22 February 2011

Latin America in the coming years. A Universalist Humanism vision

Latin America is definitely on the move: there are multiple events taking place in political, economic, social, cultural, ethnic, institutional, religious and spiritual fields, showing a new moment. Here we publish the complete transcription of the lecture given at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem by Tomás Hirsch, humanist Latin American leader.


Image by: Photo Pressenza
Tomàs Hirsch in Israel

Latin America in the coming years. A Universalist Humanism vision. By Tomás Hirsch, 2/21/11

Pressenza International Press Agency Jerusalen, 2/20/11
I would like to thank the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for letting me share some thoughts about the process taking place in Latin America. I will dedicate some time to the current situation and then I shall talk about a new proposal being born today in our region.

What are the global trends in action and what is happening in Latin America?

With the advancing globalisation there is a regionalisation taking place and in this context Latin America is becoming integrated and growing economically, strengthening its democracies and moving towards greater participation of its native peoples and its most discriminated sectors in general. Let's look at this more closely.

Latin America is living a great socially dynamic process. In many countries we see changes in the structure and organisation of society as people attempt to gain access to better living conditions. New Constitutions in Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia guarantee rights that were denied before. Things happening in Brazil as a result of Lula’s implementation of economic and social policies with a strong direction towards social justice, the themes of education and health in Venezuela with the help of Cubans, and new social benefits in Argentina, are all some samples of this dynamic process.

There are conflicts and social tensions in the search for these new rights, which resulted in anti-discrimination laws in Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador. The awareness produced by native peoples in claiming their rights has been very prominent. This is happening in Bolivia, where Evo was re-elected with an overwhelming majority. But there have also been major demonstrations of the Mapuche Indians in southern Argentina and Chile and ethnic groups in Peru.
Latin America is definitely on the move: there are multiple events taking place in political, economic, social, cultural, ethnic, institutional, religious and spiritual fields, showing a new moment.
There have also been accidents, such as major earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, the dramatic floods in Brazil, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the death of Nestor Kirchner in Argentina. And surely we should point out the accident and subsequent rescue of 33 miners in Chile.

While there are many events, we recognize three important factors that are acting in the region: A first important factor has been the severe economic crisis, especially in the U.S. financial system, which has hit Europe triggering a crisis in economic, labour, social and political fields. In turn, this crisis has reinforced the role of China as a central determinant of the global economy.

This crisis has helped boost regional integration, especially with the intense UNASUR multilateral agenda, but also with the Mercosur and other multi and bilateral agencies. That integrating momentum, in turn has been affected, "attacked", by attempts to destabilise democracies, for the moment with little success: In this respect we can recognize the failed military coup attempts in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, as well as the "successful one" in Honduras, a sort of warning to the countries in the region. Also the strong media criticism to Cristina Fernandez’ government in Argentina, as well as Evo’s, Correa’s and others, part of the destabilizing strategy, which is at the height of its activity.

This economic crisis and especially the financial system in USA and Europe has not hit so badly the Latin American region whose economy rather than being strongly linked to the financial sector is basically built on exporting raw materials. Thus, the new century begins with a much stronger crisis hitting the so called "developed" world while Latin America is strengthened by developing economic ties with Asia, and especially China, supplying raw materials in response to their rising demand in that country. Thus, Latin America has not had a significant rise in unemployment, and on the contrary, its economy has grown and its reserves have increased. Brazil, for example, has reduced its unemployment in the last 4 years from 12 to 6.8% while increasing its reserves from 30 to over 300 billion dollars. Peru grows at a rate only exceeded by China while Bolivia for the first time does have foreign exchange reserves.

It is remarkable that in Brazil Lula's government took more than 25 million people out of poverty while consolidating economic agreements not only with China but also with Africa. Similarly, during the crisis, Argentina was the only country in the world which supported its car industry, avoiding massive layoffs. Moreover, both countries paid their historical debts to the IMF moving away from the suffocating economic policies imposed by that body.

This economic growth throughout the region, not aligned with USA and Europe, and accompanied by the already mentioned growing progress is I would like to thank the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for letting me share some thoughts about the process taking place in Latin America. I will dedicate some time to the current situation and then I shall talk about a new proposal being born today in our region.

What are the global trends in action and what is happening in Latin America?

With the advancing globalisation there is a regionalisation taking place and in this context Latin America is becoming integrated and growing economically, strengthening its democracies and moving towards greater participation of its native peoples and its most discriminated sectors in general. Let's look at this more closely.

