CARACAS, Venezuela — The sixth World Social Forum concluded here Jan. 29 with a rally of tens of thousands at the Poliedro Stadium, where just two days prior delegates from 160 countries gathered to hear Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

Over 70,000 people participated in the six days of activity here, the Americas venue of the WSF. About 10,000 participated in the Africa venue in Bamako, Mali, Jan. 19-24. Under the banner of “Another world is possible,” slogans at both locations denounced war and the neoliberal policies of privatization and transnational plunder, and defended the rights of women and national minorities.

The forum will also convene in March in Karachi, Pakistan, as its Asia venue.

While the forum movement does not take positions and is “an open space for discussion” and the sharing of experiences, there were nevertheless calls for common action in many workshops in Caracas.

At a trade union forum, Leonel Gonzalez of the Cuban Worker’s Federation called for “unity in action” and “real solidarity” between workers of the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. He said it was “unfortunate” that the U.S. trade union movement is not always engaged in working together with those of the developing world and called for a union-based “common front of struggle against the neoliberal policies of the last 25 years.”

In another panel, billed as the Second Hemispheric Campaign on Immigration Policies, participants divided themselves between the dual tasks of policy development and building an international network to defend immigrant and labor rights.

Miguel Vera Tudela, a teacher from Brazil, liked the action orientation of the immigration panel. He said he couldn’t go back to his city without concrete proposals. He said there were “7,000 ‘illegals’ married to Brazilians” who have no legal protection, citing his Venezuelan wife of 14 years as an example.

Sylvia Orduño, an unemployed Chicana graduate student from Ann Arbor, Mich., said Venezuela was an eye-opening experience. Her previous travel outside of the U.S. had been only to Canada and Tijuana, Mexico.

“Coming here has given me the opportunity to learn about other people in the world and the problems they face,” Orduño said. She noted that many people are fighting against similar problems within a world economy where globalization and neoliberal policies flourish. One example she mentioned was the corporate drive to privatize water, a big issue in nearby Detroit.

Bruce Burleson, a human services worker from the Boston area, was impressed by “the sheer number of people who showed up.” He praised the “solidarity people showed with Cuba” calling it “extremely strong and impressive.”

Burleson said that among the Venezuelans he found no people who took a “middle ground” in regards to Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution. “People were either strongly in favor of him or strongly opposed,” he said. “Most of the people I talked to who opposed him were the owners of restaurants I went to or owners of other businesses. His supporters were poor people.”

The noted Chicana painter Nora Chapa Mendoza, who came to the WSF with a delegation of mostly trade unionists organized by the U.S./Cuba Labor Exchange, said her main motivation for attending was “seeing Venezuela first hand, to learn what its politics are all about.” She lauded the WSF for being open to progressive social movements and allowing “people to talk one to another” about the issues that affect them.

She noted the participation of different peoples, “especially the indigenous people from so many countries, including Canada.”

Mendoza was impressed by Hugo Chávez and noted the differences between him and President Bush. Referring to Chávez, she said, “He has a connection with the common people. He’s like a president who becomes one of them. People seem to be happy and love him.” She also praised the 10,000 free university scholarships that Venezuela and Cuba have offered to the youth of Bolivia.

Gabriela Acosta, a Venezuelan who works in food and beverage sales, said he appreciated how the WSF tries to address the specific issues in each country while at the same time showing how problems stem from the same source — the transnational corporations and the neoliberal policies of governments under their thumb.

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