S. American leaders join anti-Davos social forum

BELEM, Brazil Friday, 30 January 2009 01:43:40

By BRADLEY BROOKS - Associated Press Writer

@ http://www.esearchnet.com/news/article/view/oc/1102/did/D9615OMG0 (external link)

South America's leading advocates of socialism got a hero's welcome from 100,000 activists at the mouth of the Amazon River Thursday as they demanded an overhaul of global capitalism.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said the time has come for the world's leftists to "leave the trenches," propose solutions and "launch a political ideological offensive everywhere."

Advocates for landless Brazilians in a sweltering gymnasium and roared in approval as Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa belted out the Cuban classic "Comandante Che Guevara," accompanied by a lone guitarist. Bolivia's Evo Morales and Paraguay's Fernando Lugo joined them on stage at the World Social Forum. But the loudest cheers were for Chavez.

"Chavez is fighting for people like me and his presence validates our movement," said 34-year-old Brazilian activist and singer Nicinha Durans, whose bright red shirt read "Hip Hop Militant."

Morales, Bolivia's first Indian president, also saluted the crowd at the annual protest against the World Economic Forum, where the rich and powerful gather at the Swiss ski resort of Davos each year.

"Before you are four presidents _ four presidents who could not be here were it not for your fight," he said. "I see so many brothers and sisters here, from Latin America's social movements to European figures."

Later, more than 10,000 of the 100,000 activists in Belem for the forum packed a convention center, waving red flags and danced atop chairs to Brazilian music when the leaders plus Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva showed up to address the crowd.

"Latin America is changing and the hope is the north will change as well," declared Lugo, a former Roman Cathlic priest and follower of liberation theology. "We have seen the economic policies they said were so efficient fail."

A Brazilian Indian who identified himself only as Vander said he traveled for a full day by riverboat to reach the event so he could "be here to represent my people and their struggle."

Silva _ a former union leader who has steered Brazil on a centrist course as president _ decided to make his first social forum appearance in three years instead of going to Switzerland.

Some activists said they weren't angry at him for shunning the gathering in previous years, and predicted a warm welcome.

But Durans said others will protest against Silva because his administration has embraced many of the free-market economic policies he denounced before being elected president in 2003.

"He has let us down, and he won't be welcome here," Durans said.