|English | Español||May 20, 2018 | Issue #31|
Cancún Trade Battle also Turns the Tables on the Drug War
Poor Countries Set a Precedent for How to Beat Impositions by the Wealthy Countries
By Al Giordano
Korean farmer Lee Kyung-hae climbs a fence to speak before taking his own life to protest WTO agricultural policy in Cancún, Mexico
Photo D.R. 2003 Victor Ruíz/Por Esto!
The main reason that the central Mexican State became largely irrelevant to the events was that, on the level of local public opinion, the Cancún-Yucatán peninsula region – even after being fed horror-stories by the national media portraying critics of the WTO as crazy and violence-prone “globalophobics” – rapidly opened its arms to the protesters.
The City of Cancún’s “Casa de Cultura” (“House of Culture”) became the base of operations for dissident farmers from Mexico and elsewhere whose livelihoods were threatened by the proposals on the negotiating table inside the posh hotel zone of Cancún. The region’s fishermen – a significant and important population in this coastal area – also organized and worked together with the protestors: their livelihood, too, was threatened by WTO proposals to give unfair advantage to large multinational fishing conglomerates in the Caribbean and other regions.
At the grassroots level, Civil Society in the Yucatán peninsula – in no small part due to the authentic journalism of the Cancún region’s largest daily, Por Esto! – opened a space for thousands of “globalocríticos” (Por Esto!’s substitute term for the insulting title of “globalo-phobics” invented by those cowards who try to drum the courageous out of the debate) to move in the streets and on the beaches despite an overwhelming military and police effort to squash them.
Photo D.R. 2003 Gonzálo Subirats/Por Esto!
Mario explained that, prior to the WTO meeting, the local business sector was opposed to the protests, whereas the political sector was already divided. “Some felt the publicity would be good for local tourism. Others felt that the negative publicity, especially about poverty and misery on the outskirts of Cancún, would be harmful.”
“But the general population,” explained the veteran journalist, “agreed with the globalocríticos, with the position of the weakest standing up to the strongest.”
A collective hush fell over the Yucatán peninsula – and much of the world – on September 10th, when Korean Farmer Lee Kyung-hae, 56, his once-thriving farm destroyed by market policies misnamed as “free,” took his life in protest on the streets of Cancún.
Say what you want, kind reader, about the tactic, or about suicide in general, or the mental state of the destroyed farmer, but that single act, with one swift movement of a knife, ratcheted the story up to a new and more serious discourse than the formulaic cops-versus-protestors wire stories had so far offered.
That was the turning point, according to Menéndez: “The sacrifice by the Korean marked the difference. When he died, the WTO died with him: we called it the symbolic death of the oppressors.”
Indeed, Por Esto!’s coverage – led by its photo editor, Narco News School of Authentic Journalism professor Gonzálo Subirats, with photographer Victor Ruíz and the reporting team, who were on the scene to archive it – was an example of graphic, gripping, yet responsible journalism at a tense moment. “The journalism we presented,” recounts Menéndez, “especially graphically with photos, reflected the public view. After the death of the Korean, we showed him while he was still alive, with his banner, later, his knife, then, his supporters, and the following demonstration led by the Koreans. And it was clear that they were against confrontation. The message they transmitted, which is peace with justice, resonated with local public opinion. And we showed that the protesters were not crazies looking for confrontation with the police, and this was showed with the photographs as well as text.”
Post-WTO meeting, public opinion in the host city runs so deep that Cancún Mayor Juan García has proposed erecting a monument to the memory of Lee Kyung-hae.
The revolt, as immediate history reveals, was not simply in the streets, and spread far beyond the locals. People came from all over the world. Last month, the Zapatistas – in many ways, the moral leaders of the Mexican body politic – issued a communiqué calling to join the protests in Cancun. Mexican farmer, labor, and student organizations rented buses from all corners of the Republic to participate in the protests, adding a solid working-class Mexican base to the ranks of the activists from around the world who could afford to travel to expensive Cancún. This, too, helped turn local public opinion.
Photo D.R. 2003 Gonzálo Subirats/Por Esto!
