Is the NDP a force for change today?

The NDP comes from a tradition of Prairie populism and socialism. It is this history that made the party distinctive. As the Regina Manifesto said: “We aim to replace the present capitalist system, with its inherent injustice and inhumanity, by a social order from which the domination and exploitation of one class by another will be eliminated, in which economic planning will supersede unregulated private enterprise and competition, and in which genuine democratic self-government, based upon economic equality will be possible.” The party took the side of the broad interests of the oppressed, and from that vantage point articulated a vision of an alternative society. The role of organized labour within the party, as well as other grassroots movements, guaranteed that it would be more than a collection of office-seeking politicians.

Today, the idea of a vision of another social order arising from the injustices of capitalism sounds anachronistic. Worse still, the NDP has become a collection of office-seeking politicians, however well meaning. There are many reasons for this. The most important is simply the fact that capitalism has successfully raised the living standard of enough people to take some of the sting out of exploitation (this was acknowledged a generation after the Regina Manifesto in the Winnipeg Declaration). Equally, the welfare state (for which the NDP can take much credit) has improved the lives of most if not all Canadians. Finally, many of the greatest problems we face as a society are no longer (if they ever were) fundamentally rooted in work and production. Unions increasingly seem more like mere interest groups, while business interests are given priority because of the taxes and jobs they create.

Part of the task of the NDP, if it is to remain a voice of conscience, is to remind us of how tough life is for those who still suffer hard times under our economy; and there is a role of the NDP in challenging the idea that what is good for business is good for society as a whole, especially in this era of inadequately regulated financial speculation.

But the party has a deeper problem: what guarantee do voters have that the NDP is different from any other collection of well-meaning office-seekers? Let me be absolutely blunt: the crass rejection of the carbon tax by Carol James is the clearest possible evidence that the NDP is no longer more than an electoral vehicle for seeking office. Current leadership candidates give us well-meaning rhetoric but few guarantees that the NDP would govern any differently than the Liberals.

The solution seems straightforward enough, but perhaps hard to stomach within the deeply conservative culture that pervades the NDP: the party needs to transform itself from a vehicle for electioneering into a convener and articulator of social movements. The guarantee of a strong environmental policy is strong links to environmentalists. By the same token, the best way to guarantee policies that will serve the broadest possible interests in a range of issues is by convening educators, nurses, students, First Nations, anti-poverty groups, small business owners; and, of course, labour unions are important in that context as well.

I recently visited Bolivia where remarkable political and social changes have been initiated by a government that sees itself as an instrument of social movements. Building on intense conflicts over water and gas, land and indigenous rights, Bolivia’s current leadership has managed to create a new constitution that is an amalgam of indigenous and republican ideals, new forms of democratic government at the local and departmental level, and new ways of governing “by obeying,” as their slogan goes. We could learn a lot from Bolivia.

Bolivia: The Challenge to Institutionalize Change

I was asked to comment on the situation in Bolivia while in La Paz last week. The gist of the interview is that Bolivia is not sliding toward competitive authoritarianism, but it must institutionalize the democratizing political changes that have been introduced in recent years or risk losing them. See below, for those who speak Spanish.

The interview was conducted by Pedro Peralta.

Cameron: “Puede que en Bolivia hayan abusos de poder, pero no autoritarismo”

Pagina Siete, February 20, 2011.

¿Cuál es la lectura que hace del proceso político boliviano ?

Bolivia pasa por un proceso muy profundo de democratización, que implica una serie de cambios políticos, sociales y culturales. Superó una etapa de gran crisis.

El Gobierno del MAS heredó una situación muy complicada y afortunadamente logró dar cierta dirección a los procesos políticos. El principal logro es la Constitución, que sin duda cambia el escenario político en muchas maneras. Obviamente habrá que ver cómo se implementa.

Un proceso de cambios profundos tiene que pasar por un proceso de institucionalización. Ése creo que es el reto principal: cómo institucionalizar los cambios de tal manera que Bolivia salga de ese proceso con un sistema político democrático y participativo.

¿Hasta qué punto es ideal para la democracia la hegemonía que ha logrado el MAS?

La hegemonía nunca es ideal para la democracia porque hablamos de un sistema en el que el pueblo manda. En cualquier sistema democrático deben existir garantías para las minorías.

Cualquier proceso de hegemonización del poder puede erosionar la vitalidad de la vida democrática. Más bien, lo que me llama la atención es que si bien el MAS es el actor político más importante de lejos, a su interior hay muchas tendencias, y en el país hay procesos de cambio a nivel subnacional, hay movimientos de poblaciones indígenas. No todos van a estar de acuerdo con el Gobierno y eso es bueno.

