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Porto Alegre


Tariq Ali

The

World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, in the deep South of Brazil was more than a

symbolic counter to Davos. The aim behind it was serious: to unite the Seattle

generation with the Old Left and to think seriously about alternatives to

neo-liberalism. It is an example from the American continent for the rest of the

world. It was North American students and trades unionists who came out on the

streets of Seattle against capitalism. It is the South American left that is now

demonstrating what can be achieved in practice.

In

that sense the polar contrast between cold, isolated Davos, beseiged by

demonstraters and protected by the Swiss army on the one hand and the tropical

warmth and openness of Porto Allegre  highlighted the gulf between the two

events. The province of Rio Grande Sul and the town is run by the left-wing of

PT,  (the Brazilian  Workers Party) and a participatory democracy is

at work. The local state is active. The mayor of Porto Alegre, a self-confessed

devotee of Antonio Gramsci, is confident that the PT’s  project has

hegemonised a bulk of the population in the South. And not just the South. In

the recent mayoral elections in Brazil’s largest city,  Sao Paulo (pop:14

million), Marta Sulpicy, a leading PT intellectual defeated the Right and took

the  city against all predictions.

It

invests in schools and hospitals and infrastructural projects. This industrial

port, the sixth largest city in Brazil with a population of one and a half

million,  demonstrates  that a resistance to globalisation, however

modest,  is possible. The budgets are limited by the centrral government,

but  the PT local government involves the local population at every level

in determining how the money is spent. It was an ideal setting for such a

conference, which has greatly annoyed Brazil’s President, Fernando Henrique

Cardoso( one-time leftist and contributor to the New Left Review, but now a

great admirer of Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and the ‘third way`), whose own

neo-liberal solutions are currently under attack from all sides. Cardoso

denounced the PT for using tax-payers money to fund the Porto Allegre bash, but

the tax-payers I met seemed very happy that their town was the centre of world

attention. The local Chamber of Commerce denounced Cardoso for his remarks,

claiming that the out-of-season guests were benefiting the local economy. What

worries Cardoso is that the example might spread in Brazil itself , thus

propelling the PT to power nationally.

This

conference and its location represents a nightmare gathering for  The pro-globalisation 

pundits in the US press, typified by Daniel Yergin or Thomas Friedman of the NEW

YORK TIMES , who spend their lives promoting the message that the new economy is

‘cool` and that any state intervention  is totalitarian. This message which

has infected European social democracy like a spreading cancer is what was being

challenged  at this conference. There are delegates from 122 countries

attending a dozen plenary sessions and nearly 400 workshops to discuss

alternatives in more detail.  The importance of Cuba to Latin America was

demonstrated at the opening session when the conference applauded wildly the

presence of delegates from the tiny island, whose existence still remains

important to the left in Latin America. Ghosts from the past mingle easily with

the large number of young people. There were loud cheers when 84-year old

veteran Ahmed Ben Bella, the leader of the FLN in Algeria   and a

former President, announced that Che Guevara was the most amazing person he had

ever met and a fine figure of a man. Much to our amusement this was

mistranslated as a: " . and  Che had a beautiful body`.

There

are 40 Mayors of Latin American cities who have come here. Ken Livingstone was

invited, but failed to even respond to the invitation. Mariano Arana, the Mayor

of Montevideo, described the steady growth of misery in his own city. He was

here to find ways of regulating and controlling the brutality of the free

market.

The

strongest European presence was from France, the country hated the most by US

free-marketeers. Two ministers from the French Cabinet, dozens of MPs and

Euro-MPs and behind them the remarkable organising skills of Le Monde

Diplomatique as seen in the organisation Attack.

The

tension between the Cardoso government in the Centre and the PT government in

Rio Grande Sul reached breaking point on the last night of the World SocialForum.

The Federal police arrested the French farmer Jose Bove on the orders of the

Minister of Interioir in Brasilia and served him with an expulsion notice. Bove

had joined the Landless Peasants Movement which was occupying a Monsanto field

trying out genetically modiefied crops. The local government had  declared

it illegal to plant gm crops in its province, but Monsanto obtained permission

from the Federal governmment.  Bove’s arrest and expulsion  was a

spectacular own goal by Cardoso. It enraged much of  the media and gave

incredible publicity to the Forum. It also helped to defuse the tension with the

Forum between the two currents: the social movements and the politicians. Many

activists from the social movements had been annoyed by the opening session

which was dominated by PT leader Lula and formere French Cabinet Minister

Chevenement.

The

closing session restored the precarious balance. Jose Bove and the social

movements dominated it with everyone chanting: WE ARE ALL JOSE BOVE. Bove 

was in a cheerful mood, when I spoke to him the morning after.  He was

planning to leave the country that day in any case,  but had decided to

defy the expulsion order.

What

was missing at the conference was the presence of Russians, Eastern Europeans,

Chinese…… these are the citizens who are suffering the effects of 

‘shock-therapy’ and capitalism. The figures on public education, health,

employment in all these countries show a sensational decline since 1990. Perhaps

they will be there next year when the World Social Forum challenges Davos once

again.

 

 

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