The Death of the WTO was Declared in Korean, yesterday the official language of the protests. (Cancún, México) A March without Violence.
Published in La Jornada of Mexico, September 14, 2003. By Luis Hernandez Navarro and Fabiola Martinez (as translated by Stephen Bartlett)
Upon the remains of three destroyed metallic barricades, with 1500 people seated in silence upon the wet ground, two Koreans set fire to a couple of cardboard, cloth and wooden figures representing the World Trade Organization (WTO). When the smoke replaced the flames someone took out an enormous US flag and burned it too. The multitude got to their feet and burst out in jubilation. The barricades that separated the ’alter-worlders’ (altermundistas) from the Federal Preventative Police was torn down. The movement had obtained a symbolic triumph. "We have won. We can say with conviction that the WTO will die" one of the Koreans said with assurance. Officially at this point, the protest of September 13th had ended.
Despite the labor participation and the NGOs, the march was led by the memory of Lee. The official language of the mobilization against the WTO was Korean.
The thing is that more than one single initiative, this protest "Against globalization and militarization" had become two distinct actions with the same point of departure and two different ends. One was made up by small contingents of labor people who, as they arrived at Kilometer Zero had a meeting and then withdrew. The other, constituted by the Korean delegation, members of the Via Campesina and youth belonging to groups of direct action, continued to the barricades which separate the hotel zone from the city with one objective: to tear it down.
The fact that such a dissimilar convergence of forces had succeeded in unifying around the reach and the limits of the initiative has only one explanation: the enormous moral and political authority acquired by the Korean delegation among the ’globalization critics’ (globalicríticos). The Koreans, on a basis of previous work achieved by the Via Campesina, made possible this miracle that the distinct groups of the Black Block, and the forces of the White Block (promoters of civil disobedience that rejects actions of selective violence) collaborated in the security details and in keeping order in the march, practically without friction. Also achieved was the commitment to not provoke confrontations with the police.
It was because of this convergence that action groups took control of the positions along the barricade (when someone exploded a paloma and another lit up a blowtorch), and (these action groups) began to try to break the chains the police had used to bind the barricades together, before the whole contingent (of violent protesters or provocateurs) could arrive. One of the members of the security and order service let it be known: "No provocation will be accepted. We will not permit five idiots to provoke violence. We will not allow anyone to come here to create chaos. We have come well coordinated."
Minutes later a large column of women, among them indigenous women from Chiapas who were acclaimed by the multitude with shouts of "E Z L N" (Zapatista National Army of Liberation), occupied the place in front to control operations.
Mr. Lee From its beginning, creativity and imagination were the stamp of the march. Marchers had drawn a large picket of the Mayan God of the Moon: "Invincible Female Warrior" to destroy the WTO, and there was a cardboard articulated statue of the figure of Chac, Mayan deity of rain, angry because of "privatization of water," which was pushed the whole way.
Bringing up the rear was a conglomeration of organizations that originally were to be marching in front: unionists, environmentalists, indigenous, students. At the extreme rear were dozens of representatives of the Mexican Electricians Union. For the occasion they had brought out their best slogans, such as: "Fox, entiende, la patria no se vende… Aqui se ve las fuerzas del SME" (Fox, understand, the patria is not for sale… Here you see the forces of the SME.). Further up were some Teamsters from the U.S. and a contingent of the FAT union front of Mexico. Small commissions of social security workers also arrived, from section 18 of the CNTE and from the Mexican Petroleum Institute.
(I will skip a discussion of the Mexican union groups which came in far fewer numbers than had been claimed in advance, and a speech made at the International Labor Forum decrying too much talk and analysis and not enough mobilization and action).
In any case, the march had a fetive mood. The band of Seattle, International Noise Brigade, animated the protest indefatigably. Mixing music from around the world, these youth were dressed in grey-black suits with luminous orange stripes, the colors those of the uniform of the sanitation workers from their city. The Disobedients, also marked rhythms with tambores and timbales. Very happily following them, with the intention of preserving "peaceful resistance" were dozens of groups from an equal number of causes. There were the representatives of Global Resistance, the Social Network for Public Education in America and FIAN, an organization that promotes the right to food as a fundamental human right.
Further up participating in this celebration were the Women’s Environment Development Organization and members of the Green Party of Italy and the U.S., followed by three youth with long flowery outfits, representing the gay and lesbian community.
About half of the contingent corresponded to the Via Campesina. There were representatives from Uruguay, Canada, Haiti, Mexico, South Afirca, and also small producers from Japan, Indonesia, Thailand. Occupying the central place marched the Koreans, with their beige vests and red bands on their right wrists. Surrounding them, as part of the services of order, marched the Black Block.
Dozens of pancartes with the phrase: "WTO Kills Farmers. Lee did not die… The WTO Killed Him!" were carried by the compañeros of Lee Kyung Hae. Three days after his death, his presence had become so strong that, most probably, Cancun will always be associated with his name.
