NAFTA Summit: I Predict a Riot

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 8/18/2007 06:56:00 PM
Ooh watching the people get lairy, it's not very pretty I tell thee...

Poor, poor Mr. Bush. His dream of a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) has been indefinitely put on the shelf. Worse yet, it seems that even the NAFTA Agreement dating from 1994 is coming under attack from Democratic presidential candidates.

This coming Monday, the leaders of the US (Bush), Canada (Harper), and Mexico (Calderon) will meet at Chateau Montebello in Quebec, Canada for a NAFTA summit. Expectations are pretty low for this summit, especially with Bush's nearly universal political unpopularity. Also scheduled to "meet" them are anti-globalization protesters of every stripe. If you will recall, we've already had an upsurge in these kinds of protests this year as evidenced by the G-8 and Atlantica gatherings. Although protest activity kind of cooled off post-9/11, it's coming back strong this year and Chateau Montebello promises to be no different. First we have the BBC on the challenges faced by the leaders at the upcoming summit:

As the three leaders of the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) meet in Canada, they face growing protectionist pressures at home…

The mood is very different from the early years of the Bush administration, when the president journeyed to Quebec to push for a Free Trade Area of the Americas, stretching from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego in Argentina and rivalling the EU in size.

But now the pressure is on Nafta, which accounts for $700bn in cross-border trade and investment, and which Mr Bush has made the cornerstone of a Security and Prosperity Partnership with his two Nafta partners.

Thousands of anti-globalisation protesters are expected to converge on the summit at the weekend, although the police have established a 25km security cordon around the site.

All the Democratic presidential candidates condemned the Nafta trade deal as unfair to workers at a rally last week organised by the US trade union federation, the AFL-CIO.

Even Hillary Clinton, whose husband Bill Clinton played a key role in getting Congress to pass the Nafta deal in 1993, expressed scepticism about whether US workers benefited from free trade deals.

"Nafta and the way it has been implemented has hurt a lot of US workers. So clearly we have to have a broad reform in how we approach trade," she told 17,000 union workers at Soldiers Field in Chicago.

Barack Obama, Hillary's main rival for the Democratic nomination for president, said US trade agreements had tilted against workers, because "corporate lobbyists" had too much influence.

US unions, who will have a strong influence on the Democratic primaries, have long held that unfair free trade deals with countries without strong labour laws have cost US workers their jobs, especially in the manufacturing sector…

It is not just in the US that there is unease about regional economic co-operation.

In Mexico, where Felipe Calderon won a narrow victory against a populist opponent last year, the costs as well as the benefits of Nafta are evident.

Mr Calderon desperately wants an immigration deal with the US to improve the rights of the millions of Mexican immigrants who have flooded across the border for a better life, despite the promise of Nafta.

But despite Mr Bush's efforts, the US Congress rejected his immigration reform plans.

At home, Mr Calderon also faces opposition from farmers to the imminent opening-up of the politically sensitive maize sector to corn imports from the US, which, it is feared, could wipe out the livelihood of many in rural areas…

Even in Canada, which has gained enormously from being able to export its raw materials freely to the US, there is frustration over the aggressive US enforcement of the trade deal.

One point of friction has been Canada's exports of softwood timber to the US housing market.

The US has long claimed that the Canadian government, which owns much of the land on which the timber was harvested, was giving its firms an unfair subsidy by not charging them enough for the right to cut down the trees.

Despite several rulings in both Nafta and the World Trade Organisation, the US has continued to pursue the matter for several years, and it is now likely to go to another arbitration court.

Canadians are worried about growing protectionist pressures in the US, and their mood has not been improved by the tight security regulations implemented in regard to cross-border travel.

Next we have the CanWest News Service on the preparations being made to isolate protesters, although some clashes have already occurred. Despite the best laid plans, I predict a riot:

The last time prime ministers and presidents gathered at Chateau Montebello, black-masked anti-globalization protesters were unheard of at international summits and the horrors of 9-11 were still 20 years in the future.

Even so, 2,000 Mounties formed a human chain around the west Quebec hotel were Pierre Trudeau, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and other leaders met for the July 1981 G7 summit. More than 100 Quebec provincial police officers kept watch over area roads, and cars couldn't park alongside the highway into the village of Montebello for five kilometres in either direction. Ontario provincial police patrolled the opposite bank of the adjacent Ottawa River.

Rooftop snipers, police boats and military scuba divers guarded the hotel, which was booked entirely by the federal government for $350,000. More than 20 Canadian Forces helicopters ferried the leaders between the summit and Ottawa -- except former president Reagan, who used a U.S. marine chopper.

