By Simon Worthington, 28 November 2002

The Netherlands based magazine greenpepper is the antithesis of a standard industrial media product . A collectively run publication with a ten year history, it proudly declares that it carries no advertising, is copyleft and even uses a fair trade currency (the eco). It also makes clear that it has no ‘professional’ writers, despite the evident professionalism with which the texts are edited. This editorial policy of not having privileged or expert voices is appropriate when addressing such a monolithic and purposefully deceptive process as the FTAA (Free Trade Agreement of the Americas), in that it shows the sophistication of ‘oppositional groups’ to this ominous trade agreement.

Following in the footsteps of NAFTA, the FTAA threatens to unleash a nightmare on a par with the worst excesses of the Americas’ long history of colonial exploitation. What qualifies this trade agreement as a waking nightmare is the scale of exploitation and its cynical use of humanitarian rhetoric. The FTAA will cover the entire western hemisphere (34 nations, 650 million people, $9 trillion in capital) and operate in the relatively unique political context of Latin America where there are no other major political bodies to oppose it and civil society has been systematically crushed.

The policy was hatched in the USA and is now being regurgitated by other governments and incorporated into their development strategies. An example of this is the Mexican government’s Plan Puebla Panama (PPP), which covers the eight nations of Central America, for which they intend to borrow from foreign banks to build the commercial infrastructures by which the region will be exploited by local elites and multinationals.

Backed by foreign investment, the governments will build six dry canals similar to the Panama canal, along which will be located numerous ‘plantas maquiladoras’ (sweatshops). These will be fed by even cheaper labour rates than Mexico’s, (wage comparison: if US=100% then MX=40% and Guatemala=10%), and promoted by Plan South which intends to push the USA’s immigration border to just south of Mexico City, thereby keeping Mexico’s lowest paid labour force in the south. The PPP exploits the region on many fronts: Central America has the world’s second largest bio-genetic resource (the biodiversity of its rainforests) which will be ring-fenced and patented in addition to the bio-pirating of indigenous peoples’ medicinal preparations. In the arena of energy, Mexico’s oil reserves will be pumped to the USA and damaging hydroelectrical dams will supply electricity to North America. The scheme is capped off by Operation New Horizon, in which troops stationed ostensibly to cope with natural disasters will in fact provide the US with the military muscle to protect these assets.

All of these policies have the desired effect of driving people from their land and undermining political opposition. But it is the stories, such as those supplied by greenpepper, of Latin Americans actively opposing these measures that gives some hope that the plan will be capsized before the FTAA’s completion date in 2005.

greenpepper // Summer ’02 // 5 ecos (ecorate monetary system) // UK Subscription rate: 16.41 eco //greenpepper: []Official FTAA site: Summit of the Americas – Plan of Action [] Overview of the FTAA Process: []FTAA – Free Trade Area of the Americas – Draft Agreement: []

Simon Worthington <simon AT> is coeditor of Mute