By Nicola Bullard
BANGKOK, 9 September — More than 3,000 people took to the streets of central Bangkok this morning kicking off the wave of global protests against the WTO by marching on the embassies of the EU and the US.
One of the organisers, Kingkorn Narintarakul of the Thai Action on Globalisation Network, said the rally was “above expectations” even though many farmers were not able to join because they did not have the money to get to Bangkok. Khun Kingkorn, like many others, was delighted at the diversity of today’s demonstration
which included farmers, private and public sector unions, small business, Assembly of the Poor, HIV-AIDS activists, Greenpeace, consumer organisations, students, the alternative agriculture movement, the Slum Community Network and many NGOs.
Junya ‘Lek’ Yimprasert of the Thai Labour Campaign said that the turnout was a fantastic result for Thailand, “especially when we have the useless director of the WTO.” “It is very important,” she said, “that we come out into the streets to show that the impact of the WTO is huge and to delegitimise the function of the organisation.”
The demonstration in Bangkok was one of the first for the 9 September “Global Day of Action Against the WTO” which will see demonstrations in tens of cities across the world protesting the policies of the WTO on the eve of the 5th Ministerial being held in the Mexican resort of Cancun 10-14 September.
Thousands of flag-bearing and banner-holding protestors gathered in the “green heart” of Bangkok, Lumpini Park, before heading to the office of the Delegation of the European Union and the US embassy, where leaders of the different movements presented the “Declaration of the Thai Popular Sector on the WTO Ministerial Conference.”
EU OFFICIAL SURPRISED AT EFFECTS OF ‘FREE TRADE’
At the high rise office of the EU, representatives were invited to send five delegates to meet an official of the Commission but they refused saying that either he came down or they would ALL go up. Shortly after, First Secretary Carlos Acosta appeared and spent an amiable 15 minutes in a hot and crowded sidewalk listening to the people. After hearing one farmer describe how subsidies and dumping are pushing down prices making it impossible for poor farmers to earn a living and another representative of the HIV-AIDS group explain that compulsory licensing does not work and that patents push up the price of drugs, Mr Acosta expressed surprise that “free trade” is having such a devastating effect on poor people and that he believes that trade liberalisation will improve the lives of poor people.
The US embassy’s encounter with the poors and the workers was more perfunctory: a representative of the ambassador was sent out to receive the letter – from across the barrier and well-protected by security guards – and hurried off after several minutes. (As farmer leader Bamrung Kayotha observed, “you can tell which countries are most hated by the number of police they have outside their building.”) However, the people used every opportunity to explain why they were there. A woman leader of the Slum Community Network explained that the collapse of agriculture after liberalisation has forced thousands of families to migrate to Bangkok in search of work, while a representative of the organisation People Living with AIDS criticised the recent decision on TRIPS and health, demanding that the poor need access to drugs and that governments should “discuss these things with the people” before making decisions.
The demonstration today was twice the size of the demonstration pre-Doha and much more diverse — a sign, according to the organisers, of the greater awareness of the WTO and that the links between the different social movements and sectors of society are getting stronger. But, as Jiragorn Gajaseni from Greenpeace Southeast Asia said the diversity also shows that the WTO is effecting every part of society.
Representing the movement in Cancun are six farmers and workers, as well as several NGOs working on TRIPS and agriculture. For the Thai Action on Globalisation Network, the basic demand for Cancun is “no new round, no new issues.” Khun Kingkorn said they are hoping for “no agreement” and that the latest draft declaration proposed by the EU and the US is a “total disaster” especially on agriculture.
It seems that few of the people at today’s rally are expecting Dr Supachai to speak out for them or for developing countries. However, the banner “Supachai is not Thai” lay folded and unused at the end of the rally – a sign perhaps that the Thais know Dr Supachai is powerless when it comes to the US and the EU and that slogans such as “Dump food in your own backyard” are closer to the point.