The Mexican students and artists group Tekpati Sin Fronteras
rendered homage to Lee Kyung, the Korean farmer who took his own
life in protest against the WTO, by painting a wall. They wrote: In
water, patience/ in the wind, illusion/ in the earth, hope/in the
future, our heart.

THE 5th WTO ministerial summit presented a double challenge for the
movement against neo-liberal globalization. First, to bring the
summit to failure after the Seattle disaster and the Doha “success”
and second, to deepen the coordination amongst social movements,
especially after the establishment of the social movements network
in Porto Alegre in 2003 and which would have in Cancun its first
practical experience after the World Social Forum.

The situation was contradictory. The lack of consensus in the WTO
before the summit was summoning the ghosts of Seattle upon the
meeting in Cancun and the constitution of the Group of 21, headed
by Brazil, which was challenging the US-EU domination, generated
favorable conditions for the movement. However, the small number of
people that made it to Cancun, due in part to its location and to
the internal division of Mexican movements – expressed through the
separate International Indigenous and Farmers’ Forum and the
People’s Forum-limited the movement’s potentialities. The great
majority of the activists came from Mexico, but the significant
presence of North American activists, mainly from NGOs and non-
violent direct action groups, as well as the 180-strong delegation
from South Korea, are also important to mention. The number of
Europeans was very limited, almost symbolic.

From a general viewpoint, the WTO summit was taking place in the
context of contradictory conjuncture. On one hand, we are
witnessing an incremental crisis of capitalism and neo-liberal
policies – for which time seems to be running out-and mounting
social resistance. But, at the same time, the concrete victories
achieved by social movements both at the national and international
level are still very poor. The summit also begun with people having
the sensation that Iraq could turn into a swamp for those who
invaded it, though it is difficult to believe the anti-
globalization movement can repeat the powerful show of forces it
performed on February 15th.

The mobilizations in Cancun confirmed that there is much work to do
on the relationship between the struggle against the war and
campaigns against neo-liberal policies, even though the critique of
neo-liberal policies has been closely linked to the logic of war
and one of the key arguments against the WTO is provides an avenue
to impose political, military and economic power over the rest of
the world.

One of the achievements of the movement against neo-liberal
globalization was to trigger the greatest ever protest against an
announced war, yet translating the political potential of the
opposition to the war into social mobilization against neo-liberal
policies has been poor. The years of political defeat suffered by
the workers movement facing neo-liberal policies, as well as the
dominant policies within the established trade union
confederations, still weigh heavily. But this is not all. The anti-
globalization movement did not manage to propose a single and
unified day of mobilization against the WTO and war around the
Cancun summit, and there has been some dispersion of efforts,
between the week of protests against the WTO and the 27 September
mobilisations against the invasion of Iraq and Palestine. In
general, there have been lots of difficulties introducing the
Cancun summit into the political and activities agendas of the
social movements in each country, and to get those sectors who
mobilized against the war but are not part of the anti-
globalization movement, to join.

In spite of all this, more than 20,000 people opposing the meeting
in Cancun, plus the unyielding position of the Group 21, finally
contributed to defeat the US and European goals for the summit.
This is obviously a victory for the movement, a victory that will
mark its future both within Mexico and abroad, and which
constitutes an important injection of strength and moral legitimacy
in the stand against the FTAA at the November Miami summit.

Characteristics of Cancun

There are several characteristics of the Cancun mobilisation. Most
important is the irruption of indigenous and peasant communities.
Second is the context in which the mobilizations were taking place
and the impetus of radical, direct and diverse struggles; and third
are the events that took place within the summit.

The indigenous and peasant explosion

The mobilization in Cancun was articulated through different
organizational spaces: the International Indigenous and Farmers
Forum, the Peoples Forum, the International Women’s Forum, the
International Trade Unions Forum organized by the Mexican
independent trade unions, several activities organized by NGOs and
foreign organizations, the Youth Camp by students and youth coming
from Mexico D.F. and Chiapas, the Indymedia Center and the
International Parliamentary Forum. There were also coordination
meetings for social movements, especially around the issue of war,
as well as meetings of the Network of Social Movements created in
Porto Alegre. Throughout the week these activities provided
meeting and reflection spaces on lots of subjects, although the
real dynamics of the mobilization revolved around the demonstration
on the 10th September, mainly under the responsibility of the
peasants and Indigenous People’s movements and the protests of the
13th that were articulated mainly by independent trade unions and
the students and youth caravans.

