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Mayhem in Miami: Amidst Tear Gas and Rubber Bullets Democracy Now! Reports From the Streets of the FTAA Protests

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Up to 70 people were arrested and dozens more were injured as Miami police used concussion grenades and stun guns as well as rubber bullets and tear gas on people demonstrating against the talks. We hear a report from the streets of Miami produced by Jeremy Scahill, Ana Nogueira and John Hamilton. [Includes transcript]

Free Trade Area of the Americas talks ended early yesterday evening in Miami after ministers from 34 countries accepted a watered-down proposal in order to save the talks from total collapse. All that was agreed was to scale back the FTAA’s scope in a deal that is being described as ”FTAA-Lite.”

Up to 70 people were arrested and dozens injured at large-scale demonstrations staged against the FTAA summit.

More than ten thousand union members from across the country marched through downtown Miami to protest the meeting where some 2,500 police officers from more than two-dozen law enforcement agencies had converged.

While that demonstration passed without incident, the day was marked by extraordinary police brutality against demonstrators. Repeatedly throughout the day, security forces deployed on the streets of Miami fired rubber bullets and tear gas at demonstrators. Scores of people were injured as police used both concussion grenades and stun guns outside the hotel where the FTAA summit was taking place.

Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill was shot twice with rubber bullets, as was independent filmmaker John Hamilton who was working with Democracy Now! in Miami. We turn now to a report produced by Democracy Now!’s Jeremy Scahill, Ana Nogueira and John Hamilton of the Workers Independent News Service. The piece is reported by Jeremy Scahill.

  • Mayhem in Miami: Report from the FTAA protests produced by Democracy Now! correspondents Jeremy Scahill, Ana Nogueria and John Hamliton of the Workers Independent News Service.
  • Online Exclusive: Listen (MP3) 1 2 to 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.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’m Juan Gonzalez. Amy Goodman is the Berkeley, California. Free Trade Area of the Americas ended yesterday evening in Miami after members from 34 countries accepted a watered-down proposal to save the group. All that was agreed to was to save the FTAA to a group that was described as FTAA-lite.

More than 10,000 union members from across the country marched through downtown Miami to protest a meeting and where some 2,500 police officers from more than 2 dozen law enforcement agencies had converged. While that demonstration passed without incident, the day was marked by extraordinary police violence against demonstrators. Repeatedly throughout the city — throughout the day, security forces deployed on the streets of Miami, fired rubber bullets and tear gas at demonstrators. 70 people were arrested and scores injured as police used both concussion grenades and stun guns outside the hotel where the FTAA summit was taking place. Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill was shot twice with rubber bullets, as was independent film maker John Hamilton who was working with Democracy Now! in Miami. We turn now to a report produced by Jeremy along with Ana Nogueira and John Hamilton. The piece is narrated by Jeremy Scahill.

JEREMY SCAHILL: The streets of Miami outside the FTAA ministerial conference became a militarized zone. Thousands of riot police dressed in full body armor guarded the Intercontinental Hotel from the thousands of protesters who descended to protest the Free Trade Area of the Americas. The forces deployed in Miami wielded a variety of weapons, large rifles fired large rubber cartridges and rubber bullets; stun grenade launchers, various forms of tear gas and other chemical agents as well as electric shock tasers. Many people were gassed in the streets. Scores were hit by rubber bullets. Volunteer medics treated the wounded in the midst of baton wielding police moving in on the crowds. In the face of the significant amount of police violence, many simply asked why? Like one young man whose apparent crime was holding his fingers in a peace sign in front of the riot cops. He was shot numerous times by pepper spray bullets and once at close range by a rubber bullet in the stomach.

UNNAMED YOUNG MAN: I cannot understand why I don’t have the right to protest in my own country. Why can’t I do this? I have never gone to a rally before, political or any kind. And here I come, I see police presence, $8.5 million spent on this. We could have built an elementary school or something. I don’t understand that. It makes me sick. Why are people shooting? No one’s got guns, everyone’s got cameras. People just want to get their voices heard.

JEREMY SCAHILL: As the security forces fired indiscriminately into the crowds, Miami police officials presented their case to the media. Lieutenant Bill Schwartz is a spokesperson for the Miami police.

BILL SCHWARTZ: We have no major incidents. One officer is injured. He fell against the curb, he was pushed. He’s going to be okay. Our approach is to show a lot of force, to show that we’ve been trained to work as a team, no individual action. See even my immediate team, we are all together. No one is going to work alone and work on this in a very coordinated effort and uniform effort so that the crowd will get the feeling, get the understanding very quickly, that we’re ready for any contingency. The objective is to let the vast majority of peaceful protesters protest. There have been a few people who want to push us and test our strength, but I think they’re learning that our strength is pretty significant.

