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A Global Left Turn?

By Andreas Hernandez

15 July, 2003

In the past month, while the media was being consolidated into even fewer hands by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and it was becoming ever more transparent that the war against Iraq was not about eliminating weapons of mass destruction, signs of a new global order have begun to unfold. This has gone strangely unnoticed.

The new Brazilian government led by the Worker's Party ( PT) has emerged as a solid pivot point for a global Left turn . This Party with Marxist roots, well-known for its innovative policies at local and state levels for increasing citizen participation, took federal power in January after a landslide election for a broad PT-led coalition. Robert Zoellick, the US Trade Ambassador, left Brazil frustrated in early June as Brazil will be negotiating as a block with up to eight or more Latin American countries for both the upcoming World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial and for the creation of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). This block promises to counter the US´s ability to dominate trade negotiations and force through profoundly unjust agreements. On June 11th, the Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (popularly known as Lula) and the new President of Argentina, Nastor Kirchner announced their shared priority of establishing a common parliament for the Mercosul regional integration block (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Associate Members Chile and Ecuador) with the vision of a shared currency and the integration of Peru and other nations of the Andean pact. Lula is considering Mercosul the principal medium for consolidating the sustainable development of the region and fortalizing the presence of South America in the World scene. Mr. Zoellick may yet have to eat his words from last year, when he said that Brazil could go trade with Antarctica if they did not like the US´s terms for the FTAA. Presidents Lula and Bush met in mid-June for the first major summit between the two countries since World War Two and both agreed to maintain the 2005 date for the establishment of the FTAA. The Brazilian camp reinforced their notion that the FTAA must be in the interest of developing nations and not of corporations and the financial sector.

In early June, Brazil, India and South Africa announced the creation of the Group of Three (G-3), with the immanent possibility of becoming the G-5 to include China and Russia (who have themselves recently formed an alliance with the specific aim of countering US power). The creators of the G-3 hope the alliance will also bring an alliance between Mercosul and the Southern Africa Customs Union (South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia and Lesotho) on many levels including WTO negotiations. The first goal of the G-3 is to gain a seat for one of its members as a permanent member of the United Nations (UN) Security Council and to reform and democratize this Council in which five countries - not one of them from the Global South - virtually run the UN spectacle through their veto power. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has formally announced his backing for Brazil to gain a seat. Additionally, in recent months at various times, Brazil, Mercosul, various European countries and the European Union have all expressed the intent for closer relations in many spheres between Europe and Latin America including the trade of non-GMO food and acting as a common front against US hegemony.

The PT recently announced that they will be hosting the 2003 Congress of the Socialist International, which last met in November 1999 (before the Seattle WTO Ministerial). This Congress will bring together leaders from 141 social democratic, socialist and labor parties from every continent, including Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany and Prime Minster Tony Blair. The PT is considering this as a platform for delivering their message to the world and many are seeing this Congress as an important moment of consolidation and a launching point for the World Left after two decades of neoliberal policies and practices.

This tremendous organizing on a global scale, directly challenges a uni-polar world, and is a distinctively Left turn with a strong social democratic bent. In Brazil, there is significant talk about both a Brazilian and a global “New Deal”. In an almost ironic turn, this global coalition building is using the neoliberal tool of Free Trade as a weapon against the system of neoliberalism itself. By negotiating as a block highly concerned with the social agenda, a Brazilian-led Latin American coalition and its expanding alliances are turning Free Trade into Fair Trade by beginning to demand standards for workers and the environment and an end for protectionism only for rich countries, as conditions for trade. Are these major structural signs of the end of world domination by the US, Europe and the Asian empire of Japan and 500 years of exploitation of the Global South - first through colonization and then developmentalism and neoliberalism?

It may be a worthy caution that Brazil's new government came to be through intense struggle, especially by those who have been the most exploited. An emerging global architecture of social solidarity may only be sustainable to the extent that mobilization continues on all levels, democratizing and transforming the institutions which structure people's lives. Without this movement, this emerging global architecture might be little more that an opening for a few more financial elites from the Global South. However, a more democratic global architecture could also provide the structure to put the brakes on corporate power and provide a basis for traditionally Left-of-Center parties that have been dragged Right by market forces during the neolberal era, to act for the social agenda and a more just planet.


(Andreas Hernandez belongs to Department of Development Sociology Cornell University)