Free trade squashes freedom
By Justin Ruben, former Fresno organizer

from Ecuador —
All day Thursday, July 26, the streets of Ecuador`s largest city,
Guayaquil, played host to a symphony of sirens. As pedestrians dodged
to get out of the way, motorcade after motorcade screeched from the
airport to the heavily guarded Hotel Hilton ColÛn. By nightfall, the 12
presidents of South America had arrived for their second-ever
continental summit. When the inaugural session began the next morning,
the main theme discussed was the need to push forward with economic
integration and liberalization, including the U.S.-backed Free Trade
Area of the Americas (FTAA), the extension of NAFTA to the rest of the
hemisphere (minus Cuba). Not surprisingly, this message resounded with
the 1500 influential businessmen and politicians who filled the
audience. But where was the voice of the campesinos (peasant farmers),
maquiladora workers, students, and artesans? The public sector
employees, taxi drivers, and fishers, day laborers, and indÌgenas ?

The vast majority of South Americans would likely have had a very
different reaction to the Presidents` call for integration and free
trade. As Guayaquil`s daily El Universo pointed out, the leaders who
gathered here last week are almost universally unpopular, thanks to an
inciendiary mix of economic crisis, rising poverty, corruption, crime
and militarization that is reproduced with astounding fidelity from
Colombia to Argentina. For most of South America`s residents, 20 years
of globalization and ``neoliberal`` policies pushed by the global
financial elitesóincluding the elimination of protective tariffs and
subsides, cuts in government spending on social services, privatization
and deregulation -- have brought destitution and insecurity, and an
increasingly difficult struggle for day-to-day survival. When faced
with the prospect of the FTAA, a new free trade agreement with the U.S.
that promises more of the same, South America`s powerful social
movements are responding with a resounding, ``°No!`` even as most of
their presidents are lining up to sign.

Nowhere is this other ``anti-globalization`` movement--perhaps better
thought of as the original ``antiglobalization`` movement-- more obvious
than in Ecuador, where indigenous people, youth and women`s groups,
campesinos, ecologistas and trade unions have ousted two presidents in
the last 7 years over attempts at neoliberal reform.

When the leaders of these groups learned that the 12 South American
heads of state would be meeting in their backyard, they were determined
to ensure that their voice be heard amidst the calls for economic
integration, the platitudes about eliminating poverty through rapid
globalization, and the solemn promises of reform. So, working together
in coalition as the National Campaign against the FTAA, they wrote a
letter, addressed ``To the Presidents, From the People of Latin

``We demand,`` they wrote, ``that this important meeting move us toward
a true integration, one which respects the cultural diversity of our
peoples, the diversity of our forms of production, of our comercial
relations and, above all and principally, we demand a commitment to
defend the sovereignty and dignity of our countries.`` They called for
a suspension of the FTAA process, peaceful solution to the conflict in
Colombia, and a coordinated approach to dealing with foreign debt. They
urged true democracy and respect for human rights, not mere lip service.
Above all, they unequivocally rejected U.S.-backed ``free trade`` and
demanded that will of the People be the basis for all decisions taken to
promote peace, justice, and security (see below for the original letter
and an English translation).

Reasoning that a standard missive would be easy to ignore,
representatives of the National Campaign taped together hundreds of
sheets of paper to create a carta gigante, or gigantic letter. It was,
indeed, gigantic (for pictures, check out near the top and the
very bottom). By the time they finished painstakingly hand-lettering
what amounted to a peoples` agenda for the summit, the carta gigante
measured 20ft. by 85ft, and had taken more than 24 hours of frantic work
to complete. Bleary-eyed, and splattered with with paint and magic
marker, the group lowered the carta gigante to the street through the
window of the community center where they put it and carried it to
Guayaquil`s Parque de la Victoria. There, they met up with 120
delegates representing, among others, CONAIE (the formidable national
indigenous federation), CONFEUNASSC (speaking for over a million
campesinos), COESL (The Ecuadorian Federation of Free Trade Unions),
AcciÛn EcolÛgica, la AsosiaciÛn de Migrantes RumiÒahui (a migrant`s
right`s organization), and youth representatives from the city`s poor
barrios. Those present, ranging in age from 5 to 84 years, were
planning to march with the letter directly the site of the summit.
There, they would ask Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to emerge, meet
with the group, receive the letter, and bring a copy inside to read to
the other presidents.

