Published on Saturday, January 25, 2003 by the Associated Press
Globalization Foes Welcome Brazil Leader Like a Rock Star
by Alan Clendenning
PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil Anti-globalization protesters greeted Brazil's new leftist president like a rock star at the World Social Forum on Friday, cheering the one-time revolutionary as one of their own.
"I want to tell the world 'What a wonderful world it would be if instead of spending money on arms and war, the rich world would spend its money on buying food," the recently elected president said to thunderous applause.
Activists waving bright red flags chanted "Lula! Lula!" as Silva is popularly known.
Silva, who was inaugurated on Jan. 1, earlier had breakfast with the socialist mayor of Porto Alegre, talked with forum organizers and held an afternoon meeting with former Portuguese President Mario Soares, founder of Portugal's socialist party.
Soares said Silva, who has made fighting hunger in Brazil his top priority, is "real proof that there can be social participation in government."
Hundreds of Brazilians and foreigners attending the six-day forum chanted "Lula! Our President!" when Silva visited Porto Alegre's state government palace earlier Friday.
Some 100,000 activists are attending more than 1,700 sessions and workshops on topics ranging from corporate misdeeds to Third World debt as a counterpoint to the World Economic Forum being held simultaneously in Switzerland.
Silva spoke on the same stage where Brazilian pop stars like Jorge Ben Jor are putting on shows at the end of each day of the forum.
"There's never been a president of Brazil who's been a laborer," said Emilio Penna, a 26-year-old Uruguayan university student. "Politics have always been in the hands of the rich."
Silva also defended his decision to travel to the Swiss alpine resort on Saturday to join the meetings of government and business leaders that are the focus of the protests in Brazil.
"Many people in Davos don't like me and don't want to meet me," he said. "I want to make a point of going to Davos and saying to them that it is not possible to have an economic model where a few people eat five times a day and many people go five days without eating."
In an indirect reference to a possible U.S.-led war against Iraq, Silva told forum organizers he is against war to resolve international conflicts, according to foreign relations adviser Marco Aurelio Garcia.
Later, in his speech, he said it makes no sense for countries to spend billions of dollars on war while millions of children don't get enough to eat. And without naming the United States, he criticized the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba.
Crowds mobbed the smiling president when he arrived in a motorcade at his hotel late Thursday night. Frustrating his security detail, the former union leader spent 10 chaotic minutes shaking hands and hugging admirers outside the hotel and inside its lobby.
Some activists were critical that Silva was going to mingle with the rich and powerful in Davos, but others conceded it's only natural that he would attend both events now that he's president of the country with the planet's fifth-largest population and 12th-biggest economy.
"He is a symbol of new hopes that a poor country can solve its problems," said Brazilian electronics salesman Eduardo Martins da Costa, 34. "And he has to speak more rationally now, not with as much radicalism like he did before."
© 2003The Associated Press