Solutions to crisis elude 'disorganized' World Social Forum

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BELEM, Brazil (AFP) — The World Social Forum was wrapping up in Brazil on Sunday amid criticism that lack of organization prevented participants from reaching common solutions to the global economic crisis and other issues.

Some of the 100,000 participants in the biggest gathering of leftwing groups on the planet said the diverse areas of focus — labor, the environment, human rights, indigenous rights, education, religion — meant energies were dispersed and associations had to compete to win attention.

Nevertheless, all those who spoke to AFP lauded the six-day forum for the opportunity it gave for networking and for setting the foundations for future international actions, particularly protests.

"Everybody hoped there would be analyses of the crisis. But it's clear that that didn't happen," said Lieven Vanhoutte, of La Centrale Generale, Belgium's biggest trade union coordination body.

"There was a lot of confusion between aims and methods," he said.

He called many of the 2,000 debates that took place in the two university campuses of the northern Brazilian city of Belem "symbolic."

Vanhoutte stressed, though, that "the idea of bringing everyone together is a good one," and organizers should not try to streamline future gatherings. Several other attendees, and many journalists, also complained of the "chaos" and "awful organization" of the forum.

Venues for activities and debates often changed without warning, groups tried to speak over each other, and the tropical heat along with the crowds and sprawling maze of stands, offices, thematic tents and stages made the experience exhausting. "There's confusion, sure. Organization may not be the best," said Patrick Silva, of the Italy-based Consolata Missionaries.

"It's suprising to see so many people here," said Marcia Gomes, an art educator for the education department of Brazil's state of Para.

Still, each association felt they had made some progress in pursuing their respective goals.

"Boycotting Israel for its illegal occupation of Palestinian land is on the Social Agenda for 2009," Arlene Clemesha, for the Palestinian Movement for All, proudly told AFP.

Hector Yesid Vaca, in charge of education for Colombia's Oil Workers' Union, said he learned how counterparts in other countries tackled the problems of the development of biofuels.

"The big exploitations are taking big tracts of land and pushing off small landholders" as they expand the planting of crops used to make ethanol, Vaca said. He advocated alternative crops that did not require the same fertile soil used by food crops.

Others highlighted causes as diverse as the plight of Amerindians in the vast Amazon rainforest clashing with loggers and ranchers, the benefits of vegetarianism, women's rights, and sustainable development.

Through it all, references to the global economic crisis were rife. But few realistic solutions were advanced.

Banners set up around the forum by radical leftists berated world governments for their bailouts, saying trying to save capitalism was "barbaric."

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who made an appearance along with the leaders of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay, took a more moderate tack, telling the United States and other rich nations "to resolve this crisis so the poor countries can develop."

Fatima Mello, part of the organizing committee for the forum, told AFP part of the success of the event was that "a big coalition against the crisis" had emerged.

"We will be launching days of action and global campaigns so that the poor don't pay for the fallout from the crisis," she said.