Americas Social Forum held in Central America

Story by | Marc Becker

Thousands of Maya farmers took over Guatemala City’s main boulevard in a massive march on October 12. Men and women, some carrying months-old infants, were dressed in the colorful outfits of their local communities. They carried banners advertising the names of their Indigenous and peasant organizations, and denouncing the privatization of land and water. They shouted out slogans that popular movements are sweeping across Latin America, and that the people united will never be defeated.

This continental march on the Day of Resistance of Indigenous peoples and nationalities brought an end to the Americas Social Forum, a gathering of civil society and social movements. With the participation of more than 7,000 delegates from throughout the Americas and Europe, the 6-day event condemned corporate-led neoliberal economic policies, and pledged to build a better world. Billed as the “forum of resistance,” the gathering intentionally culminated on the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. Elites previously celebrated October 12 as the Day of the Race, but now Indigenous peoples commemorate it as a day of resistance to exploitation and oppression. This was the third meeting of the Americas Social Forum, and the first one in Central America. Since the World Social Forum began in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2001, these gatherings have brought together social movements to create alternatives to corporate globalization and empire. Although somewhat smaller than previous gatherings, the participation of 350 organizations in a wide range of events resulted in a very rich meeting. Forum organizer Joel Suárez from the Martin Luther King Center in Havana, Cuba, noted that “we tried to have a different kind of forum, one with a strong presence of women, Indigenous peoples, young people, and peasants.” The forum, indeed, did have a large Maya and female face. Indigenous peoples, not only from Guatemala but throughout the Americas, met to discuss issues of land and water. Blanca Chancoso, an Indigenous leader from Ecuador, proclaimed that “water is not a commodity; water is life. Land is our mother and our mother is not a commodity.” Tom Goldtooth from the Indigenous Environmental Network based in Minnesota said “we are witnessing the collapse of capitalism.” He came to Guatemala to join with other Indigenous peoples across that Americas in opposition to “a neoliberal system that is not working and continues to oppress our people.” The forum came on the aftermath of voters in Ecuador approving a new constitution that embraced that country’s plurinational nature. Ecuadorian Indigenous leader Humberto Cholango contrasted plurinationalism with pluriculturalism that tends to reinforce neoliberalism and the folklorization of Indigenous peoples. Plurinationalism, Cholango argued, was a broad political, social, and economic concept. It means fighting for a new political process, not just for a small representation in government, but for a new concept of state structures. In addition to plurinationalism, “sumak kawsay” or living well was a theme that ran throughout the Indigenous meetings and spread to the rest of the forum. Bolivia’s foreign relations minister David Choquehuanca introduced this concept at the 2007 Indigenous summit in Guatemala. He noted that development plans look for a better life, but this results in inequality. Indigenous peoples, instead, look to how to live well, or “sumak kawsay” in Quechua. Choquehuanca emphasized the need to look for a culture of life. As Joel Suárez noted, the forum did have more of a female face than previous meetings. Women’s groups used the forum to build their ongoing struggles. The Nobel Women’s Initiative, a group of women who have won the Nobel Peace Prize, released a statement at the forum in support of Mesoamerican feminists. They urged government “protection and respect for the rights of women and feminist leaders.” They expressed concern for the deteriorating situation of millions of women in Central America, particularly in regards to attacks on abortion rights and feminicide. The Nobel Women’s Initiative stated that Another World Is Possible, “and that world must include gender equality and a life free of violence for all women.” Women, they said, “are a central part of our dreams and actions to achieve a better world.” As a movement that emerged out of the global south, the United States has always played a relatively marginal role in the social forum process. Grassroots Global Justice has worked harder than any other organization to bridge that gap. GGJ was formed in 2002 as a vehicle to build solidarity with social movements around the world, and to develop joint strategies to confront neoliberalism and the conditions people face. They brought an energetic delegation of several dozen activists from the U.S. to the forum. The forum helped connect broader issues to communities of struggle in the U.S. Maria Poblet, from Saint Peter’s Housing Committee said “as an organization that works with immigrant Latinos, we have come here to Guatemala to be face to face with the conditions that cause people to migrate.” She was inspired by her experiences at the forum, and in particular the spirit of resistance in Guatemala in the face of extreme violence and repression. “Here we are in Guatemala that presents to us the challenge saying after 200 thousand people disappeared from our country and were killed, we are organizing this forum and we are inviting you to participate,” Poblet says. Published in the Monitor Volume 15, Issue 4. October 20, 2008.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Americas Social Forum held in Central America

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