One problem was that there was a serious ‘misalignment’ of arrivals
and departures of the main groups in Cancun, which meant that there
was not one climax of the protests, but two – one on the 10th
September and another on the 13th September. The farmers movements
developed their activities during the first days and left Cancun on
the 10th, while other Mexican groups, such as trade unions and
others, arrived just before the protest of the 13th or on the day
itself. Students and international delegations stayed in Cancun
almost the whole week. From the 9th -13th a lot of minor
initiatives (the strongest of them, on the 9th, was a march of about
1000 youth towards the fence that ‘protected’ the official area)
held the summit at bay. Some protests took place in the building
where the official summit was held or in the restricted red zone
area. Those were the inside mobilizations that were complementing
the outside mass mobilizations and protests. Many such protest
actions were carried out by accredited NGOs at the official
Convention Center while others, such as the four-hour blockade of
the main street on the 12th, happened just outside of the Convention
Center, with some 150 activists participating.

The most relevant organizational space was the International
Indigenous and Farmers Forum. This was partly because the
agreement on agriculture -which is particularly aggressive on
agricultural and peasant communities-was the key to the
negotiations at the WTO. But, more importantly, the indigenous and
peasants movements, exemplified by V?a Campesina, not only had a
correct political understanding of the phenomenon, but also met a
challenge that seemed impossible at the beginning: to mobilize
10,000 peasants and Indigenous Peoples to Cancun to oppose the WTO
and to define, at the same time, an alternative project and seal an
alliance between Indigenous Peoples and peasants movements.

This alternative project is based on the protection of food
sovereignty, bio-diversity and natural resources (seeds, water and
land) as peoples’ heritage at the service of humanity and on the
linking of current peasants struggles with the 500 years of
indigenous resistance against land usurpation. This alliance is
open for other social movements to join. It was through the
peasants forum that the Zapatista front, the EZLN, added its voice
to the mobilizations of Cancun through comandante Esther,
comandante David and subcomandante Marcos. This was the main
participation of Zapatism in Cancun, which was important from a
symbolic and moral point of view, but less important than expected.
The irruption of these 10,000 peasants from indigenous communities
(humble people who travelled more than 40 hours to camp
unsheltered) is an important step in the development of the
movement, and is one of the distinctive features of the Cancun
mobilizations.

The mobilizations: a direct, radical and diverse struggle

The demonstration on the 10th was the first great action in Cancun.
It was aimed to show the unyielding determination of the movements
to derail a WTO that was already “hurt” when arriving to Cancun.
About 10,000 people – the great majority of whom were peasants –
marched from the Casa de la Cultura up to ‘km zero’ — the starting
point of the single avenue that leads into the exclusive tourist
hotels area, with a restricted entrance and a metal fence to prevent
demonstrators from entering. Once at the fence, the tenacious effort
of dozens of hands, initiated and lead by the Korean peasants,
successfully broke a hole in the fence thus showing the
determination of the people during the first great action of the
summit. Events were not pushed further because that would have
turned into a battle between people and police, and that was not the
objective of the action. That was V?a Campesina’s understanding and
they organized an orderly retreat of the demonstration.

The dramatic and determining factor of the action that day was the
suicide of Lee Kyung Hae. As a peasant leader from the Korean
Advanced Farmers Federation, (a moderate organization) who was
honoured in 1985 as a ‘universal farmer’ by the Korean government
and the FAO, Mr Lee’s death acquired a symbolic meaning. It was a
death provoked by the desperation caused by the policies of the
WTO, a WTO that, as some of the posters and banners showed from
that moment on, “kills peasants”. His death catalyzed the
mobilization and, from that moment, the different activist
headquarters became bubbling springs of discussions and proposals.
What to do next? How to do it? What are the goals? During the
two following days several events took place in memory of brother
Lee, both at km zero (re-named the Lee Camp, as it became the
camping site for the Korean civil society delegation) and at the
Casa de la Cultura -where the Indigenous and Peasants Movement was
sheltered as well as protest actions within the summit’s Convention
Center.

