Global Policy Forum

Uncharted Path to a Different World


By Greg Morsbach

January 29, 2006

More than 60,000 leftwing activists are returning home from the World Social Forum, held in Venezuela's capital city Caracas. The gathering is staged every year as a parallel protest to the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. The streets and buildings of Caracas are still covered in bright orange banners and posters advertising this year's social forum slogan A Different World Is Possible. However, many anti-globalisation campaigners sounded a more pessimistic note as they were packing their bags at the end of the six day meeting.

What next?

Some visitors complained that after all the workshops, panel discussions and speeches they had attended there was no final communique to wrap up the forum. Lejla Mavris, a 27-year-old peace campaigner from Bosnia, said the social forum had been very useful for networking and making new contacts but that she had serious concerns about the lack of direction. "There was no plan of action to end this forum," she said. "So now the question for all of us is what exactly are we supposed to do for the next twelve months until the next time we get together?"

Another common complaint from delegates was that events were being held in nine different locations spread over a large area in Caracas, which meant people arrived late or got lost on the way.


Printing errors in the World Social Forum guide book meant many people turned up for workshops that had either been cancelled or postponed. "There was lots of enthusiasm," said Willem Bouma, a backpacker from Melbourne, Australia. "But gradually as the week wore on, we became more and more disappointed that speakers and organisers of workshops never turned up. Next time round the organisers need to be more selective about who they invite."

In the city centre tent village, where hundreds of younger activists had been camping for six days, the mood was a lot more positive. Despite having to take regular cold showers, 20-year-old Brazilian student Mauro Oliveira said the past week had been a great experience. "It doesn't really matter whether or not we agree on a joint plan," said Mauro. "What really matters is that we have all taken part as brothers and sisters from all over the world. We are now returning home with great stories and memories."

Organisers of the World Social Forum had warned the media at the very beginning of the Forum that there was never any intention of drawing up a unifying declaration to round off the week.

Agreeing the basics

They said it was almost impossible to get a large group of politically diverse people to agree on even the basics. "If we have created on open and free discussion between like-minded people from around the world, we will have done a good job," said Professor Edgar Lander, the lead organiser of the Caracas forum. "As far as I know that has happened."

The International Council of the World Social Forum will start to take stock of the Caracas experience in the next few weeks. It will have to defend itself against criticism by some delegates that the Caracas gathering was leaning too heavily towards the socialist Venezuelan government led by President Hugo Chavez.

Some delegates from Brazil, Argentina and Chile told the BBC news website that the Forum had "all the hallmarks of Mr Chavez stamped on it", with a third of the seminars and workshops taken up with talk of revolutionary change in Venezuela. "There was too much Venezuelan-style socialism and too much Chavez," said Alejandra Scarpini, a women's rights campaigner from Uruguay. "The International Council from the Social Forum has to sit down now and ask itself whether they should have let Chavez hijack this forum."

Despite some grumblings about the prominent role of President Chavez, most delegates spoke highly of his contribution to their struggle against 'neo-liberalism' and capitalism. "Of course Chavez was bound to be a dominant figure here," said Ricardo Rojas, an Ecuadorean trade unionist. "But he is the leader of Latin America. He is the only one who can stand up to Bush. So if we have to listen to his speeches for a few hours, that's a small price to pay."

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