Fighting Poverty With Democracy
An important topic in Latin America is the need to link economy and democracy more closely. Electoral democracy is not enough; the market needs to be democratized. It is a wide-open struggle in which liberal democracy is incapable of responding adequately to the demands of thinking citizens in a globalized society.
The new stage of capitalism has increased poverty by geometric proportions. They tell us it is the result of a natural process. We know it is the consequence of the plans and projects of finance capital, which has tried to mitigate the disaster with world programs to combat poverty—programs that cannot solve the problems generated by the dominant economic policies. This has opened a space for organized groups of civil society to propose basic alternatives in the face of the poverty explosion. But this fight cannot seriously proceed without authentic social and political democracy.
Poverty is remediable in one generationThe practices arising out of neoliberalism intensify poverty. Structurally, neoliberalism is incapable of remedying poverty because its economic model concentrates wealth in the hands of a few and aggravates the problem of limited opportunity for the majority. Neoliberalism's basic principle of attaining profit and relegating the general well-being of humanity legitimizes an economic order in which a minority becomes very rich and sinks an increasing majority of men and women—especially women—into poverty. Women of the popular sectors have been called the "administrators of poverty." It is estimated that women comprise 70% of the 1.3 billion persons who suffer poverty worldwide. Women face staggering segregation, discrimination and exclusion. Neoliberalism has also increased the number of "street children."
The neoliberal model also encourages a predatory development that endangers the environment. As the head of the United Nations' Commission for Commerce and Development recognized in 1996, the neoliberal formula, applied to the letter, has had negative social consequences. Beyond the problem of economic income, the poverty produced by the neoliberal system is a symptom of profound structural imbalances in all spheres of human activity. This poverty deprives human beings of basic necessities, of the elements essential to physical, mental, and spiritual dignity.
There are those who, invoking the theories of Malthus, claim that the rising poverty is rooted in the imbalance in growth rates between the world population and the means of food production; that the population is growing exponentially while the means of subsistence is progressing arithmetically, so we will never have enough resources to combat poverty. In opposition to those with this viewpoint—whose only proposed remedy is birth control—others argue that poverty is the result of a logic that excludes vast segments of humanity and that we have a duty to remedy it.
Poverty is a complex and multidimensional phenomenon. Its principle causes are an imbalance in the accumulation and distribution of wealth and consumerism. Both of these destroy rights, identities and lives and place people in a position ripe for economic, political and social domination. Overcoming poverty demands a holistic approach. The administrator of the United Nations' Development Program pointed out in 1997 that extreme poverty could be eliminated in the space of a generation if there were a serious commitment to do so. He calculated that the cost of wiping out worldwide poverty would amount to an investment of 1% of the gross world product over a period of 20 years.
Millions of people enclosed in parenthesesNeoliberalism has caused untold suffering. The list of evils, horrors and misery is long. The neoliberal agenda has bolstered financial capital, which seeks profit at any cost and does not stimulate production; this capital multiplies without the need for industrial investment. The huge international economic groups play in savage markets. Ecological disaster has ensued. The capacity of states to provide for the well-being of their citizens has been severely impaired: social programs and personal security have been reduced while unemployment, inequality and social problems in general are on the rise. Work relations and the structure of employment have been changed. Local forms of super-exploitation have been linked into modern productive networks. Crime, drugs, racism, xenophobia and violence have assumed enormous proportions.
Globalization has minimized the role of politics and increased the role of the market. Policy has been reduced to technique and economy has been reduced to growth. Global competition is becoming more and more ruthless. The opening of national borders to market forces has meant that international financial flows predominate over national capital. The traders thrive on their associated dependence (capital movements-production chains-negotiation units). Governing bodies find themselves under the power of the financial markets. The world's most powerful economic centers impose on poor countries structural adjustments that not only exacerbate unemployment and low wages, but also induce acute malnutrition and the resurgence of diseases that, even though curable, take many lives. Capital flight and corruption have increased poverty in Latin America. Over half of the foreign debt of these countries is found deposited in private accounts in tax havens.
Communications increase, but there is mediocrity, vulgarization and dispossession of learning. Corruption is not controlled. Globalization has been destroying the most prominent social actors of the former industrial society. It has enclosed millions of people in parentheses—marginalization has become merciless. Resources are underutilized. The majority of young people are condemned to unproductive lives. There is destruction of social rights; social spending is forgotten, even condemned. They pretend that the people will become accustomed to their excluded existence. They would like the enormous masses of the dispossessed to do away with themselves in an uncontrollable violence accentuated by discrimination and unleashed anxiety. Insecurity denies the exercise of citizenship; the economic elite control money, information and political debate. Decisions are not arrived at democratically.