¿Qué es lo que se tiene que hacer ante esta situación?

Un elemento importante en la situación de Bolivia es que en 2005 se cayó el sistema de partidos. Es muy importante construir un sistema de partidos y ahí está la gran obligación de quienes no están de acuerdo con el MAS, de construir partidos alternativos democráticos que se muevan dentro de las reglas del juego, no para ir contra al adversario, porque la competencia democrática no es acabar con el otro, sino para abrir espacios de negociación y de diálogo.

¿La hegemonía del MAS se consolidará o los sectores opositores la remontarán?

Podríamos imaginar varios escenarios: 1) que se mantenga el statu quo, que es poco probable porque los actores políticos ven en esta coyuntura un momento de desequilibrio, 2) que se consolide un sistema democrático de más participación dentro del orden constitucional, respetado por el Gobierno como por la oposición. Esto es lo más deseable, 3) que –como varios analistas de fuera consideran- Bolivia, al igual que Venezuela, estaría rumbo a un sistema autoritario competitivo. Yo no creo que ése sea el caso de Bolivia. 4) que es el colapso del régimen democrático por golpe o algo así, que es poco probable. Yo soy optimista. Creo que es más probable que se irá consolidando un orden constitucional más participativo. No digo que esto va ocurrir con toda garantía, pero es muy posible.

¿El autoritarismo es un riesgo latente?

No veo al autoritarismo como un gran peligro. Puede que haya abusos de poder. Efectivamente, un líder puede actuar de una manera autoritaria, pero no creo que Bolivia avance a un régimen autoritario. El mayor riesgo es no poder institucionalizar los cambios que se ha iniciado.

No se debe perder la oportunidad de hacer en Bolivia algo que no ocurrió en otros países de América Latina: lograr la síntesis entre distintas culturas para crear un sistema político que permita la coexistencia de las instituciones liberales y republicanas con procesos de descentralización, de participaron en la política de campesinos e indígenas, y de todos los ciudadanos. Para lograrlo, se debe institucionalizar los cambios.

¿El giro a la izquierda en varios países de la región se va a consolidar o habrá un retroceso?

No hay razón para pensar que este giro a la izquierda es permanente. Puede ser reversible. Pero eso depende mucho del empeño de los gobiernos. Hay que recocer que son muchas izquierdas, no una sola. Una cosa es Chávez y otra cosa es Lula, otra cosa Evo, otra cosa es Daniel Ortega.

Creo que el modelo más atractivo -y quizá el más duradero en continuidad en el poder como de los logros- para las izquierdas de América es el de Lula en Brasil, donde se alcanzó importantes logros en el campo social: mantener el orden macroeconómico estable, gobernar estrictamente con la Constitución y democráticamente, y con mucha participación.

Muchas veces me siento frustrado con la idea de que las alternativas son Chile o Venezuela. No es así. El gran modelo para la izquierda latinoamericana hoy en día es Brasil. Creo que Bolivia también es otro modelo, más propio en una sociedad muy particular.

Pressure Builds to Stop José Figueroa Deportation

A number of students in my course on Latin American politics (Poli 332) last fall were actively involved in the movement to support José Figueroa. One put together this terrific blog on the issue. Another idea the students generated was a “We are José” campaign on the Internet. The movement continues to build momentum, and on January 16 there will be activities in support of José nation-wide. The story has been picked up by CTV news. What follows is an update from the campaign.

People from all walks of life and community-based organizations are joining forces to reverse the deportation order against José Figueroa and his family and are making a call to all to join the WE ARE JOSE campaign. Several initiatives are being organized for the WE ARE JOSE Campaign held across several Canadians cities on January 16th, 2011. Visit www.wearejose.com for more information.

 WE ARE JOSE supporters believe that the Canadian government’s decision to deport José is a mistake and that this error impacts not only Jose and his family but also puts many Canadians of Salvadorean origin at risk of deportation. The campaign requests that the Canadian government, in particular the Minister of Public Safety, Vic Toews, respond to the demand to grant José an exemption by January 16th declaring him no threat to national security, in honour of the Salvadorean Peace Agreement and as a reminder to Canadians that our country played a key role in putting an end to El Salvador’s bloody 12-year civil war.

WATCH a documentary made by Simon Fraser University students Sarshar Hosseinnia and Kevin Church about José Figueroa’s case:
http://pages.cmns.sfu.ca/mdd/files/2010/12/JoseCompression1.mov.

Join WE ARE JOSE National Day of support, January 16th

In Ottawa, ON:

Vigil at the Human Rights Monument on Elgin St. (at Lisgar), 4:30pm
Bring candles, lanterns and banners. Guest speakers & artist!

In Langley, BC:

Vigil at Walnut Grove Luthern Church, 5:30pm
20530 88th Avenue, Langley, BC V1M 2Y6
 
In Toronto, ON: TBA

In Montreal, QC: TBA

 
TAKE ACTION

1. Offer your endorsement to the WE ARE JOSE campaign, either as a person or organization or both. Send us an email at wearejose@gmail.com. Don’t forget to FWD this email to all potential supporters.

2. Print and display the WE ARE JOSE logo in a visible place such as your Facebook profile, door step, back of your car, desk top at work, etc… Visit www.wearejose.com to download it.

3. Watch and Fwd to all your friends the WE ARE JOSE video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fxMAYgQjN8

4. Record your video response to the WE ARE JOSE youtube video. You can say who you are and where you are from and why you support WE ARE JOSE. See http://wearejose.wordpress.com/tellyourstory/ for instructions.

5. Send an email to the Minister of Public Safety, the Honourable Vic Toews, at Toews.V@parl.gc.ca, requesting the reverse of the deportation order. Get a sample letter at http://wearejose.wordpress.com/tellyourstory/ .

6. Organize an event of solidarity for Jose and let us know when and where it will be. Recommended events are vigils of support and commemorating the peace agreement. Can include showings of the recently released documentary about José’s case http://harpalarp.blogspot.com/2010/12/sfu-students-explain-jose-figueroas.html and host a discussion.

MORE ACTIONS of Support visit:

http://wearejose.wordpress.com/tellyourstory/

READ more about José’s case at the following blogs and below:

http://josefigueroaimmigrationordeal.blogspot.com/

http://www.helpjose.blogspot.com/

‘Lo que falta en el Perú son partidos políticos.’ Actual fragmentación puede generar un clima de desorden

From El Peruano, 6 January 2011.


Actual fragmentación puede generar un clima de desorden

Canadiense edita libro sobre situación en la región andina

Fidel Gutiérrez M. fgutierrez@editoraperu.com.pe

El libro Democracia en la región andina: Diversidad y desafíos (IEP, 2010) reúne análisis realizados sobre los sistemas de gobierno vigentes en los países de esta zona del continente. Conversamos con su editor, el canadiense Maxwell A. Cameron, catedrático de la Universidad de Columbia Britanica, de Vancouver, Canadá, y le preguntamos cuál es la percepción que se tiene sobre el Perú.

¿Cómo se describe al Perú en este análisis?
– En relación con los otros países de la región, el sistema electoral está funcionando normalmente. El de Perú es un sistema electoral democrático bastante consolidado. En el aspecto constitucional, obviamente está mucho mejor que hace unos diez años. Si lo comparamos con los años 90, existe ahora un mayor equilibrio de poderes, mayor independencia del Poder Judicial y no es un régimen civil-militar como el de Fujimori.

¿Se ve una verdadera participación ciudadana?
– Por el lado jurídico se tienen todos los mecanismos de participación ciudadana. Eso se ha profundizado y en algunos aspectos hay más participación que antes. Por ejemplo, hay procesos de regionalización y descentralización bastante fuertes. También existe presupuesto participativo en muchos municipios, pero a la vez hubo problemas muy graves por la falta de preocupación en profundizar este aspecto. En Bagua se mostró que muchas veces se hacen planes de inversión sin consultar a las comunidades.

¿El gobierno promueve la participación ciudadana?
– Ha buscado más bien promover las inversiones, negociar TLC y empujar el crecimiento económico, lo cual está muy bien, pero no ha buscado mucho consultar con las comunidades ni promover la participación. Sin embargo ha sido respetuoso de las reglas de juego y mantuvo y profundizó el proceso de descentralización. Entonces, el Perú está caminando bien, pero lo que faltan son partidos políticos. Hay fragmentación del sistema y una gran cantidad de alianzas; todas en torno a candidatos más que a partidos.

¿Eso qué riesgos traería?
– Genera una situación de desorden, en el sentido de que hay mucha volatilidad porque el elector no tiene partidos con etiquetas que representen alternativas programáticas. Más bien lo que representan son candidatos y ofertas de personas, más que programas y propuestas. Además, la fragmentación puede llevar a una situación en la que quien sea elegido no tendrá mayoría en el Congreso, lo que es un problema muy grave, sobre todo en un sistema presidencial, porque carecer de ella puede generar una situación de bloqueo de leyes. Fortalecer el sistema de partidos políticos es un reto importante para la consolidación de la democracia peruana.

¿Esta situación se da también en otros países andinos?
– Los países donde encontramos más inestabilidad son justamente aquellos en los que los partidos están en crisis, como en Ecuador, Bolivia y Venezuela, y en menor grado en Colombia. El viejo sistema del Pacto del Frente Nacional de los años 70 ya no está vigente, pero sin embargo no hay una fragmentación tan grande como en los otros países. En el caso de Venezuela también hubo el Pacto de Punto Fijo entre los años 60 y 90. Eso cayó y dio lugar al chavismo, y ante éste no hay una oposición coherente, sino bastante fragmentada. En el caso de Bolivia, la oposición vino de las regiones, pero tampoco hay una clara y coherente. Justamente es eso lo que permite que surjan líderes más autoritarios que pueden incurrir en abusos políticos.

¿La integración andina es viable o la han superado otros mecanismos regionales?
– Eso no lo hemos tocado en el libro. Al iniciar este proyecto, en 2007, vimos que la región andina era una de las subregiones de mayor preocupación, en el sentido de que existían democracias precarias; pero nos hemos dado cuenta que la situación es mucho más precaria en Centroamérica. Si vemos en general a América Latina, en este momento hay problemas más graves en Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua y El Salvador. Nuestro enfoque ha sido el de la democracia nacional y los regímenes políticos nacionales; no la integración de la subregión.

¿Cuál es el tipo de gobierno predominante actualmente en la región andina?
– Hay democracias en donde las instituciones representativas han sido limitadas, que han buscado fomentar más la participación ciudadana, y hay otros países en los que no hay tanta participación, pero estas instituciones son más fuertes. Los países que buscan más la participación son los que tienen más tendencia de izquierda: Bolivia, Ecuador y Venezuela, aunque no creo que ese sea el mejor termino, porque en el caso de Bolivia, no se está buscando el socialismo. Morales no es tan socialista como sí indigenista. Tampoco el caso de Ecuador. Su gobierno busca fomentar las inversiones y no tiene una línea tan marcadamente a la izquierda.

Modelo efectivo
A juicio de Cameron, un modelo efectivo que Perú podría seguir es el de Brasil; país “en el que se ha profundizado mucho la participación ciudadana”.
“También hay elecciones libres y transparentes, y un orden constitucional bastante sólido”, añade.
Este modelo es, a su juicio, mejor que el vigente en Chile, “que tiene instituciones constitucionales fuertes, pero no tiene presupuesto participativo ni iniciativas ciudadanas”.

Official Guatemala

Source: http://www.citizenvoices.gg.ca/en/
The visit of Canada’s Governor General provided a glimpse into “official Guatemala.” Before lunch at the Palace I was told to stay clear of the windows in the adjoining room because protesters were being evicted from the street below. Taking advantage of the concentration of security personnel, a little palatial “tidy-up” was in order. The salon where we met under a massive chandelier—two and a half tons of Czech crystal, bronze and gold—was adorned with stained glass windows depicting the Spaniards on one side and pre-Colombian natives on the other with not much mixing between. On one side “nosotros,” on the other “ellos.” Two exceptions to this Apartheid. Mestizos were depicted along with creoles learning from priests in the second university established in the Americas (the San Carlos, in Antigua). And the leader of the Kaqchiquel Indians was depicted making an alliance with Don Pedro Alvarado against his Mayan brethren.

In the soft light filtered through these windows we gathered with the President and his wife, leaders of the supreme court and congress, ministers and vice-ministers, ambassadors, and the GG’s retinue. The GG, fresh from a visit to Mexico where she reportedly inspired President Calderon to break into song, has a powerful effect on people. President Colom was evidently smitten. He gave the sort of somnambulistic discourse that falls so soft on the ears, and is so lacking in a point or purpose as to deprive the brain of any possibility of actually understanding let alone remembering what was said. The GG, on the other hand, gave a speech that was quite beautiful and touching, if equally lacking in any hardness or substance. The take away message seemed to be “we believe in Guatemala.”

Back at my table the conversation was a little more pointed. There was much grousing among Guatelaman officials about the unwillingness of the benighted local elite to pay taxes, their indifference to the need for a stronger state—nay, their preference for one that is weak and corrupt—the need for social policy, to educate the masses and other worthy goals. But when the conversation turned to Canadian mining, the blame fell squarely on the NGOs that are dividing Guatemalans against each other and stirring up complaints where otherwise there would be none.

And then it was over, and there was a hasty march to the motorcade. Curious pedestrians watched as a fleet of SUVs and buses and armed soldiers raced off the next meeting, and then went back to their Christmas shopping, enjoying the book fair in the Plaza de la Constitucion, or playing chess in the open air. The protesters had been cleared from the front of the balance and a new security perimeter extended. Progress had been made.

