The Social Forum is not enough

2009-03-12 00:00:00

José Miguel Hernández represents the Central Workers' Union of Cuba (CTC) on the International Council of the World Social Forum (WSF) since its beginnings in 2001. Thus, he has witnessed from the inside this process of creating anti-capitalist alternatives. At the end of the recent WSF, which took place in the Amazonian city of Belém do Pará, he agreed to exchange opinions with the Minga Informativa* about this open space where organizations, movements and networks from all continents gather together.
- Some people play down the WSFs, considering them "just tourism" without ever achieving real coordination or going beyond the moment of meeting. How do you assess the evolution of the forums?
The forums have not had a linear progress – they have been very much shaped by the junctures of the regions which organized them.  For example, the first three events took place in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The struggle against the FTAA was of great importance in Latin America at that time, and the Forum mirrored that. As well as in the Americas – Brazil and Venezuela – there have been editions of the Forum in India, Asia, and Nairobi, Africa, and it has always reflected the problems and issues of the host areas.
The forums have facilitated exchange and coordination among different social movements. In the case of Latin America, there already exists a tradition of popular struggle, which is not a product of these forums.  Some consider the WSF as the festival of these organizations.  It certainly is the only gathering which facilitates the contact between thousands of organizations and networks from all over the world that participate in the anti-neoliberal struggle.  But this alone isn't enough.  These forums can be more productive platforms, too.
It has been said that the social movements are undergoing a crisis, but I don't think so. Though we do need to find a way to renew a vision of the movement in the present juncture.
- What are the expectations towards the WSF nowadays?
One major demand is that it should stand out for its capacity to put forward proposals.  We have made some steps in this direction, but they have been methodological solutions rather than strategic ones. The WSF is still tied down by the Charter of Principles of its foundation.  In 2001, it was highly revolutionary, but now it needs to be updated.
Such changes face resistance; we make progress with these transformations but we also take steps backward.  For example, the involvement of political parties is banned; nonetheless, it was necessary to find a space for political expressions inside the WSF.  Other initiatives such as the Parliamentary Forum have been included in the organizational scheme of this global event.
- What threats for the project of regional integration have you identified through the development of the World Social Forums?
Integration should not be seen as a linear process. There are various integration alternatives: The Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America and the Caribbean (ALBA), the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR), the European Union… and each one has its own social expressions, or aspires to have them.
One of the dangers is that we haven't managed to bring a coherent vision of integration to the WSF, one with the capacity to mobilize. This is still pending. The ideal thing would be for the Forum to advance this integration.
In the case of Latin America, there have been attempts to set up a dialogue between governments and social movements around regional integration, during the most recent Summits and Forums.  But we have to go even further.  Such dialogue needs to be real and to build bridges for interaction, while strengthening the process of integration among and from the Peoples of our countries. We are trying to establish an effective communication channel.
The meeting with Latin American presidents Evo Morales, Hugo Chavez, Fernando Lugo and Rafael Correa, in the afternoon of last January 29, who were joined by Luis I. Lula later that night, represented an important step forward.  It was not the first time we met with Evo, who participated in these events as a union leader a few years ago.  Lula, Lugo and Chavez have also been present on previous occasions.  What is important this time is the qualitative step forwards, in terms of what it can mean for the transformation and integration we are seeking for this continent. (Traducción, ALAI)
* Minga Informativa de Movimientos Sociales: Social Movements Information Pool.