Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 275 | Junio 2004


Latin America

Rhetoric Reigned in the European-Latin American Summit

While observers concurred that the summit did not live up to expectations, groups struggling for “Another World” were outside with both protests and proposals.

Jorge Alonso

The Third Summit of Heads of State of Latin America, the Caribbean and the European Union was held in Guadalajara on May 28-29. The first had taken place in 1999 in Río de Janeiro to establish political, economic and cultural relations between the two regions. The second, held in 2002 in Madrid, made progress on specific agreements and treaties. This third one covered two main issues: social cohesion—including quality of life, the foreign debt, poverty, social development policies, jobs, income distribution, migration and cooperation in education, culture, science and technology—and issues related to multilateralism and the reform of the United Nations. It also touched on several points related to economic relations, including international financing, regional integration processes and bi-regional association.

Representing the 58 countries in the two regions were 33 heads of state, 14 foreign ministers, 4 deputy prime ministers, 3 vice presidents, a deputy minister and 3 ambassadors. The heads of Great Britain, Italy, Peru and Argentina chose not to attend, although the most striking absence was that of Fidel Castro, largely due to a diplomatic crisis between Mexico and Cuba, but also arguing that the summit was organized in such a way that it would prevent any real debate.

The foreign relations ministers met separately on May 27, the day before the summit officially got underway, and the heads of state met the following day, after the inauguration. Ignoring democratic norms of transparency, the rulers hid their work behind closed doors, giving the press only indirect and incomplete information.

Civil society’s issues in the summit

Some of the input used by the teams working on these issues came from civil society organizations. At the beginning of the year, Mexico’s foreign minister had offered several organizations the opportunity to pose questions to be included in the debate.
These organizations raised points related to indicators of social and economic inequality and asymmetry, when equal treatment is given to those that are not equal; job creation; fiscal policies to reduce social inequality; ways to prevent speculative capital from destroying the efforts of entire societies, including the proposed Tobin tax; and the redefinition of states’ participation in international financial institutions like the IMF and the World Bank to guarantee that the same criteria of democracy, transparency and accountability demanded from nation states be met by the institutions themselves.

While a few of these issues were included in the final document, the voice of civil society was absent from the summit meeting. The iron wall surrounding the site where the summit was held demonstrated that the governments did not want to listen to society. The summit did, however, make room for powerful business lobbies and maintained open relations with them. The social organizations noted that the trade agreements—which offered a few crumbs in the form of quotas in the agricultural market with misleading prices in exchange for juicy concessions—responded not only to pressure from the European Union but also from the United States, which was not present at the meeting but nonetheless determined much of what happened there.

All that did not prevent civil society from being seen and heard. It organized its own alternative meeting outside the doors of this summit, as it has at others in recent years.

Without touching the United States

Observers had predicted that the political agreements would be easier than the trade agreements, but this proved not to be totally true. Many of the Latin American participants wanted to include a condemnation of the United States in the final document for its embargo against Cuba, but the Europeans did not want to upset the US government.

In the end, the final declaration contained only a generic statement of opposition to any laws or measures that violate international law. It called on all countries that have not done so to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which commits industrialized countries to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. And it called on all countries to adhere to the Rome Statute that gave rise to the International Criminal Court, which judges crimes against humanity. These two issues are directly related to US policies, as the United States has rejected both international accords. Nonetheless, the United States was not mentioned by name.
Latin America also proposed that the final declaration condemn the torture of Iraqi prisoners by US troops. After a tense debate, and again without directly naming the United States, participants agreed to include only a general condemnation of the use of torture against prisoners of war.

Without touching subsidies or the foreign debt

Europe’s agricultural subsidies were also a source of tension, making it hard to reach consensus on the issue of international trade. Latin America demanded the elimination of subsidies that distort commercial agriculture. The Europeans, while recognizing that some countries are extremely vulnerable to economic and trade policies, refused to deal with subsidies. They agreed only to propose a commitment to make significant progress in the WTO talks. Nor could agreement be reached about the enormous drain on developing nations caused by the foreign debt.

