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News ::
Otra America Es Posible (english)
15 Nov 2002
Modified: 08:07:54 AM
"...there are few countries in the Americas where civil society is strong enough to push the national government into offering significant resistance to the FTAA-Venezuela being the obvious exception, and Brazil the big question mark....The lesson was clear: we are stronger when we work across borders." Lots of good stuff in between -- mentions of indymedia, ENLACE, etc.
ZNet Commentary
Otra America Es Posible
November 14, 2002 By Justin Ruben

No "antiglobalization" protest would be complete without its media-designated celebrity activist. When French farmer and McDonald's antagonist José Boeve failed to show up for the recent mass mobilization against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), in Quito, Ecuador, the international press found themselves in something of a quandary. Their dilemma was solved when Bolivian coca-grower and presidential contender Evo Morales stepped into the breach. Morales was, as it turned out, not a bad symbol for the panorama unfolding in the streets around the 7th ministerial meeting of the FTAA. The widespread popularity he enjoys throughout the Andes, like the Quito protest itself, is an expression of a much broader phenomenon: the rapidly intensifying frustration with neoliberalism and U.S. foreign policy, a sentiment that is deepening across Latin America.

After 20 years of implementing the economic reforms required by the International Monetary Fund and World bank-selling off state enterprises at fire sale prices, dropping trade barriers, relaxing labor protections, cutting subsidies to the poor, tightening monetary policy-Latin American nations have failed to see the economic growth Washington promised. Inequality has grown rapidly, and poverty is on the increase again across the region. Add to this frustration over the destabilizing effects of Plan Colombia, U.S. intervention in Venezuela and inaction in Argentina, and the unilateral belligerence that has characterized the Bush foreign policy, and there are millions of people with a bone to pick over what they see as a comprehensive U.S. strategy for hemispheric economic and military domination.

This fact was not lost on protest organizers, who were quick to point to the many faces of this vibrant new Latin American left: former labor organizer Lula, who won the Brazilian presidency by a wide margin only days before the summit; Lucio Gutierrez, the leftist army colonel who won first-round Ecuadorian presidential elections in October, thanks to the support of indigenous and campesino organizations; Evo Morales, who only lost the election because the U.S. ambassador to Bolivia stated publicly that a cocalero President would trigger Cuba-style economic isolation; the neighborhood assemblies meeting regularly across Argentina; the Zapatistas in Chiapas, who began their revolution the day NAFTA went into effect in 1994; the Bolivarian circles fighting to keep Hugo Chavez in power in Venezuela; and, of course, the 10,000 campesinos, indigenous people, trade unionists, environmentalists, neighborhood activists and students who massed outside Quito's Swissotel to stop the extension of NAFTA to the rest of the hemisphere.

But if there was a resurgent sense of international movement-building in the air in Quito-much of it crystallizing around opposition to the FTAA and "free" trade-it was equally clear that this movement lacks concrete international strategies for resistance. For the most part, the scores of gatherings and forums convened by various hemispheric and global networks never went beyond the admittedly important steps of exchanging information and elaborating alternative proposals. Few spent any time hammering out strategy.

Indeed the dominant strategy embraced by the social movements, activists, and NGO's gathered in Quito pretty much boils down to "Civil society in every country runs an anti-FTAA campaign targeting their national government. Every once in a while we have a big counter-summit protest that as many of us as possible come to, but which mostly has an impact on the politics of the host country. Otherwise, we each go it alone."

The problem with this is that there are few countries in the Americas where civil society is strong enough to push the national government into offering significant resistance to the FTAA-Venezuela being the obvious exception, and Brazil the big question mark. Even Lula and Ecuadorian candidate Gutierrez have felt compelled to reassure international investors that they will stick it out in the FTAA negotiations. In most countries, the situation is not far from that in the USA, where fast track negotiating only passed by one vote, after an enormous amount of administration arm-twisting-there is formidable opposition to "free" trade, but not enough to carry the day.

Why not? The genius of the FTAA and similar accords is that they help pro-neoliberal minorities in each country to strengthen each other's positions relative to anti-neoliberal majorities. As Latin American elites never tire of pointing out, for any Latin American country-even Brazil-to pull out of negotiations on its own would likely mean devastating capital flight, currency crisis, and, ultimately, something close to autarky. Unilateral foot dragging within negotiations, meanwhile, is often met with reprisals from the U.S., who threatens to withhold trade preferences or block multilateral assistance. The result is that, in every country, pro-trade elites use other countries' participation in the FTAA as a tool to resist opposition from social movements.

Once the treaties are signed, the process goes even further. Canadian corporations, for example, cry crocodile tears when UPS uses NAFTA to try to force the Canadian government out of the package delivery business, and then count on the same provisions to provide market access in Mexico and the U.S. Bush administration officials tut-tut when a Canadian company sues California under NAFTA's Chapter 11 for having banned a cancer-causing gas additive. But those officials do not hesitate to push for inclusion of an identical provision in the FTAA, at the behest of the U.S. chamber of commerce. In every country, corporations count on their allies elsewhere to help them ratchet down environmental, labor, and health protections won through years of popular struggle.

Meanwhile, FTAA opponents have yet to learn the same lesson. Unlike the pro-trade lobby, the FTAA opposition in Ecuador gains little more than information and moral support from nearly identical movements in every other country in the hemisphere. What is lacking are strategies that allow FTAA opponents in various to draw substantial strength from each other.