The class war is not overGlobalization appears incapable of equality. The rich and powerful organize in worldwide networks to ensure the continued flow of power, communication and money within a closed, lopsided system that escapes regulations. As the world's wealth continues to increase, the disparities between and within countries have reached unprecedented proportions. Neoliberalism undermines citizenship and true solidarity and destructures the common good, putting the market before society. Human beings don't count, only profitability. Social Darwinism is fostered.
World statistics on poverty and inequality are crushing. The United Nations Development Program informed us in 1996 that more than half of the world's population had incomes of less than $2 per day. While the world's poorest 20% received 2.3% of the income in 1980, thirteen years later that percentage had dropped to 1.4%. On the other hand, the wealthiest 20% held 70% percent of the world's wealth in 1980, and the same thirteen years later, that percentage had leaped to 85%. A billion people do not have clean drinking water; the same number are illiterate; 840 million go hungry. Life expectancy for a third of the population in underdeveloped countries is just below forty, while 17 million people die annually of curable diseases—the majority of them children from illnesses related to malnutrition.
The net wealth of the world's ten richest individuals is equivalent to 1.5 times the gross national products of the world's least developed countries. In Latin America, almost a quarter of the population lives on less than a dollar a day and the richest 10% have 84 times more resources than the poorest 10%. The World Bank said in 1998 that the economic measures applied in Latin America had not been sufficient to reduce poverty. But poverty is not a prerogative of the underdeveloped nations; in the richest country, the United States, 20% are poor. In the developed nations, over 100 million people live on less than 50% of the median per-capita disposable income, 37 million are unemployed and more than 5 million are homeless.
This horrific reality has led those responsible for neoliberal policies to design policies to address poverty that are simply palliatives to avoid social upheaval. They recommend that attention be given to "highest vulnerability" groups. Neoliberalism proposes a structural move from state-as-benefactor to a benefactor society. It has nothing to do with rights. Rather, it employs a selectivity that goes against the universality of social policies. The slogans of globalization and flexibility are repeated like a litany. Neoliberals are dogmatic; they defend an aggressive individualism and disguise their ideology as scientific theory. It is a conservative dogmatism based on a domineering discourse and economic fatalism. It aims to destroy the social state and establish a police state. It seeks to convince the people that they can do nothing against the power of the market economy. Neoliberalism impedes logical thought.
But the manifestations of poverty cannot be controlled only by the policies proposed by the neoliberal ideologues—whose sole thrust is to foster economic growth. And even if it is true that the welfare state was incapable of realizing its social goals, neoliberal "solutions" are even less adequate for remedying the root causes of poverty. "Neoliberal discourse, filled with references to 'modernity,' does not have the force to do away with social classes and decree the nonexistence of different interests among them, since it does not have the force to do away with the conflicts and struggles between classes," said Paulo Freire in his book Pedagogy of Hope (1993). Struggle is a constant between those who try to impose domination and those who resist it.
The World Bank: Healthy macroeconomics and educationPrograms to combat poverty have delineated three main tendencies: that of the international monetary institutions, headed by the World Bank; that of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP); and that of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
The World Bank attempts to complement its structural adjustment policies with programs to combat poverty. The measures it has imposed have emphasized economic growth with assistance programs. Instead of analyzing how its plans have exacerbated poverty, the World Bank adduces that the increase in poverty is due precisely to the fact that its directives have not been followed. It recognizes that little has been achieved in reducing poverty and suggests that many theories exist in the poverty debate, while underscoring two key elements about which there is near total agreement: the need for a sane macroeconomic policy and for a rapid increase in the level of education.
In this same vein, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has emphasized that, in the near future, the level of education will determine the difference between rich and poor both individually and nationally. The International Development Bank has joined ranks with this analysis and declared the lack of adequate education as the most important isolated factor in explaining the existence of inequality and the increase of poverty in Latin America. It recommends that the quality of basic education must be improved if poverty is to be reduced. The World Bank proposes promoting more productive use of the labor force of the poor, in addition to providing them with basic services. Unemployment and underemployment will be the most important problems to reverse. In this same sense, the UN's Economic Commission on Latin America (ECLA) puts the emphasis on investing in human resources and seeks an intersection between political economy and social politics.
UNDP: The potential of the poorThe UNDP—recognizing that the number-one challenge to assure the planet's future is overcoming poverty—proposes developing the capacity for growth undergirded by equity. This implies economic reactivation, an increase in salaries, support of popular economies and the development of a participatory, flexible and adaptive style.