The formidable security apparatus that is now de rigeur at international
summits had other ideas, however, and, as usual, human rights and the
rule of law did not figure prominently in their plans. The police
arrived soon after the giant letter did, and announced that the group
was not to move one step until approval came from above. As the members
of the National Campaign planned only a non-violent march that would
culminate in the symbolic presentation of the letter, they sought a
compromise rather than defy the police. Negotiations ensued while
traffic wove around the marchers and the number of police present
steadily rose. After about 15 minutes, the group received the happy
news that the march could proceed, and all that was required was to
await a police escort. But when two police buses arrived on scene,
their occupants, who were even wearing traffic vests as if they had
arrived to escort the protesters, instead charged the group without

Having watched police disperse or disrupt numerous marches in various
countries, I can say with confidence that the vehemence of the police
response was truly impressive. 20 or 30 officers sprinted to the carta
gigante and destroyed it. They literally looked like a pack of jackals
ripping apart a carcas as they tore the letter from the grasp of elderly
women and adolescents, and crumpled it into a giant ball.

A second group of police charged the main crowd of marchers. They
grabbed the man with the megaphone, an artist with leukemia who had been
up all night before working on the letter, and roughly dragged him to
waiting buses. Almost immediately they went after those who had been
negotiating with the police, and, secondarily, anyone else nearby. The
protesters report being kicked and punched, and many of the women were
dragged by their hair to the buses. The police hauled off Jorge Loor,
member of Congress and president of the CONFEUNASSC. They
pepper-sprayed Roberto Ortega, a prominent local campesino leader, in
the face, at short range. I had one of the only cameras present, and
began taking pictures from the sidewalk, but I was immediately told by a
police officer to stop, or face consequences. Within perhaps a minute,
the giant letter had been destroyed, 22 people were in the police buses,
and everyone else had scattered.

The treatment the marchers received will sound familiar to anyone who
has witnessed police detentions at any of the recent counter-summit
mobilizations in the global North or South. In the bus, when the
marchers attempted to ascertain if everyone was alright, the police
threatened anyone who spoke with a beating. The police merely laughed
when Jorge Loor, who looks more like a typical campesino than a
congressman, said that he was a member of the Congreso Nacional. They
refused entry to reporters, and then allowed one to approach the bus
window but instructed the marchers not to speak. They called the
indigenous protesters various derogatory Ecuadorian terms, and told
several of the women that they belonged in the kitchen cooking, and not
in the street protesting. Soon the protesters were joined by members of
another march that the police had similarly disrupted. Eventually, both
groups were set free the next afternoon, after the intercession of
members of congress, national leaders, and the Venezuelan President.

Perhaps this story hardly seems like news: a relatively small
demonstration destroyed, in an attempt to muffle popular dissent that
would have undermined the attempt by yet another group of beleaguered
world leaders to look presidential and effective. But I think this
event is worth considering for at least two reasons. First, it is a
reminder that free trade and the particular ``neoliberal`` version of
globalization to which we have been subject for the past few decades are
not and have never been about expanding freedom. By almost any index of
social progress, 20 years of neoliberalism have ravaged South America.
As a result, popular opposition to more privatizations, government
belt-tightening, austerity measures, and ``free`` trade is formidable
and mounting, especially when ``free trade`` means that vital U.S.
industries like steel remain protected and U.S. farmers keep their
massive subsidies. At this point, the only way for U.S. corporations
and investors, and their allies among the Latin American commercial
elite, to push forward with neoliberalism is to crack down brutally on
this opposition. Free trade may mean more freedom for investors and
importers, but for human beings, it means not only widening inequality
and insecurity, but government repression when those human beings try to
fight back.

This trend has only intensified since September 11, after which the U.S:
State Department briefly classified both the CONFEUNASSC and the CONAIE
as terrorist groups. In the last year, the drive for corporate
transformation of the global economy has been folded neatly into the
rhetoric of anti-terrorism. George Bush demands not only
democratization but also free market reforms from the Palestinian
Authority as a condition for peace. Anti-terrorist operations dovetail
nicely with the needs of the oil industry in Afghanistan, Colombia, and
the middle east. Meanwhile, the ``war on terrorism`` has been used by
both North and South American governments to justify crackdowns on civil
liberties and resistance to neoliberal initiatives like the FTAA.

