Social Forum Activists See Opportunity In Crisis

BELEM, Brazil (AP) Under a brutal sun made even hotter by the humid Amazon air, Tran Dac Loi of Vietnam said the meltdown proves that rich nations and powerful corporations do not have all the answers.

"The crisis shows the deadlock in this capitalist model of development, a purely profit-driven system that benefits only a few," said Tran, vice president of the Vietnam Peace and Development Foundation. "It is time to search for alternative ways of development that put human beings at the center."

There seemed to be little outright gloating among the roughly 100,000 people at the Social Forum, held annually since 2001 to counter the World Economic Forum that opened this week in Davos, Switzerland.

Yet activists said the crisis makes more people open to their criticism of pure global capitalism.

"People are tired of listening to us, tired of listening to the left's complaints, but now they have to hear us," said Ellen Pereira Carvalho, an 18-year-old Brazilian handing out fliers at the kiosk for the Movement for Direct Democracy.

"I'm just a young student," she added, as Indians played traditional music on a large stage at a local university. "I may not have the answers, but at least I am looking. I think the crisis, though, is making more people sensitive to our message."

Thursday will see the presidents of Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador meet at the forum -- the first time so many leaders will be in attendance -- an indication, organizers said, of the forum's newfound importance.

Some acknowledged, however, a frequent criticism of the Social Forum: that there is no cohesive message, that attendees complain about problems and allege conspiracies while offering few concrete fixes.

"All of us who work on social justice are great at identifying problems, but at finding the solutions, we need to work a little harder," said Priiti Darooka of New Delhi, executive director of the India-based Program on Women's Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The contrast of the jungle heat and hippie fashion at Belem with the cold wind, snowy peaks and business suits at Davos mirrored the ideological gulf between the two gatherings.

"The systems formulated in Davos are collapsing, disintegrating and beginning to rot. So there has been this clearing away, this brush fire within the financial system that has been built over the last 100 years," said Tony Kenny, an artist from Dublin, Ireland.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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