The Unanimous Opinion

At the 6th Hemispheric Meeting in Havana, when the discussion turned to the subject of production of biofuels from foodstuffs, which are constantly getting more expensive, the huge majority voiced their opposition with indignation.  But it was undeniable that some individuals with prestige, authority and good faith had been won over by the idea that the planet’s biomass would suffice for both things in a relatively short time, mindless of the urgency to produce the foods, which are already scarce enough, that would be used as raw material for ethanol and agridiesel.

On the other hand, when the debate on the Free Trade Agreements with the United States began, several dozen people took part and all of them unanimously condemned both the bilateral and multilateral forms of such agreements with the imperialist power.

Taking into account the need for space, I shall return to the method of summarizing in order to present three eloquent speeches made by Latin American personalities who expressed extremely interesting concepts with great clarity and distinctiveness.  As in all the summaries in previous reflections, the authors’ exact manner of presentation is respected.

ALBERTO ARROYO (Mexico, Red mexicana de Acción contra el Libre Comercio — Mexican Action Network against Free Trade).

I would like to share with you the new plans of the empire and attempt to alert the rest of the continent about something new which is on the upswing or that is coming forward as a new strategy for a new phase of the United States’ offensive.  NAFTA or the FTA of North America was merely the first step of something that it wants for the entire continent.

The new attempt does not seem to take into account the defeat in the implementation of the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas), which even in it’s Plan “B” recognizes that it cannot implement what it calls the comprehensive FTAA simultaneously in all the countries of the continent; it will try proceeding, piece by piece, negotiating bilateral Free Trade Agreements.

It succeeded in signing with Central America, but Costa Rica has not ratified it.  In the case of the Andean nations, it has not even succeeded in sitting down at the bargaining table with all the countries, but only with two of them; and with these two it has not been able to conclude negotiations.

What is so new about the SPP (Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America)?  I see three fundamental issues:

First: To strengthen military and security structures in order to confront the resistance of the peoples is precisely its reaction to the triumph of the movement that is jeopardizing its plans.

It is not a question of simply stationing military bases in danger zones or in areas with a high level of strategic natural resources, but trying to establish a close coordination, with plans concerted with the countries, in order to improve the security structures which are a way of confronting the social movements as if they were criminals.

This is the first novel aspect.

The second element, which also seems new to me: the principal actors in this entire neoliberal scheme were always directly the transnationals.  The governments, particularly the United States government, were the spokesmen, the ones who formally carried out the negotiations, but really the interests that they were defending were directly those of the corporations.  They were the great actors hidden behind the FTA and the FTAA project.

The novelty of the new SPP scheme is that these actors come out of the blue, take the foreground and the relationship is inverted: the corporate groups directly talking amongst themselves, in the presence of the governments that will then attempt to translate their agreements into policies, rule changes, changes of laws, etc.  It was not enough for them now to privatize the public corporations; they are privatizing policy per se.  The businessmen had never directly defined economic policy.

The SPP starts in a meeting, let’s say it’s called, “A meeting for the prosperity of North America”; they were tri-national meetings of businessmen.

Among the operative agreements being taken up by the SPP, one is the creation of tri-national committees by sectors — what they call “captains of industry” — so that these define a strategic development plan of the sector in the North American region.  In other words, Ford is multiplied or divided into three parts: that is, the Ford Corporation in the United States, the subsidiary of Ford in Mexico and the subsidiary of Ford in Canada decide the strategy for the auto industry sector in North America.  It’s the Ford Motor Company speaking to a mirror, with its own employees, with the directors of auto companies in Canada and in Mexico, to agree on a strategic plan that they will present to their governments which will translate and implement them into concrete economic policies.

There is a scheme to incorporate the security element; second point, to directly privatize the negotiations; and the third new aspect of this structure is perhaps, remembering a saying of our classic grandparents, that phrase of Engels where he was explaining that when the people are ready to take power through the mechanisms of formal democracy, like the zero on a thermometer or the 100, the rules of the game change: water will either freeze or boil, and even though we are speaking about bourgeois democracies, they will be first ones to break the rules.

The Free Trade Agreements have to go through congresses, and the fact is that it is getting more difficult to have them ratified by congresses, including the Congress of the empire, the United States Congress.

