Direct Action, Movements, NGOs and Governments at WSF in Amazonia

Tord Björk | MST,WSF | Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

It is hard to assess WSF in Belem so early and without proper access to internet. By I make a first attempt. In general social forums are expressions of the balance between direct action, popular movements, professional NGOs and government, even corporations sometimes. WSF in Belem shows some interesting tendencies in this balance.

In spite of that the participation from social movements and especially direct action movements was very weak as well as the participation from outside Brazil the outcome was relatively radical. The reason for this is primarily that the direct action mass movement MST together with indigenous movements from all of Americas have such a strength that they can put their mark on the outcome of the Assembly of Social Movements together without strong participation in numbers.

In total 135 000 participated out of whom 15 000 in the Youth camp. Some 55 percent according to the first figures came from the Para state were Belem is capital. The total international delegation was 6 000, with more than 4 000 from Latin America, more than 400 from Africa and Europe and more than 200 from Asia and 100 from North America and less than 20 from Oceania according to the local daily Amazonia. (News sources more close to WSF as Terra Viva do not report these figures but the overall figures are almost the same. Another source claim 20 000 international guests cadtm: Thus WSF in Belem have lower international participation than e.g. World Students and Youth festivals that since 1947 always have gathered more than 10 000 international delegates, at most 32 000, with significant results especially inte the 1950s and the 1960s in promoting social justice and antiimperialist struggles but also, against the intentions of the organisers, dissident movements in Eastern Europe.

The greatest achievement of WSF in Belem was that the last day was only devoted to assemblies. First for different themes and finally a joint general assembly. Here the Latin American movements calls for more action, actually direct actions on the key days of struggles for the womens, peasants, workers and antiimperialists. That is a call for making 8th of March into a day of struggle for working women, 17th of April a day of action for agriculturral reform and actions against TNCs, 1st of May a day of struggle for workers and 12th of October, thanks to indian movements, a day of action against thye imperialism of settlers societies. I cannot access the exact text at the moment but with good internet connection you can probably easily find it. The predictions I recievied about the outcome of the ASM were thus according to the pre-information given by MST.

When it come to direct action the most clear such took place against WSF when favela people tried to storm the gates without severe confrontations. At least according to a realiable oral report. But no actions took place according to my knowledge against tha many TNCs operating in Belem like Cargill and others threatening the survival of peasants and indians. Many regarded the main part of the WSF participants as unpolitical more interesting in having a nice time than doing action. The atmosphere at the youth camp, very well placed at one of the two campuses where WSF had its venue, was warm an welcoming, a very nice carnival atmosphere. An indian activist from Patagonia was criticising both lack of political commitment, the strong NGO influence and that Petrobras, a state owned Brazilian oil company that is in conflict with indians were sponsoring the WSF and made propaganda thanks to WSF.

While the direct action was small or non-existent apart from the attempt at storming the gates and a huge carnival-like demonstration a the beginnign of WSF and some smaller paseatas with single issue groups marching between the two WSF venues the strong direct action movements chosed to have its main focus outside WSF while still influencing ASM inside. 500 MST actvists participated in a separate MST program in their own venue. MST made a statement by blocking president Lula from coming to a meeting with Latin American movements only inviting the presidents from Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Paraguay. But at another event all 5 presidents participated. Obviously the negotiations had been hard and a dialogue was not allowed at this meeting between social movements leaders and the presidents while at the MST meeting the presidents were questioned by MST and made accountable.

More assessment will follow.

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