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Burma's exiled ethnic nationalities seminar held in North America

KAOWAO NEWS NO. 103

Newsletter for social justice and freedom in Burma
January 21 - February 1, 2006

Readers front

Elderly, beaten and tortured as rebel sympathizers

Army targets villagers for not speaking Burmese

Out of control logging worries local people

Educators tutor older students in Mon language

First Mon newspaper to be published in Thailand

SPDC ease back on reconnaissance in Rangoon

Col Sai Yee elected to SSA leadership

Local community protest antimony plant

Respect, harmony to promote business on Thai-Burma border

The right to Vote is a privilege

Chavez Calls For Socialism Or Death


Readers front

Dear readers,

We invite comments and suggestions on improvements to Kaowao newsletter. With your help, we hope that Kaowao News will continue to grow to serve better the needs of those seeking social justice in Burma. And we hope that it will become an important forum for discussion and debate and help readers to keep abreast of issues and news.  We reserve the right to edit and reject articles without prior notification. You can use a pseudonym but we encourage you to include your full name and address.

Regards,

Editor

Kaowao News

kaowao@hotmail.com, www.kaowao.org


Dear Editor,

This is a valuable piece of writing (Understanding the SPDC General Bo Kyaw Nyein).  Too bad, it is not accompanied by brief two-liner to say who Kyaw Nyein is and what his credentials are for writing something like this.

Eric Snider

Victoria, Canada


Dear Editor,

The idea of Nai Thet Lwins Mon-Burman reconciliation may help break the political stalemate in Burma, the Land of Pagodas in Kaowao Issue No. 102 is too radical and too far behind.  We should focus our present situation rather than looking back the past that will never return.  All people of Burma should be united to topple down our common enemy, the suppressive military regime.

Min Nai

KL, Malaysia


It is a great essay (Rethinking a Parliamentary-Federal Proposal for Burma by Salai Za Uk Ling). Well written and organized.  Very professional, thanks to have such writing.

Kwae Mon

Canberra, Australia


I just wanted to point out something about treating chicken pox.  This was a norm for Canadian children to get chicken pox and it is better than getting it when you are older as the symptoms worsen with age.   You tend to develop lifelong immunity once you have had the illness.  There is no medication for this.  You treat the fever and keep the skin clean.  It is important that health workers educate themselves and not spread panic as stress can impact the immune system.  When I was at the Halockhani Refugee camp I saw a lot of practices that were in desperate need of improvement and education.  That is the major reason why I am studying nursing right now so I can go and volunteer.  Thanks guys for listening and passing this information around.  Lets not be like Americans and spread panic when it is not necessary.

Tara

Vancouver, Canada


Mon State at war

Village under siege: elderly, beaten and tortured as rebel sympathizers
(Kaowao, February 1, 2006)

Sangkhalaburi -- Local authorities beat and kicked an elderly villager on the head after accusing him of supporting a Mon national armed group in the area. The suspected villager, Nai Adin age 68, was forced to crouch in the hot sun along with 1000 villagers last month.

The only medical care he received was herbal leaves applied to his wounds to stop the bleeding. They were trying to get him to confess on the whereabouts of the Mon armed group in the area said a traumatized detainee, Ms Mi Tin Shwe age 56 who fled to the border recently during an interview with a Kaowao reporter on the Thai side.

Located in northern Ye Byu Township, Wear Kwao (Pauk Pin Kwin in Burmese) village in Tenasserim Division, near Mon State, consists of over 400 households.  The troubled region has suffered the effects of civil war over the past decade; over 75 per cent of villagers have fled from the area.

As I remember it, Ici Ngwe Khin age 70 lost consciousness while sitting on the ground and my brother-in-law Nai Tun Aung age 56 lost one leg after being tortured.  My husband left the village for about four months for fear of being killed as Mon rebel sympathizers, said Shwe who left the village two weeks ago.

The whole village, consisting of about 300 to 400 households, were detained on the ground after a SPDC military column based near the village was ambushed and two of their soldiers were killed in the second week of December last year she explained.

