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DEVELOPMENT REPORT - World Social Forum - 2003-02-28

Broadcast: March 3, 2003

This is the VOA Special English Development Report

Organizers of the World Social Forum have chosen India as the meeting place in two-thousand-four. The conference has taken place in Brazil since it began three years ago. Last year, Indian activists organized a South Asian Social Forum in Gujarat state.

The number of delegates, observers, and reporters at the World Social Forum has increased each year. Organizers said more than one-hundred-thousand people gathered in Porto Alegre this year.

The meeting took place in Brazil at the end of January at the same time as the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. That is a yearly meeting of international business and political leaders.

Activists organized the social forum because they wanted an international gathering of anti-poverty campaigners. They also wanted a better way to protest than to march outside the World Economic Forum.

Supporters of free trade argue that such economic policies could help all nations. But the social activists say the rules of international trade and finance do not do enough to help the poor.

This year, Brazil’s new president Luis Inacio Lula Da Silva spoke to both gatherings. In Porto Alegre, the former labor organizer spoke of hungry children and his promise to feed everyone in Brazil. In Davos, Mister Da Silva asked the leaders to help end severe poverty in the southern part of the world.

Organizers of the social forum say it is designed to build friendships among activists. Delegates discussed ideas and projects in small groups. They could hear speakers translated into French, English, Portuguese and Spanish.

Organizers chose as the central idea for this year’s meeting, “Another World is Possible.” For six days people discussed everything from ways to increase women’s rights to methods to protect water quality.

Ethnic minorities called for an end to racism and for protection of native languages and cultures. Israeli and Palestinian activists met to develop a joint peace declaration. At the same time, though, other Jewish campaigners said there was an anti-Israel and anti-Jewish atmosphere in Porto Alegre.

On the last day, there was a protest march against war in Iraq and against the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas.

Some say the World Social Forum is less an event than a process. Organizers say the desired result is free and open debate of ideas, not choosing a leader or approving a final declaration.

This Development Report was written by Onka Dekker.