by Mario Osava
(IPS) PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil --
World Social Forum opened here January 25 with an appeal for greater social justice and international solidarity that drew thousands of marchers and some 1,600 journalists.
The Porto Alegre conference, a gathering of social activists opposing globalization from a wide range of organizations, was described as a revolt against the "Darwinist vision of human relations and of a society treated like a jungle," by the leftist governor of Porto Alegre, Olivio Dutra.
The World Social Forum (WSF) opens the possibility of promoting "integration among people and not among merchandise," said Olivio Dutra, governor of Rio Grande do Sul, as he saluted the delegates of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), trade unions, social movements and leftist politicians gathered in this southern Brazilian city.
Beginning with this Forum, which is to be held every year, we hope to build "a humanity of greater solidarity, closer to freedom and on its way to equality," affirmed Tarso Genro, mayor of Porto Alegre, the capital of Rio Grande do Sul.
Representatives from more than 120 countries will be meeting in the city through Jan. 30, "to prove that another world is possible," stated the editor of the French newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique, Bernard Cassen, who serves on the organizing committee as one of the masterminds behind the event.
The WSF is an attempt to counterbalance the World Economic Forum, which also began Jan. 25 across the Atlantic in the Swiss alpine resort city of Davos.
The annual conference there draws corporate executives (from the 1,000 largest transnational firms), financiers and government leaders to debate neoliberal policies that seek to deepen the current globalization process.
The realities the WSF must work to change, he said, are the minimum government for the majority while the greater government serves a few powerful groups, and use of technological advances only "to accumulate and concentrate wealth," instead of improving humanity's standard of living.
An estimated 2,000 people crowded into the auditorium at the local Catholic University to attend the inaugural session. Beginning Jan. 26, 16 panels and 408 workshops will be held, in which participants will discuss a broad range of topics.
The intense applause and shouts of support heard when Cuba was mentioned among the 123 countries participating in the WSF made the political orientation of the conference clear.
The enthusiasm can also by explained by the fact that the Party of Workers (PT), Brazil's leading force of the political left, has governed Porto Alegre for the last two years. Its members include Genro and Dutra, the hosts for this first WSF.
The strongest delegation here is probably the French, in part because of the crucial support Le Monde Diplomatique has provided the WSF.
Also, France has star representatives, including Danielle Mitterrand, former first lady of France and current president of the France Liberte Association, and farmer-unionist Jose Bove, famous for his protests against the globalization represented by the McDonald's fast-food chain.
In addition, the French government sent two of its ministers to Porto Alegre -- Guy de Hascoet, of the economic solidarity ministry, and Francois Huwart, of foreign trade.
At a meeting that was clearly left leaning, Oded Grajew, coordinator of the Brazilian Association of Entrepreneurs for the Citizenry, felt right at home. "If only all entrepreneurs were leftists," he told IPS, saying it is this political sector that fights for social justice and solidarity.
"The world must change its economic development model," for both social and environmental reasons, observed the businessman, who also heads the Ethos Institute, which calls for greater social responsibility in the business world through taking part in programs to fight poverty and inequality.
Changing the economic route the world is following "is a question of everyone's survival," evidenced by the ecological disaster of rapid global warming, Grajew pointed out.
"We have to accomplish in three or four years what Davos did in 30 years," stressed Candido Grzybowski, director-general of the Brazilian Institute of Socio-Economic Analysis, one of the NGOs on the event's organizing committee.
The challenge is not just to counterbalance Davos, but also "to be bold enough to think, to create an affirmative wave of action and a different kind of globalization," one that is based on society and sustainable human development, not on the profit-seeking of financial and corporate conglomerates, he explained.
Economic, social and cultural rights, food security, the defining of common ownership -- over water, for example -- and the "older issues" like agrarian reform and sustainable cities, will be among the essential matters of "the possible world" that will be discussed over the next five days, and beyond, said Grzybowski.
January 25, 2001 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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