A young woman, Shwe War age 22, gave birth during the night while under detention, the villagers named the baby boy Memh Railway Station (Budar in Burmese).

People named him Budar because he was born on the railway station platform she said.

Ms Shwe described what happened:

The Burmese authorities surrounded the village at night and the suspected Mon guerilla sympathizers were rounded up and cruelly tortured on the ground, almost all of them were men including the elderly. They (Burmese soldiers) beat them over their entire body: head, fingers, legs, arms, knees, and hands, everywhere. Many suffered from wounds from being kicked and beaten with gun butts; some, like Amar age 25 was wounded over his entire body. Some were tortured later on. Nai Kha, age 70 can only eat boiled rice because his mouth and face is badly beaten and swollen.

They were forced to line up, then told to lie face down on the ground, the three soldiers started to beat them severely she explained. They were especially cruel to the ones who couldnt speak Burmese and were beaten more in response to questions asked by the soldiers.

Then they were forced to beat each other after the soldiers got tired.

My son, Nai Pha, the village secretary, age 32 was arrested and for three days was tortured last year, he left the village after that she added.

My daughter with her two month old baby was slapped and her baby fell to the ground, I cried out said Nai Hla Aung aged 64. He was detained along with his daughter; the SPDC accused the husband of being a Mon rebel supporter.

Children cried all day, for two whole days; some were hungry and some were hot during the day and too cold at night Shwe explained. As I remember it there were about ten pregnant women she added.

Another problem was that there were no toilets for the whole time, we had to go where we were being held, no privacy she added. We would be shot if we tried to go anywhere else outside the center she quoted a Sergeant as saying.

There were about 30 soldiers guarding the ground. A column of Light Infantry Battalion No 299 led by Major Sar Oo is taking the offensive against a Mon guerilla armed group, which consists of no less then ten soldiers, most rebels dont have guns to fight with.


Army targets villagers for not speaking Burmese
(Kaowao, February 1, 2004)

Sangkhalaburi -- According to refugees who recently fled from Wear Kwao of northern Ye Byu Township, villagers were forced to work as laborers and tortured simply for not speaking Burmese.

Nai Hla Aung from Wear Kwao explained what happens to the village when the Burmese troops arrive over the past 9 years:

About 24 villagers in two groups are put on standby and are called upon to porter when the troops take the offensive. When not on the offensive, villagers are forced to get water from the stream and collect wood and vegetables for cooking. Other villagers are ordered to guard the railway road against rebel attacks, such as bombs being thrown at soldiers at night.

Children age 10 were forced to work as laborers for the troops, but were replaced by adults when the troops needed them to carry ammunition to launch an offensive Aung explained.

He fled the village with the others because he can speak Burmese and is able to communicate with SPDC soldiers, but worried that the Mon armed group will attack him. He added that the there was no fighting or open fire between the two sides, only the occasional ambush like the one last month in which SPDC soldiers were killed. The SPDC soldiers are afraid of launching an offensive outside the village he added.

The village abbot age 70 wanted to leave the village, but was forced by the SPDC to stay at the village and is distressed with the situation.

Most villagers cannot speak Burmese and because of this four were used to pull an ox-cart as torture, and like an ox, a small piece of wood with nails was used to make the men walk he added. Nai Agoh, Nai Apin and two others were tortured in this manner.  Many were tortured simply for not speaking Burmese because they couldnt explain where the rebels were hiding.

Mr Nai Aboh age 30 and Mr Nai Akyin age 35 each paid seven hundred Kyats to the commander to be freed and the village abbot was ordered to make sure they didnt communicate with the rebel group Aung further explained.

Ms, Tin Shwe says that she has given everything and has no more money left, her husband had to flee to the border in the hope of getting work on a rubber plantation to survive.

We have no more money, we must work on the plantation in Thailand Shwe said.

There are two groups from the village who just arrived at the border on the Thai side; they say more villagers will arrive soon.