The UNDP's role in reducing poverty through community participation needs to be highlighted. The UNDP has suggested that the most effective potential strategy for the 21st century is not money, land or market fluctuations, but rather the world's 2.3 billion undereducated, undernourished and underemployed. It reminds us that the eradication of poverty was a commitment made by the world's governments in the Copenhagen Summit, and that this commitment implies an ethical, social, political and economic imperative for humanity. It proposes substituting band-aid solutions with skills development. The UNPD has thus emphasized a strategy based on sustainable human development, social mobilization and empowerment of the poor. This approach contains a criticism of the theory that economic growth automatically leads to the elimination of poverty.
The UNDP not only sees the poor sectors as a potential work force, but argues that economic growth and human development go hand in hand. It suggests that social development will not simply result from the free interaction of market forces and argues for official policies that correct the failings of markets. It does not release governments from their principle responsibility for eliminating poverty, but insists on expanding the poor's access to social services, professional training, technology, credit, land and natural resources, productive employment and decent incomes. It defends the rights of the poor to the exercise of their fundamental liberties, public safety, plurality and cultural diversity.
The UNDP takes gender inequalities into account, demands efficient resource utilization and has shown the need to find non-conventional methods of credit acquisition to bolster production. It proposes the protection and restoration of the environment. It offers help in developing the capacities of countries, especially those undergoing political and economic transitions. It is in favor of dialogue, harmonizing of interests and consensual solutions between government and civil society.
NGOs: Living the alternativeNongovernmental organizations share the conviction that it is necessary to end poverty and hunger, achieve a more equal distribution of income, and develop human resources. They are in agreement with the creation of new jobs, with the public and private spheres joining forces in a productive strategy, and with the provision of basic services (education, health care, potable water) to sectors with the least resources. NGOs hold that social programs should be decentralized and social spending more efficient, that the population be involved in implementing social policy, that social spending—which frequently ends up benefiting the government's political aims—be made more transparent and care be taken to avoid the clientelism that social spending can generate.
NGOs stress environmental sustainability, arguing that overcoming poverty cannot be based on sacrificing the development opportunities of future generations. They have defended the idea that sustainable resource administration means conserving and protecting those resources to avoid an increase in poverty. Their goal is for everyone to have a means of sustainable subsistence and for the degraded resources to be replenished. The NGOs' ideas in the battle against poverty have produced analyses and proposals for alternative economic models that emphasize both commerce and sustainable development in new consumption and life style forms.
The North's debt to the South NGOs criticize neoliberal ideology for seeing social relations as economic variables. They oppose the wealth-concentrating economic model because it makes expansion an end in itself. They believe that social and economic indicators should not only consider material growth and technological progress, but also individual, social and environmental well-being. They stress that the fundamental function of economic organization is to satisfy a community's basic needs: food, housing, health, education and culture. They bring attention to the fact that a dominant alternative system should be based on autochthonous models and base communities that place value on people. They defend the central role of women.
One of their stated objectives is to achieve maximum happiness with minimum resources and no waste. In their alternative model, the state should cease being an instrument for big business and reorient itself to prioritize people's needs and support development strategies of interest to the communities. NGOs propose that the international debt be annulled; that the unjust system on which it is based be dismantled. They argue that the foreign debt has been transformed into an instrument of exploitation and political domination, used by creditor nations as a pressure mechanism to impose the liberalization of debtor nations' economies. They see the need to incorporate new legislation to avoid capital flight and tax evasion. They call on cultural, professional and religious institutions to discuss the ethical question of the debt and of the adjustment programs, citing that the North's ecological debt to the South should be compensated.
NGOs are fighting against the distortions caused by the prevailing trade policies. They accept multilateral mechanisms but only if they are open and even-handed, and ask that the unjust protectionist measures imposed by the North be dismantled. They oppose the adverse conditions brought about by structural adjustment programs and demand that the conduct of international corporations be democratically regulated. They want to see just policies that better the conditions of all social classes. They reclaim people's right of access to all scientific information. They are opposed to military spending and put forward the urgent need for a national and international redistribution of income, wealth and access to resources. They believe that increased quality of life has to be buttressed by the development of creative human relations and, from this point of view, propose a restructuring of the macroeconomic systems to include the social and ecological costs of all goods and services. They suggest that everyone has the right to a fair share of water, food, air, land and other resources—within the Earth's capacity to supply these necessities sustainably. They propose a closed-cycle production of goods, insisting on the need to reduce, reuse and recycle.
