“Under conservative governments, we basically went back to being a commodity-exporting region”, argues Monica Valente of the São Paulo Forum. She adds, “Our region has the right to reindustrialize, to create quality jobs, without losing sight of the discussion around environmental protection.”
Monica Valente serves as the Executive Secretary of the São Paulo Forum.
This was one of the main topics discussed during the twenty-sixth meeting of the São Paulo Forum, held through June and July in the Brazilian capital, Brasília. Founded by the Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT) in 1990, The Forum is a conference of left-wing parties and other organizations from across the Americas, that comes together periodically to discuss the political situation on both continents and the political terrain facing the Left in a post-socialist world.
In a recent discussion with the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s Katarine Flor, the São Paulo Forum’s Executive Secretary Monica Valente discussed the need for deepening regional integration, harmonizing industrial policy with the demands of ecological sustainability, and the need to maintain a dialogue with socialists in Europe while building a broad front against the growing far-right threat.
How would you describe the political environment in which the twenty-sixth meeting of the São Paulo Forum was held and the balance of political forces in Latin American and the Caribbean?
The twenty-sixth meeting of the São Paulo Forum was held amidst an environment of celebration. First of all, because we hadn’t met in person since 2020 because of the pandemic and its consequences. Second, because the peoples and social and grassroots movements have had to wage many resistance struggles over this period of time. We’ve also had many electoral victories. In some countries, we managed to defeat the far-right and neoliberal sectors, shifting the balance of forces. We’ve managed to elect more progressive governments in the region.
However, we are concerned about the global situation. While our countries had barely recovered from all the economic losses and human lives lost because of the pandemic—and many still haven’t — the war broke out. It has posed new challenges both from an economic and food sovereignty perspective, including the issue of fertilizers and so on.
Thus, it is a complex scenario. We have been experiencing a capitalist crisis since 2008, which cannot be solved due to the very nature of the economic system, and it has grown worse with the pandemic and the war. There is a scenario in which US hegemony has been declining and new poles of power have been rising in the world, but the longed-for multipolarity still doesn’t exist. We are going through a transition process. This is concerning because, at the same time, the far right is growing in many of our Latin American countries and other countries outside the region.
Latin America and the Caribbean have a calling for peace.
This is the scenario in which the twenty-sixth meeting of the São Paulo Forum was held — analysing all potentials and challenges and further discussing Latin American and Caribbean regional integration, which is the primary strategy for our region. We also discussed the need for an energy transition that protects the environment and our forests, and how to challenge the unilateral blockades and sanctions which continue to be used as mechanisms to apply pressure to the sovereignty of many Latin American peoples.
What challenges does Latin American and Caribbean regional integration face today?
Under progressive governments, we were able to build institutions for regional integration, including the Union of South American Nations (USAN), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), and the strengthening of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR). These initiatives were almost completely decimated after conservative forces rose to power, whether through coups or elections progressive forces lost.
Now these multipolar, multilateral institutions have made a comeback in Latin America and the Caribbean, but they are not enough to ensure regional integration. In this sense, the São Paulo Forum has managed to further develop some suggestions that our parties, supported by social and grassroots movements, will advocate for with both progressive and non-progressive governments.
Regarding regional integration, the environment is one of the most fundamental topics. We know, for example, that it is not possible to protect the Amazon in isolation. In this sense, there is a summit meeting scheduled to take place in August with Amazon countries, called for by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, to discuss how to take care of the Amazon from a more regional perspective. This is very important, because it is connected to economic integration. All our countries strive for reindustrialization.
Under more conservative governments, we basically became commodity exporters again, trading products including soybeans, iron ore, and lithium. Our region does not want to be a commodity exporter. We want to have the right to reindustrialize, to create quality jobs, without losing sight of environmental protection. We want to take this topic to another level, using science and technology to overcome old models and create new paradigms for the entire world, to ensure an energy transition for reindustrialization.
Ours is one of the wealthiest, most diverse regions in terms of clean energy sources. President Lula da Silva recently talked about this during the EU-CELAC Summit. So the way to go is for us to point to reindustrialization in light of a new model, one that protects the environment and incorporates science and technology into this process.
