The peoples of Latin America are in the throws of a common struggle to stop the Free Trade Area of the Americas. If it is passed, the FTAA (or ALCA by its Spanish acronym) will consolidate US control over the continent. The popular movement in Brazil has forced a referendum on whether or not to accept the FTAA. Attention is focused on the Seventh Summit of the FTAA nations which will take place on 31 October in Quito. Ecuadorean indigenous and social movements have called for 27 October to 1 November to be Continental Days of Resistance. An alliance of social movements will meet at the Second Hemispheric Conference of Struggle Against the FTAA in La Habana, Cuba 25 – 28 November, and planning is already under way for mass mobilisations against the FTAA to take place in Buenos Aires, Argentina in April 2003. Why has blocking the FTAA become the focus of Latin American resistance to neoliberalism?
In this section we introduce the issues.
FTAA – More Misery for Latin America
The Third Summit of the Americas took place on 20 April 2001 in Quebec. 34 governments agreed that by January 2006 nearly all of the Americas encompassing 800 million people (Cuba was excluded) will become a free trade area for the movement of goods – meat, wheat, computers, chemicals. This decision is due to be ratified at the Fourth Summit in Argentina in April 2003.
The FTAA is presented as the salvation for the economies of the region. Open markets will bring prosperity and well being. This is the big project of the United States for the Americas in the 21st century; it will entail the free movement of US capital as well as goods.
The US economy has been running on a prolonged trade deficit. Washington hopes to overcome US overproduction by filling Latin America (LA) with its exports. But LA has been suffering for more than a decade the effects of neoliberal capitalism. The imposition of Structural Adjustment Programmes imposed by the IMF is the common theme: reduction of public spending; privatisations; destruction of jobs; reforms of tax and social security and macroeconomic policies that have contracted internal demand. All of this has impacted on labour, resulting in lower wages and the multinationals move industrial production from the north to areas of lower development, and much lower costs (the most notorious case is of US corporations shifting to Mexico under NAFTA). The essence of FTAA is to expand NAFTA to a continental scale, that US capital should now be able to move freely anywhere in LA to take advantage of lower labour costs. The great profits generated will be due to miserable wages. Another important part of the proposal is that there will be six sub-regional blocks within the FTAA to develop infrastructure, moulded to US needs.
The US Empire has serious competitors in Japan and most especially the European Union. The economic integration of Europe is quite advanced, the countries have similar or at least comparable economies and it is an alliance of, if not equals, at least partners. The FTAA is the opposite. Our economies are completely asymmetric. The US has 75% of the continent’s total GDP, while the other 33 countries combined have only 25%. And the US has strong measures to protect and subsidise its agriculture and other sectors, which is not true for the other countries.
There is another issue, which is political. What will be the price of joining the FTAA? LA governments will be obliged to maintain 'democratic regimes', to co-operate in the fight against drugs, to align themselves with US foreign policies such as the exclusion of Cuba, and to engage in its counter insurgency programmes. All these point to the loss of national sovereignty.
Geo-politically, the USA wants allies in its camp in the trade negotiations at the WTO. It wants a regional economic block that will help to impose its will over Europe.
Socially, it is very clear that the FTAA will mean economic integration without social benefits or guarantees. The result will be an accelerated widening of the gulf between the rich and the poor, more plunder of our natural resources, total subjection of our industries to US multinationals, more and more sweatshop maquiladoras, dollarisation and subjection to the decisions of the World Bank and WTO.
The FTAA in Colombia
All of the above and more apply to Colombia, which after 12 years of neoliberalism is now in a critical condition. In 1999 we suffered our worst ever economic crisis and have still not recovered. Just some of the indicators:
- dramatically rising external debt, up from 31.3% of GDP in 1994 to 46.8% in 2000;
- the total cultivable land area has fallen from 4.8 million hectares in 1990 to 3.0 million hectares in 1999;
- official unemployment has reached over 20%, add to this informal employment, temporary contracts and sub-employment and the reality is clear, only a small minority of workers have regular full time jobs;
- between 1991 and 1998 the minimum wage lost 12.5% of its value, and is today worth $128 a month.
Like the collapse in Argentina, Colombia's crisis in 1999 and its aftermath marks the end of neoliberalism. The question is, what comes next?
After neoliberalism, they are saying, we need more globalisation! But globalisation is the fruit of neoliberalism, a doctrine that deepens the iniquities and inequities of the current world economic order, that increases the exploitation of workers in every country and most especially those in the underdeveloped countries. The fundamental objective of globalisation (faithful to the logic of capital, that is accumulation) is the concentration and centralisation of capital.
I believe that globalisation is a grand strategy that will inevitably stir up class struggle against the capitalist order. Just as globalisation means a world for the multinationals, so FTAA means a continent for the US multinationals. There is a clear obligation to resist the FTAA and find the new forms of class struggle we need to defeat it.