At the WTO and the FTAA: What we learned in Seattle

I was there in 1999 when the Emerald City looked more like San Francisco protesting Vietnam in the 60s. Little did we expect the sensationalized propaganda our city would receive due to a few idiots (claiming to be self-proclaimed anarchists) who decided burning cars would be more effective than holding up signs. The World Trade Organization’s decision to convene in liberal Seattle brought protestors from around the nation and world.

Miami will be home to a new wave of protests as the Free Trade Area of the Americas rolls into town November 17th. The three-day convention between the 34 democratically elected nations from South America and the Caribbean is presumed to be the most politically controversial period since Elian Gonzalez. What are we prepared for and what should we be expecting in light of what happened in Seattle in 1999?

The top three things to be expected are massive organized protests, bumper-to-bumper downtown traffic and exceedingly annoying media coverage. While this doesn’t sound too bad, actions like bringing in the National Guard, declaring a State of Emergency and enforcing a Miami-Dade county curfew pose serious problems. To clearly understand how this disorganization could happen means examining WTO and sharing what we learned in Seattle.

Between November 29th and December 3rd 1999 an array of political activists; including labor, environmentalists, pro-democracy, and human rights advocates stationed themselves in downtown Seattle for the World Trade Organization. While the media attention focused mostly on they havoc-creating self-proclaimed anarchists, most individuals exerting their first amendment rights were peaceful and boisterous.

I’d go out on a limb to say Miami is not even close to half the liberal city Seattle is. Although there probably is a self-proclaimed anarchist or two living in a town near you, this city doesn’t get too excited over strikes, initiatives and trade agreements. Miami’s reserved views on domestic city politics can be partially attributed to its internationally diverse population. However, the FTAA is an international convention and many protestors will not be from Miami but from around the country and world.

The Miami-Dade police have been training for weeks and in some cases months for these protestors, some of which may resort to violence. They city of Miami has also distributed pamphlets describing what the FTAA is and how downtown can prepare for such a convention. They are doing everything Seattle did not do when it was anticipating the World Trade Organization. A lack of organization in Seattle created unfamiliar situations and quick reactions. Miami police and government officials have studied what Seattle did wrong and are ready to implement their plan of action. The question remains now if they will be capable of rising to such challenge should the unexpected happen.

Jessica Piha can be contacted at