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Aziz Choudry: The Twin Terrors

The Twin Terrors: Neoliberal Globalization and the War Against Humanity


by Aziz Choudry

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following was written before the collapse of the WTO talks over the weekend.

"Before, the powerful met behind the backs of the world to scheme their future wars and displacements. Today they have to do it in front of thousands in Cancun and millions around the world.

"That is what this is all about. It is war. A war against humanity. The globalization of those who are above us is nothing more than a global machine that feeds on blood and defecates in dollars."

- Subcomandante Marcos, EZLN, 10 September 2003

If the grinch stole Christmas, the Neoliberals and warmongers keep trying to steal the 11th of September.

As I write, trade ministers and officials meet at the Fifth World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial in Cancun, Mexico, surrounded by thousands of armed troops and police. The Republican Party recently moved the date of its convention in New York to September 11 2004. The Bush Administration and its allies at home and abroad plan to continue to milk the events of September 11 2001, as much as they can.

The September 11, 2001 attacks came at a time when neoliberalism, and the institutions and processes which advanced this agenda - the WTO, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, the "baby banks" like the Inter-American Development Bank (ICB) and the ever-expanding web of regional, sub regional and bilateral free trade and investment deals - had been reeling from a crisis of legitimacy and credibility. Popular resistance to the privatization, deregulation and economic liberalization mantra was growing. Then, as we mobilized across the world to confront various manifestations of neoliberalism, from Prague to Port Moresby, from Manila to Melbourne, from Cochabamba to Cape Town, so too the Neoliberals counter-attacked these movements, in the name of the "war on terror" and "national security".

US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick quickly moved to equate support for the "war on terror" with support for neoliberal globalization (the American brand). Shortly after the September 11 attacks, he told the Institute for International Economics: "Terrorists hate the ideas America has championed around the world. It is inevitable that people will wonder if there are intellectual connections with others who have turned to violence to attack international finance, globalization and the United States".

As well as targeting refugees and communities of colour - especially Muslims, Arabs and South Asians, this new wave of McCarthyism was clearly aimed at grassroots mobilizations for social, ecological and economic justice. Meanwhile, at the November 2001 WTO Ministerial meeting in Doha (now headquarters for US Central Command) 9/11 was seized upon by the US and the EU as another cudgel with which to bully many Third World delegations into making further commitments to free trade and investment. WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi called 9/11 a "blessing in disguise" for WTO negotiations.

This is not the first time that the date, September 11, has been linked to warmongers and Neoliberals. In all of the talk about "September 11 - two years on", the commemorative services and the media reports, it seems that few people remembered another September 11, thirty years ago. When a bloody Nixon-Kissinger backed military coup toppled Salvador Allende's democratically-elected government in Chile, followed by the slaughter, torture, imprisonment and exile of many thousands of Chileans, and the implementation of radical free market reforms, the US elites cheered. While General Pinochet went on trips to the UK to hang out with fellow neoliberal Margaret Thatcher, and as they glowed in mutual admiration, millions of Chileans were pushed into poverty, only to be met with violent repression if they dared to assert their rights. The interests of the US administration then, as now, were to make the Americas, and the world, "safe" for their corporate interests.

From the bombing of the Presidential Palace in Santiago thirty years ago, to the war and occupation of Iraq, from the militarization of Cancun, to the US re-occupation of the Philippines, from the colonization and occupation of the Americas which began over 500 Years ago to Plan Colombia the "market" and the military march hand in hand. This link comes as no revelation to many Indigenous Peoples across the Americas who continue to resist wave upon wave of colonization, and new forms of genocide cloaked in the language of development. It will come as no revelation to many Iraqis as they see their devastated country under yet another colonial army of occupation, as a former Cargill vice-president "reconstructs" Iraqi agriculture, and US transnational corporations like Bechtel "rehabilitate" its water power and sewage systems.

Free trade and investment agreements like those in the WTO serve to lock in and advance the market reforms, for the benefit of global capital. The military and other state security agencies serve as the muscle of the free market and a taxpayer-funded police force for big business.

Yet the post 9/11 reinvigorated repression and criminalization of social movements demanding a radically different future from the one advocated by corporate capitalism's cheerleaders has failed to crush grassroots opposition to these policies and programmes. Nor have the enormous pressures brought to bear on governments of the South turned the WTO into one big 146-member happy family. The divisions between North and South that were so evident in Seattle have never been more than papered over.

Reformist NGOs like Oxfam and Christian Aid, and some governments from the global South are pushing for free trade in agriculture, market access for developing countries' agricultural products and an end to the double standard of protectionism for the USA and the EU corporate agriculture, and free market discipline for everyone else.

