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Synthesis/Regeneration 15   (Winter 1998)

Green Movements and Parties in Latin America

by Rosa Moreno Moore, Institute of Political Ecology, Chile

In Latin America, there are many ecologists who have thought for years that this region has special conditions for the formation of Green political movements capable of participating in government and producing important changes.

These countries have important features. They are close to countries of the north, as much in economic organization as in cultural and political values. This is mainly due to the history and development processes they have had since colonization. This is reflected, for example, in their integration into the western economy, in their legal systems, in their conceptions of education and health, and in the politics of social welfare developed since the middle of this century. There exists the same utilitarian conception of nature: the belief that the driving force of national development should be an increase in productivity and the deification of economic growth without taking into account the social and ecological costs which this growth produces.

...since the Conquest of 1492, this continent has been given the mission of surrendering its natural resources so that northern countries can strengthen their own development.

Nevertheless, there are two characteristics which distinguish us from the northern countries and which affect the direction that Green Parties are able to take. The first is that, since the Conquest of 1492, this continent has been given the mission of surrendering its natural resources so that northern countries can strengthen their own development. During all of these centuries, Latin America has considered it to be "normal" to superexploit nature and export its resources without weighing the harm this causes to its own inhabitants. Growth, as the principal measure of development, has been achieved-except for rare exceptions-on the basis of exploiting our environment to the maximum.

The other distinct characteristic is the growth of dictatorial regimes in almost all these countries beginning in the '70s and the recent processes of democratization. It was precisely during the times when Latin American countries lived under severe repression that, in the countries of the north, ecological consciousness started to develop strongly, beginning with social movements which sought to improve the quality of life. This was reflected in the reaction to nuclear energy, in feminist movements, in community living experiences, in popular education, in consumer protection, etc. These are the movements that gave energy to the ecological parties of the '80s and permitted a critical reflection, which in many cases went beyond the traditional discussion between left and right.

In a parallel course in this southern continent, the dictatorships made everything possible by breaking the social fabric, destroying popular organizations, and persecuting everyone who dared to raise an alternative course or simply a critical attitude. In some Latin American countries, they carried this to the point of provoking open civil wars. The social movements produced from this situation are primarily defensive, especially considering the fact that the standard of living has plummeted sharply as a result of the economic policies which these regimes carried out.

Thus, we have in Latin America a double peculiarity. On one hand, there is the superexploitation of nature, which not only destroys a sustainable ecology but also has serious consequences for the health and living conditions of those who live here. On the other hand, it is extremely difficult for the same population to question the politics of "development" (or destruction) of governments which continue using the authoritarian culture inherited from the dictatorial regimes. In this continent, environmental conflicts sharply and openly touch the model of "development" they are trying to impose. And increasingly, environmental conflicts are rapidly transformed into social conflicts. Projects of the transnational corporations or major national businesses often confront marginalized groups such as native peoples, fishermen, rural workers, poor urban populations, etc.

Consequently, Green political movements in Latin America are able to develop rapidly with profound social significance in spite of being at an early stage in some countries and having many difficulties establishing themselves.

In fact, there is considerable diversity among the Green movements and parties of this region. In some countries, they have done political work for several years, regularly presenting candidates in public elections, with some of them winning representation at various levels of power. This is the case in Brazil, Mexico, and Bolivia. In Uruguay, there are two small movements both claiming the right to the Green banner: the Partido del Sol and the Partido Ecologista. The Dominican Republic is another Latin American country with a Green Party. Among those in the process of gaining legal recognition or winning back official party status is the case of Chile, where there was a Presidential candidate in 1992. Though he obtained 5.6% of the vote, they still have not settled the dispute concerning the current opportunity for forming a political party which is legally recognized. In Ecuador, the Green Party is in the process of constituting itself legally. In Guatemala, Greens are making a big effort to constitute a political movement and participate in public decisions. Colombia is another country in which a Green Party is in the process of gestation. Cuba is a unique case. Ecologists there have been uneasy for a considerable time, but in general they are so tied in with the government that it is impossible for them to chart their own course and develop as a Green Party.

