ARTICLE: Building Bridges through Processes – Thematic World Social Forum in Columbia
Thematic World Social Forum in Columbia
“And we have power, our power does not come from weapons, because we fight for peace, it comes from our arguments, from our participation as citizens, from our enthusiasm, our consistency, and the sustainability of our mobilizations. It is the power of the debates that we are going to have here when critical networks emerge, and when there are propositions for putting on the political agenda another agenda, an agenda of true development in which human life in community, the primacy of life, of security, of survival, are central.” Boaventura de Sousa Santos
In May, SIPAZ received an invitation to participate in a workshop of the Network of Brotherhood “Brother People, Visible Bonds”, with the aim of sharing our experience with accompaniment in Chiapas. The workshop was set to take place during the Thematic World Social Forum “Democracy, Human Rights, War and Drug Trafficking” (FSMT), which increased our enthusiasm about participating.
The FSMT took place in Cartagena de Indias, from the 16th to the 20th of June. Many conferences, meetings, workshops, and panel discussions tackled the ample subjects of human rights, democracy, drug trafficking, and wars. The forum didn’t lose sight of the particularities of our host country, but also looked at the topics in an international context marked by the politics of “security” in the face of “terrorism.” There were so many simultaneous activities that it was impossible to get to all of them.
Monday: The inaugural march of the FMST
The forum began with the Magisterial Conference of Boaventura de Sousa Santos (www.fmst.org.co). Facing the lack of hope for present society, the professor of the University of Coimbra pointed out that our problem and our solution rests with democracy. He suggested the necessity of demanding “demo-diversity“: “we have to develop trans-cultural criteria for democracy. There is no such thing as democracy: there are democratization processes and there are alternative cultural principals which permit campesinos, communities of color, indigenous communities, to have the self esteem of being the producers of inclusive models of democracy.” He argued for the necessity of “high intensity” democracy within which we substitute relationships of power with relationships of shared authority. These relationships are combined with complementary confrontational and creative representative and participatory democracy, articulating side-by-side local, national and global democracy.
He recognized the World Social Forum as a space for constructing an alternative: the globalization of solidarity. At the same time, he acknowledged that the current challenge is to change the political agendas. With all of these propositions and challenges raised, we began the work of the forum.
During the first afternoon, there was a march through the whole city. We moved with the rhythm and sound of salsa. A banner at the head of the march read, “In this world, if we will it, there’s room for everyone. We want a better world: more just, more democratic, and with more solidarity”.
Tuesday: A day of meetings
Tuesday was a day of meetings: the International Meeting for Democracy, of environmentalists, of the youth, unions, women, education, about migration, of culture and arts, about dispalced people, and the National Meeting of the Civil and Communal Sector.
I decided to attend the International Meeting of Environmentalists, and more specifically, the panel, “The recuperation and defense of the environment against the violent privatization of life”. Thirteen representatives from different organizations from different countries spoke about the increasing privatization of natural resources and the local and national battles against it.
Mario Vasconez, from Ecuador spoke about environmental management by municipalities, and the need to create alternative policies of environmental management. He pointed out the importance of joint action forming an “entanglement” in which many people form one whole. He expressed the necessity of promoting global change from the local level: one should obtain those “grains of sand” that benefit everyone through real change in policies.
Humberto Vargas, from the Center for the Study of the Social Reality of Bolivia, argued the importance of insuring that water is a social good, not available for privatization, while stressing the role of indigenous movements in defending places faced with privatization.
Luis Suarez of the Latin American Network of Political Ecology in Cuba discussed the necessity of creating alliances in order to establish common agendas with campesinos and other organizations. He stressed the existing relationship between the market for genetically engineered seeds, Plan Columbia, the Andean Regional Initiative and the FTAA.
The representative from the Italian Environmentalist league talked about the work this organization does around environmental law, where they have coined the term “eco-mafia” as well as the development of the legal protection of the environment. They affirmed that those who commit “crimes” against the environment are the “thieves of the future”.
