Nine years ago, President Clinton gathered thirty-three of his Western Hemisphere counterparts in Miami for a celebrity-studded gala, a ride aboard a billionaire’s yacht and a harmonious discussion of plans for a hemisphere-wide trade deal called the Free Trade Area of the Americas. There was nary a protester in sight.
During the week of November 17, Miami will once again host FTAA talks. But this time officials are more likely to spend late nights bickering behind a security barricade surrounded by demonstrators than gallivanting about town with the likes of Patti LaBelle and Liza Minnelli.
The pendulum of power between free traders and their opponents has swung wildly over the past decade. Five years after Clinton’s Miami fiesta, tens of thousands of union members, environmentalists, family farmers and students spoiled the party at the Seattle World Trade Organization summit. That confrontation imprinted the global justice movement onto the public mind and ushered in two years of megaprotests. Then 9/11 knocked some of the force out of the US opposition–terrorism dominated the airwaves and large, angry protests seemed inappropriate to many.
In the meantime, in a rapid succession of social and electoral upheavals, popular movements in Latin America confronted governments with decades of failed market-opening policies. Doctrinaire pro-free-trade leaders were voted or driven out of office in Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina and, in October, Bolivia.
In Miami, free-trade critics hope to show renewed force. Among governments, the stage is set for a showdown between the Bush Administration and that of Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Tensions are high because the FTAA meeting will test whether developing countries can continue to present a united front against a US corporate agenda, as they did in Cancún. Heading into Miami, the Bush Administration, already in 2004 campaign mode, is refusing two of Brazil’s demands that would play poorly among key supporters. These include cuts in domestic farm subsidies and changes in antidumping laws, which have been used to raise tariffs on Brazilian steel and citrus products. Brazil has refused US demands to boost opportunities and protections for international investors, including in government contracting.
In late October, Brazil offered a compromise of sorts that would allow the United States to put off domestic subsidies and antidumping to a second round of FTAA talks if it also agreed to delay talks on investment and government procurement. On two other touchy areas, intellectual property rights and services, Brazil has made an essentially empty gesture of offering to negotiate, but not beyond what’s called for by the WTO. US negotiators rebuffed the offer, continuing to insist on a comprehensive agreement by the January 2005 deadline.
The meeting will also be a test of whether US activists can build on the momentum of the peace movement to pull off their first major globalization action since 9/11. Miami would not have been the activists’ choice of meeting place. Unlike Seattle or Washington, the city lacks proximity to concentrations of the manufacturing-sector trade unionists who have been the backbone of the US anti-free trade movement. And the broader progressive community in South Florida has struggled to be heard over the constant clamoring of right-wing Cuban-Americans.
Nevertheless, organizers are expecting more than 10,000 demonstrators, including large contingents from the Sierra Club, the Steelworkers, Teamsters, Jobs With Justice, Miami service-sector unions and student groups. [In a web-only piece, Manuel Pastor and Tony LoPresti report on the organizing campaign among Miami community groups.] Anger runs high in these circles because of the failure of the North American Free Trade Agreement (the model for the FTAA) to protect worker rights and because of the powers these trade deals give corporations to sue governments over regulations that may reduce profits. These US protesters will be joined by activists from all over the Americas who are part of the Hemispheric Social Alliance, a network of trade union and civil society networks that oppose the FTAA and support a more equitable development agreement. Over the past year, these and other organizations have carried out a campaign to gather ballots on the FTAA. Hundreds of thousands of US ballots will be combined with millions more from around the hemisphere and delivered to negotiators in Miami.
US negotiators no doubt hope that a return to sunny Miami will help swing the pendulum back in their direction. But in the decade since Clinton’s free-trade extravaganza, the so-called Washington Consensus model of corporate globalization has been battered by spectacular corporate scandals, the failed promises of NAFTA and the financial crises of the late 1990s. It is this crisis of legitimacy that gives protesters and governments of poor countries the possibility of stalemating the WTO and actually defeating the proposed FTAA. And it is these failures that have opened space for groups like the Hemispheric Social Alliance, the International Forum on Globalization and others to pose markedly different rules for economic relations within and among nations that help communities, workers and the environment. Alliances forged in Seattle and deepened in Cancún can now produce a different kind of globalization.