Kermit Snelson on Sun, 10 Feb 2002 23:17:02 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] RE: <nettime> are there anymore porto alegre reports?

The World Social Forum
Meanwhile, in another world

Feb 7th 2002
>From The Economist print edition

Bigger, yes. But any more influential?

LAST year, protesters trashed a McDonald's restaurant and wrecked a
multinational's plantation of genetically-modified crops. This year's World
Social Forum, an anti-establishment counterpoint to the World Economic Forum
in New York, was both more crowded—51,000 delegates, three times as many as
last year, the organisers claimed—and more sedate. Delegates, gathering for
a second year in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre under the
banner "Another world is possible", aimed to prove that they are not just
noisy rebels but can offer alternative policies to create a fairer, greener

"We don't just oppose any more, we propose," said a panellist at the start
of a debate on "International Organisations and the Architecture of World
Power". But despite exhortations from the chairman (sorry, "animator") for
more specifics, three hours of talking produced little detail on what should
take the place of those stock villains, the IMF, World Bank and World Trade
Organisation, and how their replacements would be financed. That old
favourite, a worldwide tax on financial speculation, was suggested. Speakers
wasted much time on whether, since they object to their movement being
called "anti-globalisation", the term "de-globalisation" would do. How about
"earth democracy"? mused one.

The forum undermined its self-professed democratic credentials by rejecting
the World Bank's offer to send an official to debate and (pushed by the
French left, who helped organise the forum) by turning away Guy Verhofstadt,
Belgium's centre-right prime minister. Although Mary Robinson, the United
Nations' human-rights commissioner, paid a visit, as did several French
presidential candidates, few heavyweight politicians attended.

Anxious to avoid being labelled as extremists in the wake of September 11th,
the organisers this time left Colombia's FARC guerrillas off the guest-list.
Nor did they invite José Bové, a French farmer famous for attacking a
McDonald's back home, who was the star of last year's conference for his
efforts to destroy genetically-modified crops. He came anyway, and behaved
himself this time.

Though Susan George of ATTAC, one of the forum's founding organisations,
told delegates that they represent up to 90% of the world, voters do not
seem to agree. Just look at recent elections in Latin America. Last June,
Peruvians rejected Alan Garcia, a left-wing former president, and chose
Alejandro Toledo, a centrist former World Bank economist who has put a
former IMF official in charge of the economy. (Mr Toledo went to the meeting
in New York, not the one in Brazil.) In October's congressional elections in
Argentina, despite the country's gathering crisis and revulsion against its
political establishment, little progress was made by those representing
leftist, alternative policies.

In November, both Honduras and Nicaragua chose conservative businessmen as
their presidents, as Mexico had done in 2000. In places like Chile, moderate
centre-left groups have won elections by promising to continue orthodox
economic policies. Apart from Cuba's Fidel Castro, the region's leading
anti-orthodox figure is Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, whose "Bolivarian
revolution" has been disastrous and faces increasing public anger.

And what of the forum's hosts, Brazil's left-wing Workers' Party? Although
its leader, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, leads the polls ahead of this
October's presidential elections, Roseana Sarney, a conservative
pro-government candidate, has been catching up. Mr da Silva and his aides
are doing their utmost to project a "left-lite" image and, in his speeches
to the Porto Alegre forum, he disappointed some delegates by rejecting
re-nationalisation, debt defaults and trade protectionism.

The speakers at Porto Alegre, like those in New York, were preaching to the
converted. Last year, a televised link-up between the two forums ended with
a protester at the Brazilian end screeching "Child killer!" at George Soros.
This year, no link-up happened. But other sorts of dialogue are being
encouraged. Kofi Annan, the secretary-general of the United Nations, visited
the New York gathering and sent a letter to Porto Alegre. Among the
delegates at Porto Alegre was Tom Spencer, a former British MP, whose group,
the Commission on Globalisation, has invited key figures from both sides to
sit down, out of the limelight, and try to find common ground. Relieved of
the bother of having to play to their respective galleries, he reckons, they
may get somewhere.

Copyright © The Economist Newspaper Limited 2002. All rights reserved.

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