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World Social Forum

I am attending the sixth Polycentric World Social Forum in Caracas, Venezuela from January 24-29, 2006.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


On January 29, the last day of the forum, president Chavez met with the Assembly of Social Movements. Here are some notes from that talk that might interest some:

Cannot have revolution in only one country.
Revolution can’t be completely non-violent. Many campesinos leaders killed by death squads.
Our people will never forget the Sixth Forum.
Soon this will be the dominant discourse, and elite will be counter-discourse.
Fidel: genie is out of the body, and it is hard to put it back in.
Have to support Evo because conspiracies will soon start against him, and he is an authentic person.
Venezuela is ready to support Bolivia.
Question of power needs to be debated here.
I’m an opponent of myths, of caudillos. It is not an individual project, but one of the people. If Bolívar had fallen, someone else would have risen up as the independence leader. It is not a matter of individual people.
A true revolutionary does not like violence. Just use weapons in defense.
The world social forum is indispensable.
Have made concrete advances in Venezuela that would not be possible without political power and the government. This is an import issue to debate in the forum.
FTAA was buried in Mar del Plata. Changed strategies, and now is trying to implement alcitas (little FTAAs).
Need to develop a strategy of power to capture power.
Quotes Che: 1, 2, 3 Vietnams. Today we have to create 1, 2, 3, Bolivias in Latin America, in the world. Vive Evo!

3 ideas:
1. Important debates, ideas, and alternatives from the WSF
2. Strategies of power
3. Important spaces of political power we are creating for new world.

Representative democracy is a trap and results in a government of elites. Here we are working hard to create a participatory democracy. Institutionalize new process through revolutionary laws.
Need to build up Tele-Sur. Not Chavez propaganda mouthpiece. Important to defuse agenda.
PetroAmerica is important project. Starts with PetroCaribe, and wants to include Haiti (Washington sabotages elections there when it thinks its candidate will lose).
People accuse me of giving VZ away, but that is what elite have done. I believe in the spirit of solidarity of the Venezuela people.
Soy from Brazil, but not transgenic and from small producers.
Autonomy of Central Bank is a trap, because it declares itself independent of gov’t but not of IMF and other lending funds.
Proposes South or Latin American bank in order to keep reserves here.
Universidad del Sur. Becas for Bolivians to study is start of this.
Operación Milagro: Fidel’s name for project for restoring sight. Recently brought people from Ecuador for operation.
This is a peaceful but armed revolution, not only armed with consciousness but also military and April coup shows willingness to defend revolution.
Should have sent generals home into retirement like Evo has done. I have faith in the people of Venezuela and that they won’t believe in imperialism. We need a military that won’t repeat atrocities that have happened before, acting as occupying force that abuse their own people and act on behalf of imperialism. Torture taught in school of the americas.
Grupo Chakal: Chavez, Kichner, Lula
We don’t want war, but we are prepared to defend revolution with 100 yrs war.
Friend of Iran, and they have a better military force than Iraq. Hopefully US won’t invade and let people live in peace.
Just one more like you in forum. We’ve helped with forum, and willing to do so in future but work is completely autonomous.
</Marc> <!--12:21 PM-->

Sunday, January 29, 2006


The forum is coming to an end, and people are leaving. We had our final session this morning on the U.S. Left and social forums in the United States. It was a good but small panel. It's been a good forum, but I feel exhausted--probably partly from the chaotic bustle and poluted air of Caracas. I found where the PdVSA busses that brought us from the airport leave to return there. My flight is at 4 pm Monday afternoon, but I'll have to leave first thing in the morning to allow enough time to get there. There is a closing session tonite at the Poliedro, but I'm not sure I'm going to head out there. So, stuff is wrapping up and I feel as if I'm heading back home....
</Marc> <!--3:37 PM-->

Saturday, January 28, 2006


A week before the World Social Forum was to begin in Venezuela in January, a bridge on the freeway between the airport and Caracas showed signs that it was on the verge of collapse and had to be closed. The government diverted traffic onto an old winding road through the mountains and poor neighborhoods separating the airport on the coast from Caracas, turning a safe and quick fifteen minute trip into a potentially dangerous trek of at least two hours.

The bridge could be seen as a metaphor for the forum. After having a good five-year run that significantly advanced the agendas of social movements around the world, it seemed to be in danger of collapsing under its own weight.

Chavez was everywhere but nowhere in the forum. Lining the streets around meeting spaces, vendors sold all sorts of Chavez memorabilia–hats, t-shirts, watches, and even dolls. But Chavez banners and chants were not an overt presence at the forum’s opening march, with the focus remaining on the traditional issues of broad ranging social movements.

Although the WSF is supposed to be an expression of civil society, it is impossible to pull off such an event without governmental support. Chavez had a crew of people at the airport to meet delegates upon their arrival and to usher them through immigration, into a waiting room, and onto buses that the state oil company PdVSA provided for free to shuttle them into the city. Once in the city, the government provided free transportation on the metro system, tents for the meetings, and even free bottled water.

