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March 15, 2001 Activists say elected leaders have failed






by Sigalit Hoffman

Globalization will not be a problem if ordinary citizens have input, two left-wing speakers told a Concordia audience last week.

UQAM sociology professor Dorval Brunelle and local publisher Dimitri Roussopoulos (Black Rose Books) spoke in the fifth lecture of a series sponsored by the Karl Polanyi Institute and School of Community and Public Affairs, both based at Concordia.

Both men warned that globalization is being negotiated behind closed doors. “They’re so well equipped and so locked up, negotiating our democratic process,” Brunelle mused.

Both had attended the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, which was held in January, at the same time as the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. This was an initiative aimed at exploring alternatives to globalization, and represented a switch from a reactive to a proactive approach.

“While in Davos, the elite spoke to the elite, in Porto Alegre, people met night and day to discover alternatives,” Roussopoulos said. The forum’s 12,000 delegates came from non-governmental organizations, trade unions, and political, urban and rural organizations worldwide.

Roussopoulos insisted that the forum’s location was not a detail to be glossed over. The city itself is an example of the democracy he and Brunelle want to enshrine, and which they believe is threatened by globalization.

Ranked number one in 1996 and 1998 by the UN for having the best quality of life in Brazil, Porto Alegre is run by its citizens through neighbourhood committees. The system has been so successful that the left-wing political party that began the program has been re-elected three times, and has been in power for 12 years.

“There are fewer beggars in Porto Alegre than there are in Montreal,” Roussopoulos said.
Representatives from more than 50 organizations signed resolutions after the forum. However, Brunelle and Roussopoulos preferred to dwell on the reasons for the forum rather than its outcome.

They said it was a chance to repatriate democratic debate, and a response to widespread disillusionment with the 1994 United Nations World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, where 160 world leaders signed an agreement to eradicate poverty and pursue sustainable development.

Roussopoulos claimed that globalization has already begun to wreak havoc. In the last decade, international trade agreements grew by 55 per cent, while the gap between the rich and the poor widened.

Brunelle said that free trade between Canada and Brazil is a film behind which Canada can hide imperialist tactics. He referred to Canada’s 12 billion dollars worth of investment in Chilean copper and forestry as the “first consequence of free trade,” which he predicts will lead to “confrontation between Mapaches [Brazilian natives] and Canadian firms wanting to cut down their forest.”

He referred to the 1994 agreement as “empty rhetoric” which has forced activists to adopt a different strategy.

“We can’t give them the responsibility to arbitrate women’s issues, aboriginal issues. They are not doing it properly,” Brunelle said. “We cannot go back within the UN system.”

This is part of a series of articles about the issue of globalization from the perspectives of Concordia professors and students.