South Korean Militancy In the South Korean’s farmers’ movement there exists a long tradition of radical struggle coming out of the mobilization for profound agrarian reform. Resistance to the dictatorship has fed them. Under the shadow of the successful distribution of lands in North Korea, rural reforms in the south tried to placate the ghost of communism. The agrarian repartitions distributed to small farmers parcels no larger than 2 hectares (about 5 acres), and established policies of development with generous guaranteed prices for agricultural producers. Farmers acquired a living standard equivalent in many cases to that of the middle class.
Most probably it is this inheritance of radical struggle that led one of their leaders to affirm: "We see that there is a diferent cultural tradition among the distinct organizations that have come together in Cancun. When we say that we will undertake strong actions, this means strong actions that can lead as a consequence to arrests and injuries."
The Uruguay Round, that liberalized agricultural markets, turned this situation around. It did away with subsidies and obliged an opening of borders, making it impossible for small land holder family farmers to survive. Gradually the farmers saw their living standard drop until today they are at the level of Mexican farmers. Bankruptsies, abandonment of parcels and the suicides of heads of families became a kind of epidemic.
The rejection of the WTO, then, does not stem from ideological considerations but from profound experience. These policies are condemning the farmers to disappearance. That is why Lee immolated himself. That is why they are today in Cancun struggling as they are.
Campesino Knowledge vs. Robocop Technology Two women of the cordon protecting the barricade crawl about in and on it. With the help of large metal cutters they cut the metal web and the barbed wire. After a while they are relieved by others. "We are like ants" says one of them.
The barricade is a complex of three distinct structures united by thick chains and transversal reinforcements. Various concrete blocks on the ground make it difficult to move. It is impossible to open it by pushing, leveraging or blowtorching. It is Robocop crowd-control technology.
While the women continue their labors, some Koreans open a way through the throng. Jun Ki Hwan, member of the Planning Committee of the Campesino League of Korea is its leader. From this moment he will take control of the task. He represents farmers know how.
When the chain link is sufficiently broken by the brigade directed by Jun, he ties two thick cords of braided rope to the top of the structure. Giving instructions with a whistle and making signals with his hands, he directs those with the bolt cutters. They are Koreans and youth of many nationalities who pull back on the ropes. They initiate a long battle to create an opening in the barricade. A battle that lasted more than an hour and required the ropes to be relocated periodically. A battle animated from time to time by slogans favoring the Zapatistas. A battle that required five collective pulls, lightened by the ritual drums, in order for them to reach their goal.
Because it was the fifth pull when the fence came apart slowly. The irons twisted as if they were living beings struck through by an immense pain in a struggle between life and death. And when it could no longer resist and gave way to the combination of knowledge of the farmers unified in action, the public plaza became a huge party. The farmers shouted and celebrated with the punk, the Asians with the indigenous. Completely detached from its foundations and set to one side of the road, the metal structure fell victim to the anger and rage of many protesters who kicked it and struck it with sticks.
Then began a new homage to Lee. Once more, after the tearing down of the wall. "We will not allow this death to be in vain. He sacrificed his life to do away with the WTO and to achieve the organization of the peoples," said his compañeros, while the multitude shouted "Lee, Lee, Lee." With the audience seated upon the wet ground, different speakers, most of them Korean, held forth. Some women complained that no women had spoken and toward the end a Mexican and an African woman each spoke. The message heard throughout the distinct voices was the same: "If we were capable of destroying the barriers to the WTO, we will be capable of destroying the institution of the WTO. With the people power we will be able to destroy the WTO and neoliberalism."
The speeches concluded, it was time to burn the Judas WTO. When it had ceased to burn, together with the flag of the stars and stripes, the multitude again broke out in jubilation. The party again. Hundreds of Chrysanthemums were handed out among the protesters. Standing, with the flowers held aloft, an enormous collective floral arrangement was drawn. The Koreans began to give their straw hats to their protectors. More hugs. With drums and music the protest band turned the mood into a party.
Ideology? While the multitude returned to Kilometer Zero, some people were looking for confrontations with the police. The moment of greatest jubilation became one of greatest risk. Someone repeatedly sloshed a pale with 20 kilos of shit towards the police who now stood in the breach of the broken barricade. Those in uniform advanced. Panic took over some of the protesters.
There began a conflict between the youth who called on everyone to return to Kilometer Zero and those who wanted a confrontation with the police. Decomposed, some militants from a local Cancun group began to accuse everyone else of being "sell outs" and for having negotiated away the movement. "They distracted us." One of the youth responded: "If you want to screw your m____, go ahead once the people have left." Without much tact, his adversary responded: "we prefer to die, but not alone."
The accusations came down in a cascade: the worse of all was repeated with insistence: petit bourgeois. "You have a future. You are defending the police. The indigenous and the farmers are not here," said those who wanted to confront the public forces. In response, there was no lack of statements that those making such severe criticisms were connected to the governor of Quintana Roo, member of the PRI, and that they were trying to create problems for the mayor of Cancun, a militant of the Green Party.
Little by little, the protesters returned to the encampment of the Koreans. One of the remains on the barricade was the charred ashes of the effigies representing the WTO. On one of them the head had survived, looking like a horror film from Hollywood.