The FTAA, Globalization, and the Future of Democracy

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      ,
the Free Trade Area of the Americas
(FTAA) will lower environmental standards,
force workers to compete across
borders for the lowest wages, enable
transnational corporations to slash health
care benefits and eliminate generic drugs,
facilitate speculative and predatory
investment in developing nations, and
throw out existing laws regarding mergers
and monopolies. In short, the FTAA
will usher in a new era of capitalist
exploitation on a hemispheric scale.
Moreover, as the unprecedented display
of military hardware and police forces
during the FTAA protests in Miami in
November 2003 demonstrated, the international
elites backing the FTAA rely on
local, regional, and national police forces
to keep their actions secret and to spare
them the wrath of protesters. Indeed,
“protecting” the FTAA ministers from the
tens of thousands of protesters who had
gathered in Miami turned that city into
an armed enclave where free speech was
curtailed, schools were closed, public
transportation was shut down, and civil
liberties were literally beaten into submission.
When combined with state funds,
corporate grants, and private donations,
Miami raised a total of $12 million to
fund these paramilitary operations.
Protesting against the FTAA meetings in
Miami thus also meant defending
democracy against an encroaching police
The FTAA proposes to encircle the
entire western hemisphere, from the Arctic
Circle to the southernmost tip of
South America; it will encompass 800
million people in 34 nations in North,
Central, and South America and the
Caribbean, covering everybody but Cuba.
The FTAA thus amounts to an enlarged
version of the North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA), which was a point
for debate in the 1992 elections and came
into effect two years later in 1994. Championed
as a crucial step in triggering a
new era of globalization, NAFTA was
supposed to build a global economy concurrent
with U.S interests, increase development,
and create more jobs in the U.S.,
Mexico, and Canada. But if the FTAA follows
NAFTA’s legacy, the outlook for
American labor is bleak; since the implementation
of NAFTA, nearly one million
U.S. workers have lost their jobs, mainly
in manufacturing industries that produce
textiles and apparel, vehicles, computers,
and electrical appliances. Here in Illinois,
according to a November 2003 brief
issued by the Economic Policy Institute
(EPI), NAFTA enabled companies to shift
production elsewhere, thus costing
44,325 jobs between 1993 and 2002.
Moreover, as higher-paid, skilled workers
move from declining industries to the
service sector, which pays on average only
81% of manufacturing jobs, wages are
driven down across the board. The AFLCIO
thus reports that, when adjusted for
cost of living, wages for non-college-educated
workers in the U.S. have decreased
steadily since NAFTA and that nearly
75% of the entire workforce is comprised
of this group. If NAFTA is any indication
of what the FTAA might do, we can anticipate
it leading to lost jobs and lower
While we should be alarmed about
what NAFTA has done to the U.S., its
effects on Mexico, presaging the FTAA’s
effects on the rest of Latin America, are
equally frightening. Since NAFTA was
passed, eight million Mexicans have fallen
into poverty, Mexican wages – which
were a whopping $5 dollars a day in the
first place – have gone down, and American
subsidies on agriculture have decimated
small farmers. In fact, one million
Mexican peasant farmers have been driven
into poverty since the passage of
NAFTA. “NAFTA on steroids,” as the
FTAA is described, will follow a similar
trajectory and drive down wages, cost
jobs, and shatter local communities.
While subsidized U.S. agricultural
products destroy local farmers in Mexico,
goods made in Maquiladora zones –
often by women under terrible factory
conditions – undercut U.S.-made products,
or simply take over the production
of goods once made in the U.S., triggering
a massive trade imbalance. In fact, the
EPI reports that “growth in imports of
195.3% from Mexico and 61.1% from
Canada overwhelmingly surpass export
growth,” meaning that we are buying
more from our NAFTA partners than we
are selling to them. The U.S. economy is
thus left with a tremendous NAFTAfueled
international trade deficit in goods
and services of almost $40 billion. Given
the likelihood that the FTAA will accelerate
the trends begun by NAFTA we may
expect the FTAA to expand our national
trade deficit, thereby further weakening
the chances of economic growth and
recovery in the U.S.
Furthermore, the FTAA proposes to
override local governance, literally creating
a supra-national set of rules made by,
enacted for, and enforced for the interests
of the few. For example, the FTAA’s Multilateral
Agreement on Investment
(MAI), modeled after NAFTA’s littleknown
Chapter 11, protects foreign
investors by allowing them to bypass and
sometimes overturn local environmental
and public health laws. Ralph Nader’s
Public Citizen explains that the MAIs will
allow investor-to-state suits, where corporations
sue governments and localities
for lost profits. One example is U.S.-
based Metalclad Corp., which claimed
that environmental zoning laws in one
Mexican state were unfairly restrictive
and so forced the government to pay $16
million in damages to the corporation.