Speaking about Chiapas, I shared about the existing conflict in the Montes Azules Reserve (the Lacandon Jungle) where a discourse of environmental protection is being used to justify the expulsion of indigenous communities in conflict with other ethnic groups and the government. At the same time that they use this discourse, the business interests aware of biodiversity can’t be hidden.
The Final Declaration of this meeting, in which 95 organizations participated, affirms that “the application of the neoliberal model and the commercialization of nature are bringing about the dismantling of the Social State and the Democratic Rights, particularly in its environmental principals”. At the same time, they recognized the building resistance, particularly from the south, confronting this hegemonic project. This resistance is consolidating projects of food sovereignty, energy security, community reclamation of water, and the defense of the biosystem.
In the afternoon I attended a panel about “Experiences in the pedagogy of peace and conflict resolution“, which was a part of the International Meeting on Education.
Alonso Ojeda of the Pedagogical University of Columbia stressed the necessity of education that is ethical, social and political. He argued that violence is a response to an aggressive instinct—an instinct that reason should serve to help us unlearn. He finished by citing Humberto Eco: “The force of culture can restrain the clash of civilizations”.
Alicia Cabezudo, a scholar of Argentinean history, began her presentation by telling us a true story: during the rule of the Argentinean military, soldiers interrupted a school during one of their classes. The soldiers burned all of the textbooks. The professor made all of the students watch the fire destroying the books. Years later, while shopping in a supermarket, one of the workers greeted her as professor. She asked when she had taught him, and he just said, “The fire, professor”. For her, it was the best history class that she had ever given, because it was one that her students would never forget.
Later, Alicia spoke about her concrete experiences in peace education through open spaces in cities, constructing a horizontal, intersectional, and interdisciplinary education. These were some of the pedagogical experiences and strategies for peace and human rights, but they lacked more focused proposals for indigenous communities and rural areas.
The day finished with the Peter Lock Conference about “The new wars and preventative wars”. In the new international context the “new wars” oppose an enemy who is “omnipresent in time and space” with totalitarian dimensions.
The presenter’s thesis ended up being very controversial. He argued that the external politics of the United States are driven more dominantly by the conservation of internal political power and don’t constitute a classic imperialism. Furthermore, he affirmed that the wars that take place under these policies were waged for the benefit of industry and only happen when there are possibilities to obtain currencies and import arms. He believes that we will live in a globalization of increasing violence that will define commerce and exchange between people.
Wednesday: Confrontation between discordant voices
The youth, who had been running a parallel forum, interrupted the morning’s panel on “Wars, terrorism, security and human rights”. Young people, soaking wet, put up a tent on the stage and read a communiqué protesting the internal inconsistencies within the FSMT.
The rain the night before had flooded their campsite and was the impetus for the youth’s protest against the unequal conditions for the people who were attending the forum. While some of us were staying in hotels in the tourist zone, the youth and others were sleeping on the ground without basic minimal hygienic conditions. They shamed us all, and showed us that clearly another world will not happen through just talking without bringing the words and actions into accord.
The general intention was to return to normality and continue with the conversations, but it was impossible to do so as long as nothing had taken place after the youth had called to our attention the necessity of constructing in our own forums this “other possible world” that is so often invoked.
We returned midday with new disruptions. The conference about “Globalization and human rights” was being led by the director of Human Rights Watch, José Miguel Vivanco.
The discord began with his talk on human rights in Cuba. He argued that the exercising of basic human rights is not permitted in Cuba. He also stated that his organization wasn’t permitted access to the Cuban jails. Faced with these accusations, part of the listening public began to boo. The Cuban ambassador to Columbia, defending the official Cuban position, accused his opponent of being a liar, and invited him to go to Cuba to prove that they aren’t violating human rights. The discord heated up the atmosphere, and the audience behaved itself like during a soccer match, hissing or applauding.
Thursday: Rethinking the role of citizens
In the roundtable about “Globalization, democracy and new practices in global citizenship” the representatives from Brazil refuted the existence of democratic “models“, presenting instead values like plurality (recognizing others), equality (participation), justice (distribution), diversity (inclusion), which are indispensable when talking about democracy.
hey criticized the current authority of the market over politics: “To produce ways of living is a part of being a human being. The problem is when commerce starts feeling the same as life and we only feel like citizens when we’re working within the market.”
