Who will rid us of these meddlesome priests? They have wandered about in Mexico - a gaggle of Catholic and Anglican priests, a former moderator of the United Church, even a few Presbyterians - and they poked their noses into places like Juarez in order to look at Mexico's new industrial complex, and the accompanying lifestyle.
Of course, no one ever said Juarez was Acapulco, for God's sake, and while the people who work in the new economic order for the American branch plants live in shacks, get their water off a truck and are routinely exploited and abused, they have jobs, don't they?
The benefits of free trade are well known to Vicente Fox, the former Coca-Cola sales executive, now president of Mexico. For el presidente, free trade, like the totemic Coke, is the real thing. But the bishops, moderators, priests and the rest had a jingle of their own: "Free trade is, for the people of Mexico, a monstrous fraud."
This alternative and dissenting view from the ad hoc focus group of clerics suggests profound differences between men of the cloth and the men from Coca-Cola.
Fox, as quoted by my morning paper, believes "free trade will improve living standards for his country's 40 million poor." The Catholic bishop of Quebec, Jean Gagnon, told Fox at a meeting following the churchmen's visit to Mexico, "What we saw was nothing less than economic slavery." But, of course, the slaves, too, had jobs.
Against Fox's prophecy we must consider the clergy's findings as to the lot of the working poor in the present.
It may strike some as unseemly to have clergy speaking out with such emphasis. They have never had to meet a payroll, have they? How are we to decide between these two competing visions, as between all those "elected" leaders representing that considerable terrain - America north, south and central - reeking of the euphoric musk of democracy and a new-found collegial prosperity, as against these humble men of compelling compassion?
Are not the poor always to be with us? Then again, it is a poor text unless it is read in its entirety. The poor "shall never cease," the Good Book reads, but it is not ended there. One must "open thine hand wide."
Of course, in the real world, on the right side of the wall at Quebec city, a world leader can get carried away by the alluring vision of compassion that is an okay concept, although something of an anachronism these days. Still, if it means higher wages, higher taxes and some requirement for public housing, running water, and public health, there's only so much that can be done while at the same time protecting the interest of shareholders.
The priests should check out their concerns with Michael Moore, no less than the head of the World Trade Organization, the most powerful, influential, and feared unelected body in the universe since Tomas de Torquemada headed up the Spanish Inquisition.
Last month, speaking for the WTO, Moore was quoted saying, "The people that stand outside and say they work in the interest of the poor people, make me want to vomit.''
This epiphanous sentiment comes from the ranking officer of the WTO. What must the rest of them be like? But it is this sort of arrogance that is so stunningly becoming and appropriate to non-elected global organizations our politicians gathered behind the corporate, conglomerate side of the wall at Quebec city to pay such obeisance and deference. They are not easy to love, some of them, spawned by military juntas and the inspired interventionism of the CIA and other guardians of the Monroe Doctrine. As difficult as they are to love, they are even more difficult to trust.
It is hard to believe them. Easier to believe the testimony of the clergy who, it must be said, are not troubled by conflicts of interest, so many apparent and many more concealed, yet enough to make a catalogue. Given the enormous, unbalanced, unrelenting promotion of free trade in the corporate media, why is there anyone left to doubt, much less to march on Quebec city?
This debate will make of us yet a nation of sceptics. That should be a good thing, both as a necessary inspiration to a renewed democratic spirit, so recently lapsed in ennui and cynicism, and, as well, a tonic to an enfeebled body politic.
The truth about the misnamed overhyped Summit of the Americas is that it is a bad idea whose time has come.
It has been, if nothing else, a conscious-raising non-event. But we need to get it behind us, as they say after so many failed efforts in sports. The protesters have made their point. So have the clergy. One hopes, from now on, no one gets hurt, so that the only casualty will be that of the propaganda, an essential precursor to the restoration of a global dialogue in which the people will have a voice.
Dalton Camp is a political commentator. His column appears on Wednesday and Sunday.
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