My participation in the World Social Forum 2009

KOGURE Yasuhisa(Jesuit regent at Jesuit Social Center Tokyo)
Social and Pastoral Bulletin issue: No. 148 / March 15th, 2009

<Towards Belem (Brazil), Site of the Forum >
Last summer, the Jesuit Social Justice Secretariat (Rome) sent an invitation to attend the World Social Forum (WSF-9) to all Jesuit provinces. This time I was sent there by the Jesuit Social Center (Tokyo). The WSF took place from January 27 to February 1. A few days before (January 24-27) a Jesuit Pre-forum “Fe’ namazonia” was organized by the Amazonian Jesuits and I attended both, together with fellow Jesuits and other colleagues, from all over the world working in social justice ministry.

This time I was the only participant from the Japanese Province and it was a real blessing for me to be able to meet with Jesuits involved in the social apostolate, from all over the world, as well as with lay colleagues working at JRS and other Jesuit social institutions. I felt especially happy to encounter other Jesuit scholastics working in social justice ministry during their regency.

The journey to the site of the WSF took me 28 hours. From Narita I travelled to Atlanta (USA). There I changed planes to Managua (Brazil) and finally to Belem. In Atlanta I had the experience of being fingerprinted with my 10 fingers and having my face scanned, as a US visitor. I can still remember the calmly faces of military personnel (many women among them) coming back from Iraq(?) in the next rows, while I was waiting for the immigration procedures.

I arrived to Manaus (Brazil) in the night and I asked the staff of the airport for my next plane to Belem but nobody could understand English. That was my first shocking experience on Brazilian soil. I had been told before that only Portuguese is spoken in this part of the world and I realized it at that moment. While waiting I went out of the airport and found outside a small garden with a “Torii” (shrine gate) and a statue of a crane in a pond. It was written there that the site was a remembrance of 70th anniversary of the first Japanese emigrants to Brazil. The Torii and the crane became a symbol of their hometowns for the Japanese emigrants. That was an emotional moment of the historical link of Japan and Brazil.

A street of Belem

Belem do Para where the WSF took place is the Capital of a Brazilian northern region 2.3 times bigger than Japan. Belem’s population is about 2 million. The city is located at the mouth of the Amazon River 6,500 km long. The second big city near the center of the Amazon River is Manaus. Many Japanese emigrants arrived in Manaus for the first time to settle in the Amazon region 80 years ago (1929). The history of Belem, on the other hand, goes back to 1616 when the Portuguese built a fortress there. During the 19th century natural rubber was found along the Amazon River and due to the development of the auto industry at the time the Portuguese exploited it obtaining huge wealth. Belem and Manaus flourished unprecedentedly at the time. Even now, many old European style buildings stand out along the streets of Belem. The Church of Nazareth in the center of the city is a symbol of the economic boom of Belem City at the time.

< The Two Pre-Forums >

(1) World Forum on Theology and Liberation

I attended the two Pre-forums ahead of the WSF. The 3rd World Forum on Theology and Liberation (January 22-25) dealt with the themes: “Water, Ecology and Theology to build another different world.” Besides Christian theology the Forum concentrated on spirituality, the natural environment and the relationships with our life styles. The stress was on contributions to be taken to build a different world that is more in harmony with the natural environment.

Famous liberation theologian, Leonardo Boff gave the keynote address on January 22. He is now removed from the religious, but many people in the Church respect and support him. Recently, he has published various books on ecological issues from the point of view of “Liberation.” His speech dealt, mainly, with the critical issue of “Water.” Quoting M. Gandhi he made his presentation: “If humanity continues living and doing economic activities, as it is doing now, on the basis of greediness and consumption, our planet and human beings will not be maintained. Our basic living course is questioned.”

The English speaking workshop, including Africans, Native Americans, Europeans, Americans and Japanese shared their relationships with the environment and the expression of their faith according to different cultural contexts. The free atmosphere that characterized the discussions was quite impressive.

(2) Pre-forum Fe’namazonia

The Pre-forum Fe’namazonia (January 24-27) was mainly oriented to the Ignatian family. The Brazil’s Jesuit Amazonian region took the initiative, with the cooperation of Rome’s Jesuit Social Justice Secretariat (SJS) and CPAL (The Social Sector of the Jesuit Provincial Conference). About 230 participants attended the Pre-forum. About 100 were diocesan priests and other religious, as well as lay people and the rest 125 belonged to the Ignatian Family – Jesuits and lay collaborators – gathered from all over the world.

