where and in so far as they are required – for specific selected purposes, and clearly defined periods; but
  • prioritise the strategic mobilisation of inwardly-oriented and more varied and committed internal investment resources including public (governmental), parastatal, cooperative and community resources.

On labour

All the governments of the region have to recognise the vital role that labour plays in all economic projects/enterprises and national economic development, and recognise that governments have to adopt effective social and economic development policies that

  • bring to an end the forced migration of millions of workers in search of employment and survival resources for their families, for this is deeply disruptive of families and undermines community cohesion and stability;
  • tackle effectively and with urgency the dramatic growth of unemployment throughout the region, that contributes further towards the flows of economic refugees across borders and between rural and urban areas within all the countries of the region;
  • develop holistic and integrated urban and rural programmes to enable people to create their own incomes or obtain employment incomes, economic security and social and cultural fulfillment within their own communities;
  • incorporate in such social and development programmes, inter-governmental agreements to deal with the brain drain of precious skills from the poorer to the more developed and well-endowed countries of the region;
  • create economic, political and social conditions that will allow for the free movement of people throughout the region.

Peoples’ organisations declare

  • We are committed to deepen and extend our experiences of cooperation and solidarity, our strong sense of mutual recognition as the people of this region of Africa, to build on our joint needs and shared aspirations for the common benefit of our people; and at the same time work to counter any negative or conflictual attitudes towards each other amongst some sectors of our populations.
  • We are also committed to deepen and extend our strategies for cooperation and joint action with other regional peoples cooperation initiatives in the rest of Africa, as well as Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean towards a people-driven challenge to the currently dominant processes and institutions of economic globalisation; that are anti-democratic in their functioning and effects, destabilising of weaker economies and communities throughout the world, creating ever-increasing polarisation, with inequitable and divisive effects amongst peoples, and destructive impacts upon the world’s resources and the global environment.
  • Whether or not our governments accept and act on the above vitally important demands, we as members of peoples organisations from the whole of Southern Africa will continue to pursue these aims and deepen our work in and with existing and emerging mass movements to challenge and change our governments’ policies and strategies; and – if that fails – to change our governments.

Gauteng – South Africa

More than four hundred representatives of Social Movements, stuff labor organizations, economic justice networks, faith and community based and youth organizations, developmental, health environmental, human Rights and other NGOs that work closely with them gathered in Gauteng South Africa to discuss our common concerns and present our Demands and alternatives to the governments of SADC meeting here at this time.

This is the fourth annual SAPSN Summit and it takes place in a period of deepening political tensions within SADC and deteriorating social and economic situations for the majority of our peoples. In this context our discussions focused on our concerns, proposals and demands on the following:

1. Democracy and human rights abuses disrupting and destabilizing our region, with particular emphasis on the gross denial of democratic and human rights in Zimbabwe and Swaziland but also (to other degrees) throughout SADC, especially DRC and Angola. In this context we repeat our demand on all SADC governments to ensure the implementation of full democratic principles and all human rights (including women’s, labor, all NGOs to carry out their work with their people). We demand that SADC governments rapidly ensure that:

– All the people of Zimbabwe themselves are enabled to create the means and find the solutions to the crisis in their country, and SADC must terminate Mbeki’s role as mediator since he is about to become the SADC Chair;

– Apply targeted sanctions on the Swazi royal family, and do not confirm Swaziland’s Chairship of the SADC Organ on Peace and Security until a full democratic regime is established in that country by the people of Swaziland.

2. Poverty and Unemployment continues to devastate our people caused by the neo-liberal market- driven policies of SADC governments and their tolerance and promotion of self-serving corrupt practices in their own ranks. Of the many counter actions that must be undertaken, we demand that SADC:
-Must create regional economic development and diversification strategies to combat poverty and prioritize the creation of decent employment and the right to work.
– Must develop such policies with the active and full participation of the unemployed youth, women, small traders, fisher people and so on.

3. Food Insecurity and Hunger is the other compelling evidence of the growth of poverty in large sectors of our populations and the undermining of secure rural livelihoods. Of the many measure required, we demand that SADC governments:
– Must develop a regional agricultural strategy to secure equitable access to necessary agricultural resources for rural populations especially for women, as they are the main producers.
– Must deal with the skewed patterns of land ownership especially against women, and including extensive privatization of land and foreign appropriation.
must create, in consultation with rural producers, full governmental support for sustainable and organic (not GMOs) food production for family food security and regional food sovereignty.

