Antonio Carvallo’s interview done for the opening of Pressenza’s International meeting in June 2021. The discussion was conducted by Nelsy Lizarazo and translated simultaneously in 6 languages.
Nelsy Lizarazo is a co-director at Pressenza and Colombian, living in Quito, Ecuador. Professional background in philosophy, literature, political sciences and international relations.
Antonio Carvallo is Chilean, a professional interpreter and currently lives in Truro, UK. Trained in law at the University of Chile, he joined in 1968 the nascent Humanist Movement founded by Silo, Argentinean author and spiritual guide. In the following years he developed this movement in Peru, Venezuela, Sri Lanka, Australia and the United Kingdom. Since 1991 as secretary general of the Humanist International he traveled to Zambia to develop links with the government of Kenneth Kaunda in its transition to multi-party elections as well as to the Soviet Union in the times of Perestroika. He is the father of four children.
Nelsy: Hello Antonio
Antonio: Hello Nelsy, How are you?
Nelsy: Fine, thank you and thank you for accepting our invitation to this dialogue between friends, informal dialogue.
What we would like is to really take the opportunity to share with you your views on the current context, obviously, in a general view, because we don’t have too much time. But we think that is important for us as Pressenza, and because of our work with information. Let’s have this moment to think and comment something about our context, and we think that you can give us some comments and opinions that, for sure, are going to be so interesting.
Antonio: Well that’s very nice.
Nelsy: Let’s start. We know, all of us know that there are forces, different forces, that are influencing changes in multilateral relations and there are some forces that are stronger than others. Obviously the China and U.S. tension… conflict, that is one. But we think that is not the only one. Which are the most significant to you at this moment?
Antonio: What has given a different factor of play is COVID-19, of course, because covid-19 has created a series of phenomena without any precedent by putting at risk the lives of practically the whole population of the planet at once. It doesn’t mean that we are all going to die, but we are all exposed, and some are more exposed than others like the elderly, we have seen the bigger majority of victims amongst them, and the poor countries because they cannot afford vaccines. The terrible thing is when they get ill, they go to hospitals or centers of health attention, and there is nothing they can do for them. And Governments have been quite irregular in the way of responding to it, they try in the first place to politicize the reaction and to take advantage of it, and after that they found that it was a big flop, especially the conservatives and neoliberal governments, for example Donald Trump, for example Bolsonaro, for example Johnson, they started to say that that was a chinese thing. When China detected that they had the plague, immediately, using all the power of the organization of the state and the discipline of the Communist Party, they completely blocked the cities and every apartment, and every individual, and all that… They had the capacity to enforce a system of prevention, that really in the end, proved to be very effective, but all the others were waffling and exaggerating and saying: “Oh! those are things of the chinese”, I heard the prime minister here [United Kingdom] saying that ‘Oh, we don’t deal with problems in that manner’, in the meantime the number of victims were compound and they have a terrible record… Now they are doing, of course, royal commissions to investigate the responsibility of the governments and these types of things that get postponed on time…
The interesting thing, in my view, is that the average human being has been an expectator to this dantesque, grotesque show of inefficiency, of indifference for the lives of people, of incompetence.
Then also, we saw incredible forms of solidarity, because countries that were the less expected to be, were the ones who run in support of the the others that were most desperate, even for example, the first support that the Italians received was from Russia and from China, because nobody here in Europe was able to provide any sort of help.
Then, in the second stage, they tried to profit with the vaccines, when the vaccines started to be ready and they decided that to risk the massive use of it, they wanted to do business, so you saw the mentality of the corporations behind trying to take advantage from it.
They were very quick under the encouragement of the World Health Organization to liberate those vaccines and not to charge and to facilitate the poor countries to purchase. But still there is a huge deficit, there are countries that have not seen any vaccines at all, and in South America for example it is a big problem in Argentina, and I understand that still is a big problem in Ecuador, in Peru and in Brazil, they have started vaccinating but it is far from being enough.
And like that, it is something that multiplies with different proportions all over the world and that is unprecedented but it is creating a different dimension, not only to the base of conflict and tensions that exist between superpowers, from the economic viewpoint but also because of the perception of the public about these things, that now become much more prominent to them and people are putting pressure on the governments, although they cannot moving freely at the moment. And many governments are changing their position, so that proves that governments have no permanent policies, they are inconsistent in their reactions and they are not to be trusted.
