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Live in Miami: Thousands of Protesters Stage Demonstrations at FTAA Meeting

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As the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit gets underway, we go to the streets of Miami to speak with Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill and we hear from Focus on the Global South’s Walden Bello as well as Tony Clark of the Polaris Institute. [Includes exclusive online coverage and transcript]

Protests have gotten underway at the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit in Miami. Several hundred people are now marching through the streets of Miami ahead of a much larger demonstration planned for later today that will be attended by some 2,000 steelworkers. The protests began this morning at 6:15am with the Free Puppets of the America marching through the streets of Miami.

  • Jeremy Scahill, Democracy Now! correspondent.
  • Walden Bello, Director of Focus on the Global South in Bangkok.
  • Tony Clark, is Director of the Polaris Institute in Canada. He is currently in Miami for the FTAA.
  • Online Exclusive: Listen to updated reports from the streets of Miami from Jeremy Scahill.

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

AMY GOODMAN: We are going to go to Jeremy Scahill, Democracy Now! correspondent who has been in the streets in Miami. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Jeremy.

JEREMY SCAHILL: You know that the $87 billion Iraq bill include some $8 million for the Miami security forces that Are — [inaudible] more than 40 counties in the state of Florida sending police into Miami, some 9,000 police on the streets today. There are now more than 1,000 people in front of government center where the Free Trade of the Americas summit is getting underway this morning. I am currently on a march with about 350 people who have been surrounded by the police for the last half an hour or so. The police have been using — taking out tazers as well as tear gas grenades, but there have been no major incidents yet. We’re making our way through the streets right now. All of this is coming ahead of the rally planned for later today and the march that will be held by some 2,000 steelworkers.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Jeremy, the steelworkers are march around what issue in particular?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, the steelworkers are saying that they have learned lessons from Seattle. They’re very well organized here. And basically what they are saying is that these are mainstream issues. These are working peoples’ issues, to be against the Free Trades Area of the Americas is not a radical cause, it is not a left-wing cause or right-wing cause, but it is a cause for working people. What they are saying is that the unions are making a major campaign now to oppose the FTAA, NAFTA, and continue to oppose the World Trade Organization. I was talking to a bunch of steelworkers last night and we were talking about how they are going to serve as buffers on this march.

They have two concerns, Juan. The first is that they do not want the police to beat people. They will be protecting all the other people. As you know, Juan, these are very big crowds. It’s like having tanks in front of a demonstration. But the second issue, they want to portray this as bunch of kids in the street, but these are working people, mainstream peoples’ issues. As we walk through the streets of Miami, people are coming out of their houses to wave at the demonstrators. It seems like the public sentiment here on the streets among the residents of Miami is overwhelmingly in support of what the demonstrators are here doing.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy, thank you very much for being with us. We are going to move on right now to Walden Bellow in Miami as well as people gather from around the world to protest the FTAA. Walden Bellow, director of Focus on the Global South in Bangkok, Thailand, one of the leaders of the anti-corporate globalization movement, laying out what is at stake in these FTAA meetings.

WALDEN BELLOW: My take is that what you have have been intense negotiations to try to save the FTAA, but what we have is apparently an agreement that will be basically quite hollow. And in that sense, because of the fact that you have practically no commitments that have been made by countries, except very broad — very broad sort of statements and — and the fact that, you know, many of the objections of Brazil and other countries around, for instance, the whole question of investment, the areas of intellectual property rights, that the U.S. basically has not been able to beat down the opposition in those areas.

What we have is a faith-saving gesture that basically — well you know, the FTAA train, has not been derailed, as it were. It’s in Miami, but has nine very hollow carriages. In that sense, the fact that the FTAA, you know, has really not managed to get a comprehensive set of agreements binding on member countries, you know, leaving Miami, i think this is a very important victory for the movement. However, my own sense is that’s not enough.

I think so long as the FTAA framework exists, the u.s. will keep coming back to it. When you have a time that the political situation might be more advantageous for the United States and the political situation is weaker — you know, that, you know, brazil and others might have a weaker capacity to bargain. Then I think you will find the u.s., again, you know, pushed to get this agreements on investment, intellectual property rights and others. Back on to the agenda. So, I would say that I think it is important to underline that this is not the FTAA that the United States wanted. But this is so far an incomplete victory for people’s movements.

We can only really be assured — you know, we can only really have, you know, guarantees against the FTAA. Once as an institution and once as an agreement, it’s totally scrapped as a goal. So, I think the dynamics here is, you know, there is a sense of United States that they cannot allow Miami to be another Cancun in which we have the complete collapse of administerial. So I think they’re settling for second best, which is that despite the fact that agreements — negotiations have gotten nowhere, they’ll try to paint it as having some momentum and that isn’t it great that this did not collapse like Cancun? That’s the sort of dynamics that we have here and i think it is going to be very important for people, for the movements here, to say that, no, the United States has, in fact, suffered a setback in Miami because it did not get the sort of binding comprehensive FTAA that it’s wanted all along. And that the resistance of many countries, under pressure from their civil society movements, about defending their national sovereignty and then the capacity of their governments to make sovereign decisions in all of these economic areas, that that has to be pointed out as the major obstacles to the United States, you know, getting what it — it’s wanted.

