Archives | Cordillera | Publications | International Work | Campaigns | Galleries | About Us | Home


December 2003

back to top back to top

CPA Joins Protest Actions in Cancun Against WTO

Published in the Hapit (July-December 2003 Issue)

CPA Joins Protest Actions in Cancun Against WTO

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 people.

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 new agreements.

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 power.

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

Published with financial contribution from the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation
Copyright © 2004 website content by Cordillera Peoples Alliance,
Website design by Borky Perida