August 8, 2001
A little over 500 years ago, Christopher Columbus landed
in the West Indies. His landing set off a chain of events
which changed our world forever. Once word reached Europe
of the vast riches in the New World, ships full of Conquistadors
from every major Western European nation set sail to stake
Never mind the fact that people already lived in the New
World. They were a backward people. They were not civilized
enough to properly use resources such as gold and silver.
Europeans were surrounded by the cloak of self-righteous morality.
They were going to spread the glorious word of Christianity
with the Bible in one hand and a sword in the other. Those
savages who would not convert or surrender, would die. Those
who did, would survive only to enrich their captors while
ensuring their own destruction through a cycle of disease,
hunger and poverty which continues to this day.
Now, some 500 years later, the Conquistadors are still alive
and well. Except this time, they are no longer preaching Christianity
to the rest of the world. Now their mantra is the righteousness
of free markets. Pure, unbridled capitalism is the salve to
heal the ills of the world. If only to let it proceed unchecked,
then there will be no more poverty and hunger. The only difference
between now and then is that the conquerors are clothed in
business suits rather than steel breastplates and helmets.
Free trade is not only an economic issue; it is, as President
Bush referred to it, a "moral issue" as well. I couldn't have
said it better myself. Free trade is a moral issue. True free
trade can be used to lift up developing nations and pull them
out of hunger and poverty. Unfortunately, the model which
is being pushed by multinational corporations and their governement
spokespeople is anything but free trade. Rather, it is a mechanism
of furthering the current state of impoverishment in the developing
The developed nations of the world already have more wealth
than they know what to do with. But, much like their Western
European ancestors, they are committed to acquiring all the
resources they can, no matter the cost to the poor savages
who happen to get in the way. The Conquistadors of old accomplished
this end through the use of brute force, assisted by the diseases
they transported with them. Their modern-day brethren accomplish
their goals through a more elaborate web of intimidation,
legal nuance and press manipulation, with the sword unsheathed
and at the ready, to be used if other coercive measures fail.
The colonial imperialists of Spain, England and France espoused
the values of Christianity while simultaneously breaking every
one of its tenets attempting to spread its word. They took
a religion which taught principles such as love, peace, understanding,
compassion and forgiveness; and they enforced them through
administration of violent action such as pillaging, raping,
stealing and destroying. Unfortunately, it is a legacy being
continued through our present day.
The industrialized nations of the world are spreading the
gospel of free markets and capitalism, while at the same time
applying severely protectionist measures to their own economies.
Led by the standard-bearer of unregulated markets, the United
States, they are forcing developing countries to adopt measures
allowing foreign interests to plunder them for their own enrichment.
Once their resources have been exhausted, they are cast aside
like a piece of unwanted trash.
The language of these agreements speaks volumes to whose
interests they are meant to protect. Commerce and industry
are protected by an elaborate web of legalese while issues
such as environmental standards and labor rights are spoken
of in broad terms such as "promotion" and "understanding."
Special attention is given to "free transfer of funds," "intellectual
property rights" and corporate compensation against "expropriation."
The list of victims throughout the world is growing as these
practices are allowed to continue. The United States, along
with its Canadian ally, has established a neo-imperialist
empire in the northern part of the Western Hemisphere under
the guise of NAFTA. Now, they are attempting to expand and
solidify this empire through the implementation of the Free
Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Developing countries are
faced with a difficult decision: open their markets to be
plundered by the North, with the possibility of a few scraps
"trickling down"; or be completely shut out with respect to
trade. In essence, it's a choice between two evils without
knowing which is the lesser.
Events on the world stage are proceeding in a similar fashion.
The IMF and World Bank have encumbered developing nations
with debt for years, stating the end goal as "economic development."
Unfortunately, the benefits of these loans flow to the wealthy
while the poor are left to pay back the debt. This is reinforced
through the requirements of privatization and elimination
of government services which are tied to the loans. Policies
are decided through the "one dollar, one vote" mechanism,
where a country's input is directly correlated to their share
in the world economy. The United States controls 17% of the
world's economy, while all of Africa controls 1%. This means
that the US has 17 votes to every 1 for Africa. This could
be described as a democratic process in only the most liberal
interpretation of the term. And it leaves little doubt as
to whose interests will be given priority in the establishment
Now, the WTO has joined the act. While it is an organization
which passes itself off as "democratic," its decision-making
processes are anything but. Policies are debated upon and
set by 25-30 industrialized nations; while the remaining developing
nations, which constitute over 100 of the members, are shut
out of the discussions and ensuing votes. WTO head Mike Moore
has termed this decision-making process as "non-negotiable."
Once again, the economic imperialism of the Conquistadors
trumps democracy for all.
But there is hope. Despite the attempts within the Western
media to wash away the anti-globalization protests, the message
of the protesters is being heard. People from all walks of
life are banding together to try and put an end to this cycle
of exploitation and destruction which has been taking place
for the past 500 years. Even French President Jacques Chirac
acknowledged during the recent G-8 summit in Genoa that if
hundreds of thousands of people are coming together to protest
these economic summits, they surely must have a message which
needs to be heard. President George W. Bush took the low road,
stating, "Those protestors who try to shut down our talks
on trade and aid don't represent the poor." And I guess a
person from such a privileged background as President Bush
speaks on the poor's behalf.
History is at a crossroads. We as a world community can choose
to embrace policies and values to truly eliminate hunger and
poverty, preserve the earth for ourselves and our progeny,
and make this planet a truly better place for all. Or, we
can continue down our present path of violence, poverty, death
and destruction for the enrichment of the few. The modern
Conquistadors may have the funds, but the people have the
numbers. Protesters are being dismissed by those currently
holding the reins of power. In developing nations – as well
as industrialized ones since the G-8 Summit in Genoa – they
can be killed outright for their beliefs. But, as Mahatma
Gandhi once said, "First they ignore you, then they ridicule
you, then they fight you. And then you win." Let us hope his
words are prophetic in sealing this continually oozing wound
author is the trade issues lead for the Lower Hudson (NY)
Sierra Club, and an overly irate citizen.