Latin America: Empowering civil society

Porto Alegre, Brazil, 31 Jan 2002 (IPS/Gustavo Gonzalez) - Grassroots activists and members of civil society must be empowered to assert their economic, social and cultural rights in the context of a globalized world, say many of the Latin American organisations participating in the second World Social Forum in this southern Brazilian city through 5 February.

Latin America, and particularly host-country Brazil, is playing a leading role in this second annual gathering of independent and non-governmental entities, an event born in January 2001 as a counterweight to the World Economic Forum, a yearly meeting in which the world’s most powerful politicians and business executives set the world economic agenda.

At the first World Social Forum, 18,000 people from 117 countries participated, including delegates from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and participants in the Youth Camp and the Indigenous Nations Camp.

This year, more than 50,000 people are converging on Porto Alegre, convened under the motto, “another world is possible.”

“Why would we want another world if we already have this one: a capitalist, neo-liberal and global-colonizing world? Except that two-thirds of the global population lives below the poverty line, according to the World Bank,” says Brazilian theologian Frei Betto with irony.

“The walls of the concentration camp of profit are too high to allow the excluded masses to enter. But they are too fragile to prevent the risk of an implosion,” Betto added.

“We must seek an alternative to the current economic model, before desperation leads to even more terrorism. And that alternative necessarily involves a change in values, not just in economic mechanisms,” said the theologian.

Betto is one of the Latin American personalities addressing the WSF, alongside others of international prominence, such as Noam Chomsky and James Petras, of the US, and France’s Danielle Mitterrand.

Two Latin American recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, Guatemala’s Rigoberta Menchu and Argentine Adolfo Perez Esquivel, are also among the Forum’s notable guests, as are Brazilian writer and critic Alfredo Bosi and Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba.

But beyond the star personalities, the grounding presence is that of the delegates from the region in the 26 panels that cover the Forum’s four central thematic areas.

The first is “Production of wealth and social reproduction”, with sub-themes on trade, transnational corporations, financial capital, foreign debt, labour and economic solidarity.

On these matters the WSF participants will hear from Mexico’s Hector de la Cueva, unionist Martha Ojeda, Argentine Beverly Keene and Brazilian Kjeld Jakobsen, as well as representatives from other continents.

“Access to wealth and sustainability” is the second axis, which covers aspects related to knowledge and intellectual property, medicine and health - with an emphasis on AIDS -, environmental sustainability, water as a common good, indigenous peoples, cities and urban populations, and food security.

Sara Larrain, of Chile, Guillermo Curiel, of Mexico, and Sonia Correa, Jorge Beloqui, Erminia Maricato and Chico Menezes, all from Brazil, will be the Latin American speakers in this second group of expositions and debates.

The third topic, “Civil society and the public arena”, covers discrimination and intolerance, the democratisation of the communications media, production of cultural identity, perspectives on the global civil society movement, domestic violence, education, migration and refugees.

The Latin Americans addressing these issues include Uruguayan Lilian Celiberti, Ecuadorian Osvaldo Leon, Italian-Argentine Roberto Savio, Emilia Tadei (Argentina), Eduardo Fernandez (Uruguay), Fatima Mello and Nilsa Iraci (Brazil), and Monica Santana, a US activist of Dominican origin.

“Political power and ethics in the new society” is the fourth thematic area, and entails reflections on international organisations and the architecture of global power, participatory democracy, sovereignty, the nation and the state, the struggle for peace and against militarism, principles and values, human rights and economic, social and cultural rights.

These questions have drawn the largest number of Latin American panellists, who include Roberto Bissio (Uruguay), Carlos Zarco Mera (Mexico), Isabel Monal (Cuba), Xavier Gorostiaga (Guatemala), and Aurelio Vianna, Raul Pont, Emir Sader, all from Brazil.

Also participating in the fourth area are Hector Mondragon (Colombia), Adalid Contreras (Bolivia), the Brazilians Alfredo Wagner, Frei Betto, Francisco Whitaker, and Maria Luisa Mendonca, as well as Perez Esquivel.

The cast of delegations at the WSF includes nearly all Latin American countries, and each one consists of numerous representatives, particularly those from the Southern Cone region.

Chile alone has sent more than 300 NGO representatives, who hired six buses to make the four-day trek to Porto Alegre, according to Victor de la Fuente, local coordinator of ATTAC (Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions for the Aid of Citizens). – SUNS5052

[c] 2002, SUNS - All rights reserved. May not be reproduced, reprinted or posted to any system or service without specific permission from SUNS. This limitation includes incorporation into a database, distribution via Usenet News, bulletin board systems, mailing lists, print media or broadcast. For information about reproduction or multi-user subscriptions please contact: