Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 166 | Mayo 1995



Copenhagen: The Potential Success of a Failure

The conclusion out of the of Copenhagen Summit is clear: world poverty is eradicable in the short term, and there are resources for it. What is lacking is the political will to do it, and above all, the lack of a new model of social and economic development.

Xabier Gorostiaga

The recent summit on social development in Copenhagen, which took up the issues of poverty, unemployment and social disintegration in the world, was possibly the most important international summit ever held. It was important not only for the number of heads of state who attended the March 6 12 event, but also for the participation of some 14,000 representatives of civil society who attended as well. In the name of their societies from both the North and the South, some participated in the official summit either representing their NGOs or accompanying their government's delegation while others met in the "Global Village," at the parallel summit of NGOs from around the world.

The very fact that, as 50 years of the United Nations is being celebrated, it has become necessary to recognize that poverty, unemployment and social discrimination are dominant facts of today's world is itself significant. It at least implies admitting that these problems are escaping the control of the international institutions responsible for them. The official summit document explicitly acknowledges the gravity of this triple problem; that its three facets are all urgent priorities that the international community must deal with now, as well as that economic and social development are two aspects of the very same process.

Although the results of the official summit were ambiguous and even contradictory, reflecting the absence of political will on the part of world power to respond to the challenge, this recognition is a potential success within what was the summit's formal failure. The triple themes are now on the world's table, on everyone's agenda, and they weigh on the international conscience. No honest individual or social group that demands a policy to eradicate poverty, respond to unemployment or avoid social disintegration can any longer be called radical or communist.

The end of the Cold War has removed some of the ideological skew from these issues, which are at the core of the current crisis of civilization. The capitalist neoliberal market model is seeing its own failures in the mirror, naked, no longer wrapped in the ideological mantle used during the Cold War.

No Lack of Resources -- Just a Lack of Conscience

Repetitive and hollow ringing rhetoric prevailed in the "Bella Center," headquarters of the official summit. There were exceptions, however: the Nordic governments' positions; the important "political testament" of France's President Francois Mitterand at the end of his life, in which he recognized the international community's responsibility and unwillingness to deal with the problems; the declarations of Nelson Mandela, of Fidel Castro, and of the representatives of some small countries of the South. The analyses of some representatives of specialized UN organizations the United Nations Development Program, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the International Workers Organization and the UN Research Institute for Social Development also hit the mark.

The role of Juan Somavía, Chile's ambassador to the United Nations and architect of the social summit, was especially distinguished. On numerous occasions he recognized that the problem of poverty, unemployment and social disintegration is not for lack of resources, but for lack of conscience and political will on the part of governments, and lack of participation by civil society. Somavía's attitude was also key in opening more room for the NGOs in the official summit and creating links between the official and parallel ones.

It is fundamental that each country provide follow up to the set of summit declarations and analyses, to its 10 commitments and its plan of action, so they don't all remain mere rhetorical formulations. It is also very important to rescue the analysis and proposals of what was called the "prepcom," the preparatory meetings throughout 1994 that collected important alternative contributions of numerous social actors all over the world. Regrettably, this whole preparatory phase got so progressively watered down that the issues had to be reintroduced into the documents at the start of the summit. This only happened after a lot of pressure, which was fortified by the facilities the Danish government gave the media. It should be added that the media's informative work during the days of the summit was excellent.

The international community has a huge accumulation of analysis and proposals that, if worked on, could be the basis of a peoples' agenda and a program of action. In this regard, the campaign of the "180 days" remaining between the Copenhagen summit and the Beijing summit on women in September implies a clear willingness on the part of civil society's representatives to insure that all these contributions not remain at the rhetorical level or only on paper. Latin America obtained an agreement between representatives of the Social Action Ministries and Latin America's NGOs to meet in May in Argentina. By the end of April, these NGOs will have already had a preparatory meeting in Quito to work up an agenda and a calendar for applying the social summit's proposals in the continent. We hope that the Central American social summit, held in San Salvador at the end of March and filled with the worn out official rhetoric, will not be a lamentable omen for the rest of the continent. No more declarations are needed. What is urgently needed is a plan of action, and the resources and political will to implement it.

