Hundreds of activists are holding an alternative symposium to this week's World Social Forum, accusing the main event of straying from its freethinking leftist roots and serving as a propaganda tool for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
The seven-day Alternative Social Forum shares some of the anti-globalization themes dominating the World Social Forum, an annual event timed to coincide with the market-friendly World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
But the alternative event is taking up issues that are thorny in Venezuela, like the dangers of authoritarianism under a military strongman. The theme could easily be taken as criticism of Chavez, a former paratroop commander accused by political opponents of running roughshod over democratic institutions. It is off-limits in the main forum, said Nelson Mendez, a Venezuelan engineering professor helping organize the dissident event.
The alternative activists say the ubiquitous red T-shirts of Chavez's party and the rows of promotional booths point to the government's heavy hand in the main event. That is stifling debate and undermining the forum's capacity to act as a catalyst for social change, said Luis Silva, 35, another organizer.
``The World Social Forum was born as an alternative,'' Silva said. ``But little by little it has succumbed to political parties and governments. It's acting as a stage of support for Chavez.''
At the alternative forum, activities in university classrooms include talks on Venezuela's military buildup, the role of transnational corporations in the country, and a march against coal mining in Indian regions of western Venezuela.
Participants - academics, artists and students - are mostly Venezuelans, but speakers have also come from other Latin American countries including Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. They emphasized they are not aligned with Venezuela's opposition or any other political interest, describing themselves as freethinking leftists, communists and anarchists who feel the World Social Forum no longer represents them.
But they questioned the prevailing idea at the World Social Forum that Chavez is helping create a new economic model at the vanguard of a leftist swing in Latin America.
``The revolution doesn't exist,'' Silva said, suggesting Venezuela needs more radical economic changes. ``It's a government with a nationalist discourse.''
January 28, 2006
Just to prove you don't have to bow to chavista authoritarianism to hold left-wing views, here's this fun AP story picked up by The Guardian: