The following guest post was written by Derek Poppert, former Global Exchange Latin America Reality Tours Director.

Last week, 24-year old Brazilian judo player Rafaela Silva won Brazil’s first gold medal of the 2016 Olympic games. Her accomplishment is both inspiring and symbolic.

It is inspiring because she hails from a particularly notorious favela in Rio de Janeiro, having faced steep odds to rise to the top of her sport as a black woman in a poor and highly-marginalized community, the same favela depicted in the famous Brazilian movie named after the favela itself: The City of God.

It is symbolic because it is this exact type of community – the many favelas spread out across Rio de Janeiro – that have paid the highest price to host the 2016 Olympic games. And yet it is a young black woman from a favela in Rio de Janeiro who won Brazil’s first gold: a symbol of triumph, redemption and hope for those who daily feel the effects of the Olympics on their lives in Rio’s favelas: the police incursions, the bulldozing of their homes, the racial targeting, the stigmatization of their communities in the media.

Lost in NBC’s nightly primetime coverage is the reality that the highest cost of hosting these Olympics is not even the $11.9 billion price tag in the face of economic contraction, poverty, political crisis and vast inequality: it is the displacement and repression of Brazil’s most vulnerable communities.

Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

What most people tuning into NBC might not know is that over 60,000 people have been forcefully displaced from their homes in Rio de Janeiro to make way for Olympic-related construction. The vast majority of those displaced live in favelas: low-income communities (incorrectly referred to as “slums” in most western media) that informally established themselves on city outskirts decades ago but have since become high-functioning communities and sustainable forms of low-income, close-quarter urban living.

Whole neighborhoods have been clear cut to make room for construction projects mainly geared towards foreigners and the Brazilian elite: the Olympic village, new bus and metro lines, luxury condominiums. The Olympics were perfect justification for real estate developers to do what they have long wanted to do near the current Olympics venues in the south of Rio: get rid of the poorer communities that keep real estate values from ballooning like they do all along the waterfront of other parts of Rio.

Favelas are often stigmatized in Brazil as “lesser” than other communities and have a reputation of drugs and violence – stereotypes perpetuated by portrayals such as that in the movie The City of God, which for most westerners is perhaps the only experience they will ever have with a Brazilian favela. Violence and the drug trade certainly do exist in favelas, but much of the violence occurs at the hands of the state. The Olympics were used as justification not only for mass displacement and eviction, but for an enormous police-military buildup and a swift crackdown on basic civil liberties, particularly in poor areas. The Olympics called for “security”, and this allowed the heavy hand of the Brazilian police further power to do what it has long done to fight the drug trade: home incursions without legal process, arbitrary search and seizures, kidnapping, torture, racial profiling and homicides with near impunity.

A security force of 85,000 has arrived in Rio to “keep the peace” during the Olympics. But while a military build-up along Rio’s tourist areas in Copacabana and Ipanema gives the impression of security, repression meanwhile occurs in the city’s poor areas that tourists will never see.

If this all sounds familiar, you’d be right – the World Cup two years ago highlighted the exact same issues. Profit and sport at the expense of people and human rights. Displacement in the name of preparation and police violence in the name of security. Then it was FIFA that was co-responsible, now it’s the IOC (International Olympic Committee).

As Amnesty International Brazil puts it:

We’ve seen this before. In 2014 – the year that Brazil hosted the FIFA World Cup – police killings in Rio de Janeiro state shot up by 40%. Police and military forces were deployed as part of ‘public security’ plans. As tensions rose, they repressed protestors with brutality and unleashed lethal violence in favelas. ‘Shoot first, ask questions later’. No one was held to account; security forces got away with murder. Right now, these same kinds of ‘public security’ plans are being put in place for the 2016 Games.

Getty Images

Getty Images

The IOC should be ashamed it has allowed the preparations for the 2016 Olympics to proceed in the manner it has, in the face of such tragedies over the past 7 years since Rio won the Olympic bid. It should be ashamed it did not demand a better way to go forward with Olympic preparations. The IOC’s claim that they and the Olympics are “a-political” is an illusion: nothing in this world is a-political, and certainly nothing as massive, global and cash-infused as the Olympics. The Olympics are intrinsically and inevitably connected to enormous political, social and economic ramifications, and the IOC should have the backbone to stand up for what is right while it makes its plans for the bi-annual event with the host country.

