Pedro Santana is the president of the Colombian organization “Viva la Ciudadania”. He is also one of the founders of the World Social Forum (WSF). He was for 4 years head of the methodological assembly of the WSF. He is a sociologist and philosopher who created in '89 his organization as the result of a social movement for a new constitution in Colombia. I met him in the hotel lounge of our hotel, were he was willing to give me an interview about how the process started in 2001 in Porto Alegre. And has now become a world wide movement and interaction point of the civil society.
What are the objectives of Viva la Cuidadania?
We are an organization based in the rural areas and also in cities. We focus on the participation of civilians in the political process. We educate people and we give information. We have a newsletter in Colombia with more than 60 thousand subscribers.
Are the problems in Colombia global problems?
Yes, because the problems that are tackled in the WSF are the same as in Colombia. We share a lot of similar problems as the one's the WSF were based on. These we have to attack together with other organizations all around the world. The problems in Colombia are for example: the armed conflict, the drugs trafficking, social exclusion, indigenous right, environmental problems, the struggle for social rights, the struggle of small farmer's against the big multinationals.
Why is the WSF not an event, but a process?
It's the 10th time we organize a global event, but there are many local events and national events, because a global movement needs a local and national base. The interactions that happen at the WSF are long term interactions, people meet on the forum and continue working together in the future. We can say that it's becoming more a movement than a forum. Because we represent counter current against Neoliberal ideology. We opted to expand it world wide and make forums all over the world and around different subjects.
How did the WSF shape this world?
In a world were they declared the end of the history. The Washington Consensus declared in the nineties that Neoliberal ideology would dominate the world until the end of history. The WSF created in this setting the conscience that an other world is possible. At this moment the forum represent the eruption of this slogan. It's the opposition against the simple idea that Neoliberalism dominates this world. It criticizes the one-track thought and the totalitarian thought that doesn't take in account poverty and that the only world possible is the one of profit and the one of globalization. The Forum represents this counter current.
In which stage of the WSF are we?
We started of in Porto Alegre in 2001 and in 2004 it was held for the first time outside Brazil (in mumbai) to expand it to other regions and create this global movement. In 2006 it took place in Bamako, Karachi and Caracas, in 2007 in Nairobi, in 2011 in Senegal and now in Tunis. We held it in Nairobi in 2007 because the Washington Consensus said that Africa was a lost continent. The big capitalist casino said that Africa was death. We showed the world that Africa is resilient and we made the invisible visible. Now there is Tunis, were we show the world that we were right that an other world is possible in Africa. North Africa prepared during 7 years for the forum, we made visible how their culture has been stigmatized and how much violence has been done against them. The had to take it up against undemocratic regimes and this struggle they called the Arab Spring. They got rid of Ben Ali, Mubarak and Qaddafi in a revolution for freedom, civil rights, woman’s rights and against exploitation and poverty. For this we are here we are here to help them in their struggle.
What was the impact of the WSF in Latin America?
In Latin America the movement succeeded in the reconstruction of democracy in most of the countries. These countries have changed the international regime and got more autonomy. The poor people and the excluded got in power and the got more control of human resources and claimed more public goods. The democratic regimes have a more autonomous relation with the United States and with the international centers of power.
After the first WSF in 2001 in Porto Alegre a lot af progressive presidents came into power in Latin America, it created a real political revolution with Lula in Brazil, Tabaré Vasquez in Uruguay, Correa in Ecuador, Kirchner in Argentina, Ortega in Honduras, Lugo in Paraguay and Evo Morales in Bolivia. In the WSF 2002 Lula was a guest and after his election he said the if the WSF wouldn't unblocked the harts and minds of the Brazilians he would never have been president of Brazil. The other progressive presidents followed on this wave of Chavez and Lula in Power in Venezuela and Brazil.
What are the most important characteristics of the WSF in Tunis?
The forum is an open space with a lot of plurality and diversity. It's based on the secular principles, this is what it bring to the Arab culture. There are a lot of people from all parts of the world with different experiences. We promote an exchange of ideas and experience. It's also a place to network and to bring people together. It's a real cocktail, with more than 1000 activities this year. There are no indicators to measure the impact, but in Latin America there has been a big evolution in the mind set of people thanks to the WSF. Here in Tunis I gave some lectures and I noticed that 40% of the attendants were young Tunians students. For them it will be really difficult to wake up again after the WSF in a regime that is very conservative, while the forum was so open. We learned them that here that god doesn't make politics, but people do.
(c) Willemjan Vandenplas