4. Health crisis and social insecurity are central aspects of the poverty and increasing suffering of large numbers of our people especially the disproportionate numbers of women affected by HIV and AIDS personally and as nurturers of their families and the growing numbers of orphans. This requires free ARVs and special grant and food support. But we also demand that SADC governments
– Must create a regional strategy for universal access to free quality health care as a right for all, especially for the most vulnerable sectors of our people such as those who are differently abled;
– Must stop the practice of government leaders using public funds for health treatment overseas;
– Must ensure the training/retraining of health personnel and their just working conditions and remuneration.

5. Privatization of services, above all health, water and other social services removes these from the people, especially for women and children, and undermines the services provisions that are necessary for national and regional development (such as in public transport and affordable, secure public housing).

In this context, we commit ourselves to further mass campaigns to reverse this privatization, corporatization and commercialization (cost-recovery) policies, and we will pressure SADC governments to create national and regional programmes to ensure free accessible and accountable public services including public housing and free education for all, that are essential for our people’s well-being and human-based development;

6. Debt burdens and aid dependency continue to contradict the obligations of our governments and their responsiveness to our needs, because they are under the control of creditor banks and financial institutions, above all the IMF and World Bank, and donor governments. These constrain or dictate what policies governments can or should follow. Thus we demand that SADC governments:
– Create a combined regional response, in collaboration with civil society, to audit the sources, nature (especially illegitimate and odious debts), scale and their effects on our people especially the most vulnerable sectors such as women;
– reject externally imposed IMF/WB SAP-type conditionalities for ‘‘debt relief’’ or aid; and instead base their criteria on full consultations with their own people;
– put an end to the continual outflow of financial resources through debt payments, and instead demand reparations for these debt payments and the colonial and neo-colonial plunder of African people and resources.

7. Trade deficits and capital outflows are the other forms of financial drainage from our countries. These are created and reinforced by the trade and financial liberalization policies of SADC governments. These counter-developmental policies will be reinforced if SADC governments continue down the road of negotiating so-called Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the European Union. Thus we demand that SADC governments:
– must reunite as a region and, together, firmly resist the EU’s recolonising EPAs; instead of maneuvering separately to get EU trade and “aid support” which is splitting SADC apart;
– must recognize that the free trade area they are creating within SADC will further serve to create an open integrated market for EU exporters, investors and service corporations under policies of eternal trade and investment liberalization;
– must recognize that such a SADC free trade area will also serve the expansionist aims and interests of South African companies, not the equitable and more balanced trade development that enables cross-border trade, especially by small women traders;
– must stop the vast financial outflows from our countries and region through international financial speculation (gambling), “legal” investors transfers , and huge transfers overseas of public money through embezzlement by government leaders.

8. Climate Change Dangers and Energy Crises are partly the result of global factors and forces but also result from the policies of our governments colluding with colonial and neo-colonial forces and allowing uncontrolled exploitation of our mineral and other resources. Industrialized countries are responsible for the historical and current global climate change crisis, therefore we demand that SADC governments
– ensure that those responsible assume the proportionate burden, on the “polluter pays principle”, and provide our countries with all the necessary resources towards a low carbon society;
– institutes strong regulations to reduce carbon emissions and pursue sustainable production and consumption patterns, including a regional strategy to ensure universal access to clean and renewable energy, which is a social justice issue;
– Impose environmental responsibility on industries operating our region, and end to dumping of damaging toxic waste affecting our people and workers;
– stop the diversion of land and agricultural production to produce agro-fuels to feed the auto industries and rich countries to the detriment of food production;
– must develop a joint regional energy strategy to ensure effective access to clean and renewable energy resources for us as this is a social justice issue which must not be based on market principles as they are anti-people approaches, and it is uncontrolled transitional corporations that have been the prime cause of global warming with accompanying ecological crisis that will disproportionately affect the poor especially in Africa.

OUR PEOPLES’ RESPONSES AND SOLIDARITY

All these adverse factors are being confronted by most of our people with creativity and courage. But some marginalized and desperate people resort to desperate measures. This is what fundamentally drove the recent escalation of verbal abuse and violent attacks by some elements of the South African population against their fellow Africans from the region and elsewhere on the continent.

We call for carefully planned and just reintegration of internally displaced people resulting from the above deeply deplorable events.

It is also in this context that we participants from all the countries in the SADC region welcome the opportunity to share experiences on our common concerns and deepen our mutual support. Thus we stress that this is a Peoples’ Solidarity Summit and we commit ourselves to make this a real active expression of Solidarity towards each other and a means to ensure that the governments of SADC respond and fulfill the key demands we have outlined here, advance the developmental integration of our region and of the whole African continent.

