Hundreds of delegates from around the world are gathered this week in northern Mexico to discuss financing development in poor nations. Also on hand in Monterrey are various anti-globalization groups who see the U.N.-sponsored conference as an opportunity to draw attention to their cause. Authorities are trying to keep a balance between security and the right of free expression.

Dozens of groups from Mexico and other nations are represented in Monterrey, and many of them are taking part in orderly discussions at parallel meetings in the city.

Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda says everyone is welcome, as long as they remain peaceful. He says Mexican authorities are open to marches and demonstrations, and are confident that violence can be avoided. He says that the government of President Vicente Fox welcomes dissenting views and that anyone who wants to come to Monterrey to express such views may come.

Most protest organizers say they have come to demonstrate peacefully against what they see as a sham conference. Hector de la Cueva, from Alianza Social (Social Alliance), says the rich nations represented at the conference are not offering enough. He says the amount of money being discussed at the U.N. conference amounts to nothing more than a few more crumbs for the poor.

He is not alone in that critique. Leaders of various advocacy groups for the poor are complaining that the rich nations are taking part in a public relations event in Monterrey, not a serious attempt to fight poverty.

U.S. billionaire George Soros is joining the chorus of dissent. He says that the amount of foreign aid being pledged by the Bush administration, $5 billion over the next three years, amounts to only a little more than double what he, Mr. Soros, is donating to charity over the same period.

But many representatives of international aid organizations are defending the conference for providing a mechanism through which rich nations are committing themselves to efforts to eradicate poverty.

Defenders of the conference also note that the goal at this event is to direct financing towards results, rather than to pour money into programs that have not been effective.