We take this opportunity to lend a voice of solidarity to the groups on the ground in Rio and across Brazil opposing these tremendous forces of money and power: the organizers, the community groups, the peaceful protestors. Olympic competition is an incredible sight to behold, but it should never come at the price of people, communities and human rights.

The following is the second installment of a multi-part series examining the preparations and aftermaths of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics in Brazil. Read the entire “Re-think the World Cup” series.

The 2014 World Cup is about far more than sport.

When I talk to people here in the U.S. about the upcoming World Cup in Brazil, most still tend to think of soccer parties and cool World Cup commercials. The lack of awareness as to the realities of the event is startling. 

The U.S. media is partially to blame, as comprehensive coverage of the issue has been nearly absent up until very recently. And while sport and parties are certainly aspects to the upcoming World Cup, they are only a part of the story – and to many in Brazil, the least important part.

Brazil was booming economy during the first decade of the 21st century. Its GDP growth topped that of most countries in the world, it slashed its rates of poverty and inequality, it saw a significant drop in its legacy of drug-related violence, and it emerged as a growing player on the geopolitical world stage. These factors, combined with Brazil’s famous national passion for the game of futebol, made the country an understandable candidate for host of the 2014 World Cup.

However, some important underlying issues in Brazilian society were overlooked or ignored in the decision to bring the World Cup to Brazil, and which now threaten the very integrity of the event itself.

Among the issues: poverty, a stubborn gap between rich and poor, a deep need for better education, schools, and hospitals, a perverse presence of corruption within all ranks of government, damning environmental realities, and some of the world’s highest rates of violent crime.

Some of these indicators have seen improvements in the last decade, but hardly enough to shrug them off as solved. And despite the country’s firestorm rate of economic growth in the new milennium, this growth has slowed considerably in the last few years.

FIFA was blind to these underlying issues, or at least indifferent to them. And it was certainly of no interest to Brazil’s corruptos, who were quick to jump on the influx of hundreds of millions of investment dollars that would flow into the country for the event – a quick and easy penny in a system ladled with bribery and corruption.

Brazil is slated to spend 14 billion dollars on the World Cup – the most expensive World Cup to date, and far over budget. It’s a staggering figure no matter the place or context – but in the face of Brazil’s widespread social issues, it feels decidedly darker.

Logic would seem to say that a government should use the wealth of its country to address the social issues it still faces. Logic would say: the gains of the last decades were nice, but they need to be better; the gains of the last decades have improved some things, but the improvements are delicate and much more needs to be done.

But logic has not been at play here. Power, corruption, and the financial interest of a select elite few are.

White Elephants, Disparities, and Evictions

Perhaps the most potent and visible symbols of this World Cup’s injustices are its stadiums. Several of the new or renovated World Cup stadiums are being dubbed “white elephants” – expensive behemoths that will have little use once the frenzy of the World Cup has passed.

In Brasilia, the nation’s capital, the new stadium has cost $900 million and will hold 70,000 seats despite the fact that the local home team rarely brings in more than a few hundred fans per game and despite the fact that 80% of public schools in Brasilia have inadequate facilities that lack chairs, books, and water-tight roofs. For what? The stadium will host seven World Cup matches.

In the northern Amazonian city of Manaus, the stadium Arena da Amazonia has cost $240 million and is designed to hold 43,000 people despite the fact that the average attendance for local games is only 588 people and the local team that plays there is a fourth level professional team. The stadium will host four World Cup matches.

The price for these stadium projects has not just been monetary: 8 workers have died in the fevered rush to complete stadiums on time for the World Cup, attempting to make up for delays in red tape, bureaucracy, and inefficiency.

The 14 billion dollars spent on the World Cup is a huge sum of money, and the opportunity cost – where the money could have been used elsewhere – can be hard to put into context, especially from a continent away. But when I was living in Brazil for a period of time last year, the reality of this injustice was made very real.

I went to a local soccer match at the Maracanã, Rio’s legendary soccer stadium and home to the championship match of the World Cup. The facility has been completely renovated up to FIFA standards, complete with sleek jumbotrons, sparkling hallways, clean new seats, and a pristine turf pitch. It is certainly fit for the highest levels of competition and a global spotlight.

While perhaps none of this would ordinarily be such a point of contention, when a soccer match ends at Maracanã and you walk out of the stadium you will quickly see why it is indeed just that. The disparity and dichotomy is unavoidable – the injustice, literally, in your face.

As I walked out of the revamped stadium, I looked up and was blighted by a scene of complete disconnect in front of my eyes: hillsides of sprawling favelas right next door – stark reminders of the realities the country still faces, and an instigator of many questions: what could the millions that were used to renovate the stadium I was just sitting in have done for the favelas I was now looking up at?

Favelas are often jointly referred to in Western media as slums or shantytowns, but this is not really an accurate definition – a favela is a favela, a low-income but sustainable model of urban development in its own right. Favelas are home to 12 million people in Brazil; residents often live below or near the poverty line, and can lack access to essential resources such as job training and education, as well as utilities such as sewage and sanitation. Favelas also have a long legacy of violence, both between rival drug gangs and with an abusive, corrupt police force.

But despite its image problem, favelas have emerged as sustainable models of urban living – organic and natural outcroppings from a legacy of disbandment and marginalization of poor populations, sprung up from squatters on the hillsides of large urban cities in the late 19th century. They have become sources of pride for their inhabitants, and contain an emerging middle class, solid structures, and an increasingly sustainable model of close quarter urban development.

Upwards of 200,000 residents have been forcefully evicted throughout Brazil in order to make room for sports-related projects. Residents are given stark options and little notice ahead of time, forced to uproot from their communities they have lived in for generations. They are given negligent compensation, if any at all. Those who do receive alternative housing are pushed to high rise public housing on the outskirts of major cities, far away from their jobs in the inner city and even further away from the cherished sense of established community they once enjoyed despite their financial hardships. 

The state of Rio de Janeiro’s hallmark “pacification” program, designed to both drive out drug cartels from favelas and finally incorporate favelas into city grids, is now being questioned and criticized openly. The program, developed after Brazil won its World Cup bid, has been largely credited with historic lulls in violence in Rio since its inception in 2008. However, recent months have witnessed a marked increase in violence, even in “pacified” favelas close to sport and tourist areas.

Of the hundreds of favelas that exist in Rio, only 37 have been “pacified”. Unsurprisingly, these 37 find themselves conveniently close to tourist areas, wealthy neighborhoods, and sporting venues. While levels of violence have dropped overall, the pacification program has also simply pushed much of the violence farther to the city’s outskirts rather than addressing its root causes. And in the process, heavy-handed police raids that attempt to drive out drug traffickers from favelas and keep sporting areas “safe” continue unabated. The incursions, some made by forces trained by U.S. defense companies, occur with little regard to innocent collateral and the human rights violations committed by police proceed with near total impunity.

Who is the World Cup for?

It’s the question many in Brazil have been asking.

The Brazilian people will pay 14 billion dollars out of their own pockets to produce the World Cup while FIFA, a “non-profit” organization, will walk away from Brazil with a projected 4 billion dollar untaxed revenue when the tournament is over.

FIFA and its sponsors will benefit handsomely from the event, as will select developers and certain members of Brazilian government. Sadly, the benefits are not so equally felt.

Despite old claims that mega-sporting events like the World Cup bring long-term economic gains to host countries, recent studies such as those done by sports economist Dennis Coates have shown that this idea is actually false. The games benefit a small circle of people at the top, while the rest of the country experiences no such gains. Meanwhile, the opportunity cost is huge – particularly in a developing country such as Brazil.

The conflict for Brazilians is obvious: they love their futebol, but they also want a better country. They want to celebrate the passion they hold for the sport, but they also want a better future for themselves and their children. The organization of Brazilian civil society in opposition to the World Cup despite their national obsession with soccer is the most telling sign of just how far off this mega-sporting event has become. That 60% of Brazilians feel that the World Cup is bad for the country in a population as soccer-crazed as Brazil is nothing short of remarkable.

We may indeed look back and see that the 2014 World Cup stood on the crux between an old and a new. Like in the Middle East, we are witnessing the rise of a burgeoning civil society in Brazil that is young, tech savvy, and fed up with business as usual. The injustices of the World Cup have forced long-standing social issues in Brazil into the limelight like never before and have instigated a larger social movement that may not fade once the competitions are over. And it us now offering us the chance, as a global community, to re-think and adjust our approach to the ways we go about producing, thinking about, and discussing these mega-sporting events.

The irony would be amusing, if it weren’t so tragic: while corrupt actors initially saw the World Cup as an opportunity to prop themselves up, they may have in fact instigated their own downfall.

Read all entries in the Re-Think the World Cup blog series.

Explore these issues firsthand by traveling to Brazil on a Global Exchange Reality Tour. Become a Global Exchange member today and travel for 10% off all Reality Tours.

The following is the first installment of a multi-part series examining the preparations and aftermaths of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics in Brazil.

There are visible and invisible dictators. The power structure of world football is monarchical. It’s the most secret kingdom in the world.”

So said the great Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano. Thanks to sports journalist Dave Zirin, the quote has been getting quite a bit of attention recently. But the power structure of world football is not the only malevolent shadow lurking in the dark today. There have been a great series of injustices secretly unfolding in Brazil ever since the South American giant won its bid for the World Cup back in 2007.

On June 12th, the world will shift its attention and collective body clock south, with the idea that the 2014 World Cup is solely about soccer and national rivalries as the planet’s 32 top teams vie for soccer’s most coveted prize in 12 cities throughout Brazil. While an intriguing storyline for FIFA and its corporate sponsors, the storyline is a misleading half-truth at best.

At one point in time, I wanted to be in Brazil during the upcoming World Cup. To attend the pinnacle event of the world’s most popular sport, in the spiritual home of the sport itself, the idea was alluring – all the more so being that I had fallen in love with that wonderful country and its people after living there for a period of time during 2013.

I envisioned Brazilian flags hanging from balconies, groups of fans chanting in unison, and eruptions of shouts from outdoor cafes in Rio following a goal by Neymar. The sun would be shining, live samba would be flowing from open-air bars, and maybe – just maybe – there would be a raucous celebration throughout the streets of Brazil upon the Brazilian national team winning it all.

Unfortunately, this was an ill-fated vision. One that fell hard and swiftly upon learning what this World Cup is really about.

When I think about the upcoming World Cup now, a very different set of images come to mind.

I see 14 billion Brazilian taxpayer dollars squandered while FIFA escapes with 4 billion dollars in revenue tax-free; I see the use of those billions of taxpayer dollars to build or renovate stadiums that will sit idle or offensively underused after the World Cup, rather than building badly needed schools and hospitals in a country that is still very much developing and still very much grappling with widespread poverty, inequality, and violence; I see the forced evictions of thousands of marginalized, low-income favela residents to make room for sport venues and infrastructure projects; I see a corrupt government out to gain for itself and please foreign interests rather than take concern for the welfare of its own people and wondrous natural environment; I see the hijacking of a country by a select elite few, including FIFA, corrupt politicians, and foreign corporations; I see police brutality and a thinly layered mascara attempting to cover up deep-seated and festering social dynamics within society.

And through it all I see the continued endorsement of the event by major U.S. corporations, as well as hordes of foreign tourists who will flock to the shores and cities of Brazil by the hundreds of thousands, pleasantly ignorant to the true realities of this mega sporting event, the true costs of hosting it in this still-developing nation, the true impact that it has wreaked and will continue to wreak on the lives of many ordinary Brazilians.

The upcoming World Cup in Brazil is not largely about sport, it is about money. It is not about the pinnacle of competition, it is about greed and corruption. It is not about communal enjoyment of games, it is about inequality and corporate power.

