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From 16 to 18 November 2017, thousands of people from across the American continent came together in Montevideo, Uruguay, for the Continental Day for Democracy and against Neoliberalism.

The Continental Day for Democracy and Against Neoliberalism is a process of struggle and mobilization organized by different social movements and organizations within Latin America, to counter neoliberal attacks and the reshaping of the right wing as it intensifies bringing suffering, blood and death to our peoples in the territories.

It was created in La Havana in 2015, ten years after the defeat of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement, to commemorate the articulation of the peoples who defeated the recolonization attempts in Latin America and the Caribbean led by the neoliberal model.

The main themes of the struggle agreed by the popular organizations in Havana are resisting neoliberalism, transnational corporations and free trade and the defense of democracy and peoples’ sovereignty and integration. Environmentalism and the anti-patriarchal struggle are integral to both these themes.

The organizations involved in the struggle behind the Continental Day, which convened the “Montevideo Meeting”, include the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA-CSA), World March of Women, Latin American Coordination of Rural Organizations (CLOC – Vía Campesina), Global Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power, Jubileo Sur Americas and Friends of the Earth Latin America and the Caribbean (ATALC), as well as other trade union, peasant, indigenous, feminist, environmental and anti-imperialist movements from across the continent.

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Thousands of people took part in the march that marked the beginning of the Montevideo Meeting

The Montevideo Meeting began early on 16 November with a large march through the centre of Uruguay’s capital. More than 3,000 people joined the demonstration, which coincided with a partial general strike called by Uruguay’s trade unions. The World March of Women’s batucada drumming ensemble energized the people along with the energy of the chants and rallying cries of social movements and organizations. A ceremony started the Meeting itself, with various speakers including Francisca “Pancha” Rodríguez of CLOC – Vía Campesina, also a member of the National Association of Rural and Indigenous Women of Chile (ANAMURI), and Marcelo Abdala, Secretary General of the Uruguayan Trade Union Centre, PIT-CNT.

Francisca “Pancha” Rodríguez of CLOC – Vía Campesina and ANAMURI

A video message from Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva emphasized the importance of the Montevideo Meeting, in which the former Brazilian President expressed his regret at his absence. Lula highlighted the progress made in Latin American integration and the building of a sovereign voice, which has clearly generated unease among transnational capital. Karin Nasen, Chair of Friends of the Earth International, was also part of the inauguration ceremony, along with other representatives of social movements, trade unions and political parties.

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Montevideo Meeting inauguration ceremony

The Meeting continued in the velodrome in Parque Batlle, where the former President of Uruguay, José “Pepe” Mujica, gave a speech:

“Our happiness is called activism – the struggle for social change – to express our solidarity. There is no final victory. The victory is to continue along the path.”

The former head of state urged the crowd to be critical, not to contribute to capitalism, to learn from failure and never stop fighting.

Karin Nansen, Chair of Friends of the Earth International, also participated in the opening panel at the Montevideo Meeting. She highlighted the right of social movements to resist and “build political projects by and for the people”.

Friday 17 November, began with an invigorating batucada drumming performance by the comrades from the World March of Women, on whose t-shirts and placards various slogans could be read:

“Neither popes nor judges; women decide”

“Women marching until we are all free”

As well as environmentalism, the fight against the patriarchy was one of the themes running through the various discussions of the Continental Day.

An intense day of work followed, exploring four main themes: Free Trade, Democracy and Sovereignty, Transnationals, and Integration of Peoples. Panellists from various organizations discussed their visions on a range of topics within these four broad themes. Attendees had ample opportunity for active participation thanks to roaming microphones to facilitate participation and exchanges, which were essential given that the struggle requires the input and conviction of all comcerned.

In the afternoon panellists described specific actions they are taking, or planning to counter the neoliberal drive.

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Transnationals panel, with Silvia Quiroa (ATALC) and Laura Zúñiga, Berta Cáceres’ daughter, among others.

The principles of solidarity, internationalism, unity between peoples and processes in the fight were foremost in all discussions.

Here are just a few of the numerous speakers thorough out the day:

“Half of the territory of Mexico is given over to mining”

– Gustavo Castro, Friends of the Earth Latin America and the Caribbean

“Latin America and the Caribbean is the region most sought after by transnationals worldwide”

– Cecilia Olivet, the Transnational Institute (TNI)

“Today, more than three billion people around the world are living on less than $2.5 a day. This is dragging people into poverty”

– Juan Diego Gómez, ISP Colombia

“We need to mount a counter-offensive to the neoliberal attack that pulls together the struggles being waged by our various movements”

– Ticiana Studart, World March of Women

Once the afternoon session was over and summaries of the day’s discussions presented, there was a tribute to former Cuban President, Fidel Castro, with various speeches and music dedicated to his memory, almost a year after his death (25 November 2016).

IMG 20171117 WA0044Picture of the tribute to Fidel Castro at the Montevideo Meeting

Saturday 18, the last day of the Montevideo Meeting, saw a mystical performance by representatives of the Charrúa indigenous people, followed by a plenary session which brought the social movements together.

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Mystical Charrúa indigenous performance on the last day of the Montevideo Meeting

The plenary session recapped the points agreed following the previous day’s discussions on each of the four main themes. There was also time to present the Social Movements Convergence of Communications team, constituting more than 30 journalists and activists in charge of media coverage, split into groups for photography, video, radio, written texts, internet and social media. The staff of Real World Radio were part of this team. For many members of the group, the Montevideo Meeting was their first real experience of converging communications within the framework of the Continental Day process commenced in 2015, and a very positive experience.

Once again the social movements’ and organizations’ communications officers, along with sympathetic press journalists, worked in a spirit of unity and solidarity to promote a search for shared objectives, cooperative work and drawing on the various potentials rather than focusing on divisions and selfish competition for individual gain.

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Presentation of the Convergence of Communications team

The Final Declaration was then read out, with 29 points for analysis and action, marking the end of the Montevideo Meeting, with the firm intention of stepping up the work.

Feelings about the Meeting were very positive. Participants from across all organizations stressed that the fight must not end with this event, because the Continental Day is an ongoing process of construction and struggle with the aim of offering collective alternatives.

These were days full of mobilization, political debate, building convergences and defining a common agenda for 2018. The first action agreed as part of the common agenda for the coming months was mobilizing opposition to the Ministerial Summit of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in December 2017 in Buenos Aires (Argentina), that was, as it turned out, marred by an unprecedented decision to ban civil society.

Highlights for 2018 include mobilizing for International Women’s Day on 8 March, the Alternative World Water Forum in Brasilia (Brazil) and the denunciation of the Summit of the Americas in Lima (Peru), mobilizing against the G20 in Argentina and national mobilizations from 19 to 25 November to pursue and update the agreements reached in Montevideo. The dates in November are expected to see a culmination of street demonstrations related to the Continental Day for Democracy and against Neoliberalism in 2018.

During the Montevideo Meeting, the importance of integration across the Americas was underscored, together with the conviction that only through that articulation and convergence will it be possible to tackle the imperialist, patriarchal, neoliberal and racist model. This integration is vital given recent developments, such as the fraudulent Honduran elections and the former Brazilian president Lula da Silva’s trial as a tactic to prevent him from running for office again.

Let’s keep up the fight!

Images: Convergence of Communications group – Continental Day for Democracy and against Neoliberalism