CARACAS, Venezuela — Under the slogan “A better world is necessary, with you it’s possible!” tens of thousands of Venezuelans joined activists from 160 countries to take part in a giant “March against war and imperialism” here Jan. 24. The march opened the sixth World Social Forum, which is being held in the Venezuelan capital through Jan. 29.

The first day of the forum, which this year is being held on three continents, included the march and a rally/concert with speakers and musical groups from throughout the world. Other sites of this year’s World Social Forum are Bamaki, Mali, and Karachi, Pakistan.

The gathering in Caracas, which is also being billed as the “Second Social Forum of the Americas,” includes over 2,000 forums, panel discussions, presentations and meetings on a diverse number of issues organized by social movements, networks, nongovernmental organizations and other civil society organizations opposed to neoliberalism — the “free trade” and anti-social policies aggressively being pushed by the Bush administration and others.

Issues range from the rights of trade unions, minority nations, and women to questions of economic development, especially development for the benefit of the people instead of the giant corporations.

Over 200 cultural presentations are also scheduled to take place during the forum.

Not all the discussions here are taking place in the scheduled workshops. Many delegates, especially young people, are making connections with others from different countries and discussing approaches and solutions to common problems as well as learning about related issues.

The various delegations marched with the flags of their countries and colorful banners and signs demanding an end to the United States’ war against and occupation of Iraq, defense of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution, headed by President Hugo Chávez, as well as signs against capitalist globalization and the pro-corporate neoliberal policies governments have put in place for the benefit of the transnational corporations.

One of the speakers who received sustained applause, Cindy Sheehan, thanked the people of Venezuela and the forum for having invited her. Sheehan spoke of the death of her son Casey and other children who died in the invasion of Iraq. She said, “Fighting a war to make Bush and Cheney and the neocons rich is not a noble cause.”

Sheehan’s demand to “bring George Bush to justice for crimes against humanity” brought thunderous applause. As she spoke many in the crowd held up signs which read, “Bush Asesino” (Bush – Murderer).

Another popular sign in the crowd was one denouncing the failure of the U.S. to turn admitted terrorist Luis Posada Carriles over to Venezuela, where there is an indictment against him for terrorist activities.

The Cuban delegation in Caracas for the forum held a special rally in conjunction with a march in Havana of 1.3 million demanding the extradition of Posada to Venezuela. Ricardo Alarcón, president of Cuba’s National Assembly, said in a press conference after the rally, “We prefer he be judged here [in Venezuela] instead of there [the U.S.].”

Alarcón contrasted the treatment of Posada with that of the five Cubans still in jail for having notified Cuba of the actions of Miami-based Cuban American terrorist groups. “All we are asking for is that they [the U.S. government] follow their Constitution” and free the five pending a new trial. An appeals court ordered a new trial after finding that their right to a trial free of prejudice was violated, but the Justice Department has won a review of that decision and the five remain in prison.

Other speakers highlighted issues including defense of the sovereignty and independence of countries in the developing world, women’s rights, and the right to organize unions.

Musical groups from Latin American nations, including indigenous peoples, entertained the crowds.