Now the problem is still unfolding and we don’t know what is going to happen in the second act or in the third act. So it’s like a play, horrible. So in that context, of course, we have seen that on one hand, the global tensions between superpowers has reduced, because they could not threaten with wars, they couldn’t model completely out of the place the situation was very unstable internally. And we don’t know exactly what will be the result when we start to count the cost of the whole crisis and the lives of people and all the productive mechanisms that have been completely destroyed. So we don’t know really, maybe something much more horrible will appear and there is always a chance because of damage that we are causing to the environment, there is always a chance that this variety of virus could continue changing into others, perhaps more lethal and so the level of uncertainty doesn’t settle yet.
Nelsy: So, Antonio, do you think that the forces relations are changing in this context of the pandemic, do you think that is changing?
Antonio: I think, because people are believing less in the structures, in the grandiosity of the imperial power that the United States is always showing around and threatening and pretending that they have the high horse, that they are there the high moral power and with the absolute influence to determine situations. They are not, they are incompetent, they are in very intensive conflicts internally, as they have never appeared before. There are lots of people, formers of opinions and others talking of a possibility of a civil war. Trump is all the time announcing that perhaps he will be back even before what people could imagine, so I can envisage scenarios where, you can make an error that can produce a reaction, an instant reaction, because the populations are more on edge and understanding that because of the failure of governments, they have to protest directly, they have to take control of the streets and they have to manifest.
Nelsy: But on the other hand, what we can see is that, for example, the health corporations and the technology, technological corporations and all of these kinds of actors, have now more and more power, I don’t know what do you think about that?
Antonio: I think, not necessarily because those corporations can be dismantled in one minute, even now they are talking of the G7 is meeting here in England, in Cornwall, in two or three days time, and so they are going to discuss some token, measures, that they are about to agree, that of charging a tax to the biggest corporations in the world of type of Amazon or Google or people like that, they have been evading taxes, because they locate the tax offices, where it’s convenient for them and then the rest they are for free and with that tax that they are collecting, that in the beginning we were talking of 20%, now apparently they are settling in 10%, in the end will be like demonstration effect, but to me it shows that the powers, the established power, the state power is ready to take action against corporation if required, because what you are mentioning is true, at one point we will have the confrontation between the corporations, that is the underground power, the hidden power that manipulates the state, and the established government in the nation states that will have to take action because the people are furious and that could fuel conflicts that we cannot envisage, but perhaps more in the internal level of countries then international conflicts.
Nelsy: Now Antonio, let’s talk about the Global South. How do you see all this Global South? What do you think about the situation here in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa, Asia and so on? What do you think about our position in all these countries?
Antonio: I think, South America at the moment… there is a possibility that Lula will return into power next year, I mean people in Brazil, that is the most powerful country in Latin America, they are changing completely their view in terms of supporting Bolsonaro and that of course, it could rebalance the situation of power in Latin America, but on the other hand, we have the problem that all the models of government that have been tried, have been terribly incompetent and people are left behind, the populist ones, the peronistas have not been able to fit the population to create employment to give the supply, the basic human rights to people and the country is becoming… behind, behind, behind, behind, the same thing happened in Chile, those multi-millionaires concentrated all the resources of the country and we are preaching here and there that the Chilean model, I don’t know what! They had that incredible social explosion and people went to the streets in a nonviolent way and they were consistent, and they resisted the physical violence that the government exercised and in the end they prevailed.
The people prevailed and the demands basically to change the fundamental law of the country, under which the neoliberals could do whatever they wanted with the economy, like privatizing the water for example, that is a monstrosity, that constitution is going to be changed and that is something that we the Humanists, have been pushing for since the end of Pinochet government. So it’s very rewarding to us, because we were not the ones who are rewriting the constitution but the ideas that we have been preaching show how coherent they were and how correct and people finally realized that and are moving in that direction.
Then, I know that to globalize the situations of Latin America is difficult, because there are lots of particularities but what I see as a common factor is that people are becoming much more sensible to what they want.
For example, the election in Peru, that we were talking about before, what they have in common the two candidates, they are both populists. So populists come with some slogans normally to tell the people we are for you and we understand your suffering and we are going to fulfill your demands. Both with the same message. Why, because understand people are completely fed-up and people are very clear in their minds, to what they want to do. So it’s not more of a divide between right and left. It’s not that. There are the fundamental needs of the people that have to be met. I doubt that either of them has any capacity to fulfill, in the case of Peru, but the same thing happens in many countries. So it is possible that people are going to look for alternatives or directly come forward and form governments or coalitions or from groups representative of the social base, that are not the traditional political groups. It’s possible, a reorganization of the whole political spectrum.
Nelsy: And what do you think about for example Africa as a region, or a country as India?
Antonio: Africa is different, it’s a different kind of region. It is a continent that is going through a lot of very fast changes and very positive changes. At the moment they are about 1.5 billion people but it is the only country. It’s the only continent in the world that is growing at the normal speed. And they estimate that in 30 years time, they will have about two and a half billion people. And according to the African Development Bank, one of those banks of a general financial institution, but they collect data that’s more or less down to earth because they provide development loans to the countries, for the advancement in infrastructure, the levels of education of the people in general, the following of the law and order, the respect for the institutional order, that is fundamental for the country to get their act together, the levels of education, the levels of people young people in universities, etc. It’s a very positive indicator, so it seems to be a continent that found its way and is on the way forward to development.
And there is another observation aspect regarding Africa, that is for example that the European countries are not growing, the populations are not growing. I have a viewpoint, when I look at trying to understand processes. The creators of wealth are we, the human beings, not the states, not the corporations, not the government, none of that. And when you see, that the growth of the population in Europe is practically zero. If you see Germany, zero point something, something and they estimate that in 30 years time, the population will have become so old that they will not have enough hands at work, to keep all the production apparatus working even to feed the pensioners and the people that are out of work and they estimate that they will have to import from Africa about 70 million people, to take all those tasks.
I think this is an indicator, first of those positive forces in Africa, the interest that all these other guys have in Africa to succeed and to develop. They think in terms of the workforce but people capable of taking over from them, otherwise I don’t know what will happen, it will be a big crisis in old Europe with old systems of government, old institutions etc. So there is something quite special in the African example and probably, will be models that can also be taken in some perspectives by Latin America.
Nelsy: Antonio, we can see how many, I don’t know if many, but some conflicts, that are historical conflicts, continue. It seems like there are no solutions for them. What do you think about this? And which conflict do you think is the most important to solve? I know that all the conflicts are important, even enough in Africa, we have Congo basically that muslims had to suffer a colonialism horrible from Belgium, etc., yes, but we know that there are some countries that it’s like if they affect all of us or all a big region. What do you think about this ?
Antonio: I see the conflicts in the Middle-East and you know that is a very sensitive area because of the capacity to produce fuel, that has been also the point of relation between East and West and that it has been for a long time. And I think China and Russia have very solid and solidly expressed strategic interests there. And they have at this stage a very strong military and economic alliance with China, so they have the power to compensate and rebalance if it goes out of place.
Of course, they are also pushing for the settlement of the situation in Iran. At the moment it looks that they are going to sit on the table and the Americans are going back to the agreement and they say Nirvana and it’s possible to progress, it’s not so, it will be reduced the pretext and the tensions in Israel, and there is a change of government or imminent in Israel, that tonight in fact they have to vote. If the new coalition can be accepted and that will open up like a new possibility because of Netanyahu with this mentality and the Likud party that is a very obsolete, ultra-conservative. I mean they are not helping the solution of the problem, they are dragging their feet and I think there is a possibility of an opening especially the Americans starting to put pressure and there is also Russia and China, that means the Security Council of the United Nations demands enforcement of the agreement of returning lands and established the two States agreements as it has been endorsed. I mean many years back and so there is hope.
And the third conflict that I think is very urgent is the conflict in Yemen. Yemen is being fueled by the army industry of the United States and the security industry and the United Kingdom where they are partners in equal parts and they provide the weapons to Saudia Arabia and Saudia Arabia puts pilots that are trained all the time there is a big contingent of personnel providing “services”, they say from the British armed forces, the security services here and the United States and keeping the fighting ability against Yemen but that has already cost 250 000 lives of children, family, etc. So I think that conflicts need to settle and I suspect that in the growing relationship economically, etc., between Eurasia, sorry Asia and Europe that are moving into integration economically, recreating the Silk Road and they have so many contacts among them, that we are not realizing that. The number of trains with merchandise that move from China to Europe is about twenty thousand per year. They have grown fifty percent in a matter of one year, they move more merchandise and containers by land, they have four different channels across Asia and from Japan as well, so really Eurasia is becoming as it should have been for a long long time one. Gas and petroleum and oil are coming from Russia and they have now accepted the pipelines and before they were saying that the Americans were going to object, they ignored them, and then everything is working properly.
