The Fifth Annual World Social Forum (WSF) held in Porto Alegre, Brazil from January 26-31 garnered almost no media coverage in the United States. Timed to coincide with the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the WSF drew 155,000 activists from 135 countries, who assembled to challenge Bush’s agenda.
The weeklong happening, called “Another World Is Possible,” kicked off with a “march for peace.” An estimated 200,000 people, many with turbans or indigenous clothing, carried bright flags and marched to the beat of omnipresent drums. Several bore posters with pictures of Bush (“The World’s No. 1 Terrorist”). The mood was festive but purposeful as old and young, black, brown, yellow and white, prepared to strategize about how to create a just and peaceful world.
One of the most compelling speakers at the WSF was John Perkins, a former CIA operative and self-described economic hit man for U.S. imperialism. It was Perkins’ job to meet with a leader of a targeted country and encourage him to accept a large loan for a project that both the CIA and the leader knew the country could not afford. The money would go to a bank in the United States and U.S. corporations would get the contract to do the job. The country was then beholden to the United States, manipulated to support U.S. policy and make its natural resources available to U.S. corporations. This is the model of “neo-liberalism.”
Where a head of state refused to accept the CIA’s offer, Perkins would remind him that several leaders had been assassinated or become the victims of a coup and removed from office (e.g., Chile, Haiti). In such a situation, the CIA would back opposition movements within the target country, support corrupt military leaders, or undermine the country’s economy. The CIA often sent in “jackals,” or “hit men,” who plied their trade when other methods failed. Omar Torrijos, former president of Panama, was one victim of these jackals.
When both the economic hit men and the jackals were unsuccessful in bringing the country under U.S. domination, the tactic of last resort was war. This is what happened in Iraq after the U.S. was unable to convince Saddam to support its policies.
Notwithstanding Bush’s rhetoric about creating democracies throughout the world, the United States has tried mightily to facilitate the overthrow of twice democratically-elected Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. But it has thus far failed. (See my editorial, Chavez Victory: Defeat for Bush Policy). There was talk last week at the WSF that the U.S. is attempting to get Colombia to invade Venezuela, but Chavez and other Latin American leaders are trying to defuse the situation. Likewise, Dick Cheney lobbed out the possibility that Israel might attack Iran (thereby using Israel as a U.S. surrogate to enable the installation of an Iranian government more receptive to U.S. policies).
Hugo Chavez, who also spoke at the WSF, received a hero’s welcome. He highlighted the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), a proposal made by Venezuela as an alternative to the Free Trade of the Americas. The ALBA emphasizes social and cultural exchanges over profit-based economic deals. Chavez noted, “We can’t wait for a sustained economic growth of 10 years in order to start reducing poverty through the trickledown effect, as the neoliberal economic theories propose.”
Chavez criticized Condoleezza Rice’s recent assertion that Chavez was “a negative force in the region.” He said relations between the U.S. and Venezuela will remain unhealthy as long as the United States continues its policy of aggression. “The most negative force in the world today is the government of the United States,” Chavez said.
Significantly, Chavez maintained, “We must start talking again about equality. The U.S. government talks about freedom and liberty, but never about equality.” Indeed, Bush told the Congressional Black Caucus a few days ago that he was “unfamiliar” with the Voting Rights Act.
Walden Bello, executive director of Focus on the Global South and professor of sociology and public administration at the University of the Philippines, analyzed the role that cultural oppression played in the U.S. presidential election. Bello said that although neo-liberalism and militarism are significant problems, “the cultural dimension is what led the Bush administration to victory by drawing its support largely based on white people in the U.S.” He noted, “The Bush administration in fact appeals to traditional forms of cultural oppression through traditional forms of cultural ethnocentrism and of traditional and old forms of racism.” The people who voted for Bush, according to Bello, “were voting against blacks, they were voting against immigrants, the feminist movement, foreign imports and foreign ideas that are not American.”
The American Association of Jurists (AAJ), in association with the Latin American Association of Labor Lawyers, sponsored three days of panel discussions on Law, Public Order and Social Integration at the WSF. As the U.S. representative to the AAJ, I gave a presentation on Human Rights and the New World Order, in which I noted that Bush told his advisors on the evening of September 11, 2001, that the terrorist attacks provided a “great opportunity” for the United States. Likewise, when the tsunami devastated Asia, Condoleezza Rice used almost the same words. She said the tsunami was a “wonderful opportunity” for the U.S. I presented an analysis of how the neoconservatives have hijacked United States foreign policy and the resulting decimation of human rights, including the torture of prisoners in U.S. custody.
Another speaker at the AAJ conference was Arnel Medina Cuenca, president of the National Union of Cuban Jurists. Discussing the U.S. policy of neo-liberalism, he said, “Matan a los pobres pero no a la pobresa” (“They kill the poor but not the poverty.”)
The AAJ passed a resolution in support of the five Cuban political prisoners incarcerated in New York for what was, in effect, their anti-terrorist actions against terrorists in the U.S. who sought to overthrow the Cuban government. Another AAJ resolution calls for the return of Vieques, a United States military installation on the land of the U.S. colony Puerto Rico. The resolution also calls on the U.S. government to finance the decontamination of Vieques, which has been poisoned by depleted uranium and heavy metals from U.S. weapons testing and military training exercises. As a result the people of Vieques have the highest incidence of cancer in Puerto Rico.
Programs at the WSF advocated sustainable development, cancellation of Third World debt, an end to corporate abuse, struggle against United States imperialism, and termination of the occupation of Iraq.
In Bush’s State of the Union address this evening, we can expect to hear more rhetoric about “freedom,” “liberty” and “spreading democracy throughout the world.” For most of the people of the world, however, Bush’s words signal the spread of neo-liberalism, aggression and regime change, to their detriment. The World Social Forum is one small step toward uniting progressives from around the world to defy Bush’s agenda which threatens us all.