Latin America is living a great socially dynamic process. In many countries we see changes in the structure and organization of society as people attempt to gain access to better living conditions. New Constitutions in Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia guarantee rights that were denied before. Things happening in Brazil as a result of Lula’s implementation of economic and social policies with a strong direction towards social justice, the themes of education and health in Venezuela with the help of Cubans, and new social benefits in Argentina, are all some samples of this dynamic process.

There are conflicts and social tensions in the search for these new rights, which resulted in anti-discrimination laws in Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador. The awareness produced by native peoples in claiming their rights has been very prominent. This is happening in Bolivia, where Evo was re-elected with an overwhelming majority. But there have also been major demonstrations of the Mapuche Indians in southern Argentina and Chile and ethnic groups in Peru.

Latin America is definitely on the move: there are multiple events taking place in political, economic, social, cultural, ethnic, institutional, religious and spiritual fields, showing a new moment.

There have also been accidents, such as major earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, the dramatic floods in Brazil, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the death of Nestor Kirchner in Argentina. And surely we should point out the accident and subsequent rescue of 33 miners in Chile.

While there are many events, we recognize three important factors that are acting in the region: A first important factor has been the severe economic crisis, especially in the U.S. financial system, which has hit Europe triggering a crisis in economic, labor, social and political fields. In turn, this crisis has reinforced the role of China as a central determinant of the global economy.

This crisis has helped boost regional integration, especially with the intense UNASUR multilateral agenda, but also with the Mercosur and other multi and bilateral agencies. That integrating momentum, in turn has been affected, "attacked", by attempts to destabilise democracies, for the moment with little success: In this respect we can recognize the failed military coup attempts in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, as well as the "successful one" in Honduras, a sort of warning to the countries in the region. Also the strong media criticism to Cristina Fernandez’ government in Argentina, as well as Evo’s, Correa’s and others, part of the destabilizing strategy, which is at the height of its activity.

This economic crisis and especially the financial system in USA and Europe has not hit so badly the Latin American region whose economy rather than being strongly linked to the financial sector is basically built on exporting raw materials. Thus, the new century begins with a much stronger crisis hitting the so called "developed" world while Latin America is strengthened by developing economic ties with Asia, and especially China, supplying raw materials in response to their rising demand in that country. Thus, Latin America has not had a significant rise in unemployment, and on the contrary, its economy has grown and its reserves have increased. Brazil, for example, has reduced its unemployment in the last 4 years from 12 to 6.8% while increasing its reserves from 30 to over 300 billion dollars. Peru grows at a rate only exceeded by China while Bolivia for the first time does have foreign exchange reserves.

It is remarkable that in Brazil Lula's government took more than 25 million people out of poverty while consolidating economic agreements not only with China but also with Africa. Similarly, during the crisis, Argentina was the only country in the world which supported its car industry, avoiding massive layoffs. Moreover, both countries paid their historical debts to the IMF moving away from the suffocating economic policies imposed by that body.

This economic growth throughout the region, not aligned with USA and Europe, and accompanied by the already mentioned growing progress is one of the salient features at this time. While Europe is embroiled in a widespread crisis and America gets complicated, Latin America is growing and developing with integration and enlightenment. Certainly not all is positive: There are ominous clouds gathering around Nicaragua and Costa Rica, in Mexico violence escalates with urban districts totally controlled by the drug trade, and inequality between rich and poor is growing in some countries to levels never seen before.

A second factor that might appear unrelated to Latin America: the Middle East conflict, including in it Israel / Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and especially the growing tensions with Iran, which has become America’s "Number 1 Enemy", with a background of growing nuclear threat. It is important to understand that this conflict has touched the region, which has not been absent from it. Brazil is seeking to take for the first time a mediating role (probably motivated by its attempt to become a permanent member of UN Security Council), Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia are strengthening their ties with Iran, with presidential visits and economic, political and military agreements. And recently several countries in the region have been the first in the world to recognise Palestine as an independent and sovereign State. I include it as a relevant factor because it reflects an issue that is central to understanding the new situation: Latin America is becoming established as a Region.

Today, as we go through a process that moves toward regionalisation at the expense of individual countries, it is possible to see Latin America’s significant progress in that direction. I dare say that Latin America might be able to make a contribution to the world showing what can be like an integration for the XXI Century, as Europe did with its integration process for the XX Century. This integration must necessarily be not only economic but also political, social, cultural, ethnic, environmental and human.

