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Brazzil - Economy - February 2004

Brazil: How to Make a Lite FTAA

The latest round of negotiations for the Free Trade Agreement
of the Americas was a victory for Brazilian diplomacy. Still, it
was not enough for those Brazilians who don't want any type of
FTAA, whether it be all-encompassing or lite. This month,
the content of the new FTAA Lite should be defined in Mexico.

David Kane

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 NGO network).

The Repression

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 cape—very discreet!).

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 to come.

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 protests—they 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 sejup1@alternex.com.br.

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