A Decade’s Struggle Ends in Victory

Global Exchange
May 15, 2005
by Deborah James

133

In April in Havana, over a thousand people from across the hemisphere, including 70 people from the U.S., gathered to plot the next steps in the movement against corporate globalization. This was the Fourth Hemispheric Conference of the Struggle Against the Free Trade Area of the Americas the Cubans have hosted. During last year’s conference, activists mounted a political strategy that was ultimately successful – the deadline of January 1, 2005 passed by without inking the deal. This article looks at the political factors and strategies that led to the defeat of the Bush Administration’s primary economic objective in the hemisphere. The second of this series looks at where the hemispheric movement is now – and the seismic shifts that are currently taking place in Latin America. The third focuses in on one country – Venezuela – and highlights how the U.S. government’s attempts to isolate President Chávez are failing in the face of Venezuela’s leadership in regional integration. 
 
For the last 10 years, the US government’s main agenda in Latin America has been the expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the US, Canada and Mexico to all the countries of the western hemisphere, except Cuba. This proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas would have created the largest ‘free trade zone’ in the world – comprising 34 countries and over 800 million people. This January 1, 2005 should be remembered in history as the day the social movements of the hemisphere achieved one of our greatest triumphs. The derailment of the FTAA will have greater impact on the future of the hemisphere – as the free trade area that never was.
 
The proposed FTAA was launched on the footsteps of NAFTA ten years ago. But the world has changed significantly since 1994. But Latin America has changed significantly from ten years ago. There is now a wealth of experience with the impact of the ‘free trade’ model; the wave of progressive governments in Latin America is growing; and the social movements of the hemisphere have gotten organized and united like never before. At the same time, new challenges and pro-corporate assaults have recently arisen, particularly the degeneration of the FTAA into bilaterals with Central America and the Andean nations. 
 
“Free-trade” Corporate Globalization Model Yields Wretched Results
 
During the 1980s, most Latin American countries adopted a neoliberal package of reforms aimed at economic growth. These included opening up their markets to increased imports, privatization of social services, selling off key natural resource industries, deregulating their financial sectors, and using exports, rather than production for local consumption, as the main engine for economic growth. The results have been disastrous: two decades of economic near-stagnation. Rising unemployment, devastating economic crises, increased poverty, and the erosion of access to social rights including education and health care have marked the decade operating under the ‘free trade’ system. 
 
Many Latin American countries had taken out huge loans from the World Bank during the previous decades of dictatorships and wars, the benefits of which had never reached the poor majority. But throughout the 90s, most Latin American countries paid the International Monetary Fund more money in interest on those loans – leaving themselves with larger debt than they started – than they received in loans. IMF-inflicted structural adjustment policies have left citizens of many countries with less social safety net, less access to health care, and more in debt than ever before. Currency crises, precipitated by the casino economy of deregulated financial sectors, devastated the economies of Mexico in 1994, Brazil in 1999, and Argentina and Uruguay in 2000-2002, to name a few. Latin Americans had lost control over their economies, and had very little to show in return. Public sentiment grew weary of Washington’s broken record of the hollow economic promises of “free trade.” 
 
In addition, the results of NAFTA, the model for the FTAA, have been outrageously miserable – for Canadian health care, American manufacturing, and Mexican corn farmers. Agriculture, jobs, and services in Mexico, the US, and Canada have all suffered heavy assaults from NAFTA so that it is impossible for ‘free trade’ promoters to try to use the results of NAFTA to ply the FTAA. Over 1.5 million Mexican farmers have lost their livelihoods due to NAFTA; immigration to the U.S. has skyrocketed, tearing apart families. In the United States, over 1.8 million workers qualified for NAFTA Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), a narrow program providing benefits to certain categories of workers who can prove that they lost their jobs due to increased imports or plant relocations – a narrow slice of the reality of jobs lost. In the maquiladora zones along the US-Mexico border, wages are low, union organizing is suppressed, and industrial pollution has dramatically increased cases of hepatitis and birth defects among workers. What’s more, the investor-to-state lawsuits – where corporations have the right to sue governments for protecting citizen’s health and safety and the environment – have drawn the ire of critics across the political spectrum by eroding local control over environmental and public health laws. Mexico’s deep economic integration with the U.S. may have seemed a blessing other governments wanted to share in 1994, but ten years later, it was proven to be a curse.
 
Geopolitical Changes: Latin America Moves to the Left
 
While we in the U.S. were unable to uproot our current president in the last election, in Latin America, progressive leadership has taken the region by storm. Increasingly, Latin Americans are electing leaders that are opposing Washington-mandated economic policy while ousting leaders that don’t make good on their promises of democracy and economic development.
 
By far the largest political force in the region, President ‘Lula’ da Silva of Brazil heads the first Workers Party government in the country’s history in 2003. Brazil actually co-chairs the FTAA negotiations with the U.S. – but is far from being a U.S. lackey in the region. Brazil’s FTAA position is more influenced by the national interests of agribusiness and industrial exporters than a desire to please Washington. Brazil has long indicated its willingness to negotiate a comprehensive FTAA – based on its desire to gain access to U.S. markets for their sugar, citrus, beef, and soy exports. Their position is directly tied to the history of economic crisis and IMF involvement in the region; the government has pinned its hopes for repaying the gigantic foreign debt back with revenues generated through agribusiness exports to the U.S. and Europe. Agricultural imports to the U.S. are currently limited by the U.S.’s immense agricultural subsidies program, which deny Brazil access to the U.S. agricultural market. Since Washington has refused to reform the subsidies, considering the importance of the agribusiness sector in campaign contributions and lobbying, negotiations of the FTAA have deadlocked for over a year. 
 
But Brazil is not the only economic powerhouse in the region with an anti-neoliberal government. In 2003 in Argentina, President Néstor Kirchner rode into office on a wave of sentiment against the International Monetary Fund’s enforcement of privatization and structural adjustment policies during their massive economic collapse, in which several presidents were overthrown. Groups allied with the AutoConvocatoria en Contra el ALCA continue to pressure Kirchner to side with the poor instead of the U.S. by linking their campaigns against militarization, debt and free trade. 
 
In Bolivia, massive resistance to IMF-mandated natural gas and water privatization resulted in the overthrow of pro-business president Sanchez de Lozada in 2003. Strong and strategic social movements linked the privatization battles to the struggle against the FTAA, so that after successfully changing their government, they have achieved positive changes in their country’s negotiating position within only a year. 
 
And on October 31, 2004, Uruguayans went to the polls and elected their first leftist President, Tabaré Vazquez, who had made statements against the FTAA during his campaign. 
 
The staunchest opposition to the FTAA at the negotiating table comes from Venezuela, where President Hugo Chávez has become a hero among the country’s poor majority. In fact, Chávez’s rise to power started with a popular riot in 1989 against IMF-mandated increase in consumer gas prices that led to the overnight doubling of bus fare. Over 400 people were killed, and Venezuelans began to rethink their historically close relationship with U.S.-dominated economic policies. Venezuela’s negotiating position in the FTAA is based on their 1999 popularly-approved Constitution, and it most closely resembles the priorities of the hemisphere’s social movements. It mirrors several key aspects of civil society critiques, which assert that the negotiating process is undemocratic and non-transparent; that the agreement would give rights to corporations at the expense of sovereignty and democracy; and that the privatization of services is a death knell for poor people across the region. Throughout the negotiations they have maintained a seat at the table, in order to use the forum to critique of the ‘free-trade’ model, offer alternative visions, and help open up political space for regional unity. Venezuela’s staking out of an anti-FTAA political space within the negotiations helped create the political context in which the breakdown of the negotiations became possible. 
 
Social Movements Build Local Power and Unite!
 
