Reuters (with additional material by AP). 1 February 2002. Thousands March in Brazil to Kick Off Social Forum.
PORTO ALEGRE -- Banging drums and waving banners, thousands of protesters marched through downtown Porto Alegre, Brazil, Thursday to demand everything from world peace to water rights, gay rights to land. Meant as a response to the World Economic Forum in New York, where the economic elite meet, the march kicked off the World Social Forum, which goes until Feb. 5 with marches, seminars and workshops where center- to far-left groups discuss everything from third world debt to diversity. Police Lt. Col. Rodolfo Pacheco estimated some 40,000 people, some from as far away as Nepal, marched in the protest, which culminated with music at a lakeside park. "No to imperialist aggression and neoliberalism!" shouted protesters as they tramped through hot, steamy Porto Alegre in Brazil's southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul. The face of revolutionary Che Guevara was everywhere. Workers groups waved bright red flags emblazoned with yellow stars while gay rights organizations carried rainbow banners. Dionisio Cardoso, 29, came 22 hours on a bus from Buenos Aires, with 100 other people to protest against President Eduardo Duhalde in Argentina, where the peso currency has lost half its value since Jan. 11. "He's a demagogue, but he represents local and international capitalism," said Cardoso. Paul Babin came from Boston with a group called Jobs with Justice. "This is fantastic. ... This is a lot more democratic than the World Economic Forum," he said, faulting the New York meeting for failing to include labor-rights groups. About 850 police were on hand for security but the only disturbance occurred when about 80 to 100 "punks" stormed an abandoned building, said Pacheco. They later left peacefully. The World Social Forum was organized by eight Brazilian groups, including the huge Workers Central Union and the Landless Rural Workers Movement, which seizes fallow land and gives it to the poor. While its organizers say the turnout is proof that more people want alternatives to market-friendly policies being discussed in New York, detractors criticized it for failing to provide viable alternatives. "We can agree to be obedient and give the centers of illegitimate power the freedom to do what they want," said Noam Chomsky, one of the speakers. "Or we can ignore that ridiculous order." "Over the next few days, major priorities will be set," he told a news conference. "We hope that out of these efforts will come a common vision and understanding to serve as guidelines" for a new world economic order. While some participants virulently oppose capitalism, globalization and free trade, others simply want to give it a more human face. Ignacio Lula da Silva, a leader of Brazil's Workers Party and a perennial front-runner in the country's presidential races, denounced free trade at a press conference, and said that, if elected in October, he would seek debt agreements that reflected "our reality." "I think the world would be sensitive so that not one government in the world allows a child to die from hunger in order to pay debt that could be negotiated," he said. Lula's economic adviser, Guido Mantega, later downplayed the comment, saying the party wanted better lending terms via swaps and other measures "within market conditions." Quebec's Minister of State for International Relations Louise Beaudoin said her delegation was in Porto Alegre to make sure free trade did not trample on cultural rights. "We know that we don't want ultra-liberal globalization. We want a human one with regulations," she told Reuters. "And we think that social development and economic development should go together." . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Barry Stoller http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ProletarianNews