Leftists decry corporate greed, exploitation at World Social Forum in Brazil

By Alan Clendenning, AP
Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Social forum activists denounce corporate greed

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil — Leftists in Brazil for a week of protests against capitalism denounced corporate greed on the second day of the World Social Forum, saying Tuesday that big companies humbled by the global meltdown must be prevented from controlling natural resources and harming the environment.

In Peru, for example, foreign and domestic miners are vying for government concessions to explore for gold, silver and zinc on traditional Indian lands where tribe members eke out a living from small farms threatened by contamination, said Carlos Candiotti, leader of an anti-mining group.

“These companies come into our territory without our approval, but the state must recognize our rights because we’re the owners, with ancestral rights to the land where we live,” Candiotti said.

Now in its 10th year, the social forum is the annual counterpoint to the World Economic Forum starting Wednesday in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, and leftist leaders are gleefully criticizing the bankers and business titans hit hard by the financial crisis.

“Capitalism’s unsustainability has never been so obvious,” said Brazilian philosopher and sociologist Candido Grzybowsky, one of the forum’s leaders. “We need to create a system based on social and environmental justice.”

Grzybowsky and others said nations that have exerted greater state control over economies as a result of the meltdown must go further, warning that large corporations will try to reassert their grip on the world and push policies that critics say emphasize reliance on free markets at the expense of social welfare.

“We need to make sure the neoliberals never take over again,” said Arthur da Silva Santos, president of Brazil’s largest confederation of labor unions. “There are just a few hundred companies today that hold all the cards for the global economy.”

In a sweltering conference hall filled with activists — some wearing bright red shirts with the image of legendary revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara and others opting for Vladimir Lenin — Hildebrando Velez Galeano drew raucous cheers when he urged citizens of developing nations to seize control of the global economy “from the hands of the capitalist speculators who are destroying it.”

“We have to decolonize our territory and declare it free of Coca-Cola and Monsanto,” said Galeano, a leader of the Colombian chapter of the environmental group Friends of the Earth.

More than 10,000 forum participants inside a sports stadium Tuesday night greeted Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva like a rock star. The extremely popular Silva — known as Lula — was a social forum fixture before becoming Brazil’s first working class president in 2003 after a storied leftist career as a union leader.

While Silva turned centrist after taking office and embraced free market economic policies loathed by the forum’s leftists, he also spent big on social programs that have lifted millions out of poverty. Brazil is also riding an unprecedented economic boom and was among the first nations to emerge with strong growth from the crisis.

As Silva took the stage, smiling supporters yelled “Lula, Lula, the warrior of the Brazilian people!”

Silva said that the Davos gathering doesn’t have as much glamour as it did when he first attended it in 2003, and that free market advocates who attend are to blame for the meltdown.

“The financial system can’t parade itself as a good example, because it ended up provoking the biggest crisis in recent years,” Silva said.

Emerging developing nations like Brazil will be the planet’s next economic leaders and help set the path for how the global economy evolves in the future, he said.

Silva boasted that while Brazil had debts to the International Monetary Fund when he became president, it is now a creditor after lending $14 billion to the fund at the height of the crisis.

“I want to show the developed world that if it had done its economic homework, we wouldn’t have had the crisis that we had,” he said.

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