JEREMY SCAHILL: That significant strength, as Lieutenant Schwartz put it, startled many of the internationals who came here to protest the FTAA, people like Hector de la Cuerva, head of the Mexican Action Network on Free Trade.

HECTOR CUERVA: I have never seen so many violations to the rights of expression, the right to demonstrate so controlled by the police, such harassment. It’s incredible in a country that’s supposed to be democratic and I don’t see that democracy anywhere. I think the freedom and the right to express is really violated here, and so I think that we are in a very violent — but not because the protesters, but because of the police have really, really bad attitudes here in Miami. That’s what I am looking at.

JEREMY SCAHILL: The police in Miami also deployed undercover officers, some of whom dressed like the young protesters in the streets. Some of them even had signs on their backpacks that said, ”FTAA sucks.” Justin Molito, an organizer with the AFSCME union in Maryland witnessed and incident between what appeared to be police provocateurs and protesters.

JUSTIN MOLITO: A citizen was standing and talking to some of his friends, and a group of what I guess were undercover officers, because none of them were identified as police in fact they looked like they were protesters in that they had buttons and things on. They ran and tackled the guy and threw him to the ground. When his friends tried to pull him from the police, the police pulled out tasers guns and whoever they were, they never identified themselves and they acted more like a gang of thugs. Uh, pulled out taser and electric guns and started to screaming at other protesters and they began to tackle some of the other citizens and throw them on the ground. Even when they were pulled behind the riot police, you could hear the sound of the electric tasers continuing to hit the unarmed protesters.

JEREMY SCAHILL: The people who were dressed like protesters had tasers?

JUSTIN MOLITO: yes. I mean, the assumption is they’re undercover cops, but clearly unprofessional group of individuals. Did not identify themselves. And were swinging punches. Things like that. It’s unfortunate that the police have resorted to this level of tactic, but I think it’s indicative of what is to come if a trade agreement like the FTAA goes through.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Where did the guys who were in plain clothes that had tasers, where did they go?

JUSTIN MOLITO: They ran behind the police lines?

JEREMY SCAHILL: The police allowed them behind the lines?

JUSTIN MOLITO: Yes. Absolutely. The police allowed them behind the line and protected them. The assumption is they are police officers. This is what happens to democracy and this is what happens to the people rights when FTAA and agreements like that go through and we will see an increase of this presence of police to defend a meeting and to beat up and electrocute citizens who are opposed to trade policies and who are opposed to the destruction of the environment and labor laws. And I think you don’t have to look any further than the line of riot police protecting the meeting to know this is why people are out here is because this is a democracy movement and we don’t have a democracy in this country anymore.

JEREMY SCAHILL: We are standing here on the streets of Miami in the midst of the protests against the FTAA. Helicopters are in the air above us. I’m standing in front of a long stretching line of police officers dressed in full body armor, who are just a small fraction of the more than 9,000 security officers and police officers that have been deployed on the streets of Miami for these protests. They came from 40 counties around Florida. The budget for this very militarized presence on the streets came in part from the $87 billion Iraq spending bill. Some $8 million allocated to Miami for security at the protest. Medea Benjamin from Global Exchange is a veteran of the anti-corporate globalization movement and has been to Iraq several times in the past year.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Our movement has always seen the connection between militarism and corporate lead globalization. We see it in Iraq we see it in the starkest form, the hidden hand of the market and the iron fist of the military. So it’s interesting that the U.S. government doesn’t try to hide that anymore either. And they take money out of an allocation for what is mostly military venture in Iraq and a little bit in Afghanistan and throwing a little money to the police here to repress the anti-corporate globalization folks. The connections are clear. We make them, they make them.

JEREMY SCAHILL: For a brief moment in the protest, there with a pause in the police violence outside the ministerial meetings when thousands and thousands of rank and file union members began their legally permitted rally and march.


JEREMY SCAHILL: Among the thousands of union members were more than 2,000 steel workers who traveled across the country to say no to what they called President Bush’s FTAA. AFLCIO President, John Sweeney, was among the labor leaders in attendance and the rally drew a sizable number of unions from Miami. James Bush is with the Laborer’s Union 478, which represents thousands of workers in the Miami area.

JAMES BUSH: We are here today because we are for fair trade, not free trade, to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to have a job. We have lost millions of jobs out of the United States, and it’s time that it stops. Someone has to draw the line. We are saying we wouldn’t jobs here. Our people have to be able to make a living. We just can keep giving our jobs away to other countries. It should be America first. We should be able to look out for our people here. We have people here in Miami; we have got the highest poverty level in the nation right here in Miami. The people here need some jobs. We are about fair trade, not free trade.

