Social Watch Seminar in Montevideo Offers Local-Global Analysis of the Crisis

Jana Silverman and Agustin Fernandez

On a chilly winter evening in Montevideo in July, Social Watch partnered with a group of like-minded Uruguayan NGOs to host a seminar to discuss the implications of the global financial economic and regional crisis on a local and regional level. Despite the bitter cold, civil society activists and students from the Social Sciences Department of the Universidad de la Republica came together to add their opinions to the debate on what measures should be taken to ensure that the crisis does not reverse the social gains made by Uruguay´s center-left government in recent years.

The opening panel of the seminar, “Possible solutions to the economic crisis: G-20 vs. G-192”, featured the participation of Roberto Bissio from Social Watch and Alma Espino of the International Trade and Gender Network.  Roberto Bissio updated the participants on the negotiations behind the UN Conference on the Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development, highlighting the importance of that event.  “Nowadays, the UN is part of the discussion (on the crisis), it can no longer be erased from the debate…This means that now a space exists in which all countries have a real possibility to negotiate ways out the crisis, defend their interests, and promote, for example, the creation of a new commission of experts that can contribute new diagnoses of the crisis and possible solutions”, stated Bissio.  Alma Espino focused on the differentiated impacts of the crisis in Latin America, detailing how the trade and investment protection agreements signed by Mexico and Central American countries have left their economies more vulnerable to the financial shocks that originated in the US, and as a consequence has increased the number of unemployed and sub-employed working men and women in those countries.

The second panel, “The crisis in Uruguay: myths, realities and solutions”, was moderated by Sebastián Valdomir from REDES-Friends Of the Earth Uruguay and the Hemispheric Social Alliance, and included as panelists Ana Juanche from the human rights organization SERPAJ, Fernando Berasain, Coordinator of the Southern Cone Trade Union Coordinating Body (CCSCS), and Lilián Celiberti from Cotidiano Mujer, a local feminist collective.  In his presentation, Fernando Berasain analysed the measures being taken by Mercosur countries to combat the crisis.  “Each country tried to protect themselves by closing their doors, waiting for the first impacts, only now are they slowly starting to open up again.  We must admit that there are no individual ways out of this situation…What is needed is greater macroeconomic coordination and the harmonization of production systems in our countries, something that we union leaders have been demanding for over 20 years”.  Lilian Celiberti focused impacts of the crisis in Uruguay in her talk, claiming how “in Uruguay, as in the rest of the world, we can see how the crisis is being used to violate human rights.  For example, business executives here are using the crisis as an excuse to complicate collective bargaining processes with trade union, as if workers´ rights are only valid during periods of economic prosperity”. 

One point that all panellists agreed upon, was the need to find a definitive way out of the crisis, which would ameliorate the social and environmental impacts of the boom and bust cycle inherent to capitalism.  In the words of Alma Espino, “For most of us it was hard to discuss these kinds of issues publicly during the 1990's, because we were accused of having radical views, but this crisis is an opportunity to put these issues back on the table, to reconsider the standards of production and consumption, to discuss the ethical principles behind them, to put human beings at the center of the world economic system, and to democratize the decision-making processes regarding the economy”.

See photos of the event