EAST AND SOUTH: CONVERGENT INTERESTS

PCDForum Column #15,  Release Date July 1, 1991

by Luis Lopezllera Méndez

A crisis in the Middle East has produced the most recent, and one of the most blatant, of a long series of shameful acts of the powerful--the Persian Gulf War. In Latin America, where the Western democracies have long nurtured those dictators willing to serve their economic interests--Batista, Pinochet, Somoza, Noriega--to name only a few--we saw in the war's TV images and their demonstration of the power of advanced technology a clear message to those of our own rulers who might harbor illusions of challenging Western interests.

The basic structures of power that dominate international relationships between West and South have changed little from the days when the Conquistadors came to relieve the New World of its gold and silver through force of arms. The consequences of these structures are evident in my own thirty years of work with Mexico's grassroots poor. During this period I have seen poverty in my country increase to unthinkable dimensions, even as some thirty of the three hundred families who control Mexico's economy have risen to ranks of the world's richest families.

The most dramatic efforts toward the removal of oppressive political structures in the cause of liberty, democracy, and economic reform are now found in the citizen movements of Eastern Europe. Here the people are dismantling an empire comprised of centralized governments and one party systems that spoke in their name yet served them poorly. The Western establishment now courts these movements with promises of freedom through formalized democracy and easy wealth through foreign investment. The East would do well to ask the South the real meaning of these seductive messages, as we know well their reality.

Control of a people's economic wealth by the few is not right and we may all applaud the fall of Soviet state domination. Yet an alternative that substitutes the power of the unaccountable corporation for the power of an unaccountable state, especially the power of those transnational corporations that command more wealth than even a hundred of the world's states, offers little comfort for the huge impoverished masses of China, India, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, the Sahel, Brazil or the Andean countries. Their poverty is a major byproduct of the wealth concentrating system these corporations control. Weary of the false promises of Western style development, grassroots movements throughout the South are working to create alternatives more responsive to their own needs, traditions and values. The following are some of the elements of these alternatives:

  • Writing People's History. Conventional history is the history of the victors and dominants. Through conscientization and participatory action research people are discovering their own history--their origins, interests, conditions, struggles and defeats--affirming their distinctive identity and self-worth and creating new foundations for self-directed action.
  • Redefining Geopolitical Boundaries. Artificial political boundaries, unmindful of such vital elements as ecology, culture, and ethnicity are being challenged. As people reaffirm their cultural roots and rediscover their relationship to nature and its natural limits, pressures are building, as we see most clearly in Eastern Europe, to redraw these boundaries.
  • Transnationalizing Participatory Democracy. People are discovering the need to build a transnational participatory democracy, that transcends national boundaries, both to counter the destructive forces of transnational capital and to recreate human conviviality among the peoples of the world--a planetary participatory democracy created by a united people.
  • Identifying a People's Vision. Development as defined by technicians, bureaucrats, bankers, entrepreneurs and even NGOs has become corrupted to the point of having no meaning for the common people who are searching for a sustainable and proper way of life. There is now a search for the signs, symbols, words, silences, and meanings that express and move the inner energy of such people and give self-defined meaning to their lives.
  • Building the Other Economy. Efforts to create grassroots alternatives to the economy commanded by transnational corporations are expanding. These seek small unities of production and consumption that are responsive to a plurality of needs, cultures, and perspectives and to the demand for democratic decision-making.

The people's of Eastern Europe and those of the South face similar choices: to be swallowed by the dominant system of transnational capital; or to work together with like-minded peoples from the North to reshape the world system from its roots through a planetary synthesis created by and for the common people. It is a historic moment and a historic choice.


Luis Lopezllera Méndez is president of Promoción de Desarrollo Popular and a contributing editor of the People-Centered Development Forum. This column was prepared and distributed by the PCDForum based on his paper "East, South and Grassroots Planetary Strategies." His address is Tlaloc 40-3, 11370 Mexico D.F., Mexico.


David C. Korten

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