Yet this is quite different from the position of Via Campesina, the global network of peasant, small farmers' movements - which has been on the frontlines in Cancun and around the world this week. These movements are concerned that many countries are being locked into an export-led, corporate-controlled model of agriculture through free trade agreements and structural adjustment programmes. They call for agriculture to be taken out of the WTO altogether, and for the dismantling of the institution. Each country should have the right to define its own agricultural policies in order to meet domestic needs. This should include the right to prohibit imports to protect domestic production and genuine agrarian reform to provide peasants and small and medium sized producers with access to land.

Via Campesina says:: "A profound reform of the WTO in order to make it respond to the rights and needs of people would mean the abolition of the WTO itself! We do not believe that the WTO will allow such a profound reform."

It is too bad that many of the well-resourced NGOs which advocate on behalf of "the world's poor" are unwilling to amplify the positions of social movements like that of Via Campesina, and instead buy into the notion that WTO agreements - and corporate capitalism - can be somehow humanized.

The decimation of the livelihoods of millions of campesinos in Mexico since the 1992 amendment of the constitution which privatized ejidos (communal lands on which millions of campesinos had depended since the Mexican Revolution), and NAFTA has led to massive poverty, hunger, displacement, and resistance. Floods of subsidized, "cheap" US corn has entered Mexico since NAFTA went into effect in January 1994, at less than the cost to produce. Campesinos from all over Mexico have been converging on Cancun, and also staging actions in their own communities against free trade. As many campesino organizations put it - El Campo No Aguanta Mas - the countryside can't take any more.

Nor, sadly, can many small farmers. Korean farmer Lee Kyung-Hae's suicide atop the barricades outside the militarized Cancun WTO meeting this week is, tragically, one of many farmer suicides in the face of policies which are forcing farmers around the world into debt, despair, and dispossessing them from the small plots of land which they depend on to feed their families and eke out a living.

So it is hardly surprising that this week, not only in Cancun, small farmers across the world have been involved in anti-WTO actions, joined by unionists, students, and others. Peasant leaders led a march in Bangkok earlier this week which brought some 3000 protesters to the US Embassy to deliver an anti-WTO message. The Thai government is also planning a massive security operation for next month's Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, which George Bush is expected to attend. Peasant organizers were among the crowd of anti-WTO activists violently dispersed by police in Manila on the eve of the start of the Cancun meeting. Meanwhile it is rumoured that Bush may sign an agreement with pro-US Philippine President Arroyo to formally re-establish US bases in the Philippines (although thousands of US troops are already in the country) while in the region for APEC.

Small farmers were on the streets of Dhaka (Bangladesh), many Indian cities, and elsewhere showing their opposition to an economic model which reduces food - a human right - to a tradeable commodity to be bought and sold in a marketplace controlled by giant agribusiness corporations intent on dominating the world's food supply. Along with many other movements, they are fighting the privatization of water and other essential services which is being locked in under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). And they are fighting for the rights to be able to grow crops from their own seeds, not those owned and often genetically-modified by corporate agribusiness, backed up by enforceable patent rights such as those enshrined in the WTO's intellectual property agreement, the TRIPS. As Saskatchewan canola farmer Percy Schmieser's case illustrates, even farmers in the North are being targeted by agribusiness transnationals like Monsanto.

It is clear that the claim that the WTO is now addressing concerns of the majority of its members - from the global South - is a complete and utter crock. There was never any "development agenda" at Doha.

As the spindoctors work overtime to project the outcome of Cancun as a great success, no doubt we will hear yet more claims of how the WTO can lift the poor out of poverty, and respond to the needs of Southern governments. After the debacle of Seattle, and now two years of missed negotiating deadlines since Doha, many commentators have warned that the WTO risks credibility unless it can demonstrate that there is some "progress" in negotiations.

A growing tally of WTO trade disputes aimed at them, resentment at the continued dominance of industrialized nations' governments within the WTO, its anti-democratic and exclusionary decision-making processes, more blatant US unilateralism on all fronts, have continued to frustrate Southern delegations. Many of them are particularly indignant at the renewed efforts, led by the EU and Japan, to force new issues - most contentiously a Multilateral Agreement on Investment style deal - on the WTO agenda at Cancun.

What rabbit will the spindoctors magically pull out of the hat to protect the WTO's image? What empty promises will the US, the EU and other industrialized nations make in order to exact further concessions from Southern governments to open up other sectors of their economies to their corporations? What arm-twisting and horse-trading will go on over the next few days?

More importantly, what are we going to do to confront militarism and neoliberal globalization in our daily lives, wherever we may live? Cancun will be over soon, and so too will November's Summit of the Americas in Miami which serves as the ministerial meeting for the FTAA.

The real challenge remains. How do we ensure that the work of creating political space to build, debate and defend alternatives to these twin terrors is one that is neither frightened into submission by a climate of fear and intolerance for dissent engendered by governments, nor constrained by the interests of an NGO elite - those ubiquitous self-styled representatives of "civil society"? How do we build strong communities and movements of resistance and avoid the pitfalls of cooption and compromise?

**** ENDS ****

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