First International Assembly of the People’s Health Movement–Latin America
“Towards a fulfilling life and harmony between humanity and Mother Earth!"
From October 7-12, 2013, in Cuenca Ecuador, the Latin American regional branch of the People’s Health Movement held its first continental assembly, with the overarching theme: “Towards a fulfilling life and harmony between humanity and Mother Earth!” This visionary theme is based on the holistic, all inclusive world-view of the original peoples of Latin America, is expressed the term “Sumac Kausay,” which translates as “Buen Vivir” or “Living Well.” The theme for the conference is a response to the global threat to humanity and to all life on the planet posed by the current globalized economic system that puts the short-term economic growth of the rich before the health and well being of all. In the indigenous concept of Sumac Kausay, the tribal people’s saw themselves as an integral part of nature, in which the well-being of all things, animate and inanimate, was linked part of a single living being, and the good of any part of that being was linked to the good of all.
In this sense, the Assembly had an overarching view of the place of humanity in the world that was mystical – or spiritual in the broadest, all-embracing sense. Speaker after speaker embraced, from a broad spectrum of perspectives, the need for a new social economic and philosophical paradigm that is based not on personal competition and acquisition, but on caring and sharing: a vision that celebrates oneness through diversity, and which respects the rights and inclusion of all things, great and small.
But under the umbrella of this overall universal vision of “the rights and health of all” – the spectrum of presentations and forums at the Assembly were, for the most part very practical and down-to-earth, focusing of the struggles of marginalized or oppressed peoples to protect their lives, their health, and the natural environment from the greedy abuses of transnational corporations, global imperialism, and neo-colonialization. From Ecuador and neighboring countries, there were well-documented presentations of how powerful foreign oil companies and mining consortia – backed by the US government, the CIA and, when necessary, the military, ruthlessly plundered the forests, the rivers, the livelihoods, the health, and the lives of indigenous populations, savaging their cultures and driving many of them to disintegration or virtual extinction.
What became distressingly clear in the two twin assemblies – of PHM and of ReAct – is that the biggest threats to the future of humanity and the ecosystems we depend on come from the current “neoliberal” capitalist system that calls for endless economic growth and puts private profit before the public good.
The big question in the PHM Assembly, of course, is what to do about this inequitable, unsustainable, and now totally globalized economic system. The need for radical change was apparent, and proposals for action were widely discussed. No one doubted that struggle for change would be an uphill battle. The concentration of wealth and power behind the dominant system is formidable. Not only does the world’s ruling class controls the social and pecking order, but to a very large extent it dictates the content of public education and the mass media, both of which are aimed more at social control than at awareness-raising or collective mobilization for change.
Most participants agreed that the momentum for radical change must come from the bottom if humanity is to advance toward “health for all” by taking effective action against global warming, escalating bacterial resistance, world hunger and other approaching manmade tsunamis. A critical mass of people must become aware of the major problems we collectively face, and concerned enough to take effective collective action. In turn, for this to happen, we need alternative “people-centered” methods of education and information sharing, which can gradually replace the current top-down systems of brainwashing and dumbing down.
With this in mind, in my presentation at the Assembly, I put a lot of emphasis on the methods of “Education for Liberation” or “Education for Change” that have been developed in Latin America and widely used in Community Based Health Care. Likewise I stressed the empowering possibilities of “Discovery-based Learning” used in the so-called “Child-to- Child” approach where school-aged children learn to help with health need in their homes and communities.
This paper I presented in Cuenca is titled “People’s struggle for health and liberation in Latin America: a historical perspective. " In the paper I give an historical overview of the key role that community-based health programs and health workers played in the grassroots mobilization of disadvantaged people in the organized action and popular resistance that led to the overthrow of oppressive regimes, and their replacement (at least temporarily) by more egalitarian leaders.
A more extensive, illustrated version of my paper – which was published as a booklet for distribution at the PHMAssembly – is available online. To read the English version, click here. For the Spanish version, click here.
The 1st International Assembly of the People’s Health Movement–Latin America in Cuenca was held jointly with the 2nd Regional Seminar of ReAct (Action on Antibiotic Resistance.) At first glance, a seminar devoted to Antibiotic Resistance may seem very specialized and extraneous to the universally holistic theme of the PHM Assembly. However, the theme of the React seminar – “Recuperate the Health of the Ecosystems in Order to Combat Bacterial Resistance” was approached by speakers in a way that tied the global escalation of bacterial resistance to antibiotics to the profit-hungry abuses of corporations. This was seen as part of the same capitalistic exploitation that triggers the transnational plundering of rainforests and corresponding genocide of indigenous peoples. The destructive activities of the powerful extraction industries,Big Pharma and Big Agro were highlighted. And the driving force behind the deadly practices of all these giant transnationals is the free-market pursuit of unbridled economic growth, regardless of the human and environmental costs.
In terms of human and environmental costs, the flagrant overuse of antibiotics – in everything from billions of prescriptions for the common cold (where antibiotics do no good and kill beneficial bacteria) to the routine inclusion of antibiotics in the feed of live-stock, to stimulate growth, [see note below] is leading to potentially genocidal levels of resistance. If the current irresponsible pattern continues, with poor governmental regulation due to the powerful lobbies of the multi-billion-dollar industries, many infectious diseases may become totally resistant even to the newest and most costly antibiotics. As a result, vast sectors of humanity may die prematurely, as was the case in times past with such horrific epidemics as the Black Plague, or measles with native Americans in the days of colonization.
David Werner’s booklet titled The People’s Struggle for Health and Liberation in Latin America, a historical perspective, October 2013, HealthWrights. English: Click here.
In Spanish: La lucha de los pueblos por su salud y liberación en America Latina: perspectiva histórica, por David Werner, published for and by The People’s Health MovementLatin America, October, 2013. Spanish, Click here.
People’s Health Movement–Latin America: (in English and Spanish) www.phmovement.org/en/node/8047
The First International Assembly of the People’s Health Movement–Latin America was held jointly in Cuenca with an international meeting of ReAct, a global initiative to combat the overuse and misuse of antibiotics. This perilous overuse, promoted by Big Pharma and the Big Livestock Industry, is causing the escalating emergence of resistant strains of bacteria. This pending global crisis may soon put humanity back into the times of mass epidemics and high mortality from infectious diseases that once again become incurable. To learn more about ReAct and its mission, see: