In Ottawa, Canada, for the first meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, Brazil’s culture minister, Gilberto Gil, made a speech that sparked keen interest among all those present and was warmly applauded.
This article summarizes a number of the points raised by Mr. Gil in his speech. You can read his thoughts in their entirety by consulting a transcription of his speech in French, English, or Spanish.
Mr. Gil began by declaring, “I am aware that we are sharing a great responsibility with the Member States of this Committee when launching the foundations and operational guidelines for the effective application of the articles of the Convention [on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions]. When signing and ratifying the convention, our countries reasserted the sovereign right to formulate and implement their own cultural policies and adopt measures to protect and promote cultural diversity. Thus, the parameters and procedures debated in this forum should not aim only to facilitate this process, they should also strengthen the cultural policies in each country.” The Brazilian minister went on to note that the meeting in Ottawa was an occasion for those present “to affirm and consolidate culture as a central axis of development, at local, regional, and global levels.”
He then said that Brazil “reaffirms the importance of creating a Cultural Diversity Fund and demonstrates its interest in allocating resources to it.” The minister said he believed nevertheless in the need to work tirelessly to find solutions that allow countries to overcome budgetary limitations. To this end, he noted that the fund “should essentially be designed in such a way as to respect each country’s autonomy and reality. It is necessary to propose multiple formulas of national contribution. And also from within the private sector, especially involving companies responsible for cultural hegemony in cultural markets.” However, Mr. Gil believes that, “ in addition to guaranteeing access to and use of this Fund, it is also necessary not to limit the Convention’s impact on the actions of the Fund itself. The fund is only one mechanism to achieve the Convention’s goals,” he explained.
According to Brazil’s culture minister, the spirit of the Convention makes us recognize that culture cannot be negotiated only according to the rules of international organizations that regulate trade and intellectual property. “The complexity of the symbolic systems and cultural expressions of a population cannot be addressed simply as trade goods,” he said. “For this purpose, we, governments and states, need to fight for parallel conventions in negotiations that occur simultaneously in other international forums. Otherwise, everything we gain with this convention may be lost in other forums if new treaties suppress cultural rights and authorize hegemony in cultural markets.”
Brazil ’s national cinema industry made up only 13% of the domestic market in 2005. Mr. Gil also noted that Brazilians only had limited access to productions from other countries, many of which have ratified the convention. Based on these observations, Minister Gil declared, “The Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions should support public policies, so together we could modify these figures, by strengthening and modifying the way cultural assets are debated in other forums.”
Moving on to deal with the convention’s benefits, Minister Gil recalled that in Brazil Section 6.2.h of the convention “has been a useful instrument, necessary for the support of new public cultural policies, such as the recent creation of an independent public TV network, something we did not have in Brazil before.” He also recognized that “the Convention has been important for strengthening the Ministry of Culture itself in Brazil. Besides restructuring our policies and instruments for diversity, cultural heritage, and the promotion and financing of culture, we recently launched a government program named “Mais Cultura” (meaning “More Culture”), which includes culture in the government’s priorities, as a fundamental right of 190 million Brazilians. This is the first time Brazil has recognized that culture is essential to fight poverty and generate full citizenship. Over US$2.5 billion will be invested by 2010, based on this new role of the state as declared by this Convention that we are working with today.”
Gilberto Gil ended on an important message: “We, in this Intergovernmental Committee, are in charge of making our agenda move forward, not allowing any backsliding. In the Brazilian perspective, facing such a challenge means translating the concept of diversity into concrete policies that put into actual practice the principles and guidelines already agreed upon and accepted by over 70 countries that have ratified the Convention. It is in view of this great responsibility that I wish all of us a fruitful work and an excellent job.”
At the end of the meeting, chair Gilbert Laurin— Canada’s ambassador to UNESCO—drew attention to Minister Gil’s work throughout all four days of the committee, which was warmly applauded. Mr. Gil’s steadfast participation is a clear indication of the importance Brazil is giving to the Convention and the role it intends to play in its implementation.