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Jane Kelsey: Erecting Defences Around The WTO

Erecting Defences Around The Wto


By Jane Kelsey In Cancun - Media Bulletin # 1
8 September 2003

The symbolism of a World Trade Organisation under siege intensified as the security cordon around the venue for the WTO’s fifth ministerial meeting began tightening today.

The meeting is strategically located on a lagoon that can be isolated from the outside at both ends. Some 3,700 local agents have been detailed to guard the forum, and about 1,000 foreign agents who will accompany their respective delegations are cooperating with their Mexican counterparts to prevent terrorist attacks.

The Mexican navy has restricted shipping around Punta Cancun and air authorities have prohibited light-wing airplane flights over the zone. Two warships are already posted offshore from Cancun’s pristine white sand beaches. Today, workers began erecting multiple layers of metal barricades which delegates and media will need to navigate to enter the venue in Cancun’s conference centre.

The security hype is not just, or even mainly, about threat from international terrorism. An equally potent challenge will come from across the bridge that divides the Hotel Zone of Cancun from the township.

WTO organisers are determined there will be no repeat of ‘the Battle of Seattle’ when tens of thousands of activists gather over the next few days in the ‘Mexican Space’ on the township side of Cancun. A six day "Forum of the Peoples" will be held in a baseball stadium, surrounded by a student encampment, indigenous and peasant farmers’ forum, and other events and seminars run by NGOs and social movements that combine under the slogan ‘Our World is Not for Sale’.

Those allowed to enter the ‘WTO space’ have already been vetted for security. Some weeks ago word seeped out that, despite a list of visa exempt countries on the WTO’s website, special visas would have to be issued for those attending the conference as delegates, media and NGOs. These could cost US$90, with additional requirements that varied across countries. Apparently the Mexican Government’s interior ministry had panicked. The formal announcement of this requirement from the WTO came less than two weeks ago, leaving no time for many who were caught unawares to secure the documentation.

Reports came through today that four of five Indonesian NGO representatives have been denied visas, whether for the convention or as tourists. Those affected see this as “another sign of repression towards Indonesian NGOs who they labelled as a ‘terrorist country’.” NGOs from Philippines and Thailand had no such problems.

Meanwhile a leaked Mexican government ‘watch list’ contained some 60 activists, included academic Noam Chomsky, veteran US consumer campaigner Ralph Nader, Indian ecologist Vandana Shiva and Canadian author Naomi Klein.

Also on the list was South African Mohau Pheko, a member of the respected International Gender and Trade Network, who was originally invited to be part of the South Africa Government’s official delegation. One day before the list was leaked she was removed from the delegation.

It remains to be seen what additional security measures are imposed within Cancun, disrupting the lives of ordinary people in Cancun and the well heeled tourists in the luxury resort. Nor is it clear what special attention might attach to being on the list of dangerous activists. But the signs are ominous.

ENDS


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