World Social Forum Calls for More Economically Just World
More than 100,000 people from 125 countries gathered in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Jan. 23-28 for the third World Social Forum (WSF). Participants expressed opposition to the abuses of corporate-driven globalization, neoliberalism, environmental degradation, and to the likely US attack on Iraq.
The WSF was begun three years ago as an alternative to the World Economic Forum (WEF), an annual meeting of economic and political leaders in Davos, Switzerland. The WSF brings together people from diverse social movements who defend a variety of causes, but they share a commitment to a new world order that is socially more just. Their slogan is "Another World is Possible."
Building that world does not simply mean taking an anti- globalization stance, said Martin Khor, director of the Malaysia-based Third World Network. "We are not against international cooperation. In fact, we are championing international cooperation," said Khor. "What we are against is a particular kind of international economic relations where the strong countries and big companies dominate and create rules to perpetuate their dominance."
The principal themes of this year's Porto Alegre forum were: a democratic world order and the anti-war and peace struggle; media, culture, and counterculture; political power, civil society, and democracy; principles and values, human rights, diversity and equality; and democratic and sustainable development.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva opened the forum. Lula, who left following his appearance at Porto Alegre to travel to Davos, where he proposed that rich countries establish a fund to fight hunger and poverty, said, "Davos talks about how to accumulate more wealth and Porto Alegre how to better distribute it."
"I will tell the people at Davos that the world does not need war, the world needs peace and understanding," said Lula to a cheering crowd as he touched on the theme that most unified this year's WSF--opposition to US unilateralism and the looming war against Iraq. "I lead a great country, but one with 45 million people who do not have enough to eat. I want to tell them that a world order in which a few can eat five times a day while many remain hungry is unacceptable."
The symbolic close to the forum was a large peace rally the night of Jan. 27. One speaker noted that, while US Secretary of State Colin Powell was telling the powerful at Davos that the US is "determined" to do whatever necessary so that "the present situation [with Iraq] does not continue," those in Porto Alegre were raising a huge anti-war banner.
Calls for debt reduction and controls on capital transfers
Participants from around the world criticized the policies of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and US-led effort to create the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). They call for the end to financial tax havens for corporations and for controls on the movement of financial capital.
Sergio Haddad, president of the Asociacao Brasileira de Organizacoes Nao Governamentais (ABONG) and an organizer of the event, said, "The elimination of the foreign debt that crushes poor countries and the privilege of the market as the logic that structures societies" are the foundation of the anti-globalization and anti-neoliberal efforts.
WSF participants say their opposition to unfettered US- style capitalism was finding more receptivity following a year of unprecedented business scandals involving multinational corporations. "Washington always preaches to the developing world about eliminating corruption and the rule of law," said economist Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Washington, DC- based Center for Economic and Policy Research. "Here you see the United States has experienced corruption that is worse than anything in developing countries."
Writing in the Pakistan newspaper Daily Times, Walden Bello, sociology professor at the University of the Philippines and executive director of the Bangkok-based Focus on the Global South, said the WSF in not without critics, even among progressives. …