The International Context and its Influence

 A view from local power

Avina democracia Abierta
11 September 2017

Within the framework of this year's "Fearless Cities" summit, Fundación Avina and DemocraciaAbierta established a special collaboration to explore some of the most exciting poltical experiences arising from Latin America. 

Bringing together relevant actors in the field that are directly involved in political innovation at the local level, in Latin America, we have sought answers to four major issues shared by all the projects: a) Vision of innovation; b) National political context and limitations of local power; c) Influence of the international political context, and d) The question of leadership.

In this page, the innovators share their answer to the third of these topics:

TOPIC 3: In a strongly interconnected world, geopolitical dynamics impact all levels of government. We are witnessing a "Trump effect" which shakes the foundations of the international order built in recent decades, not precisely in the sense of favouring greater multilateralism and the democratisation of institutions and narratives. There are some perverse effects, for example, on questions about the limits to democracy. How does all of this affect the day-to-day of your political work?

Javier Arteaga Romero, Nariño (Colombia)  

Regional and international dynamics do not permeate or have a significant impact on what we are doing in Nariño. Internationally, what we have done is to carry out a joint project with people from Madrid and Barcelona within the framework of their open government policies. And we have developed not only policies, but also personal ties.

In the case of Nariño, we have been visited by people like Marcos Antonio Lafuente, director of Medialab, who is very much of a Commons theorist, and by Raúl Oliván from Zaragoza and Domenico Di Siena, who are both involved in civic design. Not a fortnight goes by without someone coming up to Nariño to share some knowledge with us, and this has placed us on a very interesting radar. I think that the fact that there are coincidental interesting political innovations at the international level is what leads to mutual interest and exchange. Of course, this would not be possible if the international context were not readily available to us through technology, which is also what allows for so many open government initiatives throughout Latin America, Europe and beyond .


Áurea Carolina de Freitas e Silva, PSOL, Belo Horizonte (Brazil)

We witness with concern the rise of phenomena, like Trump, with a discourse that comes from the far right, but not only: there is also a soft right, a "harmless", very intelligent right, that says that it knows how to manage the State. We have to contrast our narratives against this, not only in the imaginary, but also in political practice. We have to show people that we are capable of making democracy something worthwhile. Only in this way will we be able to counteract the threatening winds coming from the inside and the outside.


Caio Tendolini, Update Politics, Sao Paulo, (Brazil)

In general terms, what we are experiencing is a crisis of confidence in the established power in the world. This crisis is singularly apparent in politics, but not only. That is, there is a rejection of the political establishment, the economic establishment, the cultural establishment, the criminal establishment. In all, they consist of a few people, but they have been in power for 40 years and, in the face of a crisis in the repertoire of political solutions, people are increasingly outraged.

That establishment cannot connect with this indignation. They are in a very arrogant position, saying: "No, we are fine; everything is quiet here; we are going to stay where we are; we do not have to make improvements". Then Trump came with another discourse - he said: "No, your outrage is real", which made him connect with and catalyze the protest vote. When the establishment, which sits in positions of power, fails to connect with the feelings of the people, this creates a power vacuum which can fill fast. The discourse that currently occupies most of that space goes along Trump's line - the "I am not a politician, we have to clean the swamp" sort of discourse. And what that discourse does is criminalise politics.

I think that what we are witnessing when we talk about the political innovation ecosystem (we are seeing it in Spain, in Latin America and in several other places) is another dynamics, a dynamics that tries to rescue politics. During the high school students' protests in São Paulo, there was a post circulating a lot that said: "Kevin is a bum, his mother says he is a bad student, his teacher says he is a bad student, his tutor says he is a bad student, but in the occupied schools, Kevin is the first to wake up, he teaches yoga, cleans the bathrooms, and is the last one to go to sleep. Kevin is one of the best students this school has ever had". Therefore, the problem is not that Kevin does not like school; Kevin does not like this school. I think it is a similar thing with politics. It is not that we do not like politics, we do not like this kind of politics. So, we need to reinvent it, we need to rescue values, and come up with things we are capable of providing.

Along with many movements in Spain and Europe, even in the United States, what we do is we put ourselves as well in the place of outsiders, but outsiders coming up from a collective construction, who believe in, rather than deny, things that are public and communal. True, this collective construction narrative is much more difficult than the narrative that simply says: "I understand your problem and the answer is me, and so... we are going to build a wall". This is so simplistic. On the contrary, what we are talking about is a process which is a bit more difficult, which takes on a cultural issue that is a little more tough, but we are seeing that it is possible. If we do it well, we can move forward: we can choose mayors, we can choose councillors, we can choose people.


