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Central America rising up against FTAA

Check out the news from Central America about today's massive protests against the acronyms from hell: FTAA, PPP, CAFTA. And get ready for the October 31 Radical StreeT Festival against the FTAA.


13,000 Blockade Highways, Bridges, Border Crossings in International Day of Resistance

Monday, October 14, 2002

On Saturday, October 12, some 13,000 Salvadorans joined together with their compañeros and compañeras across Central America and Mexico in a massive international day of protest against the Plan Puebla Panama, Central American Free Trade Agreement, and the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Eleven simultaneous blockades of highways, bridges and border crossings completely paralyzed El Salvador and brought commerce to a halt. The protest, which involved coordination with nearly every organization in the Salvadoran social movement as well as the FMLN, is considered to be the largest national highway shutdown since the November 1989 guerilla offensive that brought the newly-elected ARENA government to its knees and forced them to negotiate the peace accords. With the health care strike reaching the one-month mark and Salvadoran President Francisco Flores still showing no willingness to negotiate an end to privatization, the people of El Salvador are flooding the streets.

Protesters completely shut down the four largest border crossings into El Salvador: Las Chinamas and Anguiatú from Guatemala, and El Poy and El Amatillo from Honduras. At Las Chinamas, FMLN members and leaders from Ahuachapán joined with coffee growers to protest the ARENA agricultural policy, which would foreclose debts of small farmers already battered by falling world coffee prices, and cause tens of thousands of campesinos to lose their land. Bus drivers and money-changers at the border spontaneously joined the protest en masse as the traffic jam backed up into Guatemala and the police were forced to close the border. At El Poy, CORDES and the CCR, two campesino associations, together brought 50 busloads of campesinos from Chalatenango to shut down the border. At El Amatillo, campesinos from Morazán and La Unión welcomed hundreds of unionized teachers from Honduras who marched across the border to join in the protests.

All four entrances to San Salvador were also blocked for the entire morning. In Santa Tecla (see photos), 300 health care workers from the STISSS union were supported by residents of marginal communities, students from the University of El Salvador, workers, campesinos, and deputies from the FMLN. Protesters burned tires and dragged jersey barriers into the roadway to block traffic on the Pan-American Highway for more than five kilometers in both directions. A women's affinity group sat down in the roadway to block an off-ramp that police had tried to clear. At 1:00, protesters lifted the blockade and marched to a nearby ISSS clinic, where STISSS Secretary-General Ricardo Monge declared that "the nation has entered a new phase of mass struggle." In Comalapa, community residents joined with the SITEAIES airport workers' union to close the entrance to the country's international airport (also home to a US Military installation), effectively shutting it down for the entire morning. Likewise, in San Martín, the FESTRASPES public-sector union federation joined in solidarity with informal-sector women vendors to block the intersection of two highways, protesting against a planned highway expansion, part of the Plan Puebla Panama and the San Salvador beltway project, that would evict hundreds of families and destroy one of the largest open-air agricultural markets in the country. In Sonsonate, the Mélida Anaya Montes Women's Movement joined with other women's organizations to block the highway to the Acajutla seaport, which the government plans to concession out to private industry. The largest blockade was at the Puente de Oro bridge, where over 5,000 campesinos from Usulután and San Vicente blocked the coastal highway for six hours. Local bands played traditional songs and revolutionary music on an improvised stage in the middle of the highway, and clowns on stilts entertained the children. Protesters came from the campesino associations CRIPDES, CORDES, REDES, and the "Light on the Horizon" women-run agricultural cooperative in Las Marías, Usulután.

Across Central America and Mexico, popular sectors rose up in a coordinated resistance against neoliberal free trade agreements and economic underdevelopment that promotes expansive corporate profits while keeping the vast majority of people in dire poverty. In Mexico, thousands of indigenous people marched through the streets of Mexico City, while Zapatista base communities blockaded 20 highways, ports and airports in Chiapas. In Guatemala, 1,000 indigenous people blocked the Pan-American Highway at Huehuetenango; 6,000 protesters blocked highways, airports and border crossings in Petén. In Honduras, unionized teachers supported the blockade at El Amatillo; marches in Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula and Choluteca each drew thousands of people protesting against the privatization of health care, water and education. In Nicaragua, thousands rallied in front of Inter-American Development Bank headquarters in Managua. And in San José, Costa Rica, social and environmental organizations protested against the construction of the Terraba Dam, part of the Plan Puebla Panama, that would evict thousands of small farmers and destroy the environment. In Santiago, Chile, thousands of indigenous protesters were joined by hundreds of Gay and Lesbian rights activists in their protest against the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Although a precise number is impossible to count, some estimate that as many as 60,000 participated in protests across Mexico and Central America. These actions were joined by mobilizations in two dozen cities throughout the US as part of a call of solidarity and action made by the Latin American Solidarity Coalition (LASC) and the American Indian Movement (AIM.).

The Saturday protests, which according to industry sources, caused hundreds of thousands of dollars of losses to private business, represent but the beginning of a new period of active resistance in El Salvador. All of the different sectors affected by neoliberal globalization and the tyranny of the Flores government took to the streets, in a level of coordination never before achieved in post-war El Salvador, to affirm their belief that another world is possible.

That's the news this morning from El Salvador.

(From an email from CISPES)