May 29, 2016

FOLA-India Holds Seminar on Latin America

Suman Putatunda

FRIENDS of Latin America – India (FOLA - India) organised a seminar titled “Human Rights and Democracy in Latin America” on May 13, 2016, at Prof. Anita Banerjee Memorial Hall, Jadavpur University, jointly with School of Media, Communication and Culture, Jadavpur University. Secretary of FOLA India, Suman Putatunda, started the programme by highlighting the present condition of Latin American countries, who had gained a lot in the last few years by securing better human and democratic rights for their citizens and getting the countries free from the direct control of the imperialist US power. However, they are again facing US imperialist onslaught through sponsored coups in various Latin American countries, especially in Brazil and Venezuela. FOLA-India wished and hoped that progressive trend in Latin American countries, inspired by Cuban example of fiercely protecting the gains of Cuban revolution, will continue to prosper and overcome the challenges posed by rightist forces supported by US imperialist and anti-people power. FOLA-India greeted struggling people of Latin American countries with Che Guevara’s ever true message –“Hasta La Victoria Siempre” (“Until victory, always”).      

Prof. Mihir Bhattacharyya, the first speaker, highlighted the resistance offered by the indigenous people of Pastua Llama at an altitude of 4000 metres on the Andes mountain, located between Chile and Argentina, to the proposed open-cast gold-mining by Barry Gold Corporation of Canada. Glaciers, the source of water there and downstream, cover most of the place in Chile and Argentina. The company proposed to shift the glacier and also dig a tunnel through to transport ores for processing on the other side. The Chilean government gave a provisional consent to the estimated $ 3.5 - 6 billion in the mid-90s as advised by the Supreme Court. However, the Batchlet government, retained control over the Copper that would also be produced in the process. The environmentalists too, objected to the project because of two reasons. While on one hand the proposed shifting of the glacier will deprive the Huasco valley (the vineyard of Chile) of water, on the other hand, use of toxic chemicals in the extraction process will have a devastating effect on public health, flora and fauna in the valley. A joint struggle by the inhabitants, trade unions and environmentalists has kept the project hanging fire.            

The next speaker, eminent lawyer and social activist Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya explored modernism and democracy and compared the constitutions of India and most Latin American countries. While the former does not recognise right to work and health as fundamental rights, Latin American people, through their political struggles, have achieved tribal, gender-equality and LGBT rights as fundamental rights. In fact, ‘pink tide’ in Latin American countries has lifted 70 million people from abject poverty through the implementation of Millennium Development Goals through communities between 2009 and 2015. President Evo Morales (of Bolivia) has been the de-facto leader of the developing countries against the developed countries' intrigues in the climate talks. Under his able stewardship, Bolivia has passed "The Law of Mother Earth", which grants specific rights to the planet.

Prof Amiya Kumar Bagchi, president of the organisation, in his speech, went back to the Cuban revolution in 1959 and its endurance of harsh economic sanctions imposed by the USA since 1960. The break-up of the USSR, primary trading partner of Cuba (mainly sugar for oil and spares) dealt a severe blow to its economy. Cuba, even after confronting insurmountable problems, went ahead with their pro-people works after accepting the practicality. They distributed State-owned large farm lands, moved from the single crop to diversified agriculture, and replaced chemical fertilisers with organic ones. Cuba also made great strides in medicines and bio-engineering and went on to create the best and unique healthcare system in the world with the lowest child mortality rate.

Cuban revolution and its war of attrition against the USA inspired people of Latin America and helped 13 countries choose democratic powers by overthrowing US-backed dictators and juntas democratically. However, fear still looms large of the return of the US-backed cronies as the world had seen momentary but forceful overthrow of President Hugo Chavez (of Venezuela) and removal of President Zelaya by US -backed junta. Recent events in Venezuela and Brazil also indicate US-backed right-wing elite's conspiracies.

The discussion was followed by a film titled “Chile, Obstinate Memory”, directed by Patricio Guzmán. The programme ended with a question-answer session in which large section of young audiences asked interesting questions on current socio-political scenario of Latin America. Prof Bagchi and other speakers did their best to elucidate the issues so that the young audience can perceive the challenges faced by the Latin American countries and how they are trying to overcome the impending imperialistic threats.