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(Note: A number of protestors were arrested in Quebec at the FTAA meeting, generally on absurd or fabricated pretexts. You can help them by donating to their legal defense fund.) (Note: Amnesty International has taken up the cause of the Quebec protestors attacked by police. Alas, it's not just countries like China and Iran that oppress political dissidents. See the announcement.)

Trade treaties and democracy

by Richard Stallman, 22 April 2001

Trade treaties such as NAFTA and GATT, and the proposed FTAA, are designed to remove important areas of public policy from the democratic process. They create unelected supragovernmental agencies that respond only to business, shutting the citizens out of decision-making.

The meetings to negotiate these treaties are based on negation of another aspect of democracy: the public's right to protest.

With most political candidates funded by the corporations that want these treaties, and corporate media ignoring the treaties most of the time, the only way to create a full-scale public debate about the treaties is through large protests.

At these protests, police are likely to go on a rampage, attacking nonviolent protesters, journalists, even bystanders. (These victims may then be arrested for various imaginary crimes.) They don't just hit people with clubs; in Quebec this weekend they aimed rubber bullets and tear-gas canisters at people's heads, with danger of crippling them. They also shut down the protest's medical center, stealing the patients' gas masks and medical equipment, forcing the medics and patients to walk to another location.

Also in Quebec, Jaggi Singh, a protest organizer, was grabbed, thrown down, and kicked by a gang of youths that got out of a van. When his friends tried to rescue him, the gang members pulled out police identification. He was taken away, but the police have not admitted to arresting him.

Eventually some protesters get angry enough to smash store windows and such. Then the police and other public officials cite this destruction of property as the excuse for their violence against persons--never mind that the excuse came after the act, never mind that victims of the police attacks were different people.

And when the next protests are planned, officials and police drag out their false picture as the excuse to prohibit them, push them out of sight, seize and close their assembly grounds, confiscate their supplies, or forcibly keep people away from them. It appears their plan is to make "legitimate" nonviolent protest so difficult and ineffective that people will give up on it.

What little democracy remains after the trade treaties get through is in grave danger from the measures being used to silence public opposition to them.

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