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Returning to the spirit of "real" solidarity"

Manuel Tapial
Manuel Tapial

Manuel Tapial

In recent years, we have become accustomed to hearing about large-scale international co-operation agencies, attached to state and regional governments, which help the civil population every time we see a catastrophe on the television. These interventions are always or nearly always undertaken by people who graduate from a master's degree course in international cooperation or something similar; they are the so-called third sector professionals. These agencies, like the concept of NGOs as we know it today, are relatively new. They were established in the 1990s and have a legal status that covers this type of organisation, which in my opinion aim to neutralise the international solidarity movements that emerged as part of the revolutionary processes in Latin America and which were firmly based on militancy.

Those of us who are selflessly involved in the solidarity field, with small projects based on good intentions, cannot ignore this type of cooperation, which we view from a critical perspective. We have recently seen how the aid workers and agencies mentioned above accompany our soldiers on military missions to Afghanistan and Lebanon. These companies undoubtedly lead to many of us asking about the real objectives of the projects that they aim to implement in these places, and whether they meet the native population's objective needs.

Many campaigns that have emerged from the indigenous populations require our attention, but very few of them receive it in our own countries.

It is not unusual, for example, to travel to Palestine and find growing suspicion among the population, which has repeatedly asked the countries sending aid to work to change their governments' policies towards the occupying country, Israel. A good example of this is the initiative by dozens of Palestinian NGOs in 2005, which called on organisations all over the world to join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction campaign against Israel, which nonetheless is not part of the humanitarian arena, and has been joined actively by very few NGOs. However, the campaign has been joined by universities, renowned artists and trade unions, among other institutions, and has even led to Israel considering a law that punishes all NGOs working with the campaign with the dissolution of the organisations and imprisonment of its members, as a reprisal against a tide that is rising all around the world every day.

Another example is the demands by the population of Gaza for an end to the blockade by all means possible, which has led to various fleets setting out from Europe to that end. None of the major NGOs has joined the initiative, but some individuals have done so on their own behalf or representing small organisations.

These initiatives, which emerged from the population that receives our cooperation, are proposals that generally make our governments uncomfortable, and it appears they have the same effect on major humanitarian NGOs. These proposals are generally supported by the most politically committed sectors that understand the dimensions of the crisis, and which aim to attack the roots of the conflicts; which in the Palestinian case is the occupation.

It is necessary to take a look at our more recent history in order to understand that these initiatives are not new and neither is the solidarity that they inspire among us.

By way of an example, in the 1980s there were hundreds of groups offering solidarity with the revolutions in Latin America, which organised solidarity brigades every year. The brigades generally consisted of doctors who were very politically and socially committed, who took the decision to travel to the front line to treat injured comrades. Likewise, the teachers who participated in these brigades also played a leading role in bringing literacy to rural settlements. These brigades answered the call from revolutionary groups that were involved in a dogged battle against neoliberal ideas from the USA, which would subsequently triumph after the social collapse that accompanied the counterrevolution. At that time, it was impossible to make a distinction between an "aid worker" and an "activist." The two categories came together as part of a political commitment that sought social justice, and above all in the spirit of comradeship with those receiving the solidarity that enabled them to share under equal conditions, without the paternalist aspect that appears to dominate the aid industry today.

Today, the powers that be have made sure of the distinction between the two categories - between good and bad - in a very basic way. They have deliberately created a difference in order to silence social and political dissent and its democratic right to demonstrate against what it considers to be the injustices in which our governments are complicit.

Recent events in the waters pf the Mediterranean, the attack by Israel on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, are all part of a resurgence of the social and political commitment that predates the professionalisation of solidarity by a very long time.

The opportunity presented by the new technologies, the understanding of other ways of life and respect for them, and above all, effective coordination of a basic level of action between various organisations in Europe has enabled people from all over the world to take part in projects that are backed by international law which highlight the Palestinian conflict and the real nature of it. It is no exaggeration to say that the globalisation of solidarity has shown that thanks to something as old as good intentions and ideological determination, it is possible to change the political conditions in the world's most turbulent regions, in order to combat injustice and the dominant ideologies that sustain it.