Latin America proposed the idea that paying off the debt should not be allowed to put a break on national development, especially when investments in infrastructure, education and health are so desperately needed. But the European Union countered that any solution must consider the debtor country’s ability to maintain access to international financial markets.

Preparing the final document

The summit’s final declaration was worked out over the course of some twenty meetings among the participating countries’ negotiating teams. The negotiators agreed with the principle that defending multilateralism implies rejecting a unipolar international society with a single superpower imposing its will and its vision of the future. They discussed how a new global balance requires increasing cooperation between Latin America and the European Union in defense of international law. They agreed to work towards reforming the United Nations and creating a new international financial architecture to guarantee stability and development. They discussed how inequality prevents social cohesion and noted that new economic and social policies are needed to substantially decrease inequality and promote growth. They emphasized the need to deal with the region’s excessive social exclusion, which erodes democratic institutions and prevents sustainable economic development. This discussion was tied to issues of good governance, the fight against corruption, the reform of political parties and other similar issues. Participants concurred that poverty, exclusion and inequality not only weaken democracy and threaten peace and stability but also affront human dignity and make it impossible for broad sectors of society to contribute to growth. They recognized the importance of cooperation in dealing with drug trafficking and opened a discussion on the issue of migration, noting the importance of emigrants’ remittances in the economy of developing nations and the need to ensure that no restrictions are placed on these transfers. They also proposed expanding programs to share experiences in health and education.

In addition, the participants discussed new measures regarding regional and sub-regional integration to speed economic growth and facilitate new advances in bi-regional collaboration. They emphasized the common values shared by the European Union, Latin America and the Caribbean: respect for human rights and democratic principles, the market economy, the advantages of globalization and new technological progress

European integration,
Latin American disintegration

The heads of state signed cooperation agreements on economic, political and social issues, to be implemented through national policies. Among those that stood out were the agreements to reform the United Nations and institutions like the IMF and WTO. The official summit concluded with a call to create greater social welfare and a sharp criticism by Cuba over the flagrant omissions and ambiguities in the final document, such as the failure to mention laws like Helms-Burton that undermine multilateralism or the abuse of war prisoners committed by the United States.

Critics also noted that the development of a strategic association between the two regions seems more rhetorical than real, since Latin American integration remains a distant goal itself. In general, observers concurred that the summit did not live up to expectations.

A world with room for many worlds

In the style of the World Social Forum, some 50 civil society organizations from Mexico and abroad prepared their own Europe-Latin America and Caribbean Social Summit, which they called “Alternative Ties.” The “other world” groups participating in these alternative events argued that official summits such as the one in Guadalajara do little if anything to resolve the great problems facing humanity. On the contrary, they encourage mechanisms that maintain them, since apart from certain formalities and rituals that appear to take civil society into account, the true discussions go on behind people’s backs, and the true consequences of the resulting unpublished agreements are covered up through an enormous amount of disinformation.
These groups, which have acquired their collective designation because they embrace the belief of the World Social Forum that “another world is possible”—had been planning for weeks before the summit to ensure that all their voices would rise in unison against injustice, war and misery, and in favor of freedom, justice and peace. They established networks to organize and disseminate information during the days of global rebellion and protest that took place during that last week of May in Guadalajara. They worked together to organize the caravans that came to Guadalajara and the camps set up there, and to prepare roundtables, demonstrations and action plans. They also did a lot of public relations work before the summit to ensure that the city’s conservative majority would not view the “other world” contingents that arrived in the city with fear.
They formed a cooordinating body in Guadalajara that took the name “Guadalajara: Another May,” to encourage arenas for talks and meetings among individuals and social movements. The groups’ slogan was “Building a world where there’s room for many free, sovereign and independent worlds.”

