For the globalization of solidarity

by Mario Lubetkin

Porto Alegre, Brazil, 30 Jan 2001 (IPS) -- Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and city governments from Europe and Latin America called for greater coordination between local authorities and civil society to prevent marginalisation and social exclusion.

“The crisis of values has been globalised, which means we have to globalise solidarity,” Martin Pumar, mayor of Villa El Salvador, a poor neighbourhood in Lima, the capital of Peru, told IPS.

The aim of the Euro-Latin American Third Sector Observatory, which met several times in Brazil during the Jan. 25-30 World Social Forum, is to foment partnerships and development projects carried out jointly by civil society and municipalities, said Pumar. The Observatory was just one of a number of workshops and conferences held parallel to the plenary sessions of the World Social Forum.

Giampiero Rasimelli, president of Arcs, an Italian NGO, said globalization gave rise to profound social imbalances between the industrialised North and the developing South, as well as within each region or country. And “the cost is paid by the citizens, cities and democracy,” he said. Urgent changes must be brought about by government efforts and initiatives based on the potential of globalization and new technologies for boosting citizen participation, and on experiments in local autonomy focussing on sustainable economic and social development. Partnerships between civil society and city governments, he said, have arisen spontaneously as a natural result of sharing experiences, seeking collaboration and reflecting on common problems.

Mexican social researcher Jose Luis Rhi Sausi said the growing partnership between civil society and local governments had its roots in the crisis of development models - the European welfare model as well as the development-oriented models adopted in Latin America. “That has given rise to a profound economic and political restructuring entailing a loss of decision-making jurisdiction and power for the state,” said Rhi Sausi.

The coordinator of the Euro-Latin American Observatory, Claudia Barattini, underlined the growth of the Third Sector - that “ensemble of non-profit economic, social and political initiatives, in which the socially-oriented enterprise and citizen groups stand out.”

Barattini pointed out that the so-called Third Sector has grown in a number of countries, but especially in those countries where civil society is best organised. “We believe that we can fashion a simple, multifaceted mechanism for the globalization of communities, civil organisations, and small and medium companies, which discovers its own strength in its capacity to strike up partnerships, based on the quality and simplicity of common experiences,” she said.

In their final document, the more than 100 city government officials, mainly from Latin America and Europe drawn by the World Social Forum, acknowledged the need to work closely with NGOs on initiatives aimed at upholding citizen rights, fomenting social participation and addressing the needs of neglected sectors.

The necessary changes could arise in urban or rural areas, but that the gap between mainstream society and the marginalised, which is widening in today’s globalised world, was most starkly visible in the cities. In addition, they said, cities are the scenario where social aspirations and innovative responses affirming the quality of life and the rights of human beings are mainly played out.

The mayors called for a modification of the tendency to marginalise sectors of the population, proposing common policies to tackle social exclusion, and greater coordination between cities to work out problems and achieve a stronger presence, in both the national and international spheres.

They agreed that it was indispensable to work together with citizen groups to resolve the housing crisis and extend urban services to all, as well as to address the needs of the poor through a more just distribution of public funds, with greater backing from central governments. The local authorities called for greater participation in the development of national economies, in order to improve the insertion of countries into the global economy, “without lopsided dependencies.” To do that, they argued that progress must be made towards the adoption of mechanisms aimed at controlling international capital flows.

The mayors expressed their backing, for example, of the Tobin Tax, a tariff on international financial transactions that would gather funds for the fight against poverty, at the national as well as the local level.

The deputy mayor of Lisbon, Vasco Franco, said it was not a question of being for or against globalization, “but against exclusion.” Cities “can make a difference, by contributing to setting rules for unregulated globalization,” said Franco, who pointed out that social aspects were fundamental to that process, and that “local governments have much to contribute.”