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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Six things I like about Madison

The top six things I like about Madison:

1. WORT-FM 89.9, volunteer run community radio.

2. Latin American solidarity groups, including CALA (Community Action on Latin America), MASCP (Madison Arcatao Sister City Project), and CSN (Colombia Support Network).

3. Free summer music festivals in the parks, especially Marquette and Orton.

4. Free concerts, including those at Olbrich, Warner Park, Monona Terrace, and the Union Terrace.

5. UW's Memorial Library, one of the best libraries for my research.

6. Farmers markets (the one on Saturday is the most famous, but it is such a zoo; my east side market is a lot more navigable, though they don't have as much of a variety).

Monday, August 16, 2010


I'm in the Asunción airport, and the man at the security checkpoint wants to confiscate my batteries. Sure enough, he shows me a picture that shows that you can't bring batteries on the plane. My water and liquids was not a problem, but my batteries are. I've never run into that before. I wonder what that was about.

Rather than enjoying the beautiful weather outside, I spent the entire day instead my hotel room at the Asunción Palace Hotel working on a feature for Free Speech Radio News. I hope it was worth it. The feature is now up at

I also did a feature for Third World View on WORT last nite. See

I stayed up late last nite and woke up early this morning to finish my story for Upside Down World. That should be up soon at

I'm exhausted, and wish I could be outside in the nice spring air instead of trapped in this airport terminal.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Presidents, Part II

The Forum is over and the sun came back out today so it is just a beautifully gorgeous spring day in Asunción. I could go back to the hotel and start working on reports, but I want to hang out here on the forum grounds just a bit longer to enjoy the nice weather.

We arrived at the Forum grounds at 11:30am this morning after I frantically tried to get my news stories and feature read for WORT’s Third World View tonite. An assembly of social movements was supposed to meet at 8:30 this morning, followed by a closing ceremony at 2pm. But then we started getting rumors of a gathering with the presidents at 11am.

On the way here, we see soldiers milling around on street corners, and once at the forum grounds police and soldiers are swarming everywhere. From afar we hear the music and roars of the crowd in the Polideportivo arena. Armed guards and Vía Campesina marshals refuse to let us in at the first, second, third, and fourth doors. We’re running out of doors to try, and finally at the fifth we talk them into letting us inside.

Inside the Polideportivo, there is a mad crush of a crowd and the presidents are seated on stage. People are standing everywhere, and I have trouble finding a place to position myself. Finally I find an empty chair that turns out to be right behind a post that blocks my view of the lectern from where the presidents will speak. But it doesn’t matter much, because I’m so far back and so many people are standing that I can’t get a decent camera shot anyway.

As I try to juggle a camera, audio recorder, and netbook, a guy sitting beside me asks in English “are you from America”? I shot him a dirty look, and told him later–can’t he see I’m busy and trying to listen? But he wasn’t interested in listening, nor in paying attention to anything that was going on there. He spent the rest of the time talking to his girlfriend. He didn’t look like a forista. I’m not sure what he was doing there.

At noon (an hour after events were to start), two Vía Campesina delegates read the final statement for the forum. Juggling all my equipment, it’s really hard to take notes on what it contains. I’m trying to get a copy of it. After reading the statement, seemingly spontaneously the Vía Campesina delegates call on Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo to ban transgenic soybeans. He nods his head in acknowledgment of the message. It’s hard to say whether he agrees, or is just playing the role of a politician. Transgenic soy production has skyrocketed during his two years in office. The end with a call for agrarian reform.

The first president to speak is José Mujica from Uruguay. He gives a very short speech, touching largely on issues of openness and diversity.

Following him comes Evo Morales, who gives a much longer speech (Hugo Chávez in training?). Presidente Evo says he is glad to be at the forum, to have helped with its organization, and to share the stage with people like Mujica and Lugo. Lugo was previously a father of the church, and now he’s father of Paraguay (the audience seems to titter, I don’t know if Evo meant it as a double entendre). Evo spoke of the many social conflicts that they faced, the difficulties, the aggressions. They were speaking out on behalf of the marginalized, and were continuing the struggle for the peoples of America and the world. To defend America is to defend the mother earth, he said. He spoke of the need to continue experimenting, to govern without intervention from the United States or neoliberal institutions.

Evo pointed to the positive results that he programs were having in Bolivia, including a very recent announcement that Bolivia has moved from a low to medium income country. These changes have involved a profound transformation of the society, of deepening democracy, of ending imperialism. Before government and social leaders were accused to being narcotraffickers, and now after 9/11 they are called terrorists. But it is important to continue the struggle for the liberation of the peoples. Evo mentioned his participation in many forums, including with Rigoberta Menchú who was here, and with Fidel to whom he sent his birthday greetings.

Social Forums are a great school, Evo said, for all of us. He talked about the important issues discussed here, including struggles against military bases and climate change. He offered a proposal for the upcoming climate talks in Cancún that it be a fiesta rather than a confrontation. He asked for powerful interests to listen to the people of the world, to respect the rights of mother earth. He pointed to an important struggle for the integration of the people, that unified people are stronger than the state. Only social forces make history and change political contexts. Evo also mentioned the importance of struggles against foreign military bases.

Evo concluded that he comes from the school of social movements, and he is obligated by social forces to take the positions he does. This has led to the emergence of new flags of struggle.

The third president to speak at the closing as the Paraguayan Fernando Lugo who returned after his brief presentation yesterday. As he took the stage, a group of audience members chanted for anend to Plan Colombia (I’m not sure what the connection to Lugo is).

Lugo’s message was that “nuestra América esta en camino,” that our America is on the march. He pointed to the curious changes in Latin American leadership, that in Bolivia and Indigenous person was now president, in Uruguay an ex-guerrilla, and in Paraguay an ex-priest. Just a couple years ago who would have thought that this was possible? America is on the march, Lugo repeated, but we have not arrived yet. We have a lot of work left to do, and the Americas Social Forum is one of the torches that lights the path. How often our ancestors have dreamed of these changes, and now we are realizing these dreams of the construction of Latin American unity. That dream of unity was frustrated two centuries ago, but now it is being realized.

The presence of all of us at the social forum, Lugo said, provides a force to continue on an irreversible path. The forum is evidence of new winds blowing on the continent. This is a space of construction in the process of deepening and extending processesof sovereignty. The only guarantee that we have this process of integration will continue on the behalf of the people rather than privileged sectors is this mobilization. Popular participation is the motor of integration, of change, of cooperation. If new winds are blowing on the continent, we have to be alert to the risks and continual dangers inside and outside of our countries. We see this in Honduras with the coup. War and violence is not part of our continent, Lugo argued. Rather, we need to construct new alternatives so that dreams will be a reality. He ended by thanking us for being here, and proclaimed that another world, another America, another Paraguay is possible.

