(IPS) – The Fourth Americas Social Forum kicks off Wednesday in the Paraguayan capital with a colourful march through the streets, as some 12,000 people prepare to take part in the activities organised by 50 local groups and 550 organisations from Argentina to Canada.
The Aug. 11-15 gathering will include 380 workshops, lectures, panels, conferences and cultural activities organised by the participating local and international groups and movements, as well as a rally in solidarity with Paraguay’s current process of political change.
“The Forum is a statement by social movements from the entire continent, to reaffirm the changes in this country, strengthen democracy, and discuss the region’s common problems,” Fernando Rojas of the Paraguayan NGO Decidamos (Let’s Decide), who is a member of the organising committee, told IPS.
He stressed the significance of the fact that Paraguay was chosen to host the five-day event, whose earlier editions were held in Ecuador (2004), Venezuela (2006) and Guatemala (2008).
“The choice of the country where the Americas Social Forum is held has to do with the process of change — that is why Paraguay was chosen,” Alessandra Ceregatti of the World March of Women commented to IPS.
She was referring to the election of former Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo in 2008, who put an end to 61 years of rule by the rightwing Colorado Party.
“There is a lot of interest in the gathering, especially from abroad,” said Rojas, who pointed out that 70 percent of the activities have been organised by groups from other countries or international movements.
The personalities who plan to attend the Americas Social Forum include Bolivian President Evo Morales, Argentine political scientist Atilio Borón, the executive secretary of the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO) Emir Sader, and two Nobel Peace Prize-winners: Guatemalan indigenous activist Rigoberta Menchú and Argentine human rights activist Adolfo Pérez Esquivel.
Although he was just diagnosed with lymphatic cancer, Lugo also plans to address the activists. His government has declared the meeting a matter of national interest.
Morales and Lugo will be key-note speakers at the central conference on the issues of national sovereignty and regional integration.
Other major issues on the agenda are Latin America and the global crisis, threats and alternatives; the power of ideas, knowledge and the media; the concept of “living well” and the rights of Mother Earth; and militarisation.
The stands of the thematic exhibits and the camps of peasant farmer and youth groups are set up in the Consejo Nacional de Deportes sports complex in the capital.
Rojas said the organisation of the Forum has had a major impact nationwide, with social movements and grassroots groups working in a coordinated fashion to plan activities in 15 different spots around the country.
Since the first World Social Forum, conceived as an alternative to international meetings pursuing free-market economics, was held in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001, local, thematic and regional gatherings like this week’s have been organised in different parts of the world.
“Our people and our nation are opening up to this experience, to share and to debate, which will help deepen and strengthen our democratic process,” Rojas said.
The sign welcoming participants to the Forum reads “the Americas are still mobilising against militaristic policies and the criminalisation (of social protest), patriarchal and racist violence, neoliberal solutions to the crisis, and environmental destruction.”