Protest Actions in Cancun Against WTO
Published in the
Hapit (July-December 2003 Issue)
CPA Joins Protest Actions in Cancun
The 5th Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organization
(WTO), held in Cancun, Mexico on September 10-13, 2003 was rocked
with protest actions which partly caused the collapse of the meeting.
Thousands of activists and members of civil society groups against
the WTO gathered in Cancun in a historical showdown with Cancun
police and security forces in the exercise of their right to protest
and to air their sentiments against the WTO. Joan Carling, Chairperson
of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), attended the protest actions
in Cancun, together with other Filipino activists of the national
BAYAN (New Patriotic Alliance) network.
WTO in a glimpse
The WTO was established in 1995 with 145 country members, including
the Philippines. This international organization enforces 20 trade
agreements in the promotion of free trade under the General Agreement
on Trade and Services (GATS), Agreements on Agriculture (AoA) and
Trade-related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). This international
body is used by powerful capitalist countries, together with multinational
companies to push their agenda of trade liberalization that is causing
more inequality between the rich and poor nations.
Clearly, the WTO was established to serve the economic
interest of imperialist countries and prevent the growth of national
economies of developing countries according to the needs of its
The agenda of the 5th Ministerial Meeting of the
WTO included expansion of further agreements such as on investments,
trade competition and trade facilitation that are clearly to the
disadvantage of developing countries like the Philippines. Developing
countries are already suffering tremendously from the impacts of
earlier agreements, causing greater economic marginalization of
millions of people. Thus, governments of developing countries have
started expressing their position against new agreements.
The concrete example on the adverse impact of WTO
agreements in the Cordillera is the crisis in the vegetable and
rice-producing areas brought about by the importation of agricultural
products into the country. Because of importation of these crops
as part of the WTO agreement on agriculture, cheaper imported products
flooded the Philippine market, thereby causing oversupply and steep
decline of prices of local produce, leading to loss of income and
livelihood sources for thousands of farmers, as can be seen in the
experience of vegetable farmers and rice producers in the Cordillera.
The protest actions in Cancun
On September 8 and 9, two days before the WTO meeting, the International
Farmers and Indigenous Peoples Forum were held at the center of
Cancun, which was attended by more than 5,000 participants. This
activity was sponsored by the Visa Campesina, an alliance of peasant
organizations around the world. Leaders of farmers and indigenous
peoples presented their issues in relation to the WTO and corporate
globalization, while militant and revolutionary songs were sang
throughout the program. In this gathering, Ms. Joan Carling made
a presentation on the impacts of WTO to indigenous peoples. This
solidarity forum was truly a gathering of grassroots movements waging
anti-globalization struggles in their communities.
On September 10, the opening day of the Ministerial
Meeting, a colorful Farmers March was held with the participation
of various groups from all over the world. More than 10,000 marched
at downtown Cancun towards the venue of the WTO Convention Center.
However, a police blockade was set up at the entrance of the road,
11 kilometers away from the WTO convention center. The participants
then decided to hold a rally in front of the blockade, with various
speakers denouncing the police blockade, and exposing the WTO as
a tool of imperialist domination. It was during this time that one
Korean farmer, Mr. Kyeong Hae Li, stabbed himself as a sign of protest
against the WTO. He was brought to the hospital but died a few hours
later. This act of self-immolation or supreme sacrifice of Mr. Li
was his way of saying that WTO kills farmers.
As a result of this incident, the protest action
was transformed into a vigil during the whole four-day meeting of
the WTO till its collapse, highlighting the impacts of WTO to farmers
of developing countries. Tents were set up and murals adorned the
site, with an altar made at the place where Mr. Li killed himself.
Various fora and workshops on different issues sponsored by various
anti-WTO groups also took place around downtown Cancun. This included
a water tribunal against privatization, forum on Free Trade, alternative
to trade among others. Around this time, the international indigenous
participants got together and made their Declaration Statement against
the WTO, which was later presented in a press conference. Joan Carling
actively participated in the drafting of this declaration.