After Lugo’s speech, the three presidents were hustled back out of the arena. Moderator Joel Suarez announced that this concluded the forum, but another organizer countered that after the presidents left we would continue with the closing ceremonies. The newspaper had listed an entire program of cultural performances that would come after the presidential presentations. A Bolivian brass band was preparing to play, but people flooded out of the arena and workers began to stack up the chairs. So with that, I guess, the forum comes to an end. Until next time?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fernando Lugo

I entered the Polideportivo arena just before 5pm for the evening conference “Soberanías e integración: Nuestra América está en camino.” Vía campesina had a cordon set up at one door, the next one was locked, and the third one was guarded by a police officer with a mean-looking machine gun. Inside, Che Guevara revolutionary songs were blaring at an ear-blasting volume on the sound system. Vía Campesina and secret service guards were swarming all over the place. All of this, just for Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo.

Lugo, who had just returned from São Paolo where he was undergoing cancer treatment, strolled up on the stage to thunderous applause. He was wearing a poncho over his clothes, and proceeded to read a short 15-minute speech. He talked about the social forum as the refugee of Latin American dignity, a factory of realized dreams. We want to regain our regional integration, as a model for the development of our countries. We propose the sovereign development of our countries. Latin America today is the continent of hope for the world. We were one of the first to demand justice for Honduras, and continue to demand the reparation of a legitimate government. The coup in Honduras showed us that our processes are never sufficiently consolidated. For this reason, we always have to remain alert. The enemies of democracy are always attacking us. I want to take advantage of this opportunity to greet the people of Colombia and Venezuela. There is no longer space for war on this continent. I want to acknowledge all of the regards I have received in these days. Another America is possible, Lugo concluded, another world is possible.

With that, Lugo strolled off the stage and out of the arena, with the whole zoo trailing along behind him. Panel moderator Mágdalena Leónfought to bring the scene back under control. After several minutes, the chaos Lugo left in his wake settled down, and we could carry on with more important discussions with social movement leaders.

Camille Chalmers from Haiti began his intervention by talking greeting Fidel on his 84th birthday, and positioning the independence of Haiti in the context of the bicentennial of Latin American independence, and how Haiti supported Bolívar and those efforts. Chalmers then denounced the MINUSTAH occupation of Haiti and foreign military bases. Social movements and the left is opening up impressive paths. ALBA is leading to authentic ruptures. We need to isolated the coup government of Lobo in Honduras. Long live the people and struggle of Honduras. We need ruptures in the capitalist system. Chalmers greets the April climate conference in Bolivia, and hope it opens a path for Cancún this fall, and Ecuador’s declaration of the foreign debt as illegitimate. Down with external debts, down with the capitalist system. Women’s and feminist movements have taught us fundamental lessons. These aer key for a better future. The necessary ruptures require the reinforcing of ALBA and a rupture with international finance institutions. Down with the IMF and World Bank. The Haitian and Cuban opened up the path for the rest of us.

Francisca Rodríguez, CLOC/Vía Campesina leader from Chile, presented a proposal for sovereignty and autonomy from a peasant perspective. We’ve learned to resist dictatorships, and embrace democracy. When we got rid of dictatorships, we were left with new forms of capitalism, and needed to continue the struggles against neoliberalism. That is what fills this forum with energy and ideas, to defend the mother earth. We need to forum new alliances with a variety of groups, including labor. Progressive governments under tremendous pressure from capitalism and the right wing. The governments come out of basic demands, like peasants without land and the pressures from oil and mining extraction. We need to advance and consolidate these processes in Latin America. Peasants know how to produce without contaminating, but we can’t clean what capitalism is dirtying. It’s not just production, but a social and political process. For this reason, we need a strong and powerful peasant organization. We need the help of the left, and new constitutions that recognize food sovereignty. We need education that helps us, and doesn’t embarrass us for being from the countryside. We also need to recognize the protagonistic role of women in the struggle for sovereignty. We need to recognize peasant rights to water, land, agricultural production. We don’t want large producers to control production. Agrarian reform is central to these demands for food sovereignty. It’s a long road to stop climate change, but we have short term steps including protesting at Cancún. Basta with these problems. We have to repeat protests across the world. Globalization of the struggle, globalization of hope.

With the social movement leaders out of the way, we turned back to government officials. Bolivian foreign minister David Choquehuanca began his talk about a long struggle against capitalism, and the struggle against foreign bases and the climate crisis that is the result of capitalism. What kind of effect is climate change having on us? If we don’t solve these problems and work for the integration of our people, these types of crises will continue and lead to the destruction of our planet. The mother earth has deadly wounds, and if we lose her we lose everyone and everything. We’re all at the point of disappearing. This is suicide. Capitalism isn’t concerned about survival, but about selling even its children just to make a profit. We’re in new times. Latin America on its feet, never on its knees. Latin America for its own people, not for the United States. People of the world are awakening, and capitalism has nothing to offer us. Imperialism leads to problems and conflicts. Today more than any time we have to strengthen peace movements and for the rights of the mother earth. Only unity will prevent wars.

Finally, Paraguay vice foreign minister Jorge Lara Castro spoke in the name of Fernando Lugo. He began by pointing to the importance of this meeting, of how it links generations, cultures, countries to build knowledge and intelligence. The climate crisis indicates the depth of this problem. Lugo’s election pointed to the opening of new possibilities.

The presence of government leaders at a social forum that was originally presented as a meeting of civil society, of course, is not new. That tension has always been present, and reached a high point with the presidents show at the WSF in Belem in 2009. Perhaps what surprises me here at the ASF is how the social forum organizers openly invited government leaders. Previously, their presence has always involved a dance and a certain amount of “plausible deniability” in which the meetings were not part of the official program even though they were held in parallel in a way so that many participants could attend. For Lugo, it is even more surprising because some social movements have been very critical of his policies. Does the strong presence of Vía Campesina point to a deep divide in social movements, with this wing much more willing to support these “leftist” presidents?

Conscientious Objection

Enrique introduced the discussion of conscientious objection in the session “Conversatorio Militarizacion de la objecion de conciencia en Paraguay” organized by Movimiento de Objecion de Conciencia - Paraguay (MOC-Py). Vidal from Serpaj gave a quick historical overview of the military draft in Paraguay that previously had been an issue of the military kidnaping people, but it became more formalized after the fall of the Stroesner dictatorship in 1989 and various groups began to press for a complete elimination of the military draft. Of the groups that originally worked on the issue, only Serpaj remains. First the arranged for a conscientious objector card, and then worked on making it more easily available throughout the country and not just in Asuncion. Paraguay has a very strong militaristic culture, and entering the military is a way for boys to prove themselves as men.

