1/26 WSF CARACAS: Time to Walk the Talk? PDF Print E-mail
Time to Walk the Talk?
Humberto Márquez - Inter Press News

CARACAS, Jan 26 (IPS) - The debate on whether the World Social Forum (WSF) should remain merely a space for reflection and protest or should move on to proposals for concrete action once again emerged at the sixth edition of the annual global civil society meet, taking place in the Venezuelan capital this week.

The discussion on moving "from protests to proposals" began last year at the fifth edition of the Forum, in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, where the WSF was first held in 2001.

The social movements "emerged as a tool of defence against imperialism. But a change has occurred, because now they have moved into an offensive phase," said Jacobo Torres, with the Bolivarian Workers Force, a Venezuelan trade union that supports leftist President Hugo Chávez.

As part of the offensive, which also involves the current wave of centre-left or leftist governments in Latin America, Torres mentioned "the consolidation of a common space for grassroots groups to meet up." He was not only talking about the annual WSF gatherings, but also the "people's summits" held in opposition to the periodic Summits of the Americas.

The debate on whether or not the Forum should move towards action is taking place this week in a country whose government proclaims itself to be revolutionary and on the path to a still-undefined "21st century socialism", and whose leader, Chávez, has been an outspoken critic of U.S. foreign policy.

Many of the foreign participants taking part in the Forum were at least partly moved to come by an urge to obtain a firsthand view of the changes that the Chávez administration has brought about, mainly through his social programmes - known here as "missions" - in the areas of health, education and food security.

Brazil's leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's former chief of staff José Dirceu praised Chávez's "Bolivarian social revolution", which he described as a "process that is unique in South America, where for the first time, oil revenues are being distributed in order to, slowly but surely, bring about change ."

Dirceu said in Caracas that the Forum was held here because of the process of change that Venezuela is undergoing, which is "based on real participation by the people."

The WSF "is the embryo of an 'assembly of humanity', which is not aimed at homogeneous thought, but at allowing diverse movements to organise without submitting to a single way of thinking," said French journalist Ignacio Ramonet, the director of the Le Monde Diplomatique newspaper and one of this week's speakers.

In his view, the Forum "has become the voice of those who are suffering from globalisation," and the idea is for people to listen to each other, in order to move towards a collective grassroots vision.

For his part, South African activist Kumi Naidoo, secretary-general of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, maintained that to dismiss the WSF "as simply an 'anti-globalisation' movement is to ignore, among other things, the fact that it is one of the most globalised movements in the history of this planet."

"Although it would be a mistake to straitjacket all WSF delegates into an artificially-constructed consensus on policy positions, it is important that the Forum correct the myth that there are no major policy directions that most WSF delegates share and advocate - both within and outside of the WSF," he added.

A survey carried out by the Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Analysis (IBASE) at last year's Forum in Porto Alegre revealed that 60 percent of the participants considered themselves to be leftist, while 19.8 percent described themselves as centre-left.

Last year's WSF witnessed the emergence of a "hard line" in favour of strengthening the activist aspect of the event, when two of the Forum's founders, Emir Sader of Brazil and Samir Amin of Egypt, urged participating intellectuals to adopt a manifesto calling for concrete actions and a more clear-cut political stance.

"The utopian outlook of the earlier forums seems to be fading in Caracas, and there are those who want to bring about an extreme shift towards a more political nature," commented Plinio Arruda Sampaio, a leftist Brazilian community activist who has participated in previous WSF meets.

According to Sampaio, the Forum "is facing a delicate moment, and will have to decide what course to take with caution, because it is in danger of losing much of the ground gained since 2001, when it emerged as a counter-current to the World Economic Forum," which hosts an annual meeting of the world's business, economic and political elite in the Swiss ski resort of Davos.

"It seems that some people come to the Forum to sell their own fish, when they should really be coming here to see all of the fish that are being offered," he added.

In Bamako, Mali, which served last week as the African venue for this year's polycentric WSF - Karachi will host another Forum session in March -, ActionAid International chief executive Ramesh Singh stressed the importance of the WSF as a "large space" that has been created and enhanced.

"WSF started as protest; it is now a search for alternatives. The next logical step is action - without losing that space. Whether the WSF itself takes action is a different issue," said Singh.

Edgardo Lander, a member of the Venezuelan organising committee, admitted that the WSF "is relatively fragile, and must be handled with care. It is a political forum, which undertakes campaigns, but it could be hurt by a more militant commitment."

"Sometimes we talk about the need for campesinos (peasant farmers) to be incorporated into efforts towards development, but without knowing hardly anything about this matter. That is why it is important for urban movements to listen to campesino and workers' organisations, and vice versa," he added.
Last Updated ( Friday, 27 January 2006 )
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