Americas Social Forum Discusses Latin American Integration

The Americas Social Forum, an off-shoot of the World Social Forum, which gathers NGO and activists from around the Americas, is currently taking place in Quito, Ecuador, where alternatives to neo-liberal globalization are being discussed.

Professor Heinz Dieterich speaking at the ASF
Credit: Robin Nieto

Quito, July 28, 2004.- Heinz Dieterich, political science professor at the Autonomous Metropolitan University of Mexico, and leaders from social movements in Ecuador, Venezuela and Mexico engaged a packed room at the Catholic University in Quito, Ecuador today, where they proposed ideas towards the integration of Latin American countries, referring to the idea of a “regional block of power.”

The event took place at the Americas Social Forum (ASF), in Quito, where from July 25-30 activists from all of the Americas are gathering to criticize and discuss alternatives to “neo-liberal globalization.” The ASF is part of the World Social Forum (WSF), which was initiated in 2001 and has become the world’s largest venue for NGOs and individuals who are critical of the current state of the world.

During the forum on Latin American integration, Dieterich said that the unification of Latin American countries is the biggest threat to the United States.  “We are building a regional block of power, the great country of Simon Bolivar,” referring to the leader who fought for and achieved the independence of five Latin American countries. Dieterich added that the question is no longer national but regional.  He also took swipes at Ignacio Ramonet, the editor of Le Monde Diplomatique and one of the World Social Forum’s key supporters, who criticized social movements for not having any alternative to globalization. “Hasn’t Ramonet heard of the union of the south of President Hugo Chavez?  Hasn’t he heard of ALBA, the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America?”   Dieterich concluded that as long as Latin American countries are united, resistance to the United States will be successful.

Independence and regional integration go hand in hand according to the panelists, and the possibility of a new Latin American federation was discussed at the institutional level by Sandra Myrna, head of a Mexican organization of educational integration.  “A firm framework for the administration of education should be rooted in Latin American culture and history,” said Myrna, who stressed that education is key to any social transformation.  Myrna praised the accomplishments of Venezuela’s social platform and called for solidarity with Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution, “The Bolivarian revolution needs the support of our social movements,” Myrna said.

Victor Hugo Jijon, a coordinator of a project for economic integration said the United States, in spite of its superpower status, produces only 4 per cent of the oil it needs to sustain its level of consumption, and the U.S. lacks investment to sustain production.

“The United States does not have decisive economic advantages because there is little productive investment.  What it has is financial speculation,” said Jijon adding that Latin America has far richer reserves of oil than the U.S. “Latin America has 11 per cent of the world’s oil reserves and 15 per cent of crude oil.  For those who think that Latin America doesn’t count to the U.S., they are wrong,”  Jijon said.

Ecuadorian ex-soldier and military trainer, Colonel Jorge Brito, reminded the audience that General James Hill, chief of U.S South Command, stressed the danger posed by social movements in Latin America and the necessity to strengthen existing ties with Latin American military leadership.  “The permanent and constant visits of this famous General Hill in Ecuador has violated the sovereignty of Ecuador and its armed forces, under the auspices of this current government, where he (General Hill) actually inspects troops and approves military plans.”

Brito said that this is a clear example of U.S. imperialism and the complicity of the Gutierrez government.  Brito proposed that the military of countries with progressive governments in Argentina, Brazil, Cuba and Venezuela should unite their armies to counterbalance the real military threat posed by the U.S.  “We should create an executive composed of representatives from the armies of our regional block of power and formulate political and strategic plans,” Brito said.

Brito pointed out that the block of military power he proposes can only be sustained by what he calls “a nation in arms”, which includes the training of reserves, the creation of a movement of resistance, as well as  units of urban and rural guerrillas.  “It is the only way to counterbalance the military power of the United States,” Brito said to the applause of the audience. 

Finally the topic of human rights was addressed by Eric Gutierrez from Venezuela, who works on a project for human rights for Latin America.  Gutierrez said that a new framework for human rights is required, “we need a new revolutionary concept of human rights based on the permanent struggle of peoples.” Gutierrez said that multinational corporations should be considered human rights violators and said that a new framework today is vital because of the lack of credibility of international organizations, “the OAS and the United Nations no longer work for us,” said Gutierrez.

Alexis Ponce, an Ecuadorian human rights advocate said that Latin American countries and their human rights organizations should no longer accept the authority of North Americans and Europeans, who impose their definitions of human rights.  “We will not accept orders from London, Paris, or Washington about human rights,” Ponce said, adding the integration of Latin American peoples will occur with respect of human rights.