Sâmia Bonfim, Activist Bench, Sao Paulo (Brazil)

The international context, after the rise of Trump, has made room for outsiders, for people who come from fields other than politics but who have been welcomed in institutional spaces, which comes to show the failures of the democratic representative model. These failures entail real danger for democracy, because in the end the way out of the mess is not always the strengthening of the instruments of popular participation, of real, radical democracy, but rather the denial of the instruments of democracy. Something like this is currently happening in Brazil.

I do not make, as others do, a direct connection between Temer and Trump, because I think they are phenomena of a different nature. Temer has a distinctive element - his lack of legitimacy - which translates into his complete denial of democracy. When we say that he has not been elected by anyone, it is not so much because we miss the former government - after all, Temer was Dilma's Vice President - but because of his program: social security reform, labour reform, no women in government. These, among several other things, are issues citizens would never vote in favour of. This is why he is illegitimate, because that is the only way in which such a conservative policy, so devastating for our rights, can be implemented.

Hopefully, perhaps, this experience the country is currently undergoing can help us to further strengthen democracy. It is useful to widen the perception of the importance of having new representatives, with a program, a political platform in line with our interests. On the other hand, we have the right-wing presidential candidate, Bolsonaro, who currently ranks second in the polls. I am suspicious, because he is an outsider, he says what he wants, he is brave, he is audacious, and people like that. But the electoral race has not yet officially started and during the race there is a campaign, there are debates, and I am not sure that people will embrace the conservative discourse. When they get to see their rights going down the drain, that their daily life is affected, they will not vote for it. This is the reason why experiences like our Activist Bench are important: they show that democracy, as it is, is a defective politics, and that we need to challenge and improve it. The hollowing out of politics is not going to solve us anything.


Susana Ochoa, Wikipolitics, Jalisco (Mexico)

Whatever happens in the United States has an immediate effect in Mexico, but I think that the main problem with Trump is that a lot of what he says is true. He says, and it is true, that many media outlets are deceiving people. He says that the system is not working, and that is also true. That is, he talks about common truths, but the solutions he offers are extreme and atrocious – I think that is his main problem.

In Mexico, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was in power for a long time and exercised it in a very authoritarian way but, for some years, there was some progress in the country. As a result, especially for the generation of people over 50 or 60, the idea that it takes a strong hand to make sure that the laws are respected carries some weight. Because, in a country like Mexico, impunity is definitely an issue: there are practically no guarantees for accessing justice, which is the only thing ordinary people have to defend themselves against anything. The result is that justice does not exist in Mexico. So, it is very easy to build this idea that a strong hand can bring justice back.

What really worries us in Mexico is the systematic violation of human rights. First, because the issue of human rights is not something on the ordinary citizen's agenda: people simply do not know what human rights are. They do not know they have them. This is why human rights are in danger: because ordinary people do not embrace them, because they do not know they exist.

This is a very telling anecdote of what happens with human rights in Mexico. I convened a meeting with my neighbours, both male and female, because a person was killed in front of my house, in quite a central area of the city. I was impressed to see how many people, who went to university and are quite well-off, were saying that we should do as they do in Singapore and apply the death penalty, because that is the only thing that works. This worried me a lot. People are very scared, they want to be safe and they believe that to be safe means having soldiers on the streets, who can stop you without guarantees, who can spy on you. These are the things that concern me.


Caren Tepp, City of the Future, Rosario (Argentina)

Both national and international contexts have an impact, and make our task more difficult because the wind is blowing against us. In this, I think, there is also a break with that old tradition of the Left, that old theory which says that the worse the conditions are, the better it is for carrying out the revolution. If we there is something we have learnt from many years ago is that this is an absolutely horrible theory, because it implies that a high percentage of society must go through a really bad time, as if it were not going through a really tough and rough time already.

This is why we must strive to improve conditions here and now, together. It is no good being isolated. I think that the experience of Cities without Fear in Barcelona is generating very interesting proposals which have to do with collaborative action: horizontal proposals on the basis of initiatives and links between cities of change which are absolutely genuine. This is an experience that allows you to see the possibility of something different, which is not an agreement reached around a small table to set up some particular strategy, but something that has to do with the concept of the feminization of politics, which is a completely new way of political construction.

We have an enormous challenge ahead of us, so that, when the wind will blow again in our favour, it will be up to us who have been building from the bottom up this idea of local power, of shared power, to take, in some way, a leading role. In City of the Future we always say that the actual content of our policy proposals and the flags we fly are as important as the way in which we implement our political construction.

Thus the need to see that our political strength lies in horizontal, democratic and above all transparent collective action, which allows us to expand the horizon of what is possible. I think that transparency is a key issue that all the municipalities of change, all of us who have been working on this idea, share. It has to do with the idea of how we, ordinary people, take charge of affairs that concern us all. To this end, local proximity politics are precisely the right tool for undertaking the transformations that can be carried forward.

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