We can also move forward in regional integration in terms of health care. During the pandemic, we struggled with a shortage of inputs, active pharmaceutical ingredients, vaccine production, etc. Another aspect is educational integration. It is very important that our youth have academic mobility opportunities to study in universities across the region.
What is your take on the outcomes of the EU–CELAC Summit?
The outcomes were very positive. It was the first summit in eight years, we hadn’t had this meeting bringing together our 33 CELAC heads of state and the 27 European heads of state since then. This is already a huge success.
I will point out the fact that the countries that are part of CELAC and MERCOSUR today were able to objectively say they will not accept sanctions, they will not accept threats — after all, you enter into an agreement in good faith, not by being bullied into it, as the European Union has tried to do lately when discussing the environment. They not only rejected this kind of threat, but also made it clear that we will not accept any agreements that jeopardize our sovereign right to industrialization.
Speaking about the trip during a press conference, President Lula was right to explain that all developed countries have had and still have their government procurement protected, because this is how you make sure to have a small- and medium-sized industrial sector in a country. If this happens in the developed world, why can’t it happen in the developing world?
During the São Paulo Forum, one of the highlights were the many voices advocating that Latin America and the Caribbean remain a peaceful region.
This is a fundamental statement, because we are all grassroots parties and sectors of society. During any war or armed conflict, it is the people, the poor, the underprivileged social classes who lose their lives first. They are the ones who go to war. It is the poor families who struggle as food prices rise.
The relationship with the Party of the European Left can be very fruitful in the sense of exchanging experiences and considering joint actions.
Latin America and the Caribbean have a calling for peace. In recent times, the solutions to conflicts in the region have been addressed through dialogue and negotiation. Our armed forces must be more and more dedicated to protecting borders, to issues regarding state sovereignty, and not to war. War is a cost to public budget, it costs money. It brings losses to our countries.
Conflicts do exist, but they must be solved through dialogue, negotiation, and solution building. President Lula da Silva can contribute a lot to that, because he is a born pacifist, and that is very helpful to us.
How important it is to have an exchange with the Party of the European Left right now, as the far right is rising in Europe?
The relationship with the Party of the European Left can be very fruitful in the sense of exchanging experiences and considering joint actions. During the Forum’s meeting, we held the eighth Seminar on Shared Views between the Party of the European Left and the São Paulo Forum, which addressed communications, climate change, and migrations, which are topics that affect both our regions.
We invited two researchers, a social scientist and an anthropologist, who conducted a detailed investigation on far-right fake news and social media. They found an internationally funded global network that spreads fake news. Two of their biggest locations producing fake content are based in Spain and Hungary. The Madrid Forum, for example, is a result of that. It is an organization that produces fake content about the São Paulo Forum, about our leaders, about policies pushed by the governments run by our parties.
One of the main funders of this global fake news network is the Vox party from Spain. The rise of values like hate and intolerance in connection with politics is the reason why the Brazilian football player Vinny Junior has experienced racist attacks in Spain. It is exactly in the country that hosts the Madrid Forum from where all these fake news pieces and this environment of intolerance and hate are coming.
Our relationship with the Party of the European Left can contribute to fighting this fake news network, to establishing the conversation between our societies, to building joint proposals to regulate social media in Europe, Latin America, or any of our countries. This is very important, because more heads are better than one. Together, we have more ideas, we are more creative. We look into angles that we can’t see from one country or one party.
What are the prospects for continuing this dialogue between the São Paulo Forum and the European left?
We hope to hold the ninth edition of the Seminar on Shared Views next year on European territory, because our idea is to host it on each side of the Atlantic every year. We also intend to encourage the parties that are members of the São Paulo Forum to take part in the European Forum, as the Party of the European Left has been actively taking part in and coordinating this initiative that is expected to be held in Madrid in November. It is not a forum just for political parties — it also gathers parts of the European trade union movement, ecological movements, and other organizations of European society.
This is also an important moment of exchange between the São Paulo Forum and the European Forum. I hope that next year we will be able to hold a new seminar on Shared Views to celebrate — at least — the suspension of the war on Ukrainian territory. That would be a great gift for humanity.
Translation by Aline Scátola.