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POLITICS: Shadow Meet to Challenge Elites at Americas Summit

Peter Richards

PORT OF SPAIN. Trinidad, Feb 25 2009 (IPS) - The organisers do not expect newly elected U.S. President Barack Obama to attend their parallel three-day meeting, even though he is likely to be in Trinidad and Tobago at the official Fifth Summit of the Americas in April.

But they are hopeful that Obama and the 33 other hemispheric leaders will be aware of their deliberations, their agenda and the needs of the “ordinary person” when they gather in Port of Spain for their Apr. 17-19 summit.

“The alternative summit is one in which everyone can participate. The official summit is one that is exclusive and even those activities that are being organised and will include civil society will be limited to a certain number of people,” David Abdulah told IPS.

Abdulah is head of the local working committee for the Fourth People’s Summit that will coincide with the official Summit of the Americas.

The Apr. 16-18 People’s Summit is being organised in conjunction with the Hemispheric Social Alliance (HSA) and the Assembly of Caribbean People, an amalgam of Caribbean social movements to which Abdullah’s Federation of Independent Trade Union and Non-Government Organisation (FITUN) belongs.

The HSA promotes itself as a forum where progressive organisations and movements from around the Americas can gather, strategise, share information and plan joint actions.

“As the base and strength of this movement grows, we will be in an even better position to fight for an alternative and democratic development model for our societies,” HSA says, noting that its objectives include strengthening civil society within and between countries in the Americas.

At its first meeting in Costa Rica in March 1999, the HSA, whose membership includes organisations in Canada, Brazil, the United States and Latin America, identified strategies that would impact the official integration process by lobbying, making policy proposals, influencing public opinion, developing media strategies and building a broad-based movement that includes trade unions, environmentalists, landless and homeless people, women’s organisations and others.

At the third People’s Summit held in Argentina in 2005, delegates discussed issues ranging from education to energy, labour, gender, ecumenical and justice issues to communication and fair trade.

“We want the heads of governments and state to be aware that the people of the hemisphere are also discussing issues, that we have a point of view, that we have an agenda and that they need to take [it] into consideration,” Abdulah said, adding that issues such as the global financial meltdown, the environment, energy and food security would be priorities at the alternative summit.

The organisers have also extended invitations to civil and social groups in countries of the Caribbean – which they describe as “one of the most colonised regions of the world” – and expect delegations to come from Puerto Rico, St. Marten, the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, as well as the Dutch islands of Aruba and Curacao. Abdulah said that unlike the official summit, an invitation has also been extended to Cuba to participate.

Issues of governance and constitutional reform are also expected to be a major talking point at the three-day alternative summit.

“As you know there has been constitutional reform in Bolivia, we would like to find out what that process has been, what process was used to approve it,” he said, referring to the initiative by the present Trinidad and Tobago government to change the 1976 Republican Constitution.

“We need to share what is happening in Latin America, there are some dynamics,” he said, adding that Washington’s relations with the Caribbean and Latin America would also be explored at in the summit.

Abdulah stressed that the alternative summit should not be confused with the “official civil society” forum being organised as part of the Fifth Summit of the Americas and which would address issues such as youth, business and civil society.

He said that deliberations from that official gathering would be brought to the attention of the hemispheric leaders during their meeting here.

“We don’t have that direct connection because we are the alternative summit, but we do have ways and means of getting our views, declarations and agenda known to the governments,” he said. “When we gather, we speak collectively with a loud voice and I am sure that the heads of government and heads of state will take that into consideration.”

The alternative summit is well known to some of the hemispheric leaders, such as Bolivian President Evo Morales, who participated in similar events in Canada and Chile.

Abdulah also credits the alternative summit for educating ordinary people about “the negative impacts” of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) leading to “governments themselves having grave concerns about the FTAA.”

He said the summit allowed for major campaigns around the ownership of natural resources, against military bases in Latin America, strengthening the rights of indigenous peoples as well as providing an environment where ordinary people could establish networks and links that they would most probably never have had an opportunity to do.

“It gives us an opportunity to begin to shape our own future, our own agenda for the well-being and welfare of people going forward,” Abdulah said, adding that he believed the alternative summit here “will be a very exciting affair.”

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