With deaths and suicides on military bases, the military began to discredit itself, particularly with its actions and attitudes of impunity toward these deaths. Pedro Vargas related how his son Gerardo who had just been drafted into the army was killed on a military base in 1989. They are still looking for the truth as to how he was tortured and killed, and who did it. Thanks Serpaj for helping them with this issue, and asks for help for Serpaj to continue this work. Vidal noted that many people have had similar experiences, especially people from rural areas. These cases point to the problem of impunity continues. They want to reoriente the budget away from the military and toward human needs. Wants to gain recognition of conscientious objection as a human right. The new law also involves what amounts to a fine for conscientious objection. At a minimum, military service should be voluntary. Considering the number of young people who are dying in the cuartels, we can’t all the continuation of a system that leads to the deaths of people. If we all obligatory civil service it also opens the door to the militarization of society. The threat is that we’ll lose spaces that we’ve gained. The state is imposing forced labor, and violating the constitution that protects the rights of conscious. For this reason, the law is unconstitutional. Military service is directly related to the militarization of society.

The worst part of this law is that it comes during the government of Fernando Lugo that is allegedly in alliance with social movements. Two paths that we are proposing that we take. First is a massive mobilization against the law. The other is a legal challenge. Vidal briefly related the stories of Ghandi’s and Martin Luther King’s non-violent struggles against unjust laws, and argued that people in Paraguay need to pursue the same type of strategies to defeat this unjust law. Its the young people who change and revolutionize a society.

Most of the people at this workshop were Paraguayans, mostly young men and women. Maybe because this was the only panel I attended that dealt directly with Paraguay, speakers occasionally dropped into Guarani. I’m not sure why, maybe to underscore a point or to make sure everyone understood (or maybe as a political statement?), but it did make me wonder how many other panels relied on Guarani in addition to Spanish.


If each of my days at the Americas Social Forum has a particular theme, I guess today’s focus must be anti-militarism. I am here with the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW), and so it was only logical that I participate in the panel “Los instrumentos de dominación y la Escuela de las Américas.” We were going to start the workshop with a SOAW video “School of Assassins” but we ran into a series of problems, beginning with my failure to copy the correct video to my netbook’s harddrive (it doesn’t have a DVD player, so I had to copy the VOB) and then in a delay in finding a video projector this morning.

So, instead of watching a video, organizers Theresa Cameranesi and Pablo Ruiz began by breaking the session into three groups and having them discuss for 20 minutes the question “¿Como vivo yo en los paises actuales sistemas de dominación?” Following the break out discussions, a representative from each reported back to group. This was the first participatory workshop that I have attended at this forum; all of the others have featured lengthy speakers.

Here are some quick notes from the small group representatives as they reported back to the larger group:

Group 1: problem with education and low salaries and deficient pedagogical systems. Another problem is the capitalist system that defends the owners of the means of communication rather than society. Education system imposed from outside, from the US, rather than responding to local condition. Religion is also dogmatic, just emphasis on beliefs rather than on community. Education system is oriented to getting a job rather than making a better world. What is important is working for justice and a better society.

Group 2: Political repression, an education system that doesn’t help us, neoliberal globalization with negative effects, imperial domination that negatively effects the most vulnerable people, militarization, manipulation of electoral campaigns.

Group 3: Domination is often through hegemonic systems that tells us how we should think, act, dress. Technology, including digital divides with people who don’t know how to use the Internet are considered illiterate. Economic systems, capitalism and globalization that also tries to homogenize our ways of thinking. Technology becomes a vice rather than a necessity that changes our ways of thinking. How do we destroy these forms of domination? In Bolivia, we’re written our own norms and rules into the new constitution. It has not been easy, but it is one way to break with colonial systems, to vivir bien, to live in harmony. Through this way we can change our systems. Reads the first article of the Bolivian constitution.

Pablo summarized the instruments of domination that emerged out of the discussion as those of education, economic system, religion, militarism, electoral manipulations, NGOs, media, values of competition and consumption, technology, globalized culture. All of these help maintain an unequal system, and the SOA is designed to help maintain this type of system.

Every year, about 1000 students are sent to the SOA. Colombia has the most with 350, 200 are from Chile, and 50 Peru. Most of the rest (including Paraguay) sends 20-30. Only Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina, and Uruguay have formally decided not to send more students. The school becomes a training school for dictators, and gives the United States a way to have direct contact with the military high command. Part of it is selling an image of the United States. It’s justified today by terrorist threats.

Theresa briefly summarized the efforts of SOAW to close the school. Several ways exist to close it, including lobbying government officials to pass a law to close it, eliminate its funding, by presidential executive order (not very likely). But another way is to encourage countries not to send any more students, because if there are no more students than the school will close. For that reason, we’ve organized delegations to various countries to encourage the government to stop sending students, and some have agreed. Costa Rica almost agreed, but the US embassy put pressure on president Oscar Arias to keep sending students. Every year in November on the anniversary of the assassination of the Jesuits in El Salvador, 20,000 come to Fort Benning to “cross the line” as an act of civil disobedience to force the closing of the school. More than 200 people have served time. We also lobby congressional representative to close the school.

A Brazilian woman pointed out that Brazil’s MINUSTAH mission to Haiti indicates that other countries might be taking over the role that the SOA plays. A representative from Colombia indicated that Colombia is also providing training to policy forces in other countries, particularly around issues like express kidnaping. Colombia is becoming a satellite training ground for these types of training exercises, as a mercenary force for imperialism. It’s part of the militarization of life.

At 8:30 this morning almost no one was at the session, but by the time we finished the room was full and the discussion was in full swing. Unfortunately, we had to stop because another session was scheduled to start in the same room. In many ways, the next session “Occupation militaire, économique et humanitaire d’Haïte” organized by the Plateforme Haïtienne de Paidoyer pour un Développement Alternatif was a logical extension of the SOAW. I stepped outside to warm up in the sun that is now poking out of the clouds and to do a quick interview with Vidal for the program I am trying to pull together for WORT tomorrow nite.

When I came back into the room, a Camille Chalmers was providing an overview of recent events in Haiti, including the MINUSTAH occupation, the earthquake, the role of international finance capital, difficulties that social movements are facing under the current situation. He closed with reflections that in the context of the bicentennial celebrations currently under way in Latin America we need to consider the role of Haiti as the second independent country in the Americas as part of this history. What are the roles of social movements to this history.