Chapter 11 does more than just enable
U.S. companies to pick on poor Mexicans,
however, as the Loewen Group, a
Canadian funeral home chain, won $750
million from the U.S. government after a
Mississippi court held the chain responsible
for malicious and fraudulent business
practices. Imagine, a U.S. state court’s
findings being overruled by the NAFTA
star court! What U.S. law calls fraud,
NAFTA calls good business. Such findings
foreshadow a world in which the rule
of checks-and-balances and representative
government are trampled by the rush
for profit.
Fortunately, the most recent round of
negotiations in Miami in November 2003
slowed the pace of the FTAA. Pressure
from Brazil, a country that sees the FTAA
as U.S.-annexation and that led the dissension
that broke down WTO talks in
Cancún two months prior, led to what
some call FTAA-a la carte. Rather than
creating a hemispheric trade bloc by
2005, the Ministerial Conference agreed
on a lighter version of the FTAA that
includes more bilateral and sub-regional
agreements such as CAFTA, the Central
American Free Trade Agreement passed
in December of 2003. Critics say such
actions simply give the U.S. more puppet
strings to pull. Indeed, because President
Bush has been granted Fast-Track ability
to strike agreements without congressional
consent, he is able to use NAFTA, CAFTA, and other smaller trade agreements
to make deals that are sure to be
friendly to big investors and harmful to
human rights. The official Ministerial
Declaration nevertheless announces that
it remains committed “to a comprehensive
and balanced FTAA that will most
effectively foster economic growth, the
reduction of poverty, development, and
integration through trade liberalization.”
As we have demonstrated here, such
claims are little more than lies.
While the fight against the FTAA is
crucial for protecting jobs, wages, and
local governance, the recent protests
against the FTAA in Miami also demonstrated
how the FTAA is leading to the
production of a police state where civil
liberties are crushed in the name of
national security. Indeed, the $87 billion
approved by Congress for President
Bush’s War on Iraq in early November
actually included $8.5 million for Miami
to arm and train its police to fight what it
assumed would be hundreds of thousands
of violent anti-FTAA protesters.
Miami used the post-Seattle and post-
9/11 fear of public disturbances to raise
an additional $3.5 million.Mayor Manny
Diaz proudly announced that Miami’s
FTAA-spawned police state was “a model
of homeland defense,” despite widespread
outrage over the city’s tactics in repressing
protesters. Relying on such War
Against Terrorism terminology to
describe protesters turned those of us
exercising our constitutional rights into
potential terrorists. In anticipation of our
“terrorism,” Miami leased fire trucks to
use as water cannons. It bought saws,
jackhammers, stun guns, bicycles, pepper
gas, rubber bullets, and tasers for police
who at one point called themselves
“RoboCops.” Galloping in groups of a
hundred and more, police rode giant
horses along the march route, shadowing
our peaceful actions with a veritable cavalry.
The city police were reinforced by
U.S. Marshals, the Coast Guard, the Federal
Protective Service, and forces from
surrounding towns. In short, the FTAA
meetings enabled Miami to experiment
with a wide array of paramilitary techniques,
directed at protesters, meant to
curtail free speech, and which trampled
on civil liberties.
Nonetheless, the corporate mainstream
press portrayed events in Miami
as yet another struggle between the forces
of good (police) and evil (crazed anarchists
like us). As we demonstrate below
in commentary on photographs we took
at the main march in Miami, that narrative
is as full of holes as the promises
offered by NAFTA and FTAA supporters.
On the foul results of NAFTA, see
Celia Dugger, “Report Finds Fewer Benefits
for Mexico in NAFTA,” New York
Times (18 November 2003): A9; Down on
the Farm: NAFTA’s Seven-Years War on
Farmers and Ranchers in Alabama, a
2001 report by Public Citizen’s Global
Trade Watch, available at; and Robert Scott, The
High Price of ‘Free’ Trade, a report from
the EPI, available at
For coverage of the FTAA protests, see
Tom Hayden,“FTAA Ship Runs Aground,
But Party Goes On,” posted 30 November
2003 and “Miami Vice,” posted 20
November 2003, both on Alternet,; Rebecca Solnit, “Fragments
of the Future: The FTAA in
Miami,” posted 25 November 2003 on
Alternet; Jeremy Scahill, “The Miami
Model: Paramilitaries, Embedded Journalists
and Illegal Protests: Think This is
Iraq? It’s Miami,” posted on 24 November
2003 on CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.
org; and Indymedia’s stories and
links on and Meghan
Krausch’s article in the December 2003
issue of The Public i, archived at
For the big picture of how the FTAA
fits into globalization, see Ellen Meiksins
Wood, Empire of Capital (Verso, 2003),
130-168 and Amy Chua, World on Fire:
How Exporting Free Market Democracy
Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability
(Anchor, 2003), 229-294.
For websites full of information on
these topics, see Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen,; the economic and
human rights clearinghouse of Global
Exchange,; debt
and deficit information at; and union and labor
perspectives at
The Official FTAA site, with links to
Ministerial Declarations, is www.ftaaacla.
org; see materials posted by the
World Trade Organization at; the World Bank’s reports
on “development” are available at

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