The World Social Forum wrapped up in Caracas Sunday after six days of debate on globalisation, poverty and war, and some concern over the dominant role played by Venezuela's leftist president and Cuban officials.
More than 60,000 people took part in the event, which featured workshops on a plethora of issues, ranging from the struggle against free trade and imperialism to the debt burden in Latin America and the rights of indigenous people.
Hosted and financed by Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, the gathering was marked by virulent criticism of the administration of President George W. Bush and the Iraq war.
In downtown Caracas, where delegates from social, feminist, labour and other organisations gathered daily in hotel conference rooms, schools and tents, a banner covered four stories of a high-rise building with the words: "Bush lied, fire him."
Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a US soldier who died in Iraq, drew rousing cheers as she denounced Bush for "waging a war of terrorism against the world."
Sheehan was among the guests of honour when Chavez delivered a two-hour speech to the WSF, denouncing the "genocidal" US administration, and calling Bush "the world's biggest terrorist."
Chavez was given a hero's welcome by participants, who joined him in singing the socialist
"Internationale" and hailing Cuba's communist President Fidel Castro.
Street vendors in the city centre did brisk business selling Chavez dolls, T-shirts with the effigy of iconic revolutionary leader Ernesto "Che" Guevara and other revolutionary souvenirs.
But Chavez warned against turning the annual meeting, staged as an ideological counterpoint to the Davos World Economic Summit of political and business leaders, into "a folkloric and touristic event."
"We need to save life on the planet, we need to save the human race by changing the course of history," said Chavez, who projected himself as a leader of the world social movement.
Chavez opponents dismissed the whole thing as a gabfestival dominated by archaic leftist ideals.
There were also some grumblings within the forum, where some participants complained over the dominant role played by Chavez, and to a lesser degree by Cuba, which deployed an 800-strong state delegation to the non-governmental event.
"It's a little invasive," said Olivier de Marcelus, 62 a civil servant and a delegate from a small Geneva-based anti-globalisation group. De Marcelus said he understood Chavez represented a symbol of hope for many people in Latin America who seek political change, but warned against allowing governments and "old leftist projects" to take over the event.
"We need to concentrate on finding other avenues than the form of socialism that has been tried in eastern Europe and Cuba," he said.
He admitted there was some discontent within the forum. "We must go beyond the slogans," he said.
De Marcelus said, however, that it was a useful networking opportunity, particularly for small movements, which can share their experience with others and gain support for their cause.
Indigent Americans who traveled to Caracas with the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign said they attended the forum to draw attention to their plight.
"We're here to let people know how we are struggling," said Zenaide Cosme, 37, a homeless mother of five from Philadelphia.
"The United States is not the American dream people imagine," she said, as a nearby speaker drew loud cheers by proclaiming: "we need a Hugo Chavez in the United States."