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7th Free Trade Summit
In June, I sat in on a meeting of campesinospeasant farmers in Ecuadors coastal province of Manabí. The topic at hand was the upcoming 7th Summit of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, or FTAA, a plan to create a kind of super-NAFTA for the whole hemisphere (minus Cuba). Thirty or so indigenous, mestizo and afro-Ecuadorian men and women, their faces deeply lined from years of field work, sat hunched over child-sized desks in a small school, surrounded by fields of banana, cacao, and maize. They were discussing the possibility of organizing a massive, non-violent protest to greet the 34 trade ministers and hundreds of CEOs who would arrive for the summit on October 31. They carefully considered the scarce resources such an undertaking would consume.
One man spoke of the recent mobilizations in Seattle, Genoa, and Prague, of the persistence of activists in those cities who were undeterred by injuries and repression, and suggested that a similar level of commitment would be necessary. There was a long silence as people thought about what this would mean and the risks involved. Then a woman said, If this is happening in Ecuador, we have to be there. Without further discussion, the group voted unanimously to call for a national mobilization and to get themselves to Quito to protest the summit.
I watched this kind of determination and commitment surface again and again in the months that followed, as Ecuadors social movements mobilized around a treaty they say represents a death sentence for small farmers, job security, indigenous cultures, local food systems, and endangered forests. Despite their near-total lack of resources, and the fact that few Ecuadorians had ever heard of the FTAA before June, anti-FTAA organizers ultimately brought 10,000 campesinos, indigenous people, womens rights advocates, trade unionists, students, and environmentalists to Quito on October 31.
The results of this mobilization were dramatic. The protests, accompanied by a dizzying array of forums, peoples congresses, meetings, and alternative proposals, succeeded in forcing FTAA proponents to acknowledge that there is considerable opposition to their plans. In barely a weeks time, the debate over the FTAA within Ecuador shifted radically: by the time the campesinos piled into trucks and buses to head back to their villages, press coverage and public opinion had become overwhelmingly negative. The voices in the streets also added urgency to the poor countries repeated demands that the U.S. slash agricultural subsidies that threaten to swamp Latin American farmers: in the end the ministers declaration included language on agriculture that many Latin American governments saw as a victory.
But perhaps the most important result of the mobilization lies in the links forged under pressure between social movements across the continent. Says Jose Encalada, Director of International Relations for the CONFEUNASSC-CNC, Ecuadors largest campesino Federation, The FTAA has given us the opportunity to get to know each other and to begin constructing a coordinated resistance across the Americas. In Quito, more than ever before, the global justice movement in the North converged with what is perhaps the original antiglobalization movementthe massive and growing Latin American resistance to neoliberalism.
The degree of North-South cooperation in the months leading up to the summit was striking. Northern groups recognized months ago that a strong mobilization in Quito would undermine oft-heard claims that people in developing countries are clamoring for free trade, while only misguided students, angry anarchists, and selfish trade unionists stand in the way. Many have also embraced a critique that the global justice movement needs to do more to support frontline struggles in the global South. As a result, large numbers of the campesinos and indigenous people who converged on Quito arrived courtesy of the Seattle crowd and their counterparts in Europe, who raised tens of thousands of dollars to help pay for the mobilization, in addition to staging simultaneous actions in their own communities.
Ecuadorian union members, meanwhile, came with the help of the AFL-CIO. As part of an unprecedented international coordinated media effort, teams of activists in North America and Europe spent weeks talking to reporters in their own countries about the Quito mobilization and putting them in direct touch with the social movement organizations in Ecuador. Under the auspices of Indymedia Ecuador, a newly created node in the alternative media network born in Seattle, activists from Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador, Canada and the U.S., and Europe worked together to spread the word about the mobilization.
As in much of Latin America, economic woes are compounded by militarization and insecurity. Ecuadorians blame this on Plan Colombia, which they describe as the military arm of the economic domination strategy encoded in the FTAA. In the wake of tacit U.S. support for the failed coup in Venezuela, the escalation of the Colombian conflict, and crackdowns on social movements across Latin America in the name of the war on terrorism, people throughout Latin America have come to share Ecuadorians opposition to U.S. military strategy.
The most recent expression of this resistance has been the victory of Lucio Gutierrez, the candidate supported by the Ecuadorian indigenous, campesino, and labor movements, in the first round of presidential elections on October 18. (He faces Alvaro Noboa, Ecuadors richest man, in a runoff on November 24.) Organizers in Ecuador excitedly point to other faces of hemispheric upheaval: the Zapatistas in Chiapas; Hugo Chavezs Bolivarian Circles; the Brazilian electorate, who chose leftist Ignacio Lula deSilva in the October elections; Evo Morales, the coca-growing campesino who nearly became president in Bolivia; the angry middle classes taking regularly to the streets in Argentina and Uruguay; and, of course, the workers, students, womens organizations, indigenas, and campesinos who came to surround the Quito Marriott on October 31.
In the North, meanwhile, the new militarism of the war on terrorism has shifted the analysis of many in the U.S. Anti-globalization movement, who used to focus almost exclusively on the WTO, IMF, and World Bank, and the evils of big corporations. Protesters have responded to the new geopolitical reality by linking global economic concerns with civil liberties and the war on terrorism (including Plan Colombia and the School of the Americas), issues which have long been central to the analysis of the Latin American left. When as many as 100,000 people marched in Washington DC in April, they protested the war on terrorism, Plan Colombia, and Palestine, in addition to more traditional economic globalization issues.
Similar links were made at a smaller mobilization there in late September. As Northern activists expand their work to include opposition to militarism and imperialisma move still questioned in some quarters of the movement for strategic reasonsthey are embracing concerns that have long been central to the analyses of many Latin American social movements.
To be sure, there are still important faultlines in this new north-south alliance. Wildly divergent demographics are one source of tension (i.e., middle class student radicals vs. indigent peasant farmers). There are significant disagreements over subsidies to Northern farmers, protection of U.S. industries like steel and textiles, and the inclusion of environmental and labor rules in trade deals. Nonetheless, the connections between Northern and Southern activists are real and growing stronger.
As was clear in Quito, where protests fueled open discord within the FTAA ministerial over agriculture, and where public debate came to center on the fate of poor countries under the FTAA, this confluence of movements presents a formidable obstacle to the Bush administrations plans to push forward with the FTAA. Popular unrest throughout Latin America is making it harder and harder for key governments like Brazils to support the FTAA (indeed, 10 million Brazilians voted in a recent civil society plebiscite on the FTAA, and a whopping 98 percent rejected the plan). In the U.S., meanwhile, opposition to free trade almost scuttled the Bush administrations drive for Fast Track authority and forced compromises on agriculture and textiles that will only make it harder to win support from Southern nations.
If the pressure grows, particularly in Latin America, these protests and the rising chorus of dissatisfaction with neoliberalism and U.S. militarism may well prove fatal for the FTAA.
Since graduating, Justin Reuben has been in Ecuador doing research on civil society and neoliberalism. He also worked for about 6 years as an organizer on environmental health, labor, and global justice issues. His most recent article on strategy in the anti-corporate globalization movement appeared in Clamor Magazine.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
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BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
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GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
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