15 June 2012

Closing Statement: RIO 2012

An end word about first words and words thereafter

If there is one geographical shape that describes the world, its history and ways, it is the sphere, which of course is but made of a multiplicity of circles.  The long journey ends at home.  We find answers not in fruit but in root.  We started ‘Green’, vilified it as ‘backward’ and ‘archaic’, steamed ahead to ‘Black’, got upset with the colour, called it ‘Brown’ and now talk about getting back to ‘Green’, almost as though we are talking of going to another planet.   

 Let’s recap: 

 In the beginning the world was green.  Then came ‘development’ armed with black-white definitions, declaring with authoritative voice, ‘this is right’ and ‘this is wrong’, ‘modern is good, traditional is unscientific’, ‘forget the past, look to the market, seek profit’, ‘forget collective, think self’ and so on.  And so the world went that way, unconcerned about tomorrow or neighbor, insulting parent and spitting on child.  And when the earth began to bleed, the bleeding was theorized and when it became apparent that what the ancients said made sense, the words were borrowed, re-arranged, and marketed back as the brand new products of modernity.  Stripped of meaning and substance, of course.  

Forty eight years ago, in Geneva, Switzerland, at the plenary session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) the head of the Cuban delegation, Ernesto Che Guevara, spoke about the political economy of trade agreements.  The following are two pertinent sections of that speech. 

‘If at this egalitarian conference, where all nations can express, through their votes the hopes of their peoples, a solution satisfactory to the majority can be reached, a unique step will have been taken in the history of the world. However, there are many forces at work to prevent this from happening. The responsibility for the decisions to be taken devolves upon the representatives of the underdeveloped peoples. If all the peoples who live under precarious economic conditions, and who depend on foreign powers for some vital aspects of their economy and for their economic and social structure, are capable of resisting the temptations, offered coldly although in the heat of the moment, and impose a new type of relationship here, mankind will have taken a step forward.

‘If, on the other hand, the groups of underdeveloped countries, lured by the siren song of the vested interests of the developed powers which exploit their backwardness, contend futilely among themselves for the crumbs from the tables of the world's mighty, and break the ranks of numerically superior forces; or if they are not capable of insisting on clear agreements, free from escape clauses open to capricious interpretations; of if they rest content with agreements that can simply be violated at will by the mighty, our efforts will have been to no avail, and the long deliberations at this conference will result in nothing more than innocuous files in which the international bureaucracy will zealously guard the tons of printed paper and kilometers of magnetic tape recording the opinions expressed by the participants. And the world will remain as it is.’

We are not talking of ‘trade’ here. We are talking however of ‘development’.  We are talking of and in a world of power and powerlessness, domination and subjugation, the appearance of egalitarianism and the reality of inequality.  And we talk in a world which has generated tons of printed paper, kilometers of magnetic tape and innumerable numbers of other storage devices but has for the most part ‘remained as it was’. 

And so we’ve come to this moment when it is abundantly clear that where there was green there was collective and when collective was dismantled green bled to brown and black.  We can talk the talk, play the word-games that have currency, channel truths through frames that are pretty but make for the sustainable development of systems that scorched the earth.  We can do otherwise.