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SALVADOR DA BAHIA, Brazil, Jan 30 2010 (IPS) - “Society and Governments: debates and alternatives for a post-crisis world” is the name of a Thematic World Social Forum meeting being held in the capital of the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia.
Economists, sociologists, trade unionists, communicators, environmentalists and representatives of civil society organisations and universities from many countries are meeting Jan. 29-31 in Salvador.
The most heavily attended meeting on Friday morning, “South-South cooperation as an alternative”, offered a detailed view of emerging countries’ growing leadership in geopolitics and the world economy.
“It’s no coincidence that in the final negotiating round at Copenhagen (the climate change summit held in the Danish capital) the United States, Brazil, South Africa, China and India sat down together,” said sociologist and economist Carlos Lopes, head of the Geneva-based United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR).
“Although Copenhagen did not produce tangible results, this fact is significant in demonstrating the new configuration in the political arena,” he said.
Lopes reasoned that the economic vigour and investment capacity of these countries can be gauged “by the gigantic size of the shares traded in their stock exchanges.”
Several panelists said the crisis was a sign of the exhaustion of the neoliberal free-market model. “The financial crisis, alongside the energy and food crises, is deepening,” said Argentine economist Jorge Beinstein of the University of Buenos Aires.
What is happening, he said, is a process of depolarisation of economic power, formerly concentrated in a few countries. “There is now a coexisting multipolarity, still in its infancy, between the Asian countries and the South-South countries (in Latin America and Africa), that are seeking non-conventional development pathways,” he said.
The strength of the emerging countries is seen in the series of agreements that they have signed among each other.
“South-South agreements cover a market of four billion people, more than 60 percent of the world population, and this process is already happening, so it cannot be regarded as an ‘alternative,'” Beinstein argued.
However, the professor issued a warning: the process of “interconnection of countries on the periphery of global capitalism could be a way out of the crisis, or could lead to failure, if we do not find an alternative to the current parasitic model of world trade.”
The trade agreement “between China and Indonesia, for example, could flood Indonesia with textiles and electronic products, generating unemployment and accentuating the global crisis,” he said.
In Beinstein’s view, a less competitive and less profit-oriented approach could prosper, the best examples of which are fair trade initiatives and the solidarity economy.
Economist Paul Singer, secretary of state for the Solidarity Economy within Brazil’s Labour Ministry, said that solidarity initiatives in Mercosur (the Southern Common Market, made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) are already in effect.
He added that this model is also making great strides in India, Japan, Mexico, Africa, Europe and the United States.
But solidarity requires strengthening the scope of democratic debate, which is difficult in a media world controlled by too few outlets, the panelists and audience agreed.
This issue was debated by another panel, on “Media and Democracy”, featuring several experts, like Uruguayan journalist Mario Lubetkin, director general of the international news agency Inter Press Service (IPS); Bernard Cassen, director general of the French newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique; and professor Albino Rubim of the Federal University of Bahia.
Members of the panel advocated the need for a greater voice and more visibility for the plurality of opinions and social organisations that characterise contemporary society.
“The traditional media have a monopoly on information and do not admit any criticism of their power. They haven’t the slightest respect for legitimate governments. A look at the international campaign against Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, perpetrated by the world’s largest media, will confirm this,” said Cassen.
Learning how to “dismantle disinformation is a public service that should be taught in schools,” he said.
Making room for social media, newspapers, community radio stations and blogs, among others, as well as reforming the laws that govern communications, are important steps towards democratisation. “No democracy is possible without democratising the media,” said Rubim.
Lubetkin said “the scattered nature of civil society’s capacity to generate messages with maximum impact, because it expresses itself through such a plethora of media outlets,” is a matter of serious concern.
“This scattered nature, which has always been a feature of the WSF, is a factor that weakens initiatives of this kind,” like democratisation of the media, he concluded.
* Envolverde journalist
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