Leftist activists meet in Amazon city of Belem

World leftist activists gathered in the Brazilian city of Belem as the Ninth World Social Forum opened on Wednesday, the same day the Davos summit began. Organizers expected 100,000 attendees energized by the global financial crisis.


REUTERS - Thousands of leftist activists, energized by the faltering global capitalist system, marched through the Amazon city of Belem on Tuesday as an international forum began under the banner of "another world is possible."


Undeterred by a huge Amazon rain downpour, soaked participants at the Ninth World Social Forum danced, sang and drummed their way through the steamy Brazilian city, doing some justice to the local media's description of the event as a tropical Woodstock.


The forum, which brings together groups ranging from communists to environmentalists to spiritual healers as well as government leaders, was brought to Belem partly as a way of drawing global attention to the destruction of the Amazon rain forest.


Often criticized as out of touch with the mainstream, the 6-day-long event has been given extra clout this year by the global economic crisis that has seen even capitalist bastion the United States pump public money into its tottering banks.


"New governments require new consciousness, new economies require new consciousness -- I would like to see something fundamental (from the forum) to counter the world crisis," said Cho Tab Khen Zambuling, a spiritual leader from Chile.


Zambuling, a white-bearded 61-year-old wearing flowing white robes and prayer cymbals, used to be more commonly known as Alfredo Sfeir-Younis, a director of the World Bank. He is now head of the Zambuling Institute for Human Transformation.


The annual forum, which began in 2001 in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, is expected to draw about 100,000 attendees.


Five leaders of Latin American countries, many of which have shifted to the political left in recent years, are expected to attend this week's forum, which as in previous editions is timed to coincide with the Davos business-leaders forum in Switzerland.


At the opening march, Japanese peace activists waving fans mingled with Amazon Indians in indigenous dress and members of the Brazil Communist Party hoisting hammer-and-sickle flags. Samba drums and beer vendors helped keep up the Carnival atmosphere.




The theme uniting the disparate groups is that "another world" with more social justice, indigenous rights and greater respect for the environment should emerge from the global economic crisis. As in previous years, the forum will have its own currency as a model of keeping wealth within a community.


"Now is the time. There must be a radical change." said Martin Herberg, a 28-year-old German with the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, a leftist research group.


"It can't just be austerity policies from international institutions like the IMF. There has to be land reform and I think now is the time for some banks to be nationalized."


Andre Perrot, with French human rights group Peuples Solidaires, rejected criticism that the forum was merely a talking shop with no mechanisms for taking binding decisions.


"When you go back to your country you have to have a great number of proposals to identify the problem. The really good thing is that these proposals come from the base."


But for Heitor Cesar, a member of the Brazilian Communist Party's national council, the crisis was more likely to end up helping the "bourgeois" class in their war against the workers.


"This kind of crisis ends up strengthening the offensive of the right because workers lose their jobs and unions and other movements are weakened," the red-clad, bearded 28-year-old said.


"We don't see this crisis as the final fall of capitalism. Capitalism isn't stupid, it is much stronger and better prepared than in previous crises," he said, adding that the only solution was greater working class consciousness and a revolution.


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