A Letter from the Editors: The Miami Model in Your Face

Posted December 31, 2003

THE MAJOR POLICE riot in Miami around the November 19-21 Free Trade of the Americas Ministerial Summit was an operation undoubtedly as thoroughly planned as it was obscene.  This was a deliberate, bare-knuckled threat: Assemble in 2004 against war, “free trade,” the Republican Convention or roundup of immigrants under the police-state monstrosity known as Homeland Security, and this is what you’ll get.

The menace of what is now called the “Miami Model” is not disguised.  Between November 11-22 a total of 282 arrests were reported, according to Miami Activist Defense (MAD), along with “dozens of reports of injuries sustained from the vast array of weaponry, which included batons, tear gas, pepper spray, plastic and rubber bullets, concussion grenades, tasers and electric shields.”

Accounts from arrested activists and legal observers included the following details: a young African-American man, pepper sprayed directly in the eyes and not allowed to wash them out; a young Hispanic man who could not raise his arms or feel his fingers after police beatings; arrested people stripped of their clothes and blasted with pressure hoses every two hours; a young woman arrested being forced to perform oral sex on a police officer in the jail.

Nor is it accidental that the gassing, beating and even threatened shooting of peaceful protests for global justice occurred in the same place that the presidential election of November, 2000 was stolen by the Bush family—that Election Day when thousands of African Americans found themselves mysteriously purged from the Florida voter registration rolls, while many more were turned back when Gov. Jeb Bush placed state police roadblocks in the streets in a fake “crime sweep.”

This time around, the demonstration of state power—including the FBI, local police and Department of Fish and Wildlife—was explicitly funded under a provision of George W. Bush’s $87 billion appropriation for occupation operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which allocated nine million bucks in spare change for crowd control at the Miami FTAA meeting.

Just so the Bush regime can’t be accused of totally neglecting vital domestic needs, we as U.S. taxpayers get to experience a tiny taste of the generosity bestowed on the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Iraqis get villages fenced off with barbed wire by U.S. troops as reprisal for resistance, Afghans see ten children and their uncle killed in an A-10 “warthog” bombing raid looking for one guerilla suspect (who it turns out had cleared out weeks earlier); we get mass arrests and pepper spray for exercising the Constitutionally enshrined right of assembly to petition for the redress of grievances.

What grievances?  Ten years after the North American Free Trade Agreement, what reasonable or enlightened friend of economic growth could oppose extending its magnificent benefits throughout the hemisphere, through the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas)?

The Democratic, Republican and “nonpartisan” elites who sold NAFTA in the Clinton administration lectured us how wrongheaded it was to view “free trade” as a “zero-sum game.”  Experience has proven them perversely right: It’s been a negative-sum game all around.

North American manufacturing jobs fled southward, and even more importantly, bosses threatened to close plants unless they got concessions, and unions agreed.  But Mexican gains from U.S. and Canadian losses proved elusive: Those jobs have now migrated further offshore, to China or South Asia. Wal-Mart is now the largest employer in Mexico, spreading its anti-union and poverty-wage gospel all around; something like 1.5 million Mexican farms have been destroyed by unstoppable, heavily subsidized U.S. agribusiness exports.  Entire Mexican villages have lost their economically active male populations, who migrate northward en masse.

And so somewhere between 10-25,000 protesters converged on Miami: United Steel Workers, AFL-CIO unionists, Global Exchange, young veterans of previous global justice mobilizations.  Many dozens of union buses were held up to prevent them from reaching the AFL-CIO rally; Medea Benjamin of Global Exchange, liberal activist and former California legislator Tom Hayden, among others, found themselves with loaded police guns aimed directly at them; synagogues and churches were harassed to prevent them from housing protesters.  (See www.indymedia.org)

In an unusually strong statement on the part of the U.S. labor leadership, the USWA (as well as the national AFL-CIO) called for a Congressional investigation and the firing of Miami police chief John Timoney.  Steelworker President Leo Girard wrote to Congress, saying “(T)he fundamental rights of thousands of Americans” had been “blatantly violated, sometimes violently, by the Miami police .  .  .  It is doubly condemnable that $9 million of federal funds designated for the reconstruction of Iraq were used toward this despicable purpose.  How can we hope to build democracy in Iraq while using massive force to dismantle it here at home?”

In view of the above-mentioned activities of the occupation in Iraq, as well as Paul Bremer’s plans for privatizing Iraq’s health care and selling of all Iraqi assets to the highest corporate bidder, the contradiction is not quite so glaring as it might appear.  What the “Miami Model” tells us is precisely that the rights of U.S. citizens, of immigrants and of Iraq’s people, mirroring corporate Free Trade itself, are rapidly entering that same infamous “race to the bottom.”

In a telephone interview, attorney Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice and a participant in the National Lawyers Guild task force on the Miami events, said that the most important feature was “the breadth of the police response, and the praise they received from the government and media.  What we found in Miami was a bringing together of many kinds of police tactics—paramilitary tactics that are illegal and unconstitutional, and full force violence.

“What they did is deeply offensive to all people who believe in First Amendment rights.  Attacking peaceful protesters, sweeping people off the streets in completely political profiling, targeting the legal teams and legal workers and beating and arresting them—all this is an attempt by the local and federal governments to shut down a social alternatives movement with violence.  But the consequences are that people resist that kind of repression, in the streets of this country and around the world as we’ve seen.”

In Dubious Agreement

The substantive results of the FTAA Ministerial Summit were dubious at best. Meanwhile, as this issue of Against the Current is in preparation, the latest “free trade” talks are occurring in Washington under the rubric of CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement).  As the Independent Media Center notes, CAFTA embodies the same features we know and loathe in NAFTA and FTAA:

“These include the negotiations’ lack of transparency; probable provisions to allow corporations to sue governments when laws hinder potential profits; privatization of public services and utilities; reduced labor rights; increased economic instability and financial speculation; favoring subsidized agribusiness at the expense of small farmers; and environmental destruction.

“The little known `Plan Puebla-Panama’ is also an integral part of CAFTA.”  (This scheme would place a vast network of maquila-style plants in the ecologically fragile and priceless isthmus encompassing Mexico’s southern states and Central America, strategically located for rapid overseas transport.)

For the U.S. negotiators, a major benefit of CAFTA is the absence of Brazil and Ecuador, two important Latin American countries whose resistance blocked the full “success” of the FTAA summit.  Opinions vary on the strength and significance of this resistance.

Activist and globalization expert Walden Bello, in his article “Original FTAA Version Scrapped as People Pour Into Miami for Anti-Free Trade Protest,” quotes one Latin American delegate to the traded talks: “The U.S. wanted a binding comprehensive agreement with disciplines all the way through.  The draft ministerial declaration coming out of the Trade Negotiations Committee is clearly a retreat from that.”

Bello explains that the draft’s “flexible” process “will allow Brazil and other members of the Mercosur trade area to withdraw from negotiations on investment, intellectual property, government procurement, services, investment, competition policy and other areas they do not wish to subject to mandatory liberalization (while also) it will allow the U.S. to continue its policies of massive subsidization of its agriculture by not joining negotiations on agriculture.”

This “FTAA lite” or “FTAA a la carte” have caused some global justice advocates to declare a partial victory, albeit a tenuous one. More important, perhaps, is what a veteran activist, Starhawk, observed in Miami:

“Local people were scared, but interested in what we had to say. The poor and immigrant populations of downtown Miami understand .  .  .  what the FTAA might mean for their jobs. They told us stories of water privatization in their home countries, of 16-hour work shifts on cruise ships that unions couldn’t organize because they are registered in other countries, of their daily struggle to survive on the streets, of the ongoing police brutality faced by the homeless and the poor.”

Claire Beyer, of Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality (SOLE) in Ann Arbor, Michigan, wrote of her experience: “When telling people I had bought a plane ticket to Miami and I was going down to protest FTAA, I was surprised at the number of people who didn’t know what I was talking about.  I’ve explained the framework and consequences of this agreement so many times that it’s almost automatic.  After I’ve explained it, people usually agree with me that something must be done to stop FTAA—some even have resolved to take action themselves.”  (See Labor Notes.)

Hard struggles lie ahead in all the streets of the Americas, from the USA to Brazil and Bolivia to the Southern Cone. We cover some of those in this issue of Against the Current and will do more of them in the next. At home and throughout the U.S. empire, the meaning of the “Miami Model” is increasingly clear: Homeland Security, and Free Trade, in Your Face.