WTO closes door to demonstrating farmers

by Someshwar Singh

Geneva, June 9 -- The headquarters of the World Trade Organization (WTO) preferred to shut down completely this afternoon in anticipation of a demonstration by farmers.

Trade officials said the Geneva police and their own security had advised them to shut shop and go home in the afternoon, because of fears of possible recurrence of violence - like the one in May 1998.

That demonstration had been organized by the PGA (People's Global Action) movement against globalization, and the WTO as its instrument. Though demonstrators were blamed for the violence on the streets on that occasion, it subsequently came out that it was a small batch of young hooligans who joined the demonstrators and created mayhem, and that the police, with some tact and firmness, could have sequestered the hooligans and prevented damage.

The representatives of the farmers, who are on a European tour and had come to Geneva (with a Swiss NGO host), had difficulty entering the main United Nations building to give a press conference Wednesday morning, even as the 87th session of the International Labour Conference was actually holding session within the same complex -- discussing among others about workers rights and problems of increased marginalised people as a result of Globalization.

The UN's Palais-des-Nations complex in Geneva for months now has been like an "armed fortress" or "prison" - a people-free and pedestrian- unfriendly complex.

In the wake of the arrest of the Kurdish leader Ocalan, and a brief "occupation" of one of its conference halls by a small group of Kurds in Geneva, the Swiss army has slung barbed wire all around, and access is restricted, with UN dealing with security inside and the army outside. UN functionaries and diplomats coming in by cars have less problems than others working inside, or delegates for various meetings and conferences from outside, who use public transport to walk into the complex and may suddenly find entry or exit points shut off.

The UN had spent hundred of thousands of dollars in buttressing security, with electrical controlled gates and electronic cameras - which had been installed to cut costs by reducing security guards. But all this failed in the eruption of anger by Kurds who demonstrated in Geneva (and elsewhere in Europe).

The Swiss army took over as a result of differences between the Geneva Canton (whose police have law and order responsibility outside) and the Swiss federal authorities in Berne about the extra costs.

For the farmers demonstration, while the WTO (in a separate complex on the shores of Lake Geneva, about half a kilometre away) shut its doors, the UN security insisted on allowing only three of the seven farmers's NGO representatives who had arranged to meet the media at the library of the UN press corps (where such meetings of NGOs are usually held, under the auspices of the UN Correspondents Association).

The UN security personnel actually stood guard outside the press room during the attempted press conference! Piqued by such behaviour, the journalists present walked out of the UN premises to go outside and be able to talk freely to about 7-8 of the farmers' representatives who had come.

"The United Nations has certainly changed," said Professor M.D. Nanjudaswamy, of the Karnataka State Farmers Association and one of the seven farmers' representatives.

The other six were: C. K. Zanu of Adivasi Forum (India), Bahnishikha Jamali of the Bangladesh Agricultural Labour Union, M. Jorge Neri (Mouvemnet Des Paysan Sans terre, MST, Brazil), M. Gopal Siwakoti, (Inured International, Nepal), Diana Damian, Deleguee au Soutien Zapatiste) and Nadio Shershenko of Rainbow Warriors.

The farmers event is organized by the Peoples' Global Action Network as a follow-up to the worldwide mobilizations last year in May against the ministerial summit of the WTO. That saw major demonstrations in Geneva and in more than 100 other cities around the world. In India alone, there were more than 20 such demonstrations - the biggest in Hyderabad - where around 280,000 people took part.

"We have come here to demonstrate against the WTO," said Prof Nanjundaswamy, who leads a militant peasant movement in India that has targeted in particular the TNC seed companies (like Cargil, Monsanto etc). "This movement is against free trade and globalisation. Our movement is getting stronger."

It was a fact, he said, that globalisation was increasing poverty while enabling just a few powerful corporations to get richer. "The WTO is the biggest instrument in that process."

"The WTO cannot be reformed. So, it must be closed down," Prof Nanjudaswamy added.

Called the "International Caravan against 'Free' trade and liberalization, the farmers' groups from all over the world, being supported by their counterparts in Europe, plan to take their message across Europe and particularly to the G-8 summit meeting in Cologne, Germany later this month. Hundreds of Indian farmers, accompanied by other representatives of the South are part of this caravan. They arrived in Europe last month for peaceful demonstration against the "devastating effects of the globalisation of the economy and of the so-called 'free-trade' imposed by the WTO and the powers that support this world order.

They are meeting with popular European movements which are also struggling against the impact of globalisation. "In that sense, the caravan is more an act of solidarity of the South with the North."

According to the farmers, 'free' trade has put the peoples of the world - North and South - at the mercy of transnational economic and financial powers. The fatal competition with highly productive (and highly subsidized) agri-businesses of the North is ruining the small farmers of the South with cheap imports.

At the same time, prices of their export crops fall steadily on saturated world markets. The globalisation of agricultural markets destroys self-sufficiency in food production and reduces food crop cultivation in favour of export crops devoted to intensive cattle feeding, flowers and other luxury exports for the North.

In India, as in Africa and Latin America, 'free' trade has already provoked an alarming fall in consumption of food per inhabitant. "Social explosions and genocide are real dangers," warns a background paper prepared by the farmers.

"Patents on life (imposed by WTO) steal the fruits of centuries of selection and discovery by agricultural communities of the world. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which aim to strengthen the grip of a few transnational corporations on world agriculture, menace the biosphere. The pollen of these plants could genetically pollute, and even sterilise, the natural environment in a catastrophic manner," the paper added. (SUNS4452)

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS).

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