Many of our villagers have moved out to other villages over the years, no one wants to live in that village anymore. But it is not easy to sneak out of the village, we can only escape gradually, we would be shot dead if caught she explained.


Can't see the forest for the trees: out of control logging worries local people
(Nai Akah, Kaowao: January 31, 2006)

Ye -- Over one thousand cubic tonnes are being logged from Burmas southern forests in Tanesserim Division every year by 3 logging companies, sources from the area say.

The Htoo, Linn Yaung Chi, and May companies log the forests with permission from SPDC and pay taxes to three ethnic armed groups, namely, New Mon State Party, Democratic Karen Buddhist Army and Karen National Union who are active in the eastern part of Mon State and Tenasserim Division.

Nai Akah, an environmentalist from southern Mon State says that 'most logs are transported to foreign countries.' There are 3 areas in which logging is occurring, one in Mon State and the other two are in Ye Byu township of Tenasserim Division.

Having permission to produce 1000 cubic tonnes each, the companies are working at capacity to reach the targeted amount.  'Loggers from Linn Yaung Chi are cutting down almost all sizes of trees including the smaller ones, but the smaller ones are left behind.  The managers take only the big trees,' he said.

 There were more forest fires last year during the dry season because the branches and leaves of the trees being cut down are left to dry in the forest said Nai Par Ngeh a Mon villager from southern Ye.  Plus the small streams in the area are being clogged up by debris and soil from the logging he added.

'Orchid and other species of flora in the area used to fill the forest in the past, but now we cannot see any because of more fires' says a local Mon hunter from Aleh Sahkan.  The wildlife has also been affected by deforestation and local hunters say they havent seen that many monkeys, gibbons, and deer he pointed out.

Due to deforestation, traditional gardeners whose livelihood depends on how much their crops produce are worried about low production.  'Betel nut trees need more oxygen and water, especially during the dry season,' explained Nai Thein, a gardener from Ye township. 'My garden used to produce about four thousand betel nuts, but now it produces two and half thousand because of the longer dry season' he added. According to local gardeners, 45% of their gardens have gotten less water from a rise in temperature in the area.

Traditional logging practices in the area have also been affected by the bigger timber firms who are displacing them. Local people have been making a living on small-scale logging and bamboo production for generations says the environmentalist.  'We cannot live without trees, streams and wildlife' says Nai Chein from southern Mon State.

Most local people are ethnic Mon, Karen and Tavoyan and are worried about what will happen to them if the bigger firms continue to operate without any control or regulation.


Educators tutor older students in Mon language
(Kaowao, January 21, 2006)

Sangkhalaburi -- The Mon refugee community recently celebrated the graduation of some of their older students who completed a two-month learning the basics in Mon language course at Halockanee refugee camp along with the camp children.

I was surprised to see older people join the language classes despite putting in a full days work on their farms said Ms Aie Sorn, secretary and educator of the Mon Youth Progressive Organization who sponsored the class.

Every day they set off to work collecting branches in the early morning, then weave and bind brooms in the evening, then after they would come to our class to learn Mon, their mother tongue. The class begins in the late evening to accommodate people who work during the day said a source from the camp.

In our class of 33 students, there are only a small number of males, 75 percent are women and the remaining are men said the teacher. The three trainers also provide companionship and support to the older students only a few can read and write in Burmese, but all express a desire to learn to read and write in their mother tongue explained one of the tutors.

Coordinator for the group, Miss Mi Morh said she wants equal access for men and women to learn Mon and English, but is unable to find more men, both young and old. We also dont have enough books and other school supplies, we should be able to accommodate more students from the surrounding area she explained.

We are not blind or illiterate in our language now, we can read and write a little now said a recent graduate who spoke at the closing ceremony Jan 15.

Men feel responsible for their families and that may explain why some dont attend the free classes, though many are busy working noted Sorn. But most of the students want to continue with their studies and will return for more classes she added.

All the students have high expectations of us, we are seen as a sort of recovery strategy in which they can gain control of their lives pointed out Sorn.

