What Brazil and What Amazonia Does the World Need?
What Brazil and What Amazonia Does the World Need?
Wednesday, May 21, 2008 - 14:09
Facing the threat of a world organized by relations that destroy life and generate exclusion, inequalities, and violence, we need to think about how to build a fair, global society rooted in both diversity and solidarity. From the standpoint of Brazil, an emerging global power, but threatened by a huge social divide, and from that of Amazonia, the planet’s lung, which the market in its blindness is seeking to possess and wipe out, this paper sets out a few proposals for change base on the experience of organizations and actors of Brazilian society and other regions.
this book sets out proposals for change from the
experience of organizations and actors of Brazilian society and
We are living at a crucial moment for humankind. Despite the pockets of resistance organizing within the Earth’s different societies, then interlinking from the local to the global level in the forms of coalitions and networks, today’s world is still dominated by relationships, structures, processes, interests, forces, and ideologies – all very powerful, all aiming at homogeneity and exclusion of that which will not be homogenized, all tending to intensify capitalist globalization. The persisting dominant forms of power and models of the economy are destroying the natural foundations of life, concentrating wealth and power in the hands of a few global corporations, and generating ever more exclusion and violence. Where are we heading? How can a world of social justice and sustainability be constructed? A world of equality in social and cultural diversity? Of rights and responsibilities, with solidarity, from the local to the global level? Of democratic participation and citizens’ power?
It is from this perspective – which is “global” and at the same time firmly rooted in the local, where we can actually exercise our citizenship to the full – that I would like to offer some food for thought. The ideas are rough, an effort to outline issues for a process of analysis, discussion, and comparison among partners sharing the same values, in the spirit that moves us to join in the World Social Forum process. There is also a degree of pragmatism in what follows, because we are facing the concrete challenge of holding the World Social Forum in Amazonia in January 2009. This entails thinking about Brazil and Amazonia from a world standpoint and thinking about the world from the standpoint of Brazil and of Amazonia, with its peoples and biodiversity.
I – Global “disorder”: How is the crisis of civilization to be confronted?
In the early twenty-first century, we are part of a threatened world. After three decades of ferocious economic and financial globalization, with rampant deregulation in the name of “the free market,” twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the bipolar Cold War order, we are facing challenges on a planetary scale. Capitalist globalization has completed and radicalized the interconnections among the world’s different societies in such a way that we are entirely dependent on one another, because what is done in any given place has all sorts of consequences for all the other peoples and habitats of the planet. At the same time, never before have we been so aware that things simply cannot go on like this. Nonetheless, we do go on... but for how long?
My feeling is that at the core of the crisis we are facing is the belief, now rid of ideological masks, in a development model as an ideal for all societies, founded on a vision of limitless progress, itself based on an industrial-productionist-consumerist model, whether under capitalism or under socialism, in the right wing and the left wing, in which neither wellbeing nor sustainability are even remotely aimed at. Or should we say wellbeing, yes, for the happy few at the expense of everyone else, in a pattern of production and consumption that the Earth cannot withstand, supported by a model of society that implacably leads to concentration in the hands of the few and to exclusion of the many through violence, terror, and war.
Nation-states and existing multilateral arrangements, especially those set up in the aftermath of World War II, can no longer cope with what is happening in the world. In the subsequent void, the USA and its bellicose imperialism is on a rampage like wounded bear with great destructive power but no direction. With the UN and the multilateral financial organizations (the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization) grown weaker and in the process of losing their capacity and legitimacy to regulate, what we are witnessing in the “recolonization” of the world is the law of the economically strongest, i.e. China as an emerging economic and nuclear power, and the major corporations, themselves more important than a great many nation-states, and the G-8 of the leading developed nation-states, which – whether extended or not – is more of a private “club” than a legitimate multilateral organization and takes no account of the diversity of emerging contradictions and demands, because its main object is precisely to make sure the crisis is kept alive.
The crisis of civilization – which can be seen in terms of challenges to an also emerging citizenry of planetary dimensions – can be seen in three dimensions:
• Social inequality
The economy continues to expand globally against all societies. Inequality and social exclusion are becoming more marked worldwide, between countries, as well as within each society. Today, the poor of the South (migrants, communities of depressed zones, ethnic minorities, etc.) have been marginalized by the small developed North, with 10 % of the world’s population controlling more than 85 % of its wealth. Opposite the wealthy of the North (owners of land, cattle and people, businessmen and their “multinationalized” managers, and the political elite at their service) stands the South with its people, destitute of wealth and power, condemned to live off the crumbs. This multifaceted inequality with its multiple perversities goes beyond social classes and facing it requires an in-depth review of conceptual and analytical paradigms, and proposals and strategies of action. Our global mix is a combination of inequalities and forms of domination, the main features of which are patriarchism, racism, xenophobia, and the denial of diversity.