The majority of the participants came from Brazil’s North East, Central and Amazon regions and Jesuits from other Latin American countries. Indians followed and then African and Europeans. We were just 2 Jesuits from East Asia, Fr. Kim San Wong of Korea and I from Japan. The presence of few American Jesuits looked strange to me. As a digression, just the night before the pre-forum a simple exchange event was held to introduce ourselves and our cultural backgrounds. Latin Americans, Indians and Africans that participated in great numbers showed their skills dancing and singing. The two of us from East Asia could not dance together.

Instead Fr. Kim and I introduced our common culture and customs by presenting the planting of rice and how rice planting decayed in East Asia nowadays, because of neo-liberal agro-policies recommended by WTO (World Trade Organization). Then, showing chopsticks we demonstrated how dexterous we are using them. Shouts of “Oh” greeted us. Anyhow Fr. Kim and I could play successfully a lone hand.

The main theme of this Pre-forum was “Religious Faith (s) and the Defense of Life.” Indigenous people, living by the Amazon River (the Riverine) whose life habitat and extremely inhuman situation is in danger, due to rampant development projects that seriously destroy the Amazonian region, as well as Jesuits and collaborator Sisters and lay people working with them in the Amazon, made direct appeals on the situation. Brazilian, Marina Silva, an Indigenous former Minister for the Environment spoke on the possible maintenance of the development of the Amazon and the preservation of the environment.

Delegates from Colombia, Brazil, the Amazon, Africa and India presented their views on religious faith (s) and the defense of life with concrete experiences.

From the second day on the workshops continued according to various themes. Faith, Peace and Reconciliation, Social and Political problems, Human Rights were selected for the first day; Faith and the future of Amazonian Culture, Ecology Challenges and Answers, Religion, the Church and new Religion movements for the second day. The participants divided in groups, according to languages (Portuguese and English), shared together their discussions on the selected themes. Then, a coordinator from each group reported to the general assembly. I attended the workshops both days.

The focus of the discussions on the last day centered, again, on the lights and shadows of the Amazonian region. The groups’ discussions searched for concrete ways we could build up a possible sustainable world. I shared with my group the following, “Ecology has given rise to a new business and, as we can observe at the deforestation taking place in Indonesia with the production of bio-fuels, more CO2 emissions are increasing, and ecological movements fuelled by shortsighted commercial concerns cannot provide us with proofs that they positively influence a real preservation of our eco-system.

There are many issues I hardly understand. Of course, the use of cars and electrical appliances that emit little CO2 can, maybe, contribute to prevent global warming. But, if priority is given to the prevention of global warming, apart from being “mottainai”, control on new cars and electric appliances must occur. In other words, there is no other way but to slow down the speed of the economic system and production that are the assumption of actual mass consumption. And since that will produce problems like unemployment, we must also think about this.” Among the opinions expressed, there were those honestly invocating for changes in life styles, as well as those sticking to the production of raw materials for bio-fuels and large-scale coconut plantations that can, at least temporarily hire people, no matter the harms. People expressed freely their views.

The 4-day “Pre-forum Fe’namazonia” was a very fruitful experience and, especially the presence of the Indian delegation SAPI (South Asian People’s Initiative) and the Amazonian Indigenous “travelling team” was unforgettable. Their opinions, during the discussions of the small groups’ workshops were sometimes surprising to me. Living in first world countries, with such an overflow of information, I somehow felt the danger existing on getting accustomed to think abstractly on the basis of our information. The indigenous travelling team and the members of the Indian SAPI live quite apart and own totally different cultures, but it appeared clearly at the exchange party that they share common sentiments and that, both confront similar difficult issues under the influence of neo-liberal globalization. They have met Christianity, but their spirituality, different from the European, has nurtured their faith or relationship to God. India and the Amazon, different regional cultures and traditions worshipping God, but no matter differences, the image both have of God is so much the same that I felt newly surprised. It’s nothing but my personal view: they seem to have a feeling of God, better than to know him theoretically. I also felt the high level of religious sensitivity common to indigenous people. I remembered the “Life Fabric” or the letter sent by the Native American Chief to President Washington, at the time of the Western settlements when a presidential order was issued expelling the Indians and buying their lands. I was surprised in realizing the prophetic roles of such indigenous people..

< What is the WSF? >

Before reporting on the content of the WSF I want to explain its meaning first.
The WSF held in Brazil from January 27 to February 1 was the 9th Forum that was started in Porto Alegre in 2001.

According to the recorded data published there were 133,000 participants coming from 142 countries and 6,000 organizations (500 from Europe and Africa each and 4,000 from Latin American countries)

WSFs are held every year at the end of January. The reason is to hold them at the time of the Davos World Economic Forum (WEF). In other words, in order to understand the nature and the beginning of the WSF one needs to understand the content of the WEF.

