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The dangerous ambiguity of the São Paulo Forum

With the return of the Workers’ Party to power, the São Paulo Forum meeting is back in Brazil. It is a return home, after the Forum’s decision to temporarily move its center of operations to other latitudes during the Bolsonarist term.

Return home

The founding of the Puebla Group in July 2019 seems to have been motivated by such circumstances. In fact, this new body based in Mexico has been assuming, under the benevolent patronage of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a part of the protagonism that during the last decades corresponded to its Brazilian predecessor. But now, in the heat of a second “pink tide”, and with the return of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to the Planalto Palace, the traditional Latin American left Forum is once again making Brazil the epicenter of its political activity.

It could hardly be otherwise, considering that Lula was, together with Fidel Castro, the main founder of the São Paulo Forum in the 1990s. As Lula arrives at his third presidential term, and considering the rush he is undergoing due to his advanced age, he seems more determined than ever to exert a regional influence with a notoriously ideological bias. In fact, an initiative on which he worked hard during his first two presidential terms but which was cut short when he left office.

In this sense, the São Paulo Forum represents an important tool that the Brazilian president does not intend to give up. For these reasons, Lula’s return is also the return of the Forum. But is it a project with unquestionably democratic roots?

By all means

The founding of the São Paulo Forum well reflects the dilemmas that to this day continue to accompany the organization. On the one hand, we see Lula da Silva, a social fighter coming from the trade union world who for years confronted a dictatorial and military regime, until he democratically became the president of his nation. On the other hand, we find Fidel Castro, a charismatic guerrilla fighter who, after leading the overthrow of the dictatorial regime of Fulgencio Batista, became a Stalinist autocrat.

However, their different paths did not prevent them from understanding each other wonderfully to create an organization in which that controversial cohabitation persists over time to become a trademark of the house. What really matters to everyone in this marriage is to consolidate a continental hegemony of the left. In this scenario, the most respectful of democracy close their eye to the excesses committed by their more brutal colleagues. Hence, the Forum has not only impassively contemplated the authoritarian drift of several of its members and close associates, but has even gone so far as to celebrate them. Did anything different happen at the last meeting?

The base document

The XXVI São Paulo Forum took place between June 30 and July 2 of this year. Some 270 representatives of 57 different organizations, including political parties, NGOs, research centers and other entities of the Latin American left gathered on this occasion. The spirit of the meeting had been previously set out in the Base Document published two weeks earlier.

The first point of this document recognizes “a favorable change in the correlation of forces [for the left], marked by popular rebellions in almost the entire continent”, while the seventh point declares without the embarrassment that “In addition to the firmness and advances in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, electoral victories have been added”.

In other words, the leftist dictatorships of the region represent the consolidation of the objectives shared by the members of the Forum, who in the twelfth point affirm that “history has taught us that only the unity in diversity of the political forces of the left, the social and popular movements and the progressive intelligentsia will allow us to confront North American imperialism”.

In light of the facts, the unity referred to does not distinguish between democrats and autocrats, and this seems to be ratified in the last point of the document, where by way of conclusion it urges to build “the broadest unity in the diversity of the parties, the social and popular movements and the progressive and leftist intelligentsia within each organization, country, and continent”.

Without any concession

In the days leading up to the XXVI São Paulo Forum, President Lula da Silva reportedly expressed his interest in the meeting concluding with a resolution condemning the crimes committed by Daniel Ortega’s dictatorship in Nicaragua. Clearly, such a gesture, even without including similar statements against the autocracies ruling Cuba and Venezuela, would have been a step forward. The reality, however, is that the XXVI São Paulo Forum culminated without issuing any condemnatory statement regarding the leftist dictatorships in countries that together brutally and unjustly deprive more than 1,400 political prisoners of their freedom.

On the contrary, the São Paulo Forum ratified its solidarity with those regimes, as stated in the twentieth point of the Base Document. This condemns “the intensified economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed on Cuba and its inclusion in the spurious list of State sponsors of terrorism”, as well as “the coercive measures and unilateral sanctions against Venezuela and Nicaragua”.

Lula, for his part, not only continued to defend the normalization of relations between the democratic governments of the hemisphere and the dictatorial regime of Nicolás Maduro, but also took the liberty of pointing out, on the eve of this new meeting of the Forum, that “Venezuela has more elections than Brazil”. With this, according to the Brazilian president, it would be evident that the concept of democracy “is relative”, which would make it very questionable that the Venezuelan regime be qualified as anti-democratic.

Washing the face of authoritarianism

Paradoxically, while Lula publicly demanded Maduro’s exit through elections, administrative instances controlled by the latter in Venezuela disqualified, through a shady procedure, María Corina Machado for 15 years from holding any popularly elected office. The measure was published just when Machado clearly became the main candidate of the Venezuelan opposition.

In short, the reality is there for all to see: the members of the São Paulo Forum who work within the parameters of democracy always end up supporting, actively and passively, those who exercise power autocratically, thus helping to wash their faces before the whole world. Such an organization constitutes an obvious risk to the democratic stability of the continent.

*This text was originally published in Diálogo Político.

Translated from Spanish by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva


Otros artículos del autor

Profesor de Estudios Políticos en la Universidad Austral de Chile. Doctor en Conflicto Político y Procesos de Pacificación por la Universidad Complutense de Madrid.


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