A Radical's Guide to Miami
Activists have dubbed the FTAA "NAFTA on steroids." The NAFTA agreement, which eliminated trade barriers between the US, Canada and Mexico, was a disaster for working people. Despite promises that free trade would create jobs and wealth, the opposite was true for millions of Americans north and south of the border. The open market did benefit large corporations however, by removing barriers to investment and giving them access to cheap labor. The NAFTA rules even gave companies exemption from local laws in place to protect working conditions and the environment. Supporters of the FTAA say that the agreement is on track to be in place by 2005.
But many believe there are alternatives to free trade, and will be holding their own talks in Miami. Following the collapse of the WTO ministerial in Cancun in September, the mood is hopeful. Protesters will be arriving from all over the American continent, including many who have already set off on foot for Southern Florida from various US cities. Members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, along with activists from other organizations from the US and Latin America, will walk 34 miles to downtown Miami over three days, to draw attention to the impact of free trade policies on the poor through rallies, press conferences, concerts, and workshops on the road.
Indymedia, the DIY grass roots media network, has set up a new website dealing specifically with free trade and events to come during the ministerial. Indymedia will also be running a media centre in Miami during the protests, with free internet available for anyone who wants to contribute articles and photos to the site or check emails. (See http://www.ftaaimc.org)
Washington DC-based Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch is set to publish a four-page printed guide to events taking place during the ministerial protests, including local transport details, hotels and cheap places to eat. There will be childcare available for those that need, run by volunteers. Events will include conferences on the effect of free trade on women, military aid and free trade, alternatives to corporate globalization, a gala, brunches, and film showings. There will be several events in Spanish, organised by the Comite Latino en contra del ALCA (Latin Committee against the FTAA) of Miami. There will even be a protest strip against Gap, the clothes company notorious for its use of sweated labour, at one of the chain's swankiest branches on Miami Beach. (See http://www.citizenstrade.org/miamicalendar.php)
Thousands of the Miami protesters are planning to travel through Georgia on their way home, to attend the annual vigil at the notorious military training school, the School of the Americas (now called WHISC) from November 21-23 in Fort Benning, near Atlanta, to speak out against US military involvement in Latin America and remember the victims of torture and disappearances. (See http://www.soaw.org)
Protest organizers have stressed the peaceful nature of the events planned. According to United For Peace, actions will "maximize respect for life, embody the compassion, creativity, and direct democracy of the world we are creating ... respect the lives, needs and concerns of the people of Miami and those who have come to protest the FTAA." Controversy over the protest has been raging for months in the local media, which is mainly in support of free trade. The business community fears what is termed "a reoccurrence of Seattle" in 1999.
Miami City politicians have approved an ordinance giving the police temporary powers to control protesters, and banning anyone from carrying water balloons, sticks more than a quarter of an inch wide, among other objects. Those in favor of the ordinance make no secret of their wish to keep the protests under control and say they must walk a fine line between free speech, public order and protection of private property. Activists predict that the new rules will be used to criminalize protesters and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says they endanger free speech and peaceful protest. (See http://www.aclu.org) Authorities are planning to have 2,500 police officers on the streets during the ministerial.
Meanwhile, Greenpeace ship the MV Esperanza is anchored in waters off Miami Beach as Miami Port authorities have refused to allow the ship to dock pending prosecution by the US Justice Department for a peaceful protest last year. The unprecedented case will be heard in Miami in December. Events in Miami over the coming weeks will determine not only the future of free trade in the Americas, but also the path of non-violent resistance in the US.
Lissa Rees is a freelance writer from London based in Miami, Florida, who writes on social issues, especially in Latin America. Her articles have appeared in New Internationalist and Red Pepper. She is currently working on a documentary film about US foreign policy in Colombia and Ecuador. She can be reached at: Herman_melissa@hotmail.com
Other Articles by Lissa Rees