Menéndez, a fierce critic of Fox’s policies, says that the events in Cancún crystallized, for the public, the conflict between Fox’s subservient-to-the-gringos “free market” enthusiasm and the real human needs of Mexican farmers and consumers. “Fox’s position, post-Cancún, won’t be as easy as it was before. If he wants to deliver Mexico to U.S. economic policies, he will have to answer to the Mexican producers. They can’t compete with the U.S. government subsidies to its producers and farmers. The situation in Mexico was not easy. Now, that fact is clear to the public.”
Traditionally and for decades the Mexican government was the interlocutor between all of Latin America and the United States. But Fox’s quick fall from grace after his election in 2000, combined with the 2002 election, in Brazil, of a new player on the global stage – President Lula da Silva – has reshuffled the international deck. Lula, and not Fox, now leads an increasingly united Latin America.
Photo D.R. Victor Ruíz/Por Esto!
The Times blames what it calls “a number of rich nations” for derailing the talks (it names Japan, Korea, and the European Union, but doesn’t explain why it blames them over the multitude of poorer nations who led Sunday’s walk-out, effectively a “negotiator’s strike” that shut down the misery factory: the Times is historically loathe to give any credit to the hoi-polloi). The Times editorial states: “contrary to the mindless cheering with which the breakdown was greeted by antiglobalization protesters at Cancún, the world’s poorest and most vulnerable nations will suffer most.”
But the Times – the “paper of record” from “the capital of capital” – admits, a couple of graphs later, that the leadership to blow up the WTO talks came not from Europe or Japan, but, rather, from below: “The principal demand of these developing nations, led at Cancún by Brazil, has been an end to high tariffs and agricultural subsidies in the developed world, and rightly so. Poor nations find it hard to compete against rich nations’ farmers, who get more than $300 billion in government handouts each year.” (Emphasis added.)
Photo D.R. Victor Ruíz/Por Esto!
The late Johnny Cash may have also been watching over the proceedings, dressed in black from the “old cotton fields back home” of the great beyond. U.S. negotiators were unwilling to acquiesce to their own so-called “free trade” position when it came to government cotton subsidies. This is what led to the explosion: African cotton-producing nations told Washington to fuck off, and that led the exodus of developing nation negotiators from the convention hall. As Cash once sang: “It may sound a little bit funny, but you don’t make very much money in them old cotton fields back home.”
Still, the “Blame Brazil” chorus, today in whispers, is likely to increase in volume as the search for scapegoats begins. Take Alan Oxley, Australia’s former ambassador to the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) organization, commenting Monday over at Tech Central Station:
“Those who lined up with Brazil at Cancun to insist that developing countries should not cut agricultural trade barriers in the agricultural negotiations should be wondering now if they did the right thing. The baby got thrown out with the bathwater. It serves them right. They forgot what the WTO is about.”
Damn elections! Democracy, it turns out, is in the way of imposed trade policies, according to the pro-imposed market position of Oxley and his fellow travelers.
Oxley is in a state of shock and disbelief that “big” nations like India, China, Thailand, and the Philippines would join with other developing nations in a show of force and unity because, according to him, “they are big enough to look after themselves,” but, by “hooking into the Brazilian ploy” they have, warns Oxley, “unleashed serious consequences.”
Scratch the surface of a self-proclaimed “free-market” enthusiast, and more often than not you’ll find an anti-democracy soul. Oxley could be a poster boy for that tendency. He complains of the walkout by “the African and Caribbean nations—numerous in the WTO but inconsequential in trade.” In other words, “one man, one vote” (or “one country, one vote”), in a world where the majority (and the majority population of most nations as a whole) is poor, should not count: what counts to the rich and their negotiators is “one dollar, one vote”: Oxley wants to continue a game with rules that favor the wealthy nations (and the wealthiest powers within those nations) already. Well… at least he’s honest enough to admit it.
True, Brazil, under the democratically-elected and popular government of Lula da Silva, sure did stir up a shit storm: but the manure – made of the proverbial waste products of “globalization” known as misery and poverty – was already there, just waiting for the wind from below.
Say this for Glenn Harlan Reynolds, the pro-market “>Insta-Pundit and undisputed hit-count king of Blogolandia: he’s at least commenting on these earthshaking events while other neo-libertarian bloggers have fled from the debate as rapidly as WTO negotiators walked out. Reynolds called Sunday’s shocking turn of events “a very unfortunate day.”