So we are in front of a new phenomenon of integration and a new rebalancing of power between the big nations, Africa is, sorry, India is caught in the middle but the needs of development of India has to be quite similar to the rest of Asian countries and in that sense India knows who his real partners are going to be and as a result of all this, what happens is that even territorially the United States and Australia are going to remain Islands, may not be It may not happen tomorrow or next week, but in the next 10, 15, 20 years that in historical terms is nothing, I think that is going to happen. And they will have to come back to the table and play like this in players they are not the imperial power anymore. They will have to integrate and see, which will be their shares and in which way, they are going to play with all the rest. So we have a multilateral system, with a balance of social forces but the big problems have to be solved, poverty and concentration of capital in the hands of few, it is obscene and that cannot be tolerated anymore.
Nelsy: Antonio, which are the forces of the future?
Antonio: I think it is the Universal Human Nation. I think that is happening de facto. I think is people are aware that they are sharing the same type of situations, this integration economically and otherwise, that I was just mentioning means that the races and cultures are going to become closer together in two generations time the children of our children will be a mix of colors and a mix of cultures and a mix of all the rest and because of the geographical integration all the other things will have to come as a result. Education will be quite homogeneous and culture will be quite homogeneous, keeping differences. It’s not going to have one feature but people will understand that the difference is also common because what we will have in common is what we are sharing as human beings. And then the perspective of attention will be placed on other types of actors and I think in that context, if the message of New Humanism can be heard properly, will represent the point of reference around which the new way of thinking of looking at this new historical moment will be integrated. And, well, that will depend on us, the onus is on us. We’ll have to make our contribution, in this new world that is coming, that is already, we can touch it, we can feel it.
Nelsy: Okay, the last question because in this context, it’s an important question. It’s about the role of science and the new horizon that it opens up. We can feel during this year how the sciences could be the must or the worst, but we think that in fact sciences are so important for our future and our new origins. What do you think about it? What do you think about the role of science and what purpose and perspective or what can we do about this?
Antonio: I agree with you, that the demands of people in terms of the fulfillment of one of the fundamental human rights that is the right to health and as we have seen it. I mean in front of our eyes during the pandemia. I will have to, will demand a reorientation, of prevention, of care and basic assistance from everywhere and for every single human being. So at least medical sciences will have to move in that direction. And then artificial intelligence is also progressing very fast and is instrumental for most processes of production but at the same time can be intentionally placed to the service of human beings, of the populations, that have been left behind that then in a very short period of time they will be able to catch up with the rest and so that is one of the things that we have to push for in different parts of the world and there is a dimension of science that is of course the one that interests the Americans and that the Russians are also doing and the Chinese as well is the conqueror of space, very quickly the big corporations the Amazons of this world etcetera are investing in there in order to sell big contracts to the American State and to the nation states. They signed those multi-million contracts that before was occupied by the production and sale of weapons, but because war is becoming a bit obsolete, in this new landscape that we can perceive and if there are no wars they will not be able to sell weapons and if they cannot sell weapons, all that established of the corporations will have no business, so they are jumping very quickly into something that nobody knows how much it can cost, that is those travels galactic, travels probably are not within the most urgent matters in the world so we have to consult the people, if for them is extremely important that the Besos or the other guy from from Tesla cars or all these, I mean are traveling to the galaxies. I mean I personally don’t care very much about the galaxies, going to the moon and coming back to the moon will take how many years would take and what are they going to do, they will take minerals from the moon and bring them here it’s a bit, it’s a gimmick it’s a bit nonsensical at this stage and given the conditions that we have to face and the real problems that we are facing.
Nelsy: Antonio thank you very much.
Antonio: We have plenty of time to go to the stars
Nelsy: Thank you very much Antonio, this dialogue is going to be so useful for us and you are invited to our meeting in Pressenza, so we will see you soon
Antonio: fantastic, well thank you very much to you.