Caracas, Venezuela, 26 January 2006—An Alternative Social Forum, or ASF, set up in protest against the World Social Forum is quietly taking place in Caracas now. One of its organisers, Esteban Mejiaz said, “We have created a space outside the forum where a more critical debate about Venezuela can take place.”
The ASF cannot compare for size or attendance to the World Social Forum, or WSF. The ASF is hosting 20 events. These are being held in a few rooms at the Venezuelan Central University and a small house in the Caracas neighbourhood of Los Simbolos.
In contrast, the World Social Forum has 2,200 events. Many huge public buildings in Caracas are being used to host these. At least 60,000 people are attending. As many as 100,000 are expected by the end.
Mejiaz could not say how many people are attending the ASF, “Unlike the WSF there is no registration for our event.” It is clear, though, not many are taking part in the ASF. Less than 30 people were present in its main site yesterday.
Venezuelans from the anarchist group CRA (Commission for Anarchist Relations) organized the rival forum. They said it was not possible to have a truly free debate with the Venezuelan government spending so much money on the event.
The CRA said the Social Forums in Brazil had suffered from the same problem. They feel no government should sponsor an event like the WSF. The CRA think there is corruption in the Venezuelan government but made clear that they are not against all of its policies.
Mejiaz said, “there are a lot of opportunities for the people in Venezuela now because of the free healthcare and education.” The anarchist also said, “the greatest threat to the left in Venezuela is the US and its allies in this country, not Chavez.”
Most of the non-Venezuelans attending the ASF also attended the WSF. Nick Cooper from Texas in the USA said, “I think its good to have variety, spaces where everyone can be comfortable.”
Cooper did have some criticisms of the WSF too. The North American said, “I do think that some governments host the WSF to show off their left wing credentials. In Brazil especially I think this was compensating for a lack of something at home.”
The CRA said they did not feel it was worth having events at the WSF at the same time as the ASF. Mejiaz said, “a lot of the people at the WSF are revolutionary tourists. They want to buy a T-shirt, say they’ve done something and then go home.”