World Rises to Resist \"Free Trade\"

For at least 500 years, people have been struggling against forces of colonization and globalization. The latest chapter in the struggle is the fight over the Free Trade Area of the Americas. This agreement, which is currently under the secret review of 31 governments and 500 corporate heads, attempts once more to fortify corporate power at the expense of local people and the environment. Luckily, resistance all over the western hemisphere is growing strong.

By the time the treaty is discussed in Quebec City April 20-22, people from Bolivia to Brazil to Mexico, the US and Canada will be hard at work creating networks of international solidarity that can stand up to the threat of corporate-controlled globalization. In addition to massive protests at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, local actions, teach-ins and events are expected worldwide. In Quebec, thousands of police are planning Canada\’s largest ever security operation to handle expected large protests. A 3 meter tall fence cordoning off several square miles of downtown Quebec is under construction and the city council has passed a law banning face masks. US activists attempting to enter Canada have been stopped at the Border because they appeared on blacklists supplied by US authorities.

So what exactly is this treaty that is important enough to generate these massive protests? Essentially, the FTAA is an expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The FTAA would force every nation in the western hemisphere (except Cuba) to comply with the rules of \”free trade.\” Tariffs on imported goods, restrictions on toxic chemicals or genetically engineered foods, union organizing, or refusal to trade with human rights abusers all constitute barriers to \”free\” trade. Furthermore, the FTAA would use the WTO as a model for dispute settlement, giving itself more power to penalize nations that interfere with trade.

Under the FTAA, any labor or environmental protection in the hemisphere could be challenged by a corporation, judged by a secret tribunal, and found to be a violation of \”free trade.\” Once found guilty of obstructing profit-making, the country would be forced to pay out huge settlement fines, or else be subject to economic sanctions from all other nations in the agreement. In effect, any people\’s attempt to rule themselves could be overruled by the corporate-controlled, unelected, and unaccountable officials of the FTAA.

Interestingly, since Cuba is excluded from the negotiations, the US government can continue to defend us from the red menace with its unilateral trade embargo on Cuba. Furthermore, corporate welfare like the huge subsidies to giant factory farms would continue allowing huge companies to drive out smaller competitors by selling their products for less than the cost of production.

At the same time as expanding NAFTA geographically, the FTAA would expand the types of trade covered to include services like education and health care. Schools and hospitals would be forced to open up to the lowest bidder, drastically undercutting their ability to provide quality services. Whether governments themselves should be running the services may be argued, but the current \”energy crisis\” in California provides a small scale example of the type of disaster than can arise when corporate interests buy out service providers. And just as corporate welfare will be overlooked as a barrier to trade, we can bet that the same corporations who demand to make a profit off schools, jails, and hospitals will have no qualms accepting government bailouts when those profits are threatened.

Despite the scope of the FTAA, the Bush administration is hoping to slip it past the congress with Fast Track negotiating power, a procedure which violates this country\’s Constitution by granting the president extra authority to enact treaties without Congressional debate. These changes to the rules of international trade will have a major and almost immediate effect on the lives of people throughout the hemisphere. Because the FTAA is modeled after NAFTA, we can predict its likely effects by looking at what NAFTA has done since its ratification in 1994. Notably, the first thing NAFTA did was give rise to the Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas, Mexico. The Zapatistas understood that the new treaty was one more attempt to drive indigenous people from their land and to exploit the poor for the profit of the rich.

As the years pass, the Zapatista analysis has been proven true again and again. Despite governmental promises of new jobs, higher living standards, and environmental protections in the brave new world of free trade, NAFTA has benefited only a handful of corporate elites. Meanwhile the US has lost countless jobs, wages have dropped 40% in Mexico, and environmental protections in all three countries have been weakened by corporate lawsuits.

It is important to recognize that the FTAA like NAFTA is part of a continuing history of colonization and oppression. Under these treaties, the hardest hit tend to be people of color and women, while the benefits of globalization flow to the corporate elite of the north.

NAFTA\’s effect on small corn farmers in Mexico provides a case study. First off, to qualify for the treaty, the Mexican government dropped article 27 of its constitution, which protected communally owned \”ejido\” land. Then, multinational agri-corporations were able to move into Mexico, and run out local producers by selling subsidized, monocropped corn at below the cost of growing it. Farmers lost their land, and were forced to join the legions of displaced migrant workers forced into maquiladora jobs or into the US where they may survive INS persecution to find below-minimum wage jobs working in the fields of those same agri-businesses. Under the FTAA, this scenario would expand into Central and South America.

In another case, S.D, Myers, an Ohio-based company, sued the Canadian government for potential profits lost during a two year ban on the export of highly toxic PBCs. On November 13, 2000, a three-judge NAFTA tribunal decided that the company was due between $20 and $40 million dollars for profits lost during the ban.

NAFTA undoubtedably sparked an increased focus on globalization. Since 1994, not only the Zapatistas have rebelled. People have held now-famous mass demonstrations in places like Seattle and Prague. From the farmers of France to the shrimp harvesters of India, people are fighting back against the corporate crackdown. There have even been some legislative victories, such as the campaign to defeat the MIA and the decision by the Canadian government last December to release some of its FTAA text. Only by building a strong movement of mass solidarity can we hope to stop the FTAA on its fast track to a hemisphere of corporate control.

This April 20-22, thousands of activists will converge on Quebec City, the site of the Summit of the Americas where the FTAA will be discussed. They aim to get past the border patrol and the wall being built to keep them out and make sure that the elite group of rulers can\’t meet in secrecy and peace to devise their schemes to control us.

Thousands more will participate in an historical Mexican-US border mobilization, where farmers, unions, students, workers and activists on both the Tijuana and the San Diego will stage massive, non-violent protests. On the weekend of April 21st, they will show the absurdity of a world where corporations can zip across borders, but southern people face death attempting to cross. Organizing for this protest creates new levels of communication and trust between people in the two countries. To maintain that trust, it is crucial that US activists recognize that the border is a highly militarized zone, and people living there have taken on great risk in organizing this protest. It is agreed that to respect those who will stay on at the border past April, the border protest will not involve civil disobedience or law breaking of any
kind. This, once again, is not out of respect for the laws, but out of respect for those who will live in the area after the US activists head home.

A series of local events are scheduled in the Bay Area, both leading up to the weekend of April 21st and on the actual day. These events are examples of the local protests, teach ins and self-education events happening around the hemisphere. Going to protests that weekend is only one tactic activists can use to defeat the FTAA. Just as the FTAA is part of an ongoing war on poor, women, people of color and the environment, anti-FTAA organizing is part of an ongoing story of resistance and solidarity building. Whether you end up in Quebec city, Tijuana, or San Francisco, the FTAA protests are a way to get involved in defeating the forces that would lead us into a corporate-ruled, barren world. Check out this list for ways to get involved.

  • Bay Area Coalition to stop the FTAA meets every other Tuesday at 6:30, usually at Centro del Pueblo, on Valencia between 15th and 16th. call for details, or check the website. Committees on Action, Outreach, Education, Labor, and Borders also meet weekly.
  • There will be a teach-in Tuesday March 20 7-10:30 pm at La Peña cultural center. Contact Global Exchange at 415-558-9486 for more solidarity building info. Also contact 2001 Comite de acciones Fronterizas 626-403-2530