An Introduction to Regional Financial Institutions in Latin America


For many years now particular attention has been paid to the large International Financial Institutions (IFIs), medications such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Their repercussions in Latin America as in other regions are notorious, ranging from financing various infrastructure projects with serious social and environmental impacts, to support for private investment; from reforms in social policies (such as health and education) to the conditionalities that these IFIs imposed on national development strategies.

In Latin America, attention has focused on three IFIs: the World Bank (WB), the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Today the credibility and legitimacy of these institutions has been deeply eroded. Their programs have become the target of many critics and citizen action campaigns, leading to an overall consensus regarding their serious limitations and the problems triggered by their actions. Moreover, many of these organisms have been the victims of their own mismanagement (particularly the IMF’s mishandling of financial crises and the World Bank’s internal corruption scandals).

Meanwhile in Latin America, a substantial political shift has taken place with the appearance of progressive governments in several countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Venezuela in particular). In some cases, these new governments have criticized certain IFIs, are restructuring their relations with them, and have begun to search for alternative financing of their own.

For these reasons, little by little, other regional financial organisms have been exploring the niche vacated by the IFIs in the region. Their focus is Latin America and their roles are similar to those of the IFIs. Many of them are less well known than the IFIs and their activities not always so evident, but they manage enormous funds and they are highly influential. Most of these new institutions are Latin American, and their management is in the hands of Latin American governments. Also notable are two national banks that play a key role as regional financing agencies on a continental level.

This article describes this group of Regional Financial Institutions (RFIs), identifies its members, and analyzes their main characteristics.


The Regional Financial Institutions

The RFIs have specific features that distinguish them from conventional IFIs. First of all, they are “regional,” in the sense that they focus on and are designed to be active in Latin America, or in sub-regions within the continent. Secondly, their officials and decision-making processes are in the hands of governments in the region. Thirdly, their primary focus is on conventional finance, funding infrastructure and energy projects, private enterprise growth, or technical cooperation.

The Latin American RFI field is made up of at least the eight institutions listed below, many better known by their Spanish initials (in parentheses): The Andean Development Corporation (CAF), the Financial Fund for the Development of the River Plate Basin (Fonplata), the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI, BCIE in Spanish), the Latin American Export Bank (BLADEX), the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), the Latin American Reserve Fund (FLAR), the National Bank for Social and Economic Development (BNDES), of Brazil, and the Bank for Economic and Social Development (BANDES), of Venezuela. The Bank of the South (Banco del Sur) is currently in negotiations, and will become part of this group when it begins to operate. Lastly, strictly speaking the IADB also has many attributes of an RFI.

The following sections briefly elaborate on some of the key features of these institutions.


The Larger Regional Institutions

As it currently stands, two institutions operate on a continental level: the Latin American Export Bank (BLADEX), and the Latin American Reserve Fund (FLAR). The Andean Development Corporation is also expanding its operations into new regions.

The Latin American Export Bank provides continent-wide coverage. It was established by an initiative of the Panamanian government in 1978 and approved by the presidents of the central banks in each country, although it now operates more along the lines of a private bank. BLADEX specializes in export loans, financing foreign trade, and as a middleman for IADB funds. Its ownership is distributed between the central banks and governmental agencies of 23 countries in the region, some international banks, and even investment funds, which categorizes it as a mixed organization. With its headquarters in Panama City and a very diversified client base (about half of which are companies), in its operations it disbursed $8 billion in 2007.

The Latin American Reserve Fund was created in 1991 as a vehicle to extend membership in the Andean Reserve Fund to other countries. Member countries include Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela, and it has its operational base in Bogotá (Colombia). Its objectives are to support the balance of payments of member states, authorizing credits or guaranteeing third-party loans; contribute to the harmonization of exchange rates, monetary and financial policies; and improve conditions for the investment of international reserves.

The Andean Development Corporation was formed in 1966, but began operations in 1970 to promote financial services and encourage development, with clients from both the public and private sectors. The CAF offers loans, guarantees, and endorsement, as well as other financial services. It plays a key role in receiving and directing capital flows coming from large developed-country banks.

The CAF initially focused on the Andean countries, becoming the main source of financing for several nations, overtaking both the IADB and the World Bank. Between 2002 and 2006, it provided $12 billion to Andean countries (48% of all funds approved in that region by multilateral agencies). Since then it has extended its shareholders and membership is currently made up of 17 Latin American countries, Spain, and 15 private banks in the Andean region. Its head office is in Caracas, with offices in several other countries.