Photo D.R. 2003 Victor Ruíz/Por Esto!
Well, I ask: Where would the “poor countries” get an idea like that? Obviously, they got it from the rich countries who have insisted, since the beginning of the misnamed “free trade” era – just look at the unfair provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and what they’ve done to Mexico’s farmers in less than a decade – on imposing different rules for the developing world than they are willing to obey themselves.
Back during the early-1990s debate over NAFTA, Jonathan Larson made an interesting observation about the relationship between “free trade” politics and drug wars:
The first time the arguments of free trade were used to sway public opinion occurred with the Opium Wars in China of 1839-42 and renewed in 1856-60. British drug dealers were importing approximately a ton of opium per day from India. The Chinese grew resentful at the damage this volume of addiction was causing their society and tried to close their borders. The Brits were ruthless in suppressing this tiny revolt of drug-hating nationalist Chinese. The Encyclopaedia Britannica estimates that as many as 20,000,000 of them died as a result of the Opium Wars.
When the word leaked out about the extent of this carnage over what was essentially a drug deal gone bad, polite society in Britain scrambled to find an intellectual cover for their actions in China. Free trade, the right of passage of goods between nations, could not be impeded. This war was not about drugs but to secure a greater prosperity for all. Because she lost the wars, China granted Britain a free port – Hong Kong. Hong Kong was a British demand because it “proved” the Opium Wars were not about drugs but about free trade. With their cultural consciousness soothed, polite Britain returned to the more mundane outrages of colonialism.
Lest one think that free trade as moral cover for drug dealing is the problem of our ancient past, a recent example should suffice. Thailand, citing ample health warnings, decided to ban the importation of tobacco, a dangerous drug more addicting than heroin according to the U.S. Surgeon General. Thailand was forced to repeal their health legislation in the late 1980s to satisfy the requirements of the international trade bureaucrats who ruled that such laws cannot be allowed because they restrain trade.
The government most interested and invested in the policy of the drug war and at the same time is its grand promoter, he said, is the United States government, which has used the policy to subjugate the countries of Latin America. On one end they use the “de-certification” process. De Greiff notes: “They’ve used this on multiple occasions as a threat when U.S. conditions that have nothing to do with the drug war are imposed, as was the case in 1995 when the U.S. Ambassador in Colombia conditioned that country’s certification on changes in a banana export agreement with Europe.”
What has happened now, as a result of Cancún, is an important development on the drug policy reform front: Chalk it up to the law of unintended consequences. A major consequence for the “free trade agreements” movement, now, post-Cancún, having lost its sheen of inevitability (and, I venture, dead in the water like the WTO that was its biggest fish), is that the bottom has fallen out from Washington and Wall Street’s big push for the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).
When it comes to Latin American trade agreements, the Bush administration has lost the upper hand. The Lula administration, in Brazil, has grabbed the steering wheel, and now counts with the global support from nations with smaller economies, not just in Latin America, but across the globe: nations that, collectively, represent a majority of the world’s population.
No longer counting with the momentum to ram “free trade agreements” down the throats of smaller nations, Washington is going to have to reassess its entire Latin American strategy. Even the Bush White House now admits that the trade agenda must “pause” for a spell, and regroup.
And as Lula, the former steelworker and union leader, now president of Latin America’s biggest country, said in a speech on Monday about the Cancún fallout:
“I learned that nobody respects someone who negotiates with his head bowed. Nobody respects anyone who negotiates as a lackey. With our heads lifted, defending our self-interest, we shall be able to grow and open extraordinary spaces…”
Lula, as documented extensively on Narco News, is also a longtime critic of prohibitionist drug policies.
The precedent set in Cancún – of economically weaker nations banding together to resist the impositions of economically stronger nations (a trend noticed by leading U.S. drug policy reformer Ethan Nadelmann in his recent Foreign Policy magazine analysis ) – is precisely the prescription that can finally turn the tables on the US-imposed “war on drugs.”
Until last weekend, the strategy of the weaker nations uniting against the impositions by the economically stronger ones, was a theory, floated in the year 2000 by Narco News, and tested, successfully, last December at the Organization of American States.
Today, in the post-Cancún context of “globalized resistance,” it is a repeating and replicating trend.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism