No. 119, Apr. 26- May 2, 2001

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Trade summit disrupted as protesters battle police in Quebec City streets

Anti-free trade protesters hurl part of a fence and a traffic pylon at riot police during protests at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, Canada on April 20, 2001.

By Eamon Martin ]

Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, Apr. 22— As tear gas clouds that enveloped the streets of Quebec City this past weekend had barely begun to dissipate, thirty-four heads of state in the Western hemisphere pledged their allegiance to the proposal for the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement (FTAA). Sequestered behind a 9ft. high, 2 mile perimeter of concrete and chain-link fence reinforced by 6,000 riot police, much to the incredulity of angry demonstrators outside, the nations’ leaders proclaimed that the aim of the gathering was to “strengthen democracy.”

An estimated 30,000 to 50,000 demonstrators filled the streets of this Canadian city in what has become an uprising of opposition to closed and elite international trade negotiations. Demonstrators argued that the global trade negotiations of the FTAA only serve the interests and privileges of international finance capital, while the most basic interests of citizens, consumers, workers and the environment are regarded as disposable “trade barriers” by trade bureaucrats.

“Reinforcing and improving the quality of our democracies has been the primary goal of our efforts as a community of nations,” Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien announced on Friday. “Democracy has been restored by people sitting in this room.” Chretien also said that having a democratic government was an “essential condition” for membership in the summit.

For the tens of thousands of people occupying the city’s streets in outrage over the Summit of the Americas’ authoritarian arrogance which took unprecedented measures to exclude and squelch dissenting public opinion, Chretien’s remarks seemed ironic, disingenuous and obscene.

A diverse, decentralized legion of international protesters wearing gas-masks and bandannas defiantly laid siege to the meeting’s Citadel fence, no holds barred, in often awe-inspiring feats of self-denial and rugged determination, to directly attack their naked exclusion, the meetings, the FTAA agenda, and the state system itself.

A massive street party of resistance raged throughout Quebec City for most of the weekend. The presence of the FTAA summit engulfed the entire city. In a move consistent with the overwhelming tone of opposition and offense taken by residents, the Province of Quebec denounced the meetings in a statement issued on Sunday.

Between Apr. 19-21, thousands of rocks were thrown in the face of corporate globalization, making what most demonstrators see as being one of it’s most menacing expressions to date: unabated free trade for North-Central-South America and the Caribbean. Citing the hyper-acceleration of rampant ecological devastation and poverty left in the wake of the FTAA’s precursor, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Quebec City’s insurrectionists seemed to be saying: the world is going to hell and you are flying us there with ever greater exploitation, misery and oppression for the majority of the Earth and it’s inhabitants. Your lies and social controls shouldn’t be tolerated any longer and you have no legitimacy or authority anymore. The twilight hour has arrived.

The army of national, state and municipal police responded with a relentless assault of tear gas, batons, water cannon, pepper spray and plastic bullets against an enormously militant opposition which threatened to outnumber their ranks, invade the FTAA fortress and seriously jam the meeting’s proceedings. Undeterred protesters — some dressed in makeshift body armor — engaged in ongoing, pitched battles with police and on several occasions destroyed large sections of the fence perimeter. With helicopters hovering overhead, the city was suddenly transformed into a weekend war zone. On Friday, the meetings were delayed due to the melee. On Saturday, meeting attendees were forced to move proceedings to an alternate location within the Citadel because of tear gas seeping into the conference building’s air ducts. By meeting’s end, there were 450 arrests, with injuries to more than 71 police officers, 109 protesters and many more bystanders. One person received an emergency tracheotomy after getting shot in the throat by a plastic bullet. “Smash the FTAA”, “Viva Zapatista”, anti-US/Bush/capitalist slogans and hundreds of other graffiti messages had blossomed on many noticeable surfaces.

Organized in opposition to the FTAA, 2,300 delegates from 34 countries attended a People’s Summit nearby. They roundly concluded that the trade agreement was “neo-Liberal, racist and destructive of the environment.” Further, they recommended that the FTAA be rejected in favor of an international alliance based on true democracy, equality, solidarity, and the respect of human rights and the environment. On Saturday, summit organizers chaperoned a colorful demonstration of about 60,000 people.

Among other things, the FTAA critics pointed to the fact that since NAFTA began — a treaty regarded by Mexico’s indigenous Zapatista movement as a “death sentence” — Mexico’s poverty rate ballooned 50 percent. In addition, NAFTA’s favorable business climate negotiations -- of unregulated labor and environmental conditions -- have resulted in an epidemic of low-paying, maquiladora, sweatshop factories. Reports of birth deformities — such as brainless children — from maquiladora waste run off contamination are now common.