A third factor has been the deep crisis of the Catholic Church, accused of concealing numerous cases of crimes of paedophilia committed by members of its clergy. Hundreds of cases have been reported in all countries of the region and Europe, tainting up to the highest authorities of the Church, which on becoming weakened has created a space for establishing a number of progressive laws, usually blocked by the most conservative sectors. So Latin America has seen equality marriage laws in Argentina, new laws on non-discrimination, freedom of expression, personal liberties, labor rights and recognition of ethnic diversity, a wave of new freedoms and rights throughout the region. I could not state that all these laws have been the result of the crisis of the church, but no doubt this situation of weakness has facilitated the adoption of measures long resisted by conservative local ecclesiastical hierarchies.

After raising these three factors I wish to re-emphasize that we understand the present moment as regionalisation, the strengthening of Regions and blurring of countries. In this process, with the strengthening of Brazil and throughout Latin America, it may even arise a new regional approach for the first time to include the United States, Mexico and Central America.

There are many external factors that can disrupt this auspicious outlook we are showing for Latin America, but it is the internal factors which must be addressed and resolved:

1.  Globalisation leads to multiple changes in psychosocial aspects: we are witnessing the revival of cultural nationalism, such as fundamentalism and orthodoxy, expressed as an affirmation of one’s own things and simultaneously we can observe a trend towards the universal, a human culture inclusive of cultural diversity. Here we face a challenge: If cultural nationalism is strengthen, the process will become dangerous as it disintegrates and is marked by racial, cultural, ethnic and religious violence. It is therefore necessary to strengthen a culture that tends towards universality and allows the expression of different beliefs and traditions, allowing all human beings to live together and to develop irrespective of creed, race and culture. This means that it will be necessary to assert a culture of Active Nonviolence as a methodology for personal and social action.

2.  The rapid economic growth may be too fast and this could completely distort the integration process, marginalising sectors of the population and excluding them from participation and development. If this trend is not corrected, it will corrupt all the regional institutions it intends to build.

3.  One factor that has enabled this new moment in Latin America is its commitment to becoming a nuclear weapons free zone, commitment given by the Treaty of Tlatelolco in 1969. The newly acquired wealth could tempt countries like Brazil to become new nuclear powers, which would probably make impossible a future regional integration in equal terms. Conversely, progress towards the demilitarisation of the region and a progressive and proportional reduction of the military budget could elevate it to an exemplary position before the world's population.

Finally, this process of regionalisation, which is bringing together different countries and governments, has made the traditional categories of left and right less well defined and they are no longer useful for the sake of an analysis. Nor is it useful now to refer as "progressive" the old left just because it has scaled down its old state-based schemes. The epoch presents new dilemmas between nationalism and universalism, between isolation and regionalisation, between concentration of power and real democracy, between violence and nonviolence, between humankind with meaning, and dehumanization.

This complex historical context fraught with danger but also full of possibilities needs the emergence of new global projects, new universal ideals to guide the transforming action of the human being, a new spirituality to give unity and cohesion to the various cultures that are meeting and clashing with each other in every corner of the planet.

We, Latin American humanists, were inspired by the teachings of Silo, a Latin American thinker and mystic; his message inspired a new humanism as well as humanist parties and it has begun to connect men and women from different latitudes, especially young people, looking to find a meaning for their lives, seeking to build a better world.

Silo tells us about overcoming fear, desire, non-meaning, violence, suffering and how to achieve meaning and fulfillment. This is a new spirituality translated and expressed in Universalist Humanism.

Universalist Humanism places the Human Being as the central value rather than money, God, country, state or any other value. The Human Being as the central value. Coherent with this, Active Non-Violence is proposed as the only valid methodology of action. It proposes real democracy rather than the current purely formal democracy. In the economic field it discusses the present relationship between capital and labor and opposes speculative capital, demanding the reinvestment of productive capital while proposing participatory ownership by workers of their companies, which should involve both utilities and decision making. Universalist Humanism raises the need for decentralisation of the state’s apparatus steering political struggle towards the creation a new society, a flexible and constantly changing society in harmony with the changing needs of the peoples today suffocated by dependence.

This humanism has been expressing in the world as political parties, social and cultural organizations, centres of studies, etc.

As you can see, I wanted to go beyond simply stating my view of Latin America. I also wanted to share with you my personal view and position as a Humanist. I can not end without inviting those interested to learn more about Silo's Message and its many expressions in the world.

Thank you very much.

Tomás Hirsch, who lives in Santiago de Chile, is part of the International Humanist Party Team. He was spokesperson for New Humanism in Latinamerica and, on 2005, presidential candidate for Humanism and the Chilean left parties

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