José Martí and Simón Bolivar Look Down as Activists Rally in Caracas
Members of the Cuban delegation that are attending the 6th World Social Forum listen to Cuban Parliament Speaker, Ricardo Alarcon, not in picture, in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, Jan.24, 2006. Alarcon accused the U.S. government of protecting Luis Posada Carriles, an anti-Castro militant being held at a U.S. federal detention center in El Paso, Texas, on immigration charges. The pictures in background are of Venezuelan Liberator Simon Bolivar, left, and Cuban hero Jose Marti. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
Activists Rally in Caracas Against Iraq
Activists Rally Against Globalization, Iraq War at World Social Forum in Venezuela
By IAN JAMES Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press
CARACAS, Venezuela Jan 24, 2006 — To the beat of drums and trilling whistles, thousands of activists from around the world showed their opposition to globalization and the Iraq war at the opening Tuesday of the World Social Forum backed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
The six-day conference got under way in Caracas amid a light drizzle as activists filled a plaza waving banners reading "Stop Bush" and "End the occupation of Iraq" ahead of a giant march.
"There are more poor people than rich people in this world. We need to stop fighting these wars and start focusing on fighting this poverty," said Ivan Rosa, 30, of Philadelphia.
Organizers have said more than 60,000 people are signed up to attend, and tens of thousands more were expected at the forum, about half from outside Venezuela.
American activist Cindy Sheehan called for a stronger global movement against the Iraq war.
"We have to work together as a global community to fight for peace and justice. We're all in it together. It's not just me who has lost a son," said Sheehan, whose son, Casey, was killed in Iraq in 2004.
Sheehan, 48, of Berkeley, Calif., gained international attention when she set up a protest camp near President Bush's Texas ranch last year.
"We really need to stop the imperialist tendencies of countries like the United States and Great Britain," Sheehan told The Associated Press.
Those at the conference included anti-war protesters, Indian leaders, campaigners against free trade and environmentalists who appeared united by their respect for Chavez and opposition to Bush.
Chavez was expected to address activists on the sidelines, soaking up the spotlight as a leading radical voice of the Latin American left. He has recently strengthened ties across South America with left-leaning leaders who have won power in countries from Argentina to Bolivia.
"I've always admired President Chavez for standing up to imperialism and the meddling of the American government in South America," Sheehan said.
Canopies promoting Chavez's social programs for the poor lined a major avenue in Caracas, while a dozen Venezuelan-made military jeeps were on display, along with a tractor made jointly by Iran and Venezuela.
Oliviero Orjuela, a 36-year-old Colombian, said it was inevitable that Chavez would dominate the forum.
"He's the one who has most influenced the alternative vision in Latin America," he said. "Bush embodies the opposite vision the commercial vision that sees the world as a business."
Chavez has used oil profits to funnel millions of dollars into programs for the poor, making him an inspiration for like-minded activists from Canada to Chile.
But organizers emphasized the event was not intended as a rally for Chavez, though it was backed by government funding as in past years.
The World Social Forum was first held in Brazil in 2001 and coincides with the World Economic Forum of political and business leaders, which begins Wednesday in Switzerland.
Those at the Social Forum traditionally criticize free trade and denounce the evils of capitalism. This year's forum is being held in three countries, including a smaller gathering that ended Monday in Mali and another two months from now in Pakistan.
Some 2,000 events including seminars, speeches and concerts will be held across Caracas this week. Speakers include Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, Argentine Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel and former French first lady Danielle Mitterrand.
Stepping up security during the forum, Venezuela deployed 3,500 soldiers and police across Caracas.
Associated Press writer Natalie Obiko Pearson, in Caracas, contributed to this report.