Cool vibes, muddy results at social Brazil forum

By BRADLEY BROOKS Associated Press Writer © 2009 The Associated Press Feb. 1, 2009, 8:47PM

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BELEM, Brazil — The world's biggest counterculture political gathering ended Sunday with a flurry of photo-snapping, tent folding and farewell embraces — as well as uncertainty about what concrete results were accomplished in the stifling heat of this jungle city.

Caetano Filho, wearing dreadlocks but no shirt, paused in rolling a sizable marijuana joint to consider the outcome of the World Social Forum, meant as a contrast to the yearly gathering of the powerful at frigid Davos, Switzerland. "I made great contacts with people from all over the world and this was a good space to trade ideas," said the 21-year-old student from Brazil's Bahia state who sat amid hundreds of tents in the student camping area. The guitar-strumming men, young women who went topless and mud from daily rains led some to call it the "Woodstock of the left."

"I think the message sent from here will have significant resonance," Filho said, "but we certainly didn't propose concrete alternatives to what they are doing in Davos."

This year's forum has a renewed sense of purpose and importance, participants said, coming as it does amid a global financial crisis.

"This colonial economic model — capitalism — that pits a state against its own people has to end and has clearly failed," said Daniel Pasqual, an Indian rights leader from Guatemala.

Five Latin American presidents joined about 100,000 activists from around the world whose discussions — in conference rooms and around beer coolers — feed the debate of the world's political left.

"We're pointing out things that the developed nations don't want to see," said Luiz Miguel Fernandez Vega, a 28-year-old from Leon, Mexico, who recently completed his international relations studies. "This is a scream of hope from the bottom, to say that we're here and we want to change things."

Thousands of mostly young activists bought T-shirts with leftist messages, took photos with Amazonian Indians and piled their backpacks onto large wooden carts that local men hauled by foot more than a mile (2 kilometers) to the gate of the sprawling university campus where many events and the campgrounds were located. Activists from every part of the planet came to share their causes: land rights for Amazonian Indians, support for Cuba's government, the struggle against marital violence in India. Vegetarians protested meat. Anarchists battled authority.

Muamar Orabi, a 36-year-old Palestinian activist and journalist from Ramallah in the West Bank, said his delegation came to promote solidarity for his people's fight against Israeli occupation.

"The forum is a good platform to globalize our struggle — not just the Palestinians' but all social movements in the world," he said. The presidents of Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay all spoke to the delegates — the first time more than two presidents have attended the forum that began in 2001.

Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva won the loudest applause with harsh criticism against the developed nations that he says created the world financial crisis and his praise of the audience for demonstrating "that another world is not only possible — it is absolutely necessary."

"The forum itself was chaos," said Julia Vilela, 21, a student from Rio de Janeiro who camped out all week. "The meetings were rarely held where they were advertised or at the hour scheduled. "But the scene, man, was really cool."