In Ecuador, the war on drugs, and, more recently, the fight against
``terrorism`` in neighboring Colombia have served as pretexts for a
drastic increase in the U.S. military presence here, as well as for
limitations on the activities of social movement organizations. For
example, in March, the presence of Colombian campesinos at an
international encampment against the FTAA and Plan Colombia was used to
justify a violent police crackdown on the activists. Similarly, the
military has moved to limit the activities of human rights organizations
in the northern part of the country, and those same organizations have
been condemned by European human rights officials for their ties to
``terrorist`` groups like the indigenous movement. Similar rhetoric
has, of course, been deployed in the U.S. to justify new restrictions on
civil liberties and crackdowns on mass protests in Washington, D.C., and
New York, among other places. For Ecuadorian activists, the fight
against the FTAA is intimately linked to resistance to Plan Colombia,
police crackdowns, Militarization and the rise of right-wing
paramilitaries (who have now made several appearances here).

The second important point is that the abortive march in Guayaquil was
but a dress rehearsal for the 7th ministerial meeting of the Free Trade
Area of the Americas in Ecuador on October 31st. As North America`s
youth don witch, cowboy, and NY Fire Dept. costumes for Halloween, a far
scarier bunch of middle-aged men dressed up like corporate executivesó34
foreign ministers and secretaries of state from across the
Americas--will be converging on the capital city of Quito. Their
fervent hope is finalize the process through which the FTAA will be
negotiated over the next two years. At the same time Ecuador`s social
movements are planning to mobilize tens of thousands of campesinos,
indÏgenas, trade unionists, students, and many other social sectors to
non-violently surround the summit and reject the FTAA. Meanwhile, the
networks that make up the World Social Forum are planning a
counter-summit to discuss alternatives to the death march that is
neoliberal globalization. And groups across the continent, from San
Francisco to La Paz, are beginning to organize coordinated actions.

Was the official government response to the delegates in Guayaquil a
taste of things to come? When the eyes of the hemisphere are focused on
Quito in October, will the police and the army take drastic action to
forestall the possibility of public dissent? It will depend, of course,
on the strength of the mobilization here. But it will also depend on
the ability of global justice activists, trade unionists, students,
campesinos , organic farmers, and the like outside of Ecuador to mount
an effective solidarity effort, to support and draw attention to the
mobilization in Quito, and to press Ecuador`s government to respect the
rights of protesters.

It is more clear than ever that the only way to stop neoliberal
globalization and to safeguard the alternatives that are being
painstakingly constructed by local communities is through concerted,
articulated international action. There is no doubt that resistance
exists in literally every corner of the world. But the effective
coordination of that resistance remains a long way off.

Organizations here view the summit in October as an opportunity to take
a step in that direction. They hope to create new mechanisms of
solidarity and cooperation that will safeguard the mobilization here,
strengthen the networks of resistance across the continent, and ensure
that the world sees that the people of the Americas have unequivocally
rejected the FTAA. To this end, they are actively seeking international
collaborators. Anyone interested in helping to support the mobilization
in October or participate in solidarity efforts should contact the

If the architects of the FTAA are able to realize their neoliberal
dreams, it will represent a giant step backwards for democracy,
sustainability, and the struggle for justice in the Americas. At the
same time, however, the presence of a document that threatens so many
diverse groups across the continent, in the poor countries of Latin
America AND in the U.S. and Canada, offers an unprecedented opportunity.
If the people of this continent act wisely, we can use this threat to
help launch the ultimate counter-FTAA-- our own project of integration,
a continent-wide web of communities struggling together to realize a
totally different vision of America, one based on principles of
solidarity, reciprocity, justice, and respect for natural and human

Justin Ruben

© 2002 Justin Ruben: please feel free to use this article for
non-profit, non-commercial, non-repressive purposes, as long as you let
me know if you are publishing it in some fashion at the address above.



>From the People to the Presidents of South America:

It is an honor for our peoples that Guayaquil was the site where the
meeting between BolÌvar and San MartÌn took place, and, more
importantly, that this historic event lives on as a seed of respect,
bortherhood, and integration among the peoples, young and ancient, of
our Abya Yala, our America. Even more so when the effort to construct a
true integration is essential to the survival of our nations after 500
years of devestating foriegn colonialism.

