Social Forum Wraps Up in Brazil

By: Tony Smith

The Washington Post, February 4, 2002


Porto Alegre, Brazil Activists closed out an anti-globalization summit with a march Monday protesting a U.S.-proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, which would be the world's biggest common market.

The march was the climax of the five-day World Social Forum, held as a counter to the gathering of business, political and academic leaders at the World Economic Forum in New York.

Activists here see the trade zone plan as an attempt to impose U.S. domination throughout the hemisphere by economic integration. The plan's supporters say it would increase trade, create wealth and help lift Latin America out of poverty.

Thousands of protestors marched and danced through the streets of this southern Brazilian city in a carnival-style parade, waving red flags and banners against the trade deal.

Joao Pedro Stedile of Brazil's Landless Workers' Movement called the trade zone "a U.S. government project to colonize not only the markets, but also the territory of the Americas and create better conditions for North American companies to exploit our labor and our resources."

Addressing activists before the march, Stedile called for protests against the trade plan at every stage of negotiations.

Unions and activist groups meeting here declared on Sunday that they will organize protests against the plan at every stage of negotiations.

Upcoming venues for official talks on the trade zone include Ecuador, Mexico and a summit of national leaders planned for early next year in Argentina.

"We will mobilize everywhere," said Brazilian union leader Kjeld Jakobsen.

Activists proposed holding plebiscites on the trade zone plan, which was initialed by leaders of 34 nations at last year's Summit of the Americas in Quebec City. The area would include all nations in North and South America and the Caribbean, except Cuba.

"When they arrive in Argentina, the presidents will find that their people have already voted against" the idea, said Victor Mendivil, an official in one of Argentina's main unions, CTA.

"My country is the painful proof of the consequences of the 'neoliberal' model that the United States wants to sell us through the FTAA," Mendivil added.

Argentina, which has defaulted on its $141 billion public debt after nearly four years of agonizing recession, has been held up in Porto Alegre as evidence of the failure of free-market economics and free trade as a way to help developing nations.

Activists here label such policies "neoliberal," saying they are intended to give unlimited market access to multinational corporations from rich, industrialized countries.

Similar protest campaigns failed to prevent the North American Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico from being set up in 1994.

Since then, Mexico's growth rates have rocketed, although the country has become increasingly dependent on the United States as an export market.

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