The Focal Point of the Contradiction

The alternative declaration of the NGOs that were in Copenhagen, from which we offer a number of extracts below, put its finger on the summit's main contradiction. The world has no integrated and harmonious vision, no systematic global view of social and economic development. The fragmented vision that dominates neoliberal market ideology does not allow visualizing, proposing or implementing an integral, sustained, equitable and participatory development.

This neoliberal ideology, which various authors call "market fundamentalism," "market monotheism," and "theology of the market," has led to such reductionism and oversimplification that it does not allow the issue of development to be dealt with in all its complexity and integrity. Without dealing with the power relations and recognizing that the market is only a social relation, the fundamental contradiction of modern civilization the concentration and centralization of wealth, information, technology, political and military power and institutional control cannot be confronted.

The lack of democracy in the current system of power relations means that "market democracy," so insistently proclaimed in the Summit of the Americas in Miami, implies nothing more than a monopolistic and asymmetric market and an exclusively electoral and delegated democracy. These, in turn, do not allow civil society to set up the mechanisms of openness, participation and accountability in which the originating source of power is to be found.

There is Money for This Struggle

A second piece of information that became evident in the social summit was that enough more than enough resources exist to successfully deal with poverty, unemployment and social disintegration. As the Chilean Juan Somavía insisted, today's crisis is not a problem of resources. In many speeches and different analyses, four sources were found that imply no new costs to the citizens of any country. They do, however, presuppose both a relocation of resources with a social priority and a more systematic vision of development. These four sources of resources are:
A tax on speculative financial capital. A 0.5% tax on the speculative financial capital that moves freely through the world today estimated at approximately $900 billion, or three times the reserves of all the central banks in the world and some three to four times the movement of productive and commercial capital would triple the resources currently earmarked to development in the whole world. This tax is called the "Tobin tax," after Nobel economic prize winner James Tobin, who suggested it.

A 3 5% military spending reduction. An annual reduction of $815 billion in military budgets is possible without affecting the security of any country and would bring in a sum almost equivalent to what is dedicated to international cooperation in the whole world.

A debt for development swap. If the countries that are the most indebted and have the least resources could move 50% of what they pay in debt service to a reconstruction fund for development, especially aimed at the fight against poverty, unemployment and social disintegration, the amount obtained would also equal the current total of development cooperation aid.

A 0.7% tax on the major international corporations. All of the developed countries promised back in the 1980s to contribute 0.7% of their gross domestic product to cooperation programs for the development of the South, although only a few have complied. But states should not contribute this amount by themselves; the 500 largest transnational companies and banks, which today control between 60% and 80% of trade and international financial transactions, should do their part.

Help Doesn't Always Help

Resources are not the problem. In fact, it could even be said that it is not necessary to dig into all the potential resources. The causes of poverty, unemployment and social disintegration could be dealt with at their root with even fewer resources if a more integrated and democratic vision of development existed. Herein lies the main cause of our world's crisis.

The World Bank itself recognized that the billions of dollars Africa received in the 1980s has not mitigated any of the three problems. Furthermore, the continent is becoming more of a desert, and poverty and tribalization are advancing, creating increasingly more traumatic crisis. We have only to look at Somalia, Ruanda, Burundi, Angola... It is clear: help does not help if it does not complement an endogenous development project. Development cannot be imported or grafted on from outside. It must be generated from within the local culture or cultures of each country and region, with their own social relations and historical surroundings.

The growing criticism of the "development" promoted by the neoliberal model is noteworthy. Even heads of state and ministers of developed countries themselves criticize it. That is something in itself. It indicates that consciousness is growing about the gravity of the world situation and the need to revise the system and its institutions. What does not yet exist is enough accumulated political will to make the decisions that would truly respond to this gravity and revise the system. This duality, expressed in the social summit in an obvious way, is both an achievement and a failure. It is the drama in which we find ourselves, the great drama of the summit itself.

