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Free Trade Reality Tour Speaks Truth to Power


May 2001

By Josefina Castillo, AFSC-TAO Program Coordinator

On April 7, AFSC kicked-off a “Free Trade Reality Tour” in Austin with two powerful workshops on free trade and globalization. In a panel called “Globalization from Below: Resisting the Corporate Agenda,” speakers addressed the impacts of free trade on immigration, health, democracy, labor conditions and the environment. In the second workshop, entitled “Maquiladora Workers Tell de Untold Stories of Free Trade,” workers from the Comité Fronterizo de Obreras (CFO, or Border Committee of Women Workers) shared the testimonies of how the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has impacted their lives on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The tour was organized to coincide with the Summit of the Americas, which took place on April 20-22 in Quebec City, where leaders from 34 countries gathered to negotiate the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The FTAA is a NAFTA-like proposal that would encompass all of the American excluding Cuba, creating the world’s largest free market zone. AFSC’s objective was to lift up the voices of those who can give testimony to the effects of trade agreements like NAFTA on their lives and to help raise awareness about the proposed FTAA.

Members of the delegation included Josefina Castillo; María Luisa Bautista of Inmigrantes Latinos en Acción (Latino Immigrants in Action); Petra Mata and Viola Casares of Fuerza Unida; María Elena García of the CFO; Eliza Ortega and Leticia Mendoza of the Maquiladora Organizing Project; Kitty Ufford-Chase, Program Director of AFSC’s Arizona Area Program; and Maureen Heffern-Ponicki, Coordinator of AFSC’s Democratizing the Global Economy Project.

After two weeks packed full of speaking engagements and media interviews in Austin, Tucson, Des Moines, Chicago, Boston and New England, the tour arrived in Quebec City. We were joined by more than 60,000 people who took to the streets to express their concerns about FTAA. Unfortunately, media focused on the uproar of those engaged in visible disturbances and very little was published about the 6,00 participants from allover the Americas who converged at the People’s Summit of the Americas.

The People’s summit was a nonviolent, proactive gathering that brought together workers, human rights activists, farmers, academics, women’s groups, environmentalists, and indigenous leader from across the hemisphere to talk about just alternatives to free trade. The People’s Summit was held in a big tent in lower Quebec; meanwhile, the Official Summit of the Americas was held on top of a hill surrounded by a two-mile long, 11 foot high wall of concrete and chain-linked dubbed “the wall of shame.” The geographical juxtaposition of the two summits was a metaphor for what was going on inside and outside of the wall.

At the people’s summit the AFSC delegation also participated in a women’s forum where we shared our stories and heard women from all over the Americas addressing what free trade and globalization meant in their lives. It was particularly moving to hear the words of wisdom of older women in what was called the Conseil de Sages, or Council of Women Sages. We were stunned by the stories of courage and will of women who had suffered but had survived the tragic consequences of poverty and shattered lives. These experiences inspired solidarity and strengthened the connections with our Southern sisters and brothers, enabling us to make personal contacts with other groups and people through the Americas.

In addition to the networking that took place, a collaborative document entitled “Alternatives for the Americas” has been developed, outlining concrete alternatives to the FTAA. It recognizes the need for trade but seeks to make certain that trade agreements serve the needs of people and calls for the development of a democratic, open and accountable process for negotiating trade and investment agreements.

We have all returned from the speakers tour and People’s Summit empowered to share what we have learned with our communities. On May 18, Fuerza Unida hosted an event where we shared photos, videos and testimonies of what we saw and learned in Quebec City and on the speakers tour. In the coming months, AFSC-TAO will continue to give workshops and presentations on the impacts of globalization and free trade. As complicated as it may seem, we have to associate the global with the local and with our personal experiences. I was reminded of this when Viola of Fuerza Unida mentioned that it wasn’t until recently that she could even pronounce the word globalization. ”AFSC-TAO’s goal is to decipher the abstract language of economics by connecting the larger issues to our daily lives and to empower others to join in the struggle for peace and justice.


    is produced in cooperation with the
Mexico-U.S Border Program
of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)

Comité Fronterizo de Obrer@s (CFO)
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