The G8 Hides from Protesters in Canada and Decides Africa’s Future

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President Bush disrupted and derailed the Group of 8 Summit in Canada yesterday when he announced the U.S. would cut off aid to the Palestinians if they failed to remove Arafat from office. The G8 leaders were originally slated to discuss “ways to combat terrorism,” the Kyoto Accords, HIV and AIDS in Africa, and cleaning up Russia’s biological and nuclear weapons sites. Instead they spent the first day mulling Bush’s so-called Middle East proposal. The Canadian government had done its utmost to control the meeting’s agenda and make sure it went according to plan. It was particularly determined to keep activists at a distance and quash the kind of protests that erupted at the G8 meeting in Genoa last July. The Canadian government set this G8 meeting in the remote and exclusive Kananaskis resort in the Canadian Rockies, 60 miles from the nearest city, to keep protesters at bay and prevent input from ordinary people on major economic and development issues, such as the New Partnership For Africa’s Development, or NEPAD. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: It’s been a week of unbelievable events, and it continues to pour forth. Obviously the WorldCom scandal that you mentioned in the headlines, and we’ve had an unbelievable ruling here in New York state by a court of appeals that decided that an eighth-grade education is sufficient for New York state to provide a sound, basic education to the 1.1 million schoolchildren of New York City. And the court said in its opinion, society needs members at all levels of jobs, and the majority of which may be low-level jobs. And so, the court figures that if you’re an eighth-grade dropout in New York, you are—you’ve been sufficiently educated by the state of New York, and you don’t need anymore education.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was their quote about the bare minimum, that kids here—that the state provides the kids with a bare minimum education?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes. And in fact, the court also blamed the victims. At one point, it said the state cannot be faulted if students do not avail themselves of the opportunities presented. And it went on to blame the children, their parents, the general society, and not the state’s responsibility to provide public education.

And then we’ve got that wild decision out of Canada where the Canadian government passed—agreed to allow their intelligence services to jam all cell phone communications anywhere in the country during the meeting of the G8. I guess it’s to facilitate communication among the notables that will be attending and to hamper communication among the people during that time.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s go to the Canadian Rockies for that story. President Bush disrupted and derailed the Group of Eight summit in Canada yesterday when he announced the U.S. will cut off aid to the Palestinians if they fail to remove Yasser Arafat from office. The G8 leaders were originally slated to discuss, quote, “ways to combat terrorism,” the Kyoto Accords, HIV and AIDS in Africa, and cleaning up Russia’s biological and nuclear weapons sites. Instead they spent the first day mulling Bush’s so-called Middle East proposal.

The Canadian government had done its utmost to control the meeting’s agenda and make sure it went according to plan. It was particularly determined to keep activists at a distance and quash the kind of protests that erupted at the G8 meeting in Genoa last July. These protests raised important questions about the legitimacy and value of the annual summit. But they were silenced when a police officer shot and killed a 20-year-old protester.

To keep the demonstrators at bay, the Canadian government set this G8 meeting in the remote and exclusive Kananaskis resort in the Canadian Rockies, 60 miles from the nearest city. Jets patrolled a “no-fly” zone, and sharpshooters stood guard as the leaders met. Surface-to-air missiles pointed toward the sky, ready to shoot down anything flying over the meeting site. More than a thousand soldiers patrolled the area, while police stopped every vehicle and escorted drivers within the security zone. All this to prevent input from ordinary people on major economic and development issues.

One of these major developments is the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, or NEPAD. The plan is drafted by the leaders of four African countries and enthusiastically endorsed by the G8. Proponents of the plan say it offers a regional development strategy that will integrate Africa into the world economy and put it on a high-growth path. But many Africans fear the plan is no different from the structural adjustment policies that have exacerbated poverty and sent so many African nations into debt.

We’re joined by a roundtable of people. We’re going to start with the reporter Dan Rubinstein, news editor of VUE Weekly, which is an alternative Canadian news publication. He was initially denied media credentials for the G8 summit, called a security threat. He took the Canadian government to court and now has gotten in.

Dan Rubinstein, just describe the scene right now at the G8 summit.

