Sao Paulo Leftists Debate Alternatives to Neoliberalism in Caracas

Over 800 representatives from different leftist parties and organizations across the globe met in Caracas last week for the annual Sao Paulo Forum, marking 22 years since the forum was first held in 1990.


Liverpool, July 9th 2012 ( – Over 800 representatives from different leftist parties and organizations across the globe met in Caracas last week for the annual Sao Paulo Forum, marking 22 years since the forum was first held in 1990.

Taking place over a period of 3 three days from Wednesday to Friday, regional activists discussed a range of issues at the conference, including the current global economic crisis, an increasingly militarist and interventionist foreign policy from imperialist governments in the US and Europe, as well as environmental issues.

Work groups were also set up throughout the 3 days to debate topics specific to the region, including women’s and afro-descendent rights, intraregional migration and integration, and the continent’s struggle against the international drugs trade.

Venezuela’s recent entrance into MERCOSUR, the region’s largest trading bloc, was also widely debated by activists, who hoped that Venezuela’s participation in the bloc would manage to “politicise” the project of Latin American integration.  The recent coup in Paraguay, which ousted democratically elected liberation theologist Fernando Lugo, was also one of the Forum’s most prominent topics.

Neoliberal alternatives

Created in 1990 as an initiative of the Brazilian Workers’ Party, the Forum’s main objective was to discuss the changing political dynamic of the region after the fall of the Berlin Wall, to promote dialogue amongst the left in the region, and to debate and construct alternatives to neoliberalism.

Member groups of the Forum include a diverse range of leftist actors, from social democrats to Anarchist and Communist groups. According to United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) legislator, Ana Elisa Osorio, the Forum converted “Caracas into the global leftwing in order to discuss the construction of an alternative to capitalism”.

Since the Forum’s inception, numerous leftwing parties have come to power across the Latin American continent, including progressive governments in Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua, amongst others. Bolivian politician, Leonida Zurita Vargas, of Bolivia’s governing “Movement to Socialism” party, credits the Forum as having been influential in shaping the continent’s political landscape over the past two decades.  

“The Sao Paulo Forum is a place where we can discuss our political goals, the good and the bad. It is important that leftwing parties meet, so we can prepare ourselves to defend our leftist president in Latin America, and also to make resolutions so we can defend democracy in other countries,” she remarked to Press TV.

Leftists in attendance from other parts of the globe also praised the Forum as an opportunity to learn and glean experience from the struggles and efforts of Latin American governments and social movements to construct alternative economic models at a time of financial uncertainty.

Rena Dourou, of the radical Greek Syriza party, commented that the current political and economic reality of Latin America was extremely different to that of Greece, where she states that neo-Nazism and fascism were on the rise. Similarly, Spanish politician, Willy Meye, called on the international left to put an economic plan together to regulate the market, instead of being “at the service” of banks.

Whilst the forum is held in a different location each time it takes place, 2012 is the first time that it has been held in Venezuela; a decision taken by member organisations last year to show “support and solidarity” with the country’s United Socialist Party (PSUV) in an election year.

Despite the celebrations, private media and rightwing political groups in Venezuela, including the official opposition coalition, the Roundtable of Democratic Unity (MUD), have criticised the Forum in the weeks leading up to the event, as well as alleging that the PSUV is using the event for self-promotion in the run up to October’s elections.

“We are on the receiving end of constant attacks. This very forum has been attacked by the Roundtable of Democratic Unity, which has discredited the forum abroad,” commented Osorio.

Chavez addresses the Forum

On the final day of the conference, Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, addressed the forum’s representatives at a packed out theatre in Caracas. Speaking briefly, the Venezuelan president regaled the crowd with stories about Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and also spoke about what the changes over the past two decades meant for the region.

 “They (the bourgeoisie) are the economic, cultural and media hegemony… What we represent is the continuity of the revolutionary process, they represent political stagnation. I’m not here to accumulate power, I redistribute power. It’s not about having one man in power, but a whole people in power,” said Chavez.

Later going on to cite Karl Marx, Chavez stated that the Latin American region was trying to convert “theory into practice”.

“I think this slogan is applicable to the Sao Paulo Forum, that well known maxim of Karl Marx, “Up until now, philosophers have tried to interpret the world, however, the point is to transform it,” and in order to transform it, we have to go into real battle, the concrete battle, with ideas and interpretations of course,” he added.

Directions for the left?

At the end of the Forum, representatives passed a series of agreements and recommendations for the left in the region. Amongst the initiatives are increasing and consolidating Latin American integration, defending the democratic process in Paraguay and Mexico, and agreeing on a “common” solution to the management of natural resources and the environment. The Forum also stated its total opposition to any “armed invasion” against Iran or Syria.

In the published text, delegates stated that it was “impossible to build socialism” without changing patriarchal relationships between men and women in the region or ending discrimination against women.

Similarly, Nora Castaneda, a famous Venezuelan activist for women’s rights, announced that a “global women’s network” will be created in honour of the event being held in Caracas. According to Castaneda, the network will create “solidarity links” in order to promote “sisterhood” on the international stage