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Brazil activists denounce corporate greed

January 27th, 2010

Leftists in Brazil for a week of protests against capitalism denounced corporate greed on the second day of the World Social Forum, saying Tuesday that big companies humbled by the global meltdown must be prevented from controlling natural resources and harming the environment.

In Peru, for example, foreign and domestic miners are vying for concessions to explore for gold, silver and zinc on traditional Indian lands where tribe members eke out a living from small farms threatened by contamination, said Carlos Candiotti, leader of an anti-mining group.

“These companies come into our territory without our approval, but the state must recognize our rights because we’re the owners, with ancestral rights to the land where we live,” Candiotti said.

Now in its 10th year, the social forum is a counterpoint to the World Economic Forum starting Wednesday in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, and leftist leaders are gleefully criticizing the bankers and business titans hit hard by the financial crisis.

But they said nations that have exerted greater state control over economies as a result of the meltdown must go further, warning that large corporations will try to reassert their grip on the world and push policies critics say emphasize reliance on free markets at the expense of social welfare.

“We need to make sure the neoliberals never take over again,” said Arthur da Silva Santos, president of Brazil’s largest confederation of labor unions. “There are just a few hundred companies today that hold all the cards for the global economy.”

In a conference hall filled with activists wearing shirts emblazoned with the image of legendary revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Hildebrando Velez Galeano drew raucous cheers when he urged citizens of developing nations in South America and elsewhere to “take the economy away from the hands of the capitalist speculators who are destroying it.”

“We have to decolonize our territory and declare it free of Coca-Cola and Monsanto,” said Galeano, a leader of the Colombian chapter of the environmental group Friends of the Earth.

Tens of thousands were expected to gather inside a soccer stadium Tuesday night for a speech by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has received mixed responses in years past at the social forum.

Greeted like a rock star in Porto Alegre in 2003 just after becoming Brazil’s first working-class president, Silva was booed in 2005 by some who felt he turned into too much of a pro-business centrist once in office, despite instituting popular social welfare programs aiming to help tens of millions out of poverty in Latin America’s largest nation.

Galeano said activists must try to convince Silva that “he can’t abandon the path toward socialism.”

But others said it’s too late, because Silva has less than a year left in office before he must leave after serving two terms. And Silva himself will head to Davos for the World Economic Forum later this week, where he is to receive a special award.

Gustavo de Biase, a 22-year-old Brazilian wearing a shirt proclaiming “Socialism is Liberty,” accused Lula — as Silva is commonly known — of betraying leftists by embracing capitalist economic policies as president.

“Lula held out promise for Brazil, but he didn’t do what he said he’d do,” de Biase said.

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