First Social Forum of the Americas Proposes Consensus Model for Latin American Democracies

Article excerpt

The first-ever Social Forum of the Americas (SFA), held in Quito, Ecuador, July 25-30, brought together as many as 8,000 activists to present their ideas on how to defy neoliberal, free-market practices in the Americas. Participants presented an alternative country-risk index, held a mock trial against the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and proposed the region's first summit for immigrants. Building alliances between indigenous peoples of the Americas was also a prominent goal at the meeting.

Meeting of "other America"

Thousands marched on the capital's central plaza to mark the opening of the forum. While the event organizers had hoped to welcome 10,000 activists to the event, they said 8,000 registered. Other estimates put the total at 5,000.

The SFA is an outgrowth of the World Social Forum (WSF), which has been held every year since 2001, first in Brazil and this year in Mumbai, India (see NotiSur, 2003-02-07). It is set to reconvene again in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre in January 2005. Both forums use the slogan "Another world is possible," as they seek to postulate alternatives to the neoliberal model promulgated by the World Economic Forum (WEF), a conclave of political and economic elites that meets regularly in Davos, Switzerland.

SFA panel meetings included Free Trade: The Trojan Horse Model, Sexual Diversity and Alternatives to Globalization, Populations in Movement and Immigrants' Rights, Reconstruction of Political Space, Poverty, Migration, Remittances and Development, and a film festival documenting Memory and Rebellion.

The Indice de Riesgo Pais Alternativo (IRPA), or Alternative Country-Risk Index, was one of the presentations attendees made at the forum. The index sought "to reflect the likelihood of social, economic, and environmental deterioration faced by Latin American countries," Uruguayan economist Eduardo Gudynas, one of the creators of the new index, said. Two Uruguay-based nongovernmental organizations, Desarrollo, Economia, Ecologia, Equidad-America Latina (D3E) and the Centro Latino Americano de Ecologia Social (CLAES), developed the method as a response to the traditional investment-risk analysis by international credit-rating agencies to describe the credit-worthiness ratings on which investors rely.

Gudynas pointed out that country-risk ratings are used by governments in developing nations to guide economic policy in sensitive areas like the foreign debt. "Another world is possible, and we need an index to measure it," joked Ecuadorian economist Alberto Acosta with the Instituto Latinoamericano de Investigacion Social (ILDIS).

"While the traditional country-risk rating emphasizes economic and financial aspects, our index incorporates other dimensions, like social, political, and ecological indicators," Gudynas said. Costa Rica is the only country in Latin America with a reasonable IRPA rating, while at the other end of the spectrum, two of the biggest economies in the region, Argentina and Brazil, are in a situation of outright social and environmental default.

Indigenous groups present collective-rule ideas

Most of the 700 indigenous people from around the region taking part in the Second Continental Summit of Indigenous Peoples and Nationalities of Abya Yala (America in the language of the Kuna Indians of Panama), which began July 21, joined the Social Forum when their meeting ended on the July 25. Representatives from 64 indigenous nationalities and peoples said they would seek to build alliances with other social sectors in the effort to overcome neoliberal expansion.

Luis Macas, one of Ecuador's most highly respected indigenous leaders, said the summit was a means of "joining efforts to fight neoliberalism, which runs directly counter to our communities, because it seeks to impose market values on the collective way of life that native peoples have developed over centuries. …