Free Greed Area of the Americas...
Protesters to meet Miami FTAA trade meeting November 19-21
Privatization getting you down? Well, fasten your seatbelts, because if U.S. Trade czar Robert Zoellick and his goons have their way, the last few years will look like an experiment in socialism. According to our thoughtful friends in the research department, the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) is likely to be a playground for anyone with the wealth to turn a school or a prison or a postal service into a private enterprise. Of course, we ordinary citizens can't confirm any of this because you have to own a multinational to even peek at the top-secret documents.
The FTAA agreement is an extension of NAFTA-which covered Canada, the U.S., and Mexico-to the entire hemisphere (except Cuba, which is still in the doghouse for having the highest literacy rate and sending doctors to anyone who needs one). Anyway, NAFTA was supposed to create jobs.
Instead, according to the Communications Workers of America, at least 844,000 people in the U.S. lost their manufacturing jobs last year alone under NAFTA (an estimated 2 million since 1998). Those people, if they were lucky, joined the service industry, where, according to the Economic Policy Institute, they now earn an average of 23% less than they did before. Now, some new jobs were created in the same time. But having a job is not a guarantee that you can make ends meet. Just ask workers in Mexico, where minimum wages lost almost half of their purchasing power in the last decade.
Canada didn't fare too well either. Real incomes for Canadians declined under NAFTA; as in the U.S. only the wealthiest fifth got filthier, I mean wealthier.
The most outrageous aspect of NAFTA is that corporations are allowed to sue governments for loss of profits due to any "barrier to trade." So when citizens of San Luis Potosí, in northern Mexico, opposed the siting of a toxic waste dump in Guadalcazar County, Metalclad Corporation sued and won $16.7 million in damages from Mexico through the NAFTA tribunal because it constituted an "expropriation" of future profits.
That's what they mean by free trade: squelch popular opposition. Actually it looks a lot like a protection racket: Governments-with our money-pay companies not to pollute. In 1998 Canada had to pay Virginia-based Ethyl Corporation $13 million because their decision to ban the toxic gasoline additive MMT represented a "barrier to trade."
On September 4, Catholic Bishops of South America criticized the upcoming agreement: 'What we condemn is that the only aim of the project is to increase trade flows, regardless of whether or not it devastates everything and everyone in its path," said Bishop Pablo Galimberti of Uruguay. They called it "neo-colonialist."
Maybe the most frightening feature of the Free Greed Area of the Americas is the inclusion of GATS (General Agreement on Trades and Services). It is intended to "phase out government barriers to international competition in public services." In short it declares open season on education, health care, social security, culture and environmental protection: anything that smells like profit.
As a sign of things to come, UPS sued the Canadian postal service to the tune of $230 million, because its tax-payer-funded postal services represent unfair competition. Soon, as populations petition their governments for protection the governments will respond, "we'd like to help you, but our hands our tied. Aren't you glad you almost have a job?"
So a broad coalition of groups will be protesting the FTAA when trade ministers for the 34 countries meet in Miami this November. Among the groups are the Coalition of Immokalee Farm Workers, which represents Latino, Haitian, and Mayan Indian immigrants working in low-wage jobs throughout the state of Florida; the Miami Workers Center, which organizes on behalf of African Americans around the Liberty City area; Africa Action, working to effect international social justice in US policy; the Florida Fair Trade Coalition, a network of social justice concerns (also helping to organize the national Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, which visits Gainesville October 6 at the CMC); as well as a myriad of the usual suspects: Global Exchange, the AFL-CIO, Food First, Jobs with Justice, the NAACP, Rainforest Action Network and so on.
Also visiting Miami that week will be an undisclosed number of federal and 33 local law enforcement agencies. Miami Police Chief John Timoney (formerly of Philadelphia) presided over the rampant and often brutal disregard for civil liberties that characterized protests of the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in 2000, like the swat-style raid of the Spiral Q puppet space, in which paint brushes were identified as weapons of mass destruction.
New ordinances in Miami prohibit the carrying of golf balls, hockey pucks, tear gas masks, and sticks larger than your niece's pinkie (and hockey pucks are so popular at protests these days!) Effectively banned by the hysterical city commission are stilts, puppets, and banners. As we go to press there are rumors that a legal challenge to the ordinances may follow.
Much of downtown will be fenced in, and heavily guarded: off-limits to anyone without security clearance. Participants in the permitted march organized by the AFL-CIO will be bussed in to the police-approved "protest zone" and bussed out afterwards. And Iraq is in need of democracy?! Looks like some democracy is in short supply everywhere you look...
Still, organizers are undaunted. Sixty miles north of Miami, in Lake Worth, Florida, on October 1, a volunteer-run artist workshop is opening "to make large puppets, stilts, bicycles, banners, drums, props, costumes and to practice radical cheerleading and participatory theater," says their call. "The Lake Worth Global Justice Group (LWGJG) is reclaiming a forgotten form of people's theater to raise awareness about global and local issues through art-making, protest, and public performance." For more information call 561-547-6686 x 3, or by email write to email@example.com.
Of course, you can't blame NAFTA, or the FTAA for all the bad economic news, but the same smiling faces who are selling these so-called trade agreements are helping themselves to the cookie jar in other ways. This little agreement is only the latest of their strategies to disenfranchise our children from the world that belongs to them. So if stopping the exploitation of working people is on your agenda, here's a few things you can do:
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