A Few Workshops


Controlling Fear

Convenor: Roberta Bacic, Chile

Within the context of the WRI Triennial, a short workshop was developed on the control of fear. There was a large attendance and active participation in this workshop which made possible a dialogue and exchange of experiences on all kinds of valuable and significant activity carried out in various countries.

The workshop was divided into two parts;

a) A theoretical/psychological analysis on what fear means. There they explained in succession: what is fear, where and when it originates, how fear affects the individual, the individual's family group, environment and the society.

For each of these aspects an actual example was given and then there was an explanation of the consequences of fear, what happens when it is not confronted, where it takes us and how to confront it, whether directly or by evaluating the consequences which our conduct can have in the face of fear.

Finally there was a conversation about how fear works and the book by Carlos Martin Beristain and Francesc Rivera on the topic involved was recommended (Afirmación y resistencia, la comunidad como apoyo, Virus Editorial 1993).

b) Presentation of two concrete experiences of active non-violence where the theme of fear was present and the strategies used to overcome it or take it on. One of the experiences was the Sebastian Acevedo Movement Against Torture, and the other, the NO Campaign; both were important manifestations of opposition to the military regime in Chile.

Finally, there was agreement in the group that a more extended workshop would be very important where it would be possible to share and analyze those feelings which provoke fear; as well as to design activities which aid in isolating, confronting and tackling it.

Human rights in Brazil

Convenor: Jair Krischke, Movimento Justica e Direitos Humanos, Brazil

Jair Krischke, President of the Human Rights Movement of Rio Grande do Sul, gave an interesting, wide-ranging, and occasionally controversial presentation on the situation of human rights in this region and country. He pointed out the role of international solidarity during the military dictatorship in Brazil, when many Brazilian human rights activists seeking refuge in Argentina, Chile, and Paraguay in the 1970s supported the local human rights movements.

Today, in this "transition to democracy", overt government repression is less, but there are still victims of victims of torture and police murder. Brazil's 3.4 million street children, the fruit of 21 years of military dictatorship followed by extremely cruel economic structures, are the hardest hit.

Paradoxes abound: Brazil exports food for cows and imports powdered milk, although 80 millions Brazilians don't have enough to eat. The country is the world's fifth largest weapons exporter, but many young men drafted into the army are discharged because they are too weak or ill to carry a weapon. Five percent of the people own 40 percent of the wealth, but 63 percent are marginalised, living below UN standards of absolute poverty.

Economic marginalisation begets prostitution, crime, and repression - the military occupation of the favelas of Rio de Janeiro is a war operation. The real drug traffickers the rich who profit from the trade - are not punished, so the war is against poor, Black people. Brazil is a "sleepless" country: the poor can't sleep due to hunger and the rich can't sleep due to fear of the poor.

Women are preferential victims of violence - on the job, from their husbands, by overwork, by rape, by the police and military. Major cities have special police stations devoted to violence against women. This issue became controversial during the discussion period with Jair arguing that all police stations should he able to respond to violence against all citizens, while other participants felt that the extent of machismo and sexist violence in Brazil made special facilities and training necessary.

Slavery is still widespread throughout Brazil, with white workers lured from cities to remote areas, where they are forced to do agricultural or logging work 12-14 hours per day in exchange for food and housing, without pay. Despite pending court cases against local companies using slave labor, the situation will get worse, as soybean farming gives way to forestry.

The discussion period raised many other interesting issues, including the use of criminal prosecutions as didactic tools, the roles of transnational corporations and neo-Nazi groups, the support of Brazilian human rights groups for actions against violence in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Colombia, which has had 21,000 victims of political violence in the last four years, and the inhumane treatment of Amazon Indians by everyone: gold-washers, hydroelectric companies, the army, land speculators, Christian missionaries, lumber companies, and transnational corporations.

Environment and Grassroots Action in Brazil

Convenor: Carlos Cardoso Aveline (União Protetora do Ambiente Natural, Brazil)

In this workshop we started from the situation of the young environmental movement in Brazil to come to a much wider perspective on fundamental questions about the relations between North and South.

Ecological themes, says Cardoso Aveline, are difficult to deal with on a grassroots level. There are no large environmental NGOs. Even the most progressive political party, the PT, is not really interested in the environment The UNCED summit in Rio in 1992 was more of a prestige event, with no concrete implementation.

For people from outside Brazil, environmental issues in Brazil bring to mind first of all the tropical forests of the Amazon, and the question of indigenous peoples. This was an important issue for the Brazilian participants as well, but the urban population also has its own problem: how to survive in the urban jungle. The rainforest is not under threat form the local population, but by big commercial companies and local authorities, who do not care about their won laws.

A solution can only he found on a world scale, we agreed. As long as the Northern part of the planet forces the rest of the world to adopt its anti-ecological economic model, then the poorer countries can only implement what the North has already decided. Development and environmental awareness involve a long process of education and convincing people.

Armed struggle and nonviolence in Latin America

Convenor: Cecilia Moretti (WRI Vice-Chair, Argentina)

Cecilia Moretti introduced the theme by mentioning the difficulty of organising nonviolent groups and relating to other groups in a nonviolent manner, especially when activists were facing government violence. During the dictatorships, in the 1970s, it was very difficult to mention nonviolence in many Latin American countries. During that period several armed struggles erupted, which were considered the only effective means of resistance. Nonviolence tended to be associated with passivity, and sometimes even with collaboration with the CIA. It was hard to adapt nonviolent theories and techniques for the most part used in the USA and Europe to the Latin American situation.