DAN RUBINSTEIN: It’s pretty quiet here, Amy. Yesterday’s protests, I guess, can be described as very Canadian. They were very polite. Nothing really got out of hand. And the sort of the two times when there was a bit of tension, when a couple of more, I guess, quote-unquote, “radical” protesters approached a McDonald’s and a couple of times when they approached barricades with police set up behind them, the situation was defused by other protesters who sort of talked them out of causing any trouble. It’s been pretty quiet. I mean, the usual chants and slogans and some street theater and puppets and that sort of thing.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Dan, about how far are the protesters being kept from the actual summit meeting site?

DAN RUBINSTEIN: Well, they’re being kept across the street from the sort of hotel convention center, where a few delegates are staying and where the media are. But all of this is happening in Calgary, which is a city of about a million people, which is about an hour’s drive away from Kananaskis, where the leaders are. And to get there, to Kananaskis, you take the main Trans-Canada Highway, which runs across the entire country. But I haven’t been out there, but I understand that there are at least four checkpoints along the way. So anyone who’s driving west from here towards mountains is going to be pulled over and asked, “Why are you driving on this highway?”

AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe what’s going on inside, what it looks like, what the G8 summit, its—just where it is?

DAN RUBINSTEIN: In Kananaskis or here in Calgary?

AMY GOODMAN: Yeah, just describe the setting of the G8 summit itself.

DAN RUBINSTEIN: The summit’s on a—in this Kananaskis resort, which is—it’s a beautiful spot right in the mountains. I believe there are only about 400 hotel rooms total in this place. And it’s a nice hideaway. I mean, it’s hard to get to, you know, for anybody, you know, even when there is no security like this.

AMY GOODMAN: And your treatment, once you were allowed in, after you were called a national security threat and went to court?

DAN RUBINSTEIN: Oh, they’ve been very polite, after—after I got in, you know, beyond the odd look from a security guard, who—perhaps because I don’t look like the average reporter, because I’m not wearing a suit, because I’m not—I’m not spending my time talking to other reporters, really. I try to talk to people outside. Maybe they watch me talking to activists and then come across the street to use computers and phones, and they don’t like that.

Sort of the scary thing that happened yesterday was, inside the media center, I was trying to get out. I heard that there was an action happening a couple of blocks away. I had just been inside doing some work, and I wanted to get out, see what was happening. And I was told at a door, marked “no exit” — I just wanted to find a door where I could get out — I was told that there was a lockdown in effect, that I could not leave the building. I sort of stressed that “I know I can’t use this door. Can you show me where there is a door that I can use?” And the security guard said, “You can’t leave the building, sir. Nobody is allowed out. There’s a lockdown in effect.” And for a second there—this guy was misinformed—for a second, I thought, they’re not going to let me out of the media center to go see what’s happening outside. And I’m not sure—I mean, that was not the case, but I’m wondering if, you know, next time there is a summit, reporters will not be allowed outside.

AMY GOODMAN: Njoki Njehu is also with us, executive director of 50 Years Is Enough, U.S.-based network for global and economic justice. Can you tell us what you’re doing in the Canadian Rockies and the position that you’re trying to present and how well it’s getting across?

NJOKI NJEHU: Well, I’m in Calgary along with hundreds of other people who came together for teach-ins and protests. And I think what has been remarkable is the numbers of people who are here. The people’s summit here was called the G6B, meaning basically they are the six billion people, the group of six billion, meaning the rest of the world’s people. And they were expecting something like 800, 900 people to register for the conference. And they exceeded that and got about double the number of people. At almost any plenary you’ve been to, you saw people being turned away, because the rooms were full. And it’s been quite fantastic. I think that the great news coming out of Calgary and the G6B is that people in Canada are—like people elsewhere, are beginning to understand that what they’re experiencing in their lives around privatization, about—around the erosion of their civil rights, all those kinds of things are things that are happening around the world and that there is need to be in global solidarity. So it’s been fantastic to be here and to really strategize with a whole new group of people, which is mostly people from Alberta and from across Canada, as well as actually quite a number of Africans who came—who came and toured Canada for two weeks talking about the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We’re also joined by Virginia Setshedi, a field worker for the Alternative Information and Development Centre in South Africa. She’s also a member of the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee. Welcome to Democracy Now!


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Could you tell us a little bit about this program NEPAD that the G8 will be considering and this so-called initiative in terms of Africa?

VIRGINIA SETSHEDI: Yeah, NEPAD is a document put together by the permanent leaders of African—of five African countries. And it is aimed at leading Africa towards the path of development. And unfortunately, it has been the idea and the conception of only these five leaders, and no one was involved. The civil society organizations and the labor movement didn’t know about it until we had to access it from the internet. And we—

AMY GOODMAN: Was your president, Thabo Mbeki, the key sort of point person on this?

