Last year's negotiations for the FTAA (Free Trade Agreement of the Americas)
in Miami represented a great change. The United States wanted to do everything
to make sure that there would not be an impasse as there was at the World
Trade Organization meeting in Cancun, Mexico, in September. Brazil was able
to take advantage of this and made a proposal to change the basic structure
of the FTAA.
The proposal is an "FTAA
Lite," which has almost nothing what the U.S. wanted originally. According
to this proposal, there would be a minimal level of commitment for all countries
who sign the accord. Individual countries would later have the flexibility
to make bilateral agreements in areas where they have more interests.
In the areas of the accord
which would be more damaging for Brazil, such as investments, services, governmental
purchases and intellectual property rights, Brazil has already not accepted
what the original WTO accord proposes. Brazil made it very clear that it would
not accept anything except the proposal it was making.
In Miami, it was Brazil
and the U.S. fighting against 13 countries that wanted an all-encompassing
FTAA. (These 13 were Canada, Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador,
Nicaragua, Guatemala, Panama, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru.)
The problem is that the
content of this FTAA Lite was not defined here in Miami. It will only be defined
at the next meeting of committee negotiators in Puebla, Mexico, in February.
There the proposal will be finished to be voted on in a meeting of the ministers
of the 34 countries, which will take place in Brazil in July.
Some analysts of the proposal
say that Brazil is leaving small countries at the mercy of the U.S. in regards
to the bilateral proposals. But the reality is that Brazil has no control
whatsoever over countries that make these bilateral agreements. In the areas
where Brazil does have some influence, it has at least taken out the worst
parts of the FTAA.
It was a victory for Brazilian
diplomacy. Still, it was not enough for our campaign, which does not want
any type of FTAA, whether it be all-encompassing or lite. In Miami, there
was hope in that the U.S. at least accepted the idea of an FTAA Lite, something
that US business did not want and complained about a great deal.
But in terms of content,
the specific negotiations were merely delayed. "What we are seeing here
is simply a delaying of substantial negotiations. Although the defeat of an
all-encompassing FTAA is important, we are still worried about the future
negotiations as developing countries acted in a very fragmented form in Miami.
If this disunity continues, certainly the US will take advantage of this and
push its original FTAA proposal," said Fatima Mello of REBRIP (A Brazilian
In Miami, the official
march went off fine from 12-3 p.m. or so. It was after, as we were hanging
out, that things started heating up. We (me and the Brazilian folks) were
just about to head out to get something to eat when a small group of 6-7 people
with percussion instruments started playing and marching towards the line
of police in riot gear.
I went together with a
reporter of the Brasil de Fato to take some pictures. Some 200 people
started to crowd around the "musicians" and started dancing and
chanting in the face of the police. This went on for 3-4 minutes and was starting
to get boring and people were beginning to disperse. Then a police officer
with a bullhorn came out and said that as long as the protest was non-violent,
it could continue, if not it would be stopped immediately.
Nothing happened for a
while longer. I don't know what happened, could be that someone threw something,
but the police began beating on their shields and advancing slowly on the
crowd. People got worried and began running away. As space opened up between
the police and the crowd, I saw a few plastic water bottles flying toward
the police. I stayed relatively close to the police with the press corps in
order to take some pictures.
The police looked like
little storm troopers all in black with big padding everywhere, helmets with
visors, shields, clubs and guns. A few of them had rifles that fired rubber
bullets, beanbag bullets and tear gas. Basically, the police would advance
some 20-30 feet and then stop for a minute or so during which they would shoot
rubber bullets at whoever and shoot tear gas.
Luckily the wind was in
the police's face, so all the tear gas wafted back to them. I got hit 6-7
times in the back, side, wrist and legs even though I did nothing but take
pictures together with press folks. I saw one photographer who was very close
to the police get mauled by two guys with special shields that had metal bars
around them. They suddenly appeared from behind the police line and pounced
on him with the shields.
Turns out that the metal
bars give a strong shock and the guy fell down and was shocked for 3-4 seconds
by both shields as he convulsed on the ground. Very spooky. Then the two police
disappeared behind the line again. They continued pushing us back until we
encountered another line of police and were forced up a little side street.
Here it continued the
same way. They would advance a little, shoot everybody and then advance again.
The problem was that the anarchist kids were taking advantage of our numbers
and throwing things at the police from behind us. A block up the street, the
anarchists set fire to some trash cans and set up a barrier with a dumpster
and wood. That was when I decided that I wanted to get out of there as things
were only going to get worse.
The problem was that there
was no way out. We came up to a part in the street with a little plaza on
the side. I thought I would stay in the plaza, let the police pass by and
then go home, but soon saw that that was a stupid idea as the police weren't
about to let anyone behind them (logically). So they started advancing and
closing off the plaza.
Behind us was a 5 ½
foot wall. The police were advancing quickly and I saw that I would not be
able to get back to the street before the police and would definitely get
it from the police, so I jumped the wall. As I jumped, they sprayed me with
pepper spray, but mostly got my back (I had a Brazilian flag as a capevery
After jumping the wall,
I ran back behind a car, but there was a guy already there who was throwing
rocks at the police. The bullets were flying all around so I got out of there
fast. Luckily, some 100 feet behind, there was a big parking lot on the side
of the road so I went there to get away.
Then I started walking
through the lot to go back to meet up with the other Brazilian folks. As I
got near the other side of the lot, four undercover cops who looked like anarchists
themselves threw me up against a car and began to handcuff me. I asked if
I was being arrested, they said yes. I asked what for, they said for inciting
a riot. I said I didn't do anything like that, he said to shut up. They took
me to the other street and I waited there for about a half hour for transport
Of the 50 or so people
that I met at the processing center, the vast majority were also arrested
trying to get home. There were two AFL-CIO guys who had spent the whole day
helping the police with security and then were arrested trying to get back
to their hotels. There were also two other guys who didn't even know about
the proteststhey had been in Miami for about 45 minutes and were arrested
trying to go to a hotel. Most people stayed at this processing place and I
think were released.
There is a lot of fallout
from the arrests as a lot of AFL-CIOers and old folks were arrested. Now the
AFL-CIO, and Amnesty International are calling for a congressional investigation
and setting up a class action law suit. Another group, the Alliance for Retired
Americans are also planning to sue because some of their members were arrested,
and/or harassed, and even pepper sprayed. Additionally, 13 of their buses
were not allowed to get into the city to participate in the protest!
David Kane lives and works in João Pessoa, state of Paraíba,
and is part of a network of social movements who do not want an FTAA for
Brazil. Send any message to firstname.lastname@example.org.