ALAI, América Latina en Movimiento
Latin American people’s movements with Pope Francis
December 5 staged an event without precedent. People’s organizations had our voice heard in the Vatican, precisely in the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, in the framework of a colloquium entitled: "The emergence of the excluded" (1). The activity was coordinated by the Chancellor of the Academy, Monsignor Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, at the request of Francisco himself.
Following the opening of the colloquium by Cardinal Peter Turkson, compañero Juan Grabois (from the Movement of excluded workers -- Confederation of workers of the popular economy, of Argentina), co-organizer of the event, opened the discussion with his presentation "Capitalism of exclusion, peripheries and people’s movements" (2). During his intervention, Grabois denounced the existence of an economic model of exclusion, based on the irresponsible quest for profits, the primacy of speculative financial capital, the consumer culture of waste, the usurpation of nature and the submission of national states in the face of world capital. In this framework, he pointed out, the different phenomena of contemporary social injustice have developed such as that of 1500 million compañeros living under inhuman conditions in shanty towns, or the degradation of work that leaves more than half of the global working classes in situations of total informality or extreme precariousness.
In his presentation, João Pedro Stedile of the Landless Rural Workers Movement of Brazil (MST - Via Campesina) emphasized the importance of understanding the causes of the multiplication of the excluded in the world rather than concentrating exclusively on the consequences. Among these, he said, are certain characteristics of contemporary capitalism such as the offensive of capital against nature, the attempt to privatize all the common goods of humanity: land, water, subsoil, even the air. He also pointed out the insufficiency of formal democracy to allow the participation of all people, especially workers and the humble, and called for participative forms of democracy. Finally, he denounced the media monopolies that look to control the press and world culture in subservience to the consumer model and the structures of hegemonic power.
Other panelists, including Romano Prodi -- former Italian president and Social democrat -- and Jeffry Sachs -- neoliberal economist during the decade of the 1990s who has turned to positions of greater social sensitivity -- irrespective of their ideological affiliation, agreed on the seriousness of the problem and underlined diverse aspects of it, such as the impotence of political parties in the face of economic power, the scandal of tax avoidance on the part of the rich and the impossibility of finding funds for social programmes of the United Nations due to the stinginess of the big powers.
The presentation of Veerabhadran Ramanathan held particular interest. One of the world's principal experts on climate change, he underlined the responsibility of big corporations and the developed countries in this situation that, paradoxically, impacts principally on the more humble because of the economic and housing vulnerability that afflicts them. He noted that unless necessary changes are introduced, the temperature will rise by some 4º C in the next fifty years with catastrophic consequences for humanity.
The colloquium ended with a general discussion in which there was no lack of dissident opinions, but always in the context of respect and dialogue. All of the participants made repeated references to the Apostolic Exhoration Evangelii Gaudium (3), which contains clear and categorical concepts on the situation of the excluded and the excluding character of the global economy.
On our part, as representatives of people’s movements, we indicated that first of all we must analyze the causes of the multiplication of the excluded in the world in order to look for real solutions, and among these causes we enumerated the following:
a) There is a world offensive on the part of financial and transnational capital to privatize and take over all the goods of nature: mines, land, biodiversity, water and even air, the latter with carbon credits. This goes against the logic of development of humanity, by which the goods of nature belong to everyone and should fulfil a social function, to generate well-being for all. Privatizing nature and transforming food into nothing more than commodities can only serve those who have money, and puts human life at risk.
b) Economic concentration. The economic realm is hostage to not more than 300 transnational enterprises that control 58% of the world GDP and provide work for only 8% of the economically active population. These enterprises control the economy and they control governments. This means that governments get together, but never decide anything.
c) Formal or bourgeois democracy has failed. The forms of representation are in crisis and do not represent the interests of the peoples. This is because in all countries, big corporations find a way to finance political campaigns, to control public opinion, which has alienated judicial, legislative and executive powers from the real will of peoples. There is an urgent need to develop new forms of people’s participation in these three powers and to develop new forms of political representation in the whole world. There is a need for a kind of democracy that in addition to being merely formal, is real.
d) There is a technological revolution unfolding, with information technology and the internet which has increased access to information. But this has not resulted in the democratization of access to formal education for all young people. The levels of access remain in primary and secondary levels, but in the majority of countries young people do not reach universities, and we have millions of adult workers who are illiterate, on the margins of modernity. The poor illiterate person is hardly a citizen while he cannot read.
e) There is a control of ideas, desires and public opinion due to the concentration of power in the media of every country in the world. Building democracy demands in the first place the democratization of the media.
At the day's end Stedile and Grabois had a long meeting with Cardinal Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, in which they exchanged opinions on a number of social issues and discussed alternatives to ensure continuity of the dialogue between the Church and popular movements.
The next day, in the context of a private audience with the supreme pontiff, Grabois gave Pope Francis two gifts: a picture of seeds developed by a peasant woman from the Movimento SemTerra (MST), and a cardboard boat made of recycled paper by paper workers of the MTE. At the same time, Francisco filmed a message for campesinos (4) and another for paper recyclers (5) in which he expressed his solidarity with both sectors and his support for the struggle for work, land, community life and the environment.
Stedile also took part in a series of meetings with Italian campesina and social organizations such as the Support Committee for the MST and the self-managing space STRIKE where marginal youth have organized themselves. At the same time, he gave an extended conference in the Teatro Ocupado Valle before a large audience of Italian social activists.
Both Stedile and Grabois indicated that they return to their respective countries with a renewed perception of the fact that workers, the excluded, the poor of the land and their organizations have an important support in their struggle for Social Justice and that a new stage has been opened in the global unity of popular movements.
(Translated for ALAI by Jordan Bishop).
(4) Pope Francis, in his message to the campesinos, said: "Greetings to all those who are taking part in the assembly of the Via Campesina, who express in some way their love for the land, the relation between those who take care of the land and those who cultivate it…, and that the land responds giving its wealth and its fruits; caring for the land, not abusing it, working the land, but at the same time working in community, working the land as brothers, recognizing the relation between God's creation, between the brotherhood that God wants for us, will do good for all of us, not abusing the land, not abusing one another and moving forward, may God bless you." (https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B_yUztFLNxbfYkJMeEs5QWJnNzg/edit?pli=1)
Photo gallery: (http://www.flickr.com/photos/111600485@N07/sets/72157638710143626/)
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