Little Enthusiasm Over Anti-Poverty Campaign

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The enthusiasm among social groups in Mexico and Central America for the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP)is not reflected by the general public, which has displayed scant interest in this week’s event. In “Mesoamerica”, made up of Mexico and the countries of Central America, there will be street demonstrations, academic and student forums, and a variety of cultural activities. However, large crowds are not expected to gather, as they regularly do for political rallies and strikes or other activities organised by trade unions.

The limited impact of the GCAP campaign is due to “political and institutional conditions and the attitude of some of the media,” the coordinator for Guatemala of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report, Karin Slowing, told IPS.

Most of the region?s principal media have so far devoted little or no space to the GCAP campaign, and governments and political leaders have ignored the subject. Last year, similarly apathetic reactions were encountered all over Latin America.

“We haven?t managed to convince the public, and particularly the young people, to appropriate the initiative for themselves, but we are not discouraged and we will carry on,” Mariaoliva Gonz?lez, spokeswoman in Mexico for the Global Youth Action Network (GYAN), told IPS.

GYAN has called on young people to wrap the Independence Monument, in the capital, in white cloth on Wednesday.

The Mesoamerican region, which governments identify as nine states in the southeast of Mexico plus Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, covers one million square kilometres and is home to 70 million people, a large proportion of whom are poor.

“Proposals like GCAP don?t work because they?re too general; they lack clear political content and don?t really get to people,” Humberto Zapata, a recent graduate in political science from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told IPS.

In spite of the region?s lacklustre response, this year the GCAP initiative is expected to mobilise close to 50 million people and be entered into the Guinness Book of World Records. The date of the various activities will coincide with Oct. 17, International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

GCAP originated at the World Social Forum in 2005, held in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre. As of last year, U.N. agencies are also participating and promoting it.

Envisaged to continue until 2015, GCAP aims to call attention to the fulfilment of the eight U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), defined in 2000 in reference to 1990 levels, with a target deadline of 2015.

The goals include halving the proportion of people who are hungry and live in extreme poverty, as well as achieving improvements in health, education, the environment, development and gender equality.

In Mesoamerica, a number of organisations are making efforts to give GCAP local colour and content, with the aim of expanding its appeal.

For instance, the GCAP coalition in El Salvador, which is made up of around 30 social groups, is demanding “tough action against tax evasion by big business, and against corruption.”

The group will submit a draft law on the question this week, and afterwards will hold a rally in Alameda Juan Pablo II, one of the busiest arteries in San Salvador. They will call for “tax reforms to guarantee action against tax evasion, and for the state to allocate funds to those who are living in poverty,” its spokespersons said.

Jeannette Alvarado, head of the Maquilishuatl Foundation (FUMA), which forms part of GCAP, told IPS that El Salvador has enough economic resources to go around, but that “they are concentrated in too few hands, and tax evasion contributes to maintaining poverty levels as they are.”

FUMA asserts that corruption and tax evasion caused losses of two billion dollars in 2006, while the government budget for investment in health and education this year is just over 831 million dollars.

In Nicaragua, the second poorest country in Latin America after Haiti, activities on the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty will be organised by the Coordinadora Civil, an umbrella group for more than 300 non-governmental associations.

Georgina Mu?oz Pav?n, a spokeswoman for the Coordinadora, told IPS that on Oct. 16 and 17 several academic and cultural meetings will be held in Managua. One outcome is to be a proclamation addressed to members of the government, private companies and financial groups, which will be distributed in the streets by volunteers.

The document will call on them to act in solidarity with the poor in Nicaragua, where over 45 percent of the country?s 5.1 million people live on less than two dollars a day, according to official figures, although unofficial sources put the proportion much higher.

“The plan is to continue to strengthen the idea that only by acting together can we defeat poverty,” said Mu?oz.

In Guatemala, where over half the population is poor, there will be a march in the capital city, ending up at the seat of government, where representatives of families living in extreme poverty will present their personal testimonies, French activist Paul Marechal, of the Fourth World Movement, told IPS.

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Source: IPS (link opens in a new window)