World Social Forum message to Davos: We told you so

Five heads of state and 100,000 activists gather for World Social Forum to promote region as alternative economic model in face of recession

Rory Carroll, Latin America correspondent, Friday 30 January 2009 17.54 GMT @ (external link)

Left to right: Presidents Fernando Lugo, of Paraguay, Evo Morales, of Bolivia, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, of Brazil, Rafael Correa, of Ecuador, and Hugo Chávez, of Venezuela, at the World Social Forum in Belem. Photograph: Andre Penner/AP

The bankers and politicians gathered in Davos for the World Economic Forum may have only admitted it to themselves privately, but a rival summit wanted to remind them: you really screwed up.

In a challenge to the high-powered Swiss gathering, tens of thousands of anarchists, socialists, environmentalists, Amazon tribes and South American presidents gathered in the Brazilian city of Belem this week to promote Latin America as a model for global economic development and co-operation.

The theme of the ninth World Social Forum was "another world is possible", but in light of the financial crisis spreading through western economies, the unofficial motto was "we told you so".

US economic blunders had created the mess and only "21st-century socialism" could fix it, said the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez. "Misery, poverty and unemployment are on the rise, and it's mostly the fault of global capitalism."

The forum had to seize the initiative and offer solutions, Chávez told cheering crowds. "In Davos the world that is dying is meeting, here the world that is being born is meeting."

The week-long gathering near the mouth of the Amazon river drew up to 100,000 people, including indigenous tribes and five regional heads of state. All offered a critique of western-led globalisation.

The Ecuadorian president, Rafael Correa, one of a new wave of leftist leaders, said the neo-liberal idealogues in Davos had failed. "They are the ones responsible for the crisis. They are not the ones to give us lessons."

With Paraguay's bishop-turned-president, Fernando Lugo, Correa led an audience in an ebullient chorus of songs, including Comandante Che Guevara, a tribute to the Argentinian revolutionary.

Bolivia's Evo Morales, the Andean country's first Aymara president, said social movements must ensure priviliged elites no longer accumulate capital without considering the human cost.

The Brazilian president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a moderate leftist, has previously attended Davos but this year shunned it for Belem and brought with him a dozen cabinet ministers.

His government would invest in industry to create jobs rather than throw public money at banks as Europe and the US had done, he said. "I believe the crisis is much more severe. We don't know how deep it will go."

Latin America still winces at the painful humiliation of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund ordering austerity measures in the 1980s and 90s. "Now, I expect the IMF to go to the US president, Barack Obama and tell him how to fix the economy," said Lula. © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009