Mexican Peasant Leaders Plan Cancun Protest

7 September, 2003
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By John Authers in Cancun and Sara Silver in Mexico City
Published: September 8 2003 16:50 | Last Updated: September 8
2003 16:50

Mexican peasant leaders are planning a mass demonstration against free trade on Wednesday to mark the opening of the World Trade Organisation's ministerial meeting in the Caribbean resort of Cancun.

Their attempt to reach the convention hall will be the first test of elaborate security measures introduced to the city in an attempt to avert the violence seen at other meetings of global economic policymakers in recent years.

"The objective is to arrive at the convention centre and express our disgust with what they are doing there," said Jaime Castillo, of the Popular Civic Front of Puebla, one of several peasant organisations co-ordinating the demonstration. He said he appreciated that the government had extended the organisations a "mark of respect" by providing facilities for an alternative International Peasants' Forum in Cancun, but added that it was an "emergency" and they had to demonstrate to the Mexican government and other ministers that their policies were "damaging small producers".

The demonstration in Cancun will be co-ordinated with an attempt to blockade the bridge between El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez on the northern border, in what is intended as a symbolic protest against the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) and the harm it is alleged to have caused to Mexican small producers.

Several thousand protesters, mostly from Mexico, have already arrived in Cancun, and are living in temporary tents put up by the municipal authorities in the town's parks. Organisers are hoping for about 20,000 demonstrators tomorrow and the city authorities have planned for as many as 50,000 to attend the "day of action against globalisation" planned for Saturday.

Meetings over the weekend appeared peaceful and good-humoured. The areas open to demonstrators are in Cancun's central area, well away from the spit of land, more than 20 kilometres long, which houses the official delegates in the city's hotel zone. Police and troops have already erected barricades across the one access road to the hotel zone to try to ensure that protesters are not able to attack the conference centre.

Hector de la Cueva of the Mexican Action Network Against Free Trade complained of a "two-faced policy" by the Mexican government. "They are giving us these facilities, although really these facilities haven't been so easy to use," he said. "But they've also strengthened security to make sure there are no demonstrators at the so-called kilometre zero [the convention centre]."

Global Exchange, one of the organisations attempting to co-ordinate the demonstrations, said the protests would be "larger, more widespread, and better organized than originally anticipated.

"After a slow and somewhat messy build-up over the last six months, it seems that the protesters may well surprise everyone, including themselves, by upstaging and indeed de-railing the WTO!"


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