PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil — The heavy rain didn’t dampen the spirits of the thousands who strode down the streets here in the “Walk for Peace,” which preceded Thursday’s opening of the World Social Forum.
Politicians, scholars and grassroots organizers — the vast majority coming from the left portion of the political spectrum — arrived to participate in more than one hundred workshops. Social issues such as world hunger, unemployment, workers rights, genetically modified crops, prejudice and the environment are the focus.
More than 11,000 people, many with their own tents and sleeping bags, have packed the Intercontinental Youth Encampment, a sort of Woodstock-style beachhead for attendees.
“It’s quite an adventure, but we are here to develop ourselves,” said João Simão, an education technical assessor who leads a delegation of 45 people. “As we have plenty to learn in the forum’s seminars, we also have plenty to teach.” Simão’s group will discuss successful public education alternatives that have been implemented in northeast Brazil.
Among the more interesting personalities at the forum is Brazilian presidential candidate Luis Inácio “Lula” da Silva, from the Workers Party (PT).
Lula, who has run for president in elections since 1989, was emphatic when asked to compare the World Social Forum with the World Economic Forum.
“We have a completely different approach,” he said. Reasonable culpability “for the hunger and injustice that exists in the world today, mainly in third-world countries, (belongs to) those who are right now in New York at the Economic Forum. While they plan how to create and accumulate more and more riches, we discuss how to share ours.”
Lula is the most important leftist politician in Brazil, sometimes criticized by businessmen, investors and rightist adversaries about his ideas, especially on international affairs.
For example, he is an ardent foe of the Free Trade Area of Americas (FTAA), which many Brazilian politicians support but which hasn’t yet been adopted. “As a Brazilian, I’ll fight with all my power to stop FTAA in Brazil, because the actual terms of the agreement greatly benefit the United States and their commerce, not ours,” Lula said. “When rich and poor nations get an equal treatment in the FTAA, then I’ll agree with it.”
Lula will participate this week in seminars and workshops dealing with globalization, public security and solutions for combating hunger. Lula also complained about the gradual loss of Brazilian cultural identity, which is giving way to the American “way of life.”
“Rightists always say that Brazil will fall apart if our ideas become acts,” Lula said. “I ask people to look over the latest four leaders in Latin America: Carlos Meném (Argentina); Augusto Pinochet (Chile), Carlos Salinas (México) and Fernando Collor (Brazil). They all represented and adopted the neo-liberalism policies defended in New York (at the Economic Forum). They broke the finances of their countries and they are all being accused … of heavy corruption.”
American leftist Noam Chomsky, speaking at the forum, criticized the foreign policies of the United States, including that adopted by the American government against Afghanistan. On Thursday he also leveled an attack on the mainstream media.
Most intellectuals and publications are in their traditional role of supporting and covering state-committed violence “and producing hysterical accusations” aimed at those who don’t toe the line, Chomsky said.