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At the gates of the next World Social Forum in Belém de Pará

At the gates of the next World Social Forum in Belém de Pará

By Sergio Ferrari

Between January 27 and February 1, 2009 a new edition of the World Social Forum (WSF) will take place. Since its creation in 2001, the WSF has become a space for the articulation of the main global social networks and movements.

At the gates of the next World Social Forum in Belém de Pará - Interview with Antonio Martins, co-founder of the World Social Forum:

"More than ever, bet on the imagination"


Between January 27 and February 1, 2009 a new edition of the World Social Forum (WSF) will take place. Since its creation in 2001, the WSF has become a space for the articulation of the main global social networks and movements. The Belén edition will be marked by a double challenge. Not only limited to the diagnosis of a crisis that no one discusses anymore. But also accelerate the proposition of alternatives to it. "We must bet on the imagination", underlines in this exclusive interview Antonio Martins, journalist and social activist, one of the promoters of the birth of the WSF. Founder of ATTAC Brasil; member of the organizing team of the first forums; current director of the Brazilian version of Le Monde Diplomatique on the Internet, Martins integrates
also the International Council of the WSF, that is, the facilitating space
of the WSF.

Q: A new World Social Forum, this time in Belém de Pará. What again can a particularly "provincial" scenario in the interior of Brazil contribute to the more globalized, alter-globalization reflection?

A: The choice of Bethlehem was made in May 2007 during a session of the International Council held in Berlin. They played in the designation of place, two factors. The first - although not the main one - was the return to Brazil to regain international visibility. It should be remembered that in 2006 three decentralized forums were held in Mali, Venezuela and Pakistan. In 2007 it was convened in Nairobi, Kenya. And in 2008, a large number of initiatives and activities were promoted in many places. But everything was less shocking than the previous forums, held between 2001 and 2005. Four times in Porto Alegre, and the fifth, in 2005, in Mumbai. So, in 2009, it is committed to ensuring again the great social participation that occurred in the first five editions and transmitting the mobilizing energy that was the protagonist in them. On the other hand, when appointing Belém, it was bet that in Brazil, certain key ideas such as horizontality, diversity, multiple protagonists are already quite entrenched and that there is no need to fear problems of partisan competition or lack of transparency between who organizes and who finances the Forum.

However, I am convinced that the decisive factor for appointing Belém is linked to the symbolic value of holding a world meeting in the Amazon. A region under constant pressure from the wildest forces of capitalism: the devastation of the jungle; the irresponsible exploitation of the environment - to respond to the * needs * of the world market-; the murder of peasants and indigenous people; the more active presence of organized crime and large landowners with more weight than the State itself.

Another man-nature relationship

Q: With an active presence of actors and social movements?

A: Indeed. The Amazon expresses, at the same time, the possibility of establishing another relationship between human beings and nature. Despite the brutal onslaught of the prevailing economic model, 80% of the forest is still standing. Social movements and organized civil society are actively present, in a capillary way, throughout this vast region. Even in cities or small towns it is imaginable to find an active group of women, an organization of quilombolas. The indigenous population, which conserves its cultural heritage, is conquering nature reserves. There is also a strong presence of groups that relate to nature and production in an alternative way: sustainable extraction cooperatives; organic agriculture, peasant settlements,
fair trade and solidarity exchanges.

In summary, the Amazon is today a symbol both of the destruction of the planet - which anticipates greater climatic catastrophes - and of the possibility of another type of post-capitalist civilization. And in that
context, Belém, among all the cities of the Amazon region, is the one that offers the best infrastructure conditions. And it also ensures the possibility of land access, which does not happen in Manaus (also Brazil) or Iquitos (Peru).

Q: Isn't there the risk that the internal political reality of Brazil conditions the broader reflection on major global issues?

I don `t believe. The planetary society faces a tangled and complex crisis: environmental, food, energy elements. I think that will be decisive. It is necessary to see if the ideas and alternatives that are built in the Amazon will be heard and incorporated in other societies on the planet. That is, for me, the great challenge of Belém.

Repetition or novelty?

Q: The organizers recently anticipated the thematic axes of the WSF 2009. In a way, not very different from those of the previous forums. What will be the main contribution of the Belém debate to the global alter-globalization reflection?

A: The so-called "themes" have never meant much on social forums. They are, more than anything, a reference. A means for activities related to the same themes promoted from different parts of the world and by different organizations to recognize each other.

I think the challenge goes beyond the predefined thematic axes. It is about responding in a concrete and effective way to the main social and political challenges arising from the current crisis
economic-financial world.

I say this for various reasons. In the first place, because this situation will imply dramatic consequences in terms of unemployment, productive de-structuring, attacks on social rights, relocation of production following the pattern of lower wages. A framework that can be the breeding ground for new forms of fascism, chauvinism and racism. And to think that the neighbor is responsible for your problems and ailments. Or to think that it is necessary to empower a leader to be able to face the crisis.

Secondly, because at the same time - and almost contradictorily to what was previously described - a unique window of unprecedented opportunities is opening, in any case, at least since the beginning of the last century. An opportune moment to demonstrate the failure of capitalist values ​​and logic and particularly to propose viable alternatives for the entire planet. The crisis has revealed that markets are incapable of regulating themselves, much less societies. Hence, for example, that the Noble Prize in Economics, Joseph Stiglitz, compares the dimension of this crisis with the fall of the Berlin Wall for the real socialism of the former Eastern European countries. The development of this crisis will reveal other typical contradictions of the system. Among them inequality, as a phenomenon that is behind the production of goods; or alignment, that is, production and consumption unrelated to consciousness ...