In the middle of the speeches, the young people entered and walked through the room holding a giant sign that had a drawing of a pig with a dollar sign and “NGO’s NGO’s NGO’s” and “FMST: More Thematic than Social.”
In the afternoon, in the round table dialogue on, “Wars, sovereignty and the role of the international community”, Adam Isacson from the Center for International Policy (USA) presented documents about the international politics of the United States, in relation to Columbia. He began his talk by begging pardon for the actions of the US. From the point of view of his country, the US couldn’t advance development projects in Columbia until there was a better security system in the country.
Alejandro Kirk of the International Press Service criticized the absence of debate about the role of the media, suggesting that “there is no democracy without communication.”
Finally, we spoke about the role of the international community in a conflict like Columbia. This role becomes much more important these days, when the president, Alvaro Uribe, is beginning a massive multilateral invasion in Columbia, added to the “bilateral cooperation” of the US, which is to say Plan Columbia and the Andean Regional Initiative.
Friday: Talking about local and global resistance movements
” Civil Resistance and opposition to wars”. Under this title, a roundtable discussed where to aim the different forms of civil resistance to war.
Ulrich Oslender, Researcher of Social Movements, suggested that the necessary course of action is to “globalize the resistance” and make different forms of resistance more visible. He established as an example the mobilizations of civil society against the war in Iraq. He commented on the heterogeneity of these protests and that many people were participating for the first time in political protests. He also pointed to the importance of the Zapatistas in the globalization of resistance and the responsibility of civil society in its construction.
REDPAZ (Network of Peace Initiatives) led a meeting about all of the activities that this organization has undertaken to construct peace in Columbia, making sure to explain that peace not only means the absence of violence, but also development, democracy, human rights and inclusion. They reject that peace could have ambiguities: “violence cannot construct anything”. And they insist that “peace is possible only if we are capable of building it from below, from the communities”.
In the afternoon, I participated in the workshop “Brotherhoods, protectorates, and alternative diplomacy”, organized by the Network of Brotherhoods “Brother People-Visible Bonds” who presented different experiences with brotherhood and cooperative relationships between the north and the north, the south and the north, the north and the south, and the south and the south.
Representing SIPAZ, and more concretely the puppet troupe “DIVERSIDAD” coordinated by SIPAZ and the Civil Alliance-Chiapas) I shared the new form of international accompaniment that our puppet project has allowed us to realize.
On the other side, the coordinator of PBI-Columbia explained the human rights observing work that takes place in Columbia, and mourned the impossibility of responding to all of the requests for human rights observers.
Finally, Arcadi Oliveres, director of the NGO “Peace and Justice” of Barcelona, spoke about cooperation between municipalities, emphasizing the necessity of constructing true relationships that are not only formal, but also have real content.
Saturday: Smiles that breath death
My understanding of the Columbian reality didn’t end with the forum. Two friends from Columbian human rights organizations invited me to go to a community, which three years ago had suffered a massacre, El Salado. It’s located in an area controlled by paramilitaries, and where just that week three persons traveling were kidnapped on this road.
The people told us about the massacre and about their return this year. The community was like the living dead. They have no crops. The holes from the machine guns still mark the walls, and you can also see them in the glances of those who never stopped being grateful for our presence there. They told us with anger and indignation how the helicopters continue flying over the community at night.
The asked me to share with them about the work done by SIPAZ in Chiapas, and more than anything about how the indigenous communities are. They all listened to my words, and also my apologies about not being able to help.
Without a doubt, the most enriching thing about the FSMT was getting to know all of the organizations and people who work towards constructing a society that respects fundamental human rights as a daily reality. In the case of Columbia, the majority of the Columbian participants walk into the future with dead companions on their backs. Their power, their energy, and their smiles will stay with me. Columbia has, for me, the shape of their proud faces and their fierce hearts.