FTAA BEACHES IN MIAMI AS POLICE VIOLENCE ERUPTS

Investigations Demanded on Police Actions

by Orin Langelle/Global Justice Ecology Project

The Ministerial Summit on the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) ended Nov. 20, a day early, with a watered-down version of the proposed trade pact, as police clashed with protesters in Miami’s streets. As trade ministers from 34 countries discussed a neoliberal trade agreement that would stretch from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, police used tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and electronic tasers to attack the FTAA opponents. Many protesters and bystanders were injured.

Soren Ambrose of the 50 Years Is Enough Network said of the proposal that emerged from the meeting: “Nothing in the FTAA will be binding, and everything will have to be re-examined, including mechanisms for making any treaty work…. The smell of retreat is pretty strong.” Added Sarah Anderson of the Institute for Policy Studies: “US negotiators may try to put a happy face on the Miami talks, but the ‘FTAA-lite’ deal will not please the big business lobby that has been the driving force behind the proposed trade pact.”

Although a full-scale FTAA did not go through as planned, the US announced that it would pursue several smaller trade proposals for the time being. US trade representative Robert Zoellick and Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim jointly announced a “flexible” plan to allow governments to opt in or out of agreements on farm subsidies, investment protections and intellectual property rights. Robert Weissman, co-director of the activist group Essential Action, said the US undertook “a strategy of negotiating bilateral and mini-regional agreements containing exactly the horrific proposals–on intellectual property, investment, and other areas–that the US has failed to ram through in the FTAA.”

Meanwhile, over 100 protesters were injured and over 200 arrested by Miami police, according to FTAA opposition organizers. Some of those arrested accused the police of torture and sexual abuse. The federal government gave Miami $ 8.5 million for policing the summit–funds that were approved in an $87 billion appropriations bill ostensibly funding the war in Iraq.

A rally and march headed by organized labor drew an estimated 25,000 on November 20. Earlier in the day hundreds of direct-action protesters were met with tear gas, concussion grenades and batons as they staged an un-permitted march to the fenced-in restricted area where the trade ministers met.

After the permitted labor march, riot police attacked the crowd outside of Bayfront Park, where people were listening to music and speakers. The police fired tear gas that wafted back to them due to the wind–and gloved demonstrators tossing the canisters back. Police also fired hundreds of rubber bullets into the crowd. Many people were injured and bloodied, some taking several shots to the body and head. The riot police then advanced on the crowd using pepper spray and truncheons to disperse the unarmed protesters.

Protest organizers and labor leaders condemned the tactics of the police. The New York Times reported that the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans complained the police had turned away 13 of 25 buses of retirees sent to the labor rally and abused a number of retirees who did arrive there.

The United Steelworkers of America president Leo W. Gerard issued a release on Nov. 24 stating that Miami Police Chief John Timoney should be fired. He also asserted that “since federal funds helped finance the violation of our members’ constitutional right of free assembly, a Congressional investigation into the Miami Police Department’s systematic repression should immediately be launched.” Gerard demanded that all charges against peaceful demonstrators be dropped, stating: “To do less would be to endorse homeland repression in the guise of homeland security.”

USWA’s Gerard released examples of police harassment:

*When the wife of a retired steelworker from Grantsville, UT, verbally protested what she considered the abusive treatment of a student activist at the entrance of the AFL-CIO rally on Friday Nov. 21, she was slammed to the ground face-down by police and a gun was aimed point-blank at the back of her head. A steelworker who witnessed the incident reported that she was so terrified that her entire body was vibrating.

*A secretary from USWA’s headquarters in Pittsburgh and a local steelworker from Wisconsin who had worked all day as a parade marshal–and was wearing a bright orange marshal’s vest emblazoned with the words “AFL-CIO Peace Keeper”–were returning to their hotel when they were directed by armed police to abandon the sidewalk and to proceed down a set of trolley tracks. Once on the tracks, they were immediately pounced upon by armed riot police, handcuffed and arrested. They were forced to remain in cuffs for hours on end, even when visiting the washroom.

*The co-director of Citizens’ Trade Campaign was forced to the ground and had a gun put to the back of her head while peacefully attempting to enter the AFL-CIO rally at the Bayfront Amphitheater. Furthermore, the headquarters of Citizens’ Trade and Global Trade Watch were surrounded and under constant surveillance by armed riot police.

There were also attacks on journalists who failed to “embed” themselves with the Miami police–another practice from Iraq applied to domestic reporting for the first time. On Nov. 21, Ana Nogueira, a producer with Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy Now,” was arrested while videotaping the arrests of some 20 protesters. Her press credentials were clearly visible, according to Democracy Now co-producer Jeremy Scahill. When he informed police they had arrested a journalist, he was told: “It doesn’t matter if she’s a journalist–she shouldn’t have been there.”

In one unexplained incident, a volunteer medic who treated some of the injured protesters in Miami, Jordan Feder of New Jersey, died in a Raleigh, NC, hospital Nov. 26 of a strain of bacterial meningitis (Neisseria meningitis). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reported to be looking into the matter.

Amnesty International has also called for an independent investigation of the police actions in Miami.

Fred Azcarate, executive director of Jobs with Justice, a labor-community alliance with over forty branches around the US, said: “Despite this repression, we were able to add a strong US voice to the movements around the hemisphere that have successfully held their governments accountable–as witnessed by the defeat of the FTAA agenda here in Miami.”

In a Nov. 28 Miami Herald commentary, Jim Defede writes: “The city and Miami-Dade County will now face an onslaught of civil rights lawsuits. Newspaper and TV reports on these suits over the next two years will conjure up images of Miami as a Third World dictatorship. And all of this for a watered-down agreement on free trade that will never bring the number of jobs to this area that’s been promised.”

Photos: 20 Nov 03 Miami Orin Langelle/Global Justice Ecology Project

1. After the major march on November 20th, police clashed with protesters on the streets of Miami. Police used tear gas, fired rubber bullets into the crowd, used electronic tasers and other “less-lethal” weapons to attack the protesters. Many protesters and bystanders were injured.

2. The first part of the major march on November 20th organized and headed by labor. An estimated 25,000 or more marched in Miami against the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Trade ministers from 34 countries are in Miami to discuss a neoliberal trade agreement that stretches from Alaska to Chile in the Americas.

3. Hundreds march early in the morning of November 20th to the fence and restricted area where hey were greated by police tear gas.

4. George Bush replica and hundreds march early in the morning of November 20th to the fence and restricted area.

Orin Langelle (langelle@sover.net) is co-director of the Vermont-based Global Justice Ecology Project

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Original Link: http://ww4report.com/static/ftaa.html