by Darryl Leroux
Dollars and Sense magazine, March / April 2001
The "Battle in Seattle" in December l999 gave notice
of the growing resistance to neoliberal "globalization."
Since then, protestors have dashed with police across North America
- in Washington, D.C.; Windsor, Ontario; Mexico City; and Montreal
- and around the world. The Third Summit of the Americas, in Quebec
City, April 20-22, stands to be the next flashpoint in this struggle.
Aside from their usual declarations on security and terrorism,
human rights, and democracy, the 34 American heads of state expected
at the Summit (all except Fidel Castro) will focus on finalizing
the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement.
According to Canadian Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew, "The
FTAA is inextricably linked to the Summit of the Americas process."
Several Quebec organizations are currently planning large-scale
grassroots resistance at the ,< Summit, and many other groups
in the Americas are tying local struggles to the struggle against
the FTAA. Predictably, the Canadian authorities are planning harsh
security measures during the Summit in an effort to render inaudible
and invisible the concerned citizens present in Quebec.
FTAA: NAFTA WRIT LARGE
The Canadian government's assurances about the FTAA will sound
like deja vu to those who heard its pre-NAFTA declarations. The
FTAA agenda, according to the government's official website, "will
help the hemisphere and its governments combat inequality and
help spread the wealth we are creating through expanded liberalization
and increased integration." In reality, the FTAA would extend
NAFTA to the entire Western hemisphere - eroding government and
citizen control over health, education, labor rights, and environmental
protection, submitting all to the forces of the so-called "free
Take, for example, some recent high-profile cases under NAFTA.
In 1998, the Ohio-based Ethyl Corporation challenged a proposed
Canadian law banning MMT (a gasoline additive the company produces)
because the law "expropriated" its assets in Canada.
The company even claimed that "legislative debate itself"
was an unlawful taking "because public criticism of MMT damaged
the company's reputation." A year after Ethyl sued Canada
for US$250 million, the Canadian government withdrew the legislation
and paid the company US$13 million to settle the case. In a still
more recent case, Metalclad Corporation, a Texas-based toxic-waste-disposal
company, sued the Mexican government when the state of San Luis
Potosi barred the company from reopening a waste-disposal site
there. In 1995, local citizen pressure and proof that the dump
site would contaminate the local water supply convinced the state
governor to order the facility closed. In response, Metalclad
sought US$90 million in compensation. In August 2000, in the first
NAFTA ruling on an investor-to-state lawsuit, the NAFTA tribunal
ordered the Mexican government to pay US$16.7 million in compensation
Meanwhile, workers have filed more than 20 labor complaints
under NAFTA's labor side agreement, almost all of them against
the Mexican government. (NAFTA does not allow complaints to be
brought against companies, only against governments.) Almost every
case has proved fundamental violations of labor law, yet nothing
concrete has been done to redress the complaints of Mexican workers.
Incidents like the January 2001 police violence against striking
workers at Mexico's Kuk-Dong garment factory (whose biggest customer
is Nike) reveal the truth about toothless "side agreements."
As Martha Ojeda, the director of the Coalition for Justice in
the Maquiladoras, says: "We already know that its [NAFTA's]
protections for labor rights are worthless."
THE SECURITY MEASURES
The aggressive police response to recent demonstrations across
North America shows how far the authorities will go to safeguard
the "democratic" ideals of corporate globalization.
Quebec City will be no different. The police operation for the
Summit will be the largest security deployment in Canadian history.
No fewer than four major police forces are preparing for the protests,
and numerous other
small forces will also make themselves available for Summit
duty. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) estimates that
the overall police operation during the three-day Summit will
cost over $30 million (Canadian). At least 5,000 officers from
the federal RCMP, provincial Surete du Quebec, and two large municipal
forces are slated to work during the three days. Meanwhile, the
Surete du Quebec has promised to "coordinate and establish
the necessary liaisons with the Canadian Armed Forces" should
the need arise.
Police officials have declared a security perimeter in downtown
Quebec, around which they plan to build a 2.3-mile-long metal
fence similar to those that surround prisons. Moreover, everyone
who lives or works within the security perimeter - nearly 25,000
people - will be required to carry a security pass to enter, as
will over 6,000 official Summit delegates and nearly 3,000 accredited
journalists. The original police plan to run criminal record checks
on all Quebec City residents receiving passes was quickly shelved
(at least publicly) in the face of widespread public outrage.
The RCMP has rented all the vacant apartments and houses within
the security perimeter, and reserved all the hotel rooms - to
keep troublemakers out. According to sources in Quebec City, the
RCMP will also seal all sewer entrances within the security perimeter
for fear of protesters finding their way through the underground
maze and into the laps of government officials and business executives.
Last November, Quebec Minister for Public Security Serge Menard
announced that the Orsainville provincial prison would be emptied
of its more than 600 inmates during the Summit to make room for
arrested protesters. His justification for the draconian police
measures: "If you want peace, you must prepare for war."
It seems the war is already under way. In November, police arrested
Joan Russow, the leader of the Green Party of Canada, for taking
photos of the prison. The police detained Ms. Russow for 45 minutes
as they destroyed the pictures. Later, they offered the explanation
that the Green leader had "trespassed" - on public property!
