Brandon Keim on Sun, 10 Nov 2002 17:50:04 +0100 (CET)

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article#31089  Portland Indymedia

1:37pm Sat Nov 2 '02 (Modified on 3:28pm Sat Nov 2'02)

following is a report from the ecuador actions at the ftaa summit.


Please accept this [unedited] bulletin from the edge of consciousness.

I don't know whether I feel like crying because I am so moved by what I
saw today, because my mucous membranes are all shot to hell from too much
tear gas, or out of sheer exhaustion. But I want to get this out while it
is still fresh in my mind, and tomorrow will be another insane day.

Tonight I watched some of the most oppressed people in this world confront
some of the most influential. Tonight I watched a group of poor farmers,
indigenous people, and workers speak, shout, sing truth to power. Tonight,
I think, I think, although we will not know for a few days, I watched the
terrain of hemispheric politics shift before my eyes. I feel so inspired,
and so humbled.

When the day started, I was 20km south of Quito with maybe 300 indigenas,
one of two protest caravans that had crossed the country spreading the
word about the protest against the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit
in Quito. As we crowded into buses to head north, I called the other
caravan, who reported that they had 80 people. And this is how it ends, I
thought. 4 months of work, promising reporters, funders, countless
activists in North America that thousands of people would come to disrupt
the FTAA ministerial meeting. And we were going to end up with 500 people
rallying in a park. But soon after we got down off the buses and began a
15km trek to Quito, the number of people seemed to mysteriously increase,
as buses from the South caught up with us and disgorged fresh groups of

The procession was a riot of color, filled with red and blue ponchos and
hundreds of rainbow flags (the symbol of the Andean indigenous and
campesino movements). People lined the street to watch as it passed by.
One shopkeeper explained to me that the indigenous people were like
burros, dragging along the rest of the country, who were also opposed to
the FTAA because it would devastate the Ecuadorian economy, but who let
the indigenous movement carry the torch for their opposition. Old women
chanted ceaselessly for four hours, No queremos, y no nos da la gana, ser
una colonia, norteamericana, (We dont want, and it doesn't do us any good,
to be a North American colony). One group of Bolivians, led by Evo
Morales, the coca-grower who almost became president there, marched with
coca leaves taped to their foreheads.

When we finally reached our destination in Quito, we rounded the corner
and found not 80 but somewhere between 2 and 6,000 people waiting. As the
two groups approached each other, people on each side were visibly
stirred, and some began to run. At this point, I realized that after 4
months of frantic organizing, the mobilization was a reality, that
whatever happened we had already won, that thousands of campesinos and
indigenas had come to Quito to unequivocally reject U.S.-style free trade.
And I simply began to bawl.

Our group didnt even pause, but continued straight toward the Marriott
Hotel, where the 34 trade ministers from North and South America were
arriving to negotiate a treaty that promises to wipe out small farmers, to
hand corporations a sweeping new set of tools to evade environmental,
consumer and labor laws, to force the privatization of water, health care,
education, culture, and biodiversity. In other words, a really crappy

As we headed north we were joined by large groups of campesinos, students,
trade unionists, and international activists who had already been fighting
running battles with the police, who were attempting to turn everyone back
several kilometers from the Summit.

The march was led by a line of campesino and indigenous leaders
(dirigentes), walking arm-in-arm, preceded by a Shaman conducting rites to
improve the success of our efforts. Soon we were stopped by several
hundred riot police. The dirigentes asked to send a elegation of civil
society groups in to the summit to present a giant letter made up of the
proposals and demands of thousands of people who had joined the caravans
along their route. They were soundly refused. So the dirigentes
deliberated and decided to head west toward the Volcan Pichincha. As we
rounded the corner we saw a thousand or more people ahead of us. More
groups drifted in from the sides, and soon la Avenida Colon, one of Quitos
widest streets, was packed for perhaps 8 or 10 blocks, with more people
out of sight. There must have been between 8 and 15,000 people. There were
giant puppets, a smattering of black-clad anarchists, a surprising number
of international activists and lots and lots of campesinos: 75 year-old
women, small children, 20 year olds who wanted nothing to do with
traditional dress, mothers and teenage sons marching together. And they
were all psyched.

As the most important social movement dirigentes approached the Avenida
Amazonas, the police opened fire with a LOT of tear gas. They shot it at
the crowd and over the crowd, so that as people ran away, they ran into
more gas. I walked until I couldnt see or breathe, then began to run, then
someone grabbed my hand and led me away (Why do I never carry goggles to
these things?) The president of the National Judicial Workers Union was
hit with three tear gas cannisters and taken to the hospital. Several
young kids passed out and almost asphyxiated. One woman fell on her baby,
who was injured and taken to the hospital. A reminder that free trade can
only proceed via brutal repression, which is now so commonplace at trade
summits that it hardly elicits comment.

And so people retreated to the south to regroup, and I retreated to the
communications center to try to get the word out about the success of the
mobilization, and its repression.

