First great Latin American march against FTAA

Marelys Valencia
Wednesday, May 2, 2001

In the presence of more than 600,000 Havana residents and 1,074 guests from 60 countries at the May Day celebration in Cuba, President Fidel Castro initiates a march protesting the Free Trade Area of the Americas, beginning right after his speech, which heads towards the U.S. Interest Section in
Havana.

The traditional May Day parade in the Revolution Square was transformed into the first Latin American march and protest against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), in front of the U.S. Interest Section in Havana, called by President Fidel Castro to follow his speech before a crowd of over 600,000 people.

"Annexation, no! Plebiscite, yes!" was the slogan launched by Fidel in one of his most forceful speeches in recent months. The Cuban president attacked the current governments intending to convert the region into an area of free trade, "which will inexorably lead to annexation" to the United States.

He began his address by referring to May Day of last year, when for the first time the march became an open tribunal for the return of Elián and a halt to the laws and measures taken by the U.S. administrations. "We are facing a adversary who is powerful in everything except ethics and ideas," he asserted and made reference to the history of U.S. expansionism in this hemisphere, including Cuba since the 19th century.

Before reaching the subject of FTAA, Fidel briefly described the way in which the United States became a powerful and prosperous nation, since the Thirteen Colonies’ War of Independence, followed by the annexation of Mexican territory, the Louisiana Purchase and its economic, political, and military interference.

"The first great halt to U.S. expansion and economic domination was brought about by Cuba," he expressed. "The price paid by our homeland is still known today," and he added that the Cuban Revolution has been "a disturbing presence," since the days of the Bay of Pigs invasion until the "the declaration of Bush in the Quebec bunker," referring to the Summit of the Americas, which took place in that Canadian city and proposed as fundamental
for its success the promotion of the project that would extend the FTAA from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego by 2005.

Fidel remembered the days when the Organization of American States (OAS) yielded to U.S. pressure to isolate Cuba, and the "repugnant wretchedness that will go down in history" of the Latin American governments who supported that move against Cuba, all except Mexico. He associated the OAS—which he called "forever morally invalidated by that treason" and an
"instrument of the United States"—with the current pretensions of the FTAA.

He later pointed to the coincidence that again some "bourgeois and oligarchic governments" voted along with the United States against Cuba in Geneva, for reasons of "opportunism and cowardice."

In this way, he expressed, the desperation of enormous and unpayable debts used by the U.S. administration as a basis for its blackmail in such forums as the UN Human Rights Commission, can lead to the "suicide which the FTAA
represents."

The Cuban president underlined the terrible consequences that would be created by the approval of that agreement, converting Latin America into nothing more than a supplier of raw materials, at an absolute disadvantage against the United States’ powerful mechanisms, thereby driving the region "inexorably to annexation."

All banks, insurance companies, cruise and airline services and commerce will be owned by the United States, including the large pizza chains and McDonald’s, research centers, pharmaceutical companies, the best scientists
and hotels, he pointed out. Latin America "will be converted into a great duty-free zone," and nations will be forced to compete among themselves, he highlighted. He also alluded that the FTAA means less protection for national industries and interests, and would benefit only the large international capital.

In the case of Cuba, he stated that "not belonging to the IMF and having an independent monetary policy," has allowed a seven-fold re-evaluation of the peso between 1994 and 1999, and also made it possible to overcome the special period.

"They intend to implement the FTAA without consulting the people," assured Fidel, who continued by saying, "Latin America and the Caribbean may be devoured but not digested," for the people will recreate their nations.

"We’d better save ourselves for a subsequent stage of struggle for our liberation," he insisted. "Let’s prevent annexation and demand resolutely, from this moment on, that no government be allowed to sell a nation behind its people’s back. There can be no annexation if there’s a plebiscite! Let’s sow consciousness of the FTAA’s danger and great significance."