CAF currently funds projects in various parts of the continent, ranging from infrastructure, such as water and sewage, to border security, and expansion of the use of alternative energies. The corporation has become one of the main finance agencies for the South American Regional Infrastructure Initiative (IIRSA). The IIRSA includes an ambitious list of transport connections designed to promote the insertion of the region into global export markets. CAF’s loan portfolio has expanded from $6,172 million in 2003 to $9,622 million in 2007. The principle beneficiary countries were Ecuador (22.3%), Peru (18.8%), Colombia (17%), and Venezuela (15.3%). The nature of the loans also varies, now including sectoral loans for contingencies (for example, a recent $400 million loan to manage the Uruguayan public debt).

The IADB can also be considered an RFI. Its area of operation is Latin America and the Caribbean, where it finances diverse government agencies but also provides funding to the private sector. One key difference is that the IADB is not held solely in Latin American hands; of the 47 members, only 26 are from the region. Indeed, member countries include many industrialized nations such as the United States, Canada, several European countries, and Japan, and they all play a key role in IADB decision-making.

The establishment of the Bank of the South (Banco del Sur) has progressed significantly. This proposal, which enjoys widespread support, particularly from the Venezuelan government, has experienced various advances and setbacks. In December 2007, Latin American presidents met in Buenos Aires (Argentina) and signed an agreement to create the Bank. Since then the discussion has revolved around the structure and financing of the bank, including capital participation by each member, voting mechanisms, and operations.


Subregional Funds and Banks

A number of RFIs focus on specific sub-regions within Latin America. They consist of two banks and a fund.

The Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE) was founded in 1960 by five Central American countries. Its objectives were to support development projects and to offer technical cooperation and financial resources. The bank modified its founding agreement in 1992 to incorporate countries outside that region; current members include Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and Panama. Recently Mexico, Taiwan, Argentina, Colombia, and Spain joined as extra-regional members. The main office is in the city of Tegucigalpa, Honduras. In 2006, the bank disbursed $1.647 billion, along three strategic operational lines: integration, globalization, and poverty. The main beneficiaries are Guatemala (36% of total dispersals) and El Salvador (24%).

The Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) operates in the Caribbean, supporting projects for social and economic development. Founded in 1969, it began its operations in 1970. The main office is located in Barbados, and has 26 members (18 of them Caribbean, along with Germany, Canada, China, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and Venezuela). The bank finances infrastructure investment, supports local development, and programs of regional economic integration. In 2006, the CDB granted a total of $131.8 million. The main CDB beneficiary country is Jamaica, which received 21% of the total.

Fonplata, the Financial Fund for the Development of the River Plate Basin, is made up of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Primary objectives include providing financial support for pre-investment studies and technical assistance, and it can also provide loans, guarantees, and endorsements. Generally, the fund supports pre-investment studies for large projects, although it also finances some works. Its base of operations is in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. At present, it has 14 projects ranging from business restructuring to paving highways, for a total of $303 million dollars. In addition, Fonplata maintains the Intergovernmental Committee for the Parana-Paraguay Waterway, an old infrastructure megaproject now part of IIRSA.


National Banks with Regional Coverage

Finally, among the RFIs, two banks merit mention because although they are national, their activities in different countries result in regional coverage. The Brazilian Development Bank is a public company of the federal government, under the Ministry of Development, Industry, and Foreign Trade. The development bank was created in 1952 and has its main office in Rio de Janeiro, with offices in other Brazilian cities, and recently announced it will open its first international office in Montevideo, Uruguay—seat of the MERCOSUR secretariat.

The BNDES resource portfolio is enormous; in 2006 it disbursed approximately $24 billion (with net earnings of $2.5 billion). Most of those funds are for projects within Brazil, like financing production, consumption, and export, and support for businesses. However, the bank has acquired regional relevance for several reasons: it finances the infrastructure projects under IIRSA currently underway in Brazil; it has various programs to support the enterprises of Brazilian companies in other countries of the region; and the funds available for loans is very large. The BNDES has signed agreements with CAF and Fonplata. Its Brazilian operations include financing key sectors like infrastructure and energy, incorporating projects such as rail corridors, gas pipelines, and dams on the Madeira and Xingu Rivers.