All this requires a democracy that does not end with the voteNGOs are convinced that none of the above will be possible without a new democracy that includes full participation and a consolidation of citizenship everywhere in the world. Poverty is the principal factor of political instability and social inequalities are the result of unequal access to resources and the exclusion of peoples from policy decision-making. Poverty does not exist because there is a lack of resources but because there is a lack of political will to eradicate it. If a democratic world based on social justice and ecological balance is to be built, poverty must be dealt with through substantial changes in political structures. Poverty can not be fought without popular mobilization, without a horizontal and democratic interchange of information, without joint discussion and decision-making. Decision-making needs to be democratized. The sectors of society most affected by poverty have to acquire power and strategies have to be drawn up from the base so that individuals and communities can make decisions directly about the problems that interest them. Decision-making processes should be dependent on a deliberative, dialogical and participatory democracy.
The democratic project does not end with the game rules of political institutions, the methods of forming a government. Democratization extends to the very condition of civil society; it has to do with a way of life, with the everyday world of relationships. Formal democracy has to combine with social democracy. Not even formal democracy could be consolidated within the generalized misery that affects democracy in Latin America—a misery that eats away the citizenship of the majorities at a time when we are supposed to be enjoying political emancipation. When the poor become indigents and the rich become magnates, liberty and democracy succumb. Democracy is in danger, as much in its conception as in its method, when the masses do not have access to health care or education and find themselves in a society paralyzed by an economy of penury. Democracy implies controls on state administration and conduct as well as a system that permits full participation by the majority—and in conditions that enable them to exercise this right. Democracy has to do with freeing individuals and groups from the stifling control of the elite who speak in the name of the people and the nation.
With such a paradigm of democracy, relations among nations founded on equality could also be cultivated. Multilateral institutions should also be configured in a democratic manner. This would require a powerful mobilization of civil society. NGOs, social movements and grassroots organizations could delineate common interests so that electoral democracy could use the vote to support options that favor the general interest. Aware of this danger, those in command of neoliberal politics have proceeded to bind governments to their policies, so that they prevail even in the event of a change in government. But the power of a popular convergence could force real political alternatives.
The electoral process is important, but is not enough to assure this change in orientation. Transparency and accountability are also needed in the exercise of power, and the citizenry needs to be included in all levels of decision-making. NGOs have proposed working to construct democratic institutions at subregional, regional and international levels, independent of the state and with the power to monitor, regulate—and sanction when necessary— the global economic agents and their transactions. They are working for transparent, democratic and ecologically responsible institutions at all levels. It is necessary to find forms of participatory decision-making to guarantee economic and gender equity and to protect natural resources and the environment. Space has to be made for vulnerable groups, such as children, the elderly, the handicapped, indigenous peoples, migrants and ethnic minorities. Emphasis should be placed on the empowerment of women in decision-making processes. Each group will have to continue defining its own needs, while at the same time recognizing the need for articulation and coordination of the general welfare.
This struggle will face old and new forms of authoritarianism, bureaucracy, opportunism and favoritism. The control of a few will oppose the self-determination of the rest. Autonomy will have to play a crucial role in this, forming and linking together new federated structures. Townships will also be relevant to this dynamic; they will have to be modernized in a context of democratization to assume their particular responsibilities and to act as motivator and stimulator of community growth. This will lead to new functions, new areas and new tasks. Democratization will stimulate activities and mobilize to attract resources. Democracy will be solid if there is fortitude in the civil societies at the local level.
The goal is to democratize the marketThe proposals of the NGOs, like those issuing from center-left personalities, have emphasized the centrality of democracy in combating poverty. Umberto Rainieri has stressed that the decisive theme in Latin America is to link the economy more and more closely to democracy. For a year and a half a group of Latin American political activists, convened by Jorge Castañeda and Roberto Mangabeira, met to discuss alternatives. Their findings were published in part in The Economist (Jan. 17, 1998) in an article titled, "The Latin American Alternative," and appeared in their entirety in the Mexican journal Nexos (March 1998, No. 243) under the title, "Después de neoliberalismo: un nuevo camino."
They came to the conclusion that both the prevailing market fundamentalism and its predecessor, protectionist/populist "developmentism," have become inoperable. They call for neoliberal policies to be overridden, noting that neoliberalism has extracted the market from its function as an instrument and elevated it to the status of religion. They assert that neoliberalism, as the extreme theoretical outcome of the market economy, has failed to generate growth and development and has particularly failed to meet the challenge of delivering a more just distribution of income and wealth. On the contrary, it has profoundly increased the impoverishment of vast sectors of the population.
