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The Cancun Collapse: Good Or Bad For The Worlds Poor?

Katharine Ainger's reports from Cancun sparked a vigorous discussion among the WTO's critics: Paul Kingsnorth, Kevin Watkins, and George Monbiot are featured in OpenDemocracy's Globolog Forum.

Revolt at World Trade Talks
Developing countries resist takeover by agribusiness giants

September 18, 2003 -- The profit system of capitalism expanded the means of production at such a tremendous rate that millions are suffering extreme want. Capitalism is full of contradictions, and they are deadly. They are most obvious now in agriculture.

More food being produced on a world scale means less food for millions of farmers, who are losing their lands and their livelihood. The situation is so acute that a leader of S Korean farmers just killed himself in protest at the Cancun meeting of the World Trade Organization, which broke up in disarray when the developing nations walked out of the conference.

Lee Kyung Hae stabbed himself in the abdomen on September 10 as thousands demonstrated against the WTO's "free trade" rules that allow industrialized imperialist nations to spend about $300 billion a year on agricultural subsidies.

In the US, where small farmers are now almost a thing of the past, the lion's share of these subsidies goes to huge agribusiness corporations. These giant factory farms are exporting cheap grains and other foods, as well as cotton, to countries around the world, putting their farmers out of business.

In S Korea, farmers like Lee are going bankrupt at a frightening pace, even though they are very well organized. Korean farmers have developed great skill at getting the most out of the land. Most farms have long rows of plastic greenhouses to lengthen the growing season, so that fresh melons, greens, squash and cucumbers are available most of the year in city markets. Farmers tend their crops by hand, coaxing plants to grow on every available square foot of earth.

Yet, when it comes to staples like rice, for example, they cannot compete with huge US corporations that have established mechanized farms on vast tracts in Hawaii and Louisiana.

A similar situation exists in much of Central and S America, Africa, and other parts of Asia. Where farmers were once the overwhelming majority of the population, they are being reduced to working as hired hands for big corporate growers or abandoning the land altogether Often the land of these ruined farmers is then bought up by foreign companies, which plant export crops to be sold in the richer nations. The poorer countries lose both land and indigenous farmers.

Everyone knows there has been a huge influx of people from rural areas of Central America and Mexico into the United States in recent years. In large cities from coast to coast, those who clean up in restaurant kitchens and stack produce in food markets for less than minimum wage were once farmers S of the border. Largely undocumented, they have been forced to leave their homes by the millions and risk everything crossing the border. This process became acute after the N American Free Trade Agreement flooded the area with cheap US corn and other grains.

With the breakdown of the Cancun meeting, John Llewellyn, global chief economist at the investment bank Lehman Brothers in London. (New York Times, September 15) commented: "Long-term it is bad for world growth. Only if developing countries grow can they import more from us."

The capitalist era began in the world with the breaking up of large landed estates in Europe as the bourgeoisie seized political power and cut down its rivals, the nobility. Today, large estates are back, but they are organized like factories and employ wage labor instead of serfs. As with manufacturing, the capitalist monopolies that control US agriculture today -- giants like ConAgra, Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill -- gain efficiency through applying the scientific-technological revolution to agriculture, as well as through economies of scale and the division of labor.

However, their overriding motivation is profit. The never-ending quest of capital for greater profit drives them to adopt new technologies--like dangerous pesticides and genetically modified foods -- before their impact on health and the environment can be adequately assessed. It drives them to plant acres and acres of flowers in Central America -- where ruined farmers are begging for food--because flowers can quickly be shipped from there year-round to upscale markets in N America.

It has driven the destruction of rain forests in Honduras because US fast food chains found it cheaper to chop down the trees and grow cattle there, even though the grazing lands created lasted only a few years before seasonal downpours washed the fragile topsoil away, creating a desert where there was once rich biological diversity.

Small-scale agriculture is going the way of backyard forges and mom and pop stores. Food production does need to be put on a scientific basis, with machines doing as much of the backbreaking work as possible. The life of an agricultural worker is hard and hazardous, and small, indebted farmers never know if their next harvest will pull them through.

What is needed is a socialized solution tailored to the needs of the people -- as food consumers -- and of the farm workers. The question before humanity today is not whether it is possible to produce enough food to feed the world's population. That can be done already. The problem is how to create a just social order, so that everyone can afford to eat nutritious food and no one is exploited for the profits of a few. -- Edited excerpts from the full article by Deirdre Griswold for Workers World Service

WTO Protesters Riot in Montreal

2 arrests as Montreal protest turns violent; Windows smashed as hundreds gather at World Trade meeting

July 28, 2003 MONTREAL -- Protests against a World Trade Organization meeting turned violent today when bandana-wearing anti-globalization demonstrators smashed windows of downtown stores on Monday after failing to get access to a hotel where a World Trade Organization meeting was set to take place.

At the World Trade Organization's informal meeting starting in Montreal today, 25 trade ministers will attempt to find common ground over the divisive issues of farm subsidies and medicine for poorer countries that have stalled the latest round of global trade talks. They plan to assess progress made to date with a trade treaty known as the Doha Development Agenda, launched in 2001 in Doha, Qatar.

The three-day "mini-ministerial", in Montreal -- the third this year after gatherings in Tokyo and Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt -- "is the last chance to save Cancun", said one French lobbyist and WTO expert. It is seen as critical, and will likely be the last chance for the ministers to take stock of the negotiations and determine what kind of flexibility is still needed before heading into the full-scale 146-member WTO's ministerial summit in Cancun, Mexico in September.

Earlier, police thwarted several hundred protesters in their bid to get into the Sheraton Centre hotel where the three-day WTO meeting was to take place, beginning Monday. Riot police wearing gas masks blocked off access to the hotel, which is not far from where the vandalism took place.

Monday's march came a day after an eclectic group of activists ranging from anarchists and communists to refugees and housing advocates held a peaceful anti-WTO protest in downtown Montreal. -- Edited and excerpted from the articles in the The Canadian PressThe Star, and Cape Argus

Anti-G8 Protests Flare before Evian Summit Opens

3 June, 2003 EVIAN, France - Several hundred black-hooded protesters blocked roads and trashed shops in the Lake Geneva area early on the weekend as heads of the world's leading industrial democracies gathered for their annual G8 summit.

French and Swiss riot police fired teargas to contain the anti-capitalist crowds away from the lakeside spa of Evian where U.S. President George W. Bush was due around noon to meet leaders who opposed the Iraq war.

Leaders of the Group of Eight - the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Canada and Russia - will join counterparts from 12 major developing countries shortly after midday to discuss debt relief, AIDS and access to clean water.

But disputes such as the bitter rift over the Iraq war, transatlantic trade tensions and U.S. efforts to curb nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea should overshadow the talks on the world economy, usually the core of the G8 summits.

Bush's visit, his first to France since the two countries clashed over the Iraq war, comes after a reconciliation meeting in St Petersburg with Russian President Vladimir Putin, another opponent of the U.S.-led war to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

Both he and French President Jacques Chirac have said they want to put the strains of recent months behind them - but Bush's next moves to fight the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons may stir further unease.

In a Saturday speech in Krakow, Poland, Bush sought support for an international agreement to seize and search planes and ships suspected of carrying illegal weapons and missile technology.

Russia has vowed to continue building a nuclear power plant in Iran while seeking assurances on its nuclear program, and the European Union will hold the latest round of talks on a trade agreement in Tehran just as the G8 meeting begins.

Chirac has given Africa and development issues, such as debt relief, fighting AIDS and easier access to cheap medicines and clean water pride of place on the summit agenda, alongside efforts to revive the sluggish world economy.

Bush sought to reassure Europeans, alarmed at the nearly 15 percent fall of the dollar against the Euro this year, saying the financial markets had devalued the currency contrary to U.S. policy and he believed good fiscal and monetary policy would strengthen the dollar again. -- Excerpts from the full article at Planet Ark

Evian Summit in Pictures

Not Like Vietnam

I'd like to remind anti-war activists who may not remember Vietnam-era protests of one point, which makes a big difference between this war and the Vietnam conflict. During Vietnam, which began in 1954 and didn't end until 1975, many Americans who served were drafted.

Under the Military Selective Service Act of 1967, all men between the ages of 18 and 26 were required to register for military service. The age of "random draft lottery" eligibility was 19 at that time; yet, until 1971 you had to be 21 years of age before you could vote in the United States. Until the voting age was lowered, the unfairness of the ultimate "taxation without representation," and the technical loopholes which allowed upper-class white men (like former President Clinton and present President Bush) to avoid the draft, fueled protests. The draft was finally ended in 1973.

Today we have an all-volunteer army, and the voting age is 18. Although there is the possibility that the draft may be reintroduced -- in 1980, mandatory draft registration for men from 18 to 25 years old was reinstituted by Congress, so that in crisis, registered men could be inducted quickly when needed -- the military has been improved by voluntary service, and a draft isn't likely at this time.

Since the beginning of the actions against Iraq, comparisons have been made by anti-war factions to the Vietnam War. So long as people who serve are volunteers and have the right to vote, the war in Iraq can't fairly be compared to Vietnam, they are like apples and oranges. -- the Editor


Protests and Demonstrations
Throwing Stones in America
Throwing Stones for Peace

Page Contents:
  • WTO Protesters Riot in Montreal
  • Nuns Sentenced to Prison for Colorado Nuclear Protest
  • Anti-G8 Protests Flare before Evian Summit Opens
  • Dollar Dissent: Tax Resisters Chip Away at Bush's War Chest
  • Related Links at Bottom

Nuns Sentenced to Prison for Colorado Nuclear Protest

July 25, 2003 DENVER (Reuters) - Three Roman Catholic nuns who defaced a Colorado nuclear missile silo with their own blood as part of a peace protest last year were sentenced on Friday to prison terms ranging from 30 to 41 months by a judge who called them "dangerously irresponsible."

US District Judge Robert Blackburn sentenced Ardeth Platte to 41 months, Jackie Hudson to 30 months and Carolyn Gilbert to 33 months. The sentences varied depending on the number of prior arrests each had for previous civil disobedience.

The Dominican nuns were convicted in April of malicious destruction of property and interfering with the national defense for their protest at the unmanned Minuteman III missile silo near Greeley, Colorado on October 6, 2002.

The three peace activists admitted breaking into the silo and pouring their blood around the site and pounding the half-ton concrete silo lid with a household hammer. The nuns said the protest was a "symbolic disarmament" and did not endanger the national defense.

The sisters, who are in their 50s and 60s, belong to Sacred Earth & Space Plowshares, a national nuclear disarmament organization. About 200 supporters of the nuns showed up outside the courthouse with antiwar and anti-nuclear-weapons signs.

The judge gave the nuns until August 25 to report to federal prison, but they chose to begin their sentences immediately. -- Edited and excerpted from the article by Keith Coffman in Reuters

In the New World War
World War W
Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself

Dollar Dissent: Tax Resisters Chip Away at Bush's War Chest

Against the war in Iraq? Why not refuse to pay taxes? Ed Hedemann says that defying the IRS is easier than you think.

"It's surprising to me that people are more willing to risk arrest than refuse to pay their taxes. The fear of the IRS is tremendous in this country," says Ed Hedemann, author of the 144-page War Tax Resistance: A Guide to Withholding Your Support From the Military. Hedemann has not paid any federal income tax since 12 and does not plan to start this April 15.

The entire military budget for fiscal year 2003--minus the cost of the war in Iraq--comes in it at about $390 billion. Hedemann admits that the occasional resister "may not bring the military to a grinding halt." Yet if the hundreds of thousands of recent anti-war protesters were to decide, " 'I've had enough of marching, I want to do something more,' " says Hedemann, "it would be something the government couldn't ignore." -- Excerpted from the full story:

"If a thousand [people] were not to pay their tax bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them and enable the state to commit violence and shed innocent blood. " ~ Henry David Thoreau, during Mexican-American War of 1846-48

Refusal to pay taxes used to finance unjust wars, along with refusal by soldiers to fight in them, is a direct and potentially effective form of citizen noncooperation, and one that governments cannot ignore. War tax refusal has a long and honorable tradition among religious and secular opponents of war.

Refusal to pay all or a portion of one's federal taxes as a form of conscientious objection to war may involve personal risks. For that reason, material and moral support for war tax refusers 8B including organizing support committees, raising support funds, and providing legal defense 8B is an important form of war resistance in itself. -- Excerpted from the website

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