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Next stop: Quebec City
April 20-22, Quebec City has the dubious honor of hosting the 3rd Summit of the Americas, which brings together 34 heads of state of the Americas and the Caribbean (all except Cuba). Aside from the Summit's usual hostile declarations on security and terrorism, and empty rhetoric about human rights and democracy, the main focus of this year's Summit will be to finalize the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement. According to Pierre Pettigrew, Canada's Trade Minister, “The FTAA is inextricably linked to the Summit of the Americas process.”
This agreement, which by its very nature will affect the everyday lives of millions, extends the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to the entire Western hemisphere. The FTAA has been the subject of intensely secretive negotiations for several years and is to be implemented no later than 2005.
Quite predictably, the FTAA intends to submit health and education as well as hard fought environmental and labor standards to the forces of the so-called free market. In fact, the privatization of education was chosen as the number one priority for these negotiations in Santiago with the goal of ending what the WTO calls the “public monopoly” in education. Not surprisingly then, this Summit intends to further expand and entrench the grasping tentacles of corporate globalization.
This never-ending erosion of government control is illustrated by recent high-profile Chapter 11 NAFTA cases. In the case of Ethyl Corp. vs. Canada, Ohio- based Ethyl claimed that proposed Canadian government legislation banning MMT (a gasoline additive produced by Ethyl) “expropriated” its assets in Canada and that “legislative debate itself constituted an expropriation of its assets because public criticism of MMT damaged the company's reputation.” A year after Ethyl sued Canada for US$250 million, the Canadian government withdrew the legislation and paid Ethyl US$13 million to settle the case.
Another recent case saw Metalclad Corporation, a Texas- based toxic waste-disposal company, accuse the Mexican government of violating Chapter 11 of NAFTA when the state of San Luis Potosí refused to allow the re-opening of a waste-disposal site. Multinational Monitor featured a story on the Guadacalzar County struggle against Metalclad in 1995: “When local authorities ignored the complaints of outraged community members, citizens brandishing machetes mobilized… preventing tractor trailers from unloading more toxic wastes.” In the face of local citizen pressure and in light of an environmental assessment that showed that the facility would contaminate the local water supply, the State governor ordered the site closed. In response, Metalclad sought US$90 million in compensation. In the first ruling in an investor-to-state lawsuit under NAFTA, the Chapter 11 Tribunal ruled in favor of Metalclad, ordering the Mexican government to pay US$16.7 million in compensation.
Several groups in Quebec are currently planning large-scale grassroots events for the Summit, and many other groups in the Americas and the Caribbean have recognized the importance of tying local struggles with the struggle against the FTAA.
Security measures planned for the Summit are sweeping. The operation will be the largest security and police deployment in Canadian history. There are four major police forces involved in the preparations, and numerous other small forces will be made available for the Summit.
The RCMP estimates that the overall budget for the police operation during the three-day Summit will be over $30 million. Over 3,000 officers from the federal RCMP, provincial Sureté du Québec, and municipal forces are slated to work during the three days, while the Sureté du Québec assures people on its web site that if need be it will “co-ordinate and establish the necessary liaisons with the Canadian Armed Forces.”
Also, police officials have declared that they would establish a security perimeter in downtown Québec, around Vieux-Québec and the Haute-Ville, two areas where the Summit will take place. They plan on building a long metal fence, similar to those found around prisons, in the streets of the provincial capital sometime in early spring, to keep unwanted citizens out of the security perimeter.
Moreover, all those residing or working in the security perimeter, nearly 25,000 people, will be given a security pass to enter, as will over 6,000 official delegates and nearly 3,000 accredited media. The original police plan to run criminal record checks on all Québec residents receiving a pass was quickly shelved (at least publicly) in the face of widespread public outrage.
At a November 2000 press conference to announce more details on the planned security measures, Serge Ménard, Québec's minister for Public Security, surprised many by explaining that the Orsainville provincial prison will be emptied of its over 600 inmates during the Summit to make room for arrested protesters. He later went on to justify the need for such police measures by stating, “If you want peace, you must prepare for war.” This thinly veiled attempt to intimidate residents of Québec City falls in line with the Sureté du Québec's portrayal of the Summit as “an eventual crisis situation,” thereby justifying all police actions.
In a sure sign of Québec officials' commitment to openness on this and other issues around the Summit, Joan Russow, the leader of the Green Party of Canada, was arrested in the midst of the November election campaign for taking photos of the prison. She was detained for 45 minutes after police destroyed her photos. No explanation was given for her arrest, aside from a statement that Russow had “trespassed” on public property.
