The Need to Put People and the Planet Before Profit. Interview with Ana Agostino

This interview with Ana Agostino is part of  the ongoing discussion on Beyond Economics Development Vol 52 no 3 leading up to the journal launches in New York (29 October 2009) and The Hague (11 December 2009). 


Q: How are all the different crises we are experiencing (financial, environmental, food and care crises) interrelated?

A: All the current crises have a common origin: an economic model that has prioritized profit instead of the well being of human beings, of peoples and of the planet itself. This model has aimed almost exclusively at economic growth, at the constant increase of production and consumption and at the scientific and technological intervention to mitigate the possible negative consequences. That is to say, profit has been put ahead of reciprocity and efficiency ahead of sufficiency. The current crisis can be seen as an inevitable consequence of neo-liberal globalization by which the sovereignty of nation states was replaced by the unlimited power of financial markets. States gave up some of the traditional roles related to the collective well being of societies. The markets took over but capital, which is supra-national, moves according to its own interest without any responsibility towards the well being of the people and the countries where capital is temporarily invested. Life, on the other hand, is anchored in territories which are the resources that guarantee social and biological reproduction. The current crises highlight the need for the states and citizens, through democratic processes and policies, to take control of their own lives and of the common resources with the collective interest as a guiding principle.

Q: What is the position of GCAP- of whose global council you are a member- on how to get out of the crisis?

A: GCAP is an alliance that advocates for governments and international bodies to fulfil their roles ensuring that all human beings enjoy a life without poverty and inequality. As key issues for achieving this goal GCAP demands (i) Public accountability and just governance; (ii) Women's rights and gender justice; (iii) Major increase in quality aid and financing for development; (iv) Debt cancellation; (v) Trade justice; (vi) Climate justice; (vii) Peace and human security. GCAP believes that the current multiple crises present the world leaders with a major opportunity: to design sustainable production and consumption patterns, to eradicate poverty and provide education opportunities so that the majority of the people currently excluded can become the motor of a home-grown economy. It believes that what is needed is political will and that the voice of the diverse peoples living in poverty and the insights of civil society are taken on board through democratic and accountable governance and processes. The growing power and influence of corporations at global and national levels is in contradiction with this and therefore GCAP calls on governments to create the appropriate regulatory frameworks that ensure companies become more accountable to international agreements (human rights, ILO, Millennium Goals) and therefore to the people most affected.

Q: As you are also the facilitator of the Feminist Task Force (TFT), can you tell us how the crisis has particularly impacted on women?

A: It is widely recognized that the food and environmental crises affect vulnerable populations harder, this vulnerability being the result of different factors such as age, gender, geography, ethnicity, income group, etc. Women are particularly affected because they are the largest percentage of the poor population (it is estimated that women account for 70 percent of poor people) and they also face gender inequality, which the current crises tend to deepen. Some of these inequalities are: lack of access to resources such as land, credit and training; limited participation in decision-making; more dependence on natural resources; less access to education; higher responsibility in the 'care economy'. Climate change in particular exacerbates some of the existing inequalities. The negative impact of green house effects on human and natural systems affect women directly as, in many societies, they are the ones in charge of collecting water and fuel and the main producers of food; the changes in ecosystems and loss of diversity that make areas no longer habitable impact on women's capacity to ensure food security; and the consequences on human health and early deaths (due to water pollution, changing weather, changes in air quality and in food quality and quantity) affect women also in a differentiated way as they are the main caregivers who take on the responsibility to respond to these impacts on themselves, their close and extended families, and on many occasion their communities at large. These impacts highlight the need for specific policies that make care the responsibility of society at large, that guarantee women's access to education throughout life, health services, credit and land and that are implemented respecting the diversity of peoples and cultures.

Q: What is the situation like in Latin America at the moment? How has the crisis impacted on the most marginalized sectors and what are the prospects for the future?

A: The financial crisis did not impact in Latin America as hard as it did in the highly industrialized countries. One of the felt consequences was the decrease in demand and the falling prizes for the region's products, which in many cases was overcome by the opening of new markets or the expansion of existing ones like China. The countries with closer ties to the United States like Mexico and Central America felt greater effects, including the reduction in remittances which in many countries represent a high percentage of their economies. What the crisis has done, though, is to highlight the existing inequalities that have characterized the region for several decades and that the coming of progressive governments to most of the countries has not been able to overcome yet. Latin America continues to be extremely unequal, high percentages of the population do not have access to quality services in health and education and the indigenous peoples, afro-descendents and women continue to be more affected than the rest of the population. The response to climate change has been very different in the various countries, with some, like Ecuador, that has included the rights of nature in its Constitution, to some others for which environment continues to be a marginal concern in their policies. This will clearly have a negative impact in the long run and will also lead to social and cultural conflicts as the natural resources become a contested terrain, not only for economic reasons but also for cultural ones. 

Interview by Laura Fano Morrissey. 

Ana Agostino works for the International Council for Adult Education, an Uruguay-based global network of adult learners and educators who promote the use of adult learning as a tool for informed participation of people and sustainable development. She is also a member of the GCAP Global Council and the facilitator for the Feminist Task Force (FTF).