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WTO MC6, Day 2: Face-Off at the Barricades, Stand-Off at the Summit
Hong Kong, December 14- In the morning four hundred people participated in a “Consulate Hopping” protest march against the General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS) and the privatization of basic services. The procession wound through the Admiralty and Wan Chai districts and split into smaller groups targeting the Indonesian, Phillipine, Nepali, Sri Lankan, Thai and US consulates.
The protesters regrouped and marched to a loading zone near the Convention and Exhibition Center. Police split the crowd, isolating the Korean delegation at the head of the march. Twenty Korean farmers successfully broke through a line of police officers. They then charged the lines of riot police who blocked the road leading to the convention center. Riot police swung police batons and pepper-sprayed the farmers, who nonetheless managed to wrest away ten riot shields. An hour later, the farmers returned the shields and dispersed.
Some of the other protesters—who had been separated from the Korean delegation by the police—then rushed the police lines. Eventually, all of the protesters left. Later, the police told the press that the "capturing" of police shields was not exceptional and had actually been anticipated.
A full day of rallies, part of the People’s Action Week on WTO, continued at Victoria Park. But the Fisherfolks March, which was scheduled to leave from the park for the convention center, was canceled. Some activists speculate that the cancellation may have been related to an earlier scare when Hong Kong police allegedly threatened to raid the places where the Korean delegation members are staying.
Other workshops and plenaries included topics such as WTO, Food Sovereignty and Alternatives to Globalization; Defending Water Commons; and Building Solidarity Amongst Garment, Farm and Other Migrant Workers from San Francisco to Hong Kong.
In the evening, nearly two hundred Korean farmers—wearing their trademark straw hats and beige vests inscribed with anti-WTO slogans—assembled in the street next to a Sogo department store in Causeway Bay. Most of them sat on the ground holding lit candles while several farmers offered more candles to crowds of curious onlookers.
“Let’s fight WTO together,” a farmer said as he handed candles to people.
The farmers performed cultural dances and drummed. Speakers thanked Hong Kong residents for their warmth and hospitality in spite of the unfavorable press coverage that had been circulating about Korean protesters.
The assembly, which had been calm, then broke out into unexpected dancing as the drumming rapidly intensified. The contrast was startling. Previously placid faces of the farmers—mostly men in their thirties and older—shone as they kicked their legs recklessly. Dancing in a snakelike formation, the farmers circled the area and pushed further into the street as confused cops watched from afar and reporters jostled for better positions. Korean farmers, Via Campesina delegates, and other anti-WTO activists stomped and danced upon a red, white and blue flag of skulls and stripes on which the word “Fuck” had been written prominently. The festivities, led by the Korean farmers, spilled out into the street. Thrilled participants ran down streets to Victoria Park and then to a location where buses had arrived. The drumming concluded and the farmers boarded the buses in an orderly fashion. The buses pulled away as the remaining protesters dispersed.
Although police lines and barricades still separate protestors from the Hong Kong Convention Center, the battle outside the conference and the battle inside are undeniably joined. The widespread street actions in Seattle at the 1999 WTO Ministerial are credited with providing delegates from under-developed countries the opportunity to move against the proposals pushed by more powerful countries. During the opening plenary of the 2005 Ministerial meeting on Tuesday, delegates from NGO’s held up placards with statements like “WTO kills farmers.” Others unfurled a banner reading “no deal is better than a bad deal,” echoing the chants of protestors outside. And as protestors vow to keep trying to break into the convention center, the alliance of African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries are holding firm against the “free-trade” agenda being advanced by the US and European Union.
On the second day of negotiations the US brought forward an offer of “aid for trade.” In return for tariff reductions totaling $62 billion, a “development package” amounting to less than a penny per person, per day would be given to under-developed countries. Promises of aid have often been unfulfilled in the past, and there are no specifics given about distrubution—including whether aid would be in the form of grants or loans that would only increase the heavy debt burden of under-developed countries. Honorable Sheila Kawamara Mishambi from the East African Legislative Assembly dismissed the “aid for trade” deal outright as “a smoke screen to smuggle in other issues that do not benefit us.”
Since the last ministerial meeting in Cancun, India, Brazil and Argentina continue to align with the richest nations, hoping to further their own interests against those of other under-developed countries. But the African nations and others from less developed countries (LDCs) have decided to “swim together or sink together,” and key negotiations on agriculture and services continue to be stalled. According to Lori Wallach, Director of Public Citizen’s Trade Watch, the offer made by the US today “actually highlights the crisis at the WTO when the Bush administration has to cook up a development package to try to get the developing countries to not walk out of the negotiations.”