rn> Public Protests Around The World


Richard Moore


Free Trade & Globalization
Public Protests Around The World    

Mass protests, throughout history have come at a time when enough of the 
population are affected by policies of the rulers and elite. They have often 
been met with brutal, efficient crackdown by the guardians of the elite, be they
local police, militias, national militaries, or even another nation's military 

The protests against the current forms of globalization and the marginalization 
it is causing, and the increasing disparities between the rich and the poor that
it has predictably led to already, has motivated people all over the world to 
protest. Seattle in 1999 and Washington D.C. in 2000 were just the more 
mainstream and reported ones because they were in the home nation of the current
superpower, the United States. These protests, directed at the World Trade 
Organization (WTO) and at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank 
respectively, were all protests at the effects of the current forms 
neoliberal/free trade (or more of a mercantilist/imperialist policy of wealth 
appropriation that is a continuation of such policies throughout history.)

The WTO protest of Seattle were about the trade policies that are being drawn up
in undemocratic ways but affecting all people around the world. Here too, the 
elite's front guard were mobilized to protect the image of the multinational 
corporations and institutions that support their "rights". The police crackdown 
was often violent and unprovoked. The IMF and World Bank protests in D.C. were 
about the policies of the IMF and World Bank towards developing countries. Their
methods of "assistance" are criticized for increasing dependencies on the richer
nations and promoting a form of development whereby developing nations continue 
to provide cheap resources and labor to the richer nations, to continue to 
remain in servitude for the west. These policies are a precursor and basic 
framework to allow trade policies discussed at the WTO to be effective; they go 
hand in hand.

It is ironic then, that in many countries, leaders, elected through processes of
democracy (themselves often painful, trying and hard-won) have been turning 
against protestors, via pressure from the aristocracy of that nation and from 
western financial institutions that are the target of the protests and 

Mainstream Media Portrayal

The mainstream media portrayal by many western nations, notably the US, has been
very biased. Being corporate-owned, and due to the fact that the protestors are 
voicing concerns over the current form of globalization, which is seen as overly
corporate-friendly without appropriate considerations for people, this bias can 
be seen as quite obvious. However, most people get their views and news from 
mainstream media, from what are regarded as "respectable" news sources and hence
it makes it difficult for additional views and perspectives to be heard, thereby
contributing to the on-going process.

Protests Have Occurred All Over The World

"[T]his 'new movement', portrayed by the media as students and anarchists from 
the rich and prosperous global north, is just the tip of the iceberg. In the 
global south, a far deeper and wide-ranging movement has been developing for 
years, largely ignored by the media." -- Jessica Woodroffe and Mark Ellis-Jones,
States of unrest: Resistance to IMF policies in poor countries, World 
Development Movement.

Some mainstream media representation may leave the impression that the recent 
public protests in D.C., Seattle, Prague and other western cities are recent 
issues, or that these are the only protests, and that only a few are protesting.
In fact, Seattle and D.C. protests were international protests in their 
composition. The mainstream avoided in-depth issues of developing nations in 
Seattle, for example, while they concentrated on sensationalism.

Both before (long before in many cases) and since Seattle, around the world 
thousands upon thousands of people have turned up in waves of protests at 
various IMF, World Bank, WTO meetings or policies in various nations. Repression
has been equally brutal and sometimes worse. For example there have been 
protests in:

*       Argentina 
*       up to 80,000 protested against the IMF, in May 2000. 
*       Over 7.2 million workers support a 24 hour general strike in defiance of the 
new IMF-prescribed labour laws, June 2000. 
*       Australia (even during the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, there have been various 
protests to do with globalization issues). 
*       Bolivia (protests in April 2000 led to some bizarre media coverage.) 
*       Brazil 
*       As reported by the World Development Movement (WDM), "[a] referendum asking 
whether Brazil should discontinue IMF reforms is backed by more than a million 
people. Organised by the National Council of Bishops and Jubilee 2000, the 
'unofficial' referendum is a marked success." 
*       The WDM report continues, that on "7 September [2000], to mark the end of six 
days of voting and Brazil's Independence Day, a demonstration draws thousands of
protesters under the banner of Cry of the Excluded. All the main cities in 
Brazil are "crammed", say reports, with more than 100,000 people in Sao Paulo. 
The Government had previously called the [above-mentioned] referendum "stupid" 
and an isolated project undertaken by "minorities"." (emphasis added) 
*       To coincide with the annual World Economic Forum meetings in Davos, 
Switzerland, where multinational corporations get to meet, and have access to 
world political leaders, Porto Alegre in Brazil, at the end of January 2001 saw 
a World Social Forum meeting attended by over 10,000 people. The goal was to 
discuss alternatives to the current forms of globalization.