VIRGINIA SETSHEDI: Yeah, he’s the leader of NEPAD. He’s promoting it, and he’s defending it. A few weeks ago in South Africa, he was being questioned, and he was trying by all means that he supports it, and he promotes it and makes sure that people are supporting it, even if they don’t understand what is it all about and if they—even if they raise some concerns about the proposals that it’s bringing forward.

AMY GOODMAN: What are your major concerns about it?

VIRGINIA SETSHEDI: My major concerns are, first of all, if you talk about development for Africa, Africans have to be involved in determining their path to development. And secondly, I don’t think, when we talk about development, we should always talk about privatization and foreign direct investment, because practical experience showed us that all this doesn’t work for the poor and the working class of the African countries. And we’ve seen it failing, and it is continuously failing. And it doesn’t address the interests and the aspirations of the African people.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to break for stations to identify themselves, though we’re going to come back to this discussion. Our guests, Virginia Setshedi of South Africa, the Alternative Information and Development Centre; Njoki Njehu of 50 Years Is Enough campaign; and Dan Rubinstein, news editor of VUE Weekly. When—after this discussion, we’re going to go to the lead plaintiff in the Pledge of Allegiance case. He also argued it. He’s a lawyer. Michael Newdow will be joining us. And then we’re going to learn about the history of the Pledge from its socialist beginning. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Real Situation,” Bob Marley and the Wailers, here on Democracy Now!, Resistance Radio. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we talk about the G8 meeting going on in the Canadian Rockies. Juan?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes. I’d like to ask Njoki Njehu, in terms of the situation—we’ve seen the situation developing in Argentina. We’ve seen the growing scandals in the United States, which always proclaims to the other third world countries the need for economic transparency, and yet we have all of these American companies now that apparently were not very transparent in their financial dealings. What has been the impact of these crises, these economic crises, in terms of either the growth of the globalization movement—anti-globalization movement after September 11th or even in the discussions that you see occurring at this G8 summit?

NJOKI NJEHU: Well, I think one of the things that is happening, as we look especially for September 11, is the hypocrisy of the system and the ways in which actually the economic and development model has failed. When you compare the United States response to the crisis that has emerged since September 11, you see them actually doing exactly what they have told countries in the Global South, what the IMF and the World Bank tell countries not to do. Greenspan lowering interest rates, but they have said to Argentina, “No, you don’t get to lower interest rates, no matter how bad things get.” You see the bailouts of the airlines, and while workers lose their jobs, where they—whether it’s the Asian financial crisis or even the crisis in Argentina, in Brazil and in Russia, before that, where the bailouts of workers were forbidden. You see after the anthrax scare, with one death in the United States, United States and Canada saying to Bayer, “Forget anything about your patent in World Trade Organization, WHO’s. We are declaring a public health crisis, and we are going to do whatever we need to do to protect our population.” But when you look at what the United States did, in fact, in the case of South Africa, worse through South Africa, because we are looking at the possibilities of acquiring generic HIV/AIDS medication.

So you see, time and time again, actually the model is failing, and the proponents of the neoliberal economic model are not even following their own advice. And that’s really the inconsistency and the tragedy of having a NEPAD that is saying that the neoliberal economic model, that it is saying privatization and orientation to export, the removal of the social safety net, the imposition of user fees for health and education and water is the way to go.

And, of course, you know, the biggest irony of it all is that you have the future of Africa being decided in the Rocky Mountains of Canada. I don’t know how people in the United States and Canada would feel if their future was being decided in the Central Highlands of Kenya, where I was born and raised. They would not accept it. And that’s the mistake of the G8 believing that they, along with a few leaders who support this model of development, deciding that Canada is the place to come and decide Africa’s future. That future lies in the hands of African people, in all kinds of micro ways and initiatives that they are implementing to deal with the very, very serious crises that face them, from food security to HIV/AIDS to the need to get safe drinking water and to have kids in school, especially girls.

AMY GOODMAN: Njoki Njehu, I want to thank you for being with us, executive director of the 50 Years Is Enough campaign, in Calgary trying to attend and voice protest against the G8 summit that is taking place in the Canadian Rockies. Because of the protests that have taken place around the world against corporate globalization, these protests have been set far away from possible access, though they have managed to come pretty close, the protesters.

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