In response to these police moves, La Ligue des Droits et
Libertes du Quebec (the Rights and Liberties League of Quebec)
urged police not to create the impression that protesting is illegal,
as it is a basic right protected under Canadian law. Spokesperson
Andre Paradis explained "that the necessity to establish
a security perimeter shouldn't transform the provincial capital
into a city under siege, where the fundamental rights of civil
society to express itself cannot be exercised in public space."
MOBILIZATION AGAINST THE FTAA
In spite of high-level police intimidation, Quebec-based groups
are creating a large, diverse, and dynamic opposition to the Summit.
The largest coalition is Operation Quebec Printemps 2001 (OQP
2001). Formed in December 1999, it brings together over 30 regional
organizations (as of mid-January) - including unions, non-governmental
organizations (NGOs), campus groups, community organizations,
and political parties - as well as individuals. Coalition members'
concerns range from the FTAA's impacts on labor and the environment
to the threats against civil liberties resulting from the Summit
Although the demands of coalition members vary greatly, the
aim of OQP 2001 is to educate the public on globalization, organize
non-violent protest, and present viable alternatives to corporate
globalization. The coalition is also building links with other
regional, national, and international organizations. For example,
OQP 2001 recently hosted a conference featuring Bishop Don Samuel
Rulz, of Chiapas, Mexico, in Quebec City. OQP 2001 spokesperson
Patrice Breton explains, "We plan not only on mobilizing
around the FTAA and the Summit in April, but on focusing our attention
on raising awareness of what globalization really represents."
Presently, the OQP 2001 coalition is planning a "People's
Summit" for April 17-21. It will bring together activists
from across the hemisphere and feature workshops, conferences,
teach-ins, and demonstrations. The coalition has also leased a
building just beyond the security perimeter that will serve as
the "Alternative Media Centre." The Centre is now open
to journalists, and OQP 2001 is operating a Quebec City Indy Media
website <www.quebec.indymedia. org> in French, Spanish,
Another major group planning protests around the Summit is
the Montreal-based AntiCapitalist Convergence (CLAC). Formed in
April 2000 to offer a radical, anti-capitalist critique of corporate
globalization, CLAC recently spawned the Quebec City-based Summit
of the Americas Welcoming Committee (CASA). Like CLAC, CASA espouses
the principles of anti-capitalism, anti-patriarchy, anti-hierarchy,
anti-reformism, autonomy, and respect for a diversity of tactics.
According to CLAC, "It is possible to radically and creatively
oppose capitalism, while at the same time maintaining the spirit
of openness that is necessary to develop a diverse and pluralistic
CASA and CLAC are now planning a Carnival Against Capitalism,
including events in Quebec City and Montreal throughout April
2001 and culminating in a Day of Action on Friday, April 20, in
Quebec City. The Carnival will include workshops, teach-ins, concerts,
conferences, cabarets, street theatre, protests, and direct action.
CASA and CLAC are also planning a series of events, in Quebec
City, for activists to discuss strategy,
build networks, and become familiar with the city. Meanwhile,
CLAC has an "FTAA Caravan" moving across the northeastern
United States, the Maritime provinces of Canada, Quebec and Ontario.
The caravan has already visited dozens of communities, leaving
numerous grassroots initiatives in its wake.
CASA and OQP 2001 are also working to provide lodging and
food for out-of-towners coming to Quebec City for the Summit.
The two groups, in collaboration with the People's Potato (a Quebec-based
food provider), may establish kitchens in Quebec City to provide
low-cost meals for locals and out-of-towners alike. Since the
RCMP has reserved a block of 11,000 hotel rooms for the Summit,
the search for lodging space has been difficult. However, OQP
2001 is trying to rent halls and gymnasiums and, in conjunction
with the CLAC, has planned an "Adopt a Protester" program.
The idea, as CLAC member Jaggi Singh explains, "is to have
protesters sit down and eat with Quebec City residents to get
the real story (not the corporate media's) out to residents of
the city. That way, people will have a chance of understanding
what's actually going on."
THOUSANDS OF DISSENTING VOICES
The Summit of the Americas in Quebec City will be another
major test of the neoliberal agenda's legitimacy. As thousands
of protesters from around the hemisphere converge on Quebec City,
the world spotlight will shine on the Summit and the FTAA It remains
to be seen whether protesters will succeed in disrupting the meetings,
as they did in Seattle and Prague. But one thing is already dear
- the "criminalization of protest" is here to stay.
The authorities definitely have something to fear. As The Economist
explains: "The protesters are right that the most pressing
moral, political and economic issue of our time is third world
[sic] poverty. And they are right that the tide of globalization,
powerful as the engines driving it may be, can be turned back.
The fact that both these things are true is what makes the protesters
- and, crucially, the strand of popular opinion that sympathizes
with them - so terribly dangerous."
Resources: CLAC <www.quebec2001.net>; OQP 2001 <www.
Darryl Leroux is a freelance journalist living in Peterborough
Trade Organization (WTO)