It’s time to re-think the World Cup. The façade of sport needs to come down. It can come down as swiftly and forcefully as it did for my glorious visions of the World Cup. And it can start now, with Brazil.

Expose the kingdoms from their secrecy, and the kingdoms will reform. Or fall.

Read all entries in the Re-Think the World Cup blog series.

Explore these issues firsthand by traveling to Brazil on a Global Exchange Reality Tour. Become a Global Exchange member today and travel for 10% off all Reality Tours.

Originally posted at

After nearly two years of work and consistent opposition from big oil, substantive provisions of legislation initially introduced by Senators Lugar (R-IN) and Cardin (D-MD) as the Energy Security Through Transparency Act (ESTT), were signed into law by President Obama as Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act on Wednesday.   Offered by Senator Leahy (D-VT), the provision will require both US and internationally-based companies registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to publish what they pay to governments for the commercial development of oil, gas, and minerals, while creating a new international standard for transparency in the extractive industry.

The provision, which will apply to 90 percent of the largest internationally operating oil and gas companies, made the cut during an all-night House-Senate conference committee meeting over the Wall Street reform bill.

The bill will have significant impacts in countries like Burma, where a lack of transparency has contributed to corruption, authoritarianism, and gross human rights violations, directly linked to the natural gas industry. According to EarthRights International’s new report,Energy Insecurity: How Total, Chevron, and PTTEP Contribute to Human Rights Violations, Financial Secrecy, and Nuclear Proliferation in Burma (Myanmar), the lack of publicly available information on revenues received by the military junta in Burma has facilitated the misuse of these funds, including massive diversion of resource-related public monies.

In fact, data from a leaked IMF report indicates 70 percent of Burma’s foreign exchange reserves are from gas exports and that gas-related payments from corporations, amounting to billions of dollars, contributed only one percent of total budget revenue.  That means that less than one percent of the largest source of income for the Burmese state actually enters the state budget. Had these revenues entered the state budget, they would have accounted for 57 percent of the total 2007/2008 budget.  The majority of the gas revenues are believed to be held in offshore banks, with reports indicating that hundreds of millions are channeled into the personal bank accounts of individuals closely associated with the ruling military junta in two offshore banks in Singapore.

When this new transparency bill takes effect — likely in 2012 — companies including Chevron, Total, the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation, the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation, and others will be forced to disclose how much they pay the regime in Burma, something they have been resisting for years. For communities and civil society inside and outside of Burma, this information can be used in attempts to hold the authorities in Burma accountable for how these monies are spent.

The reach of this bill is truly global. Communities in Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Algeria, Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, Russia, Columbia, Thailand, and around the world will know how much their governments receive from corporations including Shell, BP, Chevron, Exxon, Newmont Mining, and most of the other energy and mining majors operating in their countries.

EarthRights International was active throughout the legislative process, lobbying the U.S. Congress directly while providing public education, letter writing, advocacy, and training to other organizations in support of the transparency provision as a member of Publish What You Pay United States, a coalition of 32 nongovernmental organizations that advocated for the legislation.

This bill takes aim squarely at the “resource curse,” the documented pattern in countries rich in natural resources where this wealth leads to negative development outcomes. Senator Lugar (R-IN), one of the main supporters of the transparency provision summarized the importance of this measure quite well, saying: “History shows that oil, gas reserves, and minerals can frequently be a bane, not a blessing, for poor countries leading to corruption, wasteful spending, military adventurism, and instability, and too often oil money intended for a nation’s poor ends up lining the pockets of the rich, or is squandered on showcase projects instead of productive investments.”

While a major victory for communities in resource-rich countries, there are still several stages before the legislation is implemented and companies begin to report their payments. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) must issue proposed rules that provide detailed guidance for companies covered by the bill. This process will take up to one year to complete. Groups like EarthRights International and our Publish What You Pay US colleagues will play an active role in this rule-making process, ensuring that critical information on payments is available in an effective, timely, and complete manner. Once the final rules are issued, companies will be required to disclose payments in their annual filings to the SEC going forward.

