Marching on Cancún

Marching on Cancún

Peasants, punks, students, green activists, union workers, social leaders and many more will meet in Cancún to say no to the WTO. The Zapatista Army has also announced it will participat


Mexico City

Peasants, punks, students, green activists, union workers, social leaders and many more will meet in Cancún to say no to the WTO. The Zapatista Army has also announced it will participate in some way. As the main movement that unites diverse social forces, the Zapatistas, by their announcement, gave a vital push to the organization of opposition to the WTO gathering. The Zapatista Army was the first movement in the world to speak out against global neoliberalism when it appeared publicly for the first time in January 1994–not coincidentally the same day NAFTA was implemented.

“We are against the WTO because they want to patent our products, because they want to privatize our resources,” says Mayan peasant leader Pedro Dzib of UNORCA (National Union of Autonomous Regional Farmer Organizations–a Mexican member of the international network Vía Campesina). “We cannot allow them to privatize CFE [the Federal Electricity Commission], we cannot allow them to flood our market with foreign grains just because theirs are cheaper.” Dzib reflects the feelings of millions of peasants and small farmers who have seen prices for their products fall dramatically as a result of NAFTA–and who see the WTO as an expansion of NAFTA.

During the weeks leading up to Cancún, members of UNORCA have been busy informing peasant communities about the WTO ministerial conference and its implications for their lives. Not a hard job, as peasants are living the consequences of NAFTA every day. “They may not understand the macroeconomic details, but they know something is going wrong,” says Victoria Santos, technical director of the Organization of Communal Forest Producers of the Maya Region.

Tens of thousands of farmers are willing to go to Cancún, according to UNORCA leader Alberto Gómez, but only a few can afford the trip. Students, punks, workers and artists are in the same situation. Cancún is the most expensive tourist destination in the country–a twenty-three-hour Mexico City-Cancún bus ride costs about $100. So all over the country activists are focused on informing people about the WTO and raising money. Vía Campesina and UNORCA have set up a fundraising campaign at and expect to mobilize about 10,000 peasants, mainly from communities near Cancún.

Planned activities in Cancún include a Convergence of Independent Media, an international reunion of fishermen, concerts, mass demonstrations, international forums (on globalization, agriculture, workers, ecology and “of the people”–mainly NGOs) and an International Fair on Fair Trade. For those who won’t be able to make it, UNORCA-Vía Campesina and other organizations have planned activities in at least twenty-six Mexican states, especially on the southern and northern borders, where they will attempt to let people in without asking for papers and stop multinational trailer-trucks.

Activists agree that the future of social movements in Mexico depends on the outcome of the WTO protests; peasant, social and student movements are weak right now. The paradox lies in the fact that it was in southern Mexico that some of the most important seeds of the global movement were planted. “It’s not just about Cancún,” says Gómez. “It’s about our country. What’s at stake is, Which will the next step be for our society, for our teachers, our union workers, our consumers? What’s at stake is our own existence as farmers–and we are going to show the world that in Mexico, there is a society that does not want to disappear.”

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