As a result of the massive economic devastation wreaked on the economies of Latin America, social movements have identified the proposed FTAA as the greatest threat to democracy and development in the western hemisphere. Workers, women, Indigenous peoples, farmers, youth, churches, farmers, and environmental and human rights advocates across the region have come together in national coalitions to struggle against the expansion of corporate globalization in the hemisphere. The backbone of these movements in many Latin American countries are the Indigenous peoples and farmers – organized in coalitions like Via Campesina and the Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo (CLOC) – whose entire way of life is threatened by the proposed FTAA. A striking aspect of these coalitional efforts has been the relative unity of the social movements across geographic, ethnic, age, and occupational differences. 
 
These national coalitions, in turn, have united into a Hemispheric Social Alliance – the first of its kind in the globe – that coordinates regular actions, campaigns, and strategy meetings.  Together with other regional coalitions like the Convergence of People’s Movements of the Americas (COMPA), Grito de los Excluidos, and Friends of the Earth Latin America, they have mobilized a Continental Campaign Against the FTAA. The Campaign has organized popular mobilizations at FTAA negotiation meetings, developed a platform called Alternatives for the Americas, and convened hemispheric strategy meetings to provide a space in which the movements of the hemisphere have developed cohesive plans of action. 
 
In the US, the national coalition is the Alliance for Responsible Trade based in Washington, DC. Its members include the AFL-CIO, American Friends Service Committee, the Center of Concern, Development GAP, Friends of the Earth, Global Exchange, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Institute for Policy Studies, the Interfaith Network on Trade and Investment, Maryknoll, Mexico Solidarity Network, Rural Coalition, Tennessee Industrial Renewal Network, Witness for Peace, Women’s Edge, and many others. And groups like Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch and the Citizen’s Trade Campaign have played key roles in mobilizing public education and Congressional opposition to the FTAA. 
 
 
The Winning Strategy: Educate, Mobilize, Consult, Monitor, Envision Alternatives, and Lobby!
Educate, Educate, Educate
 
Key to our movement’s public education efforts has been exposing the real impacts of ‘free trade,’ unmasking the myths of corporate globalization, and connecting the process of globalization to local experiences of economic exploitation.
 
Documenting the impact: Research by organizations such as Public Citizen and Friends of the Earth have played a key role in exposing the real impacts of NAFTA on communities across the US, Mexico and Canada. Ten years of results of the ‘model’ of the FTAA has convinced many workers, opinion leaders, editors and reporters, and members of Congress that it is not the right model for expanding regional integration. Likewise, testimonies from affecting communities has played a powerful role in public education events, press conferences, and Congressional briefings by deepening our understanding of the negative impact on real people’s lives. 
 
Unmasking the Myths: Underpinning these lessons is the key recognition that the global shift towards corporate globalization over other forms of development and regional integration is not inevitable, but a carefully constructed set of rules and regulations deliberately chosen by corporate elites for their empowerment and enrichment yet packaged as universally beneficial, and without any alternative. 
 
Another key assumption is that these debates are about trade. Where we have succeeded in unmasking these alleged trade agreements for the corporate bills of rights - without responsibilities - that they are, most people sit up and take notice. The concept that corporations now have, through NAFTA, rights to profit at the expense of citizens’ rights to pass laws for clean air or health and safety regulations, is anathema to 400 years of the global people’s struggle for international democracy.
 
Linking the Global and the Local: In most Latin American countries, connecting the processes of corporate globalization to the local experiences of economic exploitation is easy enough. Corn farmers in Mexico know that their livelihoods are being wiped out from subsidized US corn imports allowed by NAFTA. Bolivians know that the government privatized the water system under orders from the IMF. Coffee farmers in Nicaragua struggling to survive as the global price of coffee drops to half of what it was 5 years ago, know that the US abolished a global commodities agreement that used to stabilize the market. Salvadorean women laboring in multinational maquiladora factories for pennies a day are painfully aware that the GAP is a US-based transnational corporation. Colombian peasants whose villages and fields have been annihilated, are well versed in the billions of USAID monies that protect multinational corporations’ oil pipelines. And it would be a challenge indeed to find an Argentine who didn’t know that their economic crisis was caused by rotten IMF policies. 
 
