Chavez Gets Warm Welcome at Brazil Forum
By STAN LEHMAN
Associated Press Writer
January 27, 2003, 5:32 AM EST
PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil -- He faces violent street protests at home, but Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez received an enthusiastic welcome at a gathering of social activists.
Chavez met Sunday with organizers of the World Social Forum, where attendees have vented against capitalism. The Venezuelan president denounced his political opponents and the 56-day general strike that has emptied store shelves and crippled the economy in his country.
The Venezuelan president equated his opponents to the advocates of neoliberalism, the Latin American term for free-market economic policies opposed by many at the World Social Forum.
"You here at the forum and we in Venezuela are trying to come up with an alternative to neoliberalism that is destroying the world," Chavez said in a speech attended by more than 2,000 cheering activists. "If we don't put an end to neoliberalism, neoliberalism will put an end to us."
Before he spoke at Port Alegre's state legislature, hundreds showed up outside and handed out free copies of a book in English and Spanish titled, "The Fascist Coup Against Venezuela," a compilation of Chavez speeches over the last two months.
Chavez said his country's reserves had dropped to $3 billion in December and January and he would soon propose a tax on all financial transactions in Venezuela as a way to tame volatility in the currency market caused by the strike.
The World Social Forum is intended as a counterpoint to the World Economic Forum, the gathering of global business and political leaders in Davos, Switzerland. The six-day conference in the southern Brazil port city of Porto Alegre drew about 100,000 people for workshops on such topics as corporate finance scandals and debt in developing nations.
Activists and legislators from other nations praised Chavez, who wasn't formally invited to the forum but chose to attend on his own. At one stop, he was greeted by a nun, Maria Vandege Santa, who waved a small Venezuelan flag.
"I am here to protest the efforts to topple a president who only wants to help the poor," said Santa, who lives in Brazil's poverty-stricken northeast.
Copyright © 2003, The Associated Press
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