FORUM – News From Brazil

08 Feb 2002

Porto Alegre, February 4, 2002.

It was a hot and humid morning in Porto Alegre, the capital of Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state of Brazil. One can see several gaúchos dressed in bombachas, loose cowboy pants, while sipping chimarrão, a hot infusion of mate tea served in the traditional cuia, a gourd-cup. There were groups playing different instruments singing, and dancing. The World Social Forum program came to an end this morning with an official ceremony. Some speakers were still enthusiastically delivering their messages even after the closure. Thousands of people of all ages and ethnic groups were still present this morning at the Pontifical Catholic University campus. It was a symphony of languages. Most understood each other regardless of their languages; some just smiled to reciprocate friendly gestures. The event and the feast were almost over. but the participants did not want to leave a place where they had made new friends and were inspired with new hopes for a better future.

Some 50,000 people came from approximately 120 countries from all over the world and gathered here from January 31st to February 5th to discuss alternative paths to the liberal globalization trend. This model has generated a concentration of wealth and a gradual loss of cultural diversity. The event was the counter-point to the World Economic Forum, traditionally held in Davos Switzerland, but this year staged in New York City. Serious politicians, economists, social scientists, environmental experts, professors and scholars, non-governmental organization representatives and individual professionals joined here to present their experience and theories on forms of resistance to the ongoing economic trend, which has created mass unemployment, produced big business mergers, destroyed small family businesses and left rural communities in excruciating poverty. The United Nations Secretary General sent a message and a representative, stating that both the forum and UN share the same concerns.

Before the official inauguration of the World Social Forum, on January 28th, a Forum of Local Authorities was held, bringing together numerous mayors from all over the world. The meeting was extraordinarily successful. The mayors of the Brazilian largest cities, such as Belo Horizonte, São Paulo, and other capitals attended the meeting. Representing the rest of Latin America were the mayors of Montevideo, Buenos Aires and Rosario, amog others. From Europe, delegations arrived from Paris, Barcelona, Brussels, and Geneva . Italy was represented by the presidents of the Emilia Romagna and Tuscany regional authorities, the president of the municipal authority of Turin, Mercedes Bresso, who presides over the United Cities of the World association, which congregates municipalities willing to play a new role in international organizations.

A parallel Forumzinho, or little Forum, was organized for children. Approximately 2,500 children took part in activities designed to introduce them to social issues.

The central theme of the WSF was ‘Another World is Possible’. Seminars, workshops, and panels were organized around four major subject areas: Production of Wealth and Social Reproduction, Access to Wealth and Sustainability, Bolstering Civil Society and the Public Realm, and Political Power and Ethics in the New Society. A debate entitled ‘A World Without War Is Possible’ mobilized opinions on fighting terrorism and the big world conflicts such as the crisis in Palestine.

A catalog of concrete and feasible initiatives against the globalization and concentration model was drawn up and presented to the participants. Approximately 700 workshops were organized around 28 themes covering everything from the taxation of speculative capital flows and the suppression of fiscal paradises to the reorganization of agricultural production and the cancellation of debts of developing countries. For the second time, the Ciranda da Notícia, an independent press network, was organized and actively fed and utilized to disseminate information without the biases and impositions of the mainstream press.

Ecological agriculture and cattle raising was debated in several workshops, and organic farmers had a special space to sell their products to the public. There was also a workshop on charity food production, in which the authors presented their work in educating farmers and small rural community to consume their own products, such as brown sugar, eggs and poultry, instead of industrialized ones. The methodology used included the identification of the money flow; farmers can easily understand that the consumption of local products would keep their money in the community, while using industrialized products would take it to supermarkets and big industrial complexes, many of them located overseas.

Porto Alegre is currently implementing its fourth four-year mandate with municipal participative budgeting, whereby people can directly establish their budgetary priorities. The First World Public Assembly on Participative Budgeting defined priorities for better use of the US$800 billion currently used for the war. The priorities voted by 4,495 participants were: the elimination of famine, the eradication of illiteracy, the elimination of child labor, the generation of work and income, the reconversion of the armaments industry, and environmental issues.

A few unpleasant incidents occurred, including an attack on the French minister of the Youth and Sports, Mrs. Marie-Georges Buffet. The aggressors were two French teenagers who threw a pie in the minister’s face, soon after she came sat down at the third row of the auditorium to discuss issues proposed by some youngsters. There was a street demonstration against the Free Trade Agreement for the Americas (ALCA). There were several demonstrations against the North American war against Afghanistan in the campus and on the streets. The decision to veto the participation of Mr. Guy Verhofstad, prime-minister of Belgium and to the World Bank’s vice-president was severely criticized by some media. A dummy representing the USA was burned in the streets, and gangs shouting, ‘The people in the streets is the solution’ and ‘Hail to Argentina and the Revolution’ roamed the city.

Porto Alegre was elected to hold the 3rd World Social Forum in 2003, and India offered one of her cities to host the 4th Forum in 2004.

WORLD SOCIAL FORUM

The Statistics

68.319

registered participants

35.000

passive audience

15.230

delegates

11.600

youngsters at camp sites

4.909

organizations

3.054

journalists

2.500

children at Forumzinho

150

nationalities

135

guests

700

workshops

100

seminars

28

conferences

Jorge Ossanai is the Porto Alegre Slow Food Convivium leader

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