World Social Forum - Porto Alegre, Brazil, 25-30 January, 2001

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Patricia Made


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WORLD SOCIAL FORUM: Mosaic of Actions Takes Shape as Forum Ends

By Mario Osava

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil, Jan 30 (IPS) - The World Social Forum drew to a close Tuesday in this southern Brazilian city with an ''appeal for mobilisation,'' indicating that the mosaic of ideas and struggles of thousands of civil society organisations is beginning to coalesce.

The Porto Alegre Appeal for Mobilisation, signed by representatives of 144 organisations from around the world, summarises the ideas and proposals adopted by consensus during six days of debate.

The document is an exhortation to fight ''the hegemony of finance, the destruction of our cultures, the monopolisation of knowledge and of the mass communications media, the degradation of nature and the destruction of quality of life.'' These negative actions, according to the text, are carried out ''by transnational corporations and anti-democratic policies.'' Delegates to this first-ever World Social Forum, a global gathering of trade unions, social movements, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and progressive-minded intellectuals decided that the event will be held in Porto Alegre again next year.

In 2003, however, the Forum will be organised for some other location, one that has the best possible conditions, announced Kjeld Jakobsen, leader of Brazil's Sole Central of Workers and one of this year's event organisers.

The date will continue to coincide with the World Economic Forum of Davos, Switzerland, which draws political, financial and corporate leaders together each year, usually in January.

The delegates in Porto Alegre are promoting the organisation of additional, regional social forums, to be spearheaded by local NGOs.

The signatories of the Appeal demand ''the unconditional cancellation'' of the foreign debt for the nations of the developing South, along with reparations for ''the historic, social and ecological debts'' of the wealthy countries.

The text states that international financial transactions must be taxed in order to contain speculation, and that the global trade system must ensure full employment, food security and fair terms of exchange.

Meanwhile, the world's borders must be opened for the free circulation of peoples, instead of just for merchandise and money, as is the current case, agreed the civil society organisations.

Among the demands of rural workers and small farm owners, the document calls for a democratic agrarian reform, and states that land, water and seeds must be put in the hands of the peasants. It also demands a ban on the use of genetically modified organisms and of patents on life forms.

Facing heavy criticism from the World Social Forum participants was 'Plan Colombia,' President Andrés Pastrana's anti-drug trade initiative for his country.

The Appeal for Mobilisation indicates that the plan represents United States intervention in Latin America, and signatories reached a consensus in condemning military action as a way to resolve conflict.

The document expresses solidarity with indigenous and African peoples, and states that without equality among men and women, activists will not be able to create ''another possible world,'' the theme of the Forum.

These positions will serve to unite ''the fragments of our struggle,'' commented Cándido Grzybowski, director of the Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Analysis, a member of the Forum's National Organising Committee.

In reality, the ''Porto Alegre Appeal'' does not constitute a final declaration approved by all social forces present at the Forum.

The meeting was not deliberative and a single final document would be ''impoverished in its attempt to synthesise the diversity of ideas and proposals'' that were expressed in the 400 workshops and 16 panels that constituted the first World Social Forum, Grzybowski pointed out.

The Appeal outlines the anti-globalisation protests that are to occur this year. The first is slated for the February 26-27 meeting of the World Economic Forum in Cancún, Mexico.

The NGOs are to convene protests for international trade forums, just as has occurred since late 1999, when massive street actions in the US city of Seattle contributed to the failure of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial conference to launch a new round of global trade talks.

Demonstrations are likewise planned against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) - to cover the hemisphere from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego - during negotiations April 6 and 7 in Buenos Aires, and April 17 to 22 in Quebec, Canada.

The Asian Development Bank will be the target in May, followed by meetings of the Group of 8 wealthiest nations, the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and WTO in subsequent months, in cities ranging from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Genoa, to Washington, DC.

The ''Mosaic of the Citizens,'' a collective work of art based on an idea by sculptor Eric Theret and sociologist Pierre Vuarin, both from France, serves as the symbol of the beginning of consolidation among diverse groups of social, political and cultural action.

The mosaic, which is taking shape at the entrance of a buildings at the Catholic University, the site of the Forum, is a circle of stones with inscriptions that range from the names of participating organisations to slogans in an array of languages.

There are already some 500 stones of various sizes in place, and the work will remain on public display in Porto Alegre. The mosaic is to continue receiving new stones, making it an endless construction, as is the contribution and articulation of ideas, experiences and proposals that occurred during the Forum, Grzybowski explained.

This first World Social Forum surpassed all predictions for attendance, with more than 20,000 people participating - twice what was forecast -, which created several operational problems, according to organisers.

Delegates from officially participating organisations numbered 4,702, compared to the 2,700 expected.

Covering the six-day meeting were 1,870 accredited journalists from 51 countries, 20.6 percent representing international agencies.

At the same time, Porto Alegre hosted 2,000 people at an international youth camp, 700 at an Indigenous Nations camp, and 436 delegates from 27 countries for the World Parliamentary Forum. (END/IPS/tra-so/mo/mj/ld/01)


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