• Environmental crisis
This crisis is where three high-impact processes converge:
- climate change due to the greenhouse effect;
- the intensive use and depletion of non-renewable, fossil energy sources, which are the base of the industrial-productionist-consumerist model; and
- the destruction and exhaustion of our common natural assets, particularly water, genetic resources and biodiversity, and soil for agriculture.
We are the witnesses of a proliferation of situations where open violence, intolerance, and are forms of fundamentalism are defining collective ways of life, imposing suffering and fear, threat and death, and the displacement and deterritorialization of large contingents of civil populations. Whole peoples are torn apart by endless conflicts, cities are divided and countries invaded. In a context of concentration and a limitless quest for profit, of economic inequality and unbalanced power, and of the exhaustion of natural resources, the dispute for control of those natural resources fuels the violence and inflames fundamentalism ever more strongly, leading to ever greater militarization.
In this three-dimensional crisis, “bad governance” and its concomitant absence of concerted regulation have become more acute. The former order of domination can no longer meet the challenges and the new order has not yet emerged. This is the context in which we need to position ourselves, Brazil and Amazonia. What does the world expect of us? What can we and should we do from here on, as active citizens, to meet this crisis of civilization?
II – Brazil as an emerging power: For whom?
Brazil is without a doubt a country of enormous possibilities – but there can be no disguising the levels of social exclusion, the vast pockets of poverty, the disgraceful, persistent, and multifaceted inequality. We are responsible for one of the world’s most important natural heritages. But destruction of those natural resources is progressing even faster than our economic growth rates. Our territory and our population place us in the small group of countries over-endowed with resources, but we seem unable to use that potential to generate a sustainable, fair Brazil, to contribute to building that other world.
Recent achievements deserve to be mentioned and acknowledged as bases for “another development,” but we must not deny that the above-mentioned limitations are real. The most important and fundamental of these achievements is our political democracy, which though still young, has demonstrated its vitality. We have come a long way in institutional terms, while recognizing that much remains to be done. Perhaps the most promising aspect is the willingness of broad sectors to participate in the process. Many, however, remain politically “invisible,” because they are not organized or are still heavily dependent on favors and unable to assert their rights. The fact is that we have a civil society with a potential for initiative, the expression of a democratic culture, and a social fabric interwoven with strong organizational fiber that is growing and gaining political strength.
What we are lacking and where our progress has been weak lies in the area of social democracy. Lula’s election as president meant that the lower classes of Brazil had come to power, and it seemed that we were finally laying the political foundations for the historical task of reconstructing a faire, sustainable Brazil. In practice, however, there are still only timid signs of significant change. The Brazilian state, which is managing our particular form of development, has been captured by powerful interests and forces, and confronting the latter will call for resolve and much more complex engineering than that set in motion by the PT to win the elections and keep itself in power.
We have made unquestionable progress in a number of social-policy areas, addressing urgent matters, such as hunger, and redeeming historical social debts. The fact is, though, that such policies are not strategically designed and nor even thought out as structuring a new model of development and, above all, of social democracy. They are immediately needed compensatory policies – no question about that – but they cannot bring into being a sustainable, fair, participatory society on good terms with all the peoples of the planet.
We are basically pursuing a development model that is predatory on nature, concentrates wealth, and reproduces enormous pockets of poverty. At least development is once again on the discussion table, even though the debate is essentially confusing development with GDP growth rates. We have, nonetheless, stopped – although rather hesitantly – the dismantling ordered by the Ten Commandments of the neoliberal “Washington Consensus” of the 1990s. For all its timidity, the Growth Acceleration Program (Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento, PAC) of the Lula government signals a kind of new start – albeit only for things we are already familiar with, such as large infrastructure projects, export production, and so on.
What is happening to Brazilian exports is a good example of the dilemma we are facing, of developing while aggravating the contradictions of the past instead of changing our course and outlook. Moreover, the “success” of our exports and our having produced a large trade surplus is seen by public opinion and specialized academic and business circles as a major indicator that strategy is on target, because it is pulling along the economy as whole. The problem is that we are going back to being a kind of primary-export economy, because 70 % to 80 % of our exports are nature: soy complex, coffee, meats, minerals and steel, paper pulp, and so on. To paraphrase Eduardo Galeano and his famous book on Latin America, I would say we are dilating our already-open veins in order to export even more the very bases of our own life. And now we have decided to include ethanol among our export products!
