PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil -- The World
Social Forum (WSF), a gathering of some 10,000 peasants, intellectuals, teachers
workers, and social activists of many stripes joining here to join in a fight
against "neo liberal globalization" began Wednesday with an attack on the American-led
War on Terrorism.
At an organization committee press conference a day before the official opening
ceremony Carlos Tiburcio, of the Action
for a Financial Transaction in Support of Citizens (ATTAC), told an auditorium
packed with reporters from all over the world that the war on terrorism was "an
attempt to impose a single line of thought throughout the world."
"That line of thought, one that criminalizes anyone who opposes neo liberal
globalization, will not stand," he said. "It will be shattered right here in Porto
The Forum, like the first WSF in Porto Alegre last year, is dedicated to the
proposition that, "another world is possible," and has been specifically timed
in the last two years to oppose the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting, held this
year in New York.
In opening remarks for the organizers, Maria Luisa Mendonca of the Brazilian
Social Justice Network for Human Rights said "basically the WSF is a chance to
articulate the voices of the social movement from different parts of the world
who come to Porto Alegre to exchange experiences and views and make concrete actions
and campaigns to create alternatives to the neo liberal economic model."
But the discussion quickly became specific. Organizing committee member Oded
Grajew strongly condemned the "assassination, the murder--murder of some 4,000
persons" in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but added: "That story made
headlines in all of our countries for months. But every single day 40,000 children
die, die of preventable hunger. That is 10 times the amount of people who died
in the attacks."
"Yesterday 40,000 children died of hunger around the world. Today 40,000 children
will die of hunger, preventable hunger; around the world. Tomorrow 40,000 children
around the world will die of hunger."
"There are no headlines about this. This is what we want to do here. When
this becomes news, that is the point where we will have succeeded."
Joao Pedro Stedile of the landless peasants movement said that after September
11,"The United States has exercise its military power to exploit whatever wealth
we still have left.
He said the United States was using the war as an excuse to set up a military
presence in Brazil, Columbia and other areas of the world "to suppress social
According to the organizers the WSF will draw up to 14,000 delegates from
150 countries by the time it ends on February 5. The attendees will include four
Nobel Prize winners, ministers from several Latin American countries, some cabinet
level ministers from Europe--six from France alone--2,000 peasant farmers, and
10,000 youth brigade members who will camp out in a public park provided the city
of Porto Alegre, a major sponsor of the event, along with the state of Rio Grande
do Sul. The state and city governments pride themselves on being among the most
liberal administrations in Latin America, with public participation budget systems
rare on this continent. The Porto Alegre police are allowing WSF translators to
use their dedicated emergency radio frequencies to broadcast speeches at huge
open air meetings that will be held for the delegates and all comers in the city's
Several demonstrations, including some against the WSF have been licensed,
to an average of about one large demonstration and several small ones a day.
Sergio Haddad of the Brazilian Association of Nongovernmental organizations
said the organizing committee estimated some 40 to 50,000 interested persons,
who are not registered as delegates, would come to hear the debates and crowd
the city's hotels and municipal camping ground. WSF organizers have divided the
major issues to be discussed into four categories: the creation and distribution
of wealth; access to wealth and sustainability; civil society and the public arena;
and political power and ethics in the new society. Leaders of at least 700 seminars
have booked rooms in the Pontifical Catholic University (PUC) campus and surrounding
Haddad said the volume of attendance, seminars, workshops and major meetings
had all doubled over last year's figures, and are about four times higher than
the figures expected in New York.
Semi-abandoned because of the sweltering summer holidays, PUC began filling
up with delegates and at least a thousand journalists, wearing shorts, sandals
and beards. The heat overwhelmed the power plant's efforts to cool selected areas
and delegates stripped to what little they could get away with.
The emergence of the war on terrorism as a hot topic was not a surprise. Before
the meeting began Haddad told the Earth Times that he didn't expect the meeting
to become bogged down with September 11 discussions, but "it is a fact."
"Also after September 11 there has been a growing (world) disharmony led by
the North Americans and the delegates are bound to refer to in the course of their
analyses," he said.
In an interview about the WSF last month, Strobe Talbott, a former US Assistant
Secretary of State, and now director of Yale University's Center for the Study
of Globalization, told the Earth Times, " We are moving into an era where the
great divide is between those who feel like winners in the process of globalization
and those who feel like losers. People like Osama Bin Laden play upon that."
"The perpetrators of September 11 were angry at a lot of things. One of the
things they were angry about is globalization, because they think that globalization
means infidel and non-Islamic cultures (encroaching)."
On the other hand, Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian philosopher and economist
teaching at the University of Chicago told this reporter, "The identification
of anti-globalization efforts with Bin Laden is ludicrous. They are not interested
in culture or capitalism or globalization, but rather are fighting against US
policies in the Islamic world. This is a cheap and shoddy attempt to tar a movement
expressing serious concern about a serious topic with the brush of ruthless criminals
The forum aims at no final declaration, because, as all the speakers at the
Wednesday meeting said, the idea is spark off continuing collaboration and planning.
Grajew told the sweating reporters, "we are seeking a world of peace and social
justice and the globalization of human rights. What we need is a radial change
from what the world is today."
Haddad said "no one single document can speak for all of us represented here.
This is place for debate, for plans for action. It begins here. It does not end
Copyright © 2002 The Earth Times