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Bulletin #6 Vigil For Korean Farmer Lee Kyong Hae

Bulletin #6 Vigil For Korean Farmer Lee Kyong Hae

By Jane Kelsey At WTO Cancun

At around 1 am on 11 September, 150 social movement activists gathered at the place where Korean farmer Lee Kyong Hae had, just hours before, made the ultimate political statement against the World Trade Organisation and the destruction of farmers’ livelihoods and lives by sacrificing his own life.

Some kneeled quietly before a shrine of candles. Others sat stunned or tried to sleep on the grass of the plaza. A group of women stood silently in front of the several lines of riot police in the area where Lee Kyong Hae climbed the broken fence and committed a deliberate act of self-emolliation. A dignified theatrical performance posed on the question “what do you want to put in the gap where this man died?”

A veil of shock and grief has enveloped the discussions and activities of those who participated in the September 10 march and rally to conclude the indigenous and peasants forum, and the many other anti-WTO activities taking place in Cancun.

This afternoon those gathered for the indigenous and peasants forum, and others who have arrived for a ‘people’s forum’, processed to the barricades in downtown Cancun that prevent people entering the Hotel Zone where the WTO meeting is being held. The Koreans have set up permanent camp at the barricades and will hold nightly vigils in memory of Mr Lee for the rest of the week.

A total of 180 South Korean activists are expected in Cancun during the week, mainly from the social movement of unions, students and farmers. Around 40 have yet to arrive. Initial concerns that those already here would be deported have apparently been resolved.

Social activist Han Soon Park explained that their presence in support of Korean farmers “is the Korean tradition that all trade union forces and social movements are struggling together. During the Uruguay Round there were big protests against free trade by all these social movements. Since then, the situation for has become worse and worse. In the WTO, if some new agreements on agriculture are finished the effect will be devastating.”

He stressed that this was a political act, the last of many symbolic actions Lee Kyong Hae has taken against the GATT and WTO free trade rules in agriculture. On 23 February 2003 Mr Lee set up a tent in front of the WTO headquarters in Geneva and began a solo protest against the first draft of the agricultural ‘modalities’ prepared by the Chair of the Committee on Agriculture of the WTO Stuart Harbinson. From 20 March, Mr Lee began a hunger strike expressing his demands on picket boards which read: “WTO Kills Farmers”, “Stop your agricultural negotiations” and “Exclude agriculture from the WTO”

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