Of course, all this can be seen from the other side. In the terms of the dominant development model, in a world controlled by large corporations and with China’s capitalist expansion consuming whatever is left of the planet’s natural resources, Brazil’s option to exploit the “comparative advantages” of the moment seems like a good deal. A deal – and a big one – it certainly is, but what social and environmental debt will Brazil be diving into? Who gains from all this? As for the funds from this export surplus, are they financing social democracy or rather are they being captured in that all-engulfing logic that takes everything it can – even the lion’s share of the public budget – to boost profits?
The export question is a long way from exhausting the complex issue of the development model, but it does illustrate what I am trying to argue here. Brazil is coming up as an emerging power in political and economic terms, particularly in our region. However, I cannot see this emergence signaling progressive changes in the structure and process of relations that sustain dominant globalization. As a strategy, it even seems to suggest that we are tending to want rather to form part of the select group of countries that behave as if they owned the world – the G-8 group – than to express necessary, urgent changes in the geopolitics and organization that regulate world power so as to permit the construction of sustainable, fair, democratic societies in solidarity.
It is time, once again, to innovate boldly. We need to recognize the new threats and challenges to citizenship and democracy in Brazil, today in a context of greater openness to the world and greater interdependence generated by globalization and the enormous crisis spawned by it. This brings us back to the large questions facing Brazil in the world. One has to ask: What is the Brazil that the world needs and that our citizenry, in alliance with world citizenry, can produce? What state? What sovereignty? What democracy? What social justice? What type of sustainability and for whom? We can only construct these answers from what we have learned in the great school of planetary citizenship, the World Social Forum. It is a question of taking up our responsibilities as Brazilian men and women, but in open dialogue with other peoples and subjects of the world, recognizing that here we decide our future and we also influence the future of all of humankind, as managers of our lives and of the natural heritage that sustains them.
III – Our commitment to another Amazonia and another Brazil, in another possible world
Boldness of purpose and the courage to weigh on the here and now must come together to meet the challenges facing us. That is why I think that the discussion can become more concrete and radical on the basis of the challenge that the WSF has set itself of bringing Amazonia into the debate over how to construct another world of social justice, sustainability, equality in diversity, citizens’ rights with responsibilities shared in solidarity, democratic participation, and effective citizens’ power. In January 2009, we will be meeting at the WSF in Belém, at the heart of the Amazonia region. The challenge is to think about the issues of the other world from a radical perspective that is local and at the same time global.
Amazonia is a vast territory shared by 9 South American countries (one – French Guiana – is, in fact, a vestige of former colonial presence). Amazonia contains the planet’s largest rainforest. Regardless of nation-state borders, many, diverse peoples live in it, with their own ways of life, cultures, and above all ways of resisting against the dominant processes. The Brazilian part of Amazonia alone has more than 25 million inhabitants.
As very well put in a thought-provoking document prepared by FASE (FASE. “FSM 2009: A Amazônia nos convoca a renovar nosso compromisso para um outro mundo possível”. [Amazonia calls on us to renew our commitment to another possible world] Rio de Janeiro, Oct. 2007):
“Given the reckless disappearance of biodiversity and the climate crisis that is already beginning to cause situations of climate injustice affecting mainly the poorest, Amazonia appears as one of the last regions of the planet that are still relatively preserved. It is thus precious both for maintaining biodiversity and for its role – which is beneficial if the forest is conserved, and adverse if it is destroyed and burnt down – in continental rainfall, as well as in continental and world climate. In that regard, it should be seen as indispensable to human life and therefore preserving it and guaranteeing the quality of life of its populations constitute a challenge not just for Brazilians but also for the peoples of the planet as a whole.”
“One of the most important battles between the wealthy countries and the countries of the South is being waged over the future of Amazonia, in a war that will decide the burden that is to fall on each country in the inevitable allocation of the costs of the environmental crisis and the catastrophic changes in world climate. The most powerful states, which have unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, and enormous financial, technological and military resources at their disposal, will not abandon their intention to control Amazonia in the name of the common good. They will continue to attempt to reproduce, at the cost of our countries, their current patterns of existence and the practices of five-hundred years of expropriating the wealth and energy resources of the countries of South America.”
It is also fundamentally important to note the internal nature of the colonialist process of destructive expansion Amazon. Powerful private groups (landowners and agribusiness industries, mining companies, logging companies, etc.), from within the countries – Brazil in particular – are disputing resources in the region, expropriating lands and controlling large parts of the territory, destroying the forest and the biodiversity, poisoning the rivers, extracting minerals, massacring the local populations and peoples and destroying their ways of life – and all this in the name of progress, of development. Amazonia is a humanized territory under dire threat. However, there exists an enormous organizational fabric woven from and by a diversity of local groups. Major movements are resisting all of this and constructing alternatives. The challenge is to seek inspiration in Amazonia's peoples, and their movements and community organizations, in order to point from there towards another Amazonia for humankind: one that entails neither predatory destruction in the name of development, nor exclusionary, colonialist conservationism, such as embedded in the idea of internationalized “carbon wells” (to “sequester” greenhouse-gas emissions) financed by credits obtained by large corporations and industrialized countries selling their “tradable pollution rights.”
