WSF: BOLIVARIAN HIJACK OR ANTI-IMPERIALIST FIZZLE?

Código Fecha Clasificación Origen
06CARACAS265 2 February 2006 Confidencial Embassy Caracas

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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 CARACAS 000265

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/02/2021
TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, ELAB, KDEM, VE
SUBJECT: WSF: BOLIVARIAN HIJACK OR ANTI-IMPERIALIST FIZZLE?

REF: A. CARACAS 00124
B. CARACAS 00260

Classified By: Robert Downes, Political Counselor,
for Reason 1.4(b).


Summary


1. (C) President Hugo Chavez probably fell short of dazzling
anti-globalist activists during the January 24-29 World
Social Forum (WSF) in Caracas. The six-day event ended
without fanfare, suggesting that activists either were
disenchanted with the progress of their yearly pow wow or
annoyed by the Bolivarian pseudo-ideology that Chavez grafted
onto the event. "Another World is Possible" was the WSF’s
official theme, but unofficially it was "stopping U.S.
imperialism," and a bitter anti-U.S. message permeated the
conference. Some press reports claimed that participants who
criticized Chavez were squelched, and an alternate forum
reportedly broke off to protest Chavez’ ideological and
financial support of the Forum. While we are not in a
position to judge the Forum’s contribution to the world
anti-globalist movement, we expect the WSF organizers will
have to de-toxify from Chavez and re-focus their message
before the next major event. End summary.

2. (C) Venezuela hosted the Sixth World Social Forum (WSF) in
Caracas January 24-29 as a counterpoint to the World Economic
Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The Caracas WSF (there are two
other regional WSF events in Bamako and Karachi) drew far
fewer, in our opinion, than the 60,000 people announced; it
was certainly off from the 120,000 organizers were expecting
(ref a). To be fair, the closure of the main highway
connecting Caracas to its international airport, due to the
failure of the major bridge on the route, likely discouraged
some potential attendees. Emboffs and visiting DRL Labor
Officer attended three days of the marathon forum.


Did Chavez Steal the Show?


3. (U) This is the first year the WSF did not meet at its
traditional site in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The decision at
last year’s WSF to hold a regional WSF in Caracas stirred
speculation that WSF guest star President Hugo Chavez would
wrest control of the premiere anti-globization event from
Brazilian President Ignacio Lula da Silva. Judging from
reactions we observed personally and from Internet and media
coverage, we do not think that happened. Press reports noted
that WSF organizers and participants were uncomfortable with
the reported US$8 million Chavez put up to support the Forum.
Septel details the over-the-top "Democracy Fiesta" that the
government staged just outside the main conference area,
which probably raised a few eyebrows from the activists who
normally eschew contact with governments. (Note: On
February 1, the government ran a national broadcast "cadena"
lauding Venezuela’s leadership of the WSF. The short
info-mercial kicked off with Chavez speaking while the
Socialist International played in the background, a unabashed
attempt to link Chavez to the traditional world socialist
movement.) President Ignacio Lula da Silva did not attend as
in previous years — his presence last year in Porto Alegre
drew some jeers because of corruption scandals — though
several Brazilian ministers attended. There were unconfirmed
press reports that some WSF celebrities, such as Ignacio
Romanet of Le Monde Diplomatique, purposely stayed away from
the Chavez-linked event. (Note: The French Embassy here told
us their government was more focused on the WSF regional
event in francophone Mali.)

4. (C) There were allegations in the private media here that
the Bolivarians were dominating the agenda to the annoyance
of attendees. Certainly pro-government groups and even
government entities held numerous workshops under the WSF
banner that touted the results of the Venezuelan government’s
social missions. Several sessions explored the concepts of
Bolivarianism, Marxism, and "21st Century Socialism." Other

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events focused on Bolivarian revolutionary movements in other
countries. Poloff sat in on a workshop hosted by the "Hands
Off Venezuela!" anti-imperialist movement, which started
after the April 2002 near-coup and which claims chapters in
some 30 countries. Poloff listened briefly to a British
citizen working with Bolivians to "free the coca leaf from
500 years of domination by Coca Cola and cocaine cartels."
While the Bolivarian theme was certainly present, we did not
detect that it was smothering the rest of the substantive
agenda — which encompassed some 2,000 events.

