January 25, 2003

Brazilian President Says Poverty is the Priority

By Lucimara Nunes and Érica Junghans

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil — If the third World Social Forum is a party, then Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is the honorary host.

State police estimated between 50,000 and 70,000 people filled the Sunset Amphitheater, giving da Silva a hero’s welcome for his keynote speech.

Taking a few initial boos in stride, the president addressed his imminent departure for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland — which some activists view as a political betrayal.

Since taking office this month, his economic team has placated markets and investors by avoiding radical changes, and honoring commitments made by the preceding, more fiscally conservative, government.

But da Silva told supporters here that his priorities were the general welfare rather than strict economics, and feeding his country’s poor rather than expanding agricultural exports

He said he would carry the World Social Forum spirit to Davos, and tell attendees there that “African children have the same right to food as blue-eyed children born in Nordic countries.”

Acknowledging his origins as a union organizer, da Silva said that he is aware of what his climb to power means to the political left worldwide.

“I’ll be in India, China, anywhere the next World Social Forum will take place, because I’m a result of the work you have been doing,” he said.

Once in Davos, da Silva and his economic and trade ministers are likely to seek investment in his Zero Hunger Program, an effort to alleviate malnutrition affecting 45 million people in Brazil.

He also promised to push issues that Davos attendees have yet to put on their agenda, including overturning the embargo against Cuba, changing investment practices that are unfavorable to developing nations, and addressing corruption in wealthy nations.

“If these rich countries want to help [developing nations] they should not to accept money from drug traffickers,” said da Silva, in an implied criticism of the anonymous Swiss banking system.

 

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