Education has been an important part of refugee assistance in the Mon camps, Halocknee refugee serves 3 villages.  Ive been trying to get more elderly men involved Sorn said. For many students, learning Mon and English were cited as the most important need and the Mon women group at the border have set up another six-month English class inside southern Mon State along the border.


First Mon newspaper to be published in Thailand
(Mi Loa Htaw, IMNA: January 27, 2006)

Voices of Mon the first Mon newspaper to be published in Thailand is ready to be distributed from February.

The Voices of Mon will be printed both in Mon and in the Thai language and it will cover activities of Mon people in Thailand and Mon state, business culture and news, said the publisher Nai Ong, chairman of Thai Raman Organization.

We want to see Mon people understand people in Thailand, he added.  A Mon migrant worker in Thailand Nai Sa Ha Mon also said that it is very important for Mon people to understand people of Thailand because the cultures are quite different.

I think we will become more united if the newspaper can help us understand each other, said Nai Sa Ha Mon.   For the first time we will distribute newspapers for free. And we want to invite our people to subscribe to our newspaper at 200 Bath per year. So we can continue publishing Nai Ong said.

The newspaper will publish one thousand copies, twenty pages in Thai and four pages in Mon language. Actually we want to have more pages in Mon but the problem is we dont have enough writers who can write the Mon language added Nai Ong.

Even though it is a newspaper it will be published two months at a time. In Thai-Mon history, it will be the first such newspaper. There have been Thai Mon newspapers before but it was only in Thai language with Mons born in Thailand publishing it. But now both Mon people in Thailand and Mon people from Mon state will work together to bring out the newspaper.


Politics

SPDC ease back on reconnaissance in Rangoon
(Kaowao, January 22, 2006)

Sangkhalaburi -- The daily watch on activities of the Mon political group has eased off recently, said MNDF chairman, Nai Tun Thein.

The SPDC intelligence officers from Rangoon no longer routinely ask me about the situation, they are more relaxed from before, the 80 year old chairman said. I reckon it has something to do with the atmosphere in the command structure, Khin Nyunt had a much stronger relationship with the MI units, than this Burma Army unit, he pointed out.

Nai Tun Thein said that he has to report to SPDC intelligence only when he travels outside Rangoon.  He added that the situation is very different from when General Khin Nyunt was in charge of Military Intelligence or MI, who was more forceful and skillful in reconnaissance.

However, the situation in Mon and Karen State is different to Rangoon. Some members from Karen State said that they have to meet secretly during religious and social parties and not out in the open.

We continue to attract the best people for our political activities, and many of those, young and old, have to be imaginative at meeting in secret to avoid their eyes, said a senior member of the MNDF, only Mon political party from Pha-ann township, Karen State, who spoke to Kaowao over phone and requested not to be identified for security reasons.

The MNDF won five seats in the 1990 general election.  Its leaders Nai Tun Thein, Nai Ngwe Thein, Dr. Min Kyi Win, and Dr. Min Soe Lin were arrested in 1998 for urging the armed New Mon State Party to reconsider its position on its cease-fire agreement with the SPDC and for supporting the Committee Representing Peoples Parliament (CRPP).  Nai Tun Thein was later released and put under house arrest due to his age and poor health. He is a Mon scholar and has been a respected leader in the Mon national political movement for over 5 decades.


Col Sai Yee elected to SSA leadership

Col Sai Yee, formerly of the ceasefire group Shan State National Army (SSNA), has recently been elected to the anti-Rangoon Shan State Army - South's supreme political body, according to the statement issued today.

According to the statement, the annual meeting of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), held 21-25 January at Loi Taileng, opposite Maehongson's Pang Mapha district, had re-elected Col Yawdserk as President and elected Col Sai Yee, who had returned to the armed struggle after 3 of his units were forced to "exchange arms for peace" last April and May, as Vice President.

The meeting also resolved to uphold its Six Guiding Principles: Independence, Unity, People's Welfare, Democracy, Peace and Anti-Narcotics.

Throughout last year, the group has been attacked by its critics as deviating from its founding principles.


