CANCUN, Sept. 14 -- Derailment here today of the Cancun WTO Ministerial caused gloom in the hotel suites at the convention center -- and dancing in the streets. It was the biggest triumph for anti-WTO critics since Seattle four years ago, and marked the emergence of a permanent new power bloc of once-powerless nations defending the rights of hundreds of millions of small farmers.
In particular, it was a victory for the "Our World Is Not for Sale" network of global activists who called for the "derailment" of the WTO process months ago when few believed that to be possible. The Not For Sale network -- which coordinates local movements, lobbies governments at the grass-roots level, supports marches like those of Mexican campesinos this week, and punctuates the WTO's inner forums with direct action announcements -- is already planning for the next showdown, a Miami summit in November where the U.S. will attempt to extend NAFTA to Latin and Central America.
The New York Times called the WTO derailment "unexpected," thanks to which, it lamented, the global economy "will not receive a jump-start by the expansion of markets." The paper also reported that the U.S. presidential campaign is now being "infected" by questioning of unfettered free trade. The paper, however, did not deign to provide any explanation for the disease metaphor it applied to political debate.
All observers concurred, however, that the derailment was an embarrassing setback for the Bush administration. Coming amidst conflicts in the UN over Iraq, the unsuccessful effort to coerce the poorer countries seemed to mark the end of the short-lived "American empire" promoted by the administration's neo-conservative ideologues.
White House hopes for a cheap Iraq victory coupled with the expansion of trade agreements have both been derailed. Instead, thousands of American manufacturing jobs continue to disappear into Third World sweatshops, and unprecedented budget deficits and serious cuts in popular social programs haunt an administration entering a presidential election year.
Worse, from the viewpoint of White House political operatives, its opposition is now emboldened and elated.