The Emerging New Consensus

"Summit fatigue" has not prevented an emerging new force from beginning to consolidate, despite all the worries and dramas, between the 1992 Río Summit and the upcoming 1995 Beijing Summit. This is possibly the most encouraging thing felt in Copenhagen. The sectorialization, fragmentation and dispersion that characterized civil society's demands in the 1980s and the early 1990s are beginning to be surmounted. The sectorial demands of the ecologists, women, unions, indigenous peoples, communicators, children and youth, pacifists, etc., etc., are starting to come together in an emerging alternative program with a common vision, common values, common interests and a grand alliance against the equally common threats. The fact that all sectors voluntarily joined together to celebrate March 8, International Women's Day and that they favored women's leadership in the Copenhagen Summit suggests a communion of interests not seen before at the level of civil society within the countries themselves, much less at a world level.

This is the most significant and promising reality for the future. The possibility of beginning to put together a people's agenda, a common plan of action and a calendar of goals with concrete deadlines based on it could give meaning to what could be called a "globalization process from the bottom up."
A bold pragmatism is becoming increasingly evident, even predominant, in this process. Protest is combining with proposals and, as was said in Copenhagen, the need to "walk on our own two feet" is being embraced. We need to work within the official institutions, trying to multiply our political strength, and, at the same time, work in all the parallel and alternative institutions with an agenda of our own that complements the official one. This double strategy is absolutely necessary. It is born of the clear and now universal recognition of the system's capacity to coopt, paralyze and, if need be, destroy the possibility of alternatives and even of the space to think and work through alternatives.

Audit the World Bank and IMF

Democratizing the United Nations system and the Bretton Woods financial institutions (the World Bank and International Monetary Fund) was one of the priority demands in Copenhagen. If the World Bank and the IMF are allowed to maintain their all encompassing and uncontrolled powers, they will continue to have the capacity to impede and abort any kind of alternative. As Erick Hobsbawn, historian from Cambridge and London, said in Copenhagen, even the most authoritarian states in the world are more representative than the Bretton Woods institutions.

An independent audit of the work of these two institutions, to be carried out between the Copenhagen and Beijing summits, was one of the priorities of civil society. It is fundamental to make these two institutions more transparent, accountable and democratic. This is especially the case now, while profound confrontations are going on within them due to the failure of their own neoliberal policies, particularly in Africa and Latin America. If this debate remains behind the locked doors of these institutional fiefdoms, many years will pass and many tragedies will occur before solutions are found to so many accumulated and growing crises.

Mexico's social, financial and political crisis shows that the neoliberal system is a failure. The country shown off as a model of the success of structural adjustment, elected to move into the North through the front door of the North American Free Trade Agreement, fell into a crisis of awesome proportions in only two days. There is only one explanation: the system doesn't work; it is perverse.

IMF director Michel Camdessus recognized in his March 7 speech in Copenhagen that "we have all been surprised by the first financial crisis of the 21st century," but, despite all the evidence, he did not criticize the free moving financial capital and other speculative phenomena that caused the crisis. Instead, he suggested that to deal with "the unexpected changes and contagious effects of market sense, one requisite is that we not weaken the structural adjustment effort but rather maintain a permanent structural adjustment." To avoid these financial crises, suggested Camdessus, "more than fighting against the instability of capital movements, it requires taking measures of prevention, oversight and alarm systems" in a way that can cure these market variations "with appropriate resource levels, strengthening capital quotas and the role of the SDRs [social development resources] and ESAFS [enhanced structural adjustment facilities]."
After all the accumulated experience and the "tequila effect" triggered by the Mexican crisis, it is shocking that the recommendation is "more of the same." The same medicine is prescribed even when the general clamor shows that it is what provoked this upheaval. It is an another obvious sign of the huge contradiction, the schizophrenia, that was palpable in Copenhagen.

The crisis may now be obvious, but the mechanisms and the political will to get to the causes of the crisis are still not visible. The "theology" that makes the inevitability of the neoliberal system dogma, the ideologizing and fundamentalism that accept no questioning, are at the core of the problem. Ul Hak, director of the Human Development Study, considers that challenging this core is the "political battle" of the moment.