In the U.S., efforts have been made to focus local attention on global issues through connecting real-life economic struggles, such as that of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Kensington Welfare Rights Union. The AFL-CIO has put significant educational resources into its anti-FTAA campaign, particularly considering that millions of their members have been negatively affected by NAFTA. Jobs With Justice’s extensive anti-FTAA education efforts have had great success in linking the issues in the run-up to the mobilization in Miami as well. The local Miami alliance Root Cause struggled to ensure that voices of immigrants and other communities of color played a visible role in the anti-FTAA protests – a welcome shift from past mobilizations. And Global Exchange has organized Speaking Tours of prominent anti-FTAA activists across the U.S., organized Reality Tours of U.S. citizens to build alliances with anti-FTAA organizers in Latin America, and developed an Action Pack of materials local activists can use to educate their communities on how the FTAA would affect workers, the environment, our food, our public services, and our democratic control over our communities. 
 
But in the US, our efforts to link local economic exploitation suffered by poor communities, communities of color, and increasingly by the middle class, has met with mixed success. The movement has neither the resources nor the capacity to reproduce these model local campaigns on a nationwide level. We have much more work to do in the U.S. to build awareness of the connections between the increased cost of our health care, the degradation of our environment, and the erosion of worker’s rights to the ongoing process of corporate globalization. 
 
Consult Your People!
 
Brazilian social movements including the CUT (the national labor federation), the Landless Peasant’s Movement and religious groups organized a people’s plebiscite on the FTAA in 2001 in which over 10 million citizens voted. More than 98 percent rejected the FTAA. 
 
After the success of the Brazilian model, the HSA adopted the strategy as a continental campaign. Groups across the hemisphere organized petition drives for citizens to “vote” on whether they wanted this proposed FTAA. Overwhelmingly, the strategy proved to be a clever tool for educating the public while pointing out the undemocratic nature of the FTAA, on which citizens don’t actually get to vote. 
 
This strategy was less useful in the U.S., where we lack a strong mass-based social movement. In the lead-up to the Miami FTAA Ministerial in November 2003, U.S. groups could only amass about half a million signatures against the FTAA from our collective education efforts. 
 
Monitor the Negotiations
 
Every few years, an updated draft of the proposed FTAA has broken out from behind closed doors, into the public. But hundreds of pages of trade lawyer jargon must be turned into synthesized reports for Congress, and flyers with information accessible to the public. The HSA monitoring committee, and groups like Public Citizen have played a key role in translating text designed to obfuscate into comprehensible resources for the rest of us. These analyses made it possible for groups across the hemisphere to denounce the proposed FTAA based on actual draft texts rather than just speculation. 
 
In 2003, a page was taken from the playbook of the anti-WTO organizing network, Our World Is Not For Sale (OWINFS), and the HSA network started monitoring the negotiations in real time – and actually producing reports on various committee meetings and country positions as they developed. This exciting opportunity resulted from the desire of the Venezuelan government to share all negotiations information with the social movements, implementing their commitment to transparency and civil society participation, as well as the participation the Brazilian social movements on their national WTO negotiations teams. This tool allows us to plan our strategic pressure more concisely. 
 
Mobilize, Mobilize, Mobilize
 
Each Summit of the Americas or FTAA Ministerial meeting since the beginning of the FTAA negotiations been met by a growing presence of civil society organizations, starting in Miami, Florida in 1994, Colombia in 1996, Brazil in 1997, and Costa Rica in 1998. During the second Summit of the Americas in Santiago, Chile in 1998, groups organized the first parallel Summit of the Peoples of the Americas, including workshops various themes as well as the plotting beginnings of the continental network. In April 2001 in Quebec, Canada, the HSA organized the second People’s Summit, again parallel to the third Summit of the Americas – where 50,000 people demonstrated against the FTAA, amidst tear gas and political persecution. At FTAA Ministerial meetings in Quito, Ecuador in 2002 social movements organized a peaceful resistance to the closed-door negotiations, often receiving the hard end of a billy club or a whiff of tear gas in return. After a year of serious efforts by Jobs with Justice, Florida Fair Trade Coalition, CTC, Alliance for Responsible Trade, AFL-CIO, Global Exchange, United Students Against Sweatshops, Public Citizen, United Steelworkers of America, and others mobilized around 10,000 people to participate in the Miami protests during the FTAA Ministerial in November, 2003. 
 
