The key word at this year's World Social Forum, which ended yesterday in Porto Alegre, Brazil, was 'big.'
Big attendance: more than a hundred thousand delegates in all! Big speeches: more than 15,000 crammed in to see Noam Chomsky! And most of all, big men. Lula da Silva, the newly elected president of Brazil, came to the Forum and addressed 75,000 adoring fans. Hugo Chavez, the controversial president of Venezuela, paid a 'surprise' visit to announce that his embattled regime was part of the same movement as the forum itself.
"The left in Latin America is being reborn," Mr. Chavez declared, as he pledged to vanquish his opponents at any cost. As evidence of this rebirth, he pointed to Lula's election in Brazil, Lucio Gutierrez's victory in Ecuador and Fidel Castro's tenacity in Cuba.
But wait a minute: how on earth did a gathering that was supposed to be a showcase for new grassroots movements become a celebration of men with a penchant for three hour speeches about smashing the oligarchy?
How do you celebrate the anniversary of something that is impossible to define? That was the question faced by tens of thousands of Argentinians on December 20 2002 as they marched from all corners of Buenos Aires to the historic Plaza de Mayo. It was a year ago to the day since the first “Argentinazo”, a word that is completely untranslatable into English or, for that matter, Spanish. The Argentinazo was not a riot exactly, although it sure looked like one on the television, with looters ransacking supermarkets and mounted police charging into crowds; 33 people were killed across the country. It wasn’t a revolution, either, although it sort of looked like one on the face of it, with angry crowds storming the seat of government and forcing the president to resign in disgrace.
But unlike a classic revolution, the Argentinazo was not organised by an alternate political force that wanted to take power for itself. And unlike a riot, it pulsed with a unified and unequivocal demand: the immediate removal of all the corrupt politicians who have grown rich while Argentina, once the envy of the developing world, spiralled into poverty.
Well, it could have been true.
That's what Senator Hillary Clinton had to say after finding out that five Pakistani men did not actually sneak into the United States through Canada so they could blow up New York on New Year's Eve. Because they were never in the United States at all, and they weren't terrorists, and the whole thing was dreamed up by a man who forges passports for a living.
At the height of the search for the professional liar's imaginary nonterrorists, Clinton had blamed Canada and its "unpatrolled, unsupervised" border. But even when the hoax came to light, Clinton didn't rescind the accusation: Because the Canadian border is so porous, she reasoned, "this hoax seemed all too believable." It was, in other words, a useful hoax, helping US citizens to see how unsafe they really are. And that is useful, especially if you are among the growing number of free-market economists, politicians and military strategists pushing for the creation of "Fortress NAFTA," a continental security perimeter stretching from Mexico's southern border to Canada's northern one.
A bunch of people have written to the site and asked me if I planned to respond to the attack on me in the current issue of The Economist. Frankly, I think the article
is so nuts, it’s not even worth responding. But I would like to add some context that might help explain why an article so personal and childish was allowed to go to press in a publication that prides itself on being a cool voice of reason and authority on all matters economic.
I knew from email reports that something new was going on in Washington D.C. last weekend. A demonstration against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund was joined by an anti-war march, as well as a demonstration against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. In the end, all the marches joined together in what organizers described as the largest Palestinian solidarity demonstration in U.S. history, 75,000 people by police estimates.
On Sunday night, I turned on my television in the hopes of catching a glimpse of this historic protest. I saw something else instead: triumphant Jean-Marie Le Pen celebrating his new found status as the second most popular political leader in France. Ever since, I've been wondering whether the new alliance displayed on the streets can also deal with this latest threat.