This reflects a fundamental contradiction in the WSF. When it grows larger than what civil society can maintain on its own, the government steps in at the last minute to save the day. The government either keeps the bridge from falling, or provides viable alternatives that allow the program to continue as planned.

Engineers have known for almost 20 years that the bridge was beginning to collapse. Previous governments never took any corrective action, but now when it is too late to do anything the Chavez government bears the brunt of the blame. Likewise, the WSF attempts to correct the abuse of centuries of imperialism but is faulted for not making quicker progress against problems that are not of its own making.

But there is also hope in the bridge metaphor. It reflects a certain amount of flexibility, both on the part of the government and the forum, to adapt to changing circumstances. It is this creativity that brings a good deal of strength and power to the WSF.

In addition, the freeway from the airport to Caracas was a quick ride that flew past the countryside. On the other hand, the old, slow road allowed delegates to view Venezuela in all of its beauty. Although cracks in the forum’s organization could be very frustrating for delegates, it slowed the pace down enough to allow participants to savor the flavor of the event. People also came together to overcome the difficulties.
</Marc> <!--9:15 AM-->

Friday, January 27, 2006


The WSF is in full swing here now, with lots of panels and meetings going on. Yesterday I helped NIGD with panels and passing out information; today I'm hanging out with Boston and Venezuela people. I feel like I'm jumping between identities. This afternoon there is a strategizing session for the US Social Forum, and then Chavez is giving a talk--tho it would be hard to do both so we probably have to choose one or the other. My plan is to go to the US Social Forum. Right now I'm out at the meetings at the airport and have posted some more photos from here. It's rather noisy with planes and helicopters landing and taking off. I'll post more thoughts and reactions to the forum later, though I may not have time to write anything too detailed until after the forum is over.
</Marc> <!--2:50 PM-->


A couple comments from Teivo, posted with his permission:

great, marc, wonderful you put the info this soon there.

just to add a couple of lines. first of all, despite various initial
logistical problems, i think our first event went well, fairly good debate
both on conceptual issues and more concrete cases (like cuba and porto
alegre), and many more people that i had expected.

i just got back to the hotel from the autonomous space caracol integalactica,
inspired by the zapatista experience. a representaive of the mexican networks
that work with the zapatistas was explaining the political situation in
mexico, and their conception of politics, very interesting. in the event, our
last year's debate on the wsf was also mentioned, and various people commented
afterwards it had been one of the best debates in caracol (and the whole
forum) last year in porto alegre. it was slightly embarrassing to tell the
people that this year our debate takes place in hotel hilton, but it seemed to
generateb no bad vibes... our nigd debate on the wsf is on saturday, and there
will be another debate on the wsf in the caracol on sunday, and people from
caracol promised to come to our debate, and we (johnattan and i) promised to
tell people on saturday to join the caracol debate on sunday.

yesterday there was, among other things, the opening march. suprisingly few
expressions of personality cult around chávez, which had been the fear of
many. the end of the march was a bit disappointing: we get to the big square
where there was some boring live music, the atmosphere was much less festive
than in the marches in porto alegre. the most annoying part was that when
people went to buy a beer from the street vendors, they responded that they
are not allowed to sell beer because we were inside a military fortress....
most people left the opening ceremony very soon.

the youth camp people were very unhappy the way their camp had been arranged
in a far-away site, johnattan can probably tell more about it.

all in all, most things are working relatively well, though much less so than
in porto alegre. more later.


</Marc> <!--10:54 AM-->

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Yesterday (Tuesday) the forum started with a large march. I've put up a sampling of photos on my website. It ended with a speeches and music, including Cindy Sheehan, Medea Benjamin, Lucas Walker, and others denouncing war and neoliberal economic policies.

Today, try the real work has started with panels on a wide variety of topics. So far, I've attended sessions on poverty and development, Vieques, and Indigenous peoples. Right now I'm going to try to catch a panel on Venezuela.

Rain showers keep moving thru Caracas, which makes it a bit wet, a bit humid, and a bit cool at times. The metro system is the easiest and cheapest (free for forum participants) way for us to get from place to place, but it becomes a bit overloaded all the time. Events are spread at nine locations across the city, which makes it a bit hard to get from one event to another. I came out to the Carlota airport for the Indigenous peoples panel this afternoon, but it was such a pain (and now I'll probably get wet walking back to the metro) that I'll probably to schedule an entire day's events at one place after this. It's kinda weird having panels right beside a runway--with planes and helicopters landing right behind the tents where we are meeting.
</Marc> <!--5:33 PM-->

Monday, January 23, 2006


I arrived in Caracas this afternoon (after getting hung up overnite in Miami after American Airlines missed my connection...). Running around getting credentials (and checking email!). Things are starting to buzz, and thing will be starting tomorrow afternoon with a march.
</Marc> <!--6:45 PM-->

Monday, January 02, 2006


In Madison, preparing for the World Social Forum. We are meeting on Thursday to coordinate plans.
</Marc> <!--1:08 AM-->

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