The SI Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean met in the Dominican Republic on 9-10 May 2014, hosted by the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD).
At the opening of the meeting, the Committee paid tribute to the memory and legacy of José Francisco Peña Gómez, who was for many years leader of the PRD and a prominent figure of social democracy in the region and beyond. The admiration and affection felt in the Socialist International towards José Francisco Peña Gómez was evident in the many interventions of the participants commemorating the 16th anniversary of his death on 10 May.
The Chair of the Committee and leader of the host party, Miguel Vargas Maldonado, underlined the satisfaction of the PRD that this meeting was taking place in the country of José Francisco Peña Gómez during the commemoration of a new anniversary of his passing. He recalled that Peña Gómez was amongst the original initiators of the establishment of this Committee and of the opening of the SI towards Latin America and the Caribbean. Commenting on the themes of the agenda of the meeting, Vargas Maldonado pointed out that economic growth and the fight against poverty in the region must continue strong, ensuring that there are no reverses in the wellbeing of the people and that the development process is ever more inclusive, just and marked by solidarity. In relation to the current democratic challenges, he stated that electoral democracy today must be strengthened, securing greater citizen participation and institutions that are able to respond to people’s demands in a timely and efficient manner, with a governance that is transparent and accountable. He added that today’s demands for education, jobs, health, housing, access to culture, to sports and leisure activities, security and the fight against crime must be treated as key social concerns which must be addressed by democratic processes. He also underlined the need to encourage productivity and the strengthening of institutions, both public and private. In his opinion, a better State is one that generates a dynamic of power-sharing in society, encouraging participation and decentralisation. In order to achieve “a new development model” linking the State with civil society, the role of political parties is essential, he said. Today, political parties also face important challenges such as the incorporation of new technologies into their daily work. To achieve the social changes demanded by the peoples of the region, it is important to train future leaders, to hold ideological debates, to have discipline and to be united.
The Secretary General of the Socialist International, Luis Ayala, thanked Miguel Vargas and the PRD for hosting the meeting at this significant time. He said that those who make up this International share the dreams and continue the work to which José Francisco Peña Gómez had devoted his whole life, adding that this long and rich common history projects itself into the future. Luis Ayala recalled that in 1978 a first Mission of the SI, with progressive leaders from the region, had travelled to Santo Domingo to support the victory of the PRD and Antonio Guzmán in the presidential elections, and to highlight their triumph. Two years later, in 1980, a major Conference was held in this country, which led to the creation of this Committee, bringing to fruition a desire shared by many and giving rise to the "second pillar" of the international social democratic movement after Europe, this being Latin America and the Caribbean. During the decade of the 80s, he said, the International and its Committee for this region of the world centred their struggles on the restoration of democracy in the continent and the respect for human rights. In this task, the leadership of Peña Gómez was accompanied by European leaders such as Willy Brandt and François Mitterrand, as well as other political figures who were emerging as leaders of the recovery of democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean, Raúl Alfonsín, Carlos Andrés Pérez, Alan García, Rodrigo Borja, Jaime Paz Zamora, Óscar Arias, Leonel Brizola and so many others. Today, when we observe the political reality of the continent, we feel heartened by the results achieved by the political commitment of those years. José Francisco Peña Gómez was always firm in the struggle for democracy in his country and in the region, he said, and for this reason his presence and his legacy have a Dominican, Latin American and universal dimension.
Concerning the themes on the Committee’s agenda, the Secretary General underlined that the financial crisis of 2008 appears to have been met with less difficulties in the emergent economies of Latin America and the Caribbean than it has in the United States or European nations, some of which remain until today gravely affected, paying the cost of economic austerity policies with social and human consequences. Today, as a result, we are witnessing the resurgence of nationalisms and populist messages that simplify the responses to the challenges arising from an ever more complex world. Furthermore, in other areas, we can see how multilateralism is weakened and there appears, amongst some, a new Cold War mentality. This region of the world must continue its efforts and its struggle against the destruction of the dream of a common destiny, of peace and internationalism.
