Goodbye Latin America!
It is extraordinarily sad to conclude this, but if the proposed budget cut from the Norwegian government is approved in the Storting (legislative assembly), it is “goodbye Latin America”. Not only that - it is "goodbye Norway" as a country that seeks to balance its participation in global capitalism, wars and global warming, by also supporting policies, political forces and voices that seek to improve distribution of resources, mitigate climate changes and promote peace.
Norwegian aid Budget for Latin America 2008-2016
The Aid Cut and Impact on Latin America
In the amendment to the Norwegian national budget to account for expenses related to the surge in inflow of refugees, the government proposes to cover the costs by increasing the use of the petroleum fund (by 1.2 billion), reducing tax relief by 1.8 billion (while maintaining most of it) and by cutting 4.2 billion kroner from the aid budget. It will not be cut at random: While support for the Norwegian investment fund Norfund as well as the transfers to the World Bank and the Regional development banks are maintained, contributions to civil society organizations are cut by 65 percent, most UN organizations get severe cuts, as does aid to human rights, democracy and peace and reconciliation. However, while these sectors are cut, aid to Latin America is all but eliminated with a reduction of 79 percent compared to 2015 after then already having been cut by 36 percent compared to 2014. That means that my prognosis from last year that aid from Norway to Latin America would reach zero before the end of the current government will fail: we will reach zero next year. Indeed, it is likely that the whole item “Latin America” will be eliminated from the budget as it normally does not include such tiny items. Its proposed level is 30 million kroner which equals the money set off for the personal salary (appanage) of the royal family and its travels abroad. So much for global justice.
Bye, bye Human rights, Peace, Democracy and Indigenous Groups
The aid channeled to Latin America was already quite marginal, and after recent cuts it has mainly been focused on human rights, democracy and indigenous peoples (in addition to the bilateral funding for Haiti and Nicaragua, of which the latter was already destined for being eliminated), in line with the policies sketched by the same government when it entered power in 2013. It means funding for the Inter-American Court of Justice, organizations of indigenous peoples, a few kroner for prevention of violence among youth in the world’s most violent region, funding for the recently hugely successful Commision Against Corruption and Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) etc. This may all be history. If the cuts had come three years ago it is also highly unlikely that Norway could have played the important role in the peaceprocess in Colombia as it does today.
Dramatic Cut in Funding for Research
Not only is aid to Latin America hit hard, so will funding for research related to Latin America be. The funds that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs contributes to the Research Council of Norway are proposed cut by 45 million compared to the original proposal for 2016, to 78 million. Especially targeted is research related to China, India and Latin America. The Latin America program of the Research council was already subject to cuts before this last amendment, but this means not only that future calls will be stopped, but also that ongoing projects with approved funding may be stopped. That is something I have never experienced during my quite some years in Norwegian academia.
The world can clearly live without a few additional research papers. It is not a human right to get governmental funding to study in Latin America or with Latin Americans. But this may mean the end of a major endeavor to connect with researchers in areas outside the United States and Europe, so crucial to Norway’s own strategies towards an increasingly convulsive world. In spite of never having received huge funding, the effort to strengthen Latin America research since 2008 has resulted in significant and visible networks between Norwegian and Latin American research communities, and many, many highly visible publications and events of significant impact. Many of the researchers cooperate closely with ministries, business, NGOs and other instances to facilitate also their endeavors in the region, as most recently with the upcoming visit of H.M Crown prince Haakon to Brazil.
Of course there is a benefit in cutting research and over time perhaps the connections established to communities of researchers as well as social organizations: Latin America will be even more forgotten in the Norwegian media and public conscience. That will mean that next year, perhaps, Latin America can be eliminated altogether from the budget without anyone noticing.
The Organized Community of Dreamers on the Move
This is clearly a time to show solidarity with the refugees coming from Syria, Afghanistan, and other countries near the Middle East and North Africa. But we cannot accept that we leave it to other groups in need in Africa, Latin America and Asia to bear the burden of solidarity instead of ourselves. I have had the privilege of following Rafto Price winner Padre Melo at different events in Bergen and Oslo this weekend related to the award. He emphasized the need to establish an Organized Communities of Dreamers on the Move (Comunidades Organizadas de Soñadores en Movimiento). We can call it COSMO which would be its abbreviation in Spanish. I have already signed up and my first dream is that this budget is not approved by our Storting.