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Why Europe should learn from Latin America

By Lee Brown
July 17th 2012





As Europe struggles to deal effectively with the economic crisis and stares a lost decade in the face radically different alternatives are urgently needed.

Attention should be turned to Latin America. The mood at the Sao Paulo Forum, a gathering of Latin American left parties and social movements that I attended last week, was in complete contrast to Europe.

Under the slogan “the people of the world against neo-liberalism and for peace” the conference was brimming with ideas, a confidence gained from successfully governing their countries and a huge level of experience in mobilising vast swathes of the population against free-market orthodoxy.

Today in Latin America, progressive governments predominate and ideas hold sway that have long been marginalized amongst the centre-left in Europe such as nationalising strategic economic sectors to foster social development.

This shift stems from people’s struggles and experiences gained over thirty years. First this was against dictatorships and then against brutal free-market “shock therapy” that outstrips anything even currently seen in Europe. This created movements and leaders that command huge support and have been governing successfully across the continent for the past decade.

As former Brazilian President Lula said in his message to the Forum: “Progressive governments are changing the face of Latin America. Thanks to them, our continent is developing rapidly, with economic growth, job creation, distribution of wealth and social inclusion. Today, we are an international reference of successful alternative for neo-liberalism”

Take Venezuela: neo-liberalism left the country poorer in income per head in 1998, when President Hugo Chavez was first elected, than it had been in 1960. Today poverty, which once peaked at 70%, has been slashed.

Its ongoing challenge to neo-liberal austerity includes a staggering 250,000 social houses being built in the last 18 months as part of a huge fiscal stimulus that has got the economy back on track after worldwide recession hit it hard.

Likewise in Brazil, which hosted the first ever Sao Paulo Forum, governments of the left have turned the nation into a serious economic power after decades of underachievement and the countries deep inequality is now being tackled. Whilst in Bolivia and Ecuador, there are innovative mixes of environmental and economic development policies.

There are real opportunities for progressives in Europe to learn from these experiences. Certainly the Latin American parties involved in the Forum seek to build bridges.

Far from the old stereotypes, today Latin America should be considered the most advanced place in the world for progressive politics. European progressives have everything to gain by learning from this development.

Originally published by Liberal Conspiracy

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