Local community protest antimony plant
(Kaowao, January 25, 2006)

Sangkhalaburi -- An antimony manufacture plant located at the Three Pagodas Pass border town was shut down for four days following employee protests over health concerns of workers and the local community, sources from the border town said.

"Three Pagodas Pass residents protested last week and the plant was shut down for four days last week; today it reopened after bribing SPDC authorities, a Mon national who wishes not to be named due to security reasons said.  They (local residents) told the SPDC authorities of a toxic odor coming from the plant, he added.

'Over forty workers of the plant do not wear masks and gloves to prevent exposure to the metal, and local residents worry for their health living so close to the manufacturing plant. Last week they told authorities about the health hazard which led to the closure for four days' the source explained.

The plant is owned by Nawarat of Thailand who signed a contract with the Rangoon government to process the metal in an area under the control of the Karen National Union. 'A Thai businessman wanted to mine for antimony in the area under KNU control, which is about a half day's drive from Three Pagodas Pass' the source added. 'There are about 60 mine workers, most of whom are Karen people, with each earning about 100 baht a day.

'The company does not dare operate inside Thailand, the local Thai wouldn't put up with the plant being there' he said. World demand for antimony is very strong in recent years and has increased 150% over the past 4 years, on the world market it sells at $3750 US dollars per tonne. (Source: httwww.mbendi.co.za/a_sndmsg/news_view.asp?I=72003&PG=15)

The industry produces about half a ton of antimony daily equivalent to 24 bags, one bag is 24 kilograms. 'It is then transported to Thailand for the industrial process, more trucks have been entering Burma to dig more mines in the area' the source explained further.

Antimony has a wide variety of applications used in the industrial process, it is also used in making cosmetics such as eye pencils. It is a silvery light, brittle metal and is usually mixed with other metals such as lead and zinc as alloys, which are used in industrial processing to make batteries, ammunition, pewter, semi-conductors, and sheet metal, etc.

Exposure to antimony is similar to arsenic in terms of its affect on health. Repeated exposure through inhalation or contact with skin or eyes can cause serious health problems.  In small doses it can cause high blood pressure, dizziness, ulcers, and depression; in high doses stomach cramps, frequent vomiting, cardiac abnormalities, and death. People with respiratory or heart problems and high blood pressure are especially at risk.


Business

Respect, harmony to promote business on Thai-Burma border
(Kawao, January 24, 2006)

Sangkhalaburi -- The Thai-Myanmar Cultural and Economic Cooperation will kick off a multi-ethnic trade fair to foster better economic and business relationships on Jan 28.

'The 9 day event will feature the best of what the cultures living on the Thai Burma border have to offer to promote Three Pagodas Pass as a major route for border trade' says Nai Sak, a Thai Mon businessman from the border.

'The trade fair is scheduled to begin Jan 28 to Feb 5 at Three Pagodas Pass, Thai side, and will showcase the main ethnic groups' he added.

'This is a great opportunity for us to build up our business confidence and work on ideas that will help promote tourism between the two countries' he quoted a Thai businessmen as saying.

The major ethnic groups who live side by side at the border, the Mon, Karen, Thai, and Lao cultures will each have a chance to present their own entertainment and exhibitions' specialties along with Burmese and Thai culture shows. On the last day an event on Jan 29 will be held to celebrate the traditional wear of all the major groups, according to a local Thai FM radio programme, a winner will be chosen.

'Product displays of local handmade items such as textiles and other produced goods, such as specialty foods, handicrafts and jewelry will also be displayed in the fair' Sak added.

General Surim Jantiam of Thailand will head the Thai business group joined by local Thai-Mon business people who live along the border town, who are also members of TMCECC.

The TMCECC was founded 2001 by General Khin Nyunt and General Chavalit Yongchaiyudy, the Thai Mon businesswoman in Sangkhlaburi, who owned Songkalia Resort, joined up in 2002.  According to leaflet distributed, this same committee has plans to build a motor road from Kanchanaburi to Mon State, Kalargote island, but for the time being it has been put on hold pending finance and funding.


