HAVANA – ‘Another America is possible’ was the theme of the Second Hemispheric Meeting against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which closed Nov. 28 here with a rousing call to action and struggle against the FTAA throughout the Americas.

The FTAA, a greatly expanded version of NAFTA, which would supposedly encompass all the countries in North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean, is in the process of being negotiated behind closed doors by trade ministers, under heavy pressure from the Bush Administration to speed up adoption by 2005. Bush already rammed through Congress ‘fast track’ authority, which restricts Congressional participation, limiting it to an up-or-down vote on the final version of FTAA.

Coming at a time of rising struggles and ferment all over Latin and Central America, the action plan focused on demonstrations, meetings, and other forms of struggle over the coming year. The most important will be hemisphere-wide demonstrations at the time of the Cancun, Mexico, meeting of the World Trade Organization, Sept. 10-14, 2003. There will be massive demonstrations in Cancun, and the conference called for support demonstrations in all the countries of the Americas and the Caribbean on Sept. 10.

The Conference, attended by over 1,000 participants, celebrated the electoral victories of Lula in Brazil and Gutierrez in Ecuador, and called for support for these progressive governments as well as that of President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

Along with the election of Lula to the presidency, Brazilians also voted against the FTAA by an almost unanimous margin of 98 percent in the first of several plebiscites expected in the region.

Ricardo Alarcon, President of Cuba’s National Assembly, gave a detailed defense of the Cuba Five, imprisoned in the U.S. for fighting terrorism directed at Cuba from Florida. He explained that the case exposes the hypocrisy of U.S. claims to be fighting a war against terrorism.

President Fidel Castro, head of the Cuban Communist Party, spoke for over three hours, in a wide-ranging speech covering the complex of issues facing the workers and movements of the Americas, as well as the challenges faced by Cuba due to the decades-long blockade, the Helms-Burton Act, and ten years of work to solve economic problems caused by the collapse of Cuba’s markets in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. He also urged delegates not to underestimate the importance of winning the people of the U.S. to the struggle against FTAA, praising ‘the great strength of the U.S. people, who will not support bad policies unless they are first deceived.’ He again condemned the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as ‘unjustifiable under any circumstances.’

Indigenous farmers, youth, academics, women, trade unionists, and leaders of political movements and NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) addressed the conference as well. The negative effects that the FTAA will have on biodiversity, sovereignty, the debt crisis, employment and working conditions, and development were condemned, along with the militarization of U.S. relations with Central and Latin America, exemplified by Plan Colombia and the construction of new U.S. military bases.

Delegates were invited to attend the opening ceremony of the First Cuban Olympic Games. This year’s host of the Central American Games, El Salvador, refused to guarantee adequate safety and security for the Cuban athletes, so Cuba decided to hold their own games instead. Athletes from several countries came to Cuba to participate, including a U.S. bicycle team.

The opening ceremony, held in Jose Marti Revolution Plaza in Havana, was attended by thousands of the sports-minded Cuban youth. An exciting choreographed history of the many cultures of Cuba showcased dance, instrumental and choral music, and brief athletic displays. The evening culminated with a spectacular fireworks display over the statue of Jose Marti, historical leader of the Cuban independence struggle.

The coming year will see demonstrations, conferences, plebiscites, academic studies and peasant and workers’ strikes against the FTAA, NAFTA, and in support of progressive change in the Americas. The thousand-strong delegates pledged to continue to discuss, debate, and coordinate efforts to build a more just economic structure for trade and development that benefits all, not just the multinational corporations.

The author can be reached at marcbrodine@attbi.com