“Amazonia is the depositary of biological and genetic resources that are still largely unknown but, beyond question, precious to humankind; and its peoples hold hundreds and thousands of years of knowledge about those forms of life. These resources and that knowledge draw the greed of the large corporations leading the implacable quest to privatize life and knowledge. The indigenous peoples and, after them, the populations rooted in the region, teach us that life is a gift and that we are part of the life of Mother Earth. Private appropriation of life is unthinkable, because life is made to be shared. Amazonia invites us to a firm refusal of the market rationale, the transnational corporations, and the official international bodies at their service, and to center life’s concerns on reconstructing our planet and a humankind with new liberating paradigms such as solidarity, equality, recognition for diversity, respect for differences, responsibility, and care.” (FASE, ibidem.)
To meet these challenges, it is fundamental to recognize that the strength of this awareness of our greatest common good – Planet Earth as the very basis of our life – is an important factor in the expansion of the WSF itself. It comes together with a renewed awareness of humankind in the diversity of subjects, peoples, and cultures. The nascent planetary citizenry will thus have the opportunity to share knowledge and experience, evaluate proposals, and discover strategies for action of the human groups living in the Amazonia region and, in turn, to strengthen them.
However, in the range of issues that I have outlined here, it is evident that the crisis of civilization, in its three dimensions, will be at the center of the discussions about Amazonia in another possible world. After all, the effort to address the climate crisis and environmental destruction necessarily brings Amazonia into the spotlight. There we are faced by a complex question of planetary proportions involving the role of nation-states and sovereignty. In the end, who comes first in any reengineering of power? In terms of citizenship, the more local, the greater the decision-making power – and that is what the local populations are calling for. Even their relationship with the nation-states that share Amazonia is a fundamental question. Suffice it here to remember the indigenous peoples and their territories, which very often do not recognize national borders.
It is not possible, however, being in Brazil, to think about Amazonia without thinking of the place of Brazil itself in the world. Brazil and Amazonia are intimately connected, profoundly interdependent. Without Amazonia, Brazil is not Brazil: Amazonia is about half of its territory. Its peoples are part of this diverse, and deeply unequal, Brazil.
IV – Pointers to a way out (a start more than a conclusion)
Aware that it is not enough to criticize, I would like to end by remembering some points of departure for building alternatives. In fact, there are more people than we imagine building alternatives for their lives in the places where they live. After all, being excluded from access to environmental and economic resources, not being recognized, and suffering the degradation of their surroundings and, at the same time, being able to invent ways of living, of establishing bonds of family and friendship, of forming part of a community with solidarity, of dreaming, praying and having fun, of “coping” – in short, all of this woven together – points to a dynamics of resistance and of building other forms of collective living. The “trenches” of civil society spoken of by Gramsci are a historical, human fact. What is needed is to interrelate and to systematize them, to theorize them, to formulate political proposals that assist groups, towns, peoples, nations, and so on, in their quest for models of development – that is, for the political, cultural, economic, and technical conditions for fair, sustainable societies.
From my view, enhanced by the experience that IBASE and the World Social Forum have afforded me, let me single out some major points for the Brazilian situation:
- absolute priority for social justice;
- democracy, grounded in the ethical principles of equality, freedom, diversity, solidarity, and participation as a strategy;
- political and cultural empowerment for the “invisible” groups: the poor, the discriminated, and the excluded
- guaranteed access and use of all natural and produced common goods for every man and woman without distinction, as a basis for sustainable life
- a development model based on the sustainable use of resources, with priority for meeting the internal needs of the human groups directly involved, with maximum relocation of the economy and its political management: “producing here, to consume here, for the people living here,” or in its more moderate form, companies setting up here in order to sell here and meet the needs arising here.
These points are enough to indicate the standpoint I share already with many others in Brazil, in Amazonia, and around the world. But there is another point that may make a difference: the intention is to construct a strong planetary movement for change, which means sinking roots in each place, in each collectivity, in each people. For this, we need to dream large, to be strong and perseverant, and to participate with radical attitudes, without fearing the civilization in crisis or the world disorder it entails. That prescription is especially designed for Brazil, our emerging country on the world stage.