The right to Vote is a privilege
(By Za Ceu Lian, Chinland Guardian)

As January 23, 06- the federal election is approaching day by day, leaders of the different political parties and their respective candidates across Canada are campaigning hard in order to get elected.  In a democracy, the right to stand for office and the right to vote, or not to vote, in election is enjoyed by every citizen. Although in countries like Australia this is only half-true because voting is compulsory.

 Growing up under one of the cruellest military regimes (Burmese military regime) in our day, I understand the right to vote is a real privilege and not the one to be taken for granted.  In a country like Burma, where military dictators rule at gunpoint, people do not have a chance to vote for the government of their choice.

 Even if the elections are held, the military regime will not honour the result of the election unless they win. Indeed, in 1990, two years after the Junta's mass killings of thousands of demonstrators who were demanding the restoration of Democracy in Burma in the year 1988, the Burmese despotic regime held the general election, promising the citizens that legitimate power would be handed over to the winning Party. Believing that the regime would respect the outcome of the election, the people of Burma participated in the general election called by the military regime in 1990. In that election, the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party led by a Noble Peace Prize recipient, Aung San Suu Kyi had won a landslide victory, attaining more than 83% of the seats in the Burmese Parliament.

 Shameless and corrupt, the group of dictators flatly ignored the wills of the people clearly expressed in the general election. Contrary to their promise, instead of handing over power to the winning party, NLD, the military dictators imprisoned those Political leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the ongoing pro-democracy movement.

Still today, the regime refused to give power to the winner of the 1990 general election. Beside their flagrant refusal, more than 1500 political prisoners including the Noble Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi are still in detention.

By looking at the example of Burma, I hope my Canadian friends will understand that the democratic right, particularly the right to vote in elections, is a real privilege, and a rare one that so many people of the world do not enjoy.

 I understand that some people might disagree with me for comparing a democratic country like Canada, where we enjoy our fundamental freedom and democratic rights, and un-democratic country like Burma where there is no freedom or democratic rights whatsoever under the current military junta. Regardless of whether or not one country is democratic, the point I want to make here is how fortunate people here are to have the right to vote. Let us appreciate the fact that we have a right to vote and make use of it for the sake of our nation's well being.

 Out of my interest, I talked to some of my local friends both at school and at work regarding this coming election. Most of them are quite cynical about the term politics and politicians. I am disappointed by the fact that some of them intend not to vote. To them, it seems that there is no party they want to vote for. I dont care about politics and All the politicians are corrupted, is what I was mostly told.

Given the sponsorship and Income Trust scandals, it is understandable that some of my local friends are cynical about politics. I think many might share this feeling of frustration about politics. I understand the frustration discouraging people not to participate in election, but am worried that not enough attention is paid to the reasons WHY we should participate in elections.

Even though I fully respect individuals right not to vote in elections, the notion that concerns me personally is the question of being a responsible citizen. No matter how much corruption is going on or how messy politics is, I believe that we are owe it to our nation to fulfill our responsibility as a citizen through our vote or other means.

Let's be aware of the impact of our vote and our obligation as a responsible citizen. Whether we have alternatives or not in this coming election, I think we should choose to get out and vote for the party from the alternatives available to us. As responsible citizens, we should care about the future course of our nation.  I believe that elections are the time when we collectively can alter the course and future direction of our nation. This is the moment allowing us, especially well-informed students, to make the right choice by making use of our individual right to vote which so many people all over the world, like students and other people in Burma do not have at all.

(Note: The forwarded commentary piece by Salai Za Ceu Lian, was published by the University of Winnipeg Student Weekly Uniter, Canada on 19th January, 06, five days prior to the actual federal election of Canada.)


Around the Globe

Chavez Calls For Socialism Or Death
By Jim McIlroy & Chris Kerr, Green Left Weekly
30 January, 2006

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez proclaimed socialism or death in finishing his rousing speech to a rally of around 10,000 people at the Polihedro Stadium on January 27. The rally was a feature of the Latin American section of the Sixth World Social Forum held in Caracas on January 24-29.