They are saying that this is not an international treaty therefore it doesn’t have to get approved by the congresses.  But, as it does touch on issues that disrupt the legal framework in our countries, they will present in bit by bit; they will decide on a modification to legislation in a minute, and another one in the next minute; executive decrees to be implemented, changes in operative regulations, rules for standard functioning, but never the whole package.

Even though they were negotiated behind our backs and behind the backs of all peoples in general, sooner or later the Free Trade Agreements will be translated into a written text that will go to the congresses and then we will know what it was that they agreed to.  They would like us never to know what was agreed to, they will only let us see fragments of the strategy, because it is never going to get translated into a complete text.

I shall close with a story so that we can realize the degree of sophistication, with regards to security, that these agreements and operative mechanisms of integration of security apparatuses have reached.

A short while ago, a plane took off from Toronto with tourists headed for a vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.  While the plane was on the runway, the passenger list was examined again more carefully, and they discovered that there was someone there from Bush’s list of terrorists.

As soon as the plane entered American air space — when you fly out of Toronto, American air space begins after you pass the Great Lakes and, in a jet, this takes a few minutes — two F-16s showed up flying alongside.  They led the plane out of American air space and escorted it to Mexican territory where they forced it to land in the military section of the airport; then, they arrested this man and sent his family back.

You can imagine the impression those 200 poor tourists on the plane had, seeing the two armed F-16s flying alongside and rerouting the plane.

Later, it turned out that he was not the terrorist that they thought, and they said to him: “Sorry, you can carry on with your vacation now, and make sure you call your family to come and join you.”

JORGE CORONADO (Costa Rica, Continental Social Alliance)

The struggle against free trade in the region has various features.  One of the most devastating projects that have been proposed for the infrastructure, for the appropriation of our biodiversity, is the Puebla-Panama Plan, a strategy that not only appropriates our resources, but comes out of a military strategy of the empire covering the territory from the south of Mexico right up to Colombia, passing through Central America.

In the struggle against hydroelectric dams which uproot and take by force the indigenous and peasant lands there have been cases where, using military repression, they have uprooted various native and peasant communities in the region.

We have the component of the struggle against the mining industry.  Canadian, European and American transnationals have been pursuing this appropriation strategy.

We have been confronting the privatization of public services: electrical energy, water, telecommunications; the struggle in the peasant sector to defend seeds, against the patenting of living beings and against the loss of sovereignty to the transgenics.

We have been struggling against labor flexibility, one of the focuses oriented to the sector and, obviously, against the entire picture of dismantlement of our small scale peasant production.

Also, the struggle against the subject of intellectual property, which removes the use of generic medicines from our security, these being the main distribution focus which our social security institutes have in the region.

A central factor in this struggle against free trade has been against the Free Trade Agreements and, particularly, against the Free Trade Agreements with the United States, passed in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua, through blood, sweat and tears.  And this is not just a rhetorical expression.

In Guatemala, comrades in the struggle have been murdered while they have gone head to head against the treaty approvals.  This struggle has allowed us to ensure a coordinating and mobilizing force for the greatest unity of the people’s movement in the region.

In the case of the Honduran Parliament, the deputies walked out, breaking the minimum framework of institutional legality.

We have stated that, within the heart of the people’s movement, this has not signified defeat.  We have lost a battle, but it has allowed us to take a qualitative leap forward in terms of organization, unity and experience in the struggle against free trade.

The Popular Social Movement and the people of Costa Rica, which have prevented Costa Rica’s approval of the FTA up until the present, forging unity with various academic, political and even business sectors to create a great national front of diverse and heterogeneous struggle, till now have succeeded in stopping the Costa Rican government, the right-wing neoliberals, and so they have not been able to approve the FTA.  Today the possibility of a referendum in Costa Rica to decide the fate of the FTA is being proposed.

We are on the threshold of a fundamental stage in Costa Rica in terms of being able to prevent the advance of the neoliberal agenda; a defeat of this treaty would symbolically mean that we keep on adding up victories, like detaining and bringing FTA to a standstill.

Today we need solidarity in the popular movement, and we request it of the social and popular organizations which come to Costa Rica as international observers.  The right-wing is preparing to encourage, if possible, a fraud that will guarantee it a win in the fight that is already lost, and having international observers from the popular movement will be an important contribution to active militant solidarity with our struggle.

