The world will never be the same after Genoa. We are referring both to the bloody confrontations at the G-8 summit and, more deeply, to the long history of conquest that began when Columbus sailed from Genoa in the name of free trade and globalization five centuries ago. The torturous legacy of Columbus, the conquistadores, the mercantilists, the colonialists, the adventurers obsessed with their manifest destinies, continues today in the G-8, the club of leaders of once and future empires.
Were these leaders at all conscious of the human tragedy inflicted in the name of free trade? Were they aware of the long and devastating history of economic expansion without regard to people or natural environments? Was it all–including the dozens of activists killed in India, Bolivia and other countries in earlier anti-corporate globalization protests and the 23-year-old Italian shot to death at close range by police in Genoa–so much “collateral damage” on the voyage of progress?
Some of the G-8 leaders claimed awareness of those concerns. “There is no demonstration drawing 100,000, 150,000 people without having a valid reason,” noted French President Jacques Chirac. Past protests have at least had the effect of creating a public relations problem for the G-8, which was also chastened by the rout of the drug companies on AIDS, the failure to gain a Multilateral Agreement on Investment, the forcing of debt relief onto the international agenda. So the summiteers brought developing country leaders to Genoa for an audience and asked UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to launch his AIDS fund there.
But as in past meetings, they remained insulated from any dialogue with the citizenry in the streets. George W. Bush parroted the mindset of the governing elite when he said, “Those who claim to represent the voices of the poor aren’t doing so.” It is the arrogant view that what’s good for the global corporate class is good for the world that those 100,000 people (along with more than a million in the less-developed world who have demonstrated against the IMF and the World Bank) have challenged.
Instead of listening, Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi shipped in 20,000 national police plus a couple of thousand troops armed with tear gas, water cannons and helicopters. Philippine academic Walden Bello filed a report to this magazine’s website (www.thenation.com) describing how, at 11 on Saturday night, police barged into the press center of the Genoa Social Forum, the Italian group that lined up about 600 groups behind a pledge of nonviolence, and forced everyone to the floor. At about the same time, the Wall Street Journal reported, Italian police raided a school building housing activists in an operation that neighbors described as leading to “hours of beatings and screaming.” Perhaps, some surmised, the police operation was not really meant to keep order at all. Bello quotes Pam Foster, the coordinator of the Halifax Initiative in Canada, as asking, “Why did the police go after the peaceful demonstrators but take their time dealing with the anarchists?”