What makes seizing this window of opportunity more difficult is that the reconstruction of a theory of emancipation and post-capitalism is something that began very recently. We have learned a lot from the convergences around the World Social Forums. We know, for example, that it is possible to make seeds of post-capitalism flourish even under the hegemony of the system; that it is possible to cultivate alternative logics; that it is essential to articulate thousands of transformative actions -although
sometimes very local and at times naive - and turn them into actions of a global and powerful character; that there are multiple social subjects that can participate in this effort. The key question is: have we already managed to agglutinate a critical mass capable of multiplying our actions so much
like our responses to the crisis?

Renewed globalism


Q: There are not few voices that classify social forums as exhausted spaces. Especially after "weak" experiences like the last European Social Forum that took place in September in Malmö, Sweden. What is your own vision?

A: My impression is totally different. I do not verify an exhaustion of the forums and of alter-globalism. This term is used, in general, by those who bet that the WSF would become a kind of V International. A group of intellectuals launched a Manifesto and the Bamako Declaration in 2006 in Porto Alegre in 2005. They proposed that, in order to be more effective, forums should reduce their diversity a little and focus on a smaller number of topics, in order to be supposedly capable to unleash truly anti-systemic actions. And they proposed transferring the axis of the struggle for transformation to a series of progressive governments, such as that of Chávez in Venezuela. As this conception did not prosper in the forums, then they launched the thesis of
"exhaustion" and the need for a "post-alter-globalism".

Although I respect and greatly admire some of the supporters of this point of view, I believe that they did not fully understand certain new characteristics of the Forums and that is why they try to reproduce, in a new reality, certain old formulas.

The new political culture that arises in the Social Forums does not recognize the centrality of taking institutional power for changes. Nor is representation, that is, the possibility of expressing our own wishes for new projects, transferring it to a political party - be it for
the vote or the insurrection.

The people who come to the Forums are, mainly, those who believe it is necessary to do politics 365 days a year, even if it is for localized and small actions. The one that is guided in its daily practice by values ​​such as equality - not in homogeneity but in diversity. The one that does not accept hierarchical relationships, that aspires to a new attitude towards nature… And for such ideas, it gains growing support in public opinion.

The deficit of alter-globalism

Q: Does your strong optimism recognize shortcomings and weaknesses in this process?

A: Sure. I think we are behind in an essential task. If we believe in these new paths, we must be able to articulate the force to obtain these changes. That is, to be able to trigger more significant campaigns, actions. And, for example, if we say that all local actions in organic food production are very valuable, we must fight at the same time for new rules of international trade. And that articulation of local actions to achieve campaigns with a more global effect requires theory. If we keep repeating and don't put in the effort to come up with bolder actions, the sector of societies that is open and responsive to our values ​​may be disappointed. And there is, in my opinion, the cause of some weakened social forums.

Q: If we go back to the current crisis, to what extent can the diagnosis of what is happening prevail, in Belém, over, precisely, that attempt to find more daring proposals, with more impact?

A: Paradoxically, if I could choose, I think it would be better if the crisis came a little later. And that social movements had a little more experiences in new forms of social transformation. But it is, in fact, an absurd hypothesis. The crisis is here today. So the construction of alternatives must be done now, corresponding to the speed and depth of the crisis. We will make it? I dont know. But we have to try.

Imaginative proposals

Q: How should one try? Where to go?

A: The way is to bet on the imagination. Which implies two main ideas. First, we now have to overcome much more quickly, a political culture that prioritized denunciation, because it left the construction of new social relationships until after the * enlightened * day when we would conquer power. Such a position is particularly tragic in times of crisis, when people, often desperate, need concrete answers more than ever. And if we don't offer you those
answers or we limit ourselves simply to denouncing the system, without suggesting a way out, we can even run the risk that people will seek alternatives in simplistic ultra-right positions.

Second, the ideological wall that prohibited the search for new paths fell apart. In the United States alone, 5 trillion dollars (five million million) have been invested so far to avoid the bankruptcy of the financial system.

A reality that denies, by itself, the idea that states "only spend what they collect." No! The state, the only current issuer of money, also redistributes (or concentrates) wealth through fiscal and monetary interventions.

So we have the right to ask ourselves: If it is possible to allocate 5 trillion to save the banks, why not a similar amount to ensure a decent life for all? It would represent about 770 dollars for each inhabitant of the planet or 2.1 dollars a day on an annual basis.

This in a world where, according to the World Bank, 2.7 billion people survive on less than $ 2 a day and 1.1 billion on less than $ 1 a day.

We can also ask: why not allocate those 5 billion worldwide, for infrastructure and public services? And we must take the initiative and demonstrate, with data from the United Nations, that these resources would be sufficient, for example, to reduce hunger on the planet; to significantly decrease contagion or deaths caused by pandemics and diseases such as AIDS or diarrhea; to preserve forests; to ensure universal basic education; to promote public access to the Internet; to promote the construction of wind power plants etc.
Hence, we can move on to very specific proposals. For example the formula 1 + 1 + 1. In other words, for every penny used to save the financial system, governments should also invest a penny for infrastructure and public services and a penny for programs of
income redistribution, all on a global scale.

And to articulate responses like this, the World Social Forum space is not only a necessity but an opportunity. Hence the enormous challenge of the Belém de Pará WSF.

Sergio Ferrari, E-CHANGER press collaboration NGO for solidarity cooperation organized since 2001 by the Swiss delegation to the WSF


Video: World Social Forum (January 2022).