After having been to Kenya (2007) and India (2004), the World Social Forum was back in Brazil for 2009, the country where it was held for the very first time in 2001. Hosted by Belém’s two universities, in the state of Para, this gathering of anti-globalisation campaigners was rooted in the realities of people in the Amazon and Latin America. The “indigenous” peoples, especially the Amerindians, were given place of honour and presented alternative development models.  They showed in these times of severe economic crisis that “another world is possible” as the credo of anti-globalisation campaigners goes. Other discussion topics emerged over the course of five days of debate: work, the criminalisation of social movements, and migration. These issues were tackled in a range of different languages (mainly Brazilian) and in all possible forms (shows, lectures, performances, music, and workshops). Here are a few examples.

1. To build a world of peace, justice, ethics and respect for different spiritualities, free of weapons, especially nuclear ones;

2. To rid the world from its domination by capital, multinational corporations, imperialist, patriarchal, colonial and neo-colonial domination, and unequal systems of commerce, and to cancel impoverished countries’ debt;

3. To establish universal and sustainable access to the common property of mankind and nature, to preserve our planet and its resources, particularly water, forests, and renewable energy sources;

4. To democratize and decolonise knowledge, culture, and communication, and to create a system of shared knowledge with the dismantling of intellectual property rights;

5. To guarantee dignity and diversity, ensuring the equality of gender, race, ethnicity, generation, and sexual orientation, and to eliminate all forms of discrimination and caste (discrimination based on descent);

6. To guarantee all people economic, social, human, cultural, and environmental rights throughout their lifetime, particularly the rights to food, health, education, housing, employment, decent work, communication, and food security and sovereignty;

7. To build a world order based on sovereignty, self-determination, and on people’s rights, including minorities and migrants;

8. To build a democratic, emancipating, sustainable, and socially inclusive economy, focused on all peoples and based on ethical and fair trade;

9. To build and develop local, national, and global political and economic structures and institutions that are truly democratic, with the full participation of people in decisions and the management of public affairs and resources;

10. To defend the environment (Amazonia and other ecosystems) as a source of life for planet Earth and for native peoples of the world (indigenous, afro-descendent, tribal and coastal peoples), who demand their territories, languages, cultures, identities, environmental justice, spirituality, and right to live.

11. Other

Latin America – model or utopia?

Indicators of wealth: pitfalls and opportunities

What is a “rich” society? A society with the highest possible GDP per head? Absolutely not. GDP (an indicator of production) is still far too widely used when answering this question and as a guide to public policy, but it is increasingly being criticised for not taking social and environmental issues into account. Coming up with new indicators of wealth (i.e. instruments to measure if society is heading in the “right” action) thus represents a key opportunity.

But it also brings certain pitfalls with it: 1) a plethora of indicators without any attempts to pool them (which is essential if GDP is to be dislodged); 2) allowing experts to draw up these indicators when in fact it is an eminently political choice (and therefore one which calls for democratic process). This is the position defended by the FAIR commission against the “Stiglitz Commission”. 3) Another trap would consist in only including those indicators to which monetary value can be assigned. But indicators ought also to alert us to the sometimes irrevocable consequences of our political choices. Finally, it is important to distinguish between indicators of universal value and others (relating to the respect of fundamental rights, the development of social ties, individual fulfilment, and respect for the environment).

With regard to Amazonia this question is all the more essential as it is related to the preservation of natural resources, biodiversity, and the rights of indigenous populations. Drawing up indicators which include these aspects could, if widely accepted, push Northern countries to reconsider the debts of Southern countries as well as trade policies, and bring about changes to the intellectual property regime (in favour of the public domain) and reduce certain industrial activities. This is a long way off. But it is a political combat that Utopia wishes to lead with the support of others.

David Flacher, Utopia


The decision to hold the 9th World Social Forum in Belém, one of the largest Amazonian towns, meant that a certain number of topics that the forum had hitherto largely neglected were placed at the heart of the debate. This was the case in particular for all the environmental and social aspects of ecological issues. In addition to this, the Amazonian region was given pride of place with a “pan-Amazonian” day specifically devoted to the issues facing this vital region of the world. The rights of indigenous peoples, the defence of an environmentally friendly development model, and combating mining and other destructive projects were amongst the issues discussed as part of this special day on 28 January 2009. France Libertés organised a workshop in the name of the Biopiracy Collective devoted to combating biopiracy as part of this occasion.

Biopiracy is a vast, complex subject and to fully understand it you need to tease out the interaction of all the various political, economic, legal, and cultural actors concerned. The term appeared in the 1980s to refer to the appropriation of indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge of biodiversity by companies. The phenomenon lies at the intersection between economic and ecological issues, and is related to the issue of indigenous peoples’ law and international law. Patents and exclusive property rights enable private operators to appropriate the entirety of the revenues generated by exploiting the natural resources, and this without recognising the contribution of indigenous knowledge that in certain cases can increase the chance of identifying the active principles by a factor of up to 300.

The “Contra a biopirateria!” workshop held at Belém WSF attracted over 160 people. The contributions of those attending provided a better understanding of the issues relating to biopiracy making it possible to envisage concrete steps to oppose these practices. The “indigenous vision” provided by Patricia Gualinga, the representative of the Sarayaku community in Ecuador, underlined the fact that biopiracy is fundamentally an ethical and moral issue. David Flacher, Senior Lecturer in Economics at Université Paris XIII, described the economic and legal contexts governing these practices. The link between these practices and the need to preserve humanity’s common goods was emphasised at length by Danielle Mitterrand, the President of France Libertés, and André Abreu, the Foundation’s Director of Development. Lastly Pauline Lavaud, coordinator for the Biopiracy Collective, presented the approaches used by French NGOs to combat biopiracy practices.

By taking up the fight against biopiracy we can help preserve biological and cultural diversity by intervening at a crucial point where economic, social, and environmental issues relating to biodiversity all intersect. Individuals and legal bodies have a role to play in combating these practices and preserving our shared heritage.

For further information please go to:

Pauline Lavaud – France Libertés -
Fondation Danielle Mitterrand

The Indians go digital for their latest weapon

The Indians who gathered in Belém wish to break free of old models in their fight to remain in their homeland, overcome prejudice, and prove that they are not the people of the past. Not during the Forum itself which was given over to discovering their diversity, but via their mastery of new technologies.

In the Nordeste, a region of Brazil where the situation of the tribes today is the result of centuries of bloody conflict with the major landowners, it is time to go digital. “Before our weapons were the bow and arrow,” explains thirty-year-old Aracé Pankararu from the Tacaratu tribe. “We now use the Internet to defend ourselves with information.” The computer has replaced the bow, and e-mails are the new arrows. Seven tribes have set up a site at which acts as an e-community bringing together about twenty or so tribes from South America. “We are ethno-journalists,” states seventeen-year-old Indianara Ramires, “we talk about ourselves, our customs, our daily life. We are the protagonists of our own story”.

The communities battled to be able to go online on a computer in their respective villages. Those that do not have Internet go to the nearest town. The Indians use the site to give their version of the facts in the communications war over the very advanced state of deforestation in the Nordeste. “When the hired hands kill each other by accident we are systematically blamed, but when one of us is killed the assassins go unpunished,” the young Iremlié Potiguana observes. The desire to assume their identity is accompanied by a new aspect of their fight to preserve the environment. Their digital weapons need to reach far so as to spread the message about preserving the Amazonian forest. “It’s something universal – we are all of us the Earth, if we harm it we harm ourselves to,” Aracé Pankararu observes simply.

Web site :
Sailesh Gya

Interview with Oded Grajew

One of the inventors of the World Social Forum came back for this year’s event. He currently heads the Ethos Institute, an NGO in charge of helping companies to become socially responsible. He was special adviser to President Lula in 2003.

How many people were in Belém for the WSF?

We have nearly 150 nationalities attending this forum. We know that it isn’t easy to come here, in the same way that it wasn’t easy to get to India or can you. Each time there is a high level of involvement by the inhabitants. But then you have to remember that we have also set up several local forums being held simultaneously in other regions of the world. There have been video conferences every day during the WSF. In any case, 100,000 people were present here in Amazonia.

But you get the impression that three quarters of the people are Brazilian, and that there aren’t many Europeans, Americans, Africans, and so on.

