Thursday, June 28, 2007
Countering the Bilateral Free Trade Agenda
KAWAN at the US Social Forum Events to Come
Friday, June 29, 2007
KAWAN Caucus, 10:30 AM at Atlanta Ballroom H, Westin Hotel
Saturday, June 30, 2007
"Fighting US Militarism in the Asia Pacific Region" 1PM at Balcony Left room, Atlanta Civic Center
"Approaches to Organizing on Trade" 1 PM International B Room at the Westin Hotel
Greetings from Atlanta!
KAWAN organized its first workshop today with Grassroots Global Justice and Witness for Peace on Countering the Bilateral Free Trade Agenda. At one point during the workshop, I looked around the room in total awe at the diversity and power that existed in the room. Speaking to the experience that unfettered free trade has had on farmers and peasants in the U.S. and around the world were Norberto Jimenez from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, German Bedoya--a Colombian campesina, Bill Christensen from the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, and Sin Moon Hee of the Korean Women Peasants Alliance.
Norberto Jimenez from CIW immigrated to Immokalee, FL from Oaxaca, Mexico where before NAFTA he and his family were subsistence farmers. He said, "Before NAFTA, our lives were never easy, but we had enough food for ourselves and our families." But because NAFTA allowed massively subsidized crops from the United States to be dumped into Mexico, millions of Mexican farmers and peasants, unable to survive have been forced to migrate to the cities to find work in the factories or to risk their lives crossing the U.S.-Mexico border to find slave wages and no human rights in America.
The next speaker was German Bedoya, a Colombian campesina, who KAWAN had the fortune of traveling with us all the way to Korea for the Eyewitness delegation last November. German shared how the Colombian economy was forced open in 1990 as cheap products began to flood their markets from all over, which rapidly led to the disappearance of Colombia's domestic bean, rice, and wheat production. Then came "Plan Colombia", which he said has been "Plan for War." Since then over 4 million indigenous peasants have been displaced, ranking Colombia second in the world for internally displaced people. The increasing military and paramilitary in Colombia has been used to suppress the people and any opposition to the Colombia-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, already signed by the governments of both countries and awaiting Congressional ratification. German said that approximately 90 percent of the parliamentary members are affiliated with the paramilitaries, which makes engaging the democratic process in Colombia virtually worthless. "Once the FTA is passed," German said, "We will be forced to cultivate bitter yucca, sugar cane, and palm oil using genetically modified technology for transnational corporations." The growing demand for biofuels is driving an insane agenda where the emphasis is on more fuel for cars than to feed humans. German told us that there was tremendous opposition in Colombia to the FTA, and reminded us that there was resistance movements that needed the organizing of the people across borders to stop the neoliberal free trade regime.
Bill Christensen, a fourth generation family farmer from Missouri, started his talk by reminding us that the free trade agenda is driven by multinational corporations. Most of the beef in the United States, which has become a contentious issue in the Korea US Free Trade Agreement, is produced by corporations, not family farmers. "Someone is benefiting from NAFTA and the FTAs," Christensen said, "but not family farmers in the United States." He said that a combination of bad farm bill and broken trade policies makes for a disastrous scenario for U.S. family farmers where the trade surplus has now shrunk to a deficit. He pointed to the winners: In the first year of NAFTA, the agribusiness corporate moguls Archer Daniels Midland had grown their profits from $110 million to $300 million, and Cargill had grown their profits from $468 million to $827 million. And despite the promises of the free traders that these agreements will lower our food costs, Christensen informed us that since NAFTA the price of food has increased by 27% and the money paid to farmers per dollar dropped from $0.32 to $0.19. "The production of fruits, vegetables and meats would not be possible without immigrants," Christensen said, "They are the ones growing our food."
Last but not least, Sin Moon Hee, the General Secretary of the Korean Womens' Peasants Alliance, began by thanking KAWAN for inviting not just a peasant, but a woman peasant, to come to the US Social Forum to share their struggle against the Korea-US FTA. She began by giving some context to the current US-Korea relations. When North and South Korea signed their historic agreement on June 15 2000 where they committed to begin reunification efforts, this frightened the U.S. and the challenge that reunification posed over its grip economically and militarily on the Korean peninsula. And like Colombia, when the IMF crisis swept through South Korea, the country was forced to open its agricultural markets. As a result, over 50 percent of South Korean stocks are owned by foreign corporations and now over 50% of south Korean workers are irregular, meaning they dont have basic labor rights or pensions. As a a result, in the last 10 years, Korean peasants have been suffering and instead of investing in those who produce food for people, the government has chosen to add further insult to injury by offering the Korea-US FTA as a silver bullet to solve poverty and unemployment in Korea. This has led desperate peasants to take their lives. According to Moon-Hee, at least one peasant has taken their life daily. In 1990, South Korea had 10 million farmers. Today, she said that there is approximately 3 million. This is what unfettered free trade has done to the Korean farmers and the countryside. She told us that the South Korean government has been waging a fierce campaign in support of the FTA, despite the fact that there are millions opposed to this unfair trade deal. She said that one-third of parliamentarians are opposed to the deal and that there is a good chance that the Korea-US FTA can be defeated. "Are you going to have Cargill or Monsanto determine what you eat?" she asked. We need to honor those who grow our food, and this workshop demonstrated how farmers around the world--including in the U.S.--have had their lives, livelihoods, and the environment devastated under the free trade regime.
Lastly, I went with Sin Moon Hee to the Via Campesina caucus meeting at the migrant rights tent. It was a great opportunity for her to see the number of peasants and farmworkers sitting together under that tent. She was also very moved, she told me, that whenever she lets other peasants know that she is from Korea, that their eyes light up with respect and admiration for how the Korean peasants and trade unionists have been waging a fierce opposition to the WTO and the bilaterals.
We must not forget that peoples' movements have managed to stop talks in Seattle, Cancun, and Hong Kong. Now we just need to stop the bilaterals which is the tactic used by the neoliberalists since the WTO is near collapse. We must keep the pressure on and as the US Social Forum motto says, "Another World is Possible, Another U.S. is Necessary."
More to come tomorrow. Peace.