'People come first' say progressive leaders

VIÑA DEL MAR, Chile, Mar 28 (IPS) - Countries must put people first if they are to prevent the economic recession from becoming a social recession, concluded the two-day gathering of self-styled progressive world leaders that ended Saturday in this Chilean resort city.

This can be achieved by means of policies that boost growth, reinforce social safety nets and stimulate job creation, says the first point of the declaration of the Sixth Progressive Leaders Summit.

The meeting was attended by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg , Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Cristina Fernández of Argentina and Tabaré Vázquez of Uruguay.

Chile's socialist President Michelle Bachelet hosted the summit, which opened Friday with a seminar on 'a progressive response to the global crisis,' organised by the Policy Network, an international think tank, and Chile's Instituto Igualdad (Equality Institute).

Brown and Biden also took advantage of the opportunity to make an official visit to Chile.

Other participants in the gathering were Organisation of American States (OAS) secretary general José Miguel Insulza, and the executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC), Alicia Bárcena.

The progressive leaders summits, the first of which took place in 1999 at the instigation of then U.S. President Bill Clinton and then British Prime Minister Tony Blair, bring together heads of state and government and other high-ranking government and international officials with ties to socialist, social democratic, labour and democratic parties around the world.

This weekend's summit was the first to be held in Latin America.

The meeting drew international attention because it preceded the gathering that the leaders of the G20 (group of 20 developed and emerging countries) will hold in London on Apr. 2 to discuss the world economic crisis.

The participating leaders were asked at the summit's final press conference about the protests that took place in several European cities ahead of the G20 meeting on Saturday.

'I would hope the protesters give us a chance, listen to what we have to say and hopefully we can make it clear to them that we're going to walk away from this G20 meeting with some concrete proposals,' said Biden.

Speaking at the plenary session on Saturday, Brazil's President Lula sent a 'message' to the other G-20 leaders: We cannot avoid discussion of a solution for the futures markets, otherwise we will just go back to the oil and commodities crisis on futures exchanges all over the world, he said.

The summit also drew attention because it was the first visit to Latin America by a high-level representative of the Barack Obama administration.

Asked whether the United States was considering lifting the embargo against Cuba, as part of a new stage in relations between the United States and Latin America, Biden said: 'No. Obama and I made it clear during our campaign that we thought there's a need for transition in our policy toward Cuba. We think the Cuban people should determine their own fate and they should be able to live in freedom and have some prospect of economic prosperity.'

In his address to the summit, Biden explained to the leaders the main points of the economic recovery programme being implemented by Obama. He added that he hoped the U.S. recession would come to an end this year, although he acknowledged that unemployment would likely remain high despite a recovery of GDP.

'People come first' was one of the catch phrases of the summit.

The leaders spoke of the need for global solutions to global problems, like the economic crisis and climate change, as well as the need to regulate markets, strengthen the state and reform multilateral lending institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Brown said the new global rules, for the market and governments alike, should be based on values like equity and responsibility.

Lula and Zapatero stressed that the other pillar of the new global architecture should be 'solidarity.'

The second point of the summit's final declaration raises the need to build the foundations of a new economy in which prosperity can be broadly shared, while the third talks about reforming domestic regulation of financial institutions and the international coordination of that regulation.

With regard to the third point, President Fernández of Argentina said it is not only important to reform the international lending institutions, but that it is indispensable for member countries to commit themselves to following their rules and resolutions, which does not presently occur, she said - an allusion to the most powerful nations.

Biden said, 'We do need rules of the road. We acknowledge that. And we will play by the rules. But one of the things I would say to all of us is when the rules are broken don't just expect us to enforce the rules. Let me say that again - when the rules are broken, as they repeatedly are, we are reluctant, as an international community, to enforce the rules, whether they be in Iran or whether they be in other countries in the world.

'Once the rules are set, we will abide by them (and be) part of the effort to draft them, but when they're broken there's a need for all of us to step up,'' he said.

In the summit declaration, the leaders also stated the need to avoid protectionism and to successfully conclude the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Doha Round of trade talks.

They also said the international financial institutions, including regional ones, must play an important role in the prevention of disastrous economic consequences for emerging and developing countries, while advocating reforms of these institutions, which could require increased funding, they added.

The declaration also mentions the urgent need for a coordinated response to climate change and for expanded investment in clean energy sources, in order to set out on the route towards a global economy low in greenhouse gas emissions, while expressing the hope that the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen will reach a successful agreement.

Acción, the Chilean umbrella group that brings together 70 NGOs, reported that it sent a letter to the leaders meeting in Viña del Mar, proposing a series of measures to be implemented by leftwing and centre-left governments.

Among other things, Acción expresses the need to guarantee democratic governance of the economy 'by regulating financial activities, creating new fiscal instruments, establishing restrictions on speculation, prohibiting 'casino-style' financial instruments and guaranteeing that the funds from private and public savings are effectively channeled towards productive activity.'

The progressive leaders summits have been held in Berlin (2000), Stockholm (2002), London (2003 and 2008), Budapest (2004) and Johannesburg (2006).