|Montréal, 17 février 2001 / No 77||
by Ralph Maddocks
Very shortly, in just a few weeks in fact, we shall see meeting together in Quebec City, the 34 democratically elected heads of state and government from North, Central and South America and the Caribbean. Whether that long-lived democrat from Cuba will be present also is, at the time of writing, obscure. This latest meeting concludes a series of six major hemispheric events hosted by Canada over the last couple of years.
These leaders are supposed to address common hemispheric challenges, including
economic integration, improved access to education, alleviation of poverty,
enhanced respect for human rights and democratic development. Canada was
chosen to host this Summit at the 1998 Summit of the Americas in Santiago,
Chile. The occasion will doubtless offer, once again, opportunities for
these politicians to strut around while polishing their images and enjoying
a few more minutes of fame in the warming sun of Quebec.
Looking for approvals
One of the reasons for this meeting, according to reports emanating from the Chrétien pilgrimage to George W., a couple of weeks ago, is to obtain
This latest exercise in self-congratulation will likely be accompanied by protests from groups who hold the view that these meetings do little or nothing for the poor and economically disadvantaged among us, an opposing view to which they are entitled even though they may well be mistaken. The latter view, according to a recent poll, is held by about 43% of the people surveyed who thought that the NAFTA agreement had done more harm than good. Such dissidents point to the increased marginalization of the poor in developing countries and allege an increase of 10 million poor people, women and indigenous groups, in Mexico between 1993 and 1997 following the signing of the NAFTA agreement. They point also to unrest in places like Ecuador and Colombia where trade liberalization was accompanied by general strikes.
At the White House meeting, Mr. Chrétien said that the Quebec summit would not focus exclusively on economic matters but also on
Making the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) appear to be a form of foreign aid, along with this attempt at openness to
Radically different strategy
With all the mass demonstrations being planned for Quebec City and support for free trade declining, there would seem to be an opening to call for a radically different trade strategy. One that doesn't begin by empowering politicians with
According to some commentators, the Quebec meeting is likely to be a violent and disruptive affair with the level of demonstration being more sophisticated than even that displayed at Seattle in 1999. There are many groups already working in the background bringing together a wide range of interests and agendas, protests which will again incorporate both people and technology. While the people demonstrate in the streets, the technology employed will likely involve cyberattacks against business and other institutions.
A precedent exists when, in June 1999, protests known as
The more militant protesters belong to extremist elements associated with causes such as environmentalism, animal-rights, anti-abortion activists and the like. The most notorious dissidents may be found among the anarchists and members of the Third Position, a largely European phenomenon but now thought to be spreading rapidly through the USA. This group is said to be an odd mixture of extreme Left and Right wing political motivations; motivations which include the determined use of violent means of protest.
Within these coalitions are groups such as the Black Bloc, the Anarchist News Service, the Black Army Faction, and the Anarchist Action Collective. The Black Bloc is a loosely organized grouping of anarchist affinity groups and individuals, estimated in North America to number just a few hundred, who come together to participate in protests and demonstrations. Some individuals believed to be responsible for much of the violence in Seattle were identified as members of the Black Bloc.
« Direct action » demonstrations
The old-style demos with their waving banners, long winded speakers, and controlled marches in specific locations are long gone. Reminiscent of the Out of Vietnam and Ban the Bomb protests of thirty or forty years ago, today's demonstrators have reinvented the theme of
The protest movement has been affected profoundly by the Internet, not least by enabling protest organizers to make their arrangements unobserved by those government services charged with trying to monitor or stop them. Communicating by e-mail, and using encryption techniques like PGP (Pretty Good Privacy), demonstrations and protests can be organized, worldwide if necessary, and schedules, assignments of responsibility, logistics and such can be organized and managed quite easily. No doubt the boys at the Echelon sites will be doing a lot of overtime these days.
Demonstrations in widely differing parts of the world can be coordinated to take place
These demonstrations, just like those organized by Communists in the past, take place only after extensive training and educational courses have been held for the participants; there is very little spontaneity involved. There are a couple of known training courses available, such as those of The Ruckus Society and Co-motion Action, which make a charge but let participants pay as much as they can afford. These courses provide a source of funding for the protestors and of course unions and similar organizations give monies to groups which appear to promote their interests. Demonstrators are being taught also to employ simple household chemicals to soak rags to protect against tear gas and pepper sprays. Older techniques, such as employing ball bearings to disrupt the activities of mounted police, date back to the anti-nuclear demos of the 1960s. Combinations of chicken wire, PVC pipe, and linked arms can create street barricades that are difficult to breach.
The objective of past protests has been usually to prevent the conference participants from attending their meetings and, at a minimum, paralyze the host city, wreak some economic damage and make life generally difficult for the authorities. The use of cellphones enables protest groups to be organized easily and makes mobilization and direction of their resources much simpler. This newfound mobility makes it harder for the police to take adequate counter measures in advance. This they can do only by infiltrating the groups or monitoring the communications in an attempt to anticipate their intentions.
Not to fear...
Already underway is a massive security operation that will affect the daily lives of many of the unfortunate residents of Quebec City and is unlikely to be met with the plaudits of the touring multitudes. It may have consequences for many others nowhere near the scene. No doubt Canada's fearless leader having secured his image as a strongman at the APEC summit a couple of years ago will have ordered large stocks of capsicum products along with other hardware beloved of police states throughout the world. Other toys such as water cannons, electric stun guns, clubs, rubber bullets, teargas grenades, concussion grenades, steel-tipped boots, armoured vehicles and the like are quite likely to make an appearance.
However, if the security preparations are too restrictive and repression of the demonstrators too enthusiastic then they could well create a backlash and provoke more violence than may have otherwise been the case. Canada's image as a peaceful country will be damaged if its security people prove to be too repressive when dealing with peaceful demonstrators. Perhaps one may hope that the government will change its views and engage in a more productive dialogue with those who peacefully oppose many of their free trade initiatives. If the attitude of some of our governments isn't modified then we may look forward to a future filled with escalating violent demonstrations.
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