I find Buenos Aires to be a pleasant and beautiful city with an elegance that’s not at all strident, while possessing exquisite neoclassical-style buildings. It’s a city whose subway (called the “subt”) seems to be right out of a 1915 film.
It’s a place with excellent bookstores (with knowledgeable booksellers who can discuss Ranciere or Zizek with ease) and places to go for an espresso — in the finest Italian style — like the kind we Cubans enjoy. The Buenos Aires scene is probably the most pleasant of those I’ve experienced – an opinion shared by more than a few friends in the artistic and intellectual fields.
A few weeks ago I was able to return to this city through an invitation to the event “Global Economic Governance: The Possible Roles of Latin America,” organized by the magazine Nueva Sociedad and with the participation of academics, politicians and representatives of the international trade union movement.
In the forum, a debate ensued as to whether the well-known G20 group had effectively replaced by the G8 as the global forum for the coordination of economic policies and if this could be seen as the expression of a new global balance of power resulting from the financial crisis.
In addition, consideration was made as to whether the repercussion of this shock had modified the world agenda and the resulting policies of global political-economic coordination to incorporate the needs of the South.
The debates that extended over two days were extensive and intense. Something that was clear in the discussions was that the agenda of the G20 seems to have been dominated — although not limited — by the objective of increasing the power and influence of some emerging countries in global economic governance and in international relations in general; for example, their demanding a place and a voice in the IMF and at the World Bank.
It was also possible to distinguish two main phases of work of the group (especially that made by leading Southern countries like China, India and Brazil) with differentiated political-economic orientations (and therefore ideological biases).
In a first instance this involved obtaining a greater presence by these nations, applying neo-Keynesian style policies and global coordination mechanisms capable of putting in their places the arrogance and irresponsibility of entities like the International Monetary Fund.
However it was discussed how later on, with the worst of the 2009 crisis having passed, the hegemony of neoliberal thought and recipes — championed by central banks of the First World — again drove the agenda before some “new partners” who were more concerned with achieving greater shares of power for their economies.
In all of this, something curious happened when I was engaged in an intense debate. With the support of union colleagues I expressed the need for citizens (in terms of social movements and civil organizations), in addition to issues like labor rights and the environment, to have a substantive presence and not merely ornamental or token positions in the new spaces of economic agreement.
Responding to that demand, a distinguished expert said that he didn’t believe in such things. He argued that what was needed were good decision makers who applied solidly based policies distant from neoliberal orthodoxy, and that this would produce growth and redistribution. Something like a “hip” Keynesian elitism that conceives of people’s participation as something we could forget as irrelevant.
I was of course horrified by this and immediately began to list experiences in the heart of organizations like Mercosur and ALBA, ones with varying degrees of maturity and autonomy. There, communities and organized social collectives have introduced demands to governments and have represented those interests far from the logics of governments, and have fought to have these included in the formulation of public policy.
Although much is lacking to advance this — and in cases like that of Cuba, the organizations included within the leadership of the ALBA social movements represent positions too closely tied (in rhetoric and agendas) to those of the government — I believe there are experiences to consider there, to see the possibilities and distortions of social impact in the policies of states.
I’m raising this issue because every day I find it more important to rescue, along with expert knowledge (that cannot be scorned pejoratively as simple and disastrous technocracy), a vision of political economy and the possibility of people making an impact in well-thought-out formats (nothing symbolic) concerning the processes that affect the economy as well as global, national and local societies.
Organizational experiences, legal processes and communications media exist and can be used in the holding of referenda or the establishment of advisory councils where people have a voice beyond those of professional politicians.
Or could it be that people — though they may not know the details concerning interest rates, counter-cyclic plans and other intricacies of the economy — are not affected by the decisions that are taken at the heights and have nothing to say or to contribute in correcting courses that impact their lives?
I’d have to admit that substantive people’s participation is a utopia, but I only want to remind some people that barely a century ago the right to vote for women was a dream in most of our countries, while today it constitutes an unquestioned reality.
Standing before the experts who want to administer our happiness, just as those merchants who want to privatize it, only we can propose the organized and conscious presence of the citizenry.