In Miami last month, trade ministers from around the Americas gathered for talks on the Free Trade Area of the Americas. FTAA negotiations, which have been going on for several years without substantive input from “civil society,” are weighted entirely towards corporate and private profit interests.

A broad range of people from the hemisphere – including students, workers, trade unionists, retirees, environmentalists, farmers, clergy, immigrants, indigenous peoples, artists and consumer advocates – converged in Miami to raise their voices and issues. Unprecedented police intimidation and attacks were employed against the demonstrators. (See coverage in PWW 11/29-12/5.) Lawsuits are being filed against the city of Miami for violations of civil rights and liberties. The steelworkers union has called for congressional investigations.

Despite the Bush administration’s attempt to spin the talks as a victory, most countries did not agree to the administration’s proposals. The talks concluded early and without major signed agreements.

The following is a glimpse at the issues surrounding the FTAA and protests.

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Issues of the protest

* Corporate control vs. public control of the economy, resources and politics.

* Job loss, workers’ rights, the global “race to the bottom” on wages, the growing divide between rich and poor.

* Environmental protection, privatization of water and land, food security.

* Democracy, local control of resources and decision-making, ending police and military repression, no “closed-door” trade negotiations.

* Indigenous peoples’ rights – collective property rights of the hemisphere’s indigenous people vs. private property rights pushed by corporations and governments.

* Trade in services – exporting manufacturing, service and health care jobs, with corporations seeking lowest wages and highest profits.

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Why protest?

“Thank God for students, environmentalists, and the next generation of activists. We can’t win on our own. We’re not against trade. We’re for trade that lifts people up, based on raising people’s living standards, a clean environment and protecting democracy.”

Leo Gerard, president,
United Steelworkers of America

“The FTAA represents a race to the bottom for communities on both sides of the border.”

Genaro Lopez, Southwest Workers Union, San Antonio, Texas

“The FTAA will bring in free trade for services, too, so potentially, it could open all government services for bid: education, hospitals, the postal service, water. It could put it all up for sale.”

Wayne Parker, Postal Workers Union,
Palm Beach County, Fla.

“FTAA is about bigger profits. Third World countries aren’t getting any richer. People are being treated unfairly. We all have to get together. With solidarity we have a chance to turn things around.”

Maureen, steelworker from Indiana

“Corporate control of food destroys local control and access to good, quality food. Monsanto controls 80 percent of the seed companies and the Secretary of Agriculture was a lobbyist for Monsanto.”

Judy, food activist, Oakland, Calif.

“Corporations think in terms of short-term profits. To sustain the environment, we need long-term thinking.”

Pedro Monteiro, engineer,
leader of Broward, Fla., Sierra Club

“I’m here to learn about the FTAA. But, I don’t think corporations should be benefiting from other countries.”

Saad, high school student, Miami

“I’m here because we are losing so many jobs.”

Michael Slaughter,
steelworker, Birmingham, Ala.

“This shows the diversity of the issue. You see young, old, different nationalities. It’s incredible to see people from all walks of life. We are on the same page on this issue. We’re here because of unfair trade policies, not for any violence.”

Ed Reynoso, Teamster, Los Angeles

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The official trade talks

Trade representatives from 34 countries did not agree on the Bush administration-backed FTAA. Many Latin American and Caribbean countries oppose the FTAA, because it gives too much control of their economies to the U.S. and U.S.-based corporations. Brazil led the way in Miami pushing for a “lite” version of the agreement.

Venezuelan presidential FTAA commission member Edgardo Lander commented, “The U.S. corporate agenda has been defeated. And the U.S. government, in order to save face, has decided to pursue Brazil’s proposal. Nothing important was decided. It was all watered-down agreements.”

* Deputy trade ministers will meet in February 2004 in Puebla, Mexico. Trade ministers will have a summit in Brazil in the summer. A 2005 deadline has been set to finish negotiations. After that, the countries have one year to ratify it.

* FTAA will encompass 800 million people – in every country of the hemisphere – except for Cuba – stretching from Alaska to Argentina.

* The Bush administration struck bilateral and multilateral agreements with some countries, in hopes of creating divisions.

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By the numbers

* Protesters: 22,000-25,000

* PWWs distributed at the anti-FTAA events: 9,000-10,000

* Forums/concerts/film showings/rallies/marches listed: 72

* Police: 2,500 from 40 different law enforcement agencies

* Arrests: 250-285

* Cost to taxpayers for the police intimidation: over $10 million,

$8.5 of which came from the $87 billion to supposedly fight terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan.

* Jobs lost directly from North American Free Trade Agreement: 523,779 (source: Dept. of Labor); 766,000 (source: Economic Policy Institute).

* States that have lost the most manufacturing jobs (1998-2003): California (287,700); North Carolina (190,000); Illinois (180,200);

New York (179,400); Ohio (173,900); Texas (165,000);

Michigan (151,500); Pennsylvania (144,500).

Florida stands to lose over 27,000 jobs if the FTAA is adopted.

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An injury to one is an injury to all

Democratic rights of free speech and assembly were attacked in Miami. Call Florida State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle at (305) 547-0100 and demand that all charges be dropped and an independent investigation be conducted.

Join the Steelworkers union and others in demanding a congressional investigation into the Miami police actions and the $8.5 million in federal anti-terrorist funds used to pay for it. Call your congressional representative today: (202) 244-3121.

For more information on the Save Our Civil Liberties campaign:

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Response to police violence

“Trade ministers were met with a red carpet. Our members – the steelworkers, the teachers, the machinists, the auto workers, the retirees – and our coalition partners were met with tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray.”

Thea Lee,
chief international economist, AFL-CIO

“It’s an infringement on our rights. I’m disappointed in Miami. We’re down here with a peaceful protest, carrying flags, wearing T-shirts. We aren’t armed at all, just with knowledge and experience.”

Gary Hawkins,
steelworker, Bloomington, Ill.

“Can you believe the bloody overtime the police are getting? It took 100 years of labor activity to make sure people do get overtime!”

Billy Bragg, British singer/songwriter

“In the face of really provocative police actions, people have been very disciplined and really committed to the movement.”

Bill Davis, AFSCME retiree and
Communist Party USA activist, New York City

“There can’t be any question how wrong this is.”

Cara, college student, Waterville, Maine

“FTAA and free trade is based on threat of the use of force and increasing militarization of the continent.”

Hector De La Cueva,
Hemispheric Social Alliance, Mexico

“It is not uncommon to have this interaction with the police and military. In Bolivia, this year, we had over 100 deaths. The Congress and government are trying to pass laws to criminalize the kind of civil protest that takes place across Bolivia. The violence of the police does not compare to the kind of violence that treaties, such as the FTAA, leave on the people who are unemployed.”

Oscar Olivera, a leader against water privatization, Cochabamba, Bolivia

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What next?

The movement against the FTAA will continue – via protests against the police attack on democratic rights, more mass demonstrations on global justice issues, cultural events, lobbying efforts, and in the upcoming 2004 elections.

As one woman, Ingrid, a Jamaican immigrant, hospital worker, and Service Employees union member from South Florida, told a Miami press conference, “2004 is going to be a landmark year. I hope we win. If we don’t it’s not because we didn’t fight.”

The author can be reached at