Follow the GG’s visit here.

In a forensic lab, a learning moment

The forensic laboratory in the Centro de Analisis Forense y Ciencias Aplicadas (CAFCA) is a small brightly-lit room with flat white tables upon which forensic anthropologists piece together skeletal remains. Their goal is to determine the sex, height, and age of the deceased, data that are combined with information about the site of the exhumation and testimony from affected communities in order to determine the victim’s identity. Over 200,000 people were killed during the armed conflict in Guatemala, and 40,000 to 60,000 “disappeared.” The CAFCA laboratory has already contributed to identifying over 580 people, a drop in the bucket compared to the magnitude of the genocide, but each skeleton is what remains of a person who can be returned to their communities for burial so that family and friends can grieve. Each victim of a massacre entitles members of his or her community to reparations, so that the bones, properly identified, can trigger judicial processes. They might even one day contribute to bringing perpetrators to justice. One day. To date there have been precious few trials of human rights crimes, none of high ranking officers.

We crowd into the laboratory. There is a little nervous giggling. We could be in an anatomy class. Miguel Angel Morales Reyes, chief of the forensic program in CAFCA, starts to explain his work. It begins to sink in that we are in the presence of a young man, a Mayan Indian, killed with a bullet to the head in 1982. After Morales finishes his description of how remains are identified he says “now I would like to ask you a question.” He then describes an exhumation of 17 bodies, each of which had a machete knife blow to the neck. The skeleton with the least trauma has 2 cuts, the one with the most had 17 cuts. “What kind of human being would do that?” There is silence. “Not really a human being” ventures one student. “Perhaps someone who had been involved in many other massacres.” Madness and bloodlust seem to be the best explanations. Morales then tells us the story that was recounted by the community. It was a remarkable learning moment for us all.

The army came into the village and an informant identified 17 people as subversives. The soldiers rounded up the remaining villagers and told them it was their job to “clean up” their own community. They then forced the villagers to kill their own friends and families. There we stood, in that room filled with bones, imagining a community forced to kill its own family and friends. Discussion ensued. What kind of justice is possible, when the lines between perpetrators and victims are blurred? In this case, would not individualizing responsibility merely add to the grief? While those truly responsible have eluded justice, many communities have had to learn to live together knowing that there has been impunity for those responsible and that perpetrators walk among them and are also victims.

In vivid and lucid presentations by Hector Soto, the Director of CAFCA, and William Ramirez, of the Justice Education Society in Guatemala, we glimpsed some of the ways in which the absolute impunity that reigns in Guatemala, coupled with the persistence of the conditions that led to the violence in the first place, has prevented the society from overcoming its collective post-traumatic stress. It is also present-traumatic stress, since violence and impunity continue today, and follow the same modalities and patterns as before (the rape and dismembering of women, for example), even as it has evolved into forms of violence and impunity that are less directly political (gang violence, drug-trafficking, corruption and criminality in the very highest levels of government).

Guatemala City Dump

Today we visited the Guatemala City dump. We passed “El Gallito,” a part of town controlled by drug traffickers, as we made our way to the municipal cemetery which overlooks the dump. This was a place used by death squads during the internal armed conflict. They would kill “subversives” and throw them into the ravine at the dump. We stood there and watched a microcosm of the great injustices that afflict Guatemala.

According to our expert guide, Fredy Maldonado, 3,000 people work in the dump everyday, and 21,000 live in the surrounding barrio. They now have to pay to get into the dump to scavenge, and the truck drivers take bribes to let certain people have first dibs. Municipal workers patrol the dump, earning about $300 per month. The stench of methane and sulphur penetrates nostrils and irritates skin. Worms, bugs, rats infest this world that Dickens or Hugo would have trouble doing justice (and I can’t even begin to convey). Nobody is allowed to live in the dump any more: too many areas collapsed taking the pickers with them, smothering them in garbage. Under the dump are subterranean rivers. Pickers can get about one dollar for 100 lbs of plastic. Many bring the garbage back to their homes to sort and sell. Earnings are lower now that the economy is slumping–there is less interest in recycled material.

After witnessing this horror, we visited a child care centre and school organized by a non-profit called Safe Passage that has done a remarkable job of taking kids, mothers and fathers in the neighborhood and giving them the chance to learn basic reading and math skills. They make jewelry from recycled material. So we did some Christmas shopping. This year I will read Dicken’s description of want and ignorance in A Christmas Carol with some new and vivid images in mind.

After the visit to the dump we return to class and watched “Manos de Madre,” a documentary about the people who work in the dump who have been involved in Safe Passage.

To learn more about Safe Passage, go here.