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Hemispheric Social Alliance

Alternatives  for the  Americas


The Hemispheric Social Alliance (HSA) brings together a broad range of organizations from throughout the Americas united by the conviction that any form of economic integration among our nations must serve first and foremost to promote equitable and sustainable development for all of our peoples. The members of the HSA, whether labor unions or environmentalists, family farmers or scholars, indigenous people or women, have been working for years to oppose the implementation of so-called neoliberal policies in our respective countries. In addition to our shared critique of the negative impacts of that model, we are united by our conviction that we must move forward with both feet, combining protest with proposal, developing a common vision about what an alternative form of integration might look like. This document expresses our determination to construct an alternative to the dominant integration model based on the proposals described herein.

The Hemispheric Social Alliance rejects the extension of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to the rest of the hemisphere, as well as any accords based on the neoliberal model. We will oppose any agreement drafted along those lines. At the same time, we see the defeat of freetrade agreements as only the first step. We refuse to accept a status quo that continues to marginalize vast sectors of our populations and to degrade our environments. Driving our collective work on alternatives is the sense that the neo-liberal economic model has been a disaster for most of the peoples of the hemisphere, and because of that we must deliberate, propose and struggle for a different model.

Peasants whose labor once fed their nations and themselves are forced to export risky "cash crops" to bring in foreign currency and to provide the well-to-do in the North with meat and fresh produce throughout the year. At the same time, local markets have been flooded with subsidized agricultural products from the North, leading them to bankruptcy. This has resulted in hunger for many and reduced food quality for others, and has driven hundreds of thousands of small farmers from their lands.

This growing export dependency has added to the plight of landless peasants, particularly in countries where the ownership of the bulk of agricultural land is concentrated in a small number of hands. In Brazil, for example, despite decades-long promises of land reform, one percent of land owners control 44 percent of the lands. In recent years private militias and police have killed several hundred landless peasants participating in peaceful occupations of idle or underused lands belonging to wealthy landowners.

With the decline of subsistence agriculture, young women and indigenous peoples have often been forced into our hemisphere's export processing zones, particularly in Mexico and Central America. Paid less than a living wage, they are forced to live in squalor and often subjected to sexual harassment. Long working hours strain their family ties and limit their educational opportunities.

Peasants forced to abandon their lands sometimes come to cities in the hemisphere to seek work. But what many find is unemployment and poverty and a life in the "informal economy," since a great deal of domestic manufacturing has been eliminated by the penetration of transnational corporations and rules that block efforts to strengthen the domestic economy.

Other displaced peasants come north and are met by the militarization of the U.S. border with Mexico, new laws that violate their civil and labor rights, and racist hysteria promoted by right-wing politicians and their constituencies.

The substitution of subsistence farming with agriculture export production has also had serious impacts on local environments and standards of living. It threatens biodiversity and water and soil quality and neither benefits nor respects farmers’ or consumers’ interests and rights.

Neo-liberal rules to deregulate capital markets, combined with new telecommunications technologies, have opened our nations to the vagaries of hot money. Speculators pull their money in and out of our nations at will, leaving misery in their wake as usurious interest rates and currency devaluations slash the buying power of our wages and drastically reduce opportunities for livable wage work. Argentina is the latest nation to undergo a devastating economic crisis caused in part by the privatization and deregulation of financial markets permitting massive capital flight.

U.S. and Canadian workers have felt the pain of the elimination of hundreds of thousands of livingwage manufacturing jobs. Many have been unable to find comparable work, and their sons and daughters are facing the prospect of either no work at all or jobs that are temporary or part time with pay below what it takes to live a decent life in these countries.

In the United States and Canada, the governments are abandoning public housing subsidies as the ranks of the homeless soar. This has had a disproportionate effect on women, especially poor women. Public funds for basic subsistence living - food, clothing and medical care - programs won by workers' struggles of the past, are being eliminated, and people are told to find non-existent jobs. Meanwhile in both the United States and Canada, the reduction in fiscal deficits is further straining workers and the poor as programs in health care, education and public transportation are privatized, eliminated or seriously cut back.

Throughout the hemisphere, there is a stratum of society that is doing very well by neo-liberal policies. Speculators, transnational corporations and those in their service proclaim the wonders of the market. Those sectors, however, never let their rhetorical commitment to free trade limit their demands for special protections for their own particular interests, as evidenced by the recent debate on Trade Promotion Authority in the U.S. Congress, as well as the dramatic increase in agricultural subsidies to corporate agriculture. But for most of us, the past 25 years have meant declining living standards and in many cases abject poverty.

Neoliberalism entails the imposition of a set of rules that govern not only the economy but also the social fabric of our societies. The issue for us, therefore, is not one of free trade vs. protection or integration vs. isolation, but whose rules will prevail and who will benefit from those rules.

