People’s Alternative Summit in Madrid – Cumbre Alternativa de los Pueblos

Counter-summit to meeting of European, Latin American and Caribbean leaders discusses alternatives to the current crisis.

In mid May, European, Latin American and Caribbean leaders have come together for a summit in Spain which was hosted by the Spanish Presidency of the European Council in Madrid.

When Trade Commissioner to the European Union, Karl de Gucht addressed the International Trade Committee in the European Parliament in the week prior to the summit, he made it very clear that the European Union has a heightened interest in developing more intense trade relations with Latin America.

In accordance with the European Commission’s Strategy papers on raw material and its document ’Global Europe: Competing in the world’, the overall intention of the EU at this summit was to seek and push for further mechanisms that favour finance capital and big multinational corporations and advance the privatisation of public services etc.

The focal point of the EU´s interest at the summit was the conclusion of the Central America Association Agreement, the conclusion of the multiparty trade agreement with Colombia and Peru and the restarting of negotiations with Mercosur (the trading bloc in South America that involves the stronger industrial nations such as Brazil and Argentina).

Permanent People’s Tribunal

Prior to the official Summit, Enlazando Alternativas (Linking Alternatives), a network of different organisations and NGOs, called and organised the People’s Alternative Summit at Madrid University. The Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT), an unofficial, international opinion tribunal independent from State authorities which examines violations against human rights held a 3-day long tribunal with witnesses from all across Latin American who exposed the crimes of multinational companies. The verdicts of the PPT are not binding but help to name and shame those multinational corporations and/or those who are complicit in committing them. The Tribunal was founded in Bologna (Italy), June 24, 1979, by law experts, writers and other intellectuals like Nora Cortinas from Argentina. She is one of the cofounders of the "Madres de Plaza de Mayo", the courageous mothers who protested against their sons´ disappearance during the dictatorship of the military junta which came to power in 1976.

In one of the opening remarks to the Tribunal, a representative from the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) NGO pointed at the European Commission’s direct responsibility of favouring the interests of big European based multinationals. According to CEO, around 15,000 Lobbyists are present in and around the European institutions in Brussels; two thirds of them are big business lobbyists. 90% of loans given out by the European Investment Bank are given to multinational corporations.

Very often, those lobby groupings, such as the EU- Mercosur Business Forum come together shortly before the next round of trade talks to set up their "wish list".

All the companies that were put before the PPT in Madrid are amongst the lobbyists. Furthermore, 4 out of the outgoing 13 Commissioners have adopted board positions in big banks, financial institutions or other big businesses.

A great part of the accusations against big multinational corporations or financial institutions, such as Santander Bank, France based Suez, UK based Syngenta, the Swedish/Finnish Stora Enso are related to environmental and social crimes that particularly hit the indigenous communities. Deforestation, Contamination of water, and illegal land purchasing leads to the delocalisation of indigenous communities and causes social problems, crisis in food production and food sovereignty.

Witnesses from Guatemala reported about the involvement of Swedish, Norwegian and Irish pension funds in the gold mining giant Goldcorp INC. Ireland holds investments through the National Pensions Reserve Fund. This fund amounts to €15.5 billion of Irish tax-payers’ money and is invested for the benefit of future Irish pensioners. Witnesses described a litany of environmental and human rights abuses underpinned by a societal wide disregard for the rights of indigenous people in Guatemala.  The company, like many other companies, takes advantage of the large scale impunity that prevails with respect to the crimes of multinational corporations.

A Quechua community leader explained that "we are no longer colonised by the sword but do not be mistaken: colonisation is still going on".

Alternative People’s Summit Opening rally

The opening rally of the Alternative People’s Summit saw a packed auditorium, eagerly listening to the different speakers on the panel. Via transistor radios, the different speeches were translated into Spanish, English, French, and Portuguese and vice versa. The panel paid tribute to human rights activists and defenders who were attacked and killed by a paramilitary group – allegedly under protection from state forces- on April 27 in Oaxaca/Mexico. Among those dead was Bety Carino, a famous Women Human Rights Defender. The caravan of human rights defenders was trying to investigate the crimes of mining companies in the area.

