The FTAA meeting in Miami represented a great victory for global justice activists throughout the Americas; but as is so often the case with the left in the US, anti-FTAA activists are finding it hard to claim victory. Perhaps because we were so overwhelmed by hyper-militarized police on the streets of Miami, by tanks, guns, full-on riot gear and burly agent provocateurs, we lost sight of why we went to Miami in the first place. We wanted to stop the FTAA. And we did. We, and civil society activists throughout South and Central America, kept this trade agreement from happening. A global movement that has been building for more than ten years could not be stopped by rubber bullets, stun guns, pepper spray or tear gas.
Four years ago on the streets of Seattle, we could never have imagined that by 2003 the WTO talks would collapse a second time in the face of unified opposition from developing countries, and the FTAA would be stillborn in Miami. But that’s what happened, and it happened precisely because civil society – union members, farmers, human rights advocates, environmentalists – educated themselves about these trade agreements, becoming as knowledgeable about agricultural subsidies, trade in services, intellectual property and investment measures as any trade specialist. And when they understood just what these trade agreements were about, they said “no.”
The affinity groups of young people on the streets of Miami, the steelworkers in “FTAA Sucks” tee-shirts, the church people holding workshops despite police barricades, and the Root Cause marchers know more about what’s in these trade agreements than Miami’s Chief Timoney ever will. They knew what they were protesting against. So did the people on the streets in Bolivia protesting the privatization of water and the export of natural gas, or the people on the streets of El Salvador protesting the privatization of health care, or the campesinos marching across Mexico, or the farmworkers marching across Florida. These are not “globophobes.” They are people who know what is at stake if corporate globalization is allowed to proceed as planned.
And in many of the countries represented at the FTAA negotiations, those very people have recently elected governments that truly represent them, or, as in Bolivia, have ousted governments which do not. The political climate of South America has changed dramatically in the last year, as Brazil and Argentina have elected leftist Presidents, as Venezuela did in 1998, and Mexico may soon follow. Alliances have been steadily strengthened among the countries of Latin America as well as among the larger coalition of developing countries that in Cancun became known as the G-22. Cancun represented a serious blow to US and EU hegemony in the WTO negotiations. Miami represented a real disaster for US designs on the Western hemisphere.
Why was Miami a victory for the global justice movement? Because literally all of the parts of the FTAA that we opposed were excluded from the final accord. All that was left of “NAFTA on Steroids” was “FTAA Lite,” an agreement that says nothing about investment policy, about agriculture, about trade in services, or intellectual property. There are no forbidden nontariff barriers to trade, and no notorious “Chapter 11” giving corporations the right to sue national governments. All that was agreed in Miami was further talks by September 2004 on market access for nonagricultural goods. This basically reduced the trade agenda to where it was before 1986, when the Reagan Administration opened up the Pandora’s box called the Uruguay Round of GATT.
It took less than a decade from the implementation of NAFTA in 1994 and the creation of the World Trade Organization in 1995 for the hypocrisy of the US position on trade to become obvious, and for workers and farmers in the US and in developing countries to rebel. Despite its free trade rhetoric, the US was not willing to forego subsidies and protections for agribusiness, pharmaceutical and other multinational corporations, particularly those which make significant campaign contributions or are located in politically sensitive states. And despite the declaration that open markets were the best development strategy for poorer countries, it was not difficult for South and Central American nations to assess the reality of Mexico under NAFTA. So when the US refused to budge on subsidies for agribusiness – subsidies that are forcing hundreds of thousands of small farmers off their land – Brazil was able to block the door on the other issues.
The US will not, of course, simply give up their agenda of economic domination of the Western Hemisphere. They immediately announced their intention to go one on one with Latin American nations in bilateral negotiations, and have started the process with Ecuador, Columbia, Bolivia, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Panama. But these are not the significant economies in the hemisphere. In the meanwhile, Brazil is stitching together a far more powerful trading bloc, combining the Mercosur countries with the Andean Pact. Washington will not rest easy until they have derailed this effort.
There are two stories to tell about Miami and the FTAA: one about the trade talks inside the Intercontinental Hotel, and one about the police state outside. Outside the hotel was a militarized zone, a city completely shut down by thousands of heavily armed riot police, tanks and helicopters subsidized by $8.5 million out of the $87 billion Iraq war allocation from Congress. The overreaction of the police would have been comical if it weren’t so very frightening. It gave an accurate and chilling view to Latin American trade ministers and civil society leaders alike of just what kind of relationship between commerce and democracy the US is seeking to export through the FTAA.
We should all be strengthening our resolve to prevent our own government from retaliating as it historically has in this hemisphere and around the world where it felt its dominance threatened. The US has made clear that it favors pre-emptive action when it perceives a threat to its national interests, and that its economic and military agendas are of one piece. In a hemisphere where democracy has always been fragile, today our own seems the most fragile of all. We have our work cut out for us. But first we should celebrate. We have demonstrated that another world is indeed possible, and at least for now, we have stopped the free trade juggernaut in its tracks.
The author, Barbara Dudley, was the former Executive Director of the National Lawyers Guild, Greenpeace USA, and Asst. Director for Strategic Campaigns at the AFL-CIO. She currently teaches political science, including courses on world trade, at Portland State University, Oregon, and went to Miami with the Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Environment, a coalition of grassroots labor and environmental organizations.