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World Social Forum in Brazil Calls for Change in Free Market Model - 2002-02-01


Argentina's economic crisis has become one of the main issues of discussion at the World Social Forum which has brought together thousands of anti-globalization activists to the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre. Argentina's plight is being cited by Forum participants as a textbook case of what is wrong with the free market-free trade model.

Chanting, "Argentina, the fight has not ended," scores of demonstrators Friday paraded through the university campus in Porto Alegre where the main activities of the World Social Forum are being held. Holding up long blue and white banners, which are the colors of the Argentine flag, they also chanted slogans in support of the goals of the Forum which are to exchange ideas and promote alternatives to the free-market model backed by the United States and other industrial countries.

This is the second year the World Social Forum is being held. It is timed to coincide and present a counterpoint to the World Economic Forum - which each year brings together leading business executives and political leaders to discuss promoting free trade and free markets. That meeting, usually held in Davos, Switzerland, is taking place this year in New York.

In Porto Alegre, Argentinas ongoing economic crisis is one of the main issues being raised at the many conferences and seminars being held throughout the city. At a conference on Third World debt Friday, speaker after speaker cited Argentina as an example of what goes wrong when a developing country embraces the free market model and follows the fiscal austerity policies prescribed by the International Monetary Fund.

Argentina, which had five Presidents over a two week period in late December, is on the verge of economic collapse following a lengthy recession and a currency devaluation. It also has suspended payments on its $141 billion debt a move most of the speakers at the Forum debt conference Friday said should be followed by other indebted nations.

1980 Nobel Peace Laureate, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, warned Friday that what happened in Argentina can happen in other nations as well.

He says, the Argentine case is the result of the neo-liberal economic model, in which there has been wholesale looting of the countrys resources. This case can be repeated, he added, in the rest of Latin America, Africa and Asia - but can be stopped if people unite.

Unity to effect change was among the appeals made Friday by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson who was invited to address the Forum. Speaking to reporters, Ms. Robinson said while globalization is a reality there needs to be what she called an ethical globalization that takes into account more than just the concerns of the free market.

"We need a simple thing, which we dont have at the moment," she went on to say. "We need joined up government so that in the trade discussions, whether its the minister for trade or finance, knows that his government is committed legally to human rights principles, environmental legal obligations and that these outweigh pure trade, free market commitments... So I can see a role for the market but it is much more limited than a free market role, it is an important component that has to be integrated with all the other values to have an ethical globalization that serves all people."

Organizers of the World Social Forum, which ends February 5, say about 40,000 people are participating in the conference, twice the number as last year. There are hundreds of seminars, workshops, and conferences devoted to issues ranging from workers rights to environmental contamination. But the main goal of the Forum is to present alternatives to the prevailing economic model, which participants say has exacerbated poverty and social injustice around the globe. They hope the commendations coming out of Porto Alegre will help fuel what they say is a growing movement around the world calling for change.