The very successful third World Social Forum, held in Port Alegro, Brazil, ended last week. CWI supporters from several countries, including Brazil, were present at the huge event, which brought together hundreds of thousands of activists, from Latin America and Europe.
Marcus Kollbrunner reports on the WSF huge meetings, demonstrations and discussions, which included popular Latin American Left presidents Lula (Brazil) and Chavez (Venezuela), and Left leaders like Evo Morales from Bolivia.
Lula, Chavez, and Evo Morales address World Social Forum
To chants of "Ole, ole, ole, Lula, Lula, Lula", a vast crowd engulfed the Sunset Park in Porto Alegre on Friday afternoon, last week to see Lula.
It is clear that Lula’s victory represented for many a workers’ candidate defeating the candidate of neo-liberalism.
"I was not elected due to the support of a TV station, or a financial system, or powerful financial interests, nor due to my personal abilities, but [because of] the political consciousness of the voters."
The hopes of ’another world’ amongst participants at the WSF found its clearest expression in the support for Lula, whose emotional speech focused on just these expectations.
"I see the expectations that have been created, not just in Brazil, but in the whole world. People ask me, not if they are going to get a job, but what they can do to contribute. It was this political power in the society that made it possible for hope to defeat fear."
"This victory is the result of a long struggle. We have fought and hoped for so long. So many have died before us. I want to be able to look you in the eyes and say that I haven’t failed, but that I have built a government for the poor."
"I have made many demands in my life. My wish as a president was that I would be able to fulfill my own demands. I will continue to dream of implementing agrarian reform, to provide a good education for all, of a university where not only 8 percent can study but all, of a health system were you don’t see poor people dying on the stairs of hospitals, of a country were the riches are distributed justly."
The speech appealed to radical aspirations but at the same time Lula tried to moderate the huge expectations, saying that "a good coach is not the one who wins the first game, but [one who] can win the cup after four years...Running a government is like running a marathon. You can’t rush at the beginning otherwise you’ll and up panting in the first street corner...We have to make it right, we can’t afford to make it wrong."
There was also a clear appeal for national pride, with the Brazilian anthem played in rap and samba versions before and after Lula’s speech.
Controversy arose however because after the WSF, Lula went to the meeting of industrialists, bankers, politicians and ’experts’ at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
"What is new this year", Lula said, "is that I have been invited to Davos".
He defended his decision to participate at the bosses’ WEF by saying that he would speak about the injustices in the world, demanding that children in Africa or Latin America have the "same right for food", and that the world needs "peace, not war".
But as the newspaper O Estado de São Paulo stated, the last Brazilian president, Cardoso, also presented "globalisation with solidarity" as a theme in his speech in Davos in 1998. However, contrary to Lula, Cardoso did not bring any ministers responsible for finance with him. Lula brought the finance minister and central bank chief on his delegation.
Finance Minister, Antônio Palocci, says that an objective for the Brazilian delegation to Davos was to "strengthen confidence". He had a meeting with the Vice-Chair of the IMF, Anne Krüger, on his schedule. "Our goal is not only to calm the markets, but also show that we will implement structural reforms". By this he meant autonomy for the central bank and a pension ’reform’.
A promise made by Lula that has already been broken was the pledge to lower interest rates. During the election campaign, Lula promised lower rates to create growth. But the interest rate has now been raised to 25.5 percent with the promise to fight inflation, even at the cost of the growth and higher unemployment. Both the Finance minister and the Chairman of the Central Bank have declared that the primary budget surplus (before interest rates payments) that was increased to 3.75 percent after demands from the IMF, will be increased even more. That will mean more money to the banks and less on Lula’s promises.
Lula praised the WSF and said its strength had made Davos weaker and forced them to discuss world poverty. Of course it is not the WSF alone, but the whole anti-capitalist movement with its huge number of protests around the world that has done this. And WSF was created as an alternative to the World Economic Forum in Davos, not for Lula to go there and tell them that the world is unjust and that they must cooperate. The rich will only co-operate when forced to, as a way to try and stay in power. The Brazilian establishment newspaper, Carta Capital, reflected this with a front page stating: "And now, shall we begin to share?" accompanying the piece with a picture of a hand full of rings. The meaning of the picture, from the ruling classes point of view, was that it is better to give away the rings than to lose fingers!
Many however were not satisfied with Lula’s speech to the WSF:
"Lula is trying to prepare the activists for the fact that he will not be able to deliver on all promises. He is not intending to break with capitalism", said Eliana Oliveira, from Socialismo Revolucionario, the CWI in Brazil.
"His huge election victory last year has created enormous expectations. Everywhere he goes huge crowds meet Lula. The tremendous support for him is at the same time making him worried. He will have difficulties in explaining that big changes will not be possible. Many people at the Social Forum are socialists of different kinds. You can see it in all the red flags here, and in the response to the Socialismo Revolucionario paper. Lula has huge authority but he will not be able to hold back all the struggles in society".
