by Ben White
I was born in 1951, the same year as AWI. My maternal grandparents had a small farm in tidewater Virginia. At least 80% of what they consumed came from their own land and waters or from their neighbors. If one of these neighbors mistreated his land, farm animals or family, community approbation could be swift. Being able to discriminate among suppliers was crucial to creating a system of basic compassion and responsibility.
AWI Quarterly readers are familiar with the fact that binding international treaties prohibit member countries from having laws that discriminate between products based on how they are produced. Despite huge historic success, the concept of using consumer conscience to improve treatment of animals and workers worldwide is considered inimical to the unfettered growth of corporate profit under the banner of "free" trade.
This theft of the ability of US citizens to make laws that extrapolate compassion is the common problem that brings advocates for labor, safe food, family farms, social justice and animal protection into the streets whenever government officials meet to further the reach of these trade pacts.
So it was on November 20, when the finance ministers of 34 countries in North, South, and Central American countries met in Miami to extend the draconian tentacles of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement that covers the US, Canada and Mexico) across the entire hemisphere. This new system of trade rules, slated for completion in 2005, is called the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).
AWI, in a reprise of our role deploying sea turtle impersonators in Seattle and dolphins in Cancun to oppose WTO, organized 150 Floridian animal protectors to don dolphin costumes. The dolphins joined about 25,000 other citizens opposing FTAA in marching through Miami between massive lines of heavily armed police. AWI's Tom Garrett also marched 34 miles over three days with a group of farm workers from Broward to Miami, certainly setting a world record for distance walked with a dolphin costume on one's head. AWI is striking alliances with campesino, food safety and family farm groups to oppose the factory farming encouraged by these trade pacts.
By the time the pepper spray cleared, the ministers ended up announcing a vastly watered down pact that allows any country to opt out of any provision of the FTAA that they find unpalatable; an arrangement immediately derided by business leaders as FTAA a la carte. For our part, we left Miami encouraged that the emerging strength of civil society will defeat these agreements, and we envision a fair global trading system that protects cultures and our fragile and besieged Earth.