The deformations in the North-South relationship. "Development aid is a lying concept"

The deformations in the North-South relationship.

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By Sergio Ferrari

Interview with Dr. Francesco “Franco” Cavalli. Socialist parliamentarian; President of the International Union Against Cancer (UICC); one of the most prestigious oncologists worldwide; Dr. Francesco “Franco” Cavalli is also a leading player in Swiss cooperation.

Socialist parliamentarian; President of the International Union Against Cancer (UICC); one of the most prestigious oncologists worldwide; Dr. Francesco “Franco” Cavalli is also a leading player in Swiss cooperation. Since the 1980s, it has made international solidarity one of its favorite spaces for daily militancy. Not only out of political conviction but also out of ethical commitment. His analytical and critical reflection enriches the substantive debate. "More than development aid, we must promote solidarity cooperation", emphasizes Cavalli in this exclusive interview.

Q: What is the reality of cooperation with the South in Switzerland today?

A: We are facing a very difficult situation in this area. On the one hand, the conservative sectors (the right) seek to reduce the budget. And for this, today, they do not resort to highly elaborate ideological discourses but to technical premises. They rely on the thesis that the State must save because otherwise it will not work anymore. In that sense, in recent years, they have passed various savings measures before the people. They have at the moment the easy game.
As for the most advanced sectors of society and the political class, what we normally call the left, they have a much warmer discourse than twenty years ago. And it focuses on a humanistic rhetoric, of aid to refugees, of solidarity with human beings in the face of catastrophes. But reflection is hardly ever deepened. And in that sense, this "humanitarian" discourse is insufficient today to create a bad conscience for the right wing. And it is not said, for example, that the refugees are here, fundamentally, due to a global economic polarization, to an undignified and growing overexploitation and inequality between rich and poor. Nor is it clearly said that the situation in the world today is the result of the responsibility of those powerful in the indiscriminate exploitation of countries of the South and impoverished peoples. So, progressive rhetoric is limited to a discourse of help, almost religious, which makes life easier for the right wing.

Q: Vision that argues that the cooperation budget must be reduced to respond to the internal Swiss problems, that is to say, of the North ...

A: As is! I insist, it is also the result of a deficit in Swiss progressive thought that censor itself and reduces its underlying political arguments.

A truly supportive cooperation

Q: It seems that the current issue of unbridled immigration to Europe is closely linked to the North-South relationship. Are foreigners in Switzerland, in Europe, (in the North) and foreign cooperation a unique problem?

A: Yes, the two themes are closely linked. In the sense that if all the nations of the planet had the same degree of development as Western Europe, there would be practically no refugees or immigrants or there would be them on a much smaller scale. Without a doubt, and I do not deny it, a significant part of the current applicants belong to the category of economic refugees. But that's not new. When Switzerland was very poor, there was a huge emigration. It is important to link the two things: poverty and emigration. Sometimes you have a lukewarm speech because there is little depth in the reflection on the world economic situation. We do not really ask ourselves: why does underdevelopment exist; Why does the North take advantage of the South so much?
And from there, from this void of critical thinking, one makes the mistake of talking about “development aid”. As if the situation, for example, in Latin America today was that of Switzerland 200 years ago. Today we hear people say: “we Swiss were poor and we developed and today we are doing well. It implies that if we give other countries a little help for development, they will also advance ”. It is a total fallacy. We were able to develop because no one prevented us. But impoverished countries today live in a globalized world and the main cause of their underdevelopment is the unjust laws of existing economic exchange and international economic agreements that benefit rich countries to the detriment of the others, who constitute the vast majority.

Q: So development aid is fake?

A: The concept is false. I do not question the notion of help. We have to continue cooperating and showing solidarity. Without this small contribution, surely the people of those countries would be even worse off. But what we cannot say is that this aid will lead to development. The philosophy behind the concept of "development aid" is wrong. Above all, we must promote the political change of the international rules of the game!

Q: What kind of cooperation, then?

A: A partnership in solidarity to sustain these countries and develop their civil societies. And at the same time, try to create the basis for solving planetary structural problems. Without forgetting, by the way, that with this cooperation we must promote awareness here, in Switzerland, in the North.
And since the "traditional left" no longer has that capacity for critical analysis, we can and must promote a progressive consciousness in the North, based on the experience and testimony of volunteers, aid workers, solidarity actors, who go to countries from the South to collaborate, to work. Those who lived in their own skin the daily dynamics, and who can promote a coherent discourse of solidarity cooperation here. And that they can testify in a practical way, so that everyone understands, left, right, center ... And thus, here, give the correct version of the facts.

Q: And what kind of counterparts in that desired horizontal relationship?

A: Cooperate so that the actors of the South develop their progressive, creative, innovative potential in favor of a structural change. And the reality of these counterparts will come to us through the solidarity aid workers who come and go. And they see "in situ" as underdevelopment is not the consequence of a natural law or a divine curse. But the result of several factors: of the exploitation of the rich countries over the poor; of the malformation of the socio-economic structure in the South and, also, of the "bad" development of the North, for example with its consumer excess.

make difference

Q: That is, to reinforce the most dynamic actors ...