SHUSHMA SHEP: My name is Shushma Shep and I work with the Miami worker’s center. We are here today because we live and work in Miami, and we’re concerned that Miami is being used by the corporate global agenda to further exploit people of color and low income communities. Miami is currently the poorest city in the country. We have the greatest level of inequality in the country. We have the richest community in the country here as well. We have seen far too long how the corporate agenda has been able to exploit, and further oppress people. We have been working over the past year to educate people in the community about what the FTAA is, what it’s really about and who it is really serving. We are here to fight for the right to protest and specifically to stop the FTAA.

CINDY WISELER: I’m Cindy Wiseler and I’m here supporting the grass roots. I came out here to support root cause. We came out here to march three days workers from different organizations talking about the local impact, if the FTAA is enacted, but also making the connection between the local and the global, and what the cooperation is here. We have marched with the coalition of the workers fighting against Taco Bell because Taco Bell purchases the tomatoes they work. Over 20 years their wages remain the same and the exploitation has continued. So they’re out here talking about what it is, it’s a push and pull effect of most of the workers are Mexican, but they have workers from Guatemala and Haiti. But they talk about themselves as a direct result of the free trade agreements having to cross the border to be able to survive and to be able to send money back and making the connections that we’re still here suffering, because of these policies and because the corporations are exploiting folks here as well. There’s also another organization, low income families fighting together, predominantly African American community here in Miami in liberty city that has been fighting against the demolition of public housing and bringing in the issue of how is it that we’re here spending millions and millions of dollars militarizing the city for protesters for people to speak the truth, and at the same time you have hundreds and hundreds of people homeless, and you have hundreds and hundreds and thousands of people who are — wanting to be pushed out so that you can make this a playground for the rich and for the elite and for the corporations for working class people and poor here in Miami don’t get an opportunity to have a say and be able to say you know what we need is education, what we need is health care and what we need is housing. That’s the same thing. It’s not only the self-interests of the people here but the self-interests of the workers around the world. That’s why we marched 34 miles to symbolize the march that each of the countries that was here at the Intercontinental Hotel negotiating the fate, placing chess with the lives of people in this country and around the world.

REVEREND GRAYLON: I’m Reverend Graylon Scott Hagler, Pastor Plymouth, United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C., and national President for National Ministers for Racial and Socioeconomic Justice. There’s a good presence of churches here today and have been here working. It is a part of our moral and religious duty. Because if you look at the entire biblical tradition, it talks about justice and people not being exploited and clearly, economic formulas like this are set up to exploit people, and to enrich corporations. Obviously, that is something that we need to continue to resist, because people should be able to enjoy that which their land produces for themselves and for their families, and for the integrity of the communities and not for the wealth of someone else.

JEREMY SCAHILL: In addition to the labor unions and U.S. grassroots groups and organizations, there were indigenous leaders from the Americas in the streets as well. People like Chief Arthur Manual from British Columbia in Canada. A spokesperson for the Indigenous Networks on Economies and Trade.

ARTHUR MANUAL: We are trying to expand the framework. We this is a 500-year-old battle. We have been fighting this with settlers for years. If you want to know what the FTAA does, look at the reservations in this country and that’s what will happen you to if you allow the companies to totally control your lives. That’s what they’re trying to do from the arctic to the Antarctic. You have to learn from it. We can act. We can add a new debate. People here talk about values. The values they talk about are jobs, employment opportunities, they talk about farming rates and a good workplace, but what we’re talking about here is adding the dimension of land rites because only I can say that I have land rites in the territory that go well before Canada and the United States. I can say that the Microsoft or Wayerhouser, and I can say to Intercore; No, you have no original property interests. We do. I think that the people who value the human rights and those that own the land have to get together. Indigenous people and common, ordinary Americans, common ordinary Canadians have to get together and must face up to this beast called the FTAA.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Once the union crowd and their permits began to disperse, the police seized on the opportunity to escalate their violent attacks on the protesters as the Miami sun began to set, the bloodiest period of the day fell on the city. George W. Bush was not in Miami for the FTAA meetings. He was facing lots of protests across the in Britain where hundreds of thousands took to the streets to oppose the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The connection between those protests and the ones here in Miami were not lost on Hector from the Mexican Action Network on Free Trade.

HECTOR: We think that Bush is offering to the world the worst they could — he could offer. U.S. government is offering to the world free trade and war, free trade and militarization. We think they are the two faces of the same thing. The U.S. invaded Iraq and now they are proposing a free trade area in that region of the world. Here in America, they are trying to create free trade area, but just in case, there are more and more military presence of U.S. in the whole country now. So, I think that — we think that this — these two sites, militarizations, and the free trade are the same and we reject this, this policy of Bush administration.

JEREMY SCAHILL: For Democracy Now!, this is Jeremy Scahill with Ana Nogueira and John Hamilton in Miami.

JUAN GONZALEZ: That report was produced by Ana Noguiera, Jeremy Scahill, and John Hamilton from the Independent News service. We have to take a break. We’ll be back in a minute.

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