Tue, Jan 24, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Venezuelans play host to the annual World Social Forum


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is hosting one of the world's largest anti-globalization, anti-war events starting today -- and the timing couldn't be better.

Leftist leaders are increasingly popular across Latin America, while Chavez's own ``revolution'' for the poor has become an inspiration for like-minded activists everywhere from Canada to Chile.

Organizers predict as many as 100,000 people will attend the World Social Forum this week in Caracas, including campaigners against US-style free trade, environmentalists, Indian leaders and human rights activists.

Their views span a wide spectrum, but most participants appear united by strong opposition to the US government and the war in Iraq. The forum will begin with an ``anti-imperialist'' march today through the streets of Caracas, with protesters likely to aim their chants against US President George W. Bush.

``Venezuela has become an epicenter of change on the world level,'' Chavez said on Friday, mentioning the event in a speech. ``That's why (US) imperialism wants to sweep us away, of course ... because they say we are a bad example, but they haven't swept us away and they won't.''

The Venezuelan leader is expected to address activists on the sidelines of the gathering, soaking up the spotlight as a leading radical voice of the Latin American left.

The World Social Forum was first held in Brazil in 2001 and coincides each year with the market-friendly World Economic Forum of national leaders in Davos, Switzerland.

Those at the social forum, in contrast, traditionally criticize free trade and the evils of capitalism -- stances that closely mirror Chavez's socialist views.

``The US government, especially under the Bush administration, has been trying to force its own economic polices on developing countries, and I think all of us here agree that must stop,'' said Jeff Monahan, a 32-year-old organic farmer from the US.

``I'm sure there will be plenty of Bush-bashing when this gets underway,'' said Monahan.

Some 2,000 events -- including seminars, speeches, concerts and craft fairs -- will be held across Caracas during this week's forum.

More than 50,000 participants had signed up as of Sunday, organizers said. But an estimated 100,000 in all were expected for the six-day event, said Carlos Torres, a Montreal-based Chilean organizer. About half the attendees were expected to come from outside Venezuela.

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