That is an impression. Many of the people here come from all over South America. We decided to make this forum a gathering of all the energies, the networks that are hard at work every day around the world. The fact that there are Indians come from pan-Amazonia is essential for Belém, they represent a part of what current economic development forgets in seeking to secure lasting wealth. They have been deprived of their environment and have not been allowed any say. What we want is to go back to the diversity that they embody. The forum is trying to move in the direction of a more complex account of global problems, thus working against simplistic explanations such as the axes of good and evil invented by the former American president. Amazonia is the most appropriate place to debate these complex issues.

Initially the WSF stated it was nondenominational and non-governmental. What do you make of the fact that five presidents came to the WSF?

The WSF is a project set up by civil society with the goal of creating a process of change. The presence of five presidents from Latin America is understandable. Our goal is to influence politicians because we are not the ones who can distribute wealth, develop education for all, and provide access to fundamental rights. They are the ones who can do that.

What answers does the Forum bring to the crisis?

The response is to change the values of our world. Normally all that people remember about the WSF is its folklore aspect with its festivals and young people from all over the world. But in the workshops, high-value individuals share and debate their point of view. This crisis has been useful for us because it has shown that there were the resources to finance our solutions. With all the money, all the billions to help the banking system, international bodies such as the World Food Programme state that we could have carried out plans to eliminate hunger in the world.

So you see being an anti-globalisation campaigner is a matter of wanting to change your priorities. The world that goes to the Davos Economic Forum is bankrupt. Scientific studies show that within fifteen years or so the damage to the environment will be irreversible and universal. All of our propositions are simply based on this point of view and the WSF is the place where these propositions are devised. You know, most of my life now lies behind me. You are the youth and future of the world. And if I was in your place, I would be worried (laughter).

Why not hold a WSF in Europe or North America where global balances are decided?

There has already been a Local Social Forum in Paris and European Social Forums have also been held in Athens, Sweden, and London. Getting a World Social Forum to go there is an idea we have already thought about. America was also one of the possibilities for the next WSF. Major resources will be required for the thousands of people that will come to attend. And even more of them would come as the civil societies from these countries would have the opportunity of getting there easily and debating. But alongside that there is an entire security system which would result in violent clashes – remember Genoa. We’re thinking about it.

The criminalisation of social movements – a workshop that will not end

The title of the workshop sums it all up – the level of surveillance, restrictions, and repression of social movements by political authorities is forever on the up, especially of movements calling for fairer and more inclusive policies. Whilst this criminalisation is not something new, the current trend is towards general, “global” criminalisation both in the North and the South. For example, anti-terrorist laws in Germany place limits on private liberties and certain social movements in the name of “maintaining public order”. Equally, pressure by the Brazilian government on indigenous population organisations objecting to a multinational building an electric dam on their lands were justified by the “threat to the general interest” (which, in this case, was economic). It is always the same argument: in order to guarantee social and economic “security”, it is imperative for the State to legally repress social protest movements. Whilst controlling has historically been a role of the State in all societies, the interest of this workshop is to place this classical role within the context of globalisation, by describing the way the same control mechanisms have been adopted both in so-called “developed” and “democratic” countries and in those of the South.

Amazonian agriculture – the analysis offered by Coordination Sud, a platform of French development NGOs

The workshop was run by a Franco-Brazilian team working on agricultural development projects in Amazonia. As they noted, there is a regrettable parallel between deforestation and agricultural development, especially livestock rearing and biofuels. Peasants are pressurised by multinationals wishing to grow soya for livestock feed and for “biofuels” to meet the demand from the “rich” countries into selling their lands and going to cultivate elsewhere deeper in Amazonia, thus clearing the forest. It would appear that the development of livestock rearing also compounds conflicts over land, in a region where it is difficult for the indigenous populations to establish their legal right to own land despite having been present there and farming it for years. Once they have been expropriated thousands sell their labour to the multinationals to work on land now under monoculture (for example, soya), where they used to grow a variety of crops for their families. Deforestation in Amazonia is thus partly due to the transformation of an agricultural system based on the family unit, subsistence, and diversity, into an agricultural system of monoculture for export by multinationals where peasants are a cheap and flexible source of labour.