Commenting on the FTAA’s meaning, Matthew Coon-Come, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations said the 40 million indigenous inhabitants in the western hemisphere are the victims of “a 500-year rush to exploit and colonize this continent.”

“Our position in the Americas has failed to improve,” he said. “Our people are the poorest of the poor.”

Bearing this in mind, many of the protesters explained that they came to Quebec to express deep concern for the people who could never dream of traveling the distance, and for whom the FTAA’s cost will be the most exacting.

Many of those who wanted to travel into Canada to protest were prevented by often overbearing, discriminatory border entrance policies. Hundreds were denied entry by Canadian Customs who politically profiled travelers to prevent the admission of demonstrators they deemed as being fearsome enough to instigate a protest of Seattle-like proportions. Regardless, hundreds of US citizens managed to join their Canadian counterparts in the streets. After a weekend of high escalation battles and incessant bonfires burning through the dawn hours — which made the anti-World Trade Organization protests in late November 1999 seem tame in comparison — it was obvious that the Canadian government had failed.

In addition to the mass resistance in Quebec City, people in cities throughout the Americas -- and worldwide -- held solidarity demonstrations. Protesters took the streets, marched and rallied, performed political theater, engaged in acts of civil disobedience and property destruction, and confronted police in San Diego, CA; Boulder, CO; Buffalo, NY; Portland, OR; Atlanta, GA; and Austin, TX, among many others. In Asheville on Sunday, activists marched through the streets with puppets, chanting “FTAA no way!”

In Sao Paulo, Brazil, over 1,500 people participated in a massive, peaceful protest, which was attacked by police, resulting in over 100 injuries and over 60 arrests. More than 200 people marched and rallied in Bogota, Colombia. Activists in Ecuador occupied the Canadian embassy in the capital city of Quito, denouncing the FTAA for promoting a “new colonization process.”

War zone

Demonstrators pull down the security fence during the second day of protests against the third Summit of the Americas, April 21, 2001.

On Friday, thousands of militant protesters wasted no time in assaulting the security fence after a giant march, comprised of many under the banner of the Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Offensive, led the way. Within the ranks, a small army of black-clad, anarchist Blac Bloc members brandishing sticks set the tone, stopping once to smash the windows of a Shell gas station. This was a city rapidly charged with dissent. Many passive activists abandoned peaceful protest to join the more militant. Observers commented that the $1 million fence became the perfect symbol of the neglect people feel from their “leaders.” Over the course of the weekend riot cops would be actively defending it’s stronghold from all sides.

In a short time, the first sections of the fence were torn down as riot police soon began what would be a prolonged volley of tear gas that seemed to continue with little pause for the remainder of the weekend. Undaunted protesters repeatedly lobbed the canisters back at police. Not long after the beginning of the fence offensive, hundreds of protesters began what would also prove to be a tireless barrage of debris and rock-throwing at riot police. Sidewalk bricks and chunks of the fence’s concrete foundation were quickly smashed to be used as projectiles.

Also on Friday, Quebec police introduced their newly purchased water cannons, the first of which was immediately attacked and disabled by stick-wielding protesters. Despite the continuous police fire — criticized by many present as indiscriminate — protester resilience was impressive and indignant as, after numerous gassings, they returned again and again for more combat. Meanwhile, as Jean Chretien, George W. Bush, Vicente Fox and most of the other dignitaries dined on Lac Brome duck supreme and were entertained by Cirque du Soleil, many elderly residents started to complain of respiratory problems from tear gas invading their homes.

On Saturday and Sunday, the battle continued with the fence perimeter ripped open several more times. Resourceful anarchists using grappling hooks did much of the damage. In addition, a bulldozer being used to reinforce the fence was sabotaged. At night, police used laser-sighted rubber bullet guns to target the street insurrectionists. Some protesters returned the fire with Molotov cocktails.

During the daytime, undercover police extensively videotaped students and young people walking to and from the Universite de Laval. The university’s gymnasium was being used as a hostel for over 2,000 visiting activists. Activist Jaggi Singh, who helped coordinate the accommodations, had been suddenly arrested without provocation on Friday by undercover police.

Though not all of the protesters were militant — many even criticizing the large, rock-throwing contingent for their tactics — the solidarity of the FTAA/capitalist opposition was felt throughout Quebec City. Everywhere protesters were given heroes’ welcomes by local residents, who shouted, “Yay! Protestataire!”, filled water bottles, and blared music out of their apartment windows in support. Some offered advice on the best methods of dismantling the fence.

