The Socialist International is striving to project a new image to the world as a group focused on the concerns of the third world. In the last decade, under former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt's leadership, the Socialist International has gradually shifted its attention from European problems to the challenges of third-world development.
The group, which is an association of socialist and democratic parties, officially begins its biennial congress today in this Latin American capital -- marking the first time such a meeting has occurred in the third world.
The three-day meeting has attracted delegates from all parts of the developing world, including Nicaraguans and representatives of liberation movements in Latin America and Africa. European delegates are in a minority.
The congress is expected to express strong support for liberation movements ranging from Chile to South Africa. According to interviews with delegates and documents prepared for the congress, the organization will also endorse Peruvian President Alan Garc'ia P'erez's decision to pay no more than 10 percent of exports earnings in foreign-debt service as well as repeat its condemnation of United States intervention in Nicaragua.
The organization largely ignored the third world for more than the first hundred years of its existence. Founded by Karl Marx in 1864, the Socialist International disintegrated at the time of World War I, was reorganized and then destroyed again by World War II, and was revived once more in 1951.
The organization now represents 75 parties and organizations worldwide with a membership of more than 20 million. Headquartered in London, it has no real power as an independent organization, but it reflects important political attitudes in the world's democracies. The heads of government expected in Lima include Prime Ministers Bettino Craxi of Italy, Gro Harlem Brundtland of Norway, Shimon Peres of Israel.
Guillermo Ungo, head of the political wing of El Salvador's guerrilla insurgency and a Socialist International vice president, says that the organization has not fully converted into a non-European organization. However, he adds, it is quickly changing in that direction.
Mr. Ungo says Europeans, although allied with the US, also support Latin Americans' desire for nonalignment as a way to prevent polarization between the superpowers in world affairs.
The Socialist International's focus on third-world issues has also lead to added support for insurgency movements. Sources indicate that the congress will express support for suchmovements in Latin America and elsewhere.
The group's attitude on the subject was altered by the Chilean experience -- where the democratically elected Marxist government of Salvador Allende Gossens was overthrown in a bloody 1973 military coup supported by the US. After the fall of the Allende government, the Socialist International began to give official support to leftist insurrection.
The end of the Socialist International's Eurocentrism was not altogether without self-interest. Hans-Eberhard Dingels, international secretary of the West German Social Democratic Party, says, ``We think that social and political progress in the third world is a very important to d'etente, because unrest and uproar in the third world contributes to polarize nations and to create warlike situations.''