Economically, Haiti faces a double struggle of both canceling the debt as well as reparations for the payments it made to France after independence. The panel ended with several concrete proposals, including a call to mobilize to end the MINUSTAH occupation of Haiti.

In comparing this session to the one on Haiti at the USSF a couple months ago, this one was a lot smaller and lacked the high power speakers that came to Detroit. Also, the face of this session was much more “European” than the one at the USSF that was full of African descendants. What does the mean? Is it an indication that the USSF has been more successful than the ASF in building a forum from the bottom and left? Or does it just mean that Haiti has developed closer relations with the United States than Paraguay, and the issue does not have as much meaning in South America as it does in the North? But given that Brazil has been accused of trying to position itself as a kingmaker with its MINUSTAH mission in Haiti, shouldn’t this be a key and pressing issue for social movements here? Or is it just a linguistic issue, with the title for the panel in French and so many people (like myself initially) did not come because the assumption is that we would not understand anything? In the end, the panel was in Spanish. And it was good.

Oh yeah, and no one is selling souvenir ASF tshirts here.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Buen Vivir

The evening panel “Buen Vivir y derechos de la Madre Tierra: avances y propuestas” began with a bit of a gruppie rush as Rigoberta Menchú walked in and people jockeyed for position to shake her hand and take her picture. The moderator Magui Balbuena called people to the stage so that panel could start. From my perspective, the panel had bigger fish than Rigoberta.

The first presenter was Bolivian minister David Choquehuanca who first introduced the idea of buen vivir/sumak kawsay/living well into Indigenous discourse. Because of his significance in contributing to this conceptual shift, I was really looking forward to hearing him speak. He began by observing that we face two paths: capitalism and socialism. For capitalism the most important is money, but for socialism the most important are people. In Bolivia, we look for a new way. The most important thing is not money or people, but life. From this perspective, everything comes into question. At the April climate change in Cochabamba we look for the causes of climate change. Capitalism is the cause of climatic problems. For this reason, we question development because it leads to inequilibrium and problems. For this reason, we look to live well not better. We are moving beyond a syndicalist model that looked to syndical independence rather than a better political system. When we entered the political system, we asked ourselves what we wanted. This led to a process of decolonization. We’ve been told we don’t have history but ethnohistory, not music but folklore, not art but artisans. We have to recuperate our identities. This is why we talk about Pachakutik, a return to something better. The world is in crisis. To live well is to know how to take care of ourselves, which means more than feeding ourselves. We thinking about capital and people, but we don’t think about life. Like the whipala, we are all the same size. Some are not more important than others. We have to democratize democracy. Indigenous demands go farther than democracy, we have to build consensus. We have to do more than build a new society that is exclusionary, we have to build a new life. We’re not against freedom, but we want to go beyond that. More than justice, we look for equilibrium. Rather than human rights, we look for collective rights including those of nature.

Sociologist Aníbal Quijano from Peru talked the significance of the buen vivir and how new models of power are emerging in Latin America. It is for this reason that resistance began here. The words buen vivir first appeared in Guaman Poma de Ayala’s Nueva Crónica as part of imagining something better than the Spanish colonialism. In that way, it became a new alternative and why it is possible now. We are living in the deepest and most radical crisis that we have ever experienced. It’s no accident that the buen vivir has come from here because of the history of resistance here. There are two fundamental axis. The first is the racialization of the Indigenous world and the creation of new identities. The second is the formation of mercantile structures that are tied into the world economy. These power structures have had many changes over the years, but it is a process that comes from the base up. The first point is the crisis of exchange systems and labor forces. The capitalist system creates unemployment rather than employment. The second point is that as profits drop speculation rises, and we end up with a speculative capitalism. This isn’t the same as that from before, but is something new. The crisis is increasingly one of financial fraud. A society that lives off of credit will collapse. This leads to the collapse of the promises of modernity. This collapse leads to the development of a new system. This is not just any resistance, but it is a resistance for the survival of the species and conditions for life on this planet. It’s not just a resistance against conditions, but for change. We need a fundamentally anti-capitalist discourse. This is why Latin America is the home of these changes and it begins with Indigenous but it is against a common enemy. It’s the worst threat to survival. Buen Vivir is not only a sign of change, but of a new process.

Irene León from Ecuador began by noting that it was a privilege to be here. This is a unique and unparalleled moment. We are implementing both political as well as conceptual revolutions that open up participatory spaces. We’re not only talking about changing models but changing concepts. We need to change systems of production. Ecuador’s plan for buen vivir defines new concepts for a dignified life and death. It becomes a political instrument to change the state, including recuperation of natural resources. We need to recuperate our sovereignty. For the first time in Ecuador we’ve defined the rights of mother nature, of the Pachamama. These changes require a fundamental transformation. We talk a lot about self-determination and the development of our own thoughts. This also leads to a conceptual rupture with production systems. Ecuador is the most biodiverse place on earth. This leads to anti-capitalist and anti-patriarchical concepts. With these changes, our transformation is already underway. This leads us to alternatives for the crisis of civilization. The buen vivir esta en marcha and we welcome you to join us.

After three rather lengthy, academic, and frankly dry presentations, we come to the 1992 Nobel peace prize winner Rigoberta Menchú. Recognizing that they were losing the audience’s attention, Rigoberta had people stand up (to stay warm, she said), and then sit back down (to save time). She began talking about the importance of our ancestors, and then of living in a community. She emphasized the social dimension of the issue, and the need to break with individualism. She’s seen people eat together in Ecuador, and this is so nice. We’re part of a broader society than just ourselves. Another dimension is spiritual, and we’ve lost that. This is an ancestral issue. We need to go beyond “I” to look at ourselves together. Everyone are people of the land, not just Indigenous peoples. That is why ancestral knowledge is so important. People in the south talk about buen vivir, but we talk about a plain life based on social and spiritual values. She’s worried about young people and leaders. She’s proud when Evo Morales denounces climate change on the global stage. What can we do so that the western world understands us? If we’re a fourth way people are going to look at us as if we are strange. We need to strengthen our struggles, and this is a process that is under way in places like Bolivia and Ecuador. In 1992, we raised a banner against racism with a communal vision. We began to criticize each other, but that is not our culture. We need a common agenda to fight these problems. There are so many struggles we have to undertake, and we need to work together. Power for us means something different than power just for me. We have many social and spiritual ills. She sees a material, spiritual, and social decadence. The youth have an opportunity to become leaders.

