Free Trade Area of the Americas - FTAA

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March 7, 2002

Original: Spanish
Translation: FTAA Secretariat



Country Chile


One aspect of any negotiation process leading to regional integration in the Americas which will be always positive yield benefits is the involvement of civil society. Not only does civil society have the possibility of access to sufficient and constant flows of information relating to the progress, conditions and nature of the agreements, but major benefit is derived when civil society is allowed to share its views and participate openly and directly in this type of process; in decision-making as well as the outcome of those decisions.

However, for there to be positive results from the consultation with civil society in the regional integration process, the level of development and strength of civil society in each of the participating States has first to be determined in order for the contributions of civil society to have a significant impact on the process. It is very important to know whether civil society in the participating countries has the same level of development, the types of democratic channels that exist to facilitate its participation and involvement at local level, so ashow that participation is to strengthened and encouraged that participation, and, lastly, how accustomed it is to participating actively in events touching the matters of State, and whether it is aware of how it should participate.

This brings us to an interesting point which has to do with the characteristics and structure of civil society in each State of the Americas since civil society in individual countries will be characterised by distinct features, different levels of development in terms of its participation, and with diverse mechanisms at its disposal for participating in within the State. It is equally important to remember that many civil societies in the Americas were, for decades, subjected to dictatorships, guerrilla warfarewars, political and economic crises, ethnic problems and the lack of adequate democratic processes. For these reasons, civil society in many countries, such as Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Paraguay and others, is not accustomed to or prepared for participation, nor indeed does it possesses the appropriate mechanisms to do so, or simply is not interested in participating even in national elections. In short, civil society in many countries of the continent is “wasting away” has “atrophied”, as far as participation is concerned.

It should,One would do well to bear in mind, therefore, be borne in mind that the term “civil society” is not easily defined but is determined by the country or geographical location in which it is used; geography will also have an impact on civil society’s compositionthe pre-definition analysis is conducted. The term is also heavily influenced by the culture and political structure of the State in which it is analysed and will differ to a lesser or greater degree depending on the country or region, where not only will there be variations in the concept of civil society but also the very elements of which civil society is composed. Another basic factor to be taken into consideration when analysing civil society is that the term is not a static one but has evolved considerably over time and is ever changing.

Therefore, a theoretical examination of the concept will reveal that, at its inception, during the Renaissance, the term designated a superior, civilised and rational new, organised social order. The philosopher John Locke included the State in civil society whereas Adam Smith was of the opinionstated that civil society encompassed everything that was socially constructed, including the market and the State. Hegel said that civil society was the area between family and State, while Marx believed it was the entire body of social relationships, governed by economic relations.

In modern times, according to Spanish author Ruiz-Giménez, civil society is equivalent to the new concept of citizenship, in other words, the foundation of peaceful coexistence in any country. According to her, civil society is understood, in relation to international cooperation, to comprise the group of organisations and associations which are independent of governments and which are not exclusively devoted to economic pursuits. She points out that it should be noted that many of these organisations and associations currently obtain funding for their activities, almost entirely in many cases, from State entities. Author Kees Biekart (1999), at a seminar organised by the Menéndez Pelayo International University of Spain, under the auspices of the Spanish agency for international cooperation (AECI), defined civil society as “an intermediary associative fabric between the State and the family, comprising organisations independent of the State which are autonomous of the latter and made up of members of society who voluntarily seek to protect and spread their values and interests”. The same author indicates that the strengthening of civil society involves both wider participation of civil society, with greater transparency, and State accountability.

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), civil society consists of the body of private organisations which claim social and cultural representation for themselves from vis à vis national governments, regional integration institutions and other private organisations. In its 1999 state of the region report for Central America, UNDP also states that entrepreneurial business organisations are not excluded from Central American civil society since they are considered to be organisations with social representation like as are labour organisations. The UNDP also points out that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are not identified with civil society, in that region, although they are included subsumed as such when they work for the promotion of popular interests.

On the basis of the foregoing, the writer has sought to demonstrate that the structure and concept of civil society will vary depending on the region, type of State and time period in which civil society is studied . In because in the case of Central America, the concept of civil society, as defined by the UNDP today, is very different from the components or definition given in war time or even the importance it was then accorded.

Consequently, and in relation specifically to citizen participation, all the States participating in the negotiations of the FTAA agreements should revise their legislation and policies aimed at empowering citizens and encouraging their participation. The reason is that, civil society, as was mentioned before, civil society still bears the scars of dictatorial governments and, in those countries, is not used to participating, does not know how to, nor or is it even interested in doing so because of fear, ignorance through lack of information, or is simply weary of politicians and their unfulfilled promises.

In Chile, in particular, one tangible proof of the above is reflected in the lack of interest, especially on the part of young peopleamong youths, to participate invote in elections since they show no interest even to be registered on the electoral list. It might be argued that one solution would be to oblige citizens by law to register to vote. However, not only would this be a measure more in keeping with dictatorial practices but it would constitute a grave error in the effort to solve a serious participation problem in the country.

I believe that the problem can be solved partially solved through civic education, especially of young people in secondary schools and universities but also of workers and housewives, for example. If no measures are taken soon to address the problem in Chile, through the natural ageing of the population and the scant interest of young people to register to vote, by the next decade the electoral list of people registered to participate in democratic elections might have shrunk considerably. Democratic elections theoretically allow for all Chileans to elect the representatives of their choice, even though the numbers registered might not be significant; appropriate measures must be taken.

Certainly Chile is not the only country with problems of citizen participation in the FTAA region but similar problems must exist in countries where there are marginalized groups such as the indigenous populations of Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador and Peru, to name a few, since their democratic processes have also been interrupted; . Hhence the usefulness of a detailed study of the civic bases of countries in the Americas region to determine whether civil society in the various States really have the foundation and necessary training to develop appropriately and effectively its participation in all areas which are of importance and pertinence to State functions.

This writer would, therefore, recommend the conduct of studies and research on the participation of civil society so as to glean important information for the in-depth study of an issue of such relevance to healthy democraciesdemocracy. Two studies, among many other types of research, which could be carried out in FTAA participating countries could be:

  • Mechanisms for citizen participation, through civil society, in the monitoring of public and State bodies and authorities with regard to their functioning and fulfilment of their objectives and functions. Forms of participation and interaction between civil society and State administration.

  • Promotion of citizen participation through the teaching of democratic values to young people in secondary schools and universities as well as to grassroots political leaders through training programmes (this would included student, trade union and neighbourhood leaders, among others.)

  • The research and/or studies would seek to consolidate solid bases on which civil society would develop continuous, interested and informed participation, not only in integration processes such as the FTAA but in order for such participation to be a healthy, habitual custom of civil society in each of the continent’s democracies so that these democracies can be strengthened.

    In conclusion, what this submission has aimed to highlight is that the leaders of the FTAA process have launched a commendable initiative to create a forum to facilitate the participation of civil society in the Americas. Concretely, this makes it possible for civil society to express opinions, make contributions and suggestions and share viewpoints relating to the development of the negotiations. However, this writer has sought to show that for the success of this type of integration process and, generally for the democracy of the continent, it is equally important and essential to strive for the fairly harmonious development of civil society in all the countries of the Americas so that it becomes an important and fundamental pillar for the success and longevity of the FTAA. This is why the writer has advocated measures, studies and actions which will reveal the current state of civil society in the region so that policies necessary for enhanced development and strengthening of civil society and citizen participation in the region may be formulated. The aim is to promote the establishment of fora and bodies that will enable civil society to participate in all fields it deems necessary for its own development.

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