By Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (*)
BRASILIA, Jan (IPS) – The metaphor of the century took on devastating
proportions in the massive waves that swept south Asia at the end of 2004.
The violent tsunami reminded us that in history as in geography isolation
is impossible, and all borders are common. The new geopolitics of human
existence demonstrates an unprecedented capacity to fight for large
collective interests and to demand solutions that are coordinated and
It is no longer a question of opposing the inevitable overrunning of
borders by globalisation with calls for autarky or isolationism but rather of
reinforcing borders with a convergence of wealth and rights and
reaffirming the human component of economy and progress. From this renewed perspective
we should examine another area of devastation evident in the statistics of
our time: a silent earthquake reverberating from the ravines of global
inequality which raises again the great challenge of winning the world’s
people to the project of mass cooperation in the 21st century.
Abundance and injustice were the major features of the 20th century. In
the last 40 years, world GDP doubled while economic inequality between the
centre and the periphery of the planet tripled. The richest 25 percent of
the planet consume 80 percent of available resources, while almost two
billion people live beneath the poverty line, on less than two dollars per
day. The industrialised economies spend 900 billion dollars to protect
their borders but dedicate less than 60 billion to poor countries, where hunger
is the primary weapon of mass destruction, killing 11 children each minute,
24,000 people each day — the equivalent of one tsunami per week.
The idea of a civilisation that rains death upon its own children is
terrifying. If we do not manage to stop the growth in inequality, if the
millennium Development Goals are not met, it will be the greatest human
defeat of this century. To conquer injustice, indifference must be
conquered as well. The meeting against hunger and poverty attended by a hundred
countries and dozens of heads of state at the United Nations in September
2003 is a part of this collective undertaking. The 0rganisation of the
poor countries into regional blocs is another effort to channel the energy of
world trade into the fight against inequality.
Above all else, it is essential to reform the hierarchy of the
multilateral institutions. If poor countries are to be able to make the fight for
development a priority of the global agenda, democracy must be deepened at
the center of power. The reform of the United Nations and particularly the
Security Council is part of this agenda. But the line of inequality will
not shift as long as political power remains locked in place by a financial
system that perpetuates current relationships. Forty-five percent of the
decision-making of the World Bank is assigned to the seven richest
countries. Five central economies hold 40 percent of the votes in the
International Monetary Fund, while 23 African nations prostrated by hunger
have one percent.
Solidarity with life must always overcome the mechanisms of death. Debts
must be honored, but payment must not mean the euthanasia of the debtor.
The holders of the surplus of financial wealth must consider the social
deficit afflicting three-quarters of humanity. This cannot be done simply by
applying some automatic accounting formula. Rather, it is a matter of
bringing about the major renewal expected of democracy in this century:
the transformation of social justice into the new border of sovereignty in the
Efficiency without values strips human rights out of the language of
economics. The tragic illusion of the 1990s, with the unrestrained gamble
on technology and the free movement of capital, decreed the irrelevance of
the debate on development. To reverse this error, we must now affirm the
appropriateness of using public funds for the rebuilding of society and
solidarity and the promotion of growth. It is in many cases a matter of
reviving the foundations of community life, like the right to food,
childhood, and old age, which are forms of affirmative action in today’s
The international fight against hunger and the Zero Hunger programme in
Brazil are the result of this strategic conviction. The Family Scholarship
programme already assures a minimum income to 60 percent of poor families.
It is the largest programme of income assistance in Latin America,
reaching 6,571,830 homes. The 20 million people who benefit from this programme
include 15 million children who attend school as a condition for receiving
the funds. By the end of 2006, the Family Scholarships will cover more
than 11 million families, reaching all of Brazil’s poor and extremely poor.
The same concern guides other initiatives of my government, like the
promulgation of the Statute on the Elderly, the strengthening of family
agriculture, productive land reform, the broadening of microcredit, and
affirmative policies that open university to poor and black youth.
The path that is needed is not the existin one, but the one we are
building: we must broaden and deepen it. We live in an age of unparalleled human
possibilities. None of the excuses given in the past for the failure to
realise great hopes has any technological or financial justification. And
wherever an obstacle emerges, dialogue can be started to restore the human
condition to the course of history.
Included in this approach is the task of discussing of possible common
areas between the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre and the World Economic
Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which is taking place at the same time. It is not a
matter of asking people to stop being who they are but of establishing
links between communities united by an indivisible human destiny. No one should
fear having the right word or the right interlocutor. More than ever
before, another world is possible, and any form of isolation and autarky will be
overcome in this time in which the anxiety about justice is as strong as
the power of democracy to realise it. (IPS)
(*) Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is President of Brazil.