World Social Forum (Venezuela) 2006

This year’s WSF could have been a much tamer affair if it hadn’t been held in the insurgent city of Caracas, capital city of a country that is increasingly being seen as the forerunner of Latin America’s current radicalization. While former forums have attempted to eschew political ideology, this year’s event was haunted at every turn by the spectre of socialism. Across the city, buildings were plastered in revolutionary slogans and spectacular murals of Simon Bolivar, Che Guevarra and Hugo Chávez. Many of the events took place in the Bolivarian University, a working-class institution opened two years ago in a converted oil factory. Chávez’s plenary speech to 20,000 participants called for a united front against imperialism, and argued that humanity has two choices for its future: “Socialism or death.”

80,000 people made their way to the city for the four-day conference that united NGOs, activists and revolutionaries. At the same time, activists in Africa met in Bamako, Mali for the African section of this year’s “polycentric” forum. The third section is set to meet in Karachi later this year after the event was postponed following the recent floods.

The preponderance of socialist discourse gave a kick to what could easily have become an academic conference, disconnected from the reality being lived by the poor the left claims to represent. Indeed, this was the critique of Manuel Barreto, a coordinator of the Bolivarian Mision in La Vega. “The Social Forum takes place in the universities and hotels downtown, but the real revolution is happening here in the barrios.”
Nevertheless the forum brought together activists, NGOs and trade unionists from across the hemisphere to debate ideas and expand networks. Although the Forum is not a decision-making body, the week ended with a declaration for global action against the war in Iraq on March 18th.

But this is not an alliance that is always in agreement. Much enthusiasm could be seen for the wave of social democrats in Latin America who have found electoral success recently. A placard produced by the Venezuelan government read: “Another Americas is in Progress!” picturing Chávez alongside Brazil’s Lula, Argentina’s Kirshner, Chile’s Lagos (now replaced by Michelle Bachelet) and the latest figure to arouse excitement on the left, Bolivia’s Evo Morales. Similar enthusiasm could be felt for Mexico’s Lopez Obrador, the left-wing populist who is expected to ouster Vicente Fox in next July’s election.

At the same time, however, panels ranged on subjects as diverse as the legacy of Che Guevarra, the meaning of socialism in the twenty-first century, post-capitalist economics, the place of women in the Bolivarian revolution and the global movement for peace.

Haiti was another issue that strained the activist-NGO alliance. While groups such as the September 30th Movement and the Canada-Haiti Action Network organized panels discussing the political situation since Aristide’s disposal by Canada, the US and France, other NGOs held a different position, welcoming international intervention to remove a “fascist” government, according to a woman from one Haitian women’s group. And while Chávez himself has been outspoken about the imperialist coup that bore striking resemblance to the American attempt to ouster him in 2002, he opted to seat Camille Chalmers at his table of dignitaries. Chalmers sits on the Board of Directors of Canadian NGO Alternatives and is publicly opposed to the Haitian struggle for sovereignty.

Despite these differences, the 2006 World Social Forum should be seen as a moment that pushed the anti-capitalist movement forward, by linking groups and strengthening networks opposed to capitalism, providing a space for debates within the movement and most of all, for resurrecting the ghost of socialism for a new generation.


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