San Diego Union-Tribune

April 22, 2001


Unity sought as protests flare
  'Democracy clause' for free-trade pact ratified by leaders


QUEBEC -- The Western Hemisphere's proposed free-trade zone would be off-limits to undemocratic nations under a plan ratified by the region's leaders yesterday as protests raged outside for a second day.

The "democracy clause" would suspend the zone's benefits from any country with a closed political system. Cuba was the only nation in the hemisphere excluded from the three-day Summit of the Americas because it is not democratic.

Ratification of the clause gave the 34 hemispheric leaders an opportunity to draw attention away from the day's violent protests.

After a confrontation Friday delayed the opening of the historic gathering, clashes -- set against a backdrop of peaceful protest -- escalated throughout the night and during the day.

By police count, 25,000 people have gathered in opposition to the summit. Since Thursday, 150 people, including seven minors, have been arrested, police said last night.

In their hotel conference room, well out of earshot of the protests, the leaders from across the hemisphere sounded conciliatory themes.

President Bush, making his first appearance before such an international gathering, offered a nod to protesters' fears. But he expressed a resolve that their protests not derail the summit's ultimate agenda -- a trade agreement that would bring the 800 million people in the hemisphere under one trade bloc.

"Our commitment to open trade must be matched by a strong commitment to protecting our environment and improving labor standards," Bush said. But, he added, "These concerns must not be an excuse for self-defeating protectionism."

Mexican President Vicente Fox echoed protesters' concerns that the North American Free Trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico in 1994 is leaving some people behind.

"Trade has helped people in Latin America, but has failed to root out poverty," Fox said. "There is a lot to celebrate, but there is also a lot to lament."

Fox's remarks seemed to offer a mild dissent from Bush's upbeat assessment moments earlier.

"We know from NAFTA that open trade works," Bush said. "Since 1994, total trade among Canada and Mexico and the United States has more than doubled. NAFTA has given consumers in all three nations more choices at lower prices. And it has created high-quality, high-good-wage jobs from the Yukon to the Yucatan."

Bush and Fox later met privately. Afterward, Bush said he invited the Mexican leader to be his first guest of honor at a White House state dinner, probably in September.

The protests on the streets outside have underscored widespread misgivings both in the U.S. Congress and elsewhere in the hemisphere about a proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas.

Wave upon wave of free-trade opponents stormed the 2.5-mile-long fence encircling the summit's events yesterday. Police mostly kept them at bay with barrages of tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets and pepper spray.

During yesterday's clashes, nearly 80 people, including 34 officers, were injured, though none of the injuries was life-threatening, police said. Several businesses had windows broken and a truck was set afire.

Activists broke through the chain-link and concrete fence in numerous places but did not stop the summit meetings.

"We feel we've been able to protect the integrity of the perimeter and the event has been able to continue on course," said Staff Sgt. Mike Gaudet of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

While negotiators have developed a draft 250-page agreement, the free-trade-area agreement remains largely a blank slate, with the most meaningful and controversial issues yet to be negotiated. The deadline for producing a final agreement is Jan. 1, 2005.

Unlike earlier summits in Miami in 1994 and in Santiago, Chile, four years later -- when trade also dominated the agendas, -- other leaders are beginning to hedge their positions on the subject of trade.

Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso made it clear on his arrival that his negotiators would insist on winning concessions from the United States as a price for opening the huge Brazilian market to U.S. products.

"Otherwise, it would be irrelevant or, worse, undesirable," he said.

In what appeared to be a veiled response to Cardoso's remarks, Bush said in his speech that he intends to complete a two-way free-trade agreement with Chile by year's end. Such a development could place Brazilian firms at a competitive disadvantage with their Chilean rivals in winning access to the U.S. market, the world's largest and most lucrative.

In a briefing, Robert Zoellick, Bush's top trade negotiator, said Brazil has made notable progress in ending a long-standing tradition of trade protectionism.

But, he added, "Brazil is now at a point where it is going to have to decide whether it wants to be a global player or whether it wants to be the largest country in the Southern Cone."

In his address to the other leaders, Bush portrayed free trade as the solution to the region's woes: "Free and open trade creates new jobs and new income," he declared.

While the protesters represent a bewildering array of agendas, commitments and tactics, they are unified in seeing the free-trade pact as more of a problem.

"It's just a matter of degree," said Alesha Daughtery of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch.

Many share a common belief that NAFTA has chiefly benefited corporate interests at the expense of worker rights and environmental protection. They contend the proposed free-trade area would spread that problem to the rest of the hemisphere, from the Canadian arctic to southernmost Argentina.

The protesters came from across the hemisphere. They are a diverse group, including young and old, students, business owners, farmers, workers and the retired.

Many attended an alternative anti-globalization event, a People's Summit of the Americas, which took place outside the fence during most of the week. That meeting culminated yesterday with presentations by leaders of advocacy groups and a festive march away from the heart of the old city, where the clashes occurred.

The speakers contended a free-trade pact will be detrimental to the environment, workers, education, small-business operators and farmers and indigenous peoples across the Americas. Several condemned confrontation.

"We are a movement that believes in non-violence. We have taken that position strongly," said Maude Barlow, an author and co-chair of the Council of Canadians.

Yet she praised the mainly young people who are confronting the police, saying their anger is an understandable reaction to the downside of globalization.

"Whether to the march or to the fence, all choices are in solidarity with the movement. All choices are good. and all choices make us stronger," she said. "We will not stop until we transform our hemisphere into a better world."

Police tactics didn't deter Ross Grimsley's resolve to oppose the free-trade pact. The Portland, Maine, resident was struck twice by police batons, then wounded by a rubber bullet.

"I knew I got hit by something. My whole muscle contracted. And now I'm numb from my knee to my groin," he said, nursing a bleeding wound on his thigh.

"I could get hit three more times and it wouldn't change my mind. I'm doing this for me, for everybody I know and for everybody I don't know."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.