Fidel, Raúl, y las nacionalidades indígenas

Social forums, as with life in general, involves trade offs and difficult choices. This afternoon in particular the decision was between Fidel’s birthday celebration and a CAOI panel. The auditorium for Fidel is inside and warmer than the Carpeta 2 where CAOI is meeting, and nothing was happening yet at the CAOI tent so I might as well warm up a bit first. The session is listed in the program as “Inauguración Exposición Fotográfica y proyección de documental Homenaje 84 cumpleanos del Comandante Fidel Castro,” organized by the Red de Redes en Defensa de la Humanidad.

Fidel starts a half hour late, and meanwhile I look at an exhibition of photos that line the walls. Baptist minister Raúl Súarez from the Martin Luther King Center is the first speaker, and he reads a powerful statement in which he talks about Fidel as a prophet. Raúl plays an important role in my life as well, because he was the one who organized an AFSC work camp in Cuba in 1989 that was my first visit to the island.

Having paid my appropriate respects to Fidel and with the sun poking out of the clouds that warms me up a bit I can now head over to Carpeta 2 for the panel “Buen vivir o vivir bien: visión de los pueblos indígenas y reto de los gobiernos profundizando en la descolonización y en la plurinacionalidad” organized by the Viceministerio de Planificiación Estrategica del Estado Plurinacionalidad de Bolivia, and the Coordinadora Andina de Organizaciones Indígenas (CAOI).

I arrive just as the panel is starting, and Nancy Iza from Ecuarunari/CONAIE/CAOI begins by describing in broad terms what the Buen Vivir means. CAOI leader Miguel Palacín continues by presenting the third edition of a book that they published on the buen vivir. He talks about the history of colonization in the Americas that continues with the extractive policies of the current governments. What this has created is the compromising of our lives and a crisis of civilization. The solutions are always the same, Palacín asked, so what are the alternatives? Yes there are alternatives, he argued, and an answer lies in the creation of plurinational states. Bolivia has achieved this with the election of an Indigenous president and the transformation of state structures. The second part involves the creation of the buen vivir. We have two paradigms, that of the extreme individualism of the western world that we call capitalism that is based around accumulation. Socialism puts people at the center, and all the rights are focused on them. Cuba, for example, has achieved significant gains. But we have an alternative paradigm that is based on the community rather than individuals. The western model is linear, seeks constant improvements, and is based on dialectic divisions. The communal paradigm is circular, harmony, equilibrium, duality, diversity (but complementary rather than competitive). Rather than a participatory democracy, we want a communal democracy. The ultimate goal is to defend life. This is a logical expression of life. The crisis of civilization that we are experiencing is because we have lost equilibrium, and we continue exploiting resources. The lack of equilibrium is what has lead to global warming. Distributive rather than accumulative economy. We need public policies to achieve these goals. Rights don’t come from states or laws, but they come from ourselves. In terms of health, the spirit guides. This is preventative medicine, and is closely related to the pachamama. Illness comes because we lose equilibrium. Agriculture is based around crop rotation and diversity, rather than monoculture that cuts down trees just to plant soy or african palm. We need to move to exchange rather than monetary systems. We don’t reject technology, but we question how to use it and how it just generates trash. So that some can live better, many are living worse.

After Miguel’s lengthy speech, a representative from CONAMAQ in Bolivia briefly underscored some of these ideas of the buen vivir. Government representatives from Bolivia were to have talked as well, but they couldn’t make it. So we moved to questions and comments instead. A representative from Paraguay said that they have been on strike and haven’t received a positive response from Fernando Lugo, and so wanted to present a letter to a representative of Evo Morales to see if Morales could talk to Lugo to solve their problems. Felix from the Indigenous affairs section of the Bolivian foreign ministry received the letter, and then gave some of his own comments on the crisis of civilization.

Maybe it is just because I have heard this so many times over the last couple years, but this panel struck me as long on rhetoric and short on concrete proposals or new ideas. The contrast with the USSF is also striking for me in that the USSF emphasized interaction and dialogue, while the panels here at the ASF still feature long discourses from experts who stand up front on the stage.


I left the Vía Campesina tent when the comments were still in full swing to go to the session “Foro Yasuní ITT Ecuador: ¿Por qué dejar el petróleo bajo tierra?” sponsored by the Iniciativa Yasuní ITT - Ministerio Coordinador de Patrimonio Ecuador. Unlike the crowded Vía Campesina tent, only a handful of people are at this session (I expected the tent to be crowded, but perhaps that says more about me than anything). Tarsicio Grauizo from the Ministerio Coordinador de Patrimonio Ecuador explains that Yasuní is a environmentally diverse area with rich petroleum reserves. With a powerpoint presentation, he launches into a detailed explanation of Ecuador’s natural resources, petroleum reserves, and economic system. The Yasuni proposal is to leave the petroleum in the ground in exchange for international donations. Ecuador is thinking about a post-petroleum economy. The reserves in Ecuador will not last more than 30 years, and the easiest sources have already been exploited. The funds generated from the Yasuni ITT initiative will be used to develop alternative energy sources, in addition environmental conservation. This is a holistic proposal with various aspects.

The presentation was very upbeat and very positive. Two things strike me as somewhat curious about this presentation at a social forum. First, is that it was a governmental presentation, which indicates grand shifts in the social forum thinking over the past ten years. At the first WSF in 2001, South America did not have any sympathetic governments, and none of them would be allowed to present their perspective at the forum. This was to be a meeting space for civil society. So why are government representatives presenting this issue rather than social movements? Has the social forum moved so far where now it privileges the allegedly sympathetic voices of “leftist” governments over those of social movements?

The second point is a criticism that people have made of this proposal that it looks to capitalist modes of production to solve the worlds problems, which is out of line with the anti-neoliberal ideologies that originally drove the WSF. The assumption is that a capitalist market will solve our problems. In direct and simplistic terms, the Yasuni ITT proposal is reformist rather than revolutionary. As one of the audience members said, we need to see this as a political rather than economic issue.

A woman in representation of CONAIE noted from the floor that this initiative came from the government, and she wished for more support for social movements. She asked about the curious history of the former foreign minister Fander Falconi who pressed the issue and as a result was fired, something that Tarsicio did not mention. Danie responded that her comment raised an important point, and that this was an initiative that the people had pressed. Correa raised concerns about maintaining control over the fund, and they altered the proposal to take these concerns into account. Tarsicio added that we have to keep in mind that there are people in government who opposed this proposal, but it comes out of popular pressure. After CONAIE has its say, they leave the tent. Too bad, because arguably one of the greatest problems in Ecuador right now is that social movements and the government throw insults at each other instead of talking with each other in search of mutually beneficial solutions.

While most panels here start late and run long, this one started on time and finished early.

After the panel was over and I shut down my netbook people started talking more openly about problems with the Yasuní proposal and related issues of tensions between social movements and progressive elected governments. Maybe I should have broken the netbook back out to take more notes, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about these issues and maybe it is best just to listen and reflect on what people are saying.

