Between 17-21 November protests against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) negotiations took place in Miami, with thousands traveling to the city to join local activists in demonstrating against the agreement and the consequences of free trade.
Environmentalists, anarchists, animal liberationists, trade unionists and students were among those making up the many demonstrations and teach-ins that took place.
Tuesday saw a 34 mile march (one mile for every member of the FTAA) take place organized by Root Cause, a coalition of local South Florida organisations of low-income workers of colour, including POWER U, Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Miami Workers Center.
At the "Gala for Global Justice" on Wednesday evening, which featured a program of music and speeches from activists from throughout the Americas, Leo Girard, president of the United Steelworkers Union, declared, "We will not let them steal our sovereignty. This is not just about trade but also about investment and privileges for greedy investors and financiers. This is a fight for our children and grandchildren."
He singled out the contribution of student activists against sweatshops, telling the story of how earlier in the afternoon, "on the way to Guzman Park to attend the People's Forum, we saw a group of students surrounded by cops and searched. And guess what, hundreds of steelworkers surrounded the cops and told them to let the students go. And they did."
Thursday hosted the diverse and 10,000 strong AFL-CIO (equivalent of the TUC) march. According to the AFL-CIO, police turned away over 170 union buses from the rally, a charge the Saturday Miami Herald confirmed.
Throughout the largely peaceful protests police used tear gas, pepper spray, plastic and rubber bullets, smoke bombs, concussion grenades, electric shields and batons. Twelve protesters were hospitalized and hundreds of others less seriously injured. The Miami Activist Defense legal support group say that 282 people were arrested and that they have received numerous reports of beatings and sexual assaults. They are appealing for support (see www.stopftaa.org).
The Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) is the expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to every country in Central America, South America and the Caribbean, except Cuba. Officially it is still on schedule and is due to come into effect in January 2005. There was no Cancun-style walkout by negotiators this time, but the extent of the agreement has been significantly reduced to only a few common standards and tariff cuts.