12 February 2009 Edition
INTERNATIONAL World Social Forum meets in Brazil as capitalism hits crisis and A decade of the Bolivarian Revolution
Another world is possible
BY SEÁN Ó FLOINN
MORE than 100,000 political activists from 150 countries flocked to the Amazonian city of Belém in Brazil in the last couple of weeks for the 9th World Social Forum. Braving torrential downpours and sizzling temperatures, people attended meetings, discussions, workshops and cultural events over a six-day period.
The World Social Forum was set up in 2001 as a huge eclectic gathering of progressive leftists: from socialists, environmentalists, indigenous, anarchists and Amazon tribes to name but a few.
While no binding decisions are made at this event, it is a crucial opportunity for grassroots activists and movements to engage and organise.
Although conceived and reared as a purely grassroots, non-governmental movement, this year saw the attendance and participation of five of South America’s – in fact the world’s most progressive and radical – presidents, namely Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Fernando Lugo of Paraguay and the host, Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who notably shunned by that other gathering in Davos, the World Economic Forum.
This overtly political and governmental participation was criticised by some of those in attendance, however it must be acknowledged that these presidents have come to power due to the very support of grassroots movements. They are simply government manifestations of all those groups gathered in Belém, a political culmination of all their agitation.
Chávez, who delivered a lengthy and powerful speech, praised the World Social Forum as “the most important event of the year”. Whilst the political elite of the wealthy, so-called developed nations were meeting with their capitalist cronies in the exclusive Swiss resort of Davos in Switzerland to attempt to save their beloved capitalism, Belém was alive with those activists and presidents who are proposing and developing a true alternative to the current economic capitalist system, which has gone into freefall.
The over-riding theme of the World Social Forum is that ‘Another World is Possible’; this year’s event focused on ‘Saving the Amazon’. Chávez said:
“In Davos, the world that is dying is meeting; here, the world that is being born is meeting.”
The midwives of this new world, a socialist and environmentally sustainable new order, are everywhere and now is a crucial time for all to act and ensure that this new world not only lives but flourishes to deliver social justice to the masses.
Venezuela’s radical referendum
BY SEÁN Ó FLOINN
ON Sunday 15 February, the busy Venezuelan electorate will once again return to the polls to decide whether or not to alter the country’s constitution.
The most controversial proposed amendment is that of removing the current two-term limit of the presidency and introducing unlimited terms, subject to electoral success. The fixed-term storm does not surface in Ireland though, despite a Taoiseach being able to serve as many times he or she is elected to. Regrettably, the proposed introduction of a six-hour working day has not made the headlines.
One of the criticisms launched at Venezuela’s President Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías is that he is debasing democracy and attempting to impose a dictatorship on the Venezuelan people. This is despite the fact that Venezuela, under Chávez and his Bolivarian Revolution, has had 13 elections in the past ten years. Chávez is enhancing, not destroying democracy. He is encouraging mass participative democracy and the last election witnessed a record voter turnout of 65 per cent. This has been aided by massive voter registration drives. Bolivarian legislation also ensured that half the candidates were women. According to Chávez himself “I doubt there is any country on this planet with a democracy more alive than the one we enjoy in Venezuela”.
Chávez has used the country’s vast oil wealth, stolen by the previous corrupt rulers and the oligarchs, on addressing the plight of the poor. Under the true nationalisation of the country’s ‘black gold’, Chávez and his PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) have financed ‘Misiones’, which are ‘missions’ in healthcare, education and food provision. The Dublin government could learn a thing or two from this utilisation of natural resources for the welfare of its citizens.
Barrio Adentro, with the help of Cuban doctors, healthcare, including dental treatment, is now provided free to the population, some of whom have never seen a doctor in their lives before. In just four years it has saved an estimated 120,000 lives and has been praised by the World Health Organisation. Infant mortality has been drastically reduced and through a national chain of pharmacies, prescription drugs are being offered significantly cheaper, and free to AIDS and cancer sufferers.
Through Misión Milagro, also in conjunction with the Cubans, approximately 1.4 million people have had their sight restored. With around 20 per cent of Venezuelan children malnourished ten years ago, now more than four million eat three square meals a day courtesy of the Chávez government’s proactive approach to eradicating food poverty.
Through Misión Mercal, cheap government-subsidised food is made available to the poor. 150,000 people living in extreme poverty are now able to eat at virtually no cost. In education, Misión Robinson has helped achieve full literacy with over 1.5 million Venezuelans learning to read and write.
A decade ago, Chávez inherited a wealthy country that was poor. The small corrupt minority enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle at the expense of the poverty-stricken majority. Chávez has confronted this inequality head-on through his “21st century socialism”. A victory in this referendum would be a victory for socialism.