On Saturday, the Quebec Federation of Labor organized a march of over 25,000 trade unionists. The labor parade as well as the People’s Summit march steered down barren streets in industrial areas out of sight of potential spectators. Towards the parade’s end a sect of march participants wishing to engage in the fence action parted ways with the peaceful others who had decided not to support the confrontation.

Back at the fence, a protester yelled to the FTAA political elite inside, “The planet is dying! Half the world’s organisms are already dead and you hide behind your fence and call us criminals. You think you can tell us how to run our world?”

Additional source: Montreal Gazette

US-allied death squads use chainsaws to slaughter dozens of Colombian civilians

A Colombian family flees the Naya region, Apr. 16, 2001, after a massacre by paramilitary troops during the weekend.

Compiled by Brendan Conley

Apr. 24-- Right-wing paramilitary death squads massacred dozens of civilians in the Colombian village of Naya, province of Cauca, over Easter week. Local officials said the death toll is at least 40, and may be well over 100.

The paramilitaries used chainsaws and machetes to torture and kill the villagers, whom they accused of collaborating with rebel armies. Though officially illegal, the paramilitary death squads were created by the US-funded military. Human rights observers insist that the government and the death squads collaborate in the war against left-wing guerrillas, and against the civilian population.

The attack, which began on April 11, caused more than 3,000 survivors to flee their village, traveling to nearby Timba, where the massacre was reported to local officials. There are more than 2 million internally displaced people in Colombia.

“No one knows why they are killing us this way, “ said Rafael Caso, whose son was killed in the massacre. “To clean everyone out is the idea. But why us?”

After visiting Naya soon after the killings, Colombia’s human rights ombudsman, Eduardo Cifuentes, warned that “we have returned to the most barbaric era.” A 17-year-old girl had her limbs cut off with a chainsaw. Another was eviscerated. The bodies were left for a week in a roadside ditch, with paramilitaries preventing villagers from burying the dead.

Naya, a town of 8,000, was ostensibly a target because of its valuable coca fields and guerrilla activity in the area. Both the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN) had been present in the area. But some Colombian organizers warn that the paramilitaries simply intend to “cleanse” the civilian population from valuable lands so the resources can be used by the rich landowners who fund the death squads.

Human rights groups say that the military is complicit in this massacre, because the government was warned repeatedly that the AUC (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia), as the paramilitaries are called, was preparing for a massacre in Cauca.

In late March, a commission of state, federal, church, and UN officials visited the zone and delivered a detailed report describing large numbers of heavily armed paramilitary fighters and noting the AUC were mounting a “large scale operation” in Cauca. Human rights groups say their pleas for the military to protect villagers went unheeded, and in fact the military moved out of the area just before the massacre.

The military disputes this claim, saying that all of Colombia is under urgent danger of violence, and, in the words of Gen. Francisco Pedraza, who commands the Army in Cauca, “It’s impossible to have a soldier every meter of the way.”

According to human rights groups, the paramilitaries who carried out the massacre are now threatening the Afro-Colombian communities of the Yurumangui river. The Afro-Colombian communities in the municipality of Buenaventura are alerting the Colombian security forces of an imminent massacre.

The coffin of Edwin Velasco, 22, is carried by relatives during his funeral in El Placer, Cauca province, April 16, 2001. Velasco is one of the victims of a Colombian peasant massacre over the Easter holiday weekend.

In a separate incident, the FARC rebels were involved in a major battle with paramilitaries and the army in the province of Antioquia Easter weekend. Local officials said that more than 25 civilians had been killed in the battle, including many children.

Meanwhile, the ELN rebel group said it would suspend road blockades along three major highways in Colombia as a “goodwill gesture.” The action comes amid a bloody right-wing paramilitary offensive in northern Colombia that has prevented the establishment of a demilitarized zone and threatened peace talks. The ELN also kidnapped about 100 Colombian employees of Occidental Petroleum, an American oil company. The rebel group released about 70 of the captives unharmed, but continues to hold 27, and has not offered detailed explanations for its actions.

The United States is providing $1.3 billion in aid to Colombia; most of it is military aid. Former President Bill Clinton waived human rights conditions on the aid package, a move that critics claim gave the military and death squads tacit permission for abuses. The military aid appears to be intensifying Colombia’s 37-year-long civil war, which claims 3,000 lives per year. President George W. Bush is seeking to increase the aid package in 2002.

President Bush, in Quebec City on Sunday for the Summit of the Americas, said that the United States is committed to supporting Colombian President Andres Pastrana’s efforts to bring peace to Colombia.

Sources: Associated Press, Colombian Labor Monitor (, Colombia Support Network (, New York Times, Reuters, Washington Post.


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