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World Social Forum: Series of Global Protests to Begin in March

by Open-Publishing - Tuesday 31 January 2006

Social Forum Movement Wars and conflicts South/Latin America

by Humberto Márquez

CARACAS- A day of international protests against the occupation of Iraq, on Mar. 18, will mark the start of a series of demonstrations and mobilisations organised at the sixth World Social Forum, which ended Sunday in Venezuela.

A conference against the U.S. occupation of Iraq will be held Mar. 24-27 in Cairo, Egypt, announced the international Assembly of Social Movements, which met on the final day of the WSF in Caracas.

Some 2,200 civil society organisations organised nearly 1,800 seminars, panels, workshops and other activities during the five-day WSF, which served as a meeting-place for sharing ideas and experiences, but also for organising networks to undertake concrete campaigns, as advocated by the Assembly of Social Movements.

"We have around 300 organisations and networks that bring together more than 900 groups interested in taking part in this programme of campaigns," Piero Bernocchi with COBAS, an Italian alternative network of trade unions, told IPS.

Speaking before thousands of participants at the Forum on Friday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said he hoped the WSF did not turn into merely a "revolutionary tourism" activity, and called for it to come up with programmes for concrete action against "political imperialism" and neoliberal, free-market economic policies.

In March, civil society groups will organise protests and other activities in Mexico parallel to the Fourth World Water Forum, to be held there.

The Assembly of Social Movements proclaimed that resources like water, land and energy, as well as biodiversity, belong to the people and are public goods, while it condemned the privatisation of communications, health care and education.

The Assembly, which is among the participating groups and networks at the WSF that wants to see the annual global civil society gathering take on a more political focus and move in the direction of concrete action, also called for protests to be held against the summit of the Group of Eight (G8) most powerful countries in St. Petersburg, Russia in July and against International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank policies during their annual assembly in September.

In a final statement issued in Caracas, the Assembly stated that Latin America is seeing an "explosion of movements against free trade, militarisation and privatisation, and in defence of natural resources and food sovereignty."

These movements "have permitted political alternatives born in the heat of popular struggles to reach government," as in the case of Bolivia, where Evo Morales of the Movement Towards Socialism took office this month as the country’s first indigenous president.

Nevertheless, "given the access to government that is being gained by political alternatives linked to popular struggles, social movements should maintain political and programmatic autonomy," added the Assembly.

A cross-cutting theme in almost all of the WSF discussions was the debate over the role that should be played by the annual civil society meet, specifically, whether it should serve primarily as a meeting space, or rather as a "catapult" for concrete actions. The latter stance was advocated by Chávez, who urged participants to transform the WSF into a tool of struggle.

A number of specific campaigns were proposed, including one in defence of free, public and secular education, to be organised around World Students Day, Nov. 17, and another suggested by U.S. activist Ariana Flores in opposition to "Killer Coke", in reference to the alleged complicity of the Coca-Cola corporation in the murders of eight trade unionists in Colombia.

The Caracas portion of the 6th WFS wrapped up Sunday with a final round of discussion panels on political, trade union, environmental and gender-related themes, as well as cultural and musical performances in various venues throughout the city, which played host to an estimated 60,000 Forum participants this week.

An incident during a panel discussion on Decent Work, organised by Força Sindical, one of Brazil’s largest trade union confederations, highlighted the political polarisation faced by Venezuela today.

After presentations by delegates from social democratic and left-leaning trade unions in Europe, Manuel Cova, secretary general of the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV), took the floor.

The CTV, Venezuela’s oldest labour federation, was seriously discredited by allying itself with the employers’ association Fedecameras during the short-lived April 2002 coup against Chávez, leading many affiliated unions to break away and join the more recently established Nation Union of Venezuelan Workers (UNT).

Cova was greeted with shouts from the crowd of "Get out, fascist." As a result, the session was abruptly ended, and the opposition-aligned labour leader was escorted from the room amid pushing and jostling.

After the first three editions in Porto Alegre, Brazil, which hosted the event again last year, and a change of venue to Mumbai, India in 2004, this year’s sixth WSF was "polycentric", with a first session held last week in Bamako, Mali - attended by 10,000 mainly African activists - and a third planned for Karachi, Pakistan in March.

Next year’s WSF will once again be held in a single venue - Nairobi, Kenya - and the international organising committee, made up of roughly 100 organisations, announced that it will devote every possible effort to ensuring the success of this seventh global civil society meet.

According to an organising committee evaluation, the Bamako WSF was a political and popular participation success, although the activities were highly dispersed and logistical problems were encountered.

Nevertheless, Brazilian activist Moema Viezzer stressed, the committee should not become entirely consumed with organisational matters if this means disregarding the political front.