Anti-FTAA resistance in Argentina —and throughout hemisphere

Some 30,000-40,000 people marched through a heavy rain on Nov. 4 in the Argentine seaside resort of Mar del Plata, in Buenos Aires province, to protest the presence of US president George W. Bush among the 32 heads of state in the city to attend the Nov. 4-5 Fourth Summit of the Americas. The march was led by Argentine Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Bolivian leftist presidential candidate and coca growers leader Evo Morales, and Hebe de Bonafini of the human rights group Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. Morales came to Mar del Plata on a special protest train from the city of Buenos Aires; other passengers included former Argentine soccer star Diego Armando Maradona and Serbian filmmaker Emir Kusturica.

After the march, as many as 50,000 people attended a rally in a sports stadium that closed the Third Summit of the Peoples, held during the week to counter the official summit. Among the main speakers in the stadium was left-populist Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez Frias, who also attended what he called “the other summit.” In his speech Chavez announced the death of the US- sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), a hemispheric trade pact the US had planned to have in place by this year. The participants observed a minute of silence for the accord.

After the rally, some 300 protesters, many of them with their faces covered, took to the streets in an attempt to storm the barricades around the site of the Summit of the Americas. Stopped by the police, the protesters began attacking stores and other businesses, setting fire to a branch of the Argentine-owned Banco de Galicia, an office of the Spanish-owned Telefonica telecommunications company and an office of the CTI Movil cellular phone company. (El Comercio, Peru, Nov. 4 from DPA, Nov. 5 from Reuters; El Diario-La Prensa, NY, Nov. 5 from AFP)

Thousands of people protested on Nov. 4 in 200 other Argentine cities. The leftist Federation of Argentine Workers (CTA) organized marches, while leftist groups and the unemployed protesters known as piqueteros (picketers) also mobilized. Some 10,000 protesters marched in the capital. Some piquetero groups marched on the US embassy, while others briefly stopped traffic on roads and bridges. As in Mar del Plata, some participants trashed businesses. A total of 72 people were reportedly arrested around the country, 64 in Mar del Plata and eight in Buenos Aires.

Smaller numbers protested in other countries. Some 60 Uruguayan youths with covered faces spray-painted slogans against Bush and the FTAA on buildings in the Ciudad Vieja, Montevideo’s financial district. Some used rocks to shatter the windows of foreign banks and the office of Uruguay’s stock exchange, the Bolsa de Valores.

In Brazil, which Bush was to visit Nov. 5-6, following the summit, about 200 demonstrators marched through downtown Rio de Janeiro with banners calling Bush a “murderer” and the “Antichrist”; they also burned a US flag at the US consulate. In Brasilia, hundreds of protesters–600, according to the police– burned US and Israeli flags and chanted: “Bush out!” One group protested for an hour outside the US embassy, denouncing the FTAA, US policy in the Middle East and the use of Brazilian troops in a United Nations mission in Haiti. In Sao Paulo the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) was planning demonstrations for Nov. 6, when Bush was to visit there.

In Venezuela, some 2,000 demonstrators rallied in a central Caracas plaza to show support for President Chavez’s positions at the two summits. (La Jornada, Mexico, Nov. 5 from correspondents, AFP, DPA, Reuters)

In Canada’s Quebec province, about 400 protesters marched through downtown Montreal the evening of Nov. 4, taking over a major intersection for more than an hour and holding a street party, with food, music, street theater, stenciling, a pinata, banners and a bonfire. The group dispersed just before the riot police arrived. (Report on People’s Global Action-North America listserve, Nov. 4)

The US launched its plans for the FTAA at the First Summit of the Americas, held in Miami in December 1994; but this year’s summit ended on Nov. 5 without any agreements on the FTAA. Bush continued to push the plan, with the support of center-right Mexican president Vicente Fox Quesada. But the presidents of several of the hemisphere’s largest economies refused to go along. Argentine president Nestor Kirchner and Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva indicated support for some form of trade pact, but not on the terms the US wants. Left-populist Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez Frias was pushing his own plan for regional integration in line with his vision for “21st century socialism,” the Boliviarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA in Spanish, which is also means “dawn”).

Over at the sports stadium, the Third Summit of the Peoples had less trouble coming to an agreement. The summit’s final declaration dismissed the US “aspiration to revive the corpse of the FTAA when the people have clearly expressed their rejection of an integration subordinated to the US.” The summit called for the suspension of negotiations for the FTAA and “all bilateral and regional free trade accords” and expressed interest in alternatives like the ALBA. (LJ, Nov. 5, 6 from correspondents)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 6

See our last report on Argentina.

See also our special report on the Summit of the Americas in Miami, November 2003