At each Summit or Trade Ministerial, efforts have been made by civil society organizers to engage with governments and present views critical of the process and the content of the FTAA negotiations. While the FTAA has offered some official channels for civil society views to be presented, it is clear that the negotiations do not take public views into account. And even though our civil society presence may not have directly impacted the negotiations behind closed doors, they do garner important coverage in the media; provide an opportunity for our movement to increase our public outreach and education; and remind negotiators that they are not welcome outside their security fences.  
 
The Alternatives: Building People’s Regionalism
 
Social movements in the hemisphere have also learned that to give people hope for a different future, we must promote our own vision of an alternative to the proposed FTAA. To that end, anti-FTAA organizations, working together through the HSA, have developed the Alternative Agreement for the Americas. The Alternative agreement starts with the premise that the people should have a voice in determining the future of regional integration. It also asserts that the first step towards bringing more equality to the hemisphere would begin with debt reduction. Enforcement of core labor and environmental rights and standards should be at the center of any new agreements. Governments should be encouraged to adopt new local, national and global rules to discourage harmful speculative activity, and to encourage lasting investments in productive and sustainable local economic activities. Access for foreign products and investments should be negotiated with adequate concern for national development plans and priorities. Protection of critical sectors, such as food production, must be the right of each country so as to ensure the rights and well being of all people. This document, collectively endorsed and produced by hundreds of social movements and organizations in the Hemispheric Social Alliance, is available in its entirety at www.art-us.org.
 
Elect Progressives to Office, and Lobby, Lobby, Lobby
 
We may not be as good as Latin Americans in electing progressives to office, but we sure know how to hold them accountable on trade issues. In the US, the Citizen’s Trade Campaign is a coalition of environmental, labor, faith-based, and consumer organizations that has made an art out of forcing state and local officials’ feet to the fire on their positions on trade. The CTC’s state coalitions in California, Florida, Maine, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Texas and Wisconsin have succeeded in building community power on the state level to force elected officials to improve their positions on trade. Through grassroots lobbying efforts, strategically placed OpEds, events highlighting community opposition to ‘free trade’, and other efforts, these state coalitions are playing an increasingly visible role in the national opposition to free trade. Their power is generated by their ability to put pressure on elected officials where it counts – in their local constituency home base. And they have succeeded importantly in getting the erosion of local and state power to become a touchstone issue of state legislators and governors. 
 
Heroic and successful efforts were also made to get corporate globalization in the Presidential campaigns. Labor unions across the country, CTC state coalitions, and other groups helped make the re-negotiation of the Central American Free Trade Agreement an election issue – and forced the Democrats to improve their position. And there are many who speculate that the less attention a US Administration pays to Latin America the better. In fact, the current Administration’s obsession with gaining geopolitical control over the Middle East may have inadvertently contributed to the erosion of their control over Latin America and the victory of the struggle against the FTAA. 
 
The FTAA, or, the Free Trade Area that Never Was
 
For nearly a decade, negotiations had been moving forward to draft an FTAA almost parallel to NAFTA, the most fundamentalist “free trade” agreement in the history of the world. The proposed FTAA included chapters regulating agriculture, services, investment, intellectual property, dispute settlement, tariffs on goods, subsidies, competition policy, and public procurement. The objective of the FTAA was to universal coverage of all productive and services sectors, and the application of those FTAA rules at all levels of government. The stated goal for the entire decade had been to have the comprehensive pact negotiated and signed by January 1, 2005. But the U.S. government and the corporate interests behind it didn’t count on the changes in Latin American governance, nor on the strength of the social movement’s opposition. 
 