Intellectual Crisis, Theoretical Vacuum

More than enough evidence exists to prove that the neoliberal market system is a failure. In fact, it has failed. It endures, first of all, due to a lack of political will, given the costs involved to confront a system of domination that, for the first time in history, is homogeneous and worldwide. It endures also due to an intellectual crisis. The ideological positions of neoliberalism represented by the University of Chicago and also largely by Harvard University were consolidated around the crisis of state socialism and the end of the Cold War. Nonetheless, neither the triumphalism at the end of the 1980s nor the confusion accompanying the epochal change still exist. Everyone recognizes we are today living in an era of uncertainty and perplexity, but that does not mean accepting as the solution such an evidently insufficient and failed model, which is triggering so much insecurity among the citizenry that it could compound itself into a situation of geopolitical insecurity.

The current vacuum of alternatives shows, at the very least, a profound intellectual crisis, and above all a profound ethical crisis. There were moments and exchanges of high intellectual quality and ethical profundity in Copenhagen, which not only raised hope but gave a basis to the optimism to think we could be starting to cross the threshold of uncertainty and perplexity. In the historic and beautiful assembly hall of the University of Copenhagen, the UN Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) called together a group of prominent social scientists, Nobel prize winners, academics and university rectors from all over the world. At the end of the summit, after a weekend that seems to have exhausted the energies of all Copenhagen, 300 500 people attended a panel to reflect on and contribute to "rethinking social development."
UNRISD director Daram Ghai emphasized the current intellectual crisis and crisis of commitment in the academic world and in social science research. These crises, he said, are taken advantage of by the simplistic and reductionist neoliberal economists, who attempt to explain the complexity of reality and of the global changes in purely economistic terms and by market dynamics. His dramatic conclusion was that the history, culture and integral nature of society and of life, with their values, interests, contradictions and dialectics, find themselves facing a theoretical vacuum today.

The rector of the University of Copenhagen, Kjelk Mollgard, accented the fact that the social crisis cannot be resolved by increasing economic growth; it can only come from increasing knowledge and democratization. "Theory is the most needed element in an epochal change," he said, remarking that any attempt to reduce society to a market mechanism and human beings to homo economicus is a threat to peace and democracy and to economic development itself.

The recognition of an intellectual crisis and a crisis of theory about this epoch of change is one of the most provocative challenges to come out of Copenhagen.

Solidarity, Compassion and Dignity

The state, recalled Erick Hobsbawn, was largely created through a system of organizing the educational processes. The forced homogenization established in the countries of the East and the West through different mechanisms but with certain common objectives is today faced with cultures, identities and nationalities that are demanding a vital space for their historic realization.

Right up to our days, he also recalled, nationality has been defined by geographic frameworks and territorial borders, in which the citizenry responded to the community state. In the 1990s, however, the supra-nationalization of institutions, the global market and the growing cultural globalization require a "planetary citizenry" for which institutions, cultural comprehension and political organization do not yet exist.

"Market monotheism" tries to respond to this situation. But the University of Copenhagen has been reflecting in another direction: an integrating and symbiotic fusion is needed among the state, the market, civil society and the cultural and historical roots of each society. Grappling with the geopolitics and geo-economics dominant in the past decades, the reflection emphasized the role of geo-culture and cultural identity, as well as the need for a new, planetary level social contract with its own institutions. It would be a new world juridical and economic order that would get us past this antagonistic civilization in which we are surviving, leading to a more integrated, democratic and sustainable, and thus more governable, society.

The complexity of all these analyses did not mesh well with the reductionism of the dominant speeches in the official summit. The new language and vision contrast with the official language and lack of vision. Quality of life; solidarity; compassion; commitment; genuine democracy; sharing diversity to mutually enrich ourselves; overcoming enclave societies and insecurity; democratizing knowledge, technology and power; refinding our own dignity as the heart of economic policy; negotiating life styles to overcome excess consumerism; underdevelopment for the poor majorities and bad development of the satisfied minorities of the "champagne glass civilization"... Speaking of all these realities created an intellectual and spiritual environment in Copenhagen that opened one up to hope, despite the lack of creativity, the fear and the perplexity that dominated the official summit.

For a Planetary Citizenry

With the Copenhagen event now behind us, the process this summit opened up is barely beginning. The meeting's fundamental conclusion was that poverty could be eradicated from the world in a short time. The resources exist to do it. But the states and international institutions have no political will and commitment. Above all, they have no new model of social and economic development.