Protesters aghast at the spectre of continental integration can expect even tighter security this time when Prime Minister Stephen Harper, U.S. President George W. Bush and Mexican President Felipe Calderon arrive Monday for their North American leaders summit.

They've been told to expect two protest areas east and west of the hotel property to hold 2,000 people. Plenty of trees and fencing will separate them from the proceedings, although a live video feed will allow the leaders to see and hear the protests -- if they want.

Striking a balance between the right to protest near a meeting site and the sobering realities of a post-9-11 world remains thorny for police and security officials in western societies.

Between 1997 and 2001, there were violent anti-globalization protests in Vancouver, Seattle, Genoa and Quebec City, infernos of Molotov cocktails, pepper spray and balaclavas that are all too recent for those charged with maintaining order at Monday's summit.

Police "want complete control or else the job is considered a failure," said Willem de Lint, a University of Windsor sociology professor who studies protest policing. "They want all the contingencies to be accounted for. And that's how they're evaluated."

The Canadian government once again booked the entire 211-room resort for four days, according to general manager Werner Sapp. Only a few pre-registered guests had to be rescheduled.

"For us, it's an event like any other," Sapp said last month.

Protesters initially expected a 25-kilometre security perimeter around the village, with checkpoints turning away vehicles with more than five passengers. However, RCMP Cpl. Sylvain L'Heureux said no such plans are in place. Instead, a temporary reinforced fence is being installed near the permanent barrier that already surrounds the resort. The Quebec police force will also establish a 2.1-kilometre zone around the hotel.

Even so, government officials say they want to ensure that summit participants can hear dissident voices without endangering their security. A four-year inquiry by Saskatchewan judge Ted Hughes into police behaviour at the raucous 1997 Asia-Pacific summit in Vancouver concluded that the RCMP must ensure that demonstrators can "see and be seen" by decision-makers.

As at the 2002 G8 summit in Kananaskis, Alta., a video feed showing protesters will be streamed into the summit.

Police have themselves tried to be seen through a series of public information sessions about summit security and tips for residents and business owners.

More than 150 people filed into a scorching gymnasium at Ecole St-Michel on Aug. 1 to hear from police and government speakers about road closures and business compensation. They were told that Montebello's main thoroughfare could be completely closed if demonstrations turn tense or threaten to overwhelm the village and police.

"We don't intend to close the roads at all unless they're being blocked by protesters," said Const. Melanie Larouche of the Quebec police, the force responsible for potential roadblocks and checkpoints.

The RCMP's strategic decisions are based on intelligence and meetings with protesting groups. In 2001, the force created a public order program to train officers in the handling of large demonstrations and to share intelligence and crowd-control techniques with other police agencies.

Community liaison programs and dialogue with protesters have become commonplace for police over the past 15 years. And the Internet teems with websites, message boards and social networking platforms that shed light on protest organizers and their goals. That cyber-information is instantaneous for officers on the ground with modern technology, de Lint said.

Still, tension between police and protesters has already bubbled to the surface.

Two leaders of the PGA Bloc protest group were arrested last week after a demonstration in Ottawa, sparking angry words from supporters. And controversy erupted in July when the Council of Canadians' planned summit event at a community centre six kilometres west of Montebello was cancelled. A municipal official told the group the centre was needed for security operations.

The protest areas surrounding the hotel property will likely draw comparisons to the "free speech zone" that made headlines during the 2004 Democratic national convention in Boston.

That 8,500-square-metre area, ridiculed as a "protest pen," was set between a parking lot and trailers, underneath abandoned train tracks, and surrounded by barbed wire and plastic tarp. A federal judge grudgingly denied a First Amendment appeal by protesters to dismantle the protest zone, calling the realities of post-9-11 security "irretrievably sad."

Neither designated protest areas nor event cancellations are new methods, de Lint said. During international summits in Windsor, Ont., and Quebec City, police cancelled hotel reservations and pressured campground owners to reject certain visitors.

"The protesters would prefer to have some kind of controversy, or else there's not much to report and the demonstration in a sense fails outside of the solidarity that can be built," de Lint said.

Although the Chateau Montebello compound is enclosed, rural settings generally present special challenges for police. More private property equals less public space for authorities to block off.

In 1981, local residents were told to expect 15,000 tourists, journalists and gawkers for the three-day G7 meeting - the largest largest security operation in the country's history to that point, with a price tag of $10 million.

In the end, about 2,300 officials and journalists tagged along.