In the past few weeks, the RCMP has also announced that it has rented all vacant apartments and houses within the security perimeter, as well as reserving all hotel accommodations, to avoid leaving anything vacant for “trouble-makers.” They will reportedly go so far as to seal all sewer entrances within the security perimeter for fear protesters will find their way through the underground maze and onto the laps of government officials and business elite.
Mobilization Against FTAA
In response to the annexation of downtown Québec for the negotiation of the FTAA agreement, and in spite of the high-level police intimidation, several Québec-based groups have been mobilizing in opposition to the Summit.
The largest such group, Opération Québec Printemps 2001 (OQP 2001) was formed in December 1999. It is a coalition of regional groups (25 as of January 1, 2001) and individuals, including several unions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and campus/community organizations. The coalition has as its mission the organization of educational activities on globalization, the organization of non-violent actions in response to the FTAA and the Summit, the presentation of viable alternatives to corporate globalization, as well as coalition-building with other regional, national, and international organizations. OQP 2001 spokesperson Patrice Breton states that, “We plan not only on mobilizing around the FTAA and the Summit in April, but also on raising awareness of what globalization has really come to represent.”
At present, the OQP 2001 coalition is planning a People's Summit, scheduled for April 17-20 in Québec. The counter-summit will feature workshops, conferences, teach-ins, and demonstrations, as well as groups and individuals from the entire hemisphere.
The coalition has also leased a building just beyond the security perimeter that will serve as the Alternative Media Center. It will assure the presence of a wide-range of media before, during, and after the Summit. The Center is now open to journalists and an OQP 2001-administered Québec City Indy Media site is also up and running in French, Spanish, and English.
Another major group planning events around the Summit is the Montréal-based Anti-Capitalist Convergence (CLAC in French). It was formed in April 2000 to offer a radical, anti-capitalist opposition to corporate globalization. CLAC recently helped form the Summit of the Americas Welcoming Committee (CASA in French), a Québec-based group that, like the CLAC, comes together on the principles of anti- capitalism, anti-patriarchy, refusal of hierarchy, autonomy, non-reformism, and respect for a diversity of tactics.
The CASA and CLAC are now preparing a Carnival Against Capitalism that will include events in Québec City and Montréal throughout the month of April, which will culminate with a Day of Action on Friday, April 20 in Québec. The Carnival will include workshops, teach-ins, concerts, conferences, cabarets, street theater, protests, and direct action. They are also planning a series of consultations in Québec, in which individuals from around Eastern North America can come together to discuss strategies, build networks, and become familiar with Québec City. With the goal of strengthening networks of resistance, CLAC has an FTAA Caravan moving across Maritimes, Québec, northeastern U.S., and Ontario that has already visited dozens of communities and is available upon request.
CASA, along with OQP 2001, is also presently working on locating lodging and food for out- of-towners coming to Québec in April. Since the RCMP has reserved a block of 11,000 hotel rooms for the Summit, the search for space has been difficult. However, OQP 2001 is working on renting halls and gymnasiums and, in conjunction with CLAC, has planned an Adopt a Protester program during the Summit. The idea, as CLAC member Jaggi Singh explains, “is to have protesters sit down and eat with Québec City residents to get the real story (not the corporate media's) out to residents of the city. That way, people will have a chance of understanding what's actually going on.”
Thousands of Dissenters
It's clear that the Summit of the Americas in Québec City will be another test of the neo-liberal agenda's legitimacy. As thousands of protesters from around the hemisphere are expected to converge on the city, the likelihood of the abject failure of the Summit is all too real to organizers. As The Economist stated in their September 2000 issue: “The protesters are right that the most pressing moral, political and economic issue of our time is third-world [sic] poverty. And they are right that the tide of globalization, powerful as the engines driving it may be, can be turned back. The fact that both these things are true is what makes the protesters—and, crucially, the strand of popular opinion that sympathizes with them— so terribly dangerous.”
It is with this in mind that Canadian authorities are doing all they can to ensure that Québec City does not become another Seattle. However, to a growing number of people, the verdict is out, and the FTAA is not on the agenda. Therefore, despite the extreme efforts of Canadian officials, the many dissenting voices in Québec and beyond will not be silenced. Z
Darryl Leroux is a freelance journalist living in Ontario. The CLAC can be contacted via their web site: www.quebec2001.net. The OQP 2001 can also be contacted through their web site: www.oqp2001.org.