They declared that they wanted more than just to humanize neoliberalism; alternative approaches need be adopted that consist precisely of democratizing the market economy. They made clear that they were not calling for a return to either populist nationalism or the import substitution strategy, which ended up protecting the inefficacy of local oligarchies. They also rejected the return to inflationary public financing. They endorsed neither the state we have nor the one we had, rather a strong, democratized state. They reiterated the need to democratize the market economy and to forge a democracy able to deal with the issues of inequality. They agreed that the market should be the principal assignor of resources and that, as a counterweight, conditions should be created in which the needs of the poorest could be translated into solvent demands that the state itself could process. They emphasized that they were not proposing a third way—because there is no longer a second way—but rather demanding a democratizing alternative to the way falsely proclaimed as the only one.
In addition to doing an assessment that coincides in many points with the NGOs, they grouped their proposals in separate chapters referring to an economically strong democratic state, a confrontation with inequality that offers real opportunities for all, and the search for sustainable and enriched stability. To avoid confusion, they rejected partial democracy: respect for popular suffrage is not enough. The influence of money on politics must be diminished; the media will have to be truly opened to society; the binomial will have to be a fortified civil society with a transparent government. They also raised the fundamental issue that Latin American citizens have to be able to know their rights and defend them, which means multiplying the practical instruments.
The center-left politicians who spoke through this alternative document associate proposals for production with those for redistribution: they unite a deeper understanding of democracy with overcoming socioeconomic dualism; they support the coexistence of a strong, active and refinanced state with a decentralized market, made up of small and medium businesses. They want to lay the groundwork for a high-intensity popular policy and radically democratize the market economy. They are aware that this process will require gradual change, but affirm that it should be cumulative in the changes in economic, political, and social institutions. They repeat that they are not seeking to humanize the inevitable, but rather to construct what they call a possible and necessary alternative to a fate the Latin American people don't deserve.
Redistribution: The problem is politicalThere are theses that emphasize that poverty and democracy are incompatible, that achieving democracy is very unlikely in poor countries and that democracy is most stable in countries that have reduced economic imbalance. Although these theories state that poverty is not inevitable, they would put the poor in a position of being unable to accede to democratization. Surveys reveal that the poorest and least educated sectors are the easiest prey for authoritarian governments. Democracy will never come as a gift from the elite; pressure from below is indispensable. Among the impoverished, active and organized minorities can already be found proposing alternatives to the poverty-generating models. Local, national and international coalitions are forming to exchange experiences, information and resources, and to develop joint strategies, campaigns and policies to confront the issues of poverty. They have proposed significant changes in the current model of development and in international relations, beginning with local political structures, improving standards of living and transferring power to the communities. Against submission, they have erected the right to choose.
Democratization must grow from the citizenry and implies a constant conquest of independent space, opening debate to all. The combination of capitalism and liberal democracy offers few means of generating social solidarity. The dynamics of moving to and consolidating democracy require an organized civil society and a political arena where self-organized groups, movements and individuals with relative autonomy from the state can try to pool values and build solidarity. The struggle against poverty can only be waged via radical democracy, through which the citizenry can build their own participatory space and have an impact on public policy and in the debates related to all areas of social life. Only through democratic practices is it possible to achieve a redistribution of wealth. Redistribution is not just an economic problem, it is also a political problem. Radical democracy produces emancipated ways of life agreed to by the citizenry. The communicative power of the people can approximate the bureaucratic power of functionaries.
The immense power of critical reasonThe future of democracy lies in democratizing the international system. As people have been dispossessed in political decision-making processes, so their political competence has atrophied and their sense of civic duty has been degraded. As politics continue to be fragmented into various dominions together with the possibility of conceiving them together, so the possibility of solidarity and participatory politics is disappearing. The alternative must grow from a community of active citizens who can confront these obstacles. Following the example of Antigone, they must be erected against the reasons of state and unleash a process of including the excluded. Democracy does not eradicate conflicts, but it opens them up and makes them negotiable. With conflicts now internationalized, mechanisms for democracy must be sought on a planetary scale. A major contribution to this goal is found in today's resistance to the suffering engendered by neoliberalism. One indispensable task is to deconstruct neoliberal mythologies and delegitimize the prevailing rhetoric of its proponents.
All is not hopelessNot everything proposed here is mere aspiration. There have already been some successes. Communities already exist in which popular organizations have succeeded in creating local alternative structures, acquiring control and administration of some socioeconomic processes. Social movements and local communities have created committees for the evaluation of concrete projects and solutions.
Globalization has not just subjected the masses to the designs of the few huge financial groups. It has also done much to facilitate the international networking of NGOs and the global organization of social movements. The communication of successes and failures, of problems and struggles has generated globalized solidarity. A mobilized civil society, while not gaining great power, has created spaces that put the existing great power in check through diffuse powers present in the many trenches of society. Institutional diversity has made it possible to test out a great number of social, political and cultural programs.
