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Agence France-Presse

Anti-Globalization 'Utopias' Enter Mainstream

Laurence Boutreux

Senegalese actors wear masks portraying, from left, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, South African President Jacob Zuma, Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaore, and U.S. President Barack Obama, take part in a performance at the World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal, Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011. The masked actors took part in a scripted debate on the subject of whether Western and African leaders have kept their promises in regard to the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals. The 2011 World Social Forum, held last week in Dakar, is an annual counterpart to the World Economic Forum, held last month in Davos, Switzerland. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

DAKAR — Their goals were once seen as pipe dreams but anti-globalization activists believe they are finally beginning to win the argument: all that remains is for their ideas to be implemented.

Delegates gathered at last week's World Social Forum in Dakar say the recent financial crisis and downturn have vindicated the critique of capitalism that they have been plugging since the first such gathering a decade ago in Brazil.

The forum, once essentially a gathering of fringe campaign groups, now draws presidents while their goals such as debt cancellation and the regulation of agricultural markets have been widely adopted as government policy.

Rather than celebrating however, many veteran activists feel a deep sense of frustration at how events have unfurled.

Back at the first forum in Brazil's Porto Alegre, "the liberal economy still seemed indisputable," recalled Ibrahima Coulibaly, president of the National Coordination of Farmers Organizations, on this sidelines of this year's forum.

"I remember American journalists describing our forums as being little more than a knees-up," Coulibaly told AFP.

"But with the succession of crises -- financial, energy, food, climate -- people have come to realize that the current system is crazy. Today our ideas have been taken up, but distorted."

A common argument is that governments are paying no more than lip service to demands for some of the most notable goals.

For example, many Western governments have been accused of reneging on their pledges to write off poorer nations' debts while pledges to clamp down on tax havens have made little progress, say delegates.

Bernard Pinaud, leader of the Catholic Committee against Hunger and for Development, a French campaign group, says what were once regarded as left-field arguments are now accepted by the political mainstream.


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"Claims seen as pure utopias have been adopted by public opinion ... and are now on (government) tables as policy proposals," Pinaud argued.

"This is perhaps the challenge of the new world movement. A victim of its success, its proposals are being adopted without their origin being credited, and they are not really being implemented," Pinaud wrote in a text published at the forum in the Senegalese capital.

One of the hottest topics for anti-globalization campaigners these days is that of 'food sovereignty', which aims to give local farmers the right to call the shots on what is produced rather than multinational corporations.

Coulibaly, who hails from Mali, says that while government leaders "have begun to talk about 'food sovereignty' ... in reality the models of big business and forced modernization are being favored.

"This is extremely serious because in Mali, family farming accounts for 75 percent of employment."

Eva Joly, a French-Norwegian lawmaker in the European Parliament with the Greens, argued that some of the work was paying off -- in particular when it comes to "the fight against illicit transfers of capital" throughout the world.

It is "under pressure from third-world movements that denunciation of the financial secrecy has become common," she said in Dakar.

"Governments have more and more difficulty, for example, in justifying their support for tax havens," said Joly.

France has said the fight against tax havens will be a key issue during its presidency of the G20 but those gathered in Dakar are unconvinced that the world's most powerful countries will in fact join in the battle.

"We want G20 leaders to end the tax haven secrecy that allows companies to hide their profits and avoid paying taxes in developing countries, and agree on measures to promote financial transparency," the coalition of civil society organizations said in a statement in Dakar.

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