The forum attracted an audience of up to 100,000 people from all over Latin America and the world, to a feast of more than 2000 public meetings and seminars on themes of anti-imperialist globalisation and the struggle for a better world.

Chavez said that unlike Karl Marx, when he first issued the call for socialism in the 19th century, we do not have much time left. The 21st century has now come, when the dilemma must be finally resolved.

Time is short. If we do not change the world now, there may be no 22nd century for humanity. Capitalism has destroyed the ecological equilibrium of the earth. It is now or never!, Chavez declared. We should go toward setting up a worldwide anti-imperialist movement. We have already taken steps in this direction, Chavez told the cheering crowd. He commented that at the previous WSF in Porto Alegre in 2005, many talks were occurring without conclusions. We are not here to waste our time. We must urgently build a new socialist movement.

Chavez blasted the US empire. It is the most perverse empire in history: It talks about freedom while invading and destroying other nations ... The empire is very powerful, but not infallible. This century we will bury the US empire. The empire has to face the people of Venezuela and Latin America. It has failed in Iraq already.

He urged the audience to imagine a world in which the US administration declares peace to the world, withdraws its forces, and uses its resources to produce medicines and food for the poor people of the world.

Chavez contrasted the USs record to the achievements of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela, with the help of Cuba, which taught 1.5 million people to read through Mission Robinson in just two years.

Injustice and inequality are losing: it is now up to us to define the formula of unity for victory. We need unity of all our currents. While respecting the right to autonomy of the movements, including the green movement and the various political and national movements, all of us should get together in a victorious offensive against imperialism.

Many prominent figures in the international progressive movement were featured on a podium, including Aleida Guevara (Ches daughter) and Cindy Sheehan (US anti-war leader whose son was killed in Iraq). Huge applause greeted Chavezs speech, and the rally included a rousing rendition of the workers anthem, The Internationale.

Chavezs stress on the need for urgent international political action against global capitalism and oppression was a major theme of the forum. The whole conference was filled with the overwhelming influence of the Venezuelan revolution. The Bolivarian spirit was pervasive from the very first day, when around 20,000 activists marched to launch the WSF. The lively and colourful march featured the banners, clothing and chants of the many national contingents, especially from Latin America.

One contingent was a group of around 15 Australians, marching with the banner of the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network and chanting: Chavez, friend! Australians are with you!

A panel with speakers from the National Union of Workers, the worker-managed Alcasa aluminum factory, organisers from participatory budgets in Brazil, and well-known radical intellectuals, discussed how co-management and participatory budgeting were weapons in the struggle against capitalism and in building a democratic socialism of the 21st century. It also featured debate on the strengths and weakness of these various experiments so far.

Another panel of radical Latin American economists discussed how the Latin American integration project known as the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA) was the antithesis of the US-inspired Free Trade Area of the Americas. The panellists discussed how ALBA gave activists a strategic and concrete alternative to struggle for and that it must be a social integration of peoples at every level rather than only of governments and elites.

Another well-attended forum discussed the Marxism of Che Guevara and its relevance. The panel concluded that while Ches thought didnt contain all the elements of 21st century socialism, he articulated its essence by arguing that socialism must be centered on developing new human beings liberated from alienation, and that this can only be achieved through their active participation in building a society free from capitalism and all forms of bureaucracy and hierarchy.

Another forum discussed the massive achievements of Venezuelas social missions in improving the lives of the poor communities, and their role in transforming the communities into organised, conscious and creative social actors in constructing a new socialist Venezuela, thus giving them a revolutionary character in a capitalist society.

Meetings also discussed solidarity work in various countries and plans for coordination of international solidarity activities with the Venezuelan revolution in 2006.

The variety and breadth of topics covered the whole spectrum of debate in the world anti-capitalist globalisation movement. As the WSF draws toward a close, discussion is occurring on the future of the social forum movement and the urgent tasks facing us in the coming year.


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