QUITO—Foreign ministers from 34 countries in the Americas gathered here in Ecuador’s capital the last week of October for the Seventh Ministerial Summit of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). If implemented as its planners intend on January 1, 2005, the FTAA would link all of the Americas except Cuba in the world’s largest “free trade” zone. To counter the planners’ agenda in Quito, campesino and indigenous-led social movements from throughout the Americas organized a week of workshops and protests under the slogan “Another America is Possible.”
The week’s activities culminated in a march by some 15,000 people on the Marriott hotel where the foreign ministers met behind locked doors guarded by a heavy police presence. Despite the marchers’ parade permit, riot police blocked the route. Negotiations finally resulted in the ministers agreeing to meet with representatives of the protestors. The representatives presented a letter arguing that “the FTAA can only reinforce social exclusion and deterioration of the environment because it only takes into account the interests of transnational corporations.”
Although the protest failed to disrupt the summit as some had hoped, it did reveal a high degree of popular discontent with neoliberal policies, and drove home the point that they can only be implemented under heavy repressive measures.
A particularly contentious issue both for the protesters and the ministers was U.S. agricultural subsidies which critics charge would undercut local producers as cheap imported agricultural commodities flood the market. Ecuadorian indigenous leader Blanca Chancoso denounced this policy as the extension of colonization that began 500 years ago. Bolivian peasant leader and congressman Evo Morales condemned the FTAA as a “reproduction of savage capitalism” that would result in “economicide” for small producers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marc Becker is a Latin American historian at Truman State University and a Fulbright Scholar in Ecuador. More information on the FTAA protests is available at http://www.yachana.org/reports/ftaa/