Bigger Crowd Urges a Focus on Social Ills.

By: Simon Romero

The New York Times, February 1, 2002

Porto Alegre, Brazil, Jan. 31. While the world's elite set to talking at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, thousands of the most vocal critics of globalization are here at the World Social Forum, a counterweight to the discussions on Park Avenue.

More than 14,000 delegates have arrived, four times the crowd in New York, to discuss how to attack global capitalism. Another 25,000 people came to attend parallel events, demonstrations and fringe meetings, some directed against the agenda of this meeting.

In contrast to last year, the six-day event began with a drift toward the center. Citing the pacifist underpinnings of this year's theme, "Another World Is Possible," organizers refused entry to groups that use violence, like the Basque separatist group E.T.A. and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

But they also barred "neo-liberal elements," including World Bank officials and Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian prime minister, from taking part in workshops. Mr. Verhofstadt has criticized antiglobalization movements, the organizers said.

"We want a peaceful gathering of participants who agree that the actual system of global capitalism has lost legitimacy," said Oded Grajew, one of the Brazilian organizers. "I doubt that we're on the same page as the World Bank."

Leading leftist figures like Noam Chomsky of M.I.T. and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the presidential candidate of Brazil's Workers Party, held news conferences to open the six-day event, but most attendees focused on easygoing conversation with counterparts from more than 100 countries in the cafes and gardens of the sprawling Pontifical Catholic University, where the workshops are being held.

"A new pragmatism is emerging about what can be done to mitigate the effects of globalization," said Maria Ivanova, a delegate from Bulgaria who focuses on the environmental. "I'm here more than anything to form a bond with people who can eventually wield influence over important policy decisions."

Mário Soares, the former president of Portugal; Rigoberta Menchú, the Guatemalan Nobel laureate; and Danielle Mitterrand, widow of the late French president, are among the luminaries here.

George Soros, who shares some of the delegates' concerns, considered attending but decided his presence might be disruptive, said Michael Vachon, a spokesman for Mr. Soros.

In contrast to the $25,000 needed to take part in the World Economic Forum, this meeting charges delegates about $50. Participants dressed for balmy summer weather in shorts and sandals. The relaxed atmosphere extended to the themes of some workshops, like "Samba as an Instrument of Resistance and Fighting Racism," or "Sex, Lies and Business."

In some ways, the forum has a French flavor, although organizers said the second-largest nationality in attendance after Brazilians are Italians. Three French presidential candidates, Jean-Pierre Chevčnement, Noël Mamčre and Olivier Besancenot, are here, as well as six ministers and representatives of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and President Jacques Chirac.

Last year the French agricultural activist José Bové stole the show when he was arrested for ripping genetically modified soybeans out of the ground at a nearby agricultural laboratory operated by Monsanto. Mr. Bové is here this year; too, though he is keeping a low profile after promising organizers he would not do anything illegal.

The forum's centrist tilt is not endorsed by everyone here. Some 300 homeless families connected to Brazil's National Shelter Struggle occupied an abandoned 14-story building in the old city center today, draping the movement's red flags out of broken windows.

"The World Social Forum is reformist economically, traditionalist politically and conformist socially," said Moésio Reboucas, one of Brazil's first antiglobalization organizers. Mr. Reboucas said he was especially critical of the role played by socialist politicians at the forum.

About $1.5 million of state and municipal subsidies allowed the forum to be held here, a city of 1.2 million people. For much of the last decade, leftist mayors from Brazil's Workers Party have governed this industrial center, a drab cityscape of whitewashed high-rises and low-slung warehouses. It is the capital of Rio Grande do Sul, a state also governed by the Workers Party.

Fausto Bertinotti, the secretary general of the Communist Refoundation Party in Italy, said he was pleased to be in a Latin American city governed by the left.

"The elite that are gathering today in New York share the mindset of the people at the I.M.F. who ruined Argentina," Mr. Bertinotti said. "They are a world away from us and what we are trying to do, which is to brainstorm for policies that are not a dead end for humanity."

Few delegates expect concrete proposals to emerge here. Instead, many hope to contribute to a dialogue on ways to mitigate capitalism's ills.

Carlos Rodgrigues, the owner of a video-game store who watched several thousand people gather downtown today for a peaceful march, was surprised by the kaleidoscope of ideas and approaches.

But he added, "I don't know if we taxpayers should be subsidizing an opportunity for Europeans to come to the southern hemisphere in their winter."

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