Globalization Foes Converge on Brazil For Protest of World Economic Forum

By:  Associated Press
The Washington Post, January 30, 2002


Sao Paulo, Brazil -- Globalization foes are converging on the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre for the World Social Forum, a self-styled nemesis of the World Economic Forum being held simultaneously in New York.

The summit begins Thursday, and 60,000 activists are expected to attend from dozens of countries as diverse as Finland, Indonesia and Burkina Faso.

Participants see the summit as a dam against a tidal wave of unfettered world capitalism. They'll crowd into Porto Alegre's Catholic University for hundreds of panel discussions, debates and seminars on topics ranging from the Third World's foreign debt to the problems of indigenous peoples.

To relax, they can dance at a concert of top Brazilian band O Rappa, listen to a reading by Portuguese Nobel literature laureate, Jose Saramago, or go to a "meditation and spiritual celebration at dawn for peace and social justice."

Favorite items for sale at the forum market will likely be Che Guevara T-shirts, organic products and radical literature.

"The World Social Forum has been, without a doubt, an enormous media success," said Paulo Roberto de Almeida, a sociologist specializing in international relations. "This success, paradoxically, should be credited entirely to globalization."

Cheaper air transport, more open borders, better telecommunications and the Internet as well as the global media -- all part of the global economic trends that many of the activists protest against -- gave last year's meeting a high profile, he said.

Opponents of globalization feel they've gained ground this year in their fight against what they disparagingly call "neoliberalism" -- a mix of unfettered free-market economics, liberal trade and the breakdown of national borders.

The Sept. 11 terror attacks and the anthrax scare, the economic downturn in the U.S., Europe and Japan, and the collapse of Argentina's economy have been blows to globalization, they say, as do some globalization proponents.

All the more reason to present a convincing alternative, the Porto Alegre activists argue.

Boaventura de Sousa Santos, sociology professor at Portugal's Coimbra University and a keynote speaker in Porto Alegre last year and this, said the first Social Forum aimed "to show there are alternatives to neoliberal globalization."

"That has been achieved," he said, arguing that the world now sees that free-market economics "are very exclusive and must be controlled."

Organizations like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank "must acknowledge their past errors and need to formulate more realistic policies" for helping poor countries, he said.

With antiglobalization protesters increasingly dogging international gatherings, the economic establishment has been stressing that rich, industrialized nations must do more to help poor, developing countries. But its supporters also argue that poor nations have a lot to gain from globalization.

Last month, a World Bank study said developing economies that embraced globalization -- including Mexico, Uganda, China and Vietnam -- have done better at combating poverty.

"Globalization often has been a very powerful force for poverty reduction, but too many countries and people have been left out," said Nicholas Stern, the World Bank's chief economist.

"Some anxieties about globalization are well-founded," he said. "But reversing globalization would come at an intolerably high price, destroying the prospects of prosperity for many millions of poor people."

Organizers in Porto Alegre are concerned that radical antiglobalization groups will steal the show with violence or headline-grabbing activities, overshadowing the debate at the meeting.

More than 1,100 police officers and 600 reserves will keep watch on two major antiglobalization marches. "We will allow no violence," said Deputy Gov. Miguel Rossetto.

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