Brazil's Porto Alegre: From anti-globalisation symbol to conservative stronghold

REVISITED
REVISITED © FRANCE 24

Amid violence, racism and poverty, the southern city of Porto Alegre has become a symbol of the divisions in Brazilian society. In November 2020, a Black man was beaten to death by white security guards at a supermarket there. Once a testing ground for the Brazilian left who wanted to change the world, the city has been run by the conservative right for the last 14 years. What has become of the children of the World Social Forum, which Porto Alegre hosted from 2001 to 2005? What remains of that alternative vision of the world? Our correspondents report.

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"Another world is possible." It was under that slogan that in January 2001 the World Social Forum was born; a meeting of anti-globalisation associations in response to the Davos World Economic Forum which was being held at the same time in Switzerland. The first event unfolded in Porto Alegre in Brazil – the capital of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, its location picked not just by chance.

At the time, Porto Alegre was a test city. It had been led for ten years by the country's Workers Party and had its own transport network, bank, electricity and telephone providers – all of them state-owned. The city even had its own shared participatory budget controlled directly by its inhabitants. Porto Alegre was an emblem of the Brazilian left – much like Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva himself. Two years on, the first forum gave him a hero's welcome as the new Brazilian president.

A stronghold of the ultra-conservative right

Porto Alegre hosted one more forum in 2005, but then in 2006 it swung to the right. The city, once a symbol of the alternative left, became a stronghold of the ultra-conservative right. More and more state capitals in Brazil followed suit, building up to the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president in 2018.

So 20 years after the first Porto Alegre summit, has the city totally lost its anti-globalisation spirit?  Does the soul of the World Social Forum live on at all, or is the test city now strongly anchored on the right? Our correspondents Fanny Lothaire, Augusta Lunardi, Laura Damase and Louise Raulais report.

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