Vía Campesina

The front that came through yesterday afternoon that brought the rain really cooled off the air, and now it feels like winter rather than the beautiful weather that welcomed the forum. I’m freezing cold.

I arrived at the Vía Campesina tent for the panel “Articulación de los movimientos sociales hacia el ALBA” just as a group of young people were singing the Internationale. The Vía Campesina tent is the largest one at the forum. Unlike the other smaller tents that sit on grass, this one is on a dirt lot, and soon Paraguay’s famous red soil coats everything. An enormous Vía Campesina hangs behind the speakers’ table, in front of the table on the floor the green Vía Campesina, white CLOC, and red flags are wrapped into the shape of the Americas, with ALBA, Vía Campesina, and CLOC banners in the center.

A representative from Cuba wished Fidel a happy 84th birthday, and mentioned his speech to the Cuba congress last week warning of the dangers of nuclear war if the United States continued its belligerent policy toward Iran. She mentioned a series of events that will take place today in commemoration of Fidel’s birthday and Cuba in general.

The first speaker was Joel Súarez from Cuba who briefly mentioned the history of the revolutionary advances of Cuba and Venezuela, and the signing in 2005 in Havana in the context of anti-FTAA meetings the first ALBA agreement. The agreement did not deal only with economic issues, but also embraced the process of building a new culture of solidarity and exchanges. In 2007, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez created a council for relationship of social movements with ALBA. It’s been a very difficult process of building ALBA as an expression of social movements. Those of us from the bottom and the left need to reconstruct a new type of system. At the 2009 WSF in Belem they presented a letter laying out these principles. ALBA is still a dream whose full potential still has to be realized. We are still fighting to realize the ideas of Mariátegui. A key point is international solidarity, and we see this need in events such as the coup in Honduras and the earthquake in Haiti. There are also technical aspects, such as bringing Venezuelan students to study medicine in Cuba. Minga Informativa and ALAI is also working to train a new generation of communicators in Venezuela. In March 2011, they are planning a massive meeting of social movements in favor of ALBA in the Triple Border region

Manuel Bertoni (sp?) from Argentina built on Joel’s historical base to talk more about the details of the 2009 Belem letter with its specific points and details (sorry, he read them too quickly for me to catch them). Generally, the principles are based on an anti-imperialist and anti-patriarchical perspectives. A couple months ago they had a meeting in Caracas to continue to build this process.

Diego Montón from the Movimiento Indígena Campesina de Argentina said that in reality the situation today with progressive governments in South America is more complicated than we faced when we fought against the FTAA and neoliberal governments. We don’t have the situation in Cuba where we already have a socialist state, but instead we face the difficult process of transferring away from neoliberal structures. We need to build new structures such as UNASUR. Some such as Evo and Chávez are more progressive, and others are more sketchy. But UNASUR has intervened in certain situations in order to have a positive influence. We need to democratize the press. We need a unified space to build from the bottom and the left a new continental plan while at the same time strengthening local struggles. A large issue is to fight against transnational corporations and in favor of food sovereignty.

The Brazilian Ana Luisa from the Marcha Mundial de Mujeres talked about the necessity of building alterative types of exchanges that aren’t just based on economics and also take issues of reciprocity into account. It’s still a process that needs to be built. We need to advance these structures and proposals. We have contradictions that we are finding in this process; not everything is all good or all bad. We need to build popular forces to push things in a positive direction. Integration of people needs to be part of a popular agenda, but also a concrete demand. If we don’t have a broad, strong movement we cannot realize concrete and positive changes. We need to organize ourselves as women and then join the broader struggle.

Discussion: moderator asks for people to be short (3 minutes), and to have concrete and direct comments or questions or suggestions. The first comment from the floor was a man from Paraguay who first sent his birthday greetings to Comandante Fidel Castro, and then condemned NGOs as another arm of imperialism. He called for an authentic revolution from the roots, rather than one copied from Cuba. The second comment was a woman from Bolivia who talked about the need to decolonize our minds.

Others also gave rhetorical speeches from the floor, but the reason why I came to this session was because of CONAIE’s challenge to the ALBA ministerial meeting in Ecuador at the end of June which led to the presentation of criminal charges against Indigenous leaders. I thought maybe someone would touch on this theme, because it seems to be a very fundamental issue in the relationship between government proposals such as ALBA and local social movements. But I suppose that the absence of that issue indicates the divisions here between different wings of the peasant/Indigenous movements, and the wing associated with Vía Campesina is more in favor of the current leftist governments in Latin America, and the “ethnic” wing is simply largely absent.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tensiones entre extractivismo y redistribución en los procesos de cambio de América Latina

The discussions for each day of the forum are scheduled to conclude with a series of thematic panels. I chose to attend one on “Tensiones entre extractivismo y redistribución en los procesos de cambio de América Latina.” I arrived at the tent just as it started to rain, leaving me wishing that I had brought my jacket and rain poncho with me. The first speaker was Edgardo Lander from Venezuela who began talking as the technicians struggled to get the sound system to behave properly. Lander talked about the crisis of capitalism, and the struggles of new leftist governments to build new and transformative systems. Problems exist such as the dramatic increase of transgenic soy production under these progressive governments, in particular those in the Mercosur. We have an urgent need and golden opportunity to build alternative models that would lead to a more sustainable system. It’s not enough to break with capitalism because public ownership of the means of production is not enough, we need deeper transformatory changes.

Raúl Zibechi from Uruguay touched on four points in relation to the tension between extractive enterprises and a redistribution of resources. First, we have a lack of sufficient debates on the type of model we need. The ITT proposal in Ecuador to leave oil in the ground is an interesting step, but it is not enough. Maybe there are no short-term solutions, but we need to continue the debates. Second, there are not social actors that are sufficiently consolidated to advance alternative models. Often extraction takes place in isolated areas, and need better support to combat extractive policies. Debate and conflict go together. The third tension relates to the social policies of the governments, particularly those in the southern cone, that increase social spending that reduces poverty but not economic inequality. These policies lead to the disruption and division of organizations, including the criminalization of social movements. The policy is to combat extreme levels of poverty with some minor changes, but never addresses the fundamental structural issues. Often these types of ideas come out of institutions like FLACSO. How do we strengthen organizations rather than weaken them? The fourth and final tension is the most complicated, and it relates to a new political elite, including labor leaders. This leads to the co-optation of the left. The result is that they control and direct our discussions. This set of tensions is inhibiting the transformation of our societies.

