Latin America rises up against neo-liberalism

FRFI 170 December 2002 / January 2003

The RCG joined over 1,000 delegates from 41 countries attending the Second Hemispheric Conference of the Struggle Against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in Havana, Cuba, from 25-28 November. Representatives from social and political movements, trade unionists and analysts initiated discussion from the panel and workshops took place to establish continental exchange and unity for every sector, youth and students, rural workers, the indigenous movement, religious groups, trade unions, women’s groups, and environmental campaigners.

After in-depth discussion of the economic, political and social consequences of neo-liberalism, the conference drew up a ‘plan of action’ of immediate and concrete measures to develop the mass movement against the FTAA.

The largest delegations to the conference came from the US, Canada and Mexico, three countries which have already suffered the consequences of the FTAA’s predecessor, NAFTA (North America Free Trade Area) introduced in 1994. Over 200 Cuban organisations were also represented. Speakers at the conference included Evo Morales, leader of the indigenous and socialist movement in Bolivia and runner-up in the recent Bolivian general election. Morales called for a continental gathering in Venezuela to demonstrate solidarity with its president, Hugo Chavez.

The US aims to have the FTAA approved by 2005. It will give US transnationals a free rein in Latin America. This includes the right to sue participating governments for implementing ‘non-competitive practices’, even when they involve protecting their own people or environments. Through the FTAA, the US aims to secure exclusive access to Latin American resources. Whilst championing free trade abroad, the US is introducing protectionist measures to defend its own capital, including huge subsidiaries to US farmers and industry.

Cuba is the only country in the continent to be excluded from the FTAA. Cuban President Fidel Castro told the conference that neo-liberalism was unsustainable, doomed to failure and could bear no more fruits, only tragedy and misery. Fidel pointed to the devastation of Argentina, once the model of neo-liberal success. He said that all the Nobel Laureates of economics put together could find no solution to the situation in Argentina, nor to the one in the United States. ‘The system is in crisis’, he said, ‘that is why they resort to war, it is a new design to look for a way out.’

In September, over 10 million Brazilians voted in a referendum on whether to accept the FTAA, and 86% rejected it. The FTAA depends on the participation of Brazil, the second largest economy in the continent. The recent election of left-wing President Lula in Brazil raises the possibility that the FTAA will be blocked. Delegates at the conference committed themselves to organising similar referendums and conducting grassroots work to raise awareness against the FTAA.

Helen Yaffe