MIAMI, FLORIDA–Anti-globalization protesters are good at making puppets and making noise. They’re not so great at making sense, though: Otherwise, they might recognize the irony of their efforts here in Miami.
The global movement against globalization thrives in the one of the most globalized cities in America. The protesters are in town to decry the Free Trade Area of the Americas, an effort to promote regional integration among the 34 countries of North and South America (excluding Cuba).
Miami not only demonstrates the benefits of globalization–its population hails from all over the world, it’s a key location in the hemisphere for business and travel, and it represents a crossroad of cultures–but also clearly shows the dangers of globalization’s opposite: closed economies, nationalism, excessive state intervention, and dictatorship.
Most of the people in Miami did not come here for the beaches or the weather–they came escaping oppression. Miami is known for its large community of Cuban exiles, who fled (and continue to flee) Castro’s repressive regime. But there are just as many here who have fled less violent, but no less untenable, situations: poverty and economic hopelessness. Indeed, in the last few years, economic instability in Argentina and political crises in Venezuela have led to renewed immigration from both countries.
Many of the protesters here, and leftist pundits like Naomi Klein, have actually hailed Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for resisting American “imperialism” and for reinvigorating leftist dissent. On the final day of negotiations here, the Venezuelan government released a memorandum outlining their vision for the Americas. The document argues that “the region’s experience in recent decades suggests that the liberalization policies formulated by the Washington Consensus are not those that most favor growth. Nor is a market-oriented globalization model the best guarantee for preserving and boosting multiple cultural traditions or the biological and environmental diversity and wealth that make life possible.” Not surprisingly, the memorandum goes on to tout the success of import-substitution industrialization strategies of the 1960s and 1970s, and the need to address inequality in the Western Hemisphere. For some reason, it fails to mention the bloated and inefficient bureaucracy, services, and industry that those policies created, and the debt crisis of the 1980s.
After several years in office, Chavez has certainly succeeded in reducing inequality in Venezuela. Unfortunately, it results from making Venezuelans equally poorer, rather than improving things. Chavez seems to be backtracking to the unstable and unsustainable economic policies of the past–reasserting excessive state control over the oil industry, implementing foreign exchange controls, and exercising heavy-handed involvement in all sectors of public life. He is corrupting and controlling many of Venezuela’s key institutions; his actions prompted widespread strikes and violent clashes earlier this year. Chavez’s politically appointed National Election Committee recently rejected a petition by 2.4 million Venezuelans calling for a referendum on Chavez that could lead to his recall. The referendum is part of the Constitution that Chavez himself created in 1999, and a policy he praised, though he seems to be doing everything in his power to prevent its actual use.
But many protesters here prefer rhetoric to reality, so countries that resist America, like Venezuela and Brazil, are hailed as heroes.
Last year, Brazilians elected longtime leftist leader (and perpetual candidate, a la Ralph Nader) Lula da Silva to the presidency. Lula surprised many of his supporters by taking measures to reassure investors, and by not implementing the socialist revolution many had hoped he would. Once in office, Lula realized that as South America’s largest market, and a natural destination for many businesses, Brazil would need him to maintain policies that keep her competitive and open to investment. Indeed, he’s even made some necessary efforts to reform pension and labor laws, which have faced opposition from many supporters and lawmakers in his party.
But at the World Trade Organization meeting in Mexico, and now in Miami, Brazil has delighted the protesters by playing a spoiler role. Brazil led the G21 group of countries fighting against agricultural subsidies in Cancun. While this was an entirely laudable goal–the use of such subsidies in Europe and Japan artificially lowers world agricultural prices, making it difficult for poor countries to compete with farmers in the first world–the G21 refused to open its own markets, seeing liberalization as a one-way street. The Cancun power play showed developing world muscle but not much else. The trade talks collapsed, and poor countries must now wait for the next ministerial until they see any agriculture reforms.
On the streets, the protesters have supported a variety of causes. They want to protect jobs in the U.S. and protect workers in poor countries. They also want to protect developing countries from cultural, economic, and political imperialism (but just of the American variety; its okay if there’s a Mexican restaurant on every block in New York, but not if there’s a McDonald’s in Puebla).
But someone needs to protect developing countries from the protesters. The ministers of Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru were jubilant during a press conference announcing the U.S. decision to pursue bilateral agreements with them. Frustrated with the slow pace of WTO and FTAA negotiations, they hailed the accords as a way to speed up market access and improve their economies.
As if to highlight their cluelessness, the protesters are still planning to march today even though the negotiations ended in a flurry of self-congratulations last night. But there you have it, a group of “pro-poor” protesters supporting countries that lately seem to specialize in pro-poverty policies. They’re “anti-imperialists” who want to impose their own rules on cultural and economic exchange. And they’re “advocates” for developing countries who haven’t quite realized that inside the convention center, those very same developing countries were celebrating free trade, not rejecting it.
– The author is media director of the International Policy Network, a London-based charity which is running a Global Freedom to Trade campaign.