In November 2003, government trade ministers meeting in Miami barely reached consensus for moving ahead with FTAA talks. This stalemate revealed a clear divide. The “Group of 13” (which includes the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Chile, the Andean nations of Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador, and the Central American countries) favored a comprehensive FTAA. But the other primary regional alliances, Mercosur (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay), Caricom (the 14 members of the Caribbean Community), and the governments of Venezuela and Bolivia, had found the courage to resist negotiating away their interests in the corporate deal. And the U.S. was not about to budge on the most controversial element of the package – scaling back the massive agricultural subsidies, to allow for Brazilian agribusiness exports. The ‘comprehensive’ FTAA covering all sectors and mimicking all elements of NAFTA had to be scaled down to a mix-and-match model where each country chose its own level of participation based only on a thin, shared minimum. And because the US had played ‘pin the blame on Brazil’ for the collapse of the WTO talks in September 2003, Brazil actually helped save the Miami talks – for a while. 
 
Negotiations at subsequent meetings in Puebla, Mexico in January 2004 and in Buenos Aires in March ended inconclusively – there haven’t been any talks since then. Even the Ministerial meeting planned for November 2004 in Brazil was postponed. Subsequent calls for the Co-Chairs, Brazil and U.S., to meet up have been postponed - indefinitely. That means that the FTAA is currently stalled. 
 
That’s why we celebrated the passing of the January 1st, 2005 deadline with no FTAA. After ten years of negotiations, ‘free trade’ advocates have nothing to show for their efforts. 
 
But since Bush won the elections, there have been rumblings of relaunching. If Brazil and the US can unlock their impasse over allowing access to Brazilian agriculture and manufactured goods, the negotiations could resume. So we must keep vigilant of the negotiations, to prevent a relapse.
 
And at the same time, corporate interests are looking to other avenues for expanding their global power grab. 
 
2005: Divide and Be Conquered or Unite and Fight?
 
In response to the defeat of the FTAA, the U.S. has mounted a political counterassault. It has employed divide-and-conquer strategies on several fronts, and used aid and diplomatic pressure with a number of FTAA countries as levers to pry apart the coalition of countries. Most egregiously, the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) – including Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic – was launched during the failed FTAA negotiations in November 2003. CAFTA would bind these nations even more closely to U.S. economic domination, surpassing even NAFTA in its enshrinement of corporate rights over the rights of communities, workers, and the sovereign citizenry. CAFTA was signed by participating countries in May 2004, but the Bush Administration has yet to send it to the U.S. Congress for ratification because a majority of Representatives oppose it. This is due to the incredibly effective campaign US groups have launched, warning Congress of the horrific dangers of expanding the failed NAFTA model to the poor Central American nations. 
 
The U.S. has also launched negotiations with Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru towards the Andean Free Trade Agreement, in an attempt to isolate Venezuela from the rest of the Andean Community, and force Bolivia to ‘choose sides.’ Negotiating rounds alternative monthly in different countries, and so far indicate another “free trade” NAFTA-style nightmare. 
 
These regional/bilateral agreements represent the most pernicious attempt by the US Trade Representative to divide Latin Americans from each other. Because bilaterals isolate politically weaker and more US-dependent countries from their regional powerhouses, they represent the greatest threat to Latin American regional unity - and opposition to them must be a top priority for US organizations working together with our hemispheric allies.
 
Consolidate the Victory against the FTAA: Stop CAFTA!
 
If we are to build the world of peace and justice, democracy and sovereignty we dream of, we must replace the failed FTAA with visionary alternatives for development and regional integration. We must work together with our partners in Latin America and around the world to share information and organizing strategies. We must continue to work to integrate the movements against corporate globalization with domestic struggles for economic justice and community empowerment. We must hold our own elected officials accountable to their voting constituencies rather than their corporate sponsors. We must stop the expansion of the corporate globalization agenda through the WTO. And we must, absolutely, without a doubt, stop CAFTA in Congress this year.