Graciela Fernandez Meijide (Argentina)

Graciela Fernandez Meijide (Argentina) Senator, Human Rights Activist, Presidential Candidate:

Good morning. Thanks to each one of you and to SAPRI for having organized this event. I thank the Government of Norway for making it possible--and the World Bank not only for offering to host this meeting but also for the words expressed by the president. I have been given the pompous position of representing the global civil society. Considering that many of the criticisms that we make are too broad and tend to standardize too much, I would like to apologize to you in advance if I generalize too much and if I do not cover some of the peculiarities of the countries represented here.

One of the major studies that could be carried out by civil society and NGOs, or particular interest groups and the people that defend them, and that enable us to see the situation a government finds itself in would be on the "three generations of human rights". If NGOs and civil-society organizations in a country are defending the basic principles of life and freedom, surely we have an authoritarian government if not a totalitarian one. If the organizations are defending social, economic, and cultural rights, it is because the state has withdrawn from its obligations. If the organizations are defending the rights of the third generation, going forward with a vision, and imagining new rights, we will probably be confronting a country which respects the other two levels. This classification may be too strict, but it would be advisable for any type of study of an international organization such as the World Bank to take into account the level at which civil society in a particular country is operating--and what impact structural adjustment has had.

I will refer to what I know best, which is Latin America and Argentina in particular, and touch upon a few topics. I believe that in North America, for instance, we have a society with high employment, with no major unemployment problem, but an inequitable society, while in Europe we have the opposite: we have unemployment, but we have the social welfare state and it is defended actively, as we have seen in the last elections. That is a society which is not willing to abandon certain achievements of the past. In Latin America, as in many other countries and continents, we have both problems unemployment and inequity or inequality. I will present a very brief description of the consequences of structural adjustment.

Structural adjustment has created a large concentration of wealth due to privatizations that have been carried out with limited participation, with a very little defence of the consumer, and therefore with a tendency of privatized companies to increase rates without having any type of controls or limits imposed by the governments. It leads to defenseless users, the destruction of small and medium-scale enterprises which are the engines of growth and employment, no training whatsoever for those who remain and need it to be truly competitive as the demands of the market require, and therefore a loss of employment and jobs in our countries. We have two-digit unemployment in Argentina. If you take into account both open and underground employment, the unemployment rate goes up to 30 percent. Fifty-four percent of the population has problems connected with employment.

Salaries are really unstable. There is nothing that creates more "discipline" than unemployment in a society. Even in the case of those salaries that have remained stable vis-à-vis the dollar in currencies such as the peso, there is an insecurity in the salaries because there has been a loss in education and health. Countries like Argentina that had public education and health systems today have suffered a great deterioration. Real salaries are lower because the people that value education and health use their salaries to pay for these services now in the private sector. By not having to support inefficient enterprises and from the resources it gets from the privatizations, the government should be able to concentrate on improving education, health, justice, and social security. But that is not happening under SAPs. On the contrary, they are increasing foreign debt and, in the case of Argentina, are even increasing debt to cover social security and to pay retirement benefits to civil servants. We increased infant mortality, especially of children up to a year in age, when disease and the cost of mortality are foreseeable, predictable, and avoidable. We increased child labor--children start working now at a much younger age. We are starting to look like England at the beginning of the century. Those groups that are being thrown out by society are the children and the aged, and women because of the traditional role they fulfill and their close connection to the other two groups. We have also had an exponential increase in domestic violence. Wealth has been concentrated in a small group in society while there has been no improvement in the lives of the poor. Middle-class incomes have gone down in the case of many countries. In the case of Argentina, in particular, the middle class was once very broad and quite numerous, and throughout the country it produced a culture that was connected with values favoring democratic institutions.

What picture can we draw now? Besides the economic shortages and their relationship to physical health, today we are seeing in our countries moments of great anxiety and feelings of suffocation because we do not have a vision for the future. We do not know what will happen in the future--not only to those people that are employed and are afraid of losing their jobs, but also to young people that have no idea about how they are going to find their first jobs. Some of them that are trained or are being trained do not know why they are being trained. I believe that societies in this situation need to get out of the situation urgently because it provokes a lack of interest in the political process, a lack of faith in the political process, and a feeling that everything goes by very quickly and that nothing is worthwhile because there is no future. If we add to this the fact that in societies with weak institutions after too many dictatorships, as is the case in many of our nations, instead of institutions--especially the judicial system--being strengthened, these institutions have been weakened and we have growing corruption.

Many governments, knowing that there will be no coup d'etat or insurgent movement to change the system, trust that the system and society can and will support the measures necessary for the first structural changes--even if these measures were of an arbitrary nature, or were approved by parliament were disbanded like in the case of Peru, or if they were forced through in urgent executive decrees, like in Argentina, or through special legislation.

Today, with this desire to carry out certain measures arbitrarily, these same governments cannot stop the building of political power outside the institution of government, spurred by the provocation of direct reactions such as the blocking of highways and the organization of strikes.

These forces are not necessarily trying to overthrow governments. In some cases, we have social groups that want to be part of the system, that want to be part of democracy, and which think democracy will work--and these are citizen's groups not only because they voted but because of their capacity to be consumers and create opinion. They sit silently outside, they are knocking and do not want to be left outside, they want to re-enter. This is producing immediate reactions by governments that have no answer, no creativity. It is provoking repression. I believe that what should concern us all in our nations -- and on the one hand we have the responsibility of civil society and then on the other the political responsibility and also the financial world's responsibility -- is how do we stop this exclusion that is provoking a drainage of people outside the system, and how can we think of the readmittance of people. We have to think about the weaker people and the smaller people. How can we encourage education, how can we include civil society in the search for consensus and effective programs, how can we encourage all the political alternatives that have a modern, innovative, democratic vision?

Obviously, lobbying groups cannot replace representative political parties, they cannot legislate, but those organizations in civil society that tend to promote public well-being rather than private well-being and that respect the state can form alliances with political parties to recruit and train new political leaders to struggle against fraud, corruption, and to encourage broad political participation. SAPRI is really in my mind fulfilling that mission. I believe that we in Congress should support SAPRI, and in those countries where for one reason or another the government has not committed itself, and considering that the majority of governments in democratic countries are really temporary, we should take upon ourselves the commitment, beginning in October 1997 in our case, to encourage, within our reach and possibilities and by being in touch with the other two parties, with civil society, in this case represented by SAPRIN, and with the World Bank, everything that has to do with investigation or research in countries where this is not being done.

The question is whether social assistance is enough. Some governments, especially when they go into crisis and before elections, have a social answer or response that is circumstantial or existentialist in nature--and politically slanted. I would like to know what this question means to the World Bank, even though I am sure this is one of the things that the World Bank is really studying and its president is, as well--regardless of whether they understand that the social policies that are being implemented are not sufficient -- not even close to sufficient -- to help alleviate the consequences of structural adjustment. When I ask for the commitment of everyone, and obviously of the politicians, I ask, I think, as the president of the World Bank himself said, that children that are born everyday are born with the right to achieve happiness. Our work is really to make that a reality. There is no natural law that says that they have to be unhappy. Thank you very much.

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