From January 24-29, the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre was again the staging ground for the World Social Forum (WSF), an annual international gathering of anti-globalisation and anti-capitalist activists. Among the various movements present, one of the most visible was Brazil's Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST), possibly the largest social movement in Latin America.
During the WSF, ALBA TV, a Venezuelan initiative to bring together community TV outlets from across Latin America, interviewed Joao Pedro Stedile, a founder and leader of the MST. Among other things, Stedile spoke about the importance of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), an anti-imperialist bloc of eight Latin American governments that includes Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua.
Below is a translated and slightly abridged version of the interview.
What is the importance of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre given the current state of the international crisis?
The WSF is always a very important space for people to come and share ideas. The Forum, more than an organisational space, is an ideological fair, where people come and share their concerns and reflections.
Here, we can identify others we share something in common with, so as to work out ideas for mass struggle, for proposals that can directly link social movements from all over the world in their struggles against the great enemy we have — that is, large capitalist companies.
How has Latin America dealt with the current situation, and what is the importance of ALBA as a project that re-raises the idea of building more just, more humane societies?
In Latin America we are confronted with a permanent dispute between three projects, which has intensified in the face of the crisis.
The first project is the recolonisation of our continent, which is defended by the US and its allies — such as the governments of Colombia and Chile — who want to impose on us a project where capital can come and take our natural resources. They just want us to produce commodities and primary materials for them.
There is a second project that defends the idea of a space for Latin American integration where they can develop projects for integration, transport, free trade, but for the benefit of the local capitalists. They have contradictions with the empire, but do not help resolve the problems of the poor.
ALBA has become the third project, one that goes beyond a simple trade agreement between states.
It is a political proposal that aims for the popular integration of all the peoples of Latin America, without economic or political preconditions, to confront imperialism and transnationals.
So the most combative social movements in Latin America, as well as the ALBA governments, are promoting ALBA as a form of popular integration, a project of Latin American unity that can accumulate forces to defeat transnational companies, the imperialist project and advance towards socialism.
The problem is that with the international crisis, we have a fundamental contradiction. This is that economic power is what determines political power.
And economic power has developed into international capitalism, under the control of the banks and transnational companies. The local national governments have no strength to place restrictions on capital, which does what it wants.
So governments can meet, they can produce nice documents, but what happens? The economic forces that dominate these countries do not respect international agreements.
Therefore, it is only possible to confront capital if the social movements of all the countries are able to mobilise and raise the consciousness of society to accumulate strength and confront these capitalist companies.
And hopefully many of the governments will join us and defend the views of their people, because the governments on their own are not powerful enough.
During your speech at the Forum, you mentioned the important role the corporate media plays in promoting the dominant ideology. What can the counter-hegemonic media outlets do in this context?
During the period of industrial capitalism, the capitalists reproduced their ideology via the church, political parties and schools.
Now, in the stage of neoliberalism, of globalised financial capital, the way in which the capitalists, the ruling class, reproduces its ideology in society is via television. That is why in every country they maintain their monopoly over this sector.
That is also why we, as social movements, have to denounce the concentration of ideological power that the capitalists have over television.
At the same time, the left and social movements need to take this instrument into its own hands. That is why we are very happy that in Latin America important experiences such as ALBA TV and Telesur are being developed. In some of our countries there is also public television, which has taken on a progressive role.
All of this is very important, precisely to break the monopoly that capital imposes over television.