Dania Quirola from Ecuador is an advisor to the National Secretary of Planning and Development of Ecuador. She started by observing that we all use resources, and the question is what is the capacity of the world to sustain our consumption? She proceeded to defend the government’s policies and its support of the sumak kawsay. She pointed to the examples of cement production, the rights to water, and contamination from petroleum. It is a long process and will take time, but we can make changes. How can we move from an extractive economy to one based on a different model? How do we concretely apply these ideas? Last week we signed an agreement to not exploit petroleum in Yasuní/ITT, a very diverse protected area on the Peruvian border (and, as if to underscore this point, she was wearing a Yasuní scarf). We’re not only protecting nature, but also people who have chosen to live in isolation in that area. We are committed to protecting the planet. Is this a lot or little? It is a lot because we are moving ahead with alternative systems. We are giving up a significant amount of potential income to forego this petroleum exploitation in exchange for international donations.

The final speaker was Ramón from Paraguay who spoke about transgenic soy production in Paraguay, and the problems that excessive chemical use lead to including miscarriages. Because of a lack of taxes, Paraguay does not have any possibility for income redistribution. Few people control soy production, and they respond to the needs of the Brazilian market rather than domestic interests in Paraguay. He hopes to build broader alliances here at the forum to confront these issues.

Pablo Solon, the minister from Bolivia who gave a very impressive speech at the end of the United States Social Forum (USSF) in Detroit in June, was scheduled to talk as well on this panel. Unfortunately, he is not arriving until tomorrow, and so I missed another chance to listen to his comments.

The presentations were followed by comments and questions from the floor, including ones that pointed to the logical tensions between social movements and elected governments.

Indigenous women’s summit

After lunch, I attended a session organized by the Coordinadora Andina de Organizaciones Indígenas (CAOI), “Socialización del mandato de la I Cumbre Continental de Mujeres Indígenas para la construcción de una agenda continental.” The meeting is billed as a followup on the women’s summit held in Puno last May, and a working session to plot a path forward for the next summit next year in Bolivia. Organizer Nancy Iza hands out a beautifully printed “memoria” from the Puno summit.

Most of the discussions, however, focus on the local conditions in different countries. Eloisa from Ecuador begins the discussion with comments about the conflicts between president Rafael Correa and social movements, and in particular the criminalization of Indigenous leaders. Nancy adds that since Correa is not Indigenous, he will never understand them. She hastens to add that they do not want to exterminate whites, but want to work together equally for a better world.

Mildred then talks about ongoing efforts to organize in Colombia, including the organization of a walk and ongoing anti-militarization campaigns.

Juana from Guatemala describes the situation in her country as very difficult, because even under an elected civilian government they still face lots of problems, particularly ones related to mining.

Another woman from Guatemala talks about the problem of men monopolizing spaces in meetings, which is something I always wonder about when I show up for a meeting like this. Right now there are only a handful of boys (five, I think) in this room, with most of the other attendees being Indigenous women. CAOI leader Miguel Palacin made a brief appearance and then left. I thought that perhaps this was disrespectful, but perhaps instead he wanted to give the women the space to have their own conversations without influencing or distorting the content. So, should I be here? Or is it ok for me to sit quietly in the back taking notes and pictures. None of us are going to say anything anyway (whoops, but then Mateu Martínez who is sitting in the front row speaks).

I also wonder about how useful these meetings are for building hemispheric unity, because people just end up talking about their local realities instead of broader issues or how to build those linkages. Nancy closes the meeting with comments about problems with convoking the first cumbre through NGOs and governments, but not that many Indigenous organizations knew about it. Instead, they need to build the meeting from a grassroots organizational base upwards. This is, of course, the strategy that organizers of the USSF pursued to significant success.

Indigenous peoples

Our hotel is a 45-minute bus ride from the Consejo Nacional de Deportes where the forum is being held, which makes it difficult to arrive on time for the 8:30 sessions. By the time I arrive, the session I had decided to attend was well under way. The session was titled “Gestores culturales una forma de crecer, organized by a group called Asesores kichwas Global. I’m not sure what that group is, but when I arrived a nun was talking about rural education and then another women started to talk about how a child in a rural school painted a stop light blue because that was the color of the sky. From what I could tell, it was not a session organized by social movements but seemed to be operating deep in an indigenista mode of outsiders talking about Indians with few self-identified Indigenous peoples present. Just as I got up to leave, the leaders said that since so many new people had arrived they should do a new round of introductions and explain what the workshop was about, but by that time I was out the door.

So instead I headed over to a session titled “Pacto de unidad. Proceso de construcción desde las organizaciones indígenas de una propuesta de constitución política del Estado” which sounded much more interesting but I wondered about it because it was organized by the Centro Cooperativo Sueco. It turned out to be a more interesting session, and I’m glad I made the jump. When I arrived, Walter was summarizing the constitution, arguing that it was a Bolivian creation, and not one imported from Venezuelan or written by Spanish advisors.

Then Isabel from the Federación de Mujeres Campesinas Bartolina Sisa (FMCBS) and a delegate to the recent constitutional assembly spoke, also defending the new constitution as one that is theirs and takes the concerns of Indigenous peasants into account. She denounced those who opposed it and their president Evo Morales.

The last speaker was Floretino who pointed to the ideological pluralism that currently exists in Bolivia, particularly in the difficult relations with CONAMAQ and CIDOB (Raúl Zibechi has a recent essay that explains these divisions, "Bolivia and Ecuador: The State against the Indigenous People," CIP Americas (July 19, 2010), Part of the division is represented in the terminology of people alternatively referring to themselves as peasants, or Indigenous, or original peoples (these linguistic shifts and divisions emerged at the encuentro in Quito in June as well). He explained efforts to create a single unified bloc with all three, to globalize their demands rather than responding just to sectoral interests.

This panel made me reflect on similar divisions in Ecuador (which I’ve written about in an essay that will come out soon in Alternatives), as well as who is here at the ASF and who is not. The more “peasant” wing of Indigenous movements affiliated with Vía Campesina/CLOC has a significant presence here, including organizing a campground for local delegates from Paraguay. I guess generally we could say that these organizations tend to be more in favor of the region’s “leftist” governments(or at least this is true with FENOCIN in Ecuador). So far I haven’t seen much of the splits between social movements and leftist governments here at the ASF, perhaps because that ethnic wing (that I wonder whether has taken a conservative turn) does not have a strong presence here. I find that too bad, because in previous events (such as the first ASF in Quito in 2004) both wings had a strong presence, and the “ethnic” wing was one of the strongest opponents to neoliberalism that led rather directly to the leftward shift in Latin America.