The WEF or the so-called “Davos Conference” is organized every year at the Swiss tourist resort of Davos. In Japan is ordinarily known as the Davos Conference. Usually, about 3,000 people participate. They are CEOs from nearly 1,000 big companies, political leaders, like Presidents and Prime Ministers, selected scholars, intellectuals and journalists. The yearly fee is about 3 million Yen (US$30,000).

About 75% of the 3,000 participants come from Europe (39%) and North American countries (36%) and 4.1% from the Middle East. The populations of Europe and North American countries count for 17% of the world population and that of the Middle East is only 0.8% of the World’s. In fact, 80% of the participants to the Davos Conference represent less than 20% of the world. Thus, it’s easy to understand how regionally biased the WEF is. Thinking about Asia where 60% of the world population lives, its presence at the WEF is just 7.7%. In other words, Davos is not a site directly representing the overwhelming 80% of the population of the world.

On the other hand, the real serious world problems, like wars, hunger, disease, political oppression and violence occur in the lands where this 80% people live. We may say to some respect that the sponsors of WEF are those that have organized the world structures filled with actual gaps. The aim of the adjustments favored by the WEF is, basically, the continuation of promoting the neo-liberal free economic market and one doubt whether Davos really shows any interest in solving North-South differences and world poverty. Anybody confronting world realities can find the answer.

The first WSF was organized in Porto Alegre (Brazil) in the year 2001, in order to confront the Davos WEF and the fact that South America (Brazil) became the founder of WSF holds a great symbolic meaning.

“Another World is Possible,” the motto of the WSF has become well-known everywhere. In other words, there is a general basic awareness considering the present world system as a symbol of structures built by a handful of persons represented at the Davos Conference. Such a world is filled with a poverty gap and oppressive structures where many people are facing all kinds of serious problems. Our aim is to search for possibilities of a different world, not one lead by the Davos WEF.

A place where most people freely participate, discuss and make decisions together. Once such a process is safeguarded another world can be built.

In other words, the WSF in the search for another possible world can object to people, influenced by the present political, economic and social structures of a system producing the gaps and offer an alternative of networks of people dedicated to look for global ways to build just societies for everybody where human rights, democracy and peace are provided to all. This could, most probably, mean an alternative globalization to the present neo-liberalistic one.

In order to fully understand the aim for “Another World” and obtain a concrete image of it, let’s take a look at the 10 goals offered by the WSF-9.

The welcome massage by Labour Party of Brazil

1. For the construction of a world of peace, justice, ethics and respect for different spiritualities, free of weapons, especially nuclear ones;

2. For the release of the world domain by capital, multinationals corporations, imperialist, patriarchal, colonial and neo-colonial domination and unequal systems of commerce, by canceling the impoverish countries debt;

3. For universal and sustainable access to the common property of mankind and nature, for the preservation of our planet and its resources, particularly water, forests and renewable energy sources;

4. For the democratization and independence of knowledge, culture and communication and for the creation of a system of shared knowledge and acquirement with the dismantling of Intellectual Property Rights;

5. For the dignity, diversity, ensuring the equality of gender, race, ethnicity, generation, sexual orientation and elimination of all forms of discrimination and caste (discrimination based on descent);

6. For the insurance (during the lifetime use of all people) of the economic, social, human, cultural and environmental rights, particularly the rights to food, health, education, housing, employment and decent work, communication and food security and sovereignty;

7. For the construction of a world order based on sovereignty, self-determination and on people’s rights, including minorities and migrants;

8. For the construction of a democratic emancipator, sustainable and solidarity economy, focused on every people and based on ethical and fair trade;

9. For the construction and expansion of truly local, national and global democratic political and economic structures and institutions, with the participation of people in decisions and control of public affairs and resources;

10. For the defense of the environment (Amazon and others ecosystems) as source of life for the planet Earth and for the original peoples of the world (indigenous, tribal and riverine, afro-descendent), that demand their territories, languages, cultures, identities, environmental justice, spiritually and right to live.

All participants held their workshops’ discussions upon the basis of such 10 goals. Two Brazilian universities, Universidade Federal do Para (UFPA) and Universidade Federal Rural da Amazonia (UFRA) offered their campuses as the main site of WSF-9.

< The World Social Forum >

Opening parade in a squall

A walking rally in the afternoon of January 27 marked the beginning of WSF-9. Most probably, tens of thousands paraded through the streets of Belem for 4 hours that day. When we, the participants of the Jesuit pre-forum, arrived by bus at the departure point of the rally, people had already filled the streets, pressing each other and bringing along colorful flags, banners and various kinds of musical instruments.

