PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil - The exclusive mountain resort of Davos, Switzerland has brought together a few select rulers -- both economic and political -- for a World Economic Forum on "Taking Responsibility for Tough Choices". They have all the luxuries befitting their official status and are ringed by security steel.
The simple river-port city of Porto Alegre in southern Brazil, is hosting some 120,000 members of civil society, or the "ruled", amassed in a World Social Forum under the theme "Another World Is Possible." Some camp in tents at the "Parque Harmonia" or pay as little as five dollars a day to stay with families. There are no metal detectors in sight.
The two forums are being held at the same time but they are set apart by more than distance -- thousands of kilometers across the Atlantic Ocean -- or by the nature of the weather (Davos is freezing; Porto Alegre is steaming).
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva arrives to stadium to attend the International launch of the Global Call Against Poverty (GCAP) at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, January 27, 2005. The southern Brazilian city is hosting more than 120,000 anti-globalization activists at the 2005 World Social Forum from January 26-31. Ricardo Stuckert/Agencia Bhrasil
The World Economic Forum calls itself "the foremost global community of business, political, intellectual and other leaders of society committed to improving the state of the world."
Meanwhile, the World Social Forum is "an open meeting place for groups and movements of civil society opposed to neo-liberalism and a world dominated by capital or by any form of imperialism."
In Davos, you can hardly get in as potentates discuss "Global Governance Initiative", "strategic corporate philanthropy" or "finding profitable ways to deliver affordable goods and services to the poor."
By contrast, the World Social Forum sees its task as "building a planetary society centered on the human person" and allowing participants to "come together to pursue their thinking, debate ideas democratically, formulate proposals, share their experiences freely, and network for effective action."
In Porto Alegre, you can easily get lost wandering amongst more than 2,500 events scheduled by some 4,000 non-governmental organizations from 112 countries. From dawn to midnight, activities are in progress, ranging from "street debates" to the First World Forum on Information and Communication and an intercontinental movie festival.
Some events are dedicated to indigenous people, black movements and Palestinians. One tent, called "Cuba and Venezuela Solidarity Tent", is a show of support for these two countries in their face-off with the United States.
In Davos, British Prime Minister Tony Blair opens a parley that also involves billionaire Bill Gates of Microsoft, chiefs of high-finance banking Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, food giant Nestle, Novartis pharmaceutical company and the New York Stock Exchange among 2,250 participants from 96 countries.
The Davos luminaries also include 20 heads of state or government, 70 cabinet ministers, some labor and religious leaders, as well as a limited number of NGOs.
As a novelty, and somewhat in the spirit of World Social Forums, Davos will have a "Global Town Hall" as an interactive session designed to bring together diverse voices on topics like "Business Perspectives on Multi-stakeholder Partnerships", "Global Corporate Citizenship" and "Mainstreaming Responsible Investment".
Across the Atlantic, the Porto Alegre social fest begins and ends with a Peace March with no particular leader. In between, open and spirited exchanges take place on social, racial, economic, environment, food and health issues.
Perhaps the only known link between the two forums is Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who will attend both events -- which some see as a blow to Porte Alegre, while others see him carrying a strong message from civil society to the Davos luminaries.
In fact, veteran observers of world affairs note that, beneath the strong contrasts between the two forums, there also is an undercurrent of the need to seek "partnerships" amongst governments, business and civil society.
Ahead of the formal opening of the two forums, there were "mea culpa" signs from Davos.
View of the Swiss ski town of Davos surrounded with barbed wire for the World Economic Forum (WEF). World leaders have made no progress in keeping promises to tackle key global challenges such as poverty or climate change and need to engage the corporate world far more, a think tank set up by the World Economic Forum said. (AFP/Eric Feferberg)
"The analysis of 2004 shows that few in either the public or the private sector are doing anywhere near what is necessary to get the world on track to achieve its most important goals," the World Economic Forum announced, adding that "2005 could be the year of change, especially if the formidable energies of private enterprise are harnessed more effectively."
Kate Taylor, director of the World Economic Forum's Global Health Initiative, said: "Too few companies are responding proactively to the social and business threats of HIV/AIDS."
Although 14,000 people contract HIV/AIDS every day, concern among businesses has dropped by 23% in the last 12 months, with most companies (71%) having no policies in place to address the disease, according to an announcement from Davos, while over 65% of the business leaders surveyed could not say or estimate the prevalence of HIV within their own workforce.
In a rare similarity between the two, both forums will have to face the implications of a new element in world politics: the fight against "tyrants" announced by U.S. President George W. Bush, following on "weapons of mass destruction" and "regime change" of his former president father, Bush I (George H.W. Bush).
The U.S.-led "war on global terrorism" has barely gotten a mention in Porto Alegre. While the Davos gathering may link terrorism to global and regional security, the Porto Alegre crowd considers demilitarization, free trade and debt issues more vital to security.
© Copyright 2005 IPS - Inter Press Service