In the end, I’m not sure what role the Centro Cooperativo Sueco played in the panel, except it appears that they are giving logistical support to the Bolivian presence at this forum. What we can see, though, is how successful social movements seek out allies who can support their work, in this case apparently a European NGO. But even though I found this second panel more interesting than the first, it was filled with a series of “experts” filling up all of the available time with speakers talking from the head table with no time left for feedback or discussion. At least the first workshop I visited appeared to be organized in a more participatory fashion.

For the second session, I decided to go to “El Buen Vivir en los pueblos originarios de Paraguay: una alternativa al modelo civilizatorio actual” organized by Amerindia, (alternatively, I thought about attending the session “Movimiento de mujeres y mujeres indigenas: propuestas e incidencia frente a los Estados,” organized by the Movimiento de Mujeres Indigenas Tz’ununija’ that might have been more interesting, but right now I’m trapped in the back corner of this classroom and at least I have a desk to type up my notes).

Amerindia, the organizer tells us, was formed by theologians to support bishops at the 1978 conference in Puebla. Since then, it has broadened out into a network of communities and social movements, and has always been involved in social forums. Amerindia is oriented toward liberation theology and the liberation of Latin America. For this reason, they have an interest in the Buen Vivir. They listened to the ideas of BuenVivir at the WSF in Belem in January 2009, and realized the need to apply them to everyone, not just Indigenous peoples. Their Christian faith lead them to this position, it is part of their work as a network of ecumenical Catholics bringing the gospel to the poor.

Beyond being organized by Catholics, the two presenters are originally from Europe. First, a nun named Margot Bremer spoke. She was originally from Germany, but has lived for 20 years in Paraguay and has works with the Guaraní people. The explained the Sumak Kawsay, and how Indigenous peoples see it as a response to the problem of other people’s civilization, not their own. She noted that we’re leaving in a significant epic change. Part of this is a move away from an anthropocentric view of the world. The buen vivir entails a different view of development, one that is not just based on material or economic factors. Westerners have a linear notion of progress, but this new approach embraces a more integral cosmology. This had led to the creation of a new model for how to create a new society. We can only achieve this with a new energy, a new spirit, sacred spaces, Bremer said. We need to build this based on Indigenous ideas of reciprocity and complementarity.

Salesian priest José Zanardini (also originally from Europe with a doctorate in social anthropology and who has spent 30 years in Paraguay) proceeded to apply these ideas of the buen vivr to Paraguay. He quickly moved deep into lecture mode (complete with technical problems with the powerpoint) that examined the fragmented situation of Indigenous communities and how they have changed. He described the 20 different Indigenous groups in Paraguay, and how they are broken into 5 linguistic families.

A Bolivian woman challenged the use of Indigenous “groups”; we’re nationalities, she emphasized. Part of the buen vivir is living in harmony with the earth, which for her meant asking for permission before beginning to plant.

A couple random thoughts and reflections: The program is in Spanish and Guarani, apparently indicating that these are the two official languages of the forum. It seems to me, though, to be an essentially monolingual event, similar to the previous three Americas Social Forums. I haven’t seen numbers, but I assume that the majority of participants are Paraguayan, and that many (or most) of these speak Guarani, but I think most of those also speak Spanish and the workshops and discussions are almost all in Spanish. We are close to Brazil, which means a significant Portuguese presence, including some panels in that language.

Although this is billed as an Americas Social Forum, participants repeatedly fall back onto the language of unifying Latin America. Whether intentional or not, this excludes the United States (in addition to Canada and most of the Caribbean). In the march yesterday, I saw a couple people from Grassroots Global Justice (GGJ), but there are almost no representatives from the north here. I find that disappointing, because I’ve always thought that social forums provided an excellent opportunity for common people to reintegrate the United States into a global system on a more horizontal and participatory fashion.

For what its worth, the USSF also had a more diverse face than the ASF. Coming out of Porto Alegre in Brazil that was the focus of a strong German migration, the WSF has always had a bit of an European orientation, even though it was allegedly an initiative that emerged out of social movements. The USSF, in contrast, was deliberately organized as an initiative of communities of color. Ironically, this has given the USSF more of a “third world” face than those organized in Latin America. It does not help, of course, that participation in social forums is still strongly distorted by those of us with access to resources (plane tickets, visas, time) to attend them.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Opening march

The Americas Social Forum formally opened this afternoon with a march from the Consejo Nacional de Deportes where the events will be held down to the Cabildo (now the legislative palace) on the waterfront in the center of town. It was a beautiful afternoon, and we walked into gorgeous sunset.

Social forums traditionally start with these types of marches, and this one was typical as they go with a broad range of concerns and issues represented. Maybe about 5000 were on the march, with perhaps a particular emphasis on women's and peasants issues. Bolivians were out in force again complete with their own Andean flute band, which always gives the march a lively feel. I didn't see many Ecuadorians, though. As is normally the case, most of the people are from Paraguay.

At the opening ceremony, we had a mixture of rousing speeches and music, culminating in a speech by 1992 Noble Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu. I was surprised to see Menchu at the head of the march, as well as a featured speaker at the forum. It's been years since I've seen her at an event like this, and she was no where to be seen either at the 2008 Indigenous Summit or Americas Social Forum in Guatemala. (Just as a side note, Menchu kept referring to this as the fourth World [rather than Americas] Social Forum. Small point, I know, but it does show her distance from the process.)

Ok, that's about it for tonite. I need to get some sleep. I jumped up on a concrete post during the march to get a better picture, but didn't make it and instead stubbed my toe, scraped my arm, and broke my ribs (for the third time). But at least I didn't destroy my camera or my other electronic equipment. More tomorrow.

I'm uploading some photos to

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


I arrived this morning to Asuncion after a night flight from Miami to Sao Paulo. I'm feeling rather blurry and tired. This afternoon we headed out to the Consejo Nacional de Deportes to check out the site for the Americas Social Forum. Nothing really starts until tomorrow, but organizers were handing out credentials so we picked up our materials. We walked around the site to locate where panels and other events will be held. They are planning for about 10-15,000 people to attend, which would make it about the same size as the United States Social Forum that was held in Detroit at the end of June. The program is a lot smaller, tho, and its the smallest I've seen for a social forum. But it looks like a good range of panels, and we'll see what happens.

The forum starts tomorrow afternoon with a march and opening ceremonies. In the morning we plan to visit the memory museum and the terror archives. I saw these last year when I was here, but I think they are always worth another visit.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Americas Social Forum

I travelled to Paraguay in June 2009 with the Marin Interfaith Task Force on the Americas and the School of the Americas to explore the challenges facing their new president Fernando Lugo. I am now returning with these organizations for the Americas Social Forum from August 11-15, 2010. While there, I plan to blog here and later will post material to

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