Venezuela hosted the 4th International Conference on the Social Debt on Friday and Saturday to discuss political, economic, and social alternatives for the world, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The conference was composed of ten discussion forums, each of which was led by a panel of academics, intellectuals, government officials and experts. Included in these forums were topics such as: UN Millennium Goals, participatory democracy, and the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America and the Caribbean (ALBA). Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez opened the event on Thursday night with a speech in which he declared that socialism was the only model capable of eradicating poverty.
“Participation Surges from the Base”
On Friday, during the “Social Debt and Socioeconomic Disasters” forum, the Venezuelan Vice Minister of Social Development, Carlos H. Alvarado, contrasted the neo-liberal policies implemented between 1995-1998, with the Bolivarian government’s strategy of the first three years of the (1999-2002) in which the focal point was, and continues to be participatory democracy and the guarantee of social rights such as healthcare, education, housing, and employment. During his presentation, entitled, “From the South, Another World is Possible,” Alvarado outlined a few of the social policies implemented by the Chávez administration, such as free medical care, literacy programs and endogenous development. The Vice Minister then displayed a series of graphs which demonstrated that employment had increased and the standard of living had improved.
Alvarado ended his presentation by offering three recommendations that will further reduce unemployment and poverty: the deepening of social programs, the promotion of popular participation in politics, and the cultivation of greater cooperation between Latin American countries. “Participation surges from the base. In order to guarantee participation, it is necessary to incorporate these excluded groups into society,” affirmed the Vice Minister.
Dr. Hama Arba, Secretary General of the Commission against Desertificacion of the United Nations, complemented Alvarado’s position by offering the view that the empowerment of marginalized groups through participation will enable society to better deal with natural disasters. Highlighting the recent floods in Vargas that have left over 15,000 homeless, Arba stated that, “natural disasters exacerbate inequalities…the excluded sectors do not live in secure areas and are hit the hardest.”
However, he emphasized that the “rains and floods are not the cause of inequalities, that each one of us must respect the processes and forces of nature,” while simultaneously implementing immediate solutions, as well as social tools that in the mid to long term will bring about the restructuring of society.
“I Don’t Like Capitalism!”
On Saturday during the session, “Endogenous Development as a Strategy of Construction for a Society in Solidarity,” Dr. Miren Etxezarreta, a Spanish Economist, received a warm applause upon announcing, “I don’t like capitalism.” After scoring a few points with the audience, the Spanish economist clarified that despite her aversion towards the economic model, she recognized that it is “impossible to change capitalism overnight…We need to first generate economic growth, create jobs, and lower inflation.”
Although she criticized capitalism and the policies of the Bush administration, Etxezarreta stressed, “Bush is only an instrument of multi-national corporations. If Bush disappears, we will still have this problem, because these corporations will succeed in getting another instrument. The danger is the system, capitalism, which continues to strengthen itself.”
Another warm round of applause was given as Etxezarreta concluded her presentation by stating that the creation of a new model “does not mean that we are going to lower our standard of living. Instead we are going to create a model in which everyone lives better.”
Basic Necessities: Water, Electricity, and Internet
Professor González affirmed the viability of localization as a response to globalization in the session on “Basic Necessities.” As a geographer, he considers a locality to be more than just a place. “A locality is syntax between geography, history and culture,” he emphasized. He went on to explain that “localization is the process of valuing the capacity that a locality has to insert itself in the world, therefore affirming its existence.”
He explained that localization entails two essential components. It requires the reinforcement of the role of the State in directly creating and/or revitalizing a network of citizens that will allow that they efficiently incorporate themselves into the political arena. It is also necessary that the State promotes endogenous development as a means to focus on development, profits, and investment on a local level. This, in turn, will balance out the multi-national corporations that focus on the global level. Endogenous development, according to González, represents a formidable alternative to neo-liberalism by promoting language, culture, and traditions and by prioritizing the people over profits. He concluded his thoughts by stating, “Today we live in a world where technology allows people to communicate with anyone anywhere in the world. I believe a good mayor should not only provide his citizens with water and electricity, but also with internet access.”
“We are the example for all of Latin America”
Ubiratan de Souza, from Porto Alegre, Brazil, shared the Bolivarian government’s experience with endogenous development in the Venezuelan state of Vargas through a video entitled, “The New Successful Experience of Endogenous Development.” According to de Souza, endogenous development proposes to democratize natural resources. The video focused on Vuelvan Caras, one of the most thriving examples of endogenous development programs in the world. Currently, over 62,000 Venezuelans participate in the program. Organizations such as the National Land Institute, the National Nutrition Institute, the State government of Vargas, as well as several international organizations, helped to design and implement the program.
After the video ended, de Souza explained that the Chávez administration has thus far implemented 147 forms of endogenous development and has 748 additional models in the works. “We are experimenting with new forms of organization, planning, and programming in order to correct our past mistakes. This experience shows that we are proceeding correctly. When the day comes that people say to us, we have made a mistake, then we will listen and correct our past errors. We are working with honesty, clarity, and eagerness. We are the example for all of Latin America.”
“Act Globally; Communicate Locally”
In the 10th and last forum of the Conference, “The Construction of a New Economic, Social, and Ecological Order,” Venezuela’s ex-Minister of the Environment, Jesús Pérez, highlighted the steps taken by the Bolivarian government to protection the environment. He affirmed that Chapter 10, Articles 127-129 of the new Constitution recognize the environment as a common good and a fundamental base for human development. In order to guarantee its protection, he explained, the Constitution has established that environmental education is obligation in both public and private schools. The curriculum for environmental education implemented by the Ministry of Education is based on international treaties that Venezuelan has ratified since 1992. However, Pérez cautioned that the action of the state is not enough to alter the course of the environmental problems the country faces. “In order to guarantee the protection of the environment and the quality of life as stated in the Constitution of 1998, we must act globally, but we must communicate locally and cultivate the participation of society,” said Perez.