This struggle against the neoliberal model, as expressed in the struggle against free-trade agreements, has been going on for some time. It began with the fight against NAFTA’s approval and advocacy efforts to change the characteristics of the Mercosur. A turning point was reached in Belo Horizonte, Brazil in 1997, when the ORIT unions and their Brazilian affiliate, the CUT, convened a meeting of union leaders from the Americas to which they invited the national multisectoral networks that had been working on the issue. Other civil-society networks were also meeting in the city at that time to discuss the same issues. We ended up working together and decided to join forces to initiate the formation of a great hemispheric social alliance that would involve all sectors of the population affected by this model. The decision was made to convene the First Summit of the Peoples of the Americas the following year. Various committees were established for that purpose, among them an international committee that prepared a draft on alternatives that became the first version of the document presented here.

It was a time of momentous decisions and meetings by hundreds of organizations from many sectors. It is important, however, to highlight the role of multisectoral coalitions in some countries that had been working together for years in a spirit of unity and consensus to defeat free trade agreements. Their experience and years of unified struggle were vital in the development of the nature and forms of struggle that came to define for the Hemispheric Social Alliance. These include to Common Frontiers (Canada), the Quebec Network on Hemispheric Integration, the Alliance for Responsible Trade (United States) and the Mexican Action Network on Free Trade -- which were already organized as a trinational network -- as well as the Chilean Alliance for Just and Responsible Trade (formerly the Chilean Network for a Peoples’ Initiative). These multisectoral networks, together with the soon-to-be formed Brazilian Network for a Peoples’ Integration, as well as the hemispheric coordinators of the labor sector (ORIT) and the peasant sector (CLOC), formed the initial nucleus that began the formation of the Hemispheric Social Alliance and its Alternative proposals.

The first Peoples’ Summit, held in Santiago, Chile, in April 1998 parallel to the second official Summit of heads of state of the Americas, highlighted the fact that there is a growing movement of resistance. This has emerged even more forcefully during the enormous mobilizations that led to the failure of the WTO meeting in Seattle in 1999 and at virtually every gathering of official policymakers since then. This global effort against neoliberal globalization also takes on the unified spirit of mobilization and the search for alternatives that characterized the meetings convened by the Zapatistas in the Chiapas jungle. This enormous, unified movement is one of people telling those political leaders, financial speculators and the transnational corporations who promote neoliberal policies that their agenda is unacceptable. It is a movement of people demanding their very humanity. They do so by stating that nutritious food, a comfortable place to live, a clean and healthy environment, health care and education are human rights. And they declare that respect for the rights of workers, women, indigenous peoples, black peoples and Latinos living in the United States and Canada must be central to any process of integration.

Supporters of neoliberalism are attempting to counter the resistance of the peoples of the Americas in a number of ways. In the United States, corporate giants have launched a massive propaganda campaign to “educate” the public on the benefits of free trade. In many countries, an extreme response has been to utilize the nation state as an instrument of terror against its own peoples. Under the guise of a “war on drugs”, counter-insurgency efforts such as the Plan Colombia have become a plague in our hemisphere. Furthermore, the suppression of popular movements throughout Mexico, Central and South America is an attempt to limit our nations’ demands.

History teaches many things. One lesson can be found in the words of the great African-American emancipator, Frederick Douglass,

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress…Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never has and it never will…Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found the exact measure of injustice and wrong.”

Another lesson of history is that no amount of oppression can stop people from declaring their own humanity and acting on that declaration.

The first Peoples’ Summit did not end with the negation of the neo-liberal rules; it was the beginning of a dialogue on alternatives. Earlier versions of this document were based on those talks. Our proposals have been enriched by continuous discussions at numerous seminars and meetings during the development of the Hemispheric Social Alliance. Those talks continued at the Second Peoples’ Summit in Quebec, Canada in 2001, where more than 3,000 representatives of civil-society groups from throughout the hemisphere met to challenge the FTAA and to promote alternatives.

This new version of Alternatives for the Americas is the product of that continuing dialogue and is thus rooted in the aspirations of the peoples of our hemisphere to live and develop as full human beings. Alternatives for the Americas is an integrated proposal for an alternative vision of equitable and sustainable development for our societies. We firmly believe that the mere incorporation of one or more aspects or chapters from this document into the FTAA or similar accords would not resolve the fundamental problems of free trade.

The aspiration to build a more egalitarian and respectful society throughout the hemisphere transcends national boundaries and has a long historical tradition in the Americas. It goes back at least as far as the struggles to create free and independent countries in the American hemisphere. Almost two centuries ago Simón Bolivar, who led the movement to liberate a large part of South America from colonialism, declared:

"I wish, more than anything else, to witness the creation in America of the greatest nation in the world, not so much because of its immense territory or wealth, but rather because of its freedom and glory."

“Alternatives for the Americas” is not solely an economic doctrine, but is rather an approach to social integration through which the ideas, talents and wealth of all of our peoples can be shared to our mutual benefit. It is a living document that will be altered and expanded as we exercise our rights to continue the debate and discussion.