The death of Lee influenced heavily the organization of the march
of the 13th, despite the fact that the great majority of peasants
could not stay in Cancun up to that date. The way in which the
movement dealt with the action on the 13th – both V?a Campesina and
the students and the direct action groups-was clear. It was
considered that the events at the metal fence and the death of Lee
allowed the accumulation of a political capital that should not be
wasted by an ambiguous or mistaken resolution about the character
of the protests of the 13th. At the same time, it was clear that
the demonstration on the 13th could not simply be a march with
speeches at the end. As Paul Nicholson from V?a Campesina said, the
effort was to make a mobilization “that would mean a qualitative
leap forward in relation to the 10th, that could transmit a strong
political message and that could show the restrained anger of the
people at Lee’s death, but which would not turn violent in order not
to loose the political capital already accumulated.”

Effective direct action

The following agreement was reached: the demonstration would arrive
at the km zero where there would be the final meeting with
speeches. After that, those who wanted to would march to the fence
(which had been reinforced and moved 100 meters further into the
hotel zone by the police after the 10th) together with the Korean
delegation and attempt to pull down the fence with the help of
ropes. Those not marching with the Korean delegation to the fence
were asked to stay at km zero to show solidarity. It was also
agreed that women would stand in the first line, carrying eggs to
throw at the police and with a mission to stop anybody wanting to
throw stones. They would only ask men for help if they could not
handle the situation. The Black Block was on charge of security.
They had agreed to the mobilization project in the preparatory
meeting and expressed their determination to prevent infiltration of
their ranks during the demonstration.

The demonstration gathered about 10,000 people, but with a
different composition to the one on the 10th. There were fewer
peasants but lots of youth and students. There was also a strong
delegation of Mexican independent and democratic trade unions,
especially the Electricity Workers Trade Union, as well as some
representatives from the Authentic Work Front and other labor
organizations.

Once the demonstration arrived at its endpoint, the action at the
fence worked out perfectly. Giving in to persistent efforts, the
welding of the double-metal fence was broken with three thick ropes
handled by hundreds of people. After that, the homage to Lee Kyung
was done on the other side of the fence, in front of a strong
police chain, without any kind of provocation or problems. The
symbols of the WTO and the American flag were burnt down at the
site.

This action was a good expression of what a direct action is – one
that integrates mass mobilization and highlights not the physical
damage the action can cause, but the political effect of the action.
One can say that understanding this fact, defining which was the
element that made a political difference, and ensuring an organized
closing of the march were the main achievements that day.

The action took place within a very particular political context,
marked by the leadership and moral authority the Korean delegation
and the peasants movement obtained after the death of Lee, which
allowed for the creation of a community of interest among the
different sectors that participated in the mobilizations on the
13th. The above facts together with the way of working of V?a
Campesina and of the non-violent direct action groups, allowed the
establishment of an open dialogue between all the sectors involved
in the action, avoiding friction and problems amongst them. The
only weak link was the lack of integration and participation of the
independent Mexican trade unions in the action after the
demonstration, which they felt did not concern them, maybe because
of the lack of a previous discussion.

The participation of Mexican independent trade unions in Cancun,
apart from its presence during the demonstration on the 13th, was
visible in the organization of the International Trade Unions Forum
with about 300 participants. There were also other trade union
forums such as the “southern voices towards a real north-south
solidarity” organized by the Brazil’s CUT, South Africa’s COSATU
and the South Korean KCTU, plus the Global Trade Unions of the
ICFTU (International Confederation of Free Trade Unions). The
latter had a moderate orientation and an internal logic that was
different to the rest of the activities of the counter-summit.

Challenges for the coordination of movements

Despite all the difficulties, the mobilization both in the streets
and inside the Convention Center together with the resolve and
determination of the Group 21 finally derailed the 5th Ministerial
Summit. It does not mean the death of the WTO, but it does mean an
important victory for the movement, and though difficult to predict,
its effects will certainly be felt in the movement. Farmers,
Indigenous Peoples and trade union organizations were expressing
already on the 14th that nothing would be the same after Cancun, in
a reference to the degree of dialogue and understanding they had
reached, or, if you wish, to the degree to which they were split
amongst each other. The FTAA summit in Miami next November will be
the next test for the movement in the American continent.

