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LATIN AMERICA: Poor Response to Global Call Against Poverty

Mario Osava*

RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 19 2009 (IPS) - The creative approach of using football matches, student gatherings, shows or events indirectly related to the issue of poverty enabled Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) activists to reach a wide variety of audiences in Latin America with their message.

However, as in previous years, there was little specific mobilisation in the region, with only a few small demonstrations held in some countries, and no activities – either in the streets or the media – at all in others.

In Brazil, the Rede Mineira da Cidadania (Citizenship Mining Network) estimates that it reached at least 110,000 people with its Levantese Minas (Stand Up Against Poverty Minas) message from Friday to Sunday, when it carried out a food collection drive at 30 spots in Belo Horizonte, the capital of the southeastern state of Minas Gerais, and put out messages on the Internet and in other media.

GCAP played videos and sound recordings at a party in a house where events are held, which was attended by more than 2,000 people, Walfredo Rodrigues, the Rede’s coordinator of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the “Levantese” campaign, said to illustrate the type of activities carried out.

The GCAP video says that nearly 16 million people are still hungry in Brazil, despite the widely-praised economic and social advances made in the country.

The Rede Mineira da Cidadania was founded in 2007 by a group of intellectuals, social educators and community leaders to get volunteers involved with activities linked to the United Nations and efforts towards compliance with the MDGs in the state of Minas Gerais.

The Rede’s events also focused on other MDGs and worked to draw in new volunteers for associated projects. A team of more than 120 people worked on the three-day campaign, especially in churches and NGOs, which collected the food items, said Rodrigues.

This was the first year that the Rede took part in the GCAP Stand Up Against Poverty campaign. “It’s a good idea, but the mobilisation could be better if information on it was put out further ahead of time, and if there was greater participation by the third sector (NGOs and volunteers),” he told IPS.

GCAP is a coalition of hundreds of organisations that was set up at the World Social Forum in 2005 in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, and is linked to the United Nations MDGs campaign. It estimates that last year, more than 116 million were mobilised under its Stand Up and Take Action campaign to end poverty in support of the MDGs.

“There was not a great response here in Peru because activists have an agenda that is different from our own,” the GCAP coordinator in that country, sociologist Héctor Bejar, told IPS.

In Peru, GCAP urged people to Stand Up Against Poverty in events and activities organised by different groups for other purposes over the last few days, such as a nationwide hearing on climate change on Saturday, where it presented its report on the progress the country has made towards meeting the MDGs.

The hearing, organised by the Movimiento Ciudadano frente al Cambio Climático (MOCICC – Citizen Movement Against Climate Change), brought together more than 1,000 people, including journalists, to hear the accounts of people who have suffered the consequences of climate change, as well as proposals to deal with the challenge.

Halving the extreme poverty rate by 2015, from 1990 levels – the first MDG – and the rest of the U.N. goals were not a central focus.

Other events at which GCAP made its call to Stand Up Against Poverty included a fair held by the Federación Nacional de Mujeres Campesinas, Artesanas, Indígenas, Nativas y Asalariadas del Perú (FEMUCARINAP – National Federation of Peasant, Artisan, Native and Working Women of Peru) in defence of Pachamama (Mother Earth) and food sovereignty.

“We joined in these activities because we didn’t want to distract these organisations from their agendas,” said Bejar, who added that the reach of GCAP depends on the political circumstances because “our network has agreed to work with the social organisations” in each country.

The limited response to the GCAP campaign is partly due to the fact that the priorities of many NGOs in Latin America differ with the MDG campaign, which is a United Nations, and thus government, initiative, a Brazilian activist who took part in GCAP activities in previous years, told IPS.

In Brazil, the problem is not so much poverty in and of itself, as targeted by the MDGs, but social inequalities, said the activist, who asked to remain anonymous.

Furthermore, it is difficult to plan wide-ranging actions because of a lack of funds, which tend to arrive too late for the Stand Up Against Poverty weekend, she added.

Another hurdle, she said, is a lack of information on the campaign.

“I’m here because the business administration teacher invited us, explaining that the U.N. is carrying out this campaign, so I came to see what it’s all about,” Alonso Zavala, a student at the ISEC University, a private business school in Mexico City, commented to IPS.

Zavala and other university students were attending the three days of GCAP activities organised by the local U.N. office, which several NGOs took part in. However, many of those attending did not fully understand what GCAP and the MDG campaign were about.

The Global Youth Action Network (GYAN), with the help of the non- governmental Islas Urbanas (Urban Islands) movement, set up a rainwater collection system in the community of Villa Victoria, 120 km from the Mexican capital, aimed at preventing gastrointestinal infections.

“We have helped assure that 560 small children have clean water, which means we have helped reach one of the MDGs,” said Mariaoliva González, director of the local branch of the GYAN, one of the groups taking part in the activities organised by the local U.N. office. “These days it has rained a lot, and we collected a lot of water,” she told IPS.

*With additional reporting by Milagros Salazar in Peru and Emilio Godoy in Mexico.

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