We expect that Big Oil will continue to resist these efforts as they did with the legislation. The American Petroleum Institute (API), a national trade association representing about 400 corporate members, including major oil and gas companies, made several misleading claims in a letter to members of the Senate in 2010, stating:  “API feels that requiring only U.S-listed extractive companies to disclose revenues creates a competitive disadvantage for these companies in the global energy marketplace.” Members of the US Senate were not persuaded by this specious claim, with Senator Cardin calling API’s claims, “a red herring.”

This bill may be the beginning of the end for the cloud of secrecy and corruption associated with resource extraction around the globe. With other countries like the UK considering similar measures, there is a great hope that revenue transparency becomes a norm for the industry, and we can begin to see the responsible use of these critical revenues for the benefit of local and national communities.

For more information on the transparency bill, visit

By Patrick Brantlinger

Brazil is home to “the world’s largest street party,” Carnaval, and home also to 4.5 million landless peasants. On Copacabana and Ipanema, Rio’s spectacular beaches, Cariocas—the city’s residents–mingle with well-to-do tourists in the sun, sand, and surf; but Rio also contains enormous favelas or slums. The disparity between the wealthiest and the poorest Brazilians is extreme, although the current government of President “Lula” da Silva is struggling mightily to overcome poverty. Elected in 2002, Lula, a member of the Workers’ Party (PT), has had to compromise in a number of directions. But he has nevertheless been able to introduce some new policies such as his “Zero Hunger” project. And he is supportive of the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST), which since 1984 has succeeded in settling over 300,000 previously landless families on their own small farms. This process has not been peaceful; landowners’ hired gunmen have sometimes assassinated MST leaders and massacred peasants. Lula’s victory in 2002 derived partly from the PT’s earlier successes at the local and regional levels. When the PT came to power in Porto Alegre, a southern city of 1.3 million and a hub of MST organizing, one of its innovations was “participatory budgeting.” This entails having the citizens form committees which every four years make and vote on proposals for funding, using from 5% to 12% of the city’s budget. The policy has resulted in new schools, clinics, workers’ cooperatives, and recycling facilities, among other improvements. This experiment in grassroots democracy is now spreading to other Brazilian cities and states.

It was, in part, the interest generated both by the MST and by participatory budgeting that made Porto Alegre a logical site for the first World Social Forum (WSF), which in 2001 drew some 10,000 activists representing dozens of organizations from around the world. The second and third WSFs were also held in Porto Alegre; then in 2004, the fourth WSF met in Mumbai, India. Through its first four years, the WSF grew enormously. When the fifth WSF was held again in Porto Alegre in late January 2005, the participants numbered over 150,000, representing 135 countries from every continent except Antarctica . Ellen and I came as members of Global Exchange and of the Progressive Faculty Coalition of IU. The size of the opening march on Jan. 26 was estimated at 200,000. Some 35,000 participants stayed in the Youth Camp; its small, colorful tents formed a bright contrast to the dozens of large white tents, pitched along a three-mile stretch of the Guiaba River, in which hundreds of sessions and over two-thousand talks were delivered. Some of the major speeches had to be given in nearby arenas; two of these were by heads of state—Lula and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela—who both drew enormous crowds. And there were many other leaders and dignitaries from around the world, including several Nobel Prize winners.

Created to provide a counterweight to the annual meetings of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the WSF is now the main annual event expressing the ideas and growing energy of what are often called “the new social movements,” but what the mainstream media persist in calling “the anti-globalization movement.” This misnomer implies that its supporters are opposed to globalization of any sort, although the WSF is obviously an expression of a growing, highly networked and cosmopolitan internationalism. If “globalization” is taken to mean only the policies of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the giant corporations, then indeed the WSF and its participants are opposed to it, because we see it as economic exploitation that benefits the wealthiest countries (the North) at the expense of the poorest countries (the South), and only the wealthy elites within all countries. For those not yet aware of this, I recommend Globalization and Its Discontents by Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize winning economist and former senior Vice-President of the World Bank. “While I was at the World Bank,” Stiglitz begins, “I saw firthand the devastating effects that [corporate] globalization can have on developing countries, and especially the poor within those countries.” Stiglitz was one of the speakers at the fourth WSF in Mumbai. Even more disturbing are the revelations in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins, who spoke at this year’s WSF.

