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World Social Forum 

Alvaro García Linera

Stand up for social justice! (August 10, 2016)

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The evening closed with a series of "Great Conferences." These VIP talks have always been very controversial in the WSF, and in the early years the forums swung from no big speakers, to a fascination with these huge stage shows, and back to something of a balance between small workshops and medium-sized talks. I went to one that advertised Bernie Sanders as the featured speaker, but a note on the door to the Monument National indicated that there was an "error" in the program and that the Bolivian vice president Alvaro García Linera would speak instead. García read a dry academic paper of 10 theses against neoliberalism. It wasn't until the moderator's questions that to the cheers of the audience he made more polemical comments. "Free trade is a fiction," the Bolivian vice president declared. He proceeded to note that "free trade" was just a pretext for powerful economic interests, and discussed how the FTAA was stopped during the Bush administration.

Laura Gonzalez de Txabarri, a Basque labor organizer, shared the stage with García, but much more engaging was Kalpona Akter, a textile worker from Bangladesh. During the questions and answers, however, García began to show her up. "More poverty doesn't necessarily mean more struggle, it often means more tolerance of oppression," he said as she nodded her head in agreement. "Hope moves people," García continued. We need collective hope, he proclaimed. In response to another question about the climate, he explained how capitalism treats nature as something that is free, and that the cost to the environment should be added to the price of commodities. Garcia later entered directly into the historical debates in the WSF over what role the state should play in making societal changes, citing Subcomandante Marcos and Holloway by name. A woman asked a rather direct question about how Bolivia's extractive economy is consistent with the constitution's embrace of the buen vivir, and he responded with the standard line that the country can't change overnight but that it is a long process to overcome 450 yrs of colonial exploitation. He claimed his term "Andean Capitalism" is just a matter of honesty. How could Bolivia construct communism on its own? It has to be a broader process, and you can't just ask Bolivia to make this change alone. Post-capitalism needs to happen on a global level, or it doesn't happen at all. It can't just happen in your garden. In the meantime, we are in this transitionary stage. Then another question about social movements, and Garcia discusses a tradeoff between democracy and efficiency and argues that the tension between the two is an ongoing struggle. The tension could last for centuries, but in the meantime society is caught in those contradictions, and in the process you can lose popular support. The goal of communism is still centuries away. But he discussed how in the meantime Bolivia had made significant progress in reducing the country's poverty rates--at a gradual but quickening pace. He emphasized the importance of industrializing the economy to move beyond poverty.

By this time, the two other panelists from Bangladesh and the Basque country, and everything was focused on the Bolivian vice president. García should have just dispensed with his scripted talk (or distributed as the Bolivian government did with another publications as we entered the hall) and gone straight to the conversation. The Q & A went an hour beyond the alloted slot and it was late, and by the time it got really good most people had already left.

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