10 November 2005 Edition

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Standing "like a rock" against Free Trade Area

Americas Summit in Argentina

Leaders of all countries of the Western Hemisphere, except Cuba, met in Mar del Plata, Argentina from 28 October to 5 November for the Fourth Summit of the Americas.

The key issue was the deadlock around the resumption of negotiations on creating the US proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas. The FTAA would open Latin American markets to US business while keeping in place US and Canada protectionist policies. It has been stalled after a group of left-leaning countries, headed by Brazil and Venezuela, opposed the idea, saying it would expose their countries to exploitation by large US firms and do little to alleviate poverty.

With most leaders, including US President George Bush already gone from the meeting, government representatives signed an annex to the summit's final declaration with rival viewpoints on the initiative. Twenty nine countries said they wanted to resume talks on a Free Trade Area in 2006, while five others — Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Uruguay, Paraguay, insisted on waiting for results of the next World Trade Organisation meeting in Hong Kong next month. Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, warned they were "standing like a rock" against the idea of the free trade area.

This was not what the US delegation has expected. It was an awkward meeting for Bush, as summit host Argentine President Nestor Kirchner publicly blamed US-backed economic policies for his country's ills. However, the US President stayed three hours longer than planned in the hope of securing a deal, and US National Security Adviser, Steven Hadley, spoke of "real progress". But the only possibility of an FTAA now would be for a large group of countries to push ahead without Latin America's major players.

Bush had hoped for a major foreign policy coup to take pressure off a beleaguered White House, with key advisor Vice President Dick Cheney facing charges for leaking the name of a CIA agent to journalists.

The summit started with police charges against demonstrators marching against US policies and the war on Iraq. On Friday 4 November, Venezuelan President Chavez addressed a peaceful rally of up to 40,000.

Police said 64 people were arrested in the violence in which more than 1,000 rioters set businesses on fire. Police in turn fired tear gas at the crowds and held them back from reaching a tough security cordon set up around the luxury hotel where the summit was being held

Meanwhile, indigenous groups from America met in Buenos Aires to explore ways of working together for the recognition of their rights and protection of their traditional territories. The loss of land has forced many people to migrate for jobs, mostly from rural areas to the margins of cities and shanty towns with indigenous peoples driven into poverty and deprivation.

Representatives at the summit, including the powerful National Indian Confederation of Ecuador (CONAIE), discussed ways of opening spaces for participation, fighting discrimination and tackling poverty. Over 5,000 people gathered in an indoor sports arena to celebrate a common vision of human rights and sovereignty.

However, a number of aboriginal organisations announced they would not attend the meeting in Buenos Aires, sponsored by the Canadian Government. They staged a parallel summit because they consider Canada to be a state that has not done enough to improve the situation of its own indigenous groups.

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