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Free Trading USA

April 27, 2008

Free Trading USA

New Orleans.jpg

Intermingled amongst brand new hotels and entertainment swag are the ghosts of New Orleans. Abandoned buildings with boarded up windows are on every side street off Canal. Hidden only by the busy flickering of neon lights and bars begging for your undeserved business. One needs only to turn to any of the buildings behind the flashy palm trees to see Katrina leftovers.

Hidden also, though beating through the heart of this city is its intense poverty and racism. It is swept under the bridges and sheltered in back alleys. It is beaten away from the sight of tourists and entertainers by batons and vacational apathy.

While thousands await the return to their native city, hundreds lining its streets in shelters and tents, the busy Bourbon street continue to party. Quite a bit of thought and design went into the sweeping away of the life and reality of this city. Benches in the entertainment district- the French Quarter- are curved downward to make them impossible to sleep on. Similarly benches at major tourist squares are dividied by bars to prevent lying down. Lights are granted only there where the tourist industry wants foreign attention. The resistance to the gentrification, systemic discrimination, and outright ethnic cleansing is conveniently relocated.

Subsidized and affordable housing has been sustaining an intense attack by the city, the state, the government, and private enterprise. Demolitions have forced hundreds onto the streets and eviction notices are handed out like pamphlets. Once enough people are evicted, the housing is torn down to build hotels, condominium apartments, and bars.

Mary tells shares her story. “My son is 18. He's a good child. He came to visit me, there was an accident and I heard a gun go off. I called the police because I thought that was the right thing to do.
Instead they gave me an eviction notice.
Their explanation was that our house was in an incident. They are saying this is our first offense.
I don’t even know what happened. The state issued lawyer they gave me lied. She made me look like a criminal. She didn’t even want to appeal this, and now when I call her, she doesn’t answer my calls.”

The day was started by a breakfast at Bitsy’s Pancake House where in January 2006 George W. Bush stopped in for a visit.

The People’s Summit was then kicked off with a teach-in about the Security and Prosperity Partnership and the Bush administration. The presenters welcomed the converged crowd of community organizers and activists from all over the Americas.

Environmental degradation from resource exploitation made easier by the Partnership was linked from Latin America all the way up to Alberta’s Tar Sands. One speaker touched on the NAFTA super-highway and the liberation of constraint on trade across North American borders. Another spoke of the restriction of movement of workers and migrants by “smart borders” and the U.S.-Mexico “death-wall.”

The day was continued by Central American migrants using creative resistance in the form of a play to show how free trade agreements have impacted their countries and lives.

As a testament to the spirit of the convergence, community organizers gathered for a rally underneath the statue of anti-colonialist fighter Benito Juarez. Numerous speakers addressed the gathered crowd of roughly 60 on the various impacts of capitalism and the increased privatization of New Orleans.

A major theme emerged and was later magnified. Namely, the militarization of post-Katrina New Orleans.

“They used to tour around in hummers” one woman tells me, “but then they decided that was intimidating. Now they’re touring around in vans.”

SWAT teams, military engineers, and police cars are as common here as the China-made beads that have become the symbol of Mardi-Gras. On Canal street, the Double Tree hotel was surrounded by a strong perimeter of metal fences and cement barricades. The army Corps of Engineers who were involved in much of the reconstruction efforts were installing the barricades which were all inscripted with “Think Safety.”

The hotel is going to house the three heads of state, namely George W. Bush, Felipe Calderon, and Stephen Harper along with the CEOs of the North American Competitiveness Council which have come here for the SPP Summit.

"What’s going on here?"- I ask Private Davies
“It’s a leadership summit. We are establishing the barricades for security”
“Why?”
“President Bush is coming to town”
“Is it your job to establish these barricades?”
“To defend the President of the United States? Absolutely!”

Passersby, once learning of who was visiting town, have unanimously expressed disgust. One man put it simply- “Bush wasn’t here when we needed him. Now, he should have stayed in Washington.” Their aversion to his visit was further magnified by the visible separation of his power and presence with the overwhelming military support from the people he supposedly represents.

The upcoming two days of the SPP summit are being countered with community tours, action-oriented marches, films and workshops. A mock Mardi-Gras type festive march termed Fat Cat Tuesday is scheduled to close the events Tuesday night.


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