Anticipation is running high as the Canadian press corps is eagerly waiting for the first press conference Pierre Pettigrew will be giving on this afternoon, the opening day of the fifth WTO Ministerial Meeting.
Where are the Canadian media? They surely are not at events organized by the Alternative Forum, the International Forum on Globalization or the Our World Is Not For Sale (OWINFS) coalition (as if…). Only the Farmers’ Forum was covered, thanks to two reporters from agricultural magazines.
Talking with media relations officers from some of the NGOs, we deduced that the whole Canadian media delegation consisted of six reporters.
France 2, the French public broadcaster, alone sent nine to this event.
CBC Radio and TV reporters are nowhere close to Mexico and only the SRC sent a radio reporter who will also link up with RDI (the French Newsworld). We heard CTV hired a freelance crew, but it might be like the proverbial Santa Claus: everyone has heard of them, but nobody will ever see them.
The Globe and Mail has one business reporter, along with CanWest News Service’s lone business reporter (who will feed no fewer than 12 Canadians dailies by himself).
The Farmers’ March that left the Gymnasium in the city of Cancun and attempted to reach the Centro de Conventiones, was stopped at the bridge leading to the hotel strip, about 10 kilometres from the WTO meeting site.
The first barricade went down (there are five other control points along the way), and police forces were massed at the breach. They were pelted with stones and bottles and the security forces replied with tear gas. Water cannons and reinforcements were brought in. A young South Korean protester died, after stabbing himself. Over 50 members of the security forces were injured and the total toll is not yet known among the protesters.
The clash was not surprising. The Via Campesina, an organization that regroups farmers from 70 countries (a constituency that some put close to 100 millions) has been one of the most active organizations preparing for the WTO ministerial.
In their last activity before their march, the Campesinos, the Mexican Indigenous People and their guests gathered Tuesday at the International Farmers’ and Indigenous Peoples’ Forum and were encouraged by the words of Subcomandante Marcos, of the Zapatista National Liberation Army:
“The Global movement against the globalization of death has today, in Cancun, one of its most brilliant expressions,” said Marcos in a tape-recorded message. “The entire world is in dispute between two projects of globalization. Globalization from above, which globalizes conformity, cynicism, stupidity, war, destruction, death, and forgetting, and globalization from below, which globalizes rebellion, hope, creativity, intelligence, imagination, life, memory, and the construction of a world with room for many worlds.”
But Subcomandante Marcos cannot change the geography of Cancun. For those who wonder why this particular resort city was chosen, I would recommend looking at a map of the city. While the city is on the mainland, the hotel strip is basically that: a strip that goes south and then west to join the mainland again, leaving a big lagoon in the middle. A single street runs along the strip which is marred by dozens of hotels, including the Centro de Conventiones that is located on the south east point. With six blockades each way, the WTO meeting site is inaccessible to anyone who doesnt have accreditation.
Last meeting was in Doha, Qatar, where protests were forbidden by law.
Could it be worse?
Last week, the site of the sixth Ministerial meeting was announced.
The winner? Hong Kong.
Invited at first to attend the opening ceremonies, NGO representatives were told late Tuesday afternoon that NGO attendance would be limited to 200, and a badge was required. This badge was given on a first come, first served basis. The same restrictions were applied to the press as well.
On Wednesday, the rules of the game changed again: NGOs were to be restricted to a side room, where they could watch the proceedings from a video screen. After some negotiations, the ban was lifted and NGOs were once again allowed in the room where Mexican President Vincente Fox was to address delegates.
As WTO Secretary Supachai Panitchpakdi pronounced the first words of introduction, about 40 pairs of arms, many with their mouths taped, holding a simple sheet of paper, raised instantly. Some read: WTO obsolete, others read WTO undemocratic and WTO anti-development.
The 40 NGO delegates, which included Canadians Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke, were escorted out of the room where they were greeted by journalists in a scrum that lasted over 15 minutes. They then came down to the media centre to hold an impromptu press conference that lasted close to 45 minutes.
Moral of the story? Journalists are bored to death — and they shouldn’t count on Pierre Pettigrew’s conference to wake them up.