CAROLINA COSSE, MAYOR OF MONTEVIDEO AND CURRENT PRESIDENT OF UNITED CITIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS (UCLG)
Why is it important for cities to talk about the future?
It is very important that cities organically come together. In general, I think that the problems one mayor faces might be similar to what their other colleagues face. This happened to me when I talked to mayors from diverse places like the United States, Europe, Africa, and Latin America. This shows that we are all in the same place at the end of the day. So, there is an issue of proximity that the work imposes on us, and there is an issue of responding to the needs of the grouping of people. It is very important that cities have many areas where we can share experiences, collaborate and be productive.
UCLG adopted the Pact for the Future of Humanity in October last year. It is the first time the organisation has presented itself as a feminist organisation. And in this collective of which you spoke, what value would we place on feminisms for a Pact for the Future for Humanity?
Feminisms are the world’s hope, and I recommend reading this Pact. You must read it because it is not a very long document but is deep, dense, and well done. It has three main axes around a core, which is care, which is deployed in three main areas: caring for people, caring for the planet, and caring for democracy.
You mentioned now that feminisms are hope, and we read that you also said cities are continents of hope. But is there hope? If yes, what do cities contribute to this collective hope?
Yes, there is hope. And to find it, you don’t have to look far away, you have to look close to you, very close. We are talking about politics, and those of us who are part of it, who exercise collective responsibilities, we are obliged to follow a course in honour of the sacrifice that everyone else makes every day of life, which is very hard. This is what we are part of. There is hope, and we have to give it a place.
What do you imagine these cities of the future to be like for the people you serve?
The city I would want is a city where you can always find your place. There is a place for you in the city of the future. There is no hunger. There is no cold. There are many meetings, there are discussions, and there is a commitment to life.
If we were to do an exercise where we could transport you forward in time to the future and we could talk to future generations, what would you tell them?
I would ask them what I should have done differently.
What would the international-national system of the future have to look like in order to facilitate this very special city that you mention?
Courageously frank, honest and people driven. I sometimes feel that, in the collective imagination of human beings, governments rule, and in reality, governments have to be ruled. That would be a sound democracy.
How do you imagine a future United Nations that can respond to this? Maybe it doesn’t have to be just countries.
Maybe not. It would have to be countries, cities, civil society, and everybody.
What does it mean to bring people to the centre and put them at the centre of deciding the global? And how do we make the international discussion relevant for people?
I think what we have to think about is that people become interested in politics, people become interested in the issues of reality, and that is why social, feminist, workers’, professional and neighbourhood organisations are working more and more, and that is very good because organised people are always better than isolated people.
Things that the political system must do is to be brave and give space to young people. Be braver and listen to the older people in society, not the older people in the political system, whom I love very much. But the older people in society, who have been there for a lifetime and who learned during the pandemic how we need each other. We all have to make an effort, politics has to open up much more to take a bath of humility every day, and society has to start asking itself: is politics really that bad?
And if organised society is better than isolated society, is organised local government better than disorganised local government?
Absolutely. Yes, of course. It all leads us to UCLG.
What can be done to change our relationship with the planet, and how do we imagine our new relationship with the planet?
Well, maybe that’s where we’re missing layers of information. There is a world there that we don’t know about that we participate in, yes, but it’s like the tip of an iceberg where we participate. Underneath is a whole other world managed by, I don’t know, 200 people, half a million, a million. That’s why politics is so important, because the more we get involved in the decision-making loop, maybe those who are running the world have a little problem and can start to listen a little bit more.
What is the value of public services in restoring faith in politics and those who govern it?
I am fortunate because my country has historically valued the public sector since its beginning, I would say, and fundamentally from the first half of the 20th century onwards. The electricity company is public; the water company is public, owned by the State. When everybody was selling their public companies, Uruguay had a plebiscite and decided not to sell them. My children went to the same public school I went to. I was educated at a public university.
Now, as mayor, I am fortunate to discover the marvellous potential of public spaces, which all human beings revisited during the pandemic and started to value them more again. The public space that is not yours is not mine and yet belongs to everyone. And this cannot be confused with “it belongs to no one” because if it does not belong to anyone, I do not take care of it. It belongs to everyone; I have to look after it because tomorrow, someone else will come along and sit in the same place as me. We, mayors, should take care of it in that sense.
What do you think should be the roadmap for bringing the commons into the discussion of the future?
The products that the commons provide are the material basis for building any future. Telecommunications, water, energy, culture, public space? Without these it is very difficult to build a future.
In the complex international system, we are in, what will it be like to lead a purely global organisation from your position?
For me, it is a huge challenge. Nothing starts with you. UCLG does not start with you. It is an organisation that is already many years old. It is a long-lived organisation with a great team that manages it well. Without getting into the complication of international politics, it is right to be an example, with the defence of peace, of democracy. The Pact says democracy. We are not indifferent to whether a regime is democratic or not.
I don’t know what party or orientation the mayors with me are from, nor do I care. What we have in common is our dayto-day work and that, at the end of the day, we have very similar problems and similar, if not the same, experiences.