Following the recovery of democracy in the nations of this region, came the quest for freedoms and rights. The conflicts that we see today are connected to the deficit of a broad range of those rights: ethnic, religious, political, gender based and those of native peoples, among others. The challenges to democracy become evident when, after free and fair elections, there does not appear to be any change in the deficit of freedoms and rights. Today's struggle is no longer for the restoration of democracy, Luis Ayala said, but to decrease those deficits. The Secretary General ended his opening address reiterating the satisfaction felt by all the SI members of this region in continuing to move forward the dreams of José Francisco Peña Gómez, which are still very present in this Committee, today headed by another Dominican, Miguel Vargas Maldonado, and he invited the Committee members to join their voices with those of all SI member parties for the next World Council of the organisation to take place in Mexico City on 30 June-1 July 2014.
Moving to the second point of the agenda, the Committee unanimously elected comrade Elsa Espinosa Chamorro of the PRI of Mexico as a Vice-Chair of the Committee. Margarita Zapata (FSLN, Nicaragua) and Clara Lieberman (PLN, Costa Rica), in congratulating the election of the new vice-chair, reiterated the importance of ensuring balanced gender representation within the SI and called on all the elected women comrades in different posts of the SI to actively work in accordance with their mandates. Elsa Espinosa thanked the Committee for having elected her and promised to work with dedication in the tasks of the Committee and for gender equality.
Bernal Jiménez (PLN, Costa Rica), an SI Vice-President, introduced the theme of the economic situation in the region. He highlighted that even though today the advancement and consolidation of democracy is evident in Latin America and the Caribbean, there still remains the need for progress in building a social democracy that is able to provide greater wellbeing for its peoples. To achieve this, he said, it is necessary to work for economic growth with fair distribution. Analysing the progression of growth in the countries of the region during the last three decades, he pointed to the slow pace of advancement and the risks involved in low levels of investment and capital creation. However, in his opinion, the last decade can be considered more positive than the previous ones, during which the debt crisis and the plans and programmes agreed among governments and multilateral organisations were evident. During the last years, he said, the control of inflation, the low rates of interest, fiscal control and the opening of the countries of the region to commerce and finances at international level are to be valued. Nevertheless, these auspicious elements and the good macroeconomic indicators are not sufficient to obtain more justice and equality, and comprehensive development. In relation to inequality in the continent, he also underlined that the figures in recent years were more encouraging than those of the 80s and 90s. Determined action by the State is necessary, in his view, in order to allow a decrease in inequality. Market economies do grow but they do not ensure justice, it is the strong and intelligent governments in the areas of salaries and fiscal measures that permit a more just distribution of wealth. He also highlighted the value of striving for environmentally sustainable growth and underlined the importance of education, research and the development of science and technology in order to foster economic growth. He concluded his intervention by saying that the challenge of social democratic policies is to provide wellbeing with a fair tax system, good governance, the fight against corruption and an increase of investment in education, especially science and technology, to consolidate the road to economic development in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The following delegates took part in the discussion on this point of the agenda: Iván Rodríguez (PRD, Dominican Republic), Francisco Rosales (FSLN, Nicaragua), Clara Lieberman (PLN, Costa Rica) and Ricardo Navarrete (PRSD, Chile). They all concurred with what had been said, emphasising the need to increase investment in education through tax reforms and others, as the best means of improving the quality of jobs, productivity and economic development in the countries of the region, while encouraging, through public policies, a more just distribution of wealth. In this regard, Navarrete referred to the case of tax reform proposed by President Michelle Bachelet in Chile, aimed at achieving greater redistribution through the collection of 8.2 million dollars to fund a profound educational reform with the objective of providing high quality, free education at different levels, and to expand culture, job placements and the level of income of the whole population.