At 6 PM, folks decided to try once more to deliver their giant letter,
this time at the Suissotel, where the trade ministers were meeting with
assorted CEOs and trade lobbyists at the 7th Americas Business Forum. As a
strategy to boost legitimacy and head off disruptive protests, the
government had already made offered to allow a couple civil society
representatives to address the ministers. On these terms, the indigenous
and campesino groups had refused. But tonight, 2000 people marched up to
police barricades, where they demanded that a much larger delegation be
allowed in to deliver the letter. Clearly hoping to avoid the kind of
confrontations that have occurred in past uprisings here, the government
allowed 40 people from across the hemisphere to come in and meet with the

Hearing this was going on, I ran to the hotel, easily passing through
several police lines because I have press credentials for the summit. In
the lobby I simply asked Where are they? and several people pointed down.
Once in the basement, I followed the shouting until I reached an
auditorium where 25 or so trade ministers sat uncomfortably on stage while
40 campesinos chanted that they had no desire to be a U.S. colony. Peter
Rossett of Food First stood up, his arm in a rainbow colored sling thanks
to a protest injury. He yelled to Bob Zoellick, the U.S. Trade
Representative, that he should be ashamed for pushing an agreement that
would impoverish Latin Americans, not to mention many U.S. citizens.
Zoellick stared fixedly at his shoe. It was a scene that is, I think,
pretty much unprecedented in the history of trade negotiations.

Soon the civil society presentations began. A line of people fanned out in
front of the ministers (and TV cameras) holding signs that said Si a la
vida, No al ALCA (Yes to life, No to the FTAA). Behind the podium stood an
indigenous representative holding a beautifully painted inca sun with
North America and South America, and the words Si Una Integracion
Solidaria Con Respeco a la Soberania de los Naciones (Yes to an
integration based on solidarity, with respect for the sovereignty of

The first speakers were representatives of an international meeting of
parliament and congress members from across the hemisphere. They condemned
the FTAA process, and called for an alternative integration, one that
respects the needs and particular situations of the people of each

Next came several representatives of a civil society forum organized by a
number of pro-neoliberal NGOs with close ties to the government. Their
proposals were generally tepid, but they were for the most part drowned
out by the crowd. (When one speaker asked that the FTAA process be opened
up to include civil society observers, the whole crowd responded by
chanting, Plebiscito, Plebiscito).

Finally, the social movement representatives spoke. Leonidas Iza, the
President of the CONAIE (the Ecuadorian indigenous federation), stated the
social movements clear rejection of the FTAA and of neoliberalism in
general. We are in desperate shape, he told the ministers. You couldnt
possibly understand, you who were born in golden cradles and have never
suffered (at this the ministers looked even more uncomfortable). But we
dont have food to feed our children. Our markets are flooded with cheap
imports. Imported milk is dumped in Ecuador for half of what it costs to
produce it, but transnationals [mostly Nestle] sell it back to us at $1.80
per litre. We have no way to live, and the FTAA will only make it worse.
When we complain, the U.S. government calls us terrorists. We are not
threatening anything, but we are hungry and tired and things have to
change. In the wake of widening protest throughout Latin America, the
message was not lost on anyone.

Then a woman worker from Nicaragua spoke powerfully of the details of the
FTAA, of the privatizations and poverty and social exclusion it would
bring, particularly for women. Don't think you can simply take your
picture with us and push forward, she told the ministers. We will stop the

The meeting ended and, unable to contain myself, I stood up and shouted in
English and then in Spanish that never again could Bob Zoellick claim that
the people of Latin America were clamoring for free trade, because today
they had unequivocally rejected it. Then Peter Rossett chimed in that
polls consistently showed that the majority of U.S citizens oppose free
trade, and that the Bush administration had no right and no mandate to
push forward with the FTAA. There were loud cheers, and the moderator
hurriedly announced that the ministers were leaving and could we please
sit down so they could leave. NO! screamed the civil society folks in
unison, and they pushed out the door, leaving the ministers sitting on

And, at that moment, I felt something shift. I realized that (unless the
media bury this entirely despite our best efforts to get the word out,
which is always possible) the FTAA has in 24 hours gone from something
whose praises its proponents sing, to something they have to defend. Like
the WTO before it, the FTAA has become the treaty that has to be sold to
an America that doesnt want it. Or so I hope. I hope I hope I hope. This
is how it feels here. But it may be different elsewhere.

If I am right, the hemispheric resistance to free trade and the FTAA has
taken a huge step forward, even if this is but one day in a long struggle
in which many more battles will be fought. Tonights show of force may also
strengthen the resolve of poor countries in the negotiations that follow
here, which will piss off the U.S. and make it harder to reach agreement.
In any case, it was a beautiful day for some of the nations most powerful
social movements. Not to mention a shitty day for Bob Zoellick and his
buddies in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

We marched out of the Suissotel, reached the police barricades and were
greeted by hundreds of cheering protesters, who had been dancing to
traditional Kichwa music while we were inside. Then the partying began,
and it is still going 5 hours later (these folks are not lightweights when
it comes to cane liquor). I just said goodbye to a companera from one of
the rural provinces of the Sierra, a woman I met when I was giving
workshops on the FTAA several months ago. I asked her what she thought of
the days events, and she said, I am happy. Very happy. This was the first
time I have ever done this, and I think today we achieved something
important, something that will improve our lives. And now I can go back to
my children.

I am so proud, so proud and amazed by the incredible work people have done
here over the last few months, so moved by their commitment to this
struggle, so humbled by the generosity, patience, tolerance, and trust
they have shown me. I am so honored to be part of this fast-coalescing
hemispheric movement for a new economic and political order, one based on
reciprocity and social justice, on true democracy and respect for human
and natural diversity And Im so happy to be going to sleep.

In solidarity,

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