On an international level, the BNDES promotes the “internationalization” of Brazilian companies. To this end, the bank approves loans, creates investment funds, and even participates in acquisitions and mergers. The bank finances Brazilian construction companies that operate in various Andean countries, or provides loans for Brazilian companies to acquire local companies (as seen in the case of the acquisition of Argentine and Uruguayan agriculture/food companies by Brazilian capital). The BNDES 2006 report lists, for example, financing for several gas pipelines in Argentina for $690 million, two hydroelectric dams, an aqueduct in the Dominican Republic, and the Maddén- Colon highway in Panama that runs parallel to the Panama Canal. In addition, the bank served as comptroller and financier of acquisitions for the Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (CVRD), which has helped make this privatized iron firm one of the largest mining companies in the world.

Another example is JBS-Friboi that bought the Swift meatpacking company, headquartered in the United States, for $1.4 billion, making it the largest beef-processing company on the planet. JBS-Friboi obtained the funds for the acquisition by emitting shares, most of which were bought by BNDES Participações—a subsidiary of the bank that acts as an investment fund.

The Venezuelan Development Bank (BANDES) is under the Finance Ministry. It is a financial agent of the government used to support projects of economic decentralization and to stimulate private investment. Created in 2001, the bank was designated as a financial agent of Venezuela’s foreign policy. As such, it supports diverse programs and investments related to international cooperation, especially in the realm of energy. The Venezuelan Development Bank follows a strategy slightly different from the Brazilian bank. Although it requires that at least 50% of an enterprise be Venezuelan, it places more emphasis on complementary agreements. Also, its strategy differs between countries according to their position on the human development index.

The Role of Regional Financial Institutions

The above-mentioned RFIs have received little attention and have only recently become recognized. Whereas in the past economic support was provided mostly by the IADB, the World Bank, and the IMF, today the RFIs have joined these institutions and play an ever-increasing role.

The structures, mandates, and operations differ between RFIs; some are government institutions and others are mixed—with the participation of private funds. Many offer financial services, incorporating services of investment analysis, cost/benefit studies, funding in the form of loans, and back-up guarantees for funds originating elsewhere. They have acquired enormous importance in capital flows in Latin America’s incipient financial architecture. Nevertheless, in nearly all cases these institutions are part of, or operate in a similar manner to conventional IFIs.

Comparing assets, the BNDES eclipses all other institutions, with $14.07 billion in 2007. This places it just slightly behind the IADB, whose assets amounted to $20.353 billion in 2007. The BNDES is followed by CAF at $4.12 billion. Figures for the regional banks in 2007 are: BCIE $1.63 billion, BLADEX $612 million, and the CDB $506 million. BANDES assets top the rest at $4.56 billion. Finally, the reported assets of the FLAR are $1.797 billion (2007) and Fonplata $415 million (2006). The assets of all these RFIs amount to more than $27 billion.

The significant financial resources of the RFIs are essentially managed by their own Latin American governments, a significantly different state of affairs from that of the IFIs. In the case of the IFIs, the power to make decisions is sharply asymmetric, slanted toward industrialized nations, with roles for the United States and the European Union that shut out other nations. However, in the RFIs, responsibility for the decisions made—whether good or bad—lies squarely on the shoulders of the Latin American governments. It is obvious why Latin governments, especially the progressive ones, are trying to strengthen some of these RFIs, even creating the Bank of the South, to finance their own projects without relying on the global IFIs.

Almost all RFIs place priority on supporting infrastructure projects, such as roads, bridges, and energy infrastructure. This too is a policy promoted by new progressive governments. In South America, many of these projects are part of the Regional Infrastructure Initiative-IIRSA, and as such the RFIs have become one of IIRSA’s main supports. Many of these projects have profound effects on land-use, which in turn produce social and environmental impacts.

Despite the importance of the activities of RFIs, the potential impact of the projects they finance, and the fact that they are mainly in the hands of Latin American governments, the RFIs lack transparency. Access to information is difficult; in many cases there are no clear mechanisms for obtaining information on internal procedures, project progress reports, or the criteria used to evaluate them. In several cases, there are more obstacles in gaining access to information and more doubts about social and environmental guidelines within the RFIs than when dealing with the conventional international financial institutions.

It should be noted that several RFIs incorporate both social and environmental commitments. For example, the CAF affirms that it integrates social and environmental variables, and includes criteria for ecological efficiency and sustainability in its operations. The CBD subscribes to the Millennium Development Goals and the BCIE has adopted combating poverty as a strategic goal. The BNDES has, for example, a code of ethics, environmental evaluations, and mechanisms for providing information about its operations. However, these statements are not always expressed in specific and detailed operative directives in each institution. Several projects financed by the CAF and the BNDES reveal clear tensions and contradictions on social and environmental issues. In other situations, as found in the BANDES, the procedures are unclear, information available on the internet is insufficient, and institutional objectives did not adequately take into account the stated goals.

