By Stephen Marks
HAVANA — The Latin American left is presented with historic opportunities which could dramatically change the face of the continent in the next 18 months. According to Brazilian Workers Party leader Luiz Inácio ("Lula") da Silva, "The advance and unity of the left-wing forces in the Sao Paulo Forum has been extraordinary."
The Sao Paulo Forum began as an initiative of Lula's party and is named after the city in Brazil where the first meeting was held in 1990. The Forum's anti-imperialist and internationalist perspective was again affirmed by the fourth Forum held here in July 21-24. After meetings in Mexico City, Managua and now Havana, the original gathering of 48 has grown to include 112 member parties and organisations from 28 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. In addition, 450 observers from Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas attended the Havana Forum.
While delegates to the Forum represented a broad range of left parties with important differences between them on political strategy and assessment of the world situation, they were united in what everyone understood as the most important task facing the Latin American left: support for Cuba's survival.
Revolutionary Cuba is passing through an extraordinarily difficult period caused by the tightening of the 30-year-old US economic blockade, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and a series of climatic disasters this year that have ruined much of the islands most important crops.
Delegates repeatedly expressed support for the Cuban experience. The first point in the Forum's Tasks Resolution incorporated many practical proposals to deepen solidarity with Cuba and break the US economic blockade. The US blockade against Cuba was seen as a question of morale for all the Third World. As Lula expressed it, today's blockade against Cuba could, tomorrow, be against several other countries.
Many delegates expressed excitement about the possibilities presented by Latin America's electoral timetable. This year Argentina goes to the polls in October, and Venezuela and Chile in December. In 1994, Costa Rica votes in February, El Salvador and Colombia in March, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic and Panama in May, Mexico in August, Brazil in October, Uruguay in November and in December, Venezuela. Presidential candidates present at the Forum included Cuauhtemoc Cardenas for the Revolutionary Democratic Party of Mexico, Lula for the Workers Party of Brazil and Antonio Navarro for the Democratic Alliance-M19 of Colombia.
Many left parties have formed democratic electoral alliances involving broad ranges of forces. In Uruguay, for example, the Frente Amplio, (Broad Front) has been developing since 1979 and now has a woman as e country's capital. In Argentina the Frente Grande, (Grand Front) is composed of eleven parties including Greens, Communists, Left Peronists and Humanists. In Chile, the Left Force coalition has nominated a radical priest for president. Many contributions to the Forum were presented as joint statements by these alliances rather than the individual parties.
"The left must guarantee victory and then implement an achievable program", Lula told the Forum. "The working people will rightly demand that we implement a policy based on health, education, land, justice etc. At the same time we must talk with sectors that have been our enemies, neutralise their opposition and prevent their terrorism. The right wing is already sabotaging us and the left will only get one chance."
Other speakers cautioned against relying too much on electoral victories however, and referred to the tragic experiences in Chile and Haiti.
Rejection of 'neo-liberalism'
Highlights of the Forum included presentations by Lula, Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, and leaders of the Cuban Communist Party. Fidel Castro himself was present at all sessions and spoke several times.
The picture of Latin America that emerged in the presentations was one of a region wracked by continual economic crisis, which has only deepened since the introduction of "neo-liberal" measures such as the privatisation of public assets.
Fidel told the delegates how "at earlier Forums, there was a euphoria about neo-liberalism, an expectation that it would create wealth. I had to say I didn't agree. But I'm surprised and stimulated by this Forum. There is a consensus against neo-liberalism."
The upcoming elections in many Latin American countries will occur as the gap between "neo-liberal" rhetoric and reality widens. The recent mobilisations which brought down the presidents of Brazil, Venezuela and Guatemala were rejections of their hardline "neo- liberal" policies as much as the immediate issue of presidential corruption. Last November, 72% of Uruguayan voters rejected the privatisation of public enterprises. Before these events the "neo- liberal" social and economic project had appeared all powerful.
The Forum resolution "The evolution of the economic, social and political situation of Latin America" placed elections in the context of strengthening participatory, direct and representative democracy and integrating these with the social, ethnic and
cultural struggles of the people.
