World Social Forum tells Davos to fix crisis — or else

3 days ago

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BELEM, Brazil (AFP) — Leftwing leaders and groups attending the World Social Forum in Brazil have dealt an ultimatum to political and corporate chiefs who met at the same time in the Swiss resort of Davos: fix this crisis — or else. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said at the event in Belem on Friday that it was urgent for the rich nations "to resolve this crisis so the poor countries can develop."

But he warned against worrying signs of protectionism, saying: "It's not fair that, now that the rich countries are in crisis, they forget their talk about free trade."

The presidents of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay echoed his comments putting the blame for the worldwide turbulence on developed nations, particularly the United States.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez also urged the forum's 100,000 participants to "go on the offensive" to counter free trade pacts and other US-sponsored neoliberal economic initiatives in Latin America.

Unions needed no encouragement. They said capitalism was on the ropes and that government efforts around the world to revive it were misguided.

Mass lay-offs were likely to lead to street violence that could presage a fundamental shake-up of society, they said.

"It's obvious the effects of this crisis will be large-scale social conflicts," Martha Martinez, the Americas director for the World Federation of Unions, told trade unionists.

Many of the labor, environmental, religious, indigenous and charity groups represented at the World Social Forum felt emboldened by the shifts being felt around the globe.

The more optimistic said they expected a fairer world would emerge, one where wealth was more evenly distributed.

"I think the future of the planet is socialist," said Sonia Latge, the political science director for Brazil's Workers' Central of Brazil.

Others, though, acknowledged that the changes were unpredictable — and brought their share of pain.

"There is a very important risk of a cut in public aid," Jean-Louis? Vielajus, the head of a French NGO umbrella organization called Coordination SUD, told AFP.

"There is a sense of injustice" that so many billions were being spent on shoring up the battered world financial system while so little was going to fight poverty, deforestation, hunger and sickness," he added.

Candido Grzybowski, the organizer of the World Social Forum, said: "It's not up to Davos to give alternatives, because it was them (political and economic policy-makers) who created this situation."

Nevertheless, new US President Barack Obama, who is hastening another massive bail-out for his country, at the epicenter of the crisis, was seen as key to the direction of solutions.

"He still has to prove himself. But what he's said in his speeches, his actions — up to now, it's a very good sign," Cassandre Blier of the World University Service of Canada, an international development organization, told AFP. The World Social Forum was to wrap up Sunday after a final round of talks, shows and meetings among participants.

Despite its sprawling, semi-organized nature, participants lauded the opportunity it presented to coordinate strategies and build partnerships, especially in this time of upheaval.

"It's positive that the forum exists and continues to exist," said Taciana Gouveia, head of the Brazilian Association of NGOs (ABONG).