it is the same all around

Strollers will fill the prosperous-looking Larcomar Mall in Miraflores, the wealth district of Lima, Peru, this coming Sunday as they always do.

Strollers will fill the prosperous-looking Larcomar Mall in Miraflores, the wealth district of Lima, Peru, this coming Sunday as they always do.

In the controlled comfort there, they will seem a world away from folk just a few kilometres south clustered around a dusty field watching a soccer game in Villa El Salvador, one of the largest squatter settlements in this sprawling city of eight million plus.

On Sunday, though, they will all have something to share. They will be going to the polls.

The election of either of the two frontrunners, former president Alan Garcia or the populist Ollanta Humala, will signal a continued Latin American swing away from the free-trade, open-market ideology that has dominated economic theory on our planet for a generation now.

Both men put a priority on reducing the gross inequities afflicting their land. Both men see the energy and mining sectors that have fuelled steady economic growth in Peru as a source of increased revenue for their government.

Increased investment in and exploitation of Peru’s natural resources has not increased equality of either income or opportunity for the vast majority.

Both men pledge to change that.

Humala wants to follow in Hugo Chavez’s Venezuelan footsteps and increase direct national ownership of these extractive industries.

Garcia feels he can talk the multinationals into agreeing to increased royalty regimes. One will likely be given the opportunity to try his ideas very soon.

Tuesday, June 6th marks the first, national Hunger Awareness day in Canada.

Initially conceived by Second Harvest, the food bank association in the USA, as a way to raise awareness about the “solvable problem of hunger” there, it has been taken up now by the Canadian Association of Food Banks (www.hungerawarenessday.ca.)

Both these movements see the problem of poverty as structurally rooted in our economic and political systems. Though the tenor of the rhetoric may be different from Peru’s, both analyses share many of the same points.

Deep persistent poverty touches all corners of North America.

The Canadian Association of Food Bank’s (CAFB) argues in a press release that “diverse and inter-related factors have sustained this situation: a labour market that fails to provide enough jobs with stable, livable wages; a rise in precarious and non-standard employment; a fraying income security system that does not provide sufficient financial support for those in need; a lack of affordable social housing; and accessible and affordable child care.”

According to a study, more than 800,000 Canadians used food banks in March of 2005, 40 per cent of the users were children.

“(W)hile children are born equal, they do not all have the same opportunities to flourish,” notes governor general Michelle Jean in the CAFB release. “This is true for children here as it is for children in the Third World…. We must not tolerate such disparities.”

But it seems we do tolerate them.

Why?

The democracy we know is coming under increasing critical scrutiny for its inability to confront deeply rooted problems such as these socio-economic ones.

“What are we talking about when we are speaking of democracy? Is it “vote, shut up and watch TV,” reflects Pedro Casaldáliga, a Roman Catholic bishop from Mato Grosso, Brazil, writing for the 2007 Latin American Agenda.

“It isn’t economic democracy or social democracy or ethno-cultural democracy. It isn’t participatory democracy.”

Just what is it?

“We will not accept a democracy of privilege,” Bishop Casaldáliga argues, “a First World only democracy; still less an imperial democracy “at the point of a gun.”

Casaldáliga offers hope.

“By thinking freely, critically, self discerningly and acting accordingly we will be giving credibility to our conviction that “Another democracy is possible.”

Yukoners interested in electoral reform will be invited on Tuesday, June 6th to hear Professor Graham White, a political scientist from the University of Toronto, talk about his research on this subject.

Watch for announcements of the Whitehorse location for his lecture.