We have seen that there are alternatives but today, as always, any change that is undertaken has many enemies. First, those who thrived in the former situation and want to see it perpetuated. Change does not come easy and sometimes it seems that the new world disorder will continue under the command of neoliberalism. But possible change is not pure illusion. Although the majority is passive, there does exist an oppositional minority. As long as a critical mass of thinking citizens exists, capable not only of altruistic actions but also of the exercise of critical reason, change will be possible. The liberal democratic model alone is not well prepared to deal with the demands of thinking people in a universalizing world. The classic formulas for integrating society, the state and the nation have entered into crisis.
The Struggle of the Citizenry We live in a globalized society. The signs and the technology are seen everywhere. Another spatial logic is being created, one characteristic of the new processes of capital accumulation, the new organization of production, integration of the markets, mass communication and the exercise of planetary power. The space in which all of these currents are flowing is a globally integrated one.
In this context, despite the difficulty, global indicators already point to the construction of a new citizenry. We must not forget that the first claims of citizenship came on the scene when equal rights were demanded in the face of de facto inequality. And equal rights did not stop with the inequality of individuals or domination of one class over the other. Citizenship, which at first was defined as belonging to a nation, as the source of individual rights and obligations, as collective membership in a political community, has been expanding. Today, we can perceive a global civic ethic—though not one without contradictions.
An important example of the international pressure that has been misrepresented at the national and local level is related to the International Labor Organization's Convention 169. Mexico signed the agreement, and the Mexican Senate ratified it. In the context of indigenous peoples' struggle for autonomy, the agreement served as the basis for the San Andrés Agreement between the Mexan government and the Zapatista National Liberation Movement (EZLN) in 1996. Nevertheless, the government has not respected that agreement and thus has not fulfilled its international commitment. For their part, the indigenous communities have created autonomous municipalities in the zone controlled by the Zapatistas. While the government has used military and other force to try to dismantle them, the communities have held firm. This example has not been circumscribed to the region of Zapatista influence, which has obliged a reflection on the consequences of social participation. This whole struggle has been an learning experience.
One of Mexico's specialists on indigenous affairs, Luis Villoro, has stressed that the autonomous municipalities forming in Chiapas and other regions during 1997 and 1998 are attempts to return power to real men and women in their native localities so they can freely decide their way of life and their social organization. The government has declared these communities illegal. Villoro notes that, according to state legislation, they are, because the function of that legal order has been to replace the direct power of the people with a group that pretends to speak in their name, but without consulting them. He adds, however, that they are not illegal if inspected from the constitutional point of view. If the autonomous municipalities are the creation of the majority of a community, they express a form of real democracy that returns power to the place where men and women act. Villoro has drawn attention to the fact that the repression enacted against the autonomous municipalities amounts to the destruction of a privileged form of democracy.
The emergence of world citizenshipThe dynamics of a cultural democracy that appeals to moral philosophy have given rise to a struggle to diminish economic and social inequality insofar as possible. An ethics of justice principle currently exists that can be shared by peoples of different cultures; it promotes a logic of reciprocity. Equality is not just a principle; it is an accomplishment. Obviously, with neoliberalism, we have been living a regressive period in which globalization has been imposed and an attempt has been made to deprive the base of its already limited ability to analyze local and global problems.
Major paradoxes become evident, like the one we see when international power centers praise globalization and open borders to the interests of capital—at the same time discarding the idea of humanity. A techno-industrial-bureaucratic civilization is now imposing its logic. Nonetheless, the conviction has grown in nucleuses of the base that it is indispensable for us to redefine communal life; that we must learn how to live together in a new way, with a new working and living organization. This conviction has been called the elaboration of a politics of civilization—and there is already talk of the existence of a world citizenship.
Little by little consciousness growsDemocracy is the society of citizens. Citizenship does not exist if there is no legal equality, if there is social exclusion. The concept of citizenship has become central. It is a concept that has developed with different meanings through political practice. Today we can discern a new civil society in formation. The era of globalization is also that of a boom in civic identity. This citizenry creates a synthesis between belonging and justice. On one hand, we see the urgent need to control the absolute power of the markets and financial capital, to make the dealings of market economy public and transparent, to redefine the goals and priorities of technology. On the other, we see the equally urgent need to generate solidarity from the base and this is already perceived as being necessarily global. A new civil society already exists that opposes the empire of the globalized economy. It holds up the principle of "liberty and justice" against the pure economic rationalism. It is a more defensive society, and more ethical than political.