There are major gaps in defining operational guidelines and evaluation procedures for key issues such as indigenous groups, the environment, free access to information, procedures for legal recourse or complaints, revision mechanisms, etc. Some attempts have been made to carry out civil society consultations, but most of them merely provide information, or play a subsidiary role that does not affect decision-making in allocating funds.

When it comes to social participation, it is worth noting that citizen-based campaigns against the IFIs have achieved some advances in access to information and cooperation with civil society. They also helped to establish new rules of operation. Though in many instances these rules are not followed, they do provide a framework for filing complaints from other perspectives. But most Latin American RFIs are behind in these issues, access to information is more difficult, and the use of multidisciplinary tools has not been adequately evaluated.

The task is yet more complex in the case of the national banks BANDES and BNDES. They lack mechanisms to enable citizens of other countries to access information and take part in the international projects that they finance. This is a delicate matter, since national sovereignty is invoked to defend operations in other countries.

Undoubtedly, the presence of Latin American financial institutions is a step forward in gaining autonomy, faced with the imposition of IFIs. It is therefore very important to improve and maintain Latin American control. In some RFIs nations from other continents are becoming members (particularly European nations and China). It is essential to assure Latin American control in the decision-making process despite extra-regional participation.

Moreover, civil society must influence Latin American RFIs to assure that the mistakes and shortcomings of IFIs are not repeated, that the RFIs are not simply channels for the intermediation of global capital, and that they don’t replicate practices of financing projects with high social and environmental impacts. The fact that control rests in Latin American hands is useless if institutions end up repeating the strategies of the World Bank or the IADB. It is therefore necessary to ensure that the projects financed really serve development interests and aid in the eradication of poverty, with tangible positive effects at local and national levels in all spheres, from economic to environmental.

The necessary tasks ahead are complicated. Nevertheless, some tasks can be outlined as examples. It is necessary to establish procedures for follow-up and evaluation of the Latin American government representatives to the governing councils of these institutions. It is important to determine the quality and efficiency of the evaluations made prior to allocating funds. Also important is to establish adequate supervision of compliance with conditions and requirements. It is especially important to attend to sensitive aspects that have traditionally been excluded, such as indigenous peoples, marginalized groups, and environmental impacts. Finally, it is necessary to assure working mechanisms of public information and channels for legal claims.

RFIs present great opportunities for autonomous regional development, but their operations require extensive reforms and updates. The fact that they are in the hands of Latin American governments is no excuse for avoiding reforms; rather it presents a mandate to carry out the necessary transformations.


Translated for the Americas Program by Tony Phillips.

Eduardo Gudynas <egudynas(a)adinet.com.uy> is an analyst at CLAES D3E, a research center for the promotion of sustainable development (www.integracionsur.com) and a collaborator with the Americas Policy Program (www.americaspolicy.org).


Los movimientos sociales en el ALBA

albabookDurante las últimas dos décadas, health los procesos de liberalización e integración comercial en América Latina han perpetuado las relaciones de dependencia ecónomica de los países no industrializados respecto de los países industrializados, en base a una intensificación de la matriz exportadora basada en recursos naturales con escasa tecnologización (commodities); una apertura indiscriminada a la inversión extranjera directa y una progresiva reducción del rol regulador del Estado, configurando economías nacionales altamente desrreguladas y desprotegidas.
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Fernando Bossi

Luego de una reunión que mantuvo el comandante Daniel Ortega con diferentes dirigentes latinoamericanos, tadalafil un grupo de periodistas se acercó al presidente hondureño Manuel Zelaya y, entre preguntas y respuestas atinadas se oyó: “¿Se incorporará al ALBA, hospital Presidente Zelaya? Estamos haciendo todas las gestiones para hacerlo.

¿Es segura la decisión? Totalmente segura”. Un gobierno más latinoamericano estaría a punto de ingresar en la Alternativa Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América. Paraguay y Ecuador estudian la propuesta y en un futuro no lejano, podrían ser dos nuevos países sumados al ALBA.