The debate around the resolution developed ideas about thoroughgoing democracy such as suggested by Narciso Isa Conde, a leader of the Dominican Republic Communist Party. Conde said that democracy is the left's banner and it must incorporate new democracies such as the democratisation of the unelected and permanent institutions of the state. Daniel Ortega explained how in Nicaragua the Sandinistas were trol over government negotiations and its relations with the international banks.
Where electoral victories are scored, Lula emphasised that international solidarity will be a key factor in preventing military coups such as Brazil 1964, Chile 1972 or Argentina 1976. According to one Uruguayan delegate coup mentalities still abound. In his country of three million people, the administration originated from the military and has eight intelligence services.
The Forum presented a vision of Latin America solidarity reflecting Bolivar's dream of a united continent. The Forum projects the political and economic integration of Latin America and the Caribbean based on independence, democratisation, development, solidarity, environmental sustainability and equality.
Many of the 60 interventions during the debate analysed the Forum's alternatives in practical terms. For one Argentinean delegate, for example, economic integration and national development implied renationalisation and recuperation of the strategic industries and the rejection of US-imposed "free trade" treaties.
Delegates also reiterated the need to challenge imperialism in its undemocratic manipulation of international bodies such as the UN and its Security Council. Daniel Ortega outlined in the opening ceremony how the "blue berets" went into Somalia to give bread but soon started dishing up bullets. He expressed concern that the Nicaraguan right was using the pretext of the fighting in Esteli to intensify calls for UN intervention in Nicaragua.
The Forum itself was a profound experience in democracy. Problems, such as the participation of the Caribbean countries, which had surfaced in the previous forum in Managua were resolved. With the inclusion of more Caribbean countries simultaneous translation was provided in French, English, Spanish and Portuguese.
From the English-speaking Caribbean the Dominican Labor Party delegate stressed the logic of economic cooperation and trade with their close neighbour Cuba. Dominica has seen more doctors from Cuba since 1978 than from imperialism in 300 years, he stressed. A specific seminar around the question of the Caribbean has been planned as a forthcoming Forum activity.
The success of the Forum is based on simple principles. Member parties are treated with equal respect irregardless of their size, experiences, history or political outlook. Membership is open to any party or political organisation from Latin America or the Caribbean which supports the resolutions of the Forum. Forum decisions are made democratically with an emphasis on achieving consensus. The Forum doesn't involve itself in differences between national parties. The Working Group coordinates Forum decisions between meetings and operates according to norms which were endorsed by the Havana Forum. The Working Group was reflected and broadened to include parties that reflect the increased participation of all regions of Latin America
Women's seek greater role
One obvious limitation, an issue which had been raised at the Managua Forum, was the lack of participation by women. An unofficial statement distributed by women delegates and observers pointed out that the economic crisis has drastically elevated the level of violence against women and children and that the criminal blockade against Cuba has had the biggest impact against Cuban women and children.
"What happened to the women?" was also a question asked by a Mexican women delegate during the workshop on social movements. "What happens when the leaders don't want the demands of the Childcare Centre raised? The majority of the leaders of popular women's movements don't want to know about political parties. The most poor of the poor are women, 98% of their income is for the family yet with men only 68% is for the family, the rest is for self amusement" she said. The Tasks Resolution proposed organising a seminar around the theme of women and human rights in Paraguay.
Working Group meetings, joint actions and seminars continue activities between Forum encounters. For example, two workshops discussed the findings of seminars which were projected from the Third Forum in Managua. These were held around the themes of "The state, political parties and social organisations" in Mexico and "Political Education and Communication" held in Bolivia.
In the first half of 1994 seminars around relations between Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean will be held in Brussels, Austria and Manchester. Left-wing mayors will meeting in Mexico, an electronic mail system will be established, common actions with social movements around questions such as drug trafficking, the democratisation of the UN and the peace negotiations in Guatemala will be developed.
The next Forum will be held in South America around the theme of "Development and Integration." Possible, but unconfirmed, hosts I heard mentioned were the member parties of Venezuela or Uruguay.