CANCUN, Sept. 10 -- Thousands of campesinos will march on the convention center today when the WTO officially starts its proceedings with a speech by Mexican president Vicente Fox. Anti-WTO protestors may also attempt a creative disruption of the formal ministerial event, which they say is refusing to acknowledge the increasingly harmful impact of WTO regulations on wages and the environment over the decade since the organization was launched.
At least 5,000 campesinos are camped on the grounds of Casa de la Cultura in downtown Cancun. Displaced by cheap corn imported from subsidized U.S. agribusiness, they have traveled with their families on buses from across southeast Mexico. They string their hammocks between trees, cook their meals together, and hold rallies under banners in Spanish that proclaim, "Indigenous People Are the Hope of Humanity." The makeshift rural village includes outdoor stalls hawking Che Guevara t-shirts and a Greenpeace truck mounted with solar electric panels.
The march will cross "Avenida Nader" accompanied by several large puppets ("without strings," they joke), but is expected to be blocked by Mexican federal and local police, in coordination with the FBI, before entering the luxurious First World where WTO delegates meet, stroll, and sunbathe behind well-armed protection.
Today's march is a prelude to larger ones that will be launched Thursday through Saturday, the day when WTO delegates will be under maximum pressure to accept agreements further privatizing Third World economies. Thus, the protest strategy depends on demonstrating broad opposition in the streets to draft trade agreements that many Third World delegates are already reluctant to sign.
On Tuesday, the protest campaign began modestly amidst some confusion, with hundreds of people marching up to the police barricade, where they performed a Mayan ritual before returning to the campsite. The protest was intentionally low-key to avoid mass arrests and detentions.
As always, the protestors gather, study maps, construct puppets and placards, undergo civil disobedience training, and strategize at a "convergence center." The format symbolizes the coming together of the many diverse strands of the struggle, in notable opposition to a centralized hierarchy.
The demands put forward by the protesters combine detailed denunciations of privatization with colorful representations of Mayan deities. A puppet of Caac, the rain god, thunders against the privatization of water. Yum Kaax, the corn goddess, opposes the dumping of cheap corn laced with GMOs. Kukulkan, the god of intellect, rebukes the theft of indigenous culture by corporate patents. Ixchel, the medicine goddess, curses the pharmaceutical manufacturers.
The police, over-reacting to the protests, constructed numerous traffic barriers and checkpoints that tied up traffic all the way to Cancun's international airport. Although the police seem to have been instructed to avoid repressive tactics, the overwhelming police presence in itself could slow or disrupt the passage of delegates to the conference.
One immediate side effect yesterday was to undercut attendance at an international panel for global justice activists sponsored by the San Francisco-based International Forum on Globalization (IFG). Rumors immediately circulated that police were preventing attendees from attending, until it was discovered that the police reaction to the morning's march several kilometers away had temporarily closed the roads. The lack of movement coordination had caused the glitch.
The Forum featured critical analysis from several leading thinkers of the global justice movement. Walden Bello, head of the Bangkok-based Focus on the Global South, spoke of growing internal divisions within the WTO due to the unilateralist policies of the Bush administration. Bello said the U.S. is suffering an economic crisis brought on by over-extension, and is seeking "protectionism for the U.S. and free trade for the rest of the world." He cited the U.S. effort to use the trade process to secure protection for pharmaceutical corporations in the face of popular demand for generic medicines. In addition, Bello noted, the U.S. trade representative is telling countries that they must support American "strategic interests" if they want trade consideration.
Martin Khor of Malaysia, director of the Third World Network, described the unraveling of the so-called Doha development agenda of 18 months ago, and the subsequent disillusionment of Third World countries, which now realize that the U.S. and the EU "don't want to give anything up." Twenty developing countries, including Brazil and China, recently organized to demand that U.S. agribusiness subsidies be phased out, coupled with greater support for small farmers in developing countries.
Lori Wallach, leader of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, released findings that reveal the "devastating" results of nine years of the WTO. Her analysis concluded that:
- The increased volume of trade has not resulted in higher wages for most Americans.
- Import growth has eliminated almost twice as many jobs created by export growth.
- Global poverty has increased (if one discounts the progress made by China with its strong state sector which WTO rules eventually will prohibit) and less-developed nations with the strongest links to global trade have higher rates of poverty;
- The gap between the poorest 20 percent of the world's population and the richest 20 percent is widening, with the poorest representing one percent of the world's income and the richest claiming 86 percent.
The Wallach and others advocate a strategy to "shrink" the WTO to a traditional trade agenda while derailing its ambition to become a world governing body for multinational corporations. The insistence of the U.S. and the WTO on imposing a market fundamentalism on developing countries, she notes, is a purely conservative corporate agenda, not a trade strategy. A strategy of "shrinking" the WTO would increase the movement's alliances with developing countries while also lessening the WTO's usefulness to corporations.
At present, however, corporate lobbyists are well-represented in the WTO through low-visibility lobbies like the Council of the Americas, the U.S. Coalition of Services Industries, the Business Roundtable, and the U.S. Council on International Business. The roster of interlocked companies belonging to at least three of these four lobbying associations includes:
American Express, American International Group, AOL Time-Warner, AT&T, Bell South Int'l, Boeing, Caterpillar, Citibank, Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton, Coca Cola, Colgate Palmolive, Corning, Eastman Kodak, Eli Lilly, Exxon Mobil, FleetBoston, Ford, Halliburton, IBM, JP Morgan Chase, Merck, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Pepsi, Pfizer, Procter and Gamble, Raytheon, Shell, UPS, Verizon, and Visa.