"Lula’s speeches can be very sensationalist. He talks about providing food for poor people and university education for all, but you cannot combine that with paying huge amounts of money from the state to service debts to the banks", commented Celia R da Silva, a student from Bauru, in So Paulo state.
A part of Lula’s speech in Davos and an interview afterwards were shown on a big video screen in the Gigantinho sports hall, during the WSF. When Lula was asked the question of how bridges can be built between Porto Alegre and Davos he answered:
"There is a big difference between the both. But its like a negotiation between a trade union and the employers. When you sit down and start talking you will see that there is only smaller differences, things you can change to make way for progress. There is a lot you can agree on."
Leaving aside, Lula’s rosy view of union negotiations with bosses, the fundamental point is that the capitalists and their representatives gathered at Davos are not ready to compromise on their power and property, and this is decisive.
WSF ’grown enormously’
The World Social Forum has grown to an enormous event since its inception three years ago. It is estimated that 5,717 organisations and 20,763 delegates from 156 countries officially took part in the WSF. Over 100,000 participated this year in total. Most of them came from Brazil, but contingents also came from Argentina, Uruguay, US, Italy and France.
Around 25,000 participated in the youth camp. The youth camp is a huge meeting place, which includes many discussions, but also cultural events like traditional Brazilian samba and capoeira. It was not difficult to find people that wanted to discuss socialist ideas, like when MSE (the Movement for those without Education, the ISR’s Brazilian affiliate) held a meeting under the trees in the camp and 100-200 stayed to listen about the plans to stage occupations in universities demanding democratic access to higher education.
During the WSF, political discussions were mixed with acts of protest and demonstrations. The opening march gathered 140,000, according to the estimate from the organisers. It was very colourful and included many different kinds of organisations.
The biggest issues at the WSF were the resistance to USA war plans against Iraq and the ’free-trade’ zone for the Americas, the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas). The support for struggles in Venezuela and Palestine were also big talking points.
’Real Brazil’ launched
Last Saturday the MST (the Brazilian national landless movement) launched a new paper, Brasil de fato, (’Real Brazil’).
André Ferrari, from the CWI in Brazil, participated in the launching meeting. He commented:
"The meeting hall was packed, with at least 5,000 there. The mood was enthusiastic. The paper will start as a weekly with 100,000 copies being printed, but the target is to come out daily. The paper will counter the lies from the capitalist media. It will be open for different analyses from the Left."
"The meeting was very political. Amongst the speakers were Hede de Bonafine from the Mothers of Plaza del Mayo, Che Guevara’s daughter Elida Guevara, and Eduardo Galeano (author of ’The Open veins of Latin America’).
On Sunday, 23 January, a couple of thousand gathered to show their solidarity with the struggle against the right-wing attempt to topple Chavez in Venezuela. Chavez himself was there, invited to speak at a meeting at the State Legislative building. Chavez greeted the demonstrators from a balcony and thanked them for their solidarity. The meeting hall could only hold 600 people, but the rest follow his speech from loudspeakers outside.
On Monday, 24 January, there was a conference against FTAA. The resistance against FTAA, which is rightly seen as an attempt from USA to expand its economic hegemony over the continent, was one of the main themes at the WSF. There was big support for the demand that Lula should hold an official plebiscite on the FTAA negotiations.
The demonstration against the FTAA was the closing event of the WSF. Before it there was a closing meeting at the indoor sport hall, Gigantinho. The hall, that has a capacity of 15,000 spectators, was totally packed. The mood was extremely high even before the last speakers, Noam Chomsky and Arundathi Roy from India made their addresses.
When I entered the hall two musicians were playing the classic Brazilian song, Pra não diser que não falei das flores, which developed into a gigantic sing along. Six well-known Jewish and Palestinian activists presented a declaration of peace to the meeting.
The theme for the closing meeting was ’How to fight the empire?’ and there was no doubt to which empire that was referred. A key participant was however missing. Evo Morales from Bolivia could not come due to the dramatic events in his country.
Evo Morales is the leader of the coca growers, whose campaigning organisation won 20% in the election for president. The elections, held last year, were a success for the Left. The indigenous peoples are also part of this struggle, fighting for their rights.
Now, after five months of fruitless negotiations with the government, the Left has started a campaign against the government plans, including the attempted privatisation of natural gas resources. Demonstrators blocked the highways on the 3 January and the government declared a state of siege. Tragically twenty activists have died. Nine were killed by bullets from the army and another eleven died after being hit by cars at road blockades. The right wing president, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, has called Evo Morales to negotiate. Evo Morales sent a letter of solidarity to the WSF, which was read at the last big meeting. This link to living struggle was a fitting way to end the WSF.
CWI members left the WSF in good spirits. Our ideas of unity between radical youth and workers in struggle and the need for independent class ideas won a warm reception amongst the many thousands who are firmly opposed to capitalism, and wars and imperialism.