For a Brighter World

Quebec Protests –
A new milestone in the anti-globalisation movement

Quebec Protests--
A new milestone in the anti-globalisation movement

We have just watched on television the images of the brutal manner with which the authorities of Canada are repressing the peaceful demonstrations of those that protest against the crime attempted to be committed against the political and economic rights of the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean in Quebec. It is a shame!

I wish to express on behalf of the people of Cuba our sympathy and admiration for the brave and heroic behaviour of those that struggle there for such a just cause.

Governments that deceive the world by calling themselves defenders of human rights treat their own people in such a way. In this manner they pretend to discharge their guilt for the millions of children, women, adults and elderly in the world that, being able to be saved, die every year of disease and hunger. Yet they will not be able to sustain the unfair order they have imposed upon human kind.

We convey our fullest solidarity. Cuba supports you, embraces you and greets you with fraternity.

Fidel Castro Ruz

April 20, 2001 (6:00 p.m.)

George Bush, president of the world’s most powerful imperialist country, and 33 other heads of state had gathered in Quebec for the Summit of Americas to finalise the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement, an expanded version of NAFTA. It was billed as a major event in US imperialism’s continental trade expansionism. But there was one person who was conspicuous by his absence – Fidel Castro. He was not invited on the pretext that Cuba was not a “democracy”. But the heads of socalled democratic states got a different taste of democracy in Quebec. They were greeted by thousands of protesters. Bush and other leaders’ entry into the venue was delayed by an hour. Later they found themselves caged inside a 4.5 km-long iron fencing – a four-meter high perimeter in metal -- dubbed by the demonstrators as the “Wall of Shame”. “My message in being here is that the earth is not for sale and that democracy is not behind walls. It’s about participation at all levels,” said a young arrested protester lying on the ground in handcuffs, according to a Canadian newspaper.

While the free traders were huddled inside the high-security “concentration camp”, the protesters who had freely moved to Quebec from all over Americas, found themselves in free abandon outside. They fought pitched battles for two days, succeeded in pulling down the fencing at several places and at several points of time. Before the barriers to trade could be brought down the "Wall of Shame" was brought down at many places. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and other police forces, who had been mobilised in thousands in the largest ever security operation in Canadian history, pounced upon the demonstrators, brutally beating them up and firing hundreds of teargas shells at them. But they couldn’t succeed in dispersing the demonstrators. They regrouped in no time and came back in waves for fresh assaults. They paid back the compliments for the police and for this they were dubbed ‘violent’. But the protesters in Quebec wrote a glorious chapter in anti-capitalist protests and continued the recent trend of militancy in street battles witnessed in Seattle, Melbourne, Prague, Nice and Davos. Meticulous planning had gone into mobilisation. There were many innovations: newspapers have reported that the demonstrators came with their own “protest-gear” -- self-defence gear, including shields, padding and chemically resistant suits -- to counter the police in “riot-gear”.

Not all the protesters were ‘violent’ as dubbed by the media. It tried its level best to avoid giving due coverage to the protests or tried to show them in poor light. The police and the media, by planting scare stories, tried to turn the local people against the protesters, who were painted as a bunch of anarchists. But the local reportedly participated in good number. A peaceful march was attended by about 25,000 people. Tens of thousands of people who had travelled from different countries of the American continent had come to express their outrage against the socalled free trade policies decided by the government which are increasingly throwing them into unemployment, widening the rich-poor disparity and degrading the environment. The remarkable success of the demonstration had been a foregone conclusion within the first couple of hours on the first day itself, and the Cheretian’s assertion that the Summit was a grand success despite the protests only added official recognition to it.

The summit statement announced the launching of the FTAA by the end of 2005, creating a free trade area from Canada to Chile, with a combined annual output of over $11 trillion. “This agreement, which by its very nature will affect the everyday lives of millions, extends the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to the entire Western hemisphere. It has been the subject of secretive negotiations since the first Summit was held in Miami in 1994. Negotiators have set 2005 as the FTAA’s implementation deadline” reported a newspaper in the alternative media. According to it, “Like NAFTA, the FTAA will submit health, education, environmental and labor standards to the forces of the free market. There are numerous illustrations of how such free trade agreements work in favor of corporations and against governments and individuals. Take the case of Metalclad Corp., a Texas-based toxic waste-disposal company, which accused the Mexican government of violating Chapter 11 of NAFTA. The Mexican state of San Luis Potosi had refused to allow Metalclad to re-open a waste-disposal site that was contaminating the local water supply. In response, Metalclad sought $90 million in compensation. In August 2000, a NAFTA Tribunal ruled in favor of Metalclad, ordering the Mexican government to pay $16.7 million in compensation. Meanwhile, workers have filed more than 20 labor complaints under NAFTA’s labor side agreement, almost all of them against the Mexican government (since NAFTA does not allow complaints to be brought against corporations). In almost every case, fundamental violations of labor law have been proven, yet nothing concrete has been done to redress the workers’ complaints. Incidents like the recent police violence of January 2000 against striking workers at Mexico’s Kuk-Dong garment factory (whose biggest customer is Nike) and the Duro Bag factory (whose biggest customer is Hallmark) point out the impotence of the labor agreements. NAFTA’s protections for labor rights are worthless. The FTAA represents another push to the same neo-liberal agenda.” No wonder, there was a good turnout of workers at Quebec and the chauvinistic overtones of the AFL-CIO campaign which was so prominent at Seattle was less visible. The real issues have a way of forcing themselves on the main agenda.

Trapped inside a fence that divided him from the people, Bush declared that trade and democracy go together. But his was not the last word. “Democracy” could no longer provide the ideological shroud for greed. A few others struck a slightly different posture. Some Latin American presidents called for greater efforts to help the poor feel the economic progress. “You cannot have genuine

democracy in a society where there is so much inequality of poverty, as happens in many areas of Latin America, including Mexico,” said the new Mexican President Vicente Fox, who has been playing to the galleries at home. “We cannot allow ourselves to the mercy of the whims of market forces,” he added. Cuban president Fidel Castro had a very powerful virtual presence at the meet, because his absence was being felt densely and had exposed the democratic claims of the US, the kowtowing of all other states to the US hegemony. Castro threw the issues into sharper relief through his absence more that what he could have possibly done by being present. He sent his message to the protesters (See box) and his inspirational presence was felt very much outside the barricades too. As a quid pro quo for being rewarded with the opportunity to organise the Summit, Jean Cheretian was reported to have succumbed under US pressure to propose the ‘democracy clause’, to keep the Cuban president out. But in the face of mounting criticism on the way the Canadian authorities overreacted to the protests, his net balance-sheet would show a big loss. “This is not the time to grow timid or weary . . . We will inspire the world by our example,” he said at the end of the Summit. If free trade was sought to be beefed up by ‘democracy’ of a certain kind, the anti-globalisa tion movement was bolstered by democracy of a different kind.


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