Reactive responses are conducted in the name of diversity and solidarity. They condemn crimes against human dignity. They protect the rights of liberty and diversity. They defend the right to difference, to be recognized as different and equal at the same time. They urge the recognition of the diversity of efforts to wed identity with participation. New models are being created that put solidarity and social citizenship into practice in daily life. Tiny molecules are interconnecting, and creating a global moral consciousness. Human society is becoming conscious of its existence as a world community. More people see the necessity of policies at a world level to establish regulatory systems that would guarantee just balances and exchange. They call for democratic control of the new technologies. Global social demands are rising against exclusionary, poverty-producing globalization. There is a growing awareness of the fact that the world as it is, with all its injustices, is intolerable, and that we must seek radical remedies. There is an internationalization of popular culture and the migrants are the promoters of this mobilization.
There is no solution without pluralismThere are also other tendencies that run in opposition to globalization. There has been a resurgence of nationalism, regionalism and racism. But not all of these are flows; some tendencies are static, rigid, closed. Territorial, regional and ethnic religious, gender and individual identities are being reaffirmed. There are contradictory processes between techno-economic globalization and the growing specificity of identity. We must learn to live together, defending equality and difference at the same time. Given the world's universal and plural nature and because world governability is desirable, ethical principles have to be recognized, rules and institutions must be established, and cultural creation must be respected. We should not lose sight of the fact that human rights have been an historical construct, which have expanded over time through social struggle. Without the recognition and protection of human rights, there is neither democracy nor peace, since the minimum conditions necessary for peaceful solutions at the regional and world level are being stripped away.
There is no democratic progress without the recognition of otherness. Citizenship is structurally linked to recognition of the other. It is the crystallization of a series of demands relating to surmounting all forms of discrimination. It implies being taken into account in public decisions. The viewpoint of civil society includes all citizens, just as it appeals to common norms. For this reason the members of modern societies try to cooperate with each other in an equitable and non-violent way. And they assure equal liberties to all citizens without considering their cultural origins, religious convictions or life projects.
It is possible to build consensus within pluralism. In spite of diverse opinions, political agreements are possible. But the traditional principles of human rights must be completed with the rights of minorities. In a multicultural state—as the majority of states are at the end of the 20th century—it is necessary to safeguard both universal rights, assigned to individuals independent of their group identity, and differentiated rights for ethnic minorities.
Naturally, the rights of minorities are limited by the principles of individual liberty, democracy and social justice. The rights of self-government constitute a delegation of power to minorities through some kind of federalism. Individual and collective rights are not counterposed. There is a "differentiated" citizenry. Globalization has made the myth of state cultural homogeneity unreal. Justice among groups requires that members of the different groups be conceded specific rights that grow out of their group differences. Accommodation to difference is the essence of true equality. The resources and policies essential for the survival of minority cultures can be undervalued, which creates an inequality that, if not corrected, becomes a great injustice. Differentiated rights in function of the group can help correct these disadvantages. External protections assure that members of a minority have the same opportunities as the members of the majority to live and work within their own culture.
Cultural diversity should not be looked on with disdain. The right to community has to be combined with the rights of the individuals within it. In societies that recognize differentiated rights proper to a group, the members of such groups are incorporated into the political community not only as individuals but also through their group. These differentiated forms of citizenship should be admissable. Citizenship is somewhat more differentiated and less homogeneous than classic theory supposed. The rights of traditionally disenfranchised groups to representation are claims in favor of inclusion.
Minority rights: The future for us allCitizenship does not just consist of a legal status. It is also an identity, an expression of belonging to a political community. It must include poliethnic rights and rights of representation to accommodate ethnic and other groups disenfranchised within the national community. To assume that it is only necessary to treat their members as individuals is to paper over ethnic injustice. We should guard against the possibility that one group dominate another, just as we should avoid oppression of members within groups. Equality should exist among and within groups. Minority rights are fundamental for the world's future.
Citizenship is not a list of rights and responsibilities delineated in universalist terms. Universality and citizenship have to be integrated recognizing specific features and linkages. Citizenship could be considered as entitlement to access to a certain level of well-being based on civil, social and political rights. This access has always been achieved through political struggle leading to the securing and amplifying of rights. The challenge is enormous. We must reorganize individual and collective life, and link autonomy with interdependence. We have to live together with tolerance.
The anti-democratic empireToday they want us to believe that globalization is a natural and inevitable phenomenon to which we must surrender for lack of any other option. For some time now, capitalism has had a globalizing dynamic. In its latest stage, stimulated by the third industrial revolution, the rhythm of this dynamic has accelerated rapidly. Current globalization discourse belongs to the field of ideology, not science. An alternative to this impoverishing globalization requires, more than anything, a critical attitude that can unmask current neoliberal capitalist propaganda. Next, the reorientation of investment and the design of public policies must be examined; emphasis must be put on productive activity and limits imposed on speculative plundering.
