Activists at social forum call for radical turn away from free trade, end to Iraq war
CARACAS, Venezuela – Activists at the World Social Forum on Wednesday called for decisive actions against poverty, an immediate end to the war in Iraq and a radical shift away from free trade.The leftist event, held to counter the market-friendly World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, features discussions of subjects such as “Imperialism – the greatest threat to humanity” and “Socialism of the 21st century.””We came to raise our complaints about the lack of justice in the world, the hunger, the war,” said Catalina Herazo, a 25-year-old Colombian student activist.She said national governments, particularly wealthy ones, should make radical changes and consider a “worldwide tax” to combat poverty.More than 60,000 people signed up to attend the forum, spokesman Julio Fermin said, short of the initial goal of 100,000 attendees from around the world.The alternative forum had its own alternative forum: hundreds of activists are holding a separate symposium because they say the main event has strayed from its freethinking leftist roots and serves as propaganda for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a former paratroop commander.The seven-day Alternative Social Forum shares some of the anti-capitalist, anti-globalization themes but is taking up issues that are thornier in Venezuela, such as the dangers of authoritarianism under a military caudillo.”It’s very clear that (the World Social Forum) is laudatory in nature and meant to promote what the government proposes,” said organizer Nelson Mendez, a Venezuelan engineering professor.The six-day main event began Tuesday with a march through Caracas, with protesters shouting slogans against the war in Iraq and President Bush, whom some called a “terrorist.”Activists sang a communist hymn with fists raised in tribute to Salvadoran leftist leader Shafik Handal, a guerrilla commander who fought U.S.-backed troops during the country’s 12-year civil war and died of a heart attack at age 75 Tuesday.Many praised leftist Chavez’s social programs for the poor, while others called attention to issues such as pollution, racism and women’s rights.American peace activist Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq in 2004, demanded an immediate U.S. pullout and criticized Bush for not having captured Osama bin Laden.”Most Americans want our troops home by the end of 2006. But that’s far too late. Every minute that we wait, more blood is spilled,” Sheehan told reporters. “George Bush still continues his evil rhetoric that he is waging a war on terrorism, and he is really waging a war of terrorism against the world.”Sheehan, a 48-year-old from Berkeley, Calif., said she planned to meet Chavez this week.The annual World Social Forum was first held in Brazil in 2001 and this year is being backed by the government of Chavez, who was expected to address activists on the sidelines.Since taking office in 1999, Chavez has funneled million of dollars from booming oil profits into programs for the poor and has established hundreds of state-run cooperatives.He has also emerged as a fierce opponent of U.S.-backed free trade proposals and strengthened ties with a growing array of left-leaning leaders across Latin America.Some 2,000 events – including seminars, speeches and concerts – will take place across Caracas as part of the social forum.Speakers include Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, Argentine Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel and former French first lady Danielle Mitterrand.Vail, Colorado
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