Trading solidarity

By Published On: April 18, 2005Categories: TLC/ALCA0 Comments on Trading solidarity

The timing could not have been more potent. As the Global Week of Action for Trade Justice came to an end, President Mesa of Bolivia from the poorest country in South America headed today (Monday) to join the ninth round of ‘free trade’ talks with the most powerful nation on earth, the USA. .

It is not known whether Mesa wandered out of his Presidential Palace on Sunday, but he would have only had to walk a few blocks to find La Paz’s main high street blocked off with thousands of people calling for an end to ‘free trade’ and for a trading system based on “justice and solidarity.”

Trade Justice Fiesta

Amidst brilliant sunshine, families wandered through the centre of La Paz enjoying an intoxicating mix of whirling dancers bedecked with ribbons, theatrical clowns enacting parodies of US exploitation of Bolivia, engaging story-tellers, and energetic live music from some of Bolivia’s favourite musicians.

All along the street, flags saying “Bolivia is not for sale” fluttered in the breeze. “Today we have reclaimed the streets for the people. We have turned them into streets of solidarity,” said Pablo Solon, one of the organisers of the cultural fair in support of trade justice.

The take-over of Bolivia’s main thoroughfare was a fitting climax to a week of trade justice events from marches in the hot lowlands of Eastern Bolivia to theatre nights in the heady heights of the Bolivia’s altiplano.

Opportunity for whom?

President Mesa went to trade talks saying they heralded a “big opportunity in agro-industry, manufactured products and textiles.” His views are backed by much of the mainstream press in Bolivia. Yet people from those very sectors came together this week for a national conference with very different views about the proposed trade agreement with the USA.

Teresa Condori-Milton, who works with indigenous women in Bolivia’s highlands said: “We have seen what happens with free trade when our market was opened to imported second-hand clothes. They flooded our market, destroying local textile industry, and making our products worthless. We are a nation of small producers that can not hope to compete with farmers and factories with huge wealth.”

Maria Victoria Fernandez, a leader of an organisation of home-based workers added: “We want a treaty and we need a market for our products, but it must be a just treaty based on solidarity, not just profits for a few.”

Solidarity holds hope

There is a long way to go before their messages are heard both by the Bolivian Government as well as the US government, but impressively nearly everyone who spoke out had hope that trade justice for Bolivia was possible.

Perhaps most significantly for a global week of action, solidarity was the most popular word on people’s lips. Not only was there a demand for solidarity to be placed at the heart of trade agreements, but there was also an awareness that acting in solidarity with millions of people around the world would eventually bring about justice.

At a seminar on ‘free trade,’ I talked to Gerardo Espindola, from an association of small producers who said: “We have hope because we know we are not alone.” As he said this, he pointed at a leaflet. I followed his finger. In small print, I could read details of the all-night vigil in London taking place the following day.

This article is also reproduced on the Global Week of Action website


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