Today, after a year, the FTA has not brought any more jobs, any more investments, or better conditions for the trade balance to any country in Central America.  Today, in the entire region, we proclaim the slogan of agrarian reform, sovereignty and food security, as a central focus for our eminently agricultural nations.

Today, not just the United States but also Europe would like to appropriate one of the richest areas in biodiversity and natural resources.  Today, more than ever, the coordinating focus of our different movements in the Central American region is to confront free trade in its multiple manifestations; hopefully this meeting will help give us coordinating elements, focuses for struggle and joint action that will allow us in this entire hemisphere to advance as one popular force.

We shall not rest in our efforts of organization and struggle until we reach the goal of a new world.

JAIME ESTAY (Chile, coordinator of REDEM — network of world economy studies — and, now professor at the University of Puebla in Mexico)

This crisis, in short, has to do with a manifest non-compliance with the promises that accompanied a group of reforms that began to be applied in Latin America in the 1980’s.

Under the banner of free trade, we were told that we were going to achieve growth of our economies, that we were going to achieve diminished levels of inequality in our countries, along with diminished distances between our countries and the advanced world and, in brief, that we were going to achieve a move towards development in leaps and bounds.  In some countries there was even talk about making those leaps and bounds into the First World.

In the matter of new integration or this open regionalism which took off more than 15 years ago, what was proposed was Latin American integration, or what we call Integration of Latin America, at the service of an opening-up process.  A whole debate was set up about how we had to integrate in order to open up, an integration that would not be the old-style protectionist integration, but an integration that would bring us better conditions to include ourselves in this global economy, in these markets which, supposedly, since they operated in a free manner, would produce the best possible results for our countries.

This relationship between integration and opening-up, that idea whose supreme objective of integration had to be the opening up of our countries, took place in effect; our countries effectively opened up and effectively and unfortunately the central theme of Latin American integration consisted in putting it at the service of this opening up.

Some officials were talking about what was called “the pragmatic phase of integration.”  We move forward as we are able; that more or less became the slogan.  If what we need is to trade more, let us concentrate on trading more; if what we want is to sign a bunch of little agreements among countries, bilateral agreements or agreements between three or four countries, let us go in that direction, and at some point we shall be able to call this Latin American Integration.

The balance is clearly negative.  I think that there is recognition, greater on various levels now, that what we have been calling the Integration of Latin America is not integration, it is trade; and it is not Latin American but a tangle of signed agreements between different countries of the region, none of which has lead to a process possessing an effectively Latin American character.  The opening-up, at whose service it is supposed that integration must be placed, has not produced any of the results that were announced in terms of economic growth, lessening of inequalities and achieving the sorely desired development that they said was supposed to be coming to us.

What we should point out is that we are witnessing an extreme deterioration of a style of integration that very clearly knew why, how and for whom integration was taking place.

In short, what I am talking about is an integration which was conceived on the foundations of neoliberalism, which has failed, both in terms of its own objectives and in terms of the objectives that we all have a right to demand and to expect in a genuine integration process.

The new Latin American integration was firmly supported by the policies and proposals coming from Washington.  To a great extent, those American proposals have become something that will end up devouring its own offspring.  Just the act of signing Free Trade Agreements has brought both the Andean community and the Central American Common Market to a crisis point.

An important part of the current crisis in Latin American integration has to do with the advance of the United States hemispheric project, not via the FTAA which managed to be stopped, but via the signing of different free trade treaties.

We can see the appearance of alternatives more clearly in the current panorama of integration.  In many ways, ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) is based on principles that are radically different from those belonging to that integration process which is in crisis.

There are many functions left to define and many boundaries to be traced:  the meaning of such concepts as “free trade,” “national development,” “market freedom,” “food security and sovereignty,” etc.  What we are able to state is that we are witnessing, on the hemispheric and Latin American scene, a growing insurgency regarding the predominance of neoliberalism.

This is where the opinions expressed by these three personalities end, summing up the opinions of many of the participants in the debate about Free Trade Treaties.  These are very solid points of view derived from a bitter reality and they have enriched my ideas.

I recommend my readers to pay attention to the complexities of human activity.  It’s the only way to see much further.

Space has run out.  Today I should not add one more single word.

Fidel Castro Ruz

May 16, 2007

This article was first published in Granma International.

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