Alternative to Davos: Camping in the Brazilian rain

Brazil’s first working-class president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, got a hero’s welcome at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Tuesday. He wowed 10,000 leftists with a vow to reproach the planet’s business titans in Davos, Switzerland. Venezuela's Hugo Chávez won't attend.

Silvia Izquierdo/AP
People wave as they listen to Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Tuesday.
Silvia Izquierdo/AP
Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Tuesday.

Brazil’s first working-class president got a hero’s welcome at the World Social Forum Tuesday, wowing 10,000 leftists with a vow to reproach the planet’s business titans for causing the global meltdown when he meets with them this week at a Swiss ski resort.

Former radical union leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva — known almost everywhere as Lula — was greeted like a rock star by activists in a sports stadium chanting “Lula, Lula, the warrior of the Brazilian people!”

He got more cheers after promising to scold world leaders and bankers at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and to tell them the free market policies they have espoused for decades were to blame for the worldwide financial crunch.

“The financial system can’t parade itself as a good example, because it ended up provoking the biggest crisis in recent years,” said Silva, who leaves Brazil Wednesday night for Davos, where he will become the first head of state to receive the economic forum’s new “Global Statesmanship Award.”

Developing nations like Brazil only recently viewed as second-class countries will have a strong hand in setting a new world economic order, he said.

As a storied leftist union leader, Silva was a popular fixture at the World Social Forum — started in Porto Alegre a decade ago as a counterpoint to the yearly gathering of the business and political elite at the World Economic Forum.

Silva has angered some activists by turning to the center since being elected president and by embracing free-market economic policies loathed by the forum’s leftists. But he also spent heavily on social programs that have lifted millions of out of poverty. Brazil is also riding an unprecedented economic boom.

He was booed at the social forum in 2005 by some who felt he had betrayed his leftist roots and were more impressed with the presence of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a strident socialist.

But Chavez didn’t show up at the social forum this year, and Brazilians attending the event said Silva should get most credit for the country’s rapid advance on the world stage and for strong economic advances that have helped most of the nation’s more than 190 million citizens.

Social forum activists on Wednesday warned that multinational corporations in cahoots with governments are trying to take control of a new multibillion dollar market for reducing emissions that cause global warming.

“The companies that caused the problems are saying, ’Trust us, we’ll get you out of this problem,”’ said Pat Mooney, a Canadian expert on biotechnology and biodiversity. “They’re saying, ’Don’t worry, because we have a new technology that you will pay for to control the world’s thermostat.”’

Others said the Davos forum should start focusing on bettering global conditions for the poor and the environment, instead of debating whether global financial reforms must be enacted or abandoned because of concerns about over-regulation.

While the Davos participants sip champagne in luxury hotels, eat catered meals and try to find time to go skiing, “we’re here camping in the rain and cooking outside with open fires,” said Melissa Zumino of Uruguay, who works for a nonprofit group promoting human coexistence with nature.

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