A few people have asked me why I have mostly ignored in my blog the World Social Forum which took place in Caracas last week. Well, I am sure that those that came to Caracas had a great time in this beautiful city and that Venezuelans were very nice to them, as Venezuelans are friendly and helpful. But I have no doubt that the event was mostly a non-event in terms of its goals and origins for too many reasons.
The problem was the way on which the Venezuelan Government controlled the event. This not only put off some people, because it went against the very nature of the Forum, but it also meant that all of the organizational details where in the hands of the Venezuelan Government and thus the participants were able to see the managing incapabilities of Chavismo first hand.
The Government tried to hide the dismal failure that the event was by simply trying to ignore it by the end of the week, but let’s take a look about what Government officials told us before the event and what truly happened:
1) The Organizers said that 120,000 would come from abroad. The number was truly outrageous anyway, but it is likely than fewer than 10,000 people actually came from outside the country.
2) The Organizers had said that the La Carlota military airstrip in Caracas would be used as a camp for participants to stay at. Then, we were told, events and conferences would take place in Parque de el Este right across the highway. (Parque del Este had refused to allow people to camp in it). In the end it was unnecessary. La Carlota was only used one day for an event, but nobody stayed there anyway, there was plemty of room elsewhere.
3) We were told that some Latin American leaders like Lula and Kirchner may come, in the end neither showed up, worried that Chavez would upstage them in a street event much like Mar del Plata. In fact, the only event in which Chavez participated was one in Teresa Carreńo which must have been fairly exclusive given the size of that theater. In fact, Chavez did not even show up to the closing ceremony, indicating that the Government realized the whole thing was not a success and moved on. The highest ranking participants were from Brazil, inclduing the infamous Mr. Jose Dirceu, who had to resign his Government post when it was revealed that he had been buying votes in Congress.
We were told over and over, that this was not costing Venezuela a cent, but we also saw signs that this was simply an outright lie. Clearly there was coordination as to promoting this party line among Government officials, because that is all they talked about before the meeting began. in a clear sign that that Government polls are registering the unhappiness of Venezuelans over Chavez’ largesse abroad.
But it was hard to hide the truth as attendants were met at the International airport and shown by TV cameras to be given packages (Which supposedly contained money, maps, programs and condoms) at their arrival and taken to Caracas in fancy buses. According to this site, “The Venezuelan government has opened a route specifically for passenger vehicles during specific hours of the day in order to accommodate the large number of WSF participants.” which I don’t think ever really happened.
The presence of numerous musical groups in Caracas especially brought for the Forum also flew in the face of the “no cost” explanation. Which NGO would finance these groups to come and entertain them? Parties there were many and I am sure everyone had a good time, given the quality of the groups from many countries.
Posts in the blog mentioned above tell you enough about how disorganized the whole thing was. This was the most common complaint. language problems, cancelling of events, scheduling of events, transportation between events.
There were four levels of housing: The “Stars” friends of the revolution stayed at the five star hotels of Caracas, other radicals of prominence stayed at lower class hotels, then came those that camped in Los Caobos, followed by those that stayed in Parque Adames. The latter revolted and since attendance was so bad, they were moved to Los Caobos, where there was mud but it was not as bad as in the other site. Finally, there were those that stayed at private homes who were charged US$ 4-8 per person per night, sharing rooms. I heard that some people who had their airfare refunded by the Venezuelan Government upon arrival, moved to hotels with their “savings”.
Venezuelans did benefit from the event. The visitors bought all sorts of trinkets, which our street vendors (“buhoneros”) had plenty of, in all styles,sizes and shapes, including a Chavez/Che/Bolivar watch (above) which I find absolutely obnoxious. On Monday, I know firsthand of someone who was paid Bs. 150,000 to be at the march against imperialism and was handed out a Cuban flag to wave. He was actually given an explanation for this: they needed people because foreigners were all late to the event, due to the problem with the viaduct.
Venezuelans in general were indifferent to the event, some complained about traffic, but the nightmare that was projected from the Youth Festival last fall never materialized. But the week and the activity in the city was dominated by the final week of Venezuela’s Winter Baseball league, more so with the team from Caracas, Los Leones del Caracas, playing the Tigres de Aragua for the title. This contributed to traffic as much as the Forum. The same day that the Forum ended, the Leones won 5-1 their fourth game of the series, sending the people of Caracas into a frenzy. It had been 11 years since their last league victory. And that, in contrast to the Forum, they will never forget.