The different speakers on the panel addressed a number of important topics such as the abuse of the Haitian crisis after the terrific earthquake which left 250,000 people dead at the beginning of this year. Under the disguise of humanity, former US President Bill Clinton is directing the reconstruction work and is closely working with the World Bank which will make sure that a "new, pro-big business" Haiti is being rebuilt.

The crisis in Honduras following the coup and the "election" of President Lobo was put before the audience by activists from Honduras who explained that nothing as changed after the coup d’état. There are further disappearances, human rights violations, violent evictions and the strengthening of impunity. ’We will not give up the struggle, we have resisted for 500 years, there is a heritage of rebellion in Honduras and we will carry on’, concluded the speaker.

The meeting also touched on the events in Europe, with a speaker from the Greek Social Forum and a speaker from the Greek Syriza Party. In the short time, they had, the speakers tried to expose the lies of the so-called high living standards in Greece and called for solidarity with the Greek struggle.

The banks are ours

Susan George, one of the flagships speakers at the anti-globalisation meeting, concluded the opening rally. As a response to the economic and social crisis that is unfolding and as a criticism of the bank- bail outs, she made everyone chant "The banks are ours".

Susan George was meant to present the Alternatives to the current crisis; her speech however- despite the correct slogan of "The banks are ours"- reflected all the limitations and weaknesses of the social movements and to a certain extent of some of the left in general.

Susan George explained that credits should be a public good and should be made available to households that are involved in green projects. She called for a democratisation of the economy and at the same time explained that responsible businesses should be supported. Tax havens should be closed and the European Central Bank should be brought under control. She was glad to announce that the demand for a tax on financial transaction is now taken more seriously and insisted that the revenues of such a tax should be used for the poor; more explicitly 1/3 should go to the poor, 1/3 should be used to prepare for the green economy and 1/3 to bail out the European people.

Break with capitalism

A number of those demands point into the right direction and should be supported. However, there are serious limitations to Susan George’s "alternative programme" that need to be addressed. The demands – posed in this way- give the impression as if they could be implemented with a lot of "good will" and pressure from below. While that is true in some ways for the demand of a tax on financial transactions that is now even supported by the representatives of neo-liberalism, real and lasting control over financial transactions can only be achieved if the financial institutions are being taken under democratic and public control. Only then, you can make sure that credit is a "public good" and should for example invest into the development of environmentally friendly technology and energy.

If the "green economy" remains within the logic of a system that is driven by profit maximisation and run on the basis of competition, then research and development would be hampered by individual big business interests. Therefore, the means of production and production itself must be taken out of the hands of the capitalist class and put under democratic workers’ control and management. Only a democratic and planned economy can serve the interests of the majority of the population and stands a chance to reverse the damage that has been done to the environment already.

The limitations of the "People’s Summit" have become apparent on different occasions. Many speakers presented shocking and detailed accounts of the dramatic and damaging influence of multinational corporations in Latin America. Quite rightly, those heroic activists asked the PTT to condemn those companies; others called for the EU member states to be "guided by ethical principles".

Unfortunately, this approach is too vague and too limited to bring about substantial change. Already today, the European Union boats about the "European values" of democracy and respect for human rights and the need for ’Social Corporate Responsibility’. This has not prevented the brutal actions of the EU based multinationals. To purely condemn them on moral grounds will be of no consequence for those merciless profit hunters. Their power needs to be broken in order to build a society that is run by the "ethical principles" of human solidarity, cooperation and respect for every human being and the environment. Those principles can only be achieved if the control over production and the running of society as a whole is in the hands of those who work in the factories, live near them and use its products. The slogan "Another world is possible" urgently needs to be broadened: "A socialist world is necessary"

Close to 100 meetings and sessions, all very informative, were held at the Alternative People’s Summit. Joe Higgins MEP, as part of a GUE/NGL delegation, spoke at a meeting on the current situation in Honduras as well as at the meeting organised by the GUE/NGL group as well.

Tanja Niemeier works as a staff member for the GUE/NGL group in the European Parliament and is a member of LSP, Belgium. She writes in personal capacity

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May 2010