Even if only half of the 133,000 participants and organizations took part in the parade, one can guess the cheerfulness of about 60,000 people parading there.

A Brazilian style sudden squall surprised us at the start of the parade, but no matter the strong pounding of the rain people continued the rally. The young Brazilian participants seemed to enjoy especially the rally under the heavy squall. During the parade I was able to meet with people of Japanese organizations, like “Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution” bringing their flag, “Osaka’s WSF,” “ATTAC Japan” and “People’s Plan Research Center.” I was able to meet with AKIMOTO Yoko of ATTAC Japan and I heard that about 25 persons had come this time to the WSF-9. In fact, during the Forum I could not practically meet any Japanese person. Most probably, the Japanese media did not report on the Forum and it was most interested on the Davos Conference. On the contrary, Latin American reporters were everywhere present. Again, maybe because the participation of Japanese and Asians seemed curious to western reporters I was interviewed by some French and English media people. I think that the awareness on the existence of the WSF is different in Europe and in Japan.

The Forum officially opened on January 28 and hundreds of workshops begun to run in the campuses of UFPA and UFRA. We, the members of the “Pre-forum Fe’namazonia” presented our report at the UFPA.

My main problems during the whole Forum were language hardship and the difficulty to get hold of information. The official language at the former WSF of Nairobi (Kenya) was English, but this one held in Brazil was admirably done only in Portuguese.

Sound demonstration

The main language at the Jesuit pre-forum was also Portuguese, but English-language interpreters perfectly helped to solve language problems. English facilities were poor at the WSF. The reality was that a few workshops were conducted with the help of English-language interpreters, but most workshops lacked them. This was understandable because a majority of the participants were Latin Americans and I had the feeling that was a sign for the Latin American cultural block to assure their identity as an independent region, not belonging to North American English cultural block.

My options were necessarily limited: either to select a workshop with English-language interpreters or one in Portuguese with somebody that could help me speaking English.

As a result, there was no possibility left to select a definite theme, but I went around looking for workshops with interesting themes, like development issues of the Amazon, indigenous and minority groups, pilot programs for ecological preservation, international network for the promotion of human rights, privatization of public services (water facilities, etc.), labor under neo-liberalism, solidarity economics, peace, anti-war movements, etc.

Finally, I would like to mention 2 significant aspects of the WSF-9. The first one was the participation of 85 indigenous groups from the Amazon and the SAPI members from India. They strongly manifested pride to belong to their tribal minority groups. Their very right for identity that is being threatened by neo-liberalistic globalization was made vividly apparent through the expression of concrete situations. “Another World” must be rooted on the basis of “life,” and be sensitive to issues concerning it. It becomes necessary to pay attention to their open reflections and natural wisdom.

Indigenous peoples

The second aspect was the presence of many Latin American youth. It is certainly hopeful to realize that so many young people feel attracted to build “Another World.” Latin American countries are surely moving into searching for ways to build a different society. They are moving away from the USA-led neo-liberalistic FTTA (Federal Technology Transfer Act), and from the international systems, IMF (International Monetary Fund) and WB(World Bank). Instead, they are implementing concrete steps to form a South American Bank, under the frameworks of ALBA (Alternativa Boliviarana para las Americas) and UNASUR (Union de Naciones Suramericanas). On the 3rd day of the Forum, 5 left wing Presidents of Latin America (Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay) gathered and made speeches to an overflowing crowd of people. Of course, all countries have their hidden agendas and the degree of earnestness for a coalition is different. Nevertheless, it is true that the motives behind such political moves in Latin America are caused by the wishes of many around the world to implement more just societies, not a neo-liberalistic world where the stronger prey upon the weaker.

In my way home to the residence I met people of the rural group MST (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra) parading through the streets. This group is one of the organizations represented at the WSF and it is publicly well-known in Brazil. From the very beginning of its foundation the Catholic Church and the Jesuits continue its support. I heard that the Jesuit novices of the central province of Brazil are always having their monthly experiments with the MST communities. At the negotiations with Brazilian President Lula, just before the WSF started, President Lula promised the MST a million houses for free. I experienced clearly the latent energy of the country that gave birth to liberation theology.

Presidents from 5 countries

This time I had the opportunity of meeting with many people and participating in many events at the WSF-9. It was a wonderful time of blessings for me. Reflecting on my regency on social apostolate, I had 2 years of very good experiences meeting with many people. From April, I will start my theological studies and it would be wonderful if I could be able to slowly digest fully the wonderful experiences I had meeting people. I want to sincerely thank all those I have met during my 2 years of regency.


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