The conclusion that feeds our hopes is that, faced with deculturalized bureaucracies and the sophisticated but heartless culture of the elites, a creative intelligence committed to the culture, ethics and identity of peoples is emerging from below. It is the intelligence of millions of human beings who aspire to be citizens of the whole planet.



The Free Market Is No Solution.
We had hoped that the Social Summit would take up the structural causes of poverty, unemployment and social disintegration, as well as of environmental degradation. And that it would put people at the center of the development process. Although some advance was made in introducing the key issues of egalitarian and sustainable social development into the agenda during the negotiation process for the summit, we believe that the basic framework adopted enters into frontal contradiction with these objectives. The fact that the documents state that the "free and open market forces," which are not accountable, are the basis for organizing the national and international economies aggravates rather than contributes to the solution of today's global social crisis. This erroneous premise endangers the realization of the objectives defined in the Social Summit.

On the Backs of Women.
A system that puts growth over any other objective, including people's wellbeing, destroys economies instead of regenerating
them, exploiting the time, work and sexuality of women. It stimulates capital to externalize the social and environmental costs. It generates growth without increasing employment, annuls workers' rights and attacks the role of unions. Throughout such a process, the system unloads a disproportionate part of the burden only on women, eroding their health and wellbeing and, thus, that of those under their responsibility. It leads to an unequal distribution in the use of natural resources between and within countries, which generates social apartheid, feeds racism, civil conflict and war, and attacks the rights of women and indigenous peoples.

More Losers than Winners.
We cannot accept the support the official documents give to the new trade order defined in the Final Minutes of the Uruguay Round and the articles of the accord establishing the World Trade Organization (WTO). These documents do not consider that liberalizing trade through GATT and the WTO creates more losers than winners. The negative impacts will be disastrous for the poor countries and for poor and working people in all countries. The interests of local producers are particularly affected by the articles on foreign investment, biodiversity and the rights of intellectual property.

There Is No Universal Model.
By rejecting the prevailing economic model we are not suggesting the imposition of another universal model. In its place, we propose innovating and finding local responses to community needs, promoting women's capacities and energies in complete equality with those of men, benefiting from valuable traditions as well as new technologies.

Transform the Military Economy into Civilian Economy.
The governments of the industrialized countries should reduce their disproportionate demand for the available natural resources, introducing an appropriate mixture of incentives, ecological tax reforms, legislation and environmental accounting systems to find new consumption and production models.

The governments of the South have a right to protect their peoples from the effects of unregulated and liberalized trade, especially regarding food security and national production. They have the legitimate right to regulate the market and take fiscal or legal measures to combat inequality among their people. In this aspect, Africa should be given preferential treatment.

Governments should commit themselves to reducing military spending so it does not exceed their spending on education and health, and to increase the conversion of military resources to peaceful ends. This "peace dividend" should be distributed equally between a national and a world demilitarization fund for social development. The military economy should be converted into a civilian economy.

The Example of Mexico.
In the 180 days remaining between the Copenhagen Summit and the Beijing Conference, we demand an independent investigation and audit of the actions of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. After the financial collapse in Mexico, it is essential that the international community avoid the future disasters that could result from the refusal of the Bretton Woods institutions to move away from the agenda established by the financial and corporate communities, the government of the United States and the Ministers of Finances of the North.

We Don't Have Much Time.
We recognize that existing power relations do not allow our objectives to be realized. We representatives of global civil society request that governments and political leaders recognize that the existing system has opened up the most dangerous fissure in the history of humanity, between a wealthy minority that consumes too much and a majority of impoverished humanity in the South, and increasingly in the North. No nation divided in such a dramatic way has ever remained stable. No border or force can withstand the desperation and resentment that a failed system is generating so actively today.

Not much time remains to us. We are at the point of leaving our sons and daughters a world in which not even we would like to live. But we find tremendous inspiration and hope in the
fact that the world community of NGOs, which are massively participating in the Social Summit, could agree to a common understanding and a strategy for the permanent improvement of Humanity and Nature. By sharing responsibility, we can obtain from the current crisis the creativity necessary to make a World Community that really functions. This is our common commitment starting with the Copenhagen Summit.

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