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Boaventura de Sousa Santos: “The WSF should privilege alternative media.”

The Portuguese sociologist argues that community radios and alternative media are the formula for bringing down the fence of corporate media. In an interview with TerraViva’s Alejandro Kirk, he also announces that he now believes that the current crisis requires that the Forum to take a defined political stance

(by Alejandro Kirk, IPS-TerraViva)

Do you stand by your ideas about the nature of the World Social Forum in the context of the global crisis of capitalism that we are experiencing?

That is a very important question at this moment, as we are heading into the WSF in Belem. I believe that the changes that have taken place over the past few months have created a new situation that I could call almost dilemma tic for the World Social Forum. This condition comes from the following: as you know, since its inception, there has been a discussion at the WSF about whether it should be an open space for all progressive tendencies that fight against neo-liberal globalization, a space for coming together and nothing more. Some have argued the contrary: that it should have a stronger role and intervene, present proposals and organize global political actions- intervention for change.

In some way, this requires that I modify my position. For a long time I have defended the idea of an open space because I believe that it is important to maintain a place in which people can come together without a specific agenda. But over the past two years my view has changed somewhat. I believe that the WSF should continue to be an open space but that we should identify some topics about which there is consensus so that the Forum can present political and thus programmatic positions.
What topics are you thinking about?

I believe that we should have a stronger role in four or five international matters because I am concerned that if we do not do so, the WSF will become increasingly irrelevant to the social struggles that are coming.

The WSF should have a proposal to reform the United Nations. It is a process that has been discussed for a long time and that we also have discussed at the WSF, but there is no common position.

The second issue is the financial crisis, which has created a new situation over the past few months because at WSF we always criticized neo-liberal globalization and especially the predominance of financial capital, which has led so many countries to ruin. And we had said something that is very important: that the financial crisis that exploded in the United States and Europe is a crisis that the countries of the so-called Third World have been suffering for 30 years. All of these countries have proposed solutions that are very similar to the ones that the United States and Europe are implementing: nationalizing banks and so on.

In the southern global crisis, no one thought that that could change. Neo-liberal orthodoxy was completely dominant. Now that the crisis is in the United States and Europe, in the heart of the global capitalist system, the measures that those same central countries strongly rejected through the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for southern countries are being adopted. That is where the crises of Asia, Argentina, Brazil and Russia came from. So I propose that the WSF assume a visible international position on how to resolve the crisis.

The WSF should demand the elimination of the FMI and the World Bank or their radical reform. These positions have been discussed ad nauseam and there is consensus. Why don’t we transform that into a policy position?

And you can't forget Palestine.

Yes, in the third place, the crisis in Palestine. This aggression is an Israeli occupation that is more brutal than before. Right now war crimes and crimes against humanity are taking place and are being perpetrated because there is the certainty of total impunity. I think that the WSF has to take a very clear, internationally visible position on Palestine. Though we have not done so directly in the Forum, we have fought for peace. The Assembly of Social Movements called for a world protest against the invasion of Iraq and I do not believe that we should limit ourselves to protests this time. The Palestine issue will poison all international relations.

Do you believe that this attack was launched in an attempt to achieve something before Barack Obama assumed the Presidency of the United States?

Yes. This aggression was a premeditated provocation on the part of the State of Israel. The international media never mention this. The first violation of the cease-fire (between the government of Gaza and Israel) was at the beginning of November, and it was an Israeli bombing. In response, Hamas (the governing organization in Gaza) requested a renegotiation of the cease-fire, which Israel rejected. That’s how it started.

Israel has three direct objectives. The first involves internal politics. The central-right coalition that governs the country is at risk and wants to recover its electoral leadership. Second, the Army wants to make people forget their complete defeat by the Hezbollah organization when it invaded Lebanon in 2006. The third objective is to create a fait accompli before Obama was sworn in.

These are the three factors that have led to a war of aggression that has nothing to do with Gaza. It is extermination. Months ago, the Vice Minister of Defense of Israel (Matan Vilnai) threatened the population of Gaza with the word Shoha, which means 'holocaust' in Hebrew. That was announced months ago. It is horrible, because they don't realize that the Jewish people were victims of a Shoha in Europe, and history shows that the 'final solutions' always come back on those who have tried to implement them.

Is there a way out of this?

Very serious things are happening. People who have always defended the existence of the State of Israel are now asking themselves if in these conditions –I repeat, in these conditions- the State of Israel maintains that right to exist. It is notable that when you read the founding texts of Israel, like the writings of Ben Gurion and Golda Meir, it is really clear that they understood that their State was an occupation that would always come up against the resistance of the occupied and that there would therefore never be peace.

The two-State solution was a hypocrisy negated by the facts, by so much Jewish presence in the West Bank that made it impossible. It would be a serious problem if the WSF met in this context of global crisis and we did not emerge with a position from the International Council or WSF Assembly.  My fear is that people will come away with the impression that the Forum didn’t do anything. That is why I have proposed voting.

How do you propose that voting take place?
Just like the international newspapers do it: using electronic media. The Sunday Times recently asked its readers if they would be in favor of an embargo against Israel, as it did during the days of apartheid in South Africa.
But voting would be complicated at the Forum.

There could be an electronic voting process each night. It is very easy to do. I have been told that we are not representative of the world. Of course we aren’t- but there are 100,000 of us. The International Council never wanted to accept this. It didn’t even consider it. But it has been published since 2003.

The Forum no longer receives as much attention from the traditional media. Is this because of censorship or a lack of professionalism or has the Forum simply lost validity?

This is an important issue given the power of the media in the international context. The mainstream media is a great instrument of global capitalism, of opposition to progressive politics. You can see that the media are opposed to change in countries throughout Latin America right now. The absence of the media at the Forum doesn’t have to do with weaknesses. At one point WSF was a novelty for the corporate media because we started as an alternative to the Davos Economic Forum, an inverted mirror. That created the curiosity that brought the media to the first two fora. When they realized that the Forum had a counter-hegemonic bent, they lost interest.
For our journey, the most important thing is the alternative media, the free press. This time a world forum of free media will be held in Belem. I work a lot in Bolivia and Ecuador, and I can tell you that the community radios, for example, the alternative press, are the media for bringing progressive knowledge to the people. We should invert the terms. The Forum’s Communications strategy has not always been a strong one, but now I think that the WSF is aware that if we do not give all the weight to the alternative media, the free press that fights to bring different information to the people, we will not get far.


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