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h a i r y j e d i . n e t - Two Weeks Against the WTO
Written by Sean and Eleusa for Cancun Indymedia
The anti World Trade Organisation mobilisation in Cancún began with the Huracán Alternative Media Convergence. It was attended by 120 people from northern and southern countries that participated in workshops on subjects ranging from radio transmitter construction to the history of indymedia.
The construction of an eco-village in Cancún worked along with the media convergence to express the positive, constructive vision of those organizing against the WTO. The eco-village housed many students and campesinos.
Meanwhile, direct action organizers struggled against an environment hostile to their activities. Cancún has no history of activism. There was no underground structure available for them to plug into and to help in the development of their projects.
Despite the problems inherent in the geography, and while still awaiting the majority of activists to arrive in a caravan from México City, the first action of the week went ahead on the morning of the 8th of September. Approximately 40 activists took to the beach in the Zona Hotelera (the Hotel Strip and designated Red Zone) and spelled out .NO WTO. with their naked bodies.
At about 12:30am on the 9th the 12 buses and 3 vans of the student caravan arrived flanked by a police patrol from their 48 hour journey from México City.
Bright and early the next morning everyone, including the new arrivals, gathered for a general march to the police blockade at the verge of the red zone. It had been previously decided that this would be a peaceful march, but a few demonstrators rushed the fence - without attempting to dismantle it - in an act of symbolic aggression.
The level of confrontation between police and demonstrators was raised on the 10th. A larger march of about 7,000 people again approached the police barricade. But this time the barricade came down. And in a controversial act of protest against the WTO, fifty-six year-old Korean farmer Lee Kyang Hae took his own life.
Most Campesino groups left the following day, but those remaining marched to Kilometer Zero, where the police blockade was torn down on the previous day, to camp with the Koreans who held vigil there in honor of their fallen companion. They remained encamped there in spite of pressure and intimidation from police.
In contrast to the quiet vigil held in honor of Lee that evening, a rambunctious cacerolazo of 1,000 people snaked its way across downtown Cancún. Some activists took advantage of the event in order to vandalize a Pizza Hut. Police responded by sending hundreds of officers to the vicinity of the party that concluded the cacerolazo.
The following day showed a great increase in activity. An early morning banner drop proved to demonstrators and police that the Zona Hotelera, in spite of extreme militarization, was not impenetrable. WTO spokesperson Keith Rockwell held a press conference during which he intimated that the Ministerial Conference was almost unsalvageable.
That evening about 300 hundred activists blocked the northern route past the WTO convention center for over four hours. Fifteen or so locked arms and sat facing traffic and singing. Others danced and sang behind those locked down. Soon, some members of the green block arrived and symbolically placed two trees in the blockade where people where dancing.
A group of twelve protestors split off from the main group to block traffic going in the other direction. Though this action lasted no more than thirty minutes, all traffic in the Zona Hotelera was brought to a halt for its duration.
Though pressure increased from police throughout the action, demonstrators managed to negotiate an exit from the blockade in which they were provide with two buses that carried them to kilometre zero and a festive welcome.
The same day 400 people reclaimed an abandoned building downtown. Several dozen riot police gathered nearby, however the mood remained festive and non-confrontational. Traditional music was played and free food served.
The following day actions led 10,000 demonstrators once again to the eight foot fence the police had erected to replace the one dismantled on the 10th. A far more formidable blockade, it was actually three fences, one behind the other. A group of women who had been delegated the task approached the fence and began to slowly cut pieces of it away with wire cutters. A rope was attached, and through a great communal effort the fence was pulled to the ground.
That evening in the Conference Centre green room the WTO held a late night meeting in order to try and save the process that was collapsing from the inside and under attack from without.
The 14th saw more blockades. In the Zona Hotelera activists converged on the beach and in the streets.
Activists removed from the buses at police checkpoints blocked traffic until they were allowed to pass on into the Zona.
Developing countries, which make up the majority of the membership of the WTO, formed an alliance and walked out of the fifth ministerial meeting that afternoon. Kenyan delegate George Odour Ongwen, who spoke on behalf of the alliance, announced that there was no consensus and that the 5th WTO ministerial had come to an end.
Throughout the week an epidemic of pink-eye proved to be more threatening to activists than the military police with hundreds of cases. Though about forty protestors were injured during protests and actions, there was only one confirmed case of severe violence by the police. Some questions remain about why police chose such a pacific approach in their handling of activists.
While the collapse of the WTO negotiations in Cancún is certainly a victory for those struggling against the violence of free trade, it is in no way final. US trade representative Robert Zoellick threatened that if the US did not get what it wanted at the WTO, it would concentrate on bilateral and regional agreements like the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Demonstrators from all over the Americas are gearing up for the FTAA mobilization in Miami.
Written by Sean and Eleusa for Cancun Indymedia