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Colombia at Cancun: How the Trojan Horse Failed


When, one after another, the delegates of the WTO ministerial in Cancun were confessing that the meeting had failed and that there was no agreement, they were also confessing the failure of Colombia’s Minister of External Commerce, Jorge Humberto Botero. He had failed in his mission to divide the countries of the periphery and prepare the ground for an agreement in tune with the proposals and interests of the transnationals of the US, the EU, and Japan.

Colombia was already a member of the G21, that heterogeneous alliance that managed to unite 23 countries and in which Brazil marched beside such different countries as Cuba, Malaysia, China, Ecuador, South Africa, Argentina, and Egypt; where sworn enemies like India and Pakistan united against the powerful of the world. If India and Pakistan could unite, who couldn’t?

The unity was based on one fundamental point: that nothing would be negotiated if the US and the EU would not accept a concrete accord on the elimination of subsidies on their agricultural exports.

Not a revolutionary program, certainly. In fact, it was a program perfectly in accord with ‘free trade’ doctrine, against unfair competition. But it was a program that brought to light the hypocrisy of ‘free trade’ doctrine by showing that the rules are fixed against the poor countries, showing that the rich would never apply those same rules to themselves. The Colombian saying goes: “The law of the funnel: wide for them, narrow for us.”

The G21 became a symbol of a rebellion of the periphery, expressed in the confluence of Africa, the Pacific, and the Caribbean and in other groups who joined with the 23 countries to demand special treaties for certain products or cases. As Lula said, no one respects a negotiator who is servile. It is with one’s head held high that one can open up new spaces.

But the Colombian government had a different agenda. Its mission was to break the bloc of the periphery. But the contradiction of interests made it an impossible mission, as evidenced by the ire of the African delegates, one of whom (from Kenya) was the first to leave the meeting. Outside, the demonstrators tore down the fences that protected the summit and expressed their protest against ‘free trade’. Thousands of campesinos, indigenous, youth, women, workers, students, in a combative mosaic, shook the mosaic with the program of Via Campesina and raised its rails.

“The WTO kills farmers”, the demonstrators cried, in memory of Lee Kyung Hae, the Korean farmer who killed himself. After this, how could anyone accept the vague declarations of the US or the EU about the end of subsidies to its exports in exchange for opening to investors and providing patent protections and guarantee regimes to transnationals? How could anyone accept the continuing liquidation of campesinos without even a schedule for the elimination of subsidies?

The Colombian Minister of Agriculture is the ex-president of the society of agrarian business owners. This grouping hoped that President Uribe would represent its interests in Cancun and believed that participation in the G21 would further this objective. But the Minister of External Commerce had a different mission and after the failure, he declared that ‘the adverse result cannot be attributed to the EU, nor to the US”, but to “the inflexibility shown by some of the developing countries.” Minister Lacayo of El Salvador supported this position, saying he did not feel represented in Brazil’s position.

The Colombian government, besides making its play in the G21, had made plays at the Quirama meeting with the Andean countries and Brazil, claiming to want to strengthen the Andean community and get closer to Mercosur, while in reality Uribe had bet on a bilateral free trade agreement with the US.

The US Representative of Commerce Robert Zoellick was in Bogota on August 8 preparing the free trade negotiations with the External Commerce Minister and met with President Uribe. During the fiasco at Cancun, Zoellick wrote in the Financial Times that the US was not going to wait for the results of the WTO meeting to continue its free trade program with the countries he classified as the ‘can-do’ countries, compared to the ‘won’t-do’ countries, headed by Brazil

It is clear that with Colombia, ‘we can’, and it wasn’t only Zoellick’s visit that proved it. Ten days after Zoellick, Donald Rumsfeld arrived to fix the military planes for ‘regional stability’, ready on August 27 with new dollars for the new US Ambassador to Colombia, William Wood. Rumsfeld, a businessman, was linked to companies that are now part of Monsanto and General Dynamics, transnationals with an important role in Plan Colombia, in fumigations and helicopters. Pfizer, part of Monsanto in the same corporate complex, had congratulated Colombia in July for being the only Andean country to approve the ‘correct’ norms on intellectual property.

Uribe promoted genetically modified Bt cotton, a product of Monsanto. The cotton has, among others, the magical property of protecting subsidized cotton from the US.

Zoellick hopes his Colombian pawn will be more useful in the future than it was now that its useless role in Cancun is past, but the difficulties continue. On September 30 Uribe will travel to Washington to face the critics of his proposed accord with the paramilitaries. Bush already has treaties signed with Mexico and Chile and is negotiating with the Central American countries. The campaigns to lock countries into free trade agreements one at a time are being strengthened in South America by way of military intervention in Colombia. They will do what they can to get India and Pakistan to remember their conflicts as well.

But no one will forget what happened in Cancun, when one day the weak united and dared to be strong and did not allow themselves to be divided despite the Colombian delegation’s insistence that ‘we can-do’.

Hector Mondragon is a Colombian economist and writer.

translated by Justin Podur

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