Now the — now the situation is that because precisely it’s been stalled in the FTAA, the United States is now going into bilateral deals and just announced that it will be moving into bilateral deal with the Andean countries. Of course, there is the Central America Free Trades Area that is up there. It’s — you know, it is negotiating bilateral deals with Thailand and half a number of other things on the agenda.

On the one hand, I think that it’s definitely a threat that, you know, we — if we have bilateral deals in which off weak country and big imposing country like the United States, that it’s going to be very bad for weak countries. But at the same time, I think what we ought to note here is that the sort of global multilateral framework or regional multilateral framework that the United States business preferred, they were not able to get it and this is why they’re moving into bilateral deals. And I think that they will not have an easy time getting bilateral deals, especially once they begin to see how bad the U.S.-Singapore deal is, how bad the U.S.-Chile deal is.

So I think that, yes, these bilateral deals are very threatening. But I would say that they’re more a sign of weakness rather than strength of the United States. And I think that really has to be pointed out. They are a third best option for a desperate administration.

AMY GOODMAN: Walden Bello is director of focus on the global south from Bangkok, Thailand, in Miami for the protests against the FTAA.

AMY GOODMAN: “Didn’t We” Jim Paige on Democracy Now! “The War and Peace Report.” I’m Amy Goodman with Juan Gonzalez. As we continue in the protests against the Free Trades Area of the Americas in Miami, we’re joined by Tony Clark, director of the Polaris institute in Canada with the council of the Canadians. Welcome to Democracy Now! it’s good to have you with us, Tony. Can you talk about the document you’ve gotten your hands on in Miami?

TONY CLARKE: Yeah. This is the draft document — actually, it is pretty closes to the final document I think that is going to come out of these meetings. What has been going on in the last week, there has been a flurry of activity between the two co-chairs of the FTAA, which is the United States and Brazil or Robert Selleck and Mr. Amaran which is the lead minister for Brazil, and they have reached a compromise in the sense of a kind of face-saving situation whereby neither the United States wants to see another Cancun and can’t afford with an election coming up and, on the other hand, Brazil can’t afford to really see itself as a bad guy again and being hammered. They have come to some kind of compromise.

The text that I have in front of me is the final declaration that will probably be coming out of the meetings on Friday. And essentially it’s a document that really is designed to give the impression that it’s business as usual, that we’re on the move, we’re on the march, we’re putting this stuff back together again in a little bit different way. But essentially we’re moving ahead. Which is — you know, in many ways, it does not at all reflect that the fundamental shift that’s taken place is the result of the kind of events that have occurred in the last few months. So as a result, what’s happened is that you’ve got a document that is designed to spin a certain message out there that things are back on track and things are moving.

And when, in fact, in many ways, I think that they’re faced with a situation where they’re almost back at the starting gate again and having to put this back together again in a new way.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Let me ask you, the FTAA has gotten very little coverage here in the United States. So, what is the — in the Canadian press, what has been the coverage in relationship to the virtual collapse of the whole idea?

TONY CLARKE: Well, in Canada, Juan, there’s been — it’s almost the same as the U.S. now. we do not have press that — or a media that really covers the inside and outside story in the way that we used to see a bit of that happening. And, as a result, we do not have the kind of public awareness and public debate in our country as well about these same issues. So, in that sense, we are in a similar situation as you are here in the U.S.

JUAN GONZALEZ: So, finally, now you have Robert Zolack, the trade representative from the united states, meeting to try to exact these bilateral agreements, unable to get the Free full Trade Area of the Americas agreement in the form that they want?

TONY CLARKE: Exactly. I mean, if you go back — if we go back to the origins of this, they put this Free Trade Area of the Americas plan together immediately following the NAFTA — the North American Free Trade Agreement coming into being. It was built on that euphoria, built on that sense that this is a drive now, we’ll go throughout the Americas and we’re gonna have NAFTA on steroids. We’re going to have a comprehensive Free Trade Area of the Americas with all the built-in disciplines and with all the chapter 11’s that allow corporations to sue governments directly. All of that was going to be put in place here. And that was — that was the U.S. agenda and it was the Canadian agenda.

It wasn’t just the U.S., it was a Canadian agenda as well to push this. And what’s happened is that that has fallen apart. In the sense that — in the sense that we — the subject matters are all there still, but the way of going about this now is not going to be what they call a top-down comprehensive agreement where the — where all the players are expected to follow, you know, a whole set of obligations. There will be obligations built into this, but it will be much more bottom-up in the sense that countries can opt in and opt out. That is what’s going to make it really, really difficult. This is not the same agenda, same model and same FTAA that the U.S., backed up by Canada, originally pushed.

AMY GOODMAN: Tony Clarke, thank you for joining us. Director of the Polaris Institute in Canada. Speaking to us from Miami where major protests are planned for today and tomorrow against the Free Trade Area of the Americas. And you are listening to Democracy Now!

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