In this continent, ...environmental conflicts are rapidly transformed into social conflicts.

But there are several countries where an autonomous political option still has not developed. This is the case in Peru, Argentina, Paraguay, Venezuela, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, Haiti, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Surinam, Trinidad and Tobago. The examples of Brazil, Chile and Ecuador are interesting enough to analyze because they illustrate the diverse roads that Green political movements in Latin America are traveling.

In 1986 ecologists in Brazil issued a green program and platform which gave birth to the Green Party of Brazil. The central concerns in those times were struggles against nuclear power, protection of the Amazon, and defense of impoverished people. During these 10 years, they have had a Green Deputy, but their main strength has been in local government. Today, they not only manage several districts of Sao Paulo, but they also run the Environmental Departments of Rio, Salvador, and various other large cities. The party has had intense discussions concerning what type of alliance to establish with the Workers' Party. Today, they have chosen the option of being a political party with a distinct program as a way of verifying if they are reaching the objectives they have outlined.

On the other hand, in 1992 Chilean ecologists ran a presidential candidate, an economist well known for his writings on the human cost of development. They won the support of diverse social movements, native people, feminists, homosexuals, political parties critical of the system, etc. Thanks to the enormous work they had done for years in towns and municipalities throughout the country, they received an excellent vote, especially considering the scant financial resources they had. Currently, the social movements which arise from environmental conflicts are developing strongly all over the country. They are participating in daily public discussion and using the criticisms and alternatives of the ecologists. Nevertheless, this enormous force has not been able to cohere in a political party which has gained legal recognition. Chileans need to confront the majoritarian electoral system which was imposed by the dictatorship. They also need to discuss alternative routes which would avoid the centralism and authoritarianism of the traditional parties.

Finally, Ecuador is working on an original method. Beginning with an environmental non-governmental organization which has carried out a range of mobilizations and work in this area, they are registering a political party so they can participate in the next elections.

In this general context, the "Green Horizons" meeting, which took place in Mexico City, March 22-24, 1997, was very important. There were 70 representatives of Green parties and movements from diverse points of the planet: Germany, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, Spain, United States, Guatemala, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Niger, New Zealand, Rumania, Sweden, Uruguay, the European Federation of Green Parties, and the Coordination of African Green Parties. One of the main results of this meeting was the formation of the Federation of Green Parties of the Americas in order to coordinate and establish a network of communication between Green Parties of these continents, exchange experiences, and support activities which happen in each country. An Executive Committee was established which was made up of representatives of Mexico, Brazil. and the United States which will prepare the next continental meeting in Isla Bela (Brazil). Its objective will be to approve organizational rules and establish specific new goals and tasks. In this way, the American continents, just like Europe and Africa, seek to strengthen a socially transformative politics of ecology in each country.

Discussions of the major themes and concerns of The Greens were also very productive. All the Green Parties represented in Mexico approved a declaration on "Democracy, Social Justice, and the Environment" which stated that globalization of the economy and broad implementation of neo-liberal policies are generating a dynamic of disequilibrium and social despair, reducing the rights of people and unions, and creating environmental destruction without precedent. With this declaration, Green Parties from the most diverse countries clearly wanted to illustrate the dangers which currently confront democracy and show that it is possible to conceive of an alternative social model which is in harmony with nature and based on a non-violent political ecology.

The second theme, particularly important for the Americas, was the discussion of free trade agreements. The Greens unanimously approved a declaration on "Free Trade Agreements, the Environment, and Society" which analyzes in particular the European Union, MERCOSUR and NAFTA. In this document, The Greens show that free trade agreements are being ratified in ways that seriously undermine national democracy and that the economic agreements are insufficient if they do not consider the interaction between social welfare, environmental protection, and economic growth. The Greens call for the inclusion of clauses for labor and environmental protection as minimal standards in international trade.

The multilateral political relationships which were established in Mexico City at the "Green Horizons" meeting helped to strengthen the diverse actions which the ecologists are planning to carry out, as much locally as in coordinated regional interventions. This is what allows us a certain optimism as we view the development of Green movements in Latin America during the upcoming years.

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