Tuesday, 8 November 2016

THE ‘GOA DECLARATIONS’, FROM CHOGM TO BRICS



There was a sense of déjà vu around the Eighth BRICS summit. In fact, the more one thinks about how the BRICS summit was organized, and how international cooperation in trade and diplomacy was discussed, one is struck by the similarities with the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meet (CHOGM) which though held in New Delhi in 1983, featured Goa as the site of a retreat for all the visiting dignitaries.

Both BRICS 2016 and CHOGM 1983 issued ‘Goa Declarations’. Both these documents can be compared to see how similar or different they are. These declarations contained summaries of the political, diplomatic, and economic challenges ahead of member nations, and how these member-nations would cooperate with each other in the future for a peaceful world. While the declarations made from Goa may have been concerned largely with international cooperation, there seems to be hardly any long-term benefits for Goa. Goa seems to be only a location to strike deals.

These summits are touted to be economically important. In fact, such summits seem to have a contrary effect on the economies of the participating nations. Probably because the economic vision embedded in the ‘Goa Declarations’ are centered on ‘development’, rather than the people.  Take for instance the economic history of Goa post-CHOGM 1983, which ushered in a wave of rapid urbanization along the coast – an area that is both ecologically sensitive and home to communities with traditional livelihoods. Development according to the CHOGM model would mean to bulldoze much of this with little consideration for the people already existing there. CHOGM 1983 and BRICS 2016 provided similar solutions of pumping massive investments through mega-projects in order to rectify the global economic crises. We in Goa do not need to be told the destruction that mega-projects bring to our land and ecology.

A few years after the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Pierre Trudeau, and Robert Mugabe holidayed in Goa, the Goa government formulated a Master Plan for tourism in keeping with the then Central government’s policy on tourism development. Tourism, under this scheme, was conceptualized as benefiting all; one that would modernize Goan society. However this Master Plan was one that precisely promoted the massive mega-projects, and hence the déjà vu hits one hard in the face when the Chief of Protocol, Ministry of External Affairs explained that Goa provided the apt setting for BRICS 2016 because it is “vibrant, cosmopolitan… [and] always been welcoming visitors”.

While CHOGM 1983 can be said to have initiated this massive and unchecked tourism development, BRICS 2016 seems to only build up on the ‘development’ of CHOGM 1983; adding, no doubt, to the activities of such bodies like the Investment Promotion Board in promoting mega-projects. The infrastructure for BRICS 2016 already existed due to the economic model espoused by CHOGM 1983. While CHOGM 1983 created Goa as a location of luxury tourism consumption, BRICS 2016 sustains such luxury consumption. This is precisely the neo-liberal economic agenda that Goans need to be guarded against.

Part of the neo-liberal agenda of CHOGM 1983 was to discard “protectionism” and allow for the domestic markets of member countries to be opened up to foreign manufactures in order to fix the global economy. In turn, while noting that the global economy as it stands today needs recovery BRICS 2016 indicated its support to the policies of the World Trade Organization, in effect, to foster trade by further opening the domestic markets. This would mean, then as now, that small and cottage industries would not get any special protection should a multi-national company market similar goods. While big industrialists and businessmen may delight over the benefits of such summits, common people would obviously be less enthusiastic, given that these benefits rarely trickle down.

More tourism would also mean the indiscriminate destruction of land. While CHOGM 1983 saw the acquisition of new land for roads and hotels, BRICS 2016 did not witness any such new land acquisition, although there were protests about suspicious-looking land usage proposals. There was, one thinks, no more land along the coast to acquire for new hotel resorts, being as it is over saturated with starred hotels. This process of land acquisition has never been a happy one for subjects of the Indian state, Goans included. For instance, during CHOGM 1983, we have reports available of two elderly ladies, Josephine Lobo, and Preciosa Menezes (then aged 73 and 75 respectively) who fought against the takeover of their land for the expansion of a starred hotel. The septuagenarians were not the only ones to have opposed the ‘development’ during CHOGM 1983, with other CHOGM-related projects, too, coming under protests.

In fact it can be said that collaborations such as BRICS will accentuate this form of tourism, despite the use of such terms like “sustainable development” in their economic vision. One can see that the ‘development’ that BRICS-like summits tend to promote also tend to acquire land – first were the coastal areas, now it seems to be moving to the hinterland; to the plateaus of Betul, Mopa, and more recently Loliem. The ‘development’ that BRICS espouses ultimately needs land, and in a place where land is scare this can only mean disaster.

For these reasons – and particularly due to the fact that not much has changed for the good from CHOGM 1983 – Goans must be clear that summits like BRICS and CHOGM are wasteful and have only suspicious returns to those who host them. And when they are over, the hosts (or the people of Goa) are the ones who are left to clean up the mess.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 9 November, 2016)

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