A: Yes. That should always question us. A concrete example of our work as AMCA (Associazione di Aiuto Medico al Centro America) in Managua, Nicaragua, where we support, among other initiatives, the “Barrilete de Colores” school. It is located in a marginal neighborhood of the capital where there are former Sandinista combatants and former “contras” and receives children between two months and 13 years old. But we have just posed the basic question: what difference is there between what we do and what the schools of the Catholic Church do? We solve the educational problem of 300 children - which is important - but in itself, our school is totally far from the "unique" reality. The Ministry of Education does not know it. We have not been able to make this experience mature the conscience of other teachers outside of our school; we do not ensure that students come out with specific differences in their training with respect to other students in other educational centers ... It would be good, for example, to introduce the study of progressive mathematics, which makes children really think. And other important innovations so that the difference is noticed and the multiplier effect of our presence is a fact. We must change, otherwise this initiative does not make much sense.
Cooperation in solidarity must help to strengthen civil society to build an alternative to the conservative, neoliberal, oligarchic system in force.
In addition, the Swiss teachers who are going to collaborate in the South, when they return here, have perfectly understood what underdevelopment is. That is not only not having to eat but also not having an education that allows people to fight for their rights.

Q: There is something that appears in all your reflection: the human, interpersonal multiplier effect, as a factor that makes a difference. So you understand it?
A: Yes. It is key. In the case of some educational or health projects, additionally, personnel - teachers, doctors - from other southern countries can be supported to get there. South-South cooperation, with the support of the North, as a facilitator. How to mobilize a teacher from Argentina or Uruguay to Nicaragua or El Salvador without external support?

Q: But do you always talk about the exchange of people… of a cooperation of flesh and blood?
A: Indeed. I think there is nothing that can replace direct experience. You can read books, get informed, but nothing replaces living the daily life of another reality. Especially in this globalized world where, as I said before, there is a targeted news bombardment that misinforms or confuses and, additionally, where there is little mature political reflection.

The two hands of the aid worker

Q: In this scheme, do two essential components appear in the profile of the aid worker: the technical contribution and their socio-cultural sensitivity?

A: In general, in the medical projects that we promote as AMCA, we see the need to integrate both factors. People who provide knowledge and at the same time adapt that knowledge to the local reality. In a continuous process of adapting, of learning to know reality. And this means a huge contribution, too, from the South to the North.
To carry out all this exercise, a good choice of the candidate who is going to leave is essential. And in that sense, with the passage of time we have become more selective in the choice. To have people who can really mature in an experience in the South and are not going to be paralyzed by cultural change and reject everything arguing that nothing can be changed ...

Q: On the other hand, experience indicates that the Southern counterparts are much more demanding today than 20 or 30 years ago in terms of the profile of the aid worker they need ...

A: Indeed.

Q: I was talking about the contribution of awareness in Switzerland and in Europe of solidarity cooperation. And at the same time of the importance of South-South exchange. To what extent can this exchange that does not involve Northern actors also have an impact on information and awareness here?

A: There are different levels. On the one hand, this South-South can be very important for training. There are, for example, in the medical area, schools or even higher-level universities in Mexico City or Havana than in Paris or New York.
On the other hand, the South-South exchange also contributes to the NGOs and associations of the North. And it is then these that multiply the experiences in civil society. It is our experience with AMCA or with mediCuba. This exchange serves to accumulate life experiences that always end up multiplying. In the multiplication action, solidarity cooperation constitutes a significant contribution from the South for the development of the conscience of the North.

* UNITE press collaboration
Swiss NGO platform for solidarity cooperation

The profile of the north-south "volunteer" for 2020

With such a changing and mutating planetary reality, what will be the real challenge of solidarity cooperation in 15 years? Question addressed to Dr. Cavalli with a very specific specificity: what type of aid worker / volunteer for 2020?
“The starting point will always be the will of the individual who wants to leave to collaborate, help, support others, in this case, the population of the South. But seeing the prevailing trends, I am especially concerned about the information / training aspect of the 2020 volunteer. I note that newspapers are less and less read, information explodes on the Internet and it is difficult for a young person to choose what is essential. The youth appear every day more disoriented in front of the political options to take. Twenty or thirty years ago, concepts such as Non-Aligned, Third World, liberation struggles, internationalist solidarity were heard on a daily basis ... All this today is much less visible. And in that sense, the task of the NGOs and associations that promote solidarity cooperation is going to be more and more demanding and essential. Train young people. Accompany them and help them understand what the "Third World" is and what they are going to. Explain that it is not a matter of rushing. That you have to calmly mature before taking the big leap. So that the meaning of your decision is really understood.

Returning to the profile of the cooper-actor of 2020, I would synthesize it as follows: a being sensitive to others; informed; with much of “counter-current”, that is to say against the dominant tendencies and the misinformation; committed; and who is willing to understand the true causes of "underdevelopment" (Sergio Ferrari)

Video: OECD Official Development Assistance ODA Statistics: Introducing the grant equivalent (June 2022).


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  2. Tawnya

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  3. Fenrikree

    Don't understand everyone.

  4. Sonny

    can we fill the gap?

  5. Tarek

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