Mientras tanto, Petrocaribe sigue incorporando nuevos integrantes: Guatemala y Costa Rica son dos nuevos miembros. La política de integración y unidad bolivariana, avanza sin descanso en toda Nuestra América. El vicepresidente de Guatemala Rafael Espada afirmó recientemente: “Si Centroamérica y América Latina no se unen, vamos a estar muy desperdigados en nuestras fuerzas. La fuerza de América Latina es esa Unión de la sangre latina, en la que debemos trabajar todos juntos”.

Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, la Mancomunidad de Dominica, tal vez en un breve lapso de tiempo Honduras, Ecuador y Paraguay son países del ALBA o próximos al ALBA. Tampoco podemos olvidar que, de ganar el Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional las elecciones presidenciales del 2009, El Salvador sería un país de muy probable incorporación; la fórmula Mauricio Funes-Sánchez Cerén lideran con importante ventaja todas las encuestas.

Es por lo tanto claro que la Alternativa Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América comienza a presentarse para diferentes gobiernos latinoamericanos caribeños como una posibilidad real de “espacio de unidad” sobre nuevos parámetros.

Más allá de los gobiernos nacionales que han firmado el ALBA o están en posibilidad de hacerlo, este espacio, como ningún otro, ha generado una expectativa mayúscula en los movimientos sociales de la región, como asimismo en una infinidad de gobiernos locales. No es temerario afirmar entonces, que el ALBA ya es más que los países cuyos gobiernos lo han firmado, porque existen fuertes organizaciones sociales y gobiernos locales de países cuyos gobernantes no adhieren al ALBA que sí desearían incorporarse.

Cuando en la VI Cumbre del ALBA, realizada en Venezuela en enero de este año, se presentó oficialmente el Consejo de Movimientos Sociales del ALBA, se dio un paso importante para avanzar en la ampliación del espacio. Un avance cuantitativo, en cuanto a posibilidad de sumar a movimientos sociales fuera de los países cuyos gobiernos no adhieren al ALBA, y cualitativo al sumar a los pueblos en la construcción de la unidad solidaria y participativa.

El Consejo de Movimientos Sociales del ALBA por lo tanto, debe asumir una destacada tarea como promotor, articulador y ejecutor de las políticas de unidad emanadas de los acuerdos Grannacionales ya alcanzados, como asimismo la de proponer nuevos proyectos Grannacionales elaborados por los propios movimientos sociales.

Dieciocho proyectos están hoy en marcha sostenidos sobre los principios de la complementación, la colaboración y la solidaridad. Como decía uno de los documentos de la VI Cumbre: “los Proyectos Grannacionales materializan y dan vida concreta a los procesos sociales y económicos de la integración y la unión y abarcan desde lo político, social, cultural, económico, científico e industrial hasta cualquier otro ámbito que puede ser incorporado”. Es así que debemos prever que en la brevedad los movimientos sociales tendrán que incorporarse a las Mesas Técnicas del ALBA, aportando así su cuota de saberes, experiencias, conocimientos y participación concreta.

Los movimientos sociales tienen una inmensa tarea y responsabilidad: apoyar, sostener y construir junto a los gobiernos revolucionarios de la región y comprometerse protagónicamente en la articulación en pos de la unidad popular latinoamericana caribeña. El Documento Político de la V Cumbre del ALBA señala: “… es con el nacimiento del ALBA que las fuerzas revolucionarias hemos podido pasar a una nueva situación que bien pudiéramos definir como de acumulación de la fuerza política necesaria para la consolidación del cambio que se ha producido en la correlación de fuerzas políticas de nuestro continente…”. Consolidar esta nueva correlación de fuerza a favor del campo popular impone la presencia y acción de los movimientos sociales empujando en la misma direcci! ón que sus gobiernos revolucionarios.

Más para que esto sea así, es atinente insistir en la necesidad de que los movimientos sociales del ALBA y aquellos que aspiran a ingresar, entiendan que hemos entrado en una nueva etapa de la lucha revolucionaria en Nuestra América. De la resistencia al modelo neoliberal de la década de los 90, hemos pasado, como bien lo destaca Emir Sader, a otra fase, “la de construcción de alternativas y de la disputa por una nueva dirección política”; y agrega: “Quien no entiende esa nueva fase, dejó de captar la marcha de la lucha antineoliberal. Quien persiste en la “autonomía de los movimientos sociales” quedó relegado al corporativismo, oponiendo autonomía a hegemonía y renunciando a la lucha por la construcción del “otro mundo posible”, que pasa por la conquista ! de gobiernos, para afirmar derechos – dado que el neoliberalismo es una máquina de expropiación de derechos”. La lucha de los movimientos sociales entonces, debe de acompañar permanentemente a la de los gobiernos revolucionarios, impulsando las transformaciones estructurales de la sociedad, combatiendo en todos los frentes a la contrarrevolución y acelerando los procesos de unidad nuestramericana; en síntesis: asumiendo la dimensión política acorde al momento histórico. Como lo ha marcado el Presidente Chávez: “se impone de nuevo lo que pudiéramos llamar la revancha de la política, que la política vuelva a la carga y que tome la vanguardia de los procesos de integración”.

Esa orientación, que asumió desde su nacimiento el Congreso Bolivariano de los Pueblos, al incluir en un mismo espacio a fuerzas sociales y políticas, fue un acierto a veces poco valorado.

Siguiendo con Emir Sader, el intelectual brasileño, nos dice: “Los movimientos sociales son un componente, muy importante, pero no el único, del campo popular o del campo de la izquierda, como se quiera llamar, al que pertenecen también las fuerzas políticas, gobiernos locales, estaduales (provinciales) o nacionales. Nunca los movimientos sociales, autónomamente, dirigirán o han dirigido un proceso de transformación en la sociedad. Para hacerlo, tuvieron que – como en Bolivia – construir un partido, en este caso el MAS (Movimiento al Socialismo); esto significa restablecer, de una nueva forma, las relaciones con la esfera política, para poder construir una hegemonía alternativa”.

Concluyendo: el ALBA existe gracias a la iniciativa de gobiernos populares y revolucionarios que lo lanzaron a andar; asimismo estos gobiernos, con sus partidos políticos revolucionarios (Partido Comunista de Cuba, Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela, Movimiento al Socialismo de Bolivia y Frente Sandinista para la Liberación Nacional de Nicaragua), han entendido que la participación del pueblo es esencial a la hora de construir Patria Grande. Los movimientos sociales del ALBA tendrán que trabajar mancomunados, en unidad monolítica, junto a los gobiernos y partidos políticos comprometidos en alcanzar la Unidad Latinoamericana Caribeña.

El momento actual requiere de unidad más unidad, y los movimientos sociales no están ajenos a esta necesidad. Unidad en el movimiento obrero, campesino, indígena, de mujeres, estudiantil, de técnicos y profesionales, los jóvenes, los movimientos barriales, etcétera, de cada uno de los países que conforman el ALBA y de aquellos que aspiran a ingresar. Así, los movimientos sociales unidos, junto a los gobiernos y partidos políticos revolucionarios lograremos el objetivo estratégico. Como bien lo decía Simón Bolívar: “Unidad y seremos invencibles”.

* Secretario de Organización del Congreso Bolivariano de los Pueblos

People's SAARC 2008 (Colombo, Sri Lanka)

South Asian heads of government will meet in Colombo, Sri Lanka for the annual South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit between 27 July and 3 August 2008.

Regrettably, this SAARC summit will be no different to its predecessors in having little relevance to the needs and daily struggles of the peoples of South Asia. Its agenda will be shaped by the policy choices of post-colonial elites, while it has spectacularly failed to achieve regional unity or even facilitate grassroots initiatives in that direction.

Therefore, since 1993, social movements and peoples’ organisations have also converged in parallel to the SAARC summit to raise our agenda for our region, to demonstrate our will for friendship, solidarity and visa-free movement of people across imposed boundaries, and to manifest our desire for a peoples union of South Asia.

On 18, 19 and 20 July 2008, hundreds of women, workers, peasants, artisans, urban and rural poor, students and youth, cultural activists, scholar activists, and representatives of marginalised and excluded social groups and communities from around South Asia will gather at Peoples SAARC 2008 in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

The main theme of Peoples SAARC 2008 is “Towards A South Asian Union” while the sub-themes include women’s rights; demilitarisation, denuclearisation and democracy; right to food, livelihood, health, education and social security in the context of alternatives to neo-liberalism; environmental justice and natural resource rights; and South Asian solidarity with anti-imperialist struggles worldwide. A mass rally for peace and justice in South Asia will form part of the closing ceremony.

We call upon all those who affirm the vision of a peoples union of South Asia to join country-level preparations, mobilise for, and participate in Peoples SAARC 2008 in Colombo on 18, 19 and 20 July 2008.

For further information contact: Secretariat, Peoples SAARC 2008, 19/1/1, Siri Dhamma Mawatha, Colombo 10, Sri Lanka or Email


peoplesaarcsl@gmail.com


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or Tel: +94 11 267 2586.


READ THE DECLARATION FROM PEOPLE’S SAARC