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Bush humiliated as movement rebuffs FTAA

Published Nov 10, 2005 12:39 AM

U.S. President George W. Bush received a chilly reception in the seaside city of Mar del Plata, Argentina, on Nov. 4-5. The chill came from his fellow presidents at an historic two-day summit meeting of leaders from 34 states in the Western Hemisphere, with socialist Cuba excluded.

In the streets of the city and the soccer stadium, however, the reception was hotter. Tens of thousands of Argentineans and other Latin Americans trashed Bush and the so-called Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) while cheering Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and the memory of the legendary revolutionary Che Guevara, himself an Argentinean.

The Fourth Summit of the Americas convened on Nov. 4 under the ambitious title of “Creating Jobs to Fight Poverty and Strengthen Democratic Governance.”

The U.S. ruling class, still smarting from its failure to win meaningful international and domestic support for its colonial adventure in Iraq and its inability to defeat the Iraqi resistance, had hoped to use the summit to advance its goal of strengthening and extending neo-colonial relations throughout Latin America.

For Bush, whose administration represents the interests of U.S. transnational capital, the meeting provided an opportunity to seek hemispheric consensus for the FTAA. This trade agreement models itself on relations, like those in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), that have proved disastrous for the economies of underdeveloped and developing countries.

As early as March of this year the U.S. government publicly revealed that it would not hesitate to use FTAA as a vehicle to undermine the national sovereignty of countries that resist imperialist maneuvers in the hemisphere.

During a speech at the Harvard Club, U.S. Ambassador to Argentina Lino Gutierrez praised Argentina for working to send “troops to Haiti and trying to help assure the survival of a democratic system in Venezuela and Bolivia.” Gutierrez further speculated that Argentina’s assistance in supporting the FTAA would reaffirm the two countries’ shared “belief in the free market system as a vehicle to … upholding democracy.”

The “democracy” that Gutierrez speaks of includes U.S.-sponsored kidnappings and coups, as in Haiti, Chile and Guate mala, meant to ensure that only governments friendly to the objectives of imperialism control the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Legacy of ‘free’ trade proves ominous

NAFTA was implemented in 1994 when Democrat President Bill Clinton was in office. It aimed at eliminating all trade barriers between Canada, the United States and Mexico by 2009. NAFTA has shown it is detri mental to workers in all three countries who are struggling to maintain basic labor rights, social programs and public ser vices against the attacks of unfettered capital.

A recent study conducted by the Eco nomic Policy Institute demonstrates that over 1 million manufacturing jobs in the United States and Canada have been lost as a result of NAFTA. According to the EPI report, the results for Mexico’s workforce have been equally devastating: manufacturing workers are now earning 21 percent less, salaried workers earn 25 percent less and the purchasing power of the Mexican minimum wage is now worth only half of its 1994 value.

Millions of Mexican workers and their families live in abject poverty in the slums surrounding the maquiladora industries along the U.S. border, which have grown sharply following the implementation of NAFTA.

The failures of NAFTA spurred a decade of resistance to “free trade” on the part of the workers and oppressed, who bear the brunt of the declining living standards and environmental contamination that are the result of unregulated corporate dom ination. This resistance ranged from the armed rebellion that broke out in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas just after the signing of NAFTA, through the anti-globalization upsurge in Seattle in 1999 and on from there.

Now Bush has discovered on the streets of Mar del Plata that the legacy of militant resistance is alive and well.

Bush versus Che

A two-pronged people’s movement battled the FTAA in the streets and behind the barricades, as well as at the summit meetings. One Latin American president fought to ensure that the summit remained true to its announced theme of creating jobs, fighting poverty and encouraging democratic governance: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who proved a forceful opponent to FTAA at the summit.

President Chávez lobbied against FTAA behind closed doors and publicly supported the demonstrators during his address to 50,000 FTAA opponents during a counter-summit at the city’s main soccer stadium. Chávez’ public comments revealed the level of resistance Bush and other U.S. diplomats faced. “Every one of us has brought a shovel, because Mar del Plata is going to be the tomb of FTAA,” Chávez said.

If the events in Argentina were in fact a battle between Bush’s concept of freedom and that of the great, murdered revolutionary, Che Guevara, as the Christian Science Monitor suggested, the Bush concept was dealt a near knock-out blow. Tens of thousands of protesters marched in the streets, rallied under banners with likenesses of Che, and burned effigies of Bush. Guevara was assassinated in 1967 at the direction of the CIA while leading a guerrilla campaign in Bolivia.

At the summit’s conclusion, Bush left without an FTAA deal, without a final communiqué and even without the clear support of host-country Argentina.

Protests follow Bush to Brazil

Bush’s reception in Argentina left the U.S. ruling class high and dry. His estrangement from Mexican President Vicente Fox, a former ally, was obvious from Fox’s comments dismissing their lack of a face-to-face meeting. Fox has been hoping for an agreement that would allow Mexican workers to come legally to the U.S., but to no avail. Mexicans without papers continue to die by the hundreds crossing the U.S. border.

When Bush traveled to Brazil Nov. 6, the protest against FTAA followed him to the capital of Brasilia and through a half-dozen other major Brazilian cities. Pro testers painted monuments in the capital city with graffiti denouncing Bush’s planned visit with slogans that read, “Get out, killer Bush” and “Yankees go home.”

Even in Panama, Bush’s last stop, there were demonstrators in the streets and Bush effigies burning. He returned home defeated and without his deal. The other hemispheric leaders had to heed the rallying cry in the streets as the people turned down the FTAA.