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Latin Americans look to Venezuela

Published Feb 13, 2005 9:49 PM

The World Social Forum just held here was filled with debates, including ones about its future.

Jan. 26 march of 200,000 in Porto Alegre.

Despite the criticism of many world progressives that the WSF does not meet a revolu tionary standard, the fact remains that it is still an international forum where worldwide progressive forces converge and can debate and put forward coordinated plans of action, even if not within the scheduled forum events. Where else could progressives from Africa and Asia share plans with their counterparts from the Middle East and the Americas--North, Central and South? Even those intellectuals who say that the WSF has no relevance attend it.

The initiation of the WSF in 2001 was an attempt to bring together worldwide organizations to plan the construction of alternatives to neoliberalism and globalization. Since its beginning it has been dominated by social democratic forces, and even funded by many corporations. It is timed to coincide with the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, an elite gathering that became the focus of militant protests.

Originally, political parties and government personalities were excluded from participating formally in the WSF. However, left parties and revolutionaries have always attended and held their own alternate meetings and demonstrations, even within the grounds where the "official" meetings are held. This year, political parties and more revolutionary forces were part of the formal events.

Ivette González, daughter
of Rene González, one of
the Cuban 5, opened the
WSF on Jan. 27

The last time the WSF met in Porto Alegre, in 2003, prominent speakers, mostly social democrats, held huge meetings of several thousands. This year, the format was changed to accommodate more events, a total of 2,500, where the largest could seat no more than 1,000 people.

Spread along the banks of the Guaiba River were huge tents in what was called the World Social Territory, where 11 different encampments corresponded to 11 themes.

From 20,000 participants in 2001, the WSF this year grew to 155,000 people representing 135 countries. The Youth Camp had 35,000 participants.

Lula and Chávez speak at forum

Unlike previous years, two heads of state were part of this year's official forum events: President Jose Ignacio "Lula" Da Silva of Brazil and President Hugo Chávez Frías of the Bolivarian Republic of Vene zuela, both speaking at the Gigantinho Stadium.

Lula spoke at the beginning of the WSF, calling for a worldwide campaign to eradicate poverty. The Global War Against Poverty, initiated in 2004 in South Africa, will be Lula's goal for discussion with world leaders in the coming period. Unlike in 2003, when Lula was newly elected and thousands poured into an open space to listen and cheer him, this time there was a divided public. Some cheered but others loudly showed their opposition, reflecting divisions in his Workers Party of Brazil.

Since his ascent to office, Lula has not met the expectations of the poor majority, including the well-known movement of the landless, MST. A wealthy and vast country, with a powerful oligarchy allied to U.S. and other imperialist transnational corporations, Brazil is an illustration of who really holds the power.

There were some attempts to pit Chávez against Lula. The Venezuelan president later called for patience, reminding everyone, particularly Lula's critics, that Brazil is in a different situation than Venezuela.

When Chávez spoke, at the end of the WSF, 15,000 people cheered and thousands more who could not get in listened through speakers posted outside the stadium. He spoke at length about several topics he had raised in a press conference earlier that day. Entitled "The South Is Our North," his speech was a stirring exposition of his vision of the future and the steps that the Bolivarian Revolution is taking to make that a reality.

Some of the subjects he touched on during both events reveal the dynamism of the revolution, which he said is centered in five axes or concepts. First, the political, which he described as the construction of a participatory--not representative--and revolutionary democracy. Second, the social, or creating a society of equals. And thirdly, the economic.

This point was especially important, since it was the first time he addressed it publicly outside Venezuela. He said that it is "necessary to transcend capitalism. There is no solution [to globalization, poverty, etc.] within capitalism, we have to revindicate socialism as a project and as the road to follow."

Later, Samuel Moncada, the new
Vene zuelan secretary of higher education, stated that Chávez's speech clarified his option for socialism in Venezuela. The focus of discussion there over the next several weeks will be to define the Venezuelan way, he said, since socialism has to grow from the real conditions of every country, which in Venezuela's case is called Bolivarianism.

The fourth base of the revolution is territorial, which Chávez described as a model of endogenous development, growing from within. Venezuela has signed important economic agreements with the international community recently, especially with China. The 19 accords signed with China include one in which China will build 100,000 housing units for poor people. However, the Venezuelan president cautioned that the revolution needs to be self-sufficient and not depend only on outside sources.

The fifth and last concept had to do with international relations. He stated that Venezuela is dedicated to the construction of a pluripolar world and the integration of Latin America and the Caribbean.

He mentioned the ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas), which counters Washington's Free Trade Agreement of the Americas with a proposal for integration and cooperation among the countries of the region. A concrete first step, an accord recently signed with Cuba, took place in December.

One ALBA project is already in the works: the television network Telesur. Orig inally known as an "anti-CNN," Chávez described it instead as a network of stations throughout the region and beyond that will bring to vast audiences the reality and the struggles taking place in Latin America and the Caribbean. It is expected to air next month on an experimental basis.

Chávez also raised the kidnapping of Rodrigo Granda last December in Caracas. Granda is an international representative of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP). Chávez described the kidnapping carried out in his country by Colombian agents as a provocation set up by the United States to destabilize the Bolivarian Revolution and find justification to invade Venezuela. He also stated that, so far, the situation has been handled within the region.

Chávez was forced to recall Venezuela's ambassador to Colombia after that government publicly admitted it had bribed Venezuelan officers, in an act against the Bolivarian Republic's sovereignty, in order to kidnap Granda. However, Colom bia and Venezuela not only share a border, but important trade relations, and Venezuela threatened to shut down an important pipe line to its neighbor. Colombian President Álvaro Uribe then called Cuban President Fidel Castro asking for help to mediate in an attempt to normalize relations. Cuba sent representatives to help negotiations--a move that is sure to displease Washington.

Chávez also sent greetings to the people of Haiti, stating that Jean-Bertrand Aristide is the legitimate president, kidnapped by the U.S. in the same way he was during the April 2002 coup in Venezuela. He mentioned that in the last meeting of the regionpresidents, he stated that any solution to the crisis in Haiti will have to incorporate Aristide, that the solution could not be in the hands of the United Nations or any group of presidents--who should not interfere in other nations' problems--but in the hands of the Haitian people. He proposed a National Consti tuent Assembly, as was done in Venezuela, where the Haitian people could be consulted freely, without pressures or manipulation, to decide their destiny.

The Bolivarian Revolution needs solidarity from progressives worldwide, particularly here in the United States. The WSF next year will be decentralized, with five different forums in five different countries. The Americas Forum will be held in Venezuela and promises to be very action-oriented.