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  Volume 101, No. 135 Thursday, April 19, 2001  

Demonstrations will test limits of free speech

If this agreement were in the public interest, why is it so
hidden from the public?

By Travis Metcalfe
Daily Texan Columnist

Imagine that the University administration is about to make an important decision that will have a dramatic impact on your future. Suppose they have invited the Board of Regents, a few legislators and some prominent business leaders to participate in the decision making process, but no students, faculty or staff will be included in the discussion. Outraged, the campus mobilizes to protest the secret negotiations, knowing that the outcome is likely to enrich those present inside the meeting at the expense of everyone else.

Now imagine that on the day of the meeting you arrive at the University, only to find that the campus has been surrounded by a 10-foot-high barbed-wire fence with security check-points manned by UT police officers. They are dressed in full-body armor and are brandishing billy clubs, pepper spray and tear gas. Intimidated yet?

The security officers inform you that the campus is closed to anyone who doesn't have a security clearance badge and, if you have a problem with that, you are free to protest in the designated area: Waterloo Park (and even there, no bullhorns are allowed). You argue that the administrators who have erected this security zone, and who are making secret deals on the inside, will never see or hear your protests from so far away. Of course you are right, but this guy has pepper spray and he's not afraid to use it.

If you are outraged by this scenario, then pay close attention to what's about to go down in Quebec City, Canada this weekend. Representatives from 34 countries will gather on April 20 for the Summit of the Americas to put the finishing touches on a secret trade pact that even most members of Congress don't know anything about.

The so-called Free Trade Area of the Americas that would be established by this agreement combines some of the worst elements of the North American Free Trade Agreement with the anti-democratic structure of the World Trade Organization to govern trade and investments across the entire Western Hemisphere.

The FTAA will maximize corporate profits at the expense of workers, human health, the environment and democracy. For example, it will prevent Brazil from manufacturing inexpensive generic versions of drugs to treat poor people infected with HIV by extending U.S.-style monopoly patent protections to all 34 member nations. They call this "free" trade?

Citizens who take the time to educate themselves about the pact will quickly recognize it for what it is, and oppose it. Tens of thousands of such citizens will converge on Quebec this weekend to support an alternative vision of globalization that benefits everyone, not just the CEO's of giant corporations and the politicians who pocket their generous campaign contributions.

Unfortunately, there will be many obstacles keeping concerned citizens from getting their message across. There have already been numerous reports through the Independent Media Center (www.indymedia.org) of Canadian border police performing illegal searches and denying entry to demonstration organizers. Even those who make it across the border find that several square miles of downtown Quebec where the meetings will take place have been fenced off, and the 5,000 people who live inside the region have been given ID badges and security passes to enter.

The Canadian police have budgeted $10 million a day for security during the Summit. They have rented all vacant spaces inside the perimeter, and reserved every hotel room to keep the rabble out. They have purchased several new water cannons and plan to weld shut all sewer entrances. They have even emptied out a local prison to make room for anyone who gets too unruly.

All of these preparations leave you to wonder why an economic summit requires this level of isolation. If this trade agreement were really in the public interest, it wouldn't need to take place deep inside a security perimeter.

There will be a rally against the FTAA this Friday at 5:30 p.m. on the south steps of the state Capitol. To learn more about the FTAA go to www.stopftaa.org.

Metcalfe is a doctoral student in the Department of Astronomy