Eerie And Uneasy Calm At Summit Of Americas
The Summit of the Americas starts tomorrow in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. Acknowledged as a World Heritage City by UNESCO, it may well gain notoriety of a different kind if violent demonstrations similar to those in Seattle in 1999 and Prague last year, take place this weekend.
New Zealand broadcaster & journalist Kevin Loughlin reports from Quebec Canada on the security precautions for the arrival in Quebec City of 34 Heads of State from North, South & Central America, who will be engaged in official talks to establish a Free Trade Area Across the Americas [FTAA]. Kevin Loughlin can be contacted regarding further publication of his reports at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, 1545 hours, - 19 April 2001: There is an eerie and uneasy calm prevailing today among the local community or "Quebecers" as they are popularly known. The reason is an estimated 25,000 activists and demonstrators who plan to protest against globalisation issues, and the existence of a steel fence nicknamed 'the Wall' which has been erected in the city.
This beautiful, peaceful, historic, fortress city, was first settled in the 17 Century. A few miles away the famous Plains of Abraham where General Wolf's British forces defeated the French in an historic battle for Quebec in 1760 is still covered lightly in snow after the recent winter. Spring has arrived in Eastern Canada, and so has the Summit of the Americas.
To ensure there is no disruption to the Summit, a large contingent of 8,000 police & security officers, plus a standby force of 10,000 military personnel have been deployed to maintain law & order.The city's jails have been emptied and hospitals are on standby for whatever the outcomes in these historic streets over the next three days. Overhead the constant whirl of police helicopters continues constantly.
More than 6,000 delegates, and 3,000 journalists and media personnel are here. For a city of 300,000 the Summit is not likely to have the expected financial business windfall that many earlier predicted. The local taxi drivers are particularly reluctant to work because they say, all the transport for delegates, officials, journalists is already provided by the Government. However there are 7,000 others for whom it will be necessary to work. All of them are engaged in essential services and for them accreditation has been necessary so that they can pass through the Wall to work.
Demonstrators have been preparing to protest at this Summit for months. Many have been attending camps in Florida, where they were trained to achieve their objectives via Street theatre, controlled protests on the ground via 'lock boxes', and gaining media savvy in order to get their message across in 30 secs sound bites.
They have also been trained in construction climbing, and dress rehearsals were held continuously. Debriefings also ensured whether there was a need to review their strategies. Many of these individuals and other protestors are now heading to Quebec. They include many students who have been encouraged to protest through their accommodation and transport being paid. It is an all out effort to gain publicity for the antiglobalisation cause.
Just yesterday, Quebec Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police thwarted a plan by a violent cell of activists to use explosives to disrupt the Summit this weekend. Two persons were arrested on Tuesday while driving from Montreal to Quebec and another four including a Canadian soldier were arrested yesterday in Montreal. Their arrest was the result of covert investigations over several months.
Among the cache of explosives were pyrotechnic devices similar to those used by the military to simulate grenades during combat, smoke bombs, sling shots, and gas masks. Other seized items included baseball bats, bags of steel balls, shields and antiglobalisation literature. An arrest warrant has been issued for another member.
The cell planned to use peaceful protestors as a cover to access the perimeter of the 'Wall', and then proceed to areas where the Heads of State were meeting.
Security elements do not rule out the existence of other similar groups who may be planning other activities. One particular group that took part in the riots in Seattle has members in Canada. The 'Black Block' are a group of individuals who act unrestrained and use violence as a priority. Violence against Police and the common individual are actively encouraged by members.
This weekend's Summit is the
biggest political meeting in the history of Canada. It
surpasses the APEC and G7 meetings in recent years in
Vancouver and Montreal.
There is a $NZ50 million budget being spent by security forces in this the biggest operation of its kind ever mounted in Canada by Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
In a normal year 12 million people cross the border into Quebec. Since the start of April 60 people have been refused entry into the Province. Just an hour's drive is Burlington where Customs have increased their resources four fold. Many US citizens are being turned back at the border and so being accommodated in local community halls, away from the central business sectors of the city. Patrols along both sides of the border right across the country have been stepped up and all leave has been cancelled for Customs and Immigration officials. Some protesters were hoping to get assistance from local Indians in the Akwesasne Reserve which straddles the borders of Ontario, Quebec and the United States. At Montreal's Dorval international airport there has been delays for some passengers because of the increased vigilence. Travellers say the extra security is warranted.
Meanwhile protestors arriving today and
tomorrow will find support for their cause with offers of
accommodation from many sectors within Quebec, including the
local Lavel Univesity, where an estimated 5,000 men women
and children are expected to stay. Other hospitality is
being offered in local community halls throughout the city.
There is an enormous banner and a mega screen opposite the Media Centre to ensure the message of separatism is not lost on all those attending this Summit.
The banner claims that Quebec is a 'Nation within Canada, a nation with a Future.' while the screen regularly promotes factors about the province of Quebec's achievements. It does not mention the achievements of Canada as a nation.
Even in an international arena, Quebec's domestic drive for political succession from Ottawa continues. However, anxiety about the predicted level of violence, the existence of a 4 kilometre steel wall, and many shops with protective wooden barricades, hold more importance for the local residents in Quebec City, than the signing of any future free trade agreement by Western Hemisphere Leaders.