Likewise, accredited NGOs to the WTO who were allowed
to observe the Ministerial Meeting, held daily protest actions within
and outside the convention center. This included the showing of
small placards written with "WTO undemocratic", "WTO
not fair", and "WTO obsolete" during the opening
day. The holding of one minute of silence during the WTO meeting
followed by a press conference of anti-WTO activists at the convention
center, highlighted the impacts of WTO to millions of farmers.
There were also protest actions just outside the
convention center but these were dispersed immediately by heavily
armed policemen. Cancun was littered with 15,000 policemen stationed
in several checkpoints while others were roaming the place to quell
protest actions. For accredited WTO-NGO participants, it became
difficult to travel from the NGO center near the convention center
and downtown where workshops and protest actions were taking place
because of police blockades and checkpoints. Cancun was almost like
a police state during the WTO meeting. According to reports, these
police men were trained by the Central Intelligence Agency of the
U.S. for crowd dispersal.
Meanwhile, the negotiation among ministers of the
WTO was having difficulties in building consensus on the issue of
agriculture and on the proposed new agreements called Singapore
issues. Twenty one Ministers from developing countries created their
own block to press for reduction of the WTO Meeting. The US and
the EU were in fact pressuring Ministers of developing countries
to support their agenda and interest which led to more polarization
in the negotiation.
But developing countries stood their ground on the
agriculture issues and insisted on no new round of negotiation on
On the last day of the ministerial meeting, the
March Against Corporate Globalization and Militarization was held
in downtown Cancun which was participated in by more than 8,000.
This was part of the global action against the WTO. More than 100,000
people held demonstrations around the world, including Baguio and
Manila in the Philippines. Just like the march on the first day
of the WTO meeting, there was another police blockade but with a
two-level fenced structure that was set up along the road going
to the WTO convention center. Since this structure was already in
place much earlier, the Korean delegation made a big rope to be
used to tear down the fenced structure.
When the marchers arrived in front of the blockade,
women who were at the frontline cut the fence with big scissors
to weaken the structure. Then the Korean delegation tied the big
ropes on top of the two-layered fence and marchers pulled the rope
in a two-lined organized pull. After several pulls, the fence gave
way and everyone cheered. Several activists delivered speeches of
victory of this organized direct action as a symbol of the peoples'
triumph against the WTO inspite of the rain during the action, all
the participants felt proud and victorious. It was a moment of strong
solidarity in direct action, a moment of collective strength and
Several hours later, the WTO Ministerial Meeting
ended with no agreement and a collapse of negotiations was declared.
Several Ministers of developing countries also felt triumphant as
they were able to block the attempts of capitalist countries, spearheaded
by the US and European Union for new agreements that would even
worsen the economic crises and impoverishment of third world countries.
The protest actions in Cancun and around the world
against the WTO demonstrated the growing movement and solidarity
of people against imperialist domination or corporate globalization.
While hundreds of local struggles are waged on the ground to defend
the rights of people and prevent more adverse consequences of WTO
agreements, there is now a growing convergence at the international
level of social movements as a clear direction of solidarity networking
advocacy and direct actions.
The devastating impacts of WTO and the organized
resistance of peoples all over the world made governments of third
world countries review their position on the WTO agreements. This
resulted to their forming a tactical coalition for a stronger position
to block more unfair agreements. This is a major historical development
in this era of renewed assault by imperialist powers to strengthen
their domination. But it may be too early to judge whether this
coalition of developing countries will be sustained, given the tremendous
pressure and even blackmail being done by capitalist countries and
also the vested interest of local elites who continue to control
economic and political power in developing countries.
The ultimate challenge then is how peoples of the
world take the future into their own hands, and strengthen their
solidarity and cooperation in confronting the complexities of the
world's unjust social order, dominated by the superpowers. History
has shown that it is the mass of people, in their numbers, strength
and collective actions, that the world can be changed for the better.
The struggle of peoples around the world must then persevere and
pursue an end to WTO, corporate globalization, militarism and for
just and democratic world for the majority.# Joan Carling