*       Colombia saw 15,000 workers go on protest and strike regarding IMF's loan 
conditions requiring further opening up of the economy and cutting back on 
social provisions and jobs. 
*       Costa Rica in March 2000, 10,000 people protested at IMF-prescribed policies 
of privatization, and faced police brutality in the process. 
*       Czech Republic (World Bank and IMF meetings in Prague, end of September, 2000)
*       Estimates vary from 20,000 protestors to 50,000 
*       As with other places, heavy security response and police brutality was in 
effect, as predicted. 
*       Protests in other regions of the world coincided with this -- for example, in 
the U.S. in all 50 states, there were protests -- not that the mainstream media 
would have described it in much detail. 
*       The Prague protests disrupted the IMF and World Bank meetings enough to end 
the meetings a day early. 
*       The IndyMedia Center Prague has much more detail. 
*       Ecuador 
*       Marches at the beginning of 2000, see over 40,000 indigenous people protesting
US and IMF-prescribed reforms (resulting in 35,000 military personnel and police
being deployed). 
*       10,000 protested, also in January, at the fear of dollarization of their 
economy (which became reality in September, 2000) 
*       There was even a coup attempt that month. 
*       Numerous strikes and protests occur throughout the first half of 2000 due to 
IMF reforms. Numbers are in the tens of thousands. (On one occassion, 30,000 
doctors were part of a protest). 
*       The dollarization and other US/IMF-prescribed policies have left many problems
in their wake and protests etc are sure to continue. 
*       The above-mentioned WDM report provides more detail. 
*       Germany 
*       Honduras, where numerous IMF-prescribed cut backs and privatizations policies 
are being protested. In August 2000, thousands of civil servants went on strike 
for 24 hours disrupting education, transport and health services. The strikers 
were opposing plans by the administration of President Carlos Flores to 
privatize the electricity, telecommunications and social security sectors as 
required by the International Monetary Fund. 
*       India (In some instances there were forced and violent attempts to stop 
protestors gathering or forming.) 
*       Indonesia 
*       Kenya has seen many protests on IMF conditionalities. 
*       Malawi too has seen protests on IMF conditions, where protestors were 
dispersed by tear gas. 
*       Mexico has seen protests that at first sound local but have a more global 
aspect to it. That is, the struggle is Chiapas of the Zapatistas. While fighting
for their indigenous rights (against military crackdowns which human rights 
groups have heavily criticized), they have seen the effects of the current form 
of globalization on them very sharply, as this translation from the leader of 
the Zapatista National Liberation Army shows. 
*       Nigera has seen many protests on the IMF austerity measures, and violent 
crackdown as well. 
*       Paraguay has seen protests that have also been met with police violence. IMF 
reforms are heavily criticized there. 
*       Peru 
*       South Africa has seen numerous protests as well. The above-mentioned WDM 
report also     mentions that "[o]ne of the protesters, Trevor Ngwane, a city 
councillor from the Soweto township, says, "Many of those debts were used to buy
weapons and suppress the people during apartheid. So we are paying twice for it 
- once with our lives, and now with an inability to fund critical social 
services. Instead of building health clinics the Government is selling off zoos 
and libraries to stay in the good graces of the IMF." 
*       South Korea. October 2000 has seen over 20,000 protest about globalization at 
an Asia Europe meeting. 
*       Switzerland 
*       Taiwan 
*       Thailand 
*       Turkey has seen protests, the latest being September 2000, where the IMF is 
pressing for higher energy prices, wage "control" (i.e. reductions) and tax 
*       Venezuela. On 27 February 1989, structural changes imposed by the IMF were 
followed by a popular uprising (the caracazo), but was put down with 4,000 dead.
*       Zambia 
*       Recent G8 Summits 
*       The June 18 campaign in 1999 was another highly publicized event, with biased 
media reporting. This was another international protest, where many major cities
in the world on the same day saw large protests. In fact, as this report shows, 
the June 18 protests occurred all over the world, including: 

*       Argentina 
*       Australia 
*       Belarus 
*       Canada 
*       Czech Republic. 
*       Germany 
*       Italy 
*       Netherlands 
*       Nigeria 
*       Pakistan 
*       Spain 
*       Switzerland 
*       United Kingdom 
*       United States 
*       Uruguay 
*       Zimbabwe 

Note that in many of these countries, the protests were in numerous cities. 

These are just a small number of examples. (It is not even a complete list.) And
protests are likely going to continue around the globe if policies continue 
along the way they are. (And suppressions or crackdowns are equally likely -- 
ironically by the policing forces that are meant to uphold people's rights, who 
instead are and will be upholding and protecting the rights of the elite and 
power holders. The mainstream media too is likely to continue its negative 
portrayal, as it affects them directly as well.)

In fact, just a few months after writing the previous paragraph, amongst other 
places, we have seen police crackdowns in Davos, Switzerland, at the beginning 
of 2001 at the annual World Economic Forum and we see that the next WTO meeting 
will be held in Qatar so that protestors cannot have a chance of voicing their 
concerns (because Qatar has oppressive laws about such things). Unfortunately 
this pattern is likely to continue.