However, we are concerned that ``free trade,`` as proposed by the
government of the United States, is designed to overcome their trade
deficit at the expense of the depredation of Latin America, and will not
fulfill our peoples` desire for integration on our own terms. The
project of the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) excludes the
impoverished peoples of our continent and is only intended to benefit
the same people who have, for centuries, appropriated our labor, our
natural resources, and our ancestral knowledge. At the same time, we
are subject to military strategies that, on the pretext of combatting
drugs or terrorism, impose, by means of blood and guns, these same
policies that benefit the few and bring misery, hunger and death to the
great majority. This process has a corrosive effect on human rights,
leading to forced disappearances, torture, and the death penalty. Human
rights violations remain unpunished, while discrimination against women,
the elderly, children, indigenous people and Afro-Americans persists.
And the rights of thousands of workers are flagrantly violated on a
daily basis.

As we address the meeting of the Presidents of the countries of South
America in the city of Guayaquil, we demand that this important meeting
move us toward a true integration, one which respects the cultural
diversity of our peoples, the diversity of our forms of production, of
our comercial relations and, above all and principally, we demand a
commitment to defend the sovereignty and dignity of our countries
against the conspiracies of foreign powers such as the one which only
recently tried to destroy the rights of self-determination and democracy
of the Venezuelan people by overthrowing the legitimate government of
President Chavez. In this vein we insist on the necessity of
constructing true democracies, wihch respect and guarantee the genuine
participation of the people. And we insist on the establishment of a
clear commitment to confront together the enormous problems that
obstruct our present and frustrate the future expectations of our
people, such as usurious debt service, and the structural adjustment
policies imposed by international institutions like the World Bank and
the International Monetary Fund. We demand that you definitively define
a common policy for foreign debt, to keep each country from being
individually strangled by creditors, thieves and extortionists.

We ask that this summit commit to suspending negotiation of the Free
Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), as it is a project that will demolish
our weak economies, undermine our productivity, and, above all, will
become a new form of political, military, economic, and commercial
colonialism that may well have consequences more dire than those of
Spanish colonialism. At the same time, we demand and end to the
internationalization of the war in Colombia by way of Plan Colombia,
which represents a departure from the peace-seeking traditions of our
peoples and threatens to transform our continent into a new Yugoslavia,
bled dry by the merchants of death. Rather, we demand a recognition of
the principles of respect for diversity, the unqualified defense of the
right of our peoples to national self-determination, and a true
integration based on the principles of solidarity and diversity. This
is the only way to be true to the legacy of BolÌvar and San MartÌn, and
to construct a single great homeland for the revival and glory of our

For these reasons, Honorable Presidents, we propose the following

1. We demand that you strengthen the interamerican system of protection
of human rights, including ratification of all international treaties
and instruments to this effect, and recognize the jurisdiction of the
Interamerican Court of Human Rights and provide support for the
defenders of human rights.

2. Decisions made by governments must be be based on the decisions of
the people and society in general, in order to strengthen participation
and help construct a true democracy.

3. We demand a firm commitment from all governments to contribute to
ending the grave humanitarian and human rights crisis in Colombia,
including seeking a political solution through peace negotiations,
respecting the sovereignty and self-determination of Colombia`s people.

4. We insist on respect for the sovereignty of our countries and
peoples. It must be the people of each country who resolve that
country`s political, economic, and social problems, using their
constitutional rights.

5. We demand a firm decision to incorporate the demands of indigenous
and Afro-American people in the design and implementation of the public
policy throughout the region. The various states must respect and
recognize Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO),
in order to avoid outrages such as those developing with the Mapuche
people in Chile, and others in the rest of our countries

6. We urge you, first, to sign the International Convention on the
Rights of Migrants, and, second, to initiate a campaign, based on the
principle of reciprocity, to get the states that receive Latin American
migrants to adhere to this international human rights instrument.

7. We propose the creation of an economic reserve and a common currency
which will facilitate economic and social development of our countries
and strengthen South American unity.

8. We demand true agrarian reform and a social security system which
guarantees food sovereignty and social sovereignty of the peoples of our

9. Finally, we propose that this Continental Summit be converted into a
Summit of Peace, of respect for the dignity and sovereignty of our
peoples and nations.


Leonidas Iza
Presidente, CONAIE (Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador)

Jorge Loor
Presidente, CONFEUNASSC (National Federation of Campesino Social
Security affiliates)

Jaime Arciniega
Presidente, CEOSL (Ecuadorian Federation of Free Trade Unions)

Guillermo Robayo
Presidente, RumiÒahui Migrants` Association

Juan Carlos Manzanillas
Presidente, Coordinating Body of Social Movements

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