Report from the Turning the Tide: The Growing Resistance to Neoliberalism in Latin America conference, 21-22 February, 2003, New York University, New York City, USA.
With the recent election of left-wing populist governments in Brazil and Ecuador, the tenacity of Hugo Chavez's reformist project in Venezuela, and the growing strength of social movements in Argentina, Bolivia, and Mexico, Latin America is clearly in the middle of a "shift to the left" on a scale not seen since the days of Salvador _Allende.
A primary reason for this paradigmatic political shift is the failure of neoliberal economic policies that have been implemented with great force all throughout the continent since the "lost decade" of the 1980s, which have further enriched multinational corporations and local elites but have led to greater immiseration for the vast majority of the poor and working classes. As an attempt to better understand these political trends, Left Turn and NACLA magazines, the NYU Department of History as well as other academic centers at NYU, and a coalition of activist groups brought together leaders from social movements all over Latin America to share their experiences and insight with over 250 North American solidarity activists, students, and members of the Latino immigrant community at the Turning the Tide conference, held one month ago in New York.
The plenaries and workshops provided a crucial space for dialogue between activists from both sides of the continental divide. One example was the workshop on neoliberalism and the environment, where João Paulo Rodrigues Chaves of the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement and environmental law professor Judith Kimerling shared _strategies on how to stop the ecological crisis being brought about by policies that favor exploitation of natural resources by foreign investors over sustainable development. Another vibrant, well-_attended workshop was the panel on revolution and counter-revolution in Venezuela, moderated by the independent media activist Blanca Eekhout and New York-based author and researcher Fred Rosen, which featured a heated debate on the future of the Bolivarian project and the effects of US intervention on Chavez´s government.
Colombian trade union and social activists were also well represented at the conference, despite the practically genocidal conditions that they are currently enduring under the ultra-right wing Uribe _government. Patricia Guerrero of the Cartagena League of Displaced Women shared the stage with Bolivian indigenous activist Leonida Zurita Vargas for a discussion on how economic globalization and _political violence are specifically affecting Latin American women, and a workshop on "Fighting the Transnationals" featured Colombian trade union activist Luis Adolfo Cardona talking about the current campaign against Coca-cola for its complicity in the intimidation, illegal imprisonment, kidnapping, and murder by paramilitary forces of union leaders at its bottling plants in Colombia.
Also, former SINTRAEMCALI President and member of the Colombian House of Representatives Alexander López shared with conference participants the electrifying story of the successful fight to stop the privatization of EMCALI and a call for solidarity to prevent Uribe´s current attempt to destroy Cali´s public services corporation and the union which represents its employees as part of the stirring final plenary. In conclusion, the Turning the Tide conference was acknowleged to be a much-needed space for education and reflection as _well as a call to action for participants who came together from Brooklyn to Buenos Aires (and many other places in between) to spread our common vision of a new road to social development for the _Americas.
Coordinator, Committee for Social Justice in Colombia