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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: L’Amérique latine met le cap sur le social

by Jean Boulangé, Special Correspondent, Santiago, Chile

Latin America Heads For Socialism

Translated Friday 23 November 2007, by Jonathan Pierrel

Summit. Latin-American heads of state signed a solemn “declaration” to commit themselves to promoting policies to reduce poverty at a three day summit in Santiago de Chile.

The Chilean capital hosted the 17th Ibero-American summit, which has been taking place every year since 1991. From 8 until 10 November, the 22 heads of state from Latin-America, Spain and Portugal gathered to deal with the region’s future, whose economic growth has dramatically increased, though it remains one of the most inegalitarian places in the world. Despite last-minute rumours of cancellation, all the invited key figures attended the summit such as Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, Bolivian president Evo Morales, Brazilian president Lula Da Silva, the Spanish prime minister José Luis Zapatero and Chilean president Michelle Bachelet. The new Argentinean President, Cristina Fernandez, elected on 28 October and taking office in December, came with her husband Nestor Kirchner. Finally, the Cuban leader Fidel Castro was represented by his vice-president Carlos Lage.

Debates on the Chilean government initiative revolved around the theme of “social cohesion” . Opening the summit, President Michelle Bachelet appealed to her colleagues to provide “tangible results for Latin-American citizens”, anticipating the usual criticisms aimed at these kinds of international meetings. “We cannot content ourselves with a series of broad declarations,” said Alejandro Foxley, the Chilean Minister of Foreign Relations. “We need clear and measurable objectives,” he added. His appeal seems to have been understood as the 22 participating delegations quickly agreed on an a social security accord. “This would enable migrant workers to retire in any country of the Ibero-American community,” announced Alejandro Foxley in a press conference on Thursday 8 November. The initiatives approved during the summit have been gathered in that Saturday’s “Santiago’s declaration”, read by Michelle Bachelet who will commit the signatory countries. The document highlights in particular the need to promote social policies to progressively reduce poverty and guarantee access to equal education and health care.

The general assembly of the heads of state was eagerly expected since it enables each delegation to show its political position. The first interventions confirmed the Latin American move towards the Left over the last few years. One of the first to speak was the Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, who was elected last year, was also one of the most appreciated. “Latin America, the most unequal region of the world, has never been an example of cohesion,” he said. “The poor here are sometimes poorer than in Africa and the rich richer than the Swiss... Yet during the long neo-liberal night our continent experienced, the social fabric kept being torn apart” he added, inviting his colleagues to turn their backs on 1990s policies. “Governments are now representative of their people and we are determined to find alternatives,” Rafael Correa concluded to great applause.

Earlier, Michelle Bachelet asked her counterparts to “create a social pact” to improve the situation of those left out from the growth. “We must acknowledge the fact that, over the last several years, social issues did not receive as much attention as political democratisation or economic modernisation,” said the Chilean President. “This reality not only accounts for the huge injustices, but it could also undermine the legitimacy of our societies which we have struggled to build,” she reminded to the audience.

The last comment of the morning was made by Hugo Chavez: “When I took office, about ten years ago, the Ibero-American summit was a genuine song [1] in favour of neoliberalism and Washington’s consensus. At one of those summits, Fidel Castro passed me a piece of paper with the message ‘Chavez, I feel like I’m no longer the only devil at these meetings.’” Comparing that time with the current situation, the Venezuelan President concluded: “Our Latin America now has a great opportunity to make a fresh start. We want to head for a fairer society.”

[1Referring to the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda

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