Neoliberalism has proclaimed, on the one hand, an economy freed from state invention, while on the other hand, the long arms of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have intervened to subdue those who dare doubt or contradict its directives. Neoliberalism has fought against social struggle and its gains. Exploitation of workers is on the rise, the system generates vast numbers of unemployed, real income is dropping and benefits to capital are rising. This installs misery. There is no end to the plundering of the resources of poor nations. The financial elite of both the North and the South are the beneficiaries. The great financial bourgeoisie has usurped the decision-making power that once belonged to nations. A de facto anti-democracy reigns.
Paradoxically, the World Bank acts as if it is the protagonist in the fight against poverty when, in reality, it is a key cause of increasing global poverty. 1996 was proclaimed the International Year for the Eradication of Poverty and a ten-year period was set to fulfill this goal. Undaunted, the trans- nationals continue to impose their laws. Globalization implies that every day the poor become poorer thanks to the tactics of speculators and the restructuring measures.
The elected or the electorate?Governmental promises to deal with extreme poverty—emanating from political calculation rather than humanitarian convictions of justice—amount to no more than palliative measures and propaganda. So-called sustainable development, as put in practice by those in power, has only generated more concentration of wealth and political power. Evaluations of their programs to combat poverty, carried out by the programs' designers themselves, have reported very poor results. Neoliberalism has seen many successes in its drive to dismantle the welfare state, while it is pushing for the construction of a "nursemaid" protectionist and subsidizing state for the rich. Wealthy debtors have found ways to translate debt into funds to pay off creditors.
These practices require organized opposition that can control finance capital. And this goes far beyond the ballot box. Proponents of alternative policy options find their hands tied in the face of the real decisions, which are no longer being made at the parliamentary or congressional level. All this serves to undermine democracy's legitimacy. The majorities think democracy is not functioning well, and the electorate is getting fed up. More and more are convinced that elections only serve to bolster the interests of the elected, not to defend the interests of the electorate. Electoral game-rules manipulation and electoral-process intervention are on the rise. A state that is powerless to resolve the problems of the majority generates indifference in the electorate. The popular classes feel defeated.
Still weak, still the minority, but...All is not lost, however. Since we have seen that the causes of poverty lie in the economic system, the search for alternatives must occur through political organization. Neoliberalism has rubbed against the social grain. The structuring of aware social organizations in a way that allows them to protect themselves and exert pressure on the economic system is still very weak. But this does not mean that ways cannot be found to resist first, and then begin to take up the challenge, once the correlation of forces begins to shift. Democratization as a goal implies controls on industry, trade and banking—a control exercised from the base. This is extremely difficult, but not impossible.
Until now, the financial groups have had a strong sense of class and no organized resistance has blocked them, because they have led us to believe that stopping them is impossible. A nucleus of resistance, however, has begun to question this dogma. The responses to this power can be become interlaced through the diverse social movements. Today, they are a minority, but a minority rooted in everyday life. They can begin by opposing in practice the supposed fatality of the economic laws and support humanization of the social world. They can take advantage of globalization to weave an international resistance to neoliberalism. The only way to achieve this will be through the dynamics of democratization from the base, so it can begin to build a new citizenry.
The right to happinessThe new citizenry is starting to place renewed value on the principle of the common good. It thus defends everyone's right to a just access to food, housing, energy, education, health care, transportation, information and democracy. The new citizens are demanding a world society more just in the social aspects, more effective in the economic aspects, more democratic in the political aspects, and more attentive to caring for the environment. They seek a sustainable economy that is an alternative to the one that is masking the present powers, one that does not destroy human and natural resources. Tendencies are arising in opposition to ennui, selfishness and irresponsibility. New forms of participation are being sought and alternative networks are being built. There is an attempt to combine participation and decision-making. The search is for a world regulated by men and women, not by the market.
The answer to economic globalization is ethical globalization. The demand persists to guarantee the common minimums and the worldwide task of ending poverty. Development logic needs to be combined with people's logic. A shared civil ethos is being formulated, which proclaims the need to recognize the value of human life. Goals are being proposed that link the economy with other objectives: the rights to work, liberty, equality and, above all, happiness. Each day, the creation of an alternative, humanist project becomes more urgent. This project requires that the economy and the state function according to the needs of humanity, and not the reverse. It requires a policy that places people back in the center, that regenerates a citizenry that feels the Earth as our common motherland. For all of this, it is necessary to invent the possible, even though, today, it may seem improbable.