WORLD SOCIAL FORUM: Protesters March to Afro-Caribbean Beat

Alejandro Kirk

CARTAGENA, Colombia, Jun 17 2003 (IPS) - The young crowd gathered in this old colonial fortress town was quiet and paid close attention Monday as Portuguese Professor Boaventura de Sousa Santos described the elements of a true democracy. But afterwards, demonstrators marched – and danced – in the street to tropical rhythms.

It was unavoidable. At the march kicking off the World Social Thematic Forum (WSTF), which runs through Friday in the northern Colombian resort town of Cartagena, the placards protested an unjust world order that the chanting demonstrators promised to resist. But the Afro-Caribbean drums beat out a rhythm of delight and pleasure, and it was impossible not to dance.

The participants in the WSTF are discussing four central issues: democracy, human rights, war and drug trafficking.

Around 5,000 people marched along the streets of Cartagena, skirting the imposing walls of an empire that believed itself invincible, striding down the elegant restored streets, passing by sordid brothels and cheap hotels, repair shops and empty lots, until arriving, dripping with sweat from the humid tropical heat, at the impressive Plaza de la Aduana city square.

The ”comparsas”, dance teams made up of children, teenagers and elderly persons, almost all of them black, followed the beat of the drums. Semi-dressed in outfits handed down from the memories of slaves, or confined in uncomfortable colonial dress, they danced to a rhythm that evoked freedom.

Someone remarked that the natural sensuality of the children would horrify the champions of the global crusade for morality.

But not in Cartagena, which breathes sensuality on every street corner, while music and fiesta are alive in every face.

Nevertheless, poverty is the day-to-day reality of three-quarters of the people living in this historic city, which is protected by the United Nations as a world cultural heritage site. Cartagena de Indias, Spain’s principal Caribbean port city in the colonies, was also a pirate’s dream, and is now a resort town where expensive hotels and – tax exemptions – abound.

Cartagena, magnificent, merry and poor, is perhaps the reflection of the movement to which the World Social Forum wants to give birth, in order to fight for a world in which ”no one is so poor that they have to sell themselves to anyone else, and no one is so rich that they can purchase someone else,” in the words of French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, who was quoted here by de Sousa Santos.

The march highlighted the diversity of the still vaguely-delineated movement: while a group of adolescents unearthed the old guerrilla chant ”Camilo, Guevara, el pueblo se prepara (the people are getting ready”, a group of black-clad women marching just up ahead demanded the right ”to not give birth to any more children for the war.”

In the monumental plaza designed by the colonialists in the traditional style – a treeless square, flanked by arcades – a symphonic youth orchestra began to play, as the crowd dispersed in the night, to the cafes and bars operating out of the old Spanish shops. The Forum had begun.

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