Representatives of Socialist International member parties from around the world and invited guests gathered in Santo Domingo on 28-29 January for a meeting of the SI Council, hosted by the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD), the SI member party in the Dominican Republic. The agenda of the meeting centred on three main themes: Promoting multilateralism to secure peace, sustainable development, to target poverty, achieve greater equality, and to ensure a world with more solidarity; Defending rights and freedoms against intolerance, discrimination, nationalism and populism; and Protecting our democracies from new threats – the deliberate discrediting of democratic institutions and the press, fake news, cyber attacks and invasive technology.
On behalf of the host party, Miguel Vargas, a vice-president of the SI, leader of the PRD and foreign minister of the Dominican Republic, welcomed delegates to Santo Domingo. He underlined the importance of the work of the SI to address the common tasks faced by all its member parties and to find multilateral approaches to the three main challenges faced by the world. He defined these as strengthening democracy, combating climate change and reducing inequality and emphasised that social democracy had a lot to contribute on these issues.
In his opening remarks, SI Secretary General Luis Ayala recalled the history of cooperation between the SI and the PRD, started with José Francisco Peña Gómez. It was gratifying to see the successful results of the Agreement of Shared Government of National Unity in Dominican Republic, which he signed as witness on behalf of the SI in 2015. He described multilateralism as the key to achieving peace and sustainable development, and the SI needed more than ever to counteract populism and nationalism with its principles and ideals in order to ensure that a different world view could prevail.
The SI President George Papandreou also mentioned the special significance of the Dominican Republic for the SI, congratulating the PRD on its 80th anniversary and the progress made in the country in recent years. He recalled that his last visit to the country had been during the financial crisis, the lessons of which the international community had not learned, as could be seen by the suffering of the middle and working classes and growing inequalities. He called for more cooperation, democracy and solidarity in order to humanise globalisation.
The inaugural session of the Council was then addressed by President of the Dominican Republic Danilo Medina, who noted that, though his party was not a member of the SI, the trajectory of the organisation remained a point of reference for all progressive parties. He spoke of the need to remain vigilant in order to defend the achievements of recent decades, including democratic advances, at a time when distrust in institutions had spread along with made up threats based on propaganda. The issues on the agenda would affect all people beyond national borders, he considered, hoping that the Council would be fruitful for all participants.
Contributions were made on the first main theme of multilateralism from delegates from different countries and continents, united by their belief in the value of multilateralism to tackle the challenges of peace and sustainable development and ensure a world with more solidarity. The value of the multilateral approach on issues of peace was central to a number of speeches made by delegates, and reflected in the declarations and resolutions later adopted by the Council, including those on Palestine and the two-state solution, on Western Sahara and on the threat of nuclear conflict. The declaration on Palestine, drafted in coordination with the Israeli and Palestinian delegations to the Council, was itself an example of the value of mutual cooperation in questions of peace and conflict resolution.
Many contributors to the discussions noted with concern the harsh reality of Venezuela, and the ongoing disregard for the democratic process by the ruling regime. Having heard perspectives from Venezuelan delegates, and the support offered to the democratic forces in Venezuela from parties in the region and around the world, the Council adopted a declaration on Venezuela which called for a peaceful resolution to the crisis and the urgent holding of proper free and fair elections in the country.
The recent rise in populism, accompanied by growing intolerance, discrimination and xenophobia was discussed with great concern by delegates, who emphasised the critical role of social democracy to present alternatives to this simplistic and divisive worldview. The importance of reducing inequalities, increasing opportunities and achieving sustainable growth to the benefit of all citizens were highlighted in a declaration on this theme.
The timing of the Council the day following the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, was noted by several speakers, who reminded all delegates of the horrors that resulted from xenophobia, intolerance and totalitarianism, and the sentiment of all those present was reflected in a Resolution on Holocaust remembrance.
For many decades the SI has been at the forefront of the struggle to secure, advance, consolidate and defend democracy in all parts of the world, and discussions on the third main theme focused on how to do this in face of the many new challenges emerging to democracy and its institutions in the digital age. These concerns were the focus of a Declaration on protecting our democracies from new threats. The Council also adopted a number of declarations relating to specific national issues raised by member parties, including declarations on Bolivia, Puerto Rico and the Kurdish people.
The closing address of the Council was given by Pedro Sánchez, president of the government of Spain, leader of PSOE and vice-president of the SI, who declared that socialists were those who defended freedom and the weak. He emphasised that the citizens of Venezuela and Nicaragua needed to know that their governments were not socialist, as there could be no socialism without freedom. The SI and its members represented those who were creating ideas that would change the world, rejecting the conservative, populist and nationalist policies of inequality, privilege and exclusion, and bringing reconciliation, democracy, progress and dignity.
Maurice Poler (AD, Venezuela), co-chair of the Finance and Administration Committee (SIFAC), presented the latest audited accounts of the International and its budget for 2019. Lack of payment of membership fees was a severe constraint on the ability of the organisation to carry out its programme of activities and he reminded parties that the payment of their membership fees was a statutory obligation.
The report of the SI Ethics Committee, delivered by its chair Ariane Fontenelle (PS, Belgium), contained a number of proposals on membership in the SI. The committee decided to recommend that the full membership of the Philippines Social Democratic Party be reinstated; that the UDPS (DR Congo) be upgraded to full membership, that PALU (DR Congo) be upgraded to consultative status, and the MRD (Djibouti) be admitted as a consultative member party. These decisions on membership were approved by the Council. As a result of gross violations of human rights and democratic values committed by the government of Nicaragua, the committee had voted to expel the ruling party, FSLN, from the SI, a decision which the Council voted to confirm.
The SI also held the first meeting of its Committee on Gender Equality on 28 January in Santo Domingo, co-chaired by the presidents of the SI and SIW. The committee adopted a plan of action comprising a series of decisions aimed at achieving gender parity within its structures, and encouraging its member parties in the promotion of parity.