In Argentina, during the dictatorship, it was very dangerous to denounce human rights violations. So SERPAJ (Servicio Paz y Justicia) decided to start nonviolence training and to create a support network for the victims of violence.

In Panama, various groups existed but nonviolence was viewed somewhat sceptically. However, once activists had concentrated their efforts on peace education, human rights, nonviolence training and supporting victims of violence (particularly Indigenous people and women), much of the scepticism vanished. In Guatemala a SERPAJ group was set up three years ago to help Indigenous people mistreated by the military.

On the other hand, in El Salvador, where the struggle had lasted for 40 years, popular nonviolent resistance had been going on for a long time, even though activists did not consciously use nonviolent techniques. Before the civil war teachers, trainers, trade unionists and others comprised a vital part of the non-violent movement. Afterwards, many of these activists began to support the growing national liberation army because they felt time had come to take up arms in order to restore justice: they did not distinguish any more between means and ends.

In Nicaragua the situation changed between the 1970s and the 1980s. There had been a fairly strong nonviolent tradition among the Indigenous population and popular organisations such as trade unions, women's groups and farmers' associations. When the Sandinistas started their armed struggle against the dictatorship and the US domination, it became difficult to promote nonviolent strategy. The Sandinistas hunted down and even killed young people who refused to do military service. Among the latter were liberation theologians, who disagreed with the support some Christian groups were giving to the armed struggle. The Sandinista army made mistakes and caused a lot of pain and resentment, particularly among the Miskito people. After the revolution, compulsory military service became a sore point. Because the nonviolent movement had worked alongside the Sandinistas for the revolution, its members felt freer than party members to criticise the government. Nowadays the Sandinistas no longer talk about resorting to arms. With an in-crease in drug trafficking, prostitution, and other social evils more and more people have become aware of the value of a nonviolent approach.

Neo-liberalism, Democracy and Social Movements in Latin America

Convenor: Ana Chavez, SERPAJ-Argentina

Since neo-liberalism was based on individualism and competition, the vast majority of the population were prevented from participating in the formal economy and state budgeting - which was absolutely undemocratic. This system started with the now-defunct military dictatorships, but it still prevailed, greed hindering constitutional progress.

Latin American economies made it their first task to meet their foreign obligations by lowering wages, lifting barriers to foreign investment and reducing the state's role. This process had been accompanied by the privatisation of public companies and had led to decreased social expenditure and a reduction of taxation on firms while increasing it on consumption. In this way the impoverished masses financed the ruling economic elite. Widespread poverty had increased delinquency. Emerging regional integration in Latin America, such as Mercosur, would not prioritise domestic development but rather concentrate on the needs of the external market. The greater the strength of this political-economic system, the greater the protection afforded it by the "international gendarmes". Today, indeed, in every Latin American country the marginalised Section of the population was under tight social and political control.

Our action plan for popular organisations included: supporting grassroots democracy, stressing that democracy depended on respecting human rights; engaging in peace education, indicating the negative effects of neo-liberalism; creating an information network, conducive to solidarity and helpful over publicizing projects; encouraging cultural integration; creating awareness of environmental degradation and working with popular organisations committed to environmental protection and restoration; and alerting organisations to the dangers and conflicts liable to he caused by regional, neo-liberal integration procedures.

Anti-war groups in ex-Yugoslavia

Convenors: Staša Zajovic (Women in Black, Belgrade); Vesna Terselic (Centre for Anti-War Action, Zagreb)

Vesna Terselic from the Anti-War Centre in Zagreb described her group's main activities, referring to the work being done with school children and the attempts being made to get the government to respect human rights, even in wartime. Attention had also been given to conscientious objection and to getting stories in the national and foreign press. They had also been busy studying the situation in Serbia and Bosnia. There was still a long way to go to develop civil society, but small steps were now being taken.

Staša Zajovic, from Women in Black in Belgrade, explained that women organ-ised weekly nonviolent demonstrations and vigils in order to make thernselves visible. The group hoped to counter the negative effects of turning nationalism into the official state ideology. It wanted to promote discussion across sex, ethnic and dass lines, and believed it was essential to prevent total breakdown in communication between neighbouring countries which were at war.

Bojan Aleksov was a member of Women in Black who worked with other peace groups also. He was, for instance, involved in a refugee project which combined humanitarian aid with reconciliation efforts. He had also been working with deserters from Bosnia and conscientious objectors for the past three years, helping to provide them with legal assistance and other forms of support.

Workshop participants realised how limited the effects of their actions in their countries had been and that they could not hope to make much of an impact in situations where criticising the government was considered subversive ("siding with the enemies").

Doubts were expressed about the role of foreign peace groups in ex-Yugoslavia. Many groups had done useful work keeping open lines of communication with the outside world, notably via ernail, which had often maintained daily contacts when access to all other means of communication had been restricted. Support from abroad might prove most helpful in the long-run, once a local movement had been established. But it was unwise to let ill-prepared foreign activists encounter refugees and other war victims. Some groups had a fairly narrow charitable, even at times, paternalistic approach. Peace caravans had not always proved very useful; however the presence of small, cautious, well-prepared peace teams might he helpful in some situations although it was still too early to tell for sure.

The workshop ended with discussion on the effect of UN and NATO intervention in the region. It was noted that some UN Blue Helmets had created problems -engaging in sexual abuse, blackmail, etc. Soldiers were simply soldiers, whether they were "peacekeeping" or performmg their normal tasks.

Programmes & Projects

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