Fortunately, discussions in Quito were not devoid of possibilities. A number of interesting proposals surfaced for coordinated hemispheric strategies, although they received no extended discussion. By far the most ambitious idea is a continental levantamiento, or uprising, in 2005, if the FTAA negotiations conclude as scheduled. This would basically mean a cross between a hemispheric general strike, and mass direct action to block roads and other strategic transportation nodes (why we cannot take action before the FTAA is signed, sealed, delivered, and almost impossible to stop, is not clear).

A number of proposals also emerged for civil society to push countries into taking coordinated action within the negotiations themselves. There was talk of Lula, Hugo Chavez, and Lucio Gutierrez leading a Latin American bloc that could push for a very different kind of integration, a strategy would clearly require tremendous popular pressure to be successful. Some organizers went further, suggesting that social movements push for the two regional trade pacts-the Andean Community of Nations (CAN) and Mercosur-to be reorganized along principles of fair trade, reciprocity, and national sovereignty.

A few NGOs have been proposing nearly the opposite strategy. In order to "monkeywrench" the negotiations, they advocate that social movements in each country push their governments to adopt irreconcilable positions, in hopes of tanking the negotiations. U.S. activists might team up with farmers to defend U.S. agricultural subsidies, for example, while Brazilian social movements push their government to demand the elimination of subsidies (in effect, this is already happening, although it is not coordinated). The problem with this strategy is that it is anti-internationalist; it requires activists in some nations to adopt positions that are anathema to their counterparts elsewhere, hardly a formula for building international solidarity.

There is one international strategy that has already been embraced to a significant degree: a Zapatista-style continental consulta, or civil society-sponsored referendum on the FTAA. This process is already underway, and many countries are planning a consulta on their own time frames, in whatever fashion they see fit. So far, this has meant 10 million people voting down the FTAA in Brazil, and some public hearings in California. The problem is that each of these actions, and the others that will follow over the next 6 months, has the character of national, rather than hemispheric events. As a result, the process will be unable to generate the momentum that might have come from a unified hemispheric plebiscite.

But if, apart from the consulta plan, strategic discussions in Quito remained theoretical, there were a number of smaller-scale initiatives that suggested the promise of cross-border cooperation. Perhaps most importantly, a significant percentage of the funding for the mobilization itself came from global justice activists in North America and Europe. Many of these groups have embraced the notion that, in addition to protesting at home, they should also be supporting the struggles of communities on the "front lines" of corporate globalization, and in Quito, they put their money where their mouth is. Many global justice activists also realized that vibrant and visible protests in Quito would help them by dispelling the persistent charge that opposing free trade is somehow imperialist, that people in poor countries are begging for free trade, and only selfish trade unionists, angry anarchists, and misguided students stand in the way.

Dozens of groups throughout the hemisphere organized solidarity demonstrations timed to coincide with the Quito protests, including a 10,000 strong student strike in Quebec. Meanwhile, in Quito, solidarity took shape in hundreds of daily interactions. Under the auspices of Indymedia Ecuador, alternative journalists from Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador, Canada, the United States and Europe collaborated seamlessly to spread the word about the mobilization. International activists participated in dozens of FTAA workshops in rural communities throughout Ecuador, shocking locals with tales of resistance to U.S. imperialism inside the U.S. itself. In the process, poor farmers from the high Andes and indigenous leaders from the Amazon were surprised to find how much they had in common with anarchists from New York and radical puppet makers from Oregon. And vice verse.

One of the most interesting collaborative efforts was a project called Enlace (or "link"). Enlace was a product of North American, European, and Ecuadorian activists, who had a common interest in ensuring that international corporate media did not ignore the protests. Enlace organized teams of activists in a number of countries who spoke with foreign media, figured out who was covering the Quito summit, gave those outlets background materials prepared by the social movements, and connected them directly to the protest organizers. They were even able to monitor foreign coverage of the protests, and help the Quito media team track down and brief reporters who were writing biased or incomplete stories. The result, according to several of the mainstream media outlets themselves, was that coverage improved considerably (although it was still woefully inadequate).

The lesson was clear: we are stronger when we work across borders. This is not a new lesson, of course. But the spread of supranational trade regimes like the FTAA, the rapid integration of financial markets, and the growing hegemony of transnational corporations make the need for effective international action strategies more urgent than ever.

In Quito, it was obvious that, in terms of strategy, we have a long way to go. But for those who of us who worked on the mobilization, the cross-border collaboration that did happen offered a powerful taste of the potential for a unified, hemispheric resistance to the FTAA and neoliberalism. Following the protests, campesino leader Rodrigo Collaguazo was moved to write a letter to international activists, in which he described what he and his compañeros were thinking as they confronted the FTAA ministerial: "We saw the hopes and dreams of our communities and villages; we saw the splendor and beauty of our fields, alpine meadows, and mountains. With joy we saw all of you, thousands, perhaps millions, who, without being here, were nonetheless with us. We rejoiced to know that the people of North America and the world are bound forever to t
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last bit there missing, here 'tis (english)
15 Nov 2002
Following the protests, campesino leader Rodrigo Collaguazo was moved to write a letter to international activists, in
which he described what he and his compañeros were thinking as they confronted the FTAA ministerial: "We saw the hopes and dreams of our communities and villages; we saw the splendor and beauty of our fields, alpine meadows, and mountains. With joy we saw all of you, thousands, perhaps millions, who, without being here, were nonetheless with us. We rejoiced to know that the people of North America and the world are bound forever to the people of Ecuador and Latin America."