But to be able to build a future of hope we need to link and
coordinate our struggles, and during the last World Social Forum in
Porto Alegre a Global Network of Social Movements was established.
It was baptised in Cancun. What is our assessment? What lessons can
be drawn from the Cancun experience?

During the first assembly of the network in Cancun on the 8th, the
difficulty of translating the activity of the network into practical
commitments and dynamics became evident, as well as the small
numbers of international representatives that came to Cancun from
the movements that are committed to the network. Both of these
factors tended to weaken the practical work of coordination and
articulation to be done during the summit. The need for better
local-global level articulations, and the need to link and better
coordinate the different local and national struggles at an
international level were also pointed out as necessary goals. The
activity of the network at this type of event shouldn’t be limited
to meetings amongst those that happen to come, but should focus
instead on building a process and a movement that is committed to
the achievement of its goals in a more stable manner, both at the
local and the international level.

The specific situation in Cancun, where the different Mexican
movements had little contact with each other, contributed
substantially to weaken the articulation and coordination of the
social movements, despite the efforts of the international
movements and of the Brazilian team of the secretariat of the
social movements network, which tried to act as a unifying element
at the different Mexican spaces and stimulated the creation of
daily coordination meetings to plan the work. It is important to
take note of these problems for future events, and try to find ways
to strengthen and reinforce the work of the social movements network
between the summits, in order to get a greater commitment and real
articulation amongst the movements. At any rate, the meetings of the
social movements produced a joint statement, which is in itself a
positive fact.

Questions for the future

Finally, there are three more questions in relation to the WTO that
need to be reflected upon looking into the future.

The first one has to do with the dialectics between the social
movements and the governments of the countries that stood against
the dictates of the powerful majors in the WTO. Social movements
are not indifferent to the actions and positions of those
countries’ governments, and the reference to their attitude and the
support to the block they formed during the summit have been a
structural element of the struggle, as was clearly witnessed in
Cancun. Up to now the problem has been solved satisfactorily:
support to those countries, but retain a clear political
independence. This means we are not supporting their agenda, which
in this case was calling for more free trade but under different
conditions. Nevertheless, some sectors of the movement do not have
such a clear position, as became obvious at the time of the
Johannesburg summit on sustainable development with the proposals
tabled by Oxfam, which were rightly criticized by Vandana Shiva and
Walden Bello.

Second, after having defeated the 5th Ministerial Summit, the
question that arises: what now? For the major powers, the
alternative to the stagnant multilateralism of the WTO are the
bilateral agreements, which leave the developing and least
developed countries in a very weak position. (A telling precedent
is the Brady Plan which caused the collapse of the united front
against foreign debt when the negotiations turned into bilateral
deals.) It is thus important to strengthen the mobilizations against
the bilateral free trade agreements, both inside the major powers
and in the poor countries, aiming at a better coordination of
struggles and resistance.

The third point is that the failure of Cancun does not mean the
death of the WTO, nor that we have created the conditions to begin
talking about another model of multilateral organization. This
failure did not touch the Doha program (on GATS, etc.) whose
deadline is in 2005, and we will have to make great efforts to
derail it. Declarations such as those made by the European
Commissioner Pascal Lamy calling for another model of negotiations
that is not so “democratic” can be taken as a warning of much more
aggressive positions from the major powers in the immediate future.

The failure of the WTO is an important achievement for the movement
against neo-liberal globalization. There were two sentences
repeated by everyone on the 14th in Cancun: “We succeeded” and “It
is a victory for humanity”. Nevertheless, it is only a step in a
road in which there is still much to do, and in which we are running
against the clock of neo-liberal policies. That is why we now face a
double challenge: to strengthen and make the movement grow (by
amplifying the crisis of neo-liberal policies and building alliances
amongst social movements) in the minimum of time, and advancing
swiftly in our coordination and articulation. Not on paper, but in
reality. This is the only way in which the future can be turned
into hope.

* Josep Maria Antentas (Catalonia) and Josu Egireun (Basque
Country) are members of the editorial staff of ‘Viento Sur’. This
article was first published in Viento Sur n? 70 www.vientosur.info.
Translated by Alberto Villareal.

FOCUS ON TRADE
NUMBER 94, NOVEMBER 2003
http://focusweb.org