QUEBEC CITY - A diverse coalition of pro-labor, human rights and student activist groups are mustering forces here to protest upcoming talks on the viability of a hemispheric trade pact.
Busloads of protesters from across Canada, joined by US, Central and South American activists, are making their way to this historic provincial capital to open the People's Summit Monday, ahead of the April 20-22 Summit of the Americas where the future of the Free Trade Area of the Americas will be plotted.
No one is sure how many anti-free trade protesters will converge here this week as 34 heads of state and government meet, but police and organizers estimate it could be anywhere between 10,000 and 50,000.
The university students, retirees, environmentalists and union members have differing views about what the People's Summit should accomplish, and they are all-too aware how difficult those goals will be to accomplish from behind the fence built to separate them from the world leaders.
A man walks past a security barrier Thursday, April 12, 2001 erected for next week's Summit of the Americas painted with graffiti. The graffiti compares the fence, shown here next to the historic fortified walls that surround Quebec City, to the Berlin wall. (AP Photo/CP, Jacques Boissinot)
While police expect the majority of Summit demonstrators to be peaceful, the 6,000-strong force -- clad in riot gear and equipped with pepper spray and rubber bullet-launching Arwen 37 weapons -- is prepared for the worst.
A 10-kilometer (six-mile), three-meter (10-foot) high fence will separate the protesters and their Carnival Against Capitalism from the world leaders.
For some, to shut down the talks as protesters did temporarily in 1999 in Seattle, Washington during a meeting of the World Trade Organization, would be ideal.
For others, to build momentum for an anti-globalization movement, which gained footholds in Seattle, in Washington, DC at the World Bank/International Monetary Fund meetings and in Davos during the World Economic Forum, ahead of November's planned WTO meetings in Qatar, is another goal.
But for this week's meeting, the protestors' main aim is to voice vehement opposition to the proposed FTAA, which plots a free trade zone from the southern tip of Chile to the northern reaches of Canada by 2005.
"I think we have already achieved one of our main objectives, which is to hightlight the danger the FTAA poses to public education," said Erin George, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Federation of Students.
"We also want Canada to pull out of the FTAA negotiations and stop pushing this agenda that will commodify vital services like public education into something that is bought and sold for profit," she added.
Criticism of trade pacts in the face of ongoing globalization is not enough according to some who seek ways to ensure a globalized Americas gives adequate protection to workers, the environment and public services.
The 300-group Hemispheric Social Alliance, has monitored FTAA plans since a 1998 summit and expects to unveil a list of revised alternatives to the trade pact by the end of the People's Summit.
Patty Barrera, whose Common Frontiers is part of the alliance, said they have a three-pronged agenda: to make the FTAA process more democratic; to develop alternatives to a hemispheric pact; and to create a future vision for the Americas.
"We want to show that a different kind of Americas is possible," she said.