Once Lula was a hero of the left - now they heckle him off stage

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Indy Politics

Brazil's president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was heckled on the stage at the World Social Forum yesterday by the same international activists who hailed him as a saviour when he swept to office two years ago. The left-wing firebrand sat stony-faced on stage as he was booed before delivering the keynote address at the annual alternative gathering timed to coincide with the World Economic Forum at the luxury Swiss ski resort of Davos.

As Mr Da Silva entered the sports stadium in the poverty-stricken Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, there were furious calls of "Lula! Come back to reality" ringing in his ears.

From environmentalists to human rights advocates, urban workers and rural poor, left-wing activists are angry with their fallen hero for what they believe is his failure to push for social reforms at home or abroad.

The charismatic leader of Latin America's biggest country has found himself caught between the two forums, and his decision to purchase a new presidential Airbus - which whisked him off to Davos last night - has further stoked the accusations that he betrayed the beliefs which swept him to his landslide election win.

"Of course people can change during their lives but imagine having a plane like that and heading from Porto Alegre to Davos," said Andre Ferrari, a member of a socialist party formed last year by Brazilians who broke away from Mr Da Silva's Workers Party.

Some activists said his moves seemed more in line with the conventional wisdom at the event in Davos, which the social forum was founded to counter. Ertha Buys, a member of a Brazilian group lobbying for cheap housing for the poor, said: "There's some frustration out there because Lula is the first leftist president for Brazil, and so far he's only given profits to banks and we haven't gotten anything."

The Porto Alegre event has drawn more than 100,000 activists campaigning for different causes at the six-day protest, ranging from debt relief for developing countries to distribution of idle land for impoverished farmers.

Once on stage, Mr Da Silva mounted a spirited defence of his first two years in office, saying Brazil is creating millions of jobs through a stabilised economy and becoming a strong political voice for the elimination of poverty from South America to Africa. His critics point out that average real wages in Brazil have dropped 6.1 per cent since he took office in January 2003 and the President has created only 2 per cent of the 250,000 jobs for young people that he promised by 2006.

Many activists at the forum compared unfettered capitalism and the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq to the tsunami that struck Indian Ocean shores last month, saying the deaths caused in poor countries by First World greed were countless. "Poverty is a man-made tsunami," said John Samuel, from India, a founding member of Global Call to Action Against Poverty launched yesterday at the forum. "The biggest tyranny in the world is the tyranny of an empty stomach."

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