Major themes at every WSF have included the reduction or outright cancellation of the enormous and growing debts supposedly owed by the poor countries to the WB, the IMF, and the wealthy countries. Organizations such as British-based Jubilee 500, whose main goal is debt cancellation, are among the dozens of NGOs participating in the WSFs. To many, including UN Secretary Kofi Annan, who advocates debt cancellation for the African countries, getting out from under the financial mountains they are buried beneath is the necessary first step for the poor countries to at long last start on the path of real economic development and stability.

A second WSF theme is protection of the global “commons.” That term refers to all of the natural resources that have until recently been regarded as belonging to the public rather than to private individuals or corporations. In the past, despite colonization and the creation of large, privately owned plantations and estates, every village and locality had its “commons,” its parcel of land where everyone had a right to plant their gardens or graze their sheep. Today, all countries and cities still have versions of such commons: forests, parks, gardens, beaches, plazas that belong to the public. But, as the controversy over drilling for oil in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge indicates, the pressure is on to privatize what remains of these public lands.

Water is another resource that corporations like Bechtel and Coca Cola are greedily trying to bottle up (or privatize) and then resell to the world. A number of the sessions at this year’s WSF focused on protecting water as a commons, not a commodity. These sessions featured speeches by such activists as Canadian Maude Barlow, author of Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World’s Water. And there were also sessions dealing with “food sovereignty,” or the right of communities and regions to grow and market the food they need for themselves, without being coerced by so-called “free-trade” demands of the WTO, the World Bank, and the IMF to grow cash crops for export while allowing giant agribusinesses such as Monsanto and Cargill to “dump” surplus crops in their markets, thus undermining the livelihoods of millions of small farmers. Related to the question of food sovereignty is the issue of corporations patenting and monopolizing seeds and other organic products, many of which have been developed and collectively owned—shared, that is–by peasant and indigenous communities for centuries. As well, there is growing concern throughout the world over corporations’ developing and forcing genetically modified organisms onto the market, with or without the knowledge of consumers about their possible environmental and health effects. We attended sessions that dealt with women’s rights and protections (sponsored by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom); with ending racial, class, and gender discrimination (sponsored by the World Dignity Forum); and with ending the occupation of Iraq (sponsored by a large number of anti-war groups). Organized by our own Progressive Faculty Coalition, the session in which I participated engaged professors and students from the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina in dialogue about how to make our academic work more effective in the struggle for global justice. I should add that, as U.S. citizens, we encountered no animosity at the WSF or elsewhere in Brazil; but the anger toward the Bush regime, both because of its invasion of Iraq and because of its support of corporate globalization at all costs, was everywhere apparent.

That the fifth World Social Forum was a great success was evident during its closing ceremonies. As at earlier WSFs, on a huge wall participants posted hundreds of proposals for creating “a better world.” And, though it ran somewhat counter to the democratic ethos of the WSF as a space and place for the entirely free exchange of ideas about creating “a better world,” nineteen organizers produced a “manifesto” of proposals. These are in effect a summary of the main themes from all five WSFs: peace and nonviolence; justice and dignity for all; an end to world poverty; protection of both global and local commons; “fair trade” instead of misnamed “free trade”; and as much open, democratic participation as possible. In the spirit of its democratic cosmopolitanism, next year the WSF will meet in four regional sites, and the year after that somewhere in Africa, perhaps Capetown. Is the entire endeavor utopian? Of course it is! And if ever the world needed to think in utopian terms, it is surely now, as we confront continued war and violence in the Middle East; genocide in the Sudan and elsewhere; growing instead of shrinking world poverty and hunger; global warming and the rapid privatization of the global commons. On a planet where, since 2000 or 2001 and 9-11 or 2004 (take your pick), sources of hope seem to be disappearing as rapidly as species, the World Social Forum is one of the most hopeful signs on the political horizon.