Québec City is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site partly because it’s the only walled city in North America.
Now, thanks to a rumoured $30 million spent on security, it now has another wall built around part of it to keep attendees of the April 20-22 Summit of the Americas safe from potentially violent demonstrators.
Why has this Summit created such a security stir?
Because the last summit, held in 1999 in Seattle, saw that city suffer through a maelstrom of political protest.
As a result, Summit participants will be protected by members of the RCMP, Surété de Québec, CSIS - not to mention the CIA and others no doubt. In fact, Council of Canadians anticipates that 6,000 police and RCMP officers could be on hand in Quebec City.
Ironically, if projections about the number of protestors are at all accurate, there will be almost as many security types as protestors.
So what’s the fuss about?
The first issue revolves around the purpose of the summit itself; the second concerns the response to anticipated violence.
The Summit of the Americas will see Jean Chretien, George W. Bush and 32 other political leaders of North, Central and South America gather in Quebec City to discuss how to move towards a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) - in effect, to extend the scope of the North American Free Trade Agreement to include all of the Americas by 2005.
Why oppose the FTAA?
The Common Front on the World Trade Organization (CFWTO) claims that the Summit (and FTAA) marks the inexorable machinations of capitalism that must be stopped, potentially at all costs. Their website (http://wtoaction.org/ftaa.phtml) notes:
“The stated purpose of Summit meeting is to put the final touches on the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement (FTAA) which aims to extend the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to the entire hemisphere. The FTAA is supposed to be adopted no later than 2005.
Like the WTO, IMF, WB, APEC and the rest of the insidious alphabet soup, the FTAA is another engine - in the form of a “free” trade accord - which drives capitalist globalization.
In the spirit of Seattle, and the anti-IMF/WB demonstrations in Washington on A16/17, we’ve started to organize to make sure the Summit is effectively short-circuited. We want to go beyond symbolic protest or reformism to making sure the Summit of the Americas is shut down.”
In contrast, I found another website written by members of the “Foreign Trade Information System,” the information technology arm of the Trade Unit of the Organization of American States (OAS). Their goal is to provide the most complete information and documents on trade in the Western Hemisphere in the four official languages of the OAS (English, Spanish, Portuguese and French). The website is at www.sice.oas.org (SICE is its Spanish acronym).
SICE’s position on the FTAA is:
“We are confident that the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) will improve the well-being of all our people, including economically disadvantaged populations within our respective countries.
“Hemispheric integration is a necessary complement to national policies aimed at overcoming lingering problems and obtaining a higher level of development. In its broadest sense, a process of integration based on respect for cultural identities will make it possible to shape a common, interwoven set of values and interests that helps us in these objectives.
“Globalization offers great opportunities for progress to our countries and opens up new areas of cooperation for the hemispheric community. However, it can also heighten the differences among countries and within our societies. With steadfast determination to reap its benefits and to face its challenges, we will give special attention to the most vulnerable countries and social groups in the Hemisphere.”
Obviously, these two groups espouse radically different points of view about the benefits of the FTAA.
The second Summit concern is that protestors will resort to violence. This is why it has become the largest security operation in Canadian history.
So, here in the Pontiac, should we care about the Summit? Will the FTAA affect us?
Well, consider water, for example. All of us require potable water in order to live but, due in part to overconsumption and waste, the state of California is running out of it. And where will America procure new sources of water? From Canada. Or at least, that’s what some Americans hope: there is real concern that water might be designated a tradable commodity under FTAA.
Should we care? I think so. It is this sort of issue that concerns the Council of Canadians, who has for a very long time been lobbying the Federal Government on the topics of water, trade and other issues on behalf of Canadians.
Another party considering these issues just as critical to Canadians is the Green Party of Canada, whose representative here in the Pontiac is Gretchen Schwartz.
Gretchen ran for federal office during our last election, but although she didn’t win, it doesn’t mean that her voice is silenced. Now she is planning a protest rally at our federal MP, Robert Bertrand’s office in Fort Coulonge. The protest, she writes, “will begin at 11:00 a.m. and end around noon on Saturday, April 21. All political parties are invited. Please bring your own placard with your own message, in your language. At issue is Free Trade itself, the secrecy surrounding what’s being negotiated, the right of corporations to over-ride the wishes of the democratically-elected members of the Canadian government.”
And what about violence? She adds, “This protest will be peaceful - the message must reach government that we are very concerned, angry, and determined to push our elected representatives to be accessible and accountable to those who put them in office, and to give a greater priority to protecting the future of Canadians than to ensuring increased international corporate profits and market shares.”
For information about this protest or the Green Party, contact Gretchen Schwartz at 647-6297.
Perhaps demonstrating isn’t your thing, but you still want to learn more about the FTAA, or advise the government that you object to it being signed. Contact the Council of Canadians at 1-800-387-7177 or read their petition on their website (www.canadians.org/citizen_caged.html), and consider e-mailing it to Prime Minister Jean Chretien.
Whatever your political stripe, give the summit and the FTAA some thought.
Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer based in Quyon, Québec.