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Report from the People’s Summit of the Americas

Argentina November 1-5, 2005

Thursday 24 November 2005, by Carlos TORRES

To accurately assess the People’s Summit that took place November 1-5 in Mar del Plata (MDP) we need to look at the IV Summit of the Presidents of the Countries of the Americas as well. From there it will be possible to determine which group was more successful and why.

The FTAA Slow down

The aim of the Presidents’ Summit was to reach an agreement on the terms of enacting the FTAA, or at least to establish a new protocol for continuing the negotiation process. For the US government this process represents a mere formality since they are signing an array of bi-lateral Free Trade Agreements (FTA) with specific countries or regions, such as the last FTA signed with the Central American countries, the CAFTA. Although the US government is trying to “lock” bi-lateral FTAs in order to create rings of pressure against the biggest and strongest economies of South America, which was the goal of the MDP, it has not been successful. President Kirchner, on behalf of the Mercosur countries and as host of the IV Summit, stated that “the US has a huge responsibility for what has been going on in the region since the Washington Consensus promoted a set of policies to be implemented in the Americas that contributed to the economic crisis and further instability in the region.” Moreover, he insisted that, “over the past several years the US has played a hegemonic role in the region, which has been economically and politically negative. Now they should help to solve these problems.” He added that, “the FTAA as conceived does not represent a step forward in an integration that can benefit everybody.”

Bush’s Setback

Mar del Plata is a resort city and yet in the days immediately preceding the Summit, the city became a militarized zone. More than three thousand security personnel, CIA and FBI undercover agents, Apache helicopters, warships and warplanes equipped with missiles, tanks and military and police officers in the range of twelve thousand blocked highways and bridges and placed snipers in all major high rise buildings. All of this was done under the name of the so-called antiterrorist campaign and to protect Bush, but also to create a tense and threatening atmosphere, a sort of terror campaign which forced thousands of people out of the city and made many others afraid to attend the People’s Summit. However, the anti-US slogans were clear and sound, from Chavez to the Madres of Plaza de Mayo and from Diego Maradona, a star former soccer player, to Blanca Chancoso, an Indigenous leader. Graffiti, placards, and statements from Argentine teachers and state worker unions who stopped working for twenty-four hours, demonstrated opposition to George Bush’s visit.

There was a visibly uncomfortable context for George W. Bush’s visit, in the Presidents’ Summit, in the streets of Mar del Plata, and across Argentina. People completely rejected Bush’s presence in that country. The mass media presented and extended coverage of the environment, the militarization of MDP and the organizing process of the People’s Summit, as well as the issues related to the FTAA setback, which also embodied a setback for Bush’s policies in Latin America.

The Counter Summit

In the meantime, just prior to the opening of the Presidents’ Summit, President Chavez delivered a strong speech at the gathering at the Mundialito Stadium against the FTAA asserting that, “we should put our shovels together to bury the FTAA because it is dead.” More than fifty thousand people met to march for more than thirty blocks to listen to Chavez, Maradona and Evo Morales, who accompanied the Venezuelan President in the Soccer Stadium. This massive event marked the end of the People’s Summit convened by Argentinean organizations and the Hemispheric Social Alliance. This Summit brought together more that twelve thousand people to participate in panels, workshops, and cultural and art events. As Nobel prize winner Pérez Esquivel stated, “we gather to promote self determination, independence and resistance to any form of domination and to advance structural and social changes by taking into account our cultural diversity and peoples’ unity”.

Blanca Chancoso, the Indigenous leader representing the Hemispheric Alliance, gave the concluons of the III People’s Summit to the President of Venezuela after reading it to the crowd. This statement asserts that, “the debt (foreign) must be cancelled; the Latin American countries are the true creditors and not the debtors; the FTAA is defeated and the ALBA (Bolivarian Alternatives for the Americas) represents an interesting integration proposal that should be seriously analyzed.” Furthermore, the document also asserts that a true integration can only happen if people’s organizations are involved.

Step Forward

The People’s Summit also gave space to a number of important events. The most central were perhaps the first Labour Forum of the Americas, as well as the Indigenous People’s and the Women’s Tribunals. For the first time in history the labour movements gathered to debate differences and agreements, leaving behind political and ideological prejudices to focus on the issues that affect workers. All majors trade unions of the region attended: the CLC of Canada, the Chilean CUT, the CTC of Cuba, and the Brazilian CUT. Also an array of labour coordinating bodies from the Andean, Central American and Caribbean regions, were there to take part in the event hosted by the two main unions of Argentina, the CTA and the CGT, which put their discrepancies aside to sit at the same table with the Orit and the AFL-CIO from the US. Union organizations discussed themes such as a Labour Platform of the Americas, Labour Movement and Free Trade, and Labour Movement vis-à-vis Alternatives of Integration. In Rafael Freire’s wording, “The Labor Forum that for the first time met in this event can become a very useful instrument for workers from across the Americas to talk and exchange ideas and to further promote an integration process that will include every social sector affected by the integration. In the same token, Hassan Yussuff from the CLC pointed that, “we don’t want an integration process led by a superpower because in Canada we are already aware of the impacts of this kind of integration in which the biggest ally imposes its own rules over the integration agreements violating its own signed agreements.” “Furthermore,” he insisted, “since September 11, 2001, Canadian security laws have been harmonized with US security laws, imposing another violation on our sovereignty.” He also cited cases in which Canadian citizens were arrested and sent to third countries where they suffered detention and torture. “We don’t want that kind of integration, especially now that progressive governments elected in Latin America provide new opportunities for debates that can help us to move forward by truly working around the Labour Platform, which represents our agenda, but we can’t do it by ourselves. We need to act in solidarity with women, Indigenous, landless and peasant movements across the hemisphere”.

Building a larger and stronger movement

In all, the Summit, which saw thousands of people gather in meetings and panels, and then march through the streets of MDP, demonstrated that there is a strong movement evolving both at the national and at the regional levels. This movement is also creating alliances with elected officials and governments through the municipal and state apparatus, gathering support and assistance, which is not always an easy process. Yet, the outcome of Mar del Plata would have been much different without this dynamic combination at work

Many hope that some of the peoples’ leader can be elected to office following the path that Lula opened few years ago. And although people expect different outcomes from every specific process, hope is now focused on Evo Morales in Bolivia and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. The FTAA talks had to be postponed and for the time being we can celebrate a victory, even though the empire is restless and we should be conscious of it. The Hemispheric Social Alliance played a key role in the process; however, we would be fooling ourselves if we dismiss the role that progressive governments can play in expanding and consolidating the struggle we all embrace.

Carlos Torres
November 8-05