5. (C) We also note that Chavez did not deliver a closing
address on January 29 nor was the closing ceremony the
premiere event, as has been the tradition of the WSF. He did
make several appearances, including at a large event at
Caracas’ Poliedro on January 27 in which he spoke endlessly
about his Revolution as the vanguard of social movements.
About 5,000 attended the event, though photos suggest the
crowd was augmented by the standard red-shirted Chavistas.
There was minimal press coverage of the event locally,
however. On the closing night, Chavez opted for a meeting
with a smaller group in the Military Club at Fuerte Tiuna,
Venezuela’s military headquarters. It was an anti-climatic
event that certainly did not grab headlines like Chavez’
Porto Alegre keynote in 2005. We speculate that the fizzled
ending was a combination of "Chavez fatigue" as well as
"forum fatigue," noting the larger question posed by WSF
organizers in the media of whether such annual mass meetings
are played out as a means of stopping globalization.


Gringo Bashing Always Sells, However


6. (C) Although conference organizers settled on the
ambiguous slogan of "Another World is Possible" for this WSF,
our conclusion is that "Stopping the U.S. Empire" was the
real theme. Meeting areas were filled with anti-U.S.,
anti-capitalist, anti-war and anti-imperialist propaganda.
The WSF started on January 24, in fact, with a "March Against
War and Imperialism" in downtown Caracas. Although the event
made the press, turnout appeared to be embarrassingly low,
with some observers suggesting fewer than 10,000 marching.
U.S. Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan was the most popular WSF
star, who characterized President Bush as a "terrorist" and
called for international help in bringing down the "U.S.
empire." Chavez also highlighted the presence of Elma
Beatriz Rosado, widow of slain Puerto Rican nationalist (and
fugitive from justice) Filiberto Ojeda. Rosado, backed by
Chavez, accused the USG of assassinating her husband.

7. (C) The 800-plus official Cuban delegation also hammered
the anti-gringo nail. The Cubans held dozens of anti-U.S.
events, with a special emphasis on the "Cuban Five" who were
convicted in 2001 of spying in Florida. The "International
Court of Women" staged a mock trial of President Bush in
which a daughter of one of the Five gave testimony — the
President was convicted of violating the human rights of
Iraqis and Cubans. Poloff attended (discreetly) a session at
the "Poverty in the United States" pavilion entitled "Locking
Horns with the Empire: Challenging the U.S. Blockade Against
Cuba," hosted by the pro-Cuba group "Pastors for Peace."
Amcit speakers lambasted the USG on the Cuba embargo policy,
footage of which was replayed liberally on Venezuelan
official media channels. (One visible and senior member of
the Cuban delegation was the mullet-wearing Minister of
Culture, Abel Prieto, seen by emboffs hustling elderly
delegates onto a bus. In what would have been a notable
security lapse, press reports indicate Prieto’s laptop was
stolen from his room at the BRV-owned, Cuban-managed Anauco
Hilton.)


Critics, And An "Alternate Forum" Emerges


8. (U) The press reported that a few hundred activists
attended an "Alternative Social Forum" organized by
Venezuelans to support the anti-globalist line but also to
criticize growing authoritarianism in Venezuela. The

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organizers, self-described as freethinking communists and
anarchists, said they felt the WSF no longer represented
them. A communist group, Radical Criticism of Brazil, also
complained that "representatives" of the Venezuelan
government violated their right to freedom of expression when
they attempted to confiscate a sign that
equated Chavez, Bolivian President Evo Morales, President
Bush, and others with capitalist decadence.


Comment


9. (C) We noted intense interest in some events, such as a
labor forum organized by well-established international labor
groups. But much of the Forum came off as flaky, exaggerated
by Chavez’ eagerness to be seen as the messiah of
anti-globalists. In our opinion, accepting that the WSF is a
diverse crowd, Chavez failed to win the hearts and minds of
the world’s disaffected and intellectually disgruntled. We
are not in a position to assess whether the worldwide
anti-globalist movement experienced a setback with this
Forum, but our impression was that it was a flat tire. We
imagine that conference organizers will want to move past the
Caracas event quickly and focus on the WSF 2007, slated for
somewhere in Africa.

BROWNFIELD