In connection with the challenges to democracy, the Committee heard an introduction presented by SI Vice-President Victor Benoit (FSDH, Haiti). In his intervention, Benoit reiterated the social democratic commitment to democracy, human rights and social justice. The dictatorial regimes of Duvalier, Trujillo or Pinochet, among many others, dominated this region during long periods of the last century, which was due among other reasons, to the conditions imposed by the logics of the Cold War. Current advances are undeniable and of great worth, but, he continued, a commitment to democratic values is no longer enough. Today, what people need is a response to the economic and social demands from the same democracy. He identified some of the new challenges. There are those who undermine the very value of democracy with the pretext that democracy does not deliver the fruits that are expected from it, accusations that may originate from proposals emanating from oligarchies or elites, or from different kinds of populism. He referred to the emergence of processes he characterised as “democraduras” (hard democracies), born from supposedly formal forms of democracy but which are subsequently distorted while in office through control over the courts of justice, the parliaments or through generalised corruption. In his opinion, progressive political parties must take decisive action to prevent the failure of democracy. A participative and socially oriented democracy ensures a harmonious relation between those elected and the electorate to prevent the emergence of that which forms the basis of populist proposals surrounding the question of what is the concrete usefulness of democracy. He recalled the words of Peña Gómez who said: “In government, improvisation doesn’t have a place”, to indicate that it is of primary importance to advance in the education of new political leaders, also promoting gender equality in the area of political education.
On this point of the agenda, the Committee listened to the interventions of Junior Santos (PRD, Dominican Republic), Enrique Márquez (UNT, Venezuela), Marcelo Stubrin (UCR, Argentina), Francisco Rosales (FSLN, Nicaragua), Edmonde Supplice (FSDH, Haiti), Alberto Despradel (PRD, Dominican Republic), Clara Lieberman (PLN, Costa Rica), Isadora Zubillaga (VP, Venezuela) who read a letter of greetings to the Committee written by the leader of Voluntad Popular, Leopoldo López, from the Ramo Verde jail, Ricardo Navarrete (PRSD, Chile), Timoteo Zambrano (UNT, Venezuela) and Janet Camilo (PRD, Dominican Republic).
SI Vice-President, Rafael Michelini (NE, Uruguay) introduced the theme relating to political parties and the new challenges that face them. He began by highlighting the role of political parties in ensuring the normal functioning of democracy. These must be the representatives of popular will and for this they need organisation and resources. Electoral competitiveness among the different political options must be real and just. It is not enough to ensure that the electoral process be transparent. In this continent, permanently, and most notably during political campaigns, is that there is a great imbalance in the resources available to political parties. In many nations, the right wing parties have greater facility in obtaining private financing and to appear in the mass media. This reality can in part be mitigated through laws that ensure the public financing of campaigns, control of the electoral costs and the auditing of the origin of the funds that finance political activity. For the forces of the left, this type of norms would help to make it possible for political options to be presented to the electorate in a more just manner, he pointed out. Another aspect that requires attention concerns the furthering of gender equality in political representation. At the same time, smaller parties must be taken into account by the electoral systems to have more proportionality. The issue of participation is of the utmost importance and the left wing parties, he said, must fight against citizen apathy. An elite in power separated from the people who do not have the will to participate in the political process is a phenomenon that runs against democracy. Referring to the Uruguayan experience, Rafael Michelini evaluated the situation of the Frente Amplio, the grouping of different political forces that has governed his country during recent years. He explained that this diversity makes it necessary to have the widest possible participation during the drafting of the government programme that will be submitted for decision by the Uruguayan people in the general election during the second semester and in the case of Uruguay, close to 10,000 people will take part. In his view, the Frente Amplio adequately incorporates elements of unity, plurality, organisation and intelligence.
On this subject, also participated the following delegates: Salim Ibarra (PRD, Dominican Republic), Roberto Birri (PS, Argentina) and Celso Delgado (PRI, Mexico).
Amongst the interventions on the national situation in the countries of participating member parties, the SI Vice-President from Venezuela, Henry Ramos, gave a detailed report on the critical situation in his country, also on behalf of all the Venezuelan delegates present. Further reports were heard by delegates from Puerto Rico, Fernando Martín (PIP); Argentina, Roberto Birri (PS), Brasil, Marcio Bins (PDT); and Panama, Héctor Alemán (PRD).
The Committee concluded its work adopting a general declaration
on the themes of the agenda: the economy, democracy and political parties, as well as a resolution on Venezuela
, and declarations on Haiti