The relations we want with Europe

The alternative forums included a wide range of activities, from academic and informational events to theater, videos and concerts, in which participants themselves planned agendas and organized events in tents and at various sites around the city. There they talked about the kinds of relations civil society wanted to establish with the European Union, which include not only trade but also social issues. They noted that the summit was taking place at a time when Latin America faces a new US offensive aimed at imposing its hegemony through a hemispheric agreement—the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA)—and a proliferation of bilateral free trade agreements, attempts to exert political and military control over several countries and threats to invade Cuba. During this same time, economic agreements and investments by the European Union’s member countries are also increasing, but only in favor of transnational corporations.

The main issues that civil society addressed in response to the government agenda were the increasing domination of these transnational companies, the migration explosion, unemployment, the deterioration of social security, the privatization of social services, the unending foreign debt burden, the desperate and unjust situation in the countryside, the lack of transparency and democracy and the human rights violations. All these issues are manifestations of the same global policy and all have implications for democracy, sovereignty, social justice, economic relations and peace.

Participants in the alternative forums examined the likely social and environmental impacts in both the North and the South of the European Union’s investment agreements in Latin America and the Caribbean, including their specific impacts on women. They debated how to get out of the transnational stranglehold, and discussed solidarity and cooperation strategies among the Latin American and European peoples.

They criticized the official event’s failure to examine economic asymmetries among the regions and charged that the official agreements merely guaranteed profits for companies and investors without paying attention to the differentiated impacts they would have on different countries. For this reason, they felt, the summit agreements scarcely differed from proposals like the FTAA and other free trade agreements. Participants also challenged the notion that countries could achieve social cohesion without questioning the neoliberal paradigm.

Demonstrations and repression

The alternative discussions resulted in an overall declaration, a plan of action, a report on the meetings and a proposal to follow up on them. The alternative declaration contained several points that had been excluded from the official statement: an energetic rejection of aggressive actions and unilateral policies in the Middle East, an explicit censure of the United States for the torture of Iraqi prisoners, and an emphatic condemnation of the US economic blockade against Cuba. On the issue of migration, the declaration spoke of a need to take measures to eliminate discrimination, racism and xenophobia. It also demanded that developed countries fulfill their commitment to devote 0.7% of their GDP to development cooperation.

Several demonstrations also took place. On May 28, a march was held to celebrate the conclusion of the work of the alternative forums, with the participation of workers, peasants, indigenous people, students and a wide range of groups from Jalisco, the rest of Mexico and abroad. It was organized as a festive, peaceful march, but was infiltrated by provocateurs. A small group of anarchists painted slogans on local stores and when they reached the police barricades blocking access to the summit site, there was a violent clash. Three businesses were sacked, 6 banks and 25 stores were damaged and several dozen people were detained and wounded, mostly civilians. The police responded with excessive violence and arbitrary detentions. The following day, young people’s organizations denounced the persecution to which they had been subjected and organized demonstrations in Guadalajara and Mexico City to demand the release of those detained. Lawyers from independent organizations that participated in the alternative summit charged that the police had committed serious human rights violations. Despite testimonies of abuse and torture, Guadalajara’s PAN governor justified the repression. Thus, while participants in the summit were condemning torture, the PAN government of Jalisco practiced it against its own youth. The authoritarian leanings were impossible to hide.

Summits like this one

Despite the well-intentioned declarations, the economic and political goals and by-products of summits like the one held in Guadalajara are very clear. They include trade agreements that benefit only large transnational corporations, defense of the interests of big oil companies, the destruction of local economies, the imposition of foreign food consumption patterns, the privatization of what little is left of the welfare economy, harassment of indigenous peoples, increased discrimination against women and Latin America’s growing dependence on the North’s transnational companies and governments.

Latin America is an enormous source of natural resources and cheap labor for the predatory North. With the complicity of the Latin American elite, the rulers of the post-industrial North want to perpetuate a system of domination that reproduces all the characteristics of the colonial era. In response, advocates of another world have been searching for ways to redirect the path of globalization and define a more humanizing economy, based on solidarity. Another Mexico is possible, as is another Latin America and another world, with the globalization of rights, resistance and people, of solidarity and justice for all.

Jorge Alonso is a researcher with CIESAS Western and envío correspondent in Mexico.

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