(Adds comments from Lula, Correa)
By Stuart Grudgings
BELEM, Brazil Jan 29 Left-wing Latin American
presidents blamed the United States on Thursday for the global
economic crisis and said "neo-liberal" capitalism was
U.S. economic mismanagement is causing chaos across the
world and "21st century socialism" is the only way forward,
Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez said, leading the
charge at an international meeting of leftists in Brazil.
"Misery, poverty and unemployment are on the rise, and it's
mostly the fault of global capitalism," Chavez said as cheering
supporters waved red flags at the World Social Forum in the
Amazon city of Belem.
"We are facing a crisis in the global capitalist system and
the irresponsible economic policies of the government of the
United States," he said.
Chavez heads a bloc of anti-U.S. leaders in Latin America
and was joined at the forum of leftist groups by some of his
closest allies -- Presidents Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Fernando
Lugo of Paraguay, and Evo Morales of Bolivia.
About 100,000 activists are attending the forum,
campaigning for everything from anarchism to rain-forest
preservation to a return to Soviet-style communism. The forum
has attracted a record of number of presidents this year as the
financial crisis has sent economies into recession and forced
rich countries to bail out their banking systems.
Correa and Lugo fired up the crowd in a university gym by
serenading them with songs including "Comandante Che Guevara,"
a tribute to the late Latin American revolutionary.
They later joined Brazil's moderate leftist President Luiz
Inacio Lula da Silva at another gathering of thousands of
activists, including hundreds of indigenous Amazon Indians in
traditional headdresses and body paint.
Lula, whose policies have balanced social programs with
free-market orthodoxy, brought a dozen cabinet ministers to the
forum and spurned the Davos summit of business leaders in
Switzerland that he had attended previously.
"I believe the crisis is much more severe. We don't know
how deep it will go," he said, adding that his government would
invest in industry to create jobs rather than give public money
to banks as rich countries have done.
He said the United States and other rich countries should
get the same tough treatment that Latin American countries
received during their financial crises in recent decades. "Now,
I expect the IMF to go to Obama and tell him how to fix the
economy," Lula said, referring to new U.S. President Barack
Lula, a former factory worker who has blamed the crisis on
the United States and "casino" capitalism, got the biggest
cheer of all the leaders on Thursday but avoided socialist
Ecuador's Correa said the crisis showed that the
"neo-liberal" model had failed, and said the social forum was
now more relevant than the Davos World Economic Forum.
"They are the ones responsible for the crisis. They are not
the ones to give us lessons," he said.
Chavez also called on Obama to hand back the Guantanamo Bay
area to Cuba, after praising him for his decision to close the
controversial military prison camp there. He said the economic
crisis was a "virus" invading Latin America and that it should
spur further steps toward regional unity and socialist
Nilvan Rodrigues da Silva, a leader of a Brazilian union of
public workers, said Chavez had more right than Lula to be the
flag-bearer of the left in Latin America.
"Governments like Lula's have allied themselves with the
bourgeoisie, be it national or international. For us, only
socialism can solve the crisis that is attacking the whole
world," he said.
(Additional reporting by Brian Ellsworth in Caracas and
Eduardo Garcia in La Paz; editing by Mohammad Zargham)