cancun -- tuning up for expect- ed mass demonstrations at April's Summit Of The Americas in Quebec City, where the the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) will be set in motion, Mexican "globalphobes" and their international allies gathered here last week to manifest their displeasure at the first World Economic Forum to be held on Mexican soil.
Based on a mountain in Davos, Switzerland, far from these tropical beaches, the WEF represents the crème de la crème of corporate globalization: its annual meetings ($12,000 U.S. registration fee) attract the world's wealthiest tycoons.
As has become de rigueur at such controversial international events, police repression of anti-globalization activists bloodied this tony resort's pristine sands.
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Cancun is itself a snapshot of how corporate globalization operates in the underdeveloped world. Built by transnational capital and studded with posh international hotels, it caters almost exclusively to foreign tourists, mostly young North Americans.
Meanwhile, far from the gleaming hotel district, tens of thousands of Mayan Indian maids and day labourers occupy swampland squatter settlements lacking city services. As a magnet for employment, Cancun draws its workforce from the surrounding Yucatan peninsula, shredding the social fabric of life in its Mayan villages as dramatically as it wreaks havoc upon a once paradisiacal Caribbean coastal environment.
Among other protest events, activists staged a globalphobe tour of this other Cancun, to the undisguised disdain of local authorities, hotel operators and their riot-equipped police.
This square-off marked Mexican authorities' first confrontation with worldwide resistance to the transnationalization of the planet, the so-called "globalization of resistance" that first grabbed headlines in Seattle.
More than 2,000 police and military personnel converted the lush Westin Regina Hotel on Cancun's Gold Coast into a tightly barricaded bunker to keep demonstrators at bay. Buses ferrying protestors to the resort were stopped by federal and state authorities, who searched and fingerprinted the passengers. Local McDonald's restaurants were reportedly shuttered after the rumoured touchdown of Jose Bove, the French farmer who became a hero of the anti-globalization movement when he bulldozed a Big Mac dispensary in his hometown.
Inevitably, violence erupted on the final day of the WEF, just as Mexico's new president, Vicente Fox, addressed the forum. Not far from the luxurious Westin, protestors began to disrobe on the beach, an action that generally sparks few objections in Cancun, where flashing flesh is a public passion. Calling the globalphobic striptease an affront to public morals, police waded in with batons flailing, bloodying dozens and arresting 60 demonstrators who were later released on condition that they get out of town.
The Cancun summit attracted many non-Mexicans on both sides of the barricades. More than 300 foreigners, including corporate chiefs from 33 countries, came to laud Mexico's role in the global economy as a commercial bridge between the U.S. and Europe. Despite their good cheer, the impresarios and bankers were decidedly on the defensive after a year of intense attack by the globalphobes.
Yes, conceded Bank of Mexico director Guillermo Ortiz, the gap between the rich and the poor is growing in Latin America. His solution: more free trade, through both the impending FTAA and "NAFTA plus," expanding maquiladoras (foreign-owned assembly plants) throughout southern Mexico.
Mexican authorities have traditionally taken a dim view of foreigners who create political problems here. Article 33 of the constitution specifically enables the president to expel any foreign citizen perceived to be interfering in domestic politics, and in recent years more than 400 extranjeros who showed their support for the rebel Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) were deported. Neophyte president Vicente Fox has permitted their return, avowing that his government has nothing to hide.
The Cancun junta attracted globalphobes (the word was popularized by former president Ernesto Zedillo at the first post-Seattle Davos summit) from Italy, France, the U.S. and Brazil. Indeed, the global nature of the conclave tied Mexican immigration authorities' hands: the international visitors argued that they were in Cancun to protest inequities caused by the process of globalization and not to interfere in domestic politics.
Mexico's homegrown globalphobes spring from two distinct camps: trade unionists and leftist economists who have been battling globalization since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was first imposed on Mexico; and younger, mostly anarchist groups associated with the wildly radical 1999-2000 student strike at the National University. As in Europe and the U.S., where the labour umbrella AFL-CIO distanced itself from the anti-globalization movement after rebel youth resorted to violence at the battle of Seattle, distrust between young activists and Mexican unionists often outweighs solidarity.
In Cancun, labour activists -- many of whom attended the January World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, held parallel to the Davos summit -- sought to stay aloof from globalphobic youth. But the need for rapprochement was clear. "We've got to find common ground or resistance is going to be ineffective," warned Hector de la Cueva, an official of Mexico's longest-lived independent labour federation, the Authentic Labour Front.
"It will not be easy," cautioned Argentine economist Guillermo Almeyra. "Some of these kids have never had a job -- and probably never will."
While the youthful activists -- themselves split into peaceniks and those who support revolutionary violence -- bore the brunt of the police assault, de la Cueva and other alternative forum representatives debated WEF officials on the evils of globalization in an elegant hotel salon. Inviting "reasonable" opponents to engage in debate has become a useful strategy for corporate globalizers at recent international protests in Washington and Prague.
The day after Fox, in town to inaugurate a new Cancun Marriott, closed the WEF with a rousing endorsement of corporate globalization, those protestors who could still walk beat a hasty retreat to catch up with the historic march of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation to Mexico City. Since 1996, when the EZLN summoned thousands of activists to the Lacandon jungle of Chiapas to brainstorm on how best to battle neo-liberal economics, the Mayan Indian rebels have been in the vanguard of the "globalization of resistance."
That resistance will be rejoined next month, when globalphobes descend on Quebec City for the 34-nation (Cuba is excluded) Summit Of The Americas. There, globalizers will continue talks on the Free Trade Area of the Americas, a treaty they claim will create a market of 800 million consumers and spread the dubious joys of NAFTA from the North Pole to the tip of Tierra del Fuego. *