Global Policy Forum

The Consensus of Porto Alegre?


By Debra Anthony and José Antí´nio Silva

Inter Press Service
January 30, 2005

In a bold break with the concept of the World Social Forum as a horizontal, open space, a group of personalities draft a programme and urge participants to approve it.

The fifth World Social Forum, the giant civil society gathering under way in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre through Jan. 31, may mark a turning point in WSF history. It might have been out of frustration, or perhaps a sincere desire to help. Whatever the motivation, 19 high-profile WSF activists spent a day and a half hammering out a Consensus for a conference that prides itself on not producing any.

They presented the World Social Forum with a blueprint document outlining main themes and called on the other 120,000 participants to sign on to it. The move is likely to unleash speculations of all kinds about the purposes of this new group, most of whom are founders of the WSF and International Committee (IC) members.

Among notable non-signatories are Brazilian IC members Candido Grzybowski and Francisco (Chico) Whitaker. The latter played down the importance of the document, likening it to "dozens, maybe hundreds of other proposals" presented during this fifth edition of the WSF. He admitted that the Manifesto, endorsed by a group that include two Nobel Prize winners, carries considerable weight, but "it does not generate consensus."

But the "G-19" thinks differently. "Now, nobody can say that we have no programme. Now we have the Porto Alegre Consensus and we are sure -- we're confident -- that the great majority of the people of the Forum will agree with this proposal," says Ignacio Ramonet, editor of Le Monde Diplomatique, president of Media Watch Global and one of the 19 who toiled to bring this apparent gift of coherency to the WSF.

Launched late Saturday at the Hotel Plaza San Rafael -- away from the World Social Territory, a Brazilian official duly noted -- the Porto Alegre Manifesto is a 12-point document that highlights the main themes discussed at WSF 2005. "It's a synthesis of what the WSF is proposing globally," Ramonet said. "It's not possible to continue to say 'another world is possible' if we do not make some proposals about how to reach this other world," added Ricardo Petrella, one of the presenters at the press conference, referring to the motto of the WSF since its inception in 2001.

The points include debt cancellation, adoption of the Tobin tax on international financial transfers, dismantling of tax havens, the promotion of equitable forms of trade, a guarantee on the sovereignty of a country's right to not only be able to produce affordable food for its citizens, but also to police its food supply; the implementation of anti-discrimination polices for minorities and women, and democratisation of international organisations, which would include moving the United Nations headquarters far South of its current New York location.

Journalists were told that despite what it looked like, there was no change in the methodology of the WSF. Those who formulated the document "were only trying to help." "We are only trying to open the debate, to stimulate the establishment of international cooperative alliances," said Petrella.

Speaking to TerraViva after the conference ended, he did not say when the document was prepared, but noted that the timing of its release showed that it was not an attempt to force any agenda on the WSF. "If it had been released at the beginning it would have been interpreted as a proposal for discussion," he said. As it is now, as described by its framers, it is merely a base to help conference participants focus on the matter at hand.

The first signatories to the Manifesto include Aminata Traoré, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Eduardo Galeano, José Saramago, Franí§ois Houtart, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Armand Mattelart, Roberto Savio, Riccardo Petrella, Ignacio Ramonet, Bernard Cassen, Samir Amin, Atilio Boron, Samuel Ruiz Garcia, Tariq Ali, Frei Betto, Emir Sader, Walden Bello, and Immanuel Wallerstein.

Whitaker urged the signatories to join those posting their ideas on the "Proposals Wall" inside the Forum venue. "These walls are gathering dozens of proposals, priority lists and actions, some vague and some very profound and all must be presented."

For its proponents, this Manifesto represents the courageous, bold step necessary to convert the WSF into an effective political force for global change. To others, as one Brazilian official told TerraViva, it is just the same old "celebrities" who cannot swallow being part of the masses they once led.

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