Protestors Are Labeled as Anti-Trade and Anti-International

The (corporate-owned) mainstream media have often criticized the protestors for 
being anti-trade or against international cooperation and hence anti people, or 
against giving a chance for the poor to have a decent chance for a standard 
living. In fact, it couldn't be further from the truth! Most protestors are for 
international trade. However, the corporate-owned media assume that the current 
form of globalization (i.e. corporate-led) is the only way (and this is more 
anti-people than protestors have ever been). It is already shown that this is 
increasing disparities (which has been predicted by many over a number of 
years). Protestors are therefore voicing their concerns to these issues.

However, there is one aspect the media have concentrated on disproportionately 
although not realized that it is a concern with the protests. That is, in the US
especially, elements of the Right Wing have been also opposing globalization and
the progressive protestors risk forming a dangerous alliance with them. The 
Right Wing have a more isolationist agenda that the media attributes to all the 
protestors. While that is a concern and something most would oppose, the vast 
majority of protestors in Seattle and D.C. for example, have been progressive 
people concerned at the social welfare and basic human (i.e economic and social 
as well as civil and political) rights for those affected.

In the industrialized countries, there is the additional concern for one's own 
job moving overseas which has also led to more people voicing their concerns. As
globalization in its current form continues, and IMF/World Bank policies 
continue to open up developing countries and force their wages and resources to 
become cheaper and cheaper, this puts a downward pressure on wages in the 
western countries as well (because corporations move to those cheaper areas, 
where they can take advantage of the exploitation that can be done). Hence while
many in developed nations may have additional reasons to join in the protests, 
the voices of protestors from developed and developing countries are at the same
concern -- the effects of overly corporate-led forms of globalization.

To developing countries, the effects are much worse as standards are 
systematically reduced. The chance of improvement for most people around the 
world, for an equitable share and chance are all becoming less likely as the 
dependency and influence of outside force take control over their lives, 
directly or indirectly. In developing countries especially, many are aware of 
the geopolitical processes at play, as many have lived through struggles against
imperialism and colonialism. However, as the effects of western policies are now
also affecting a large number of citizens in their own countries, protests are 
getting louder. While there may be elements of nationalism and 
anti-internationalism involved, by far the largest factor is fairness, equity, 
social justice, environmental, basic rights etc. in international trade as 
international policies affects domestic policies.

Police Brutality and Other Civil Rights Violations Ignored

"A million dollar bail for walking down the street with a cell phone during a 
demonstration. Passports taken and political activity forbidden because of a 
misdemeanor act of civil disobedience. The big boys don't like to be messed 
with, whether they are bombing the s[#$!] out of a Third World country or 
meeting in luxury hotels and convention centers to keep the reins of the world 
economy in their little paws. There's growing, worldwide opposition to corporate
global pillage. The response, typical of autocratic regimes, is the 
criminalization of dissent." -- The Criminalization of Dissent, FreeSpeech.org

The media has also ignored the often brutal police and law enforcement 
crackdowns. Tactics have included: 

*       torture 
*       physical and sexual violence 
*       detaining suspects without proof 
*       not providing food or water or access to lawyers 
*       absurd bails 
*       and so on. 

And this isn't just in countries where civil rights are not as prominent. These 
are some of the same problems that have occurred in the United States.

Another tactic used has been to get the police to infiltrate as "anarchists" as 
happened in Prague and Seattle.

In some places, including the US, where there are an expected large turnout in 
public protests, the local police have often had to quickly increase their 
numbers that are present. This itself has sometimes not helped as often the 
rushed increase leads to more untrained police in confrontational situations, 
who are more armed than citizens protesting.

For more information

*       For additional detailed discussions on this perspective, look at this web 
site's sections that provide links to many more articles and analysis by other 
people and organization on these issues: 
*       The IMF and World Bank Protests. 
*       The WTO Protests in Seattle. 
*       "States of unrest: Resistance to IMF policies in poor countries", by the World
Development Movement provide details of protests in various developing nations 
in recent months. 

« Previous Page | Next Page »

The links below provide additional information on some of the Free Trade-related
issues that have hit the media recently. Simply click on one of them to find out

*       Free Trade and Globalization 
*       A Primer on Neoliberalism 
*       Criticisms of Current Forms of Free Trade 
*       The Mainstream Media and Free Trade 
*       The WTO and Free Trade 
*       Deregulation or Protectionism? 
*       Some Regional Free Trade Agreements 
*       Public Protests Around The World 
*       WTO Protests in Seattle 
*       General Agreement on Trade in Services 
*       Multilateral Agreement on Investment 
*       Links for More Information 

by Anup Shah
Created: Sunday, September 17, 2000   Last Updated: Sunday, February 04, 2001
"Bad ideas flourish because they are in the interest of powerful groups." -- 
Paul Krugman