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Tom Turner, Earthjustice

Tom Turner is senior editor at Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm based in Oakland, Calif. He edited daily newspapers at the WTO meeting in Seattle in 1999 and the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002. He is the author of many books and articles on environmental subjects, most recently Justice on Earth: Earthjustice and the People It Has Served.

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Tuesday, 09 Sep 2003

CANCUN, Mexico. Cancun, in several ways, is the perfect place to have a WTO meeting. It is two cities that could hardly be more different. One, where we stay and the ministerial will be held starting tomorrow, is Vegas times ten without the casinos. Scores of huge, vulgar, garish hotels cheek by jowl for miles along the spectacular beach, teeming with tourists, mostly from the U.S., or so it seems. This part of town is all about luxury and money -- kind of like the WTO.

Will the real Cancun please step forward?
Photo: Alyssa Johl, Earthjustice.

The other part of Cancun is more like the real world. While the hotel strip is brittle and sterile -- infested with McDonald's, Outback Steak House, and Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville -- the town has outdoor restaurants, shops, street vendors, and street musicians. It is poor and not-so-poor and full of life. It is here where the contingent of demonstrators is slowly gathering.

And now, with the WTO in town and everybody nervous about the anniversary of Sept. 11 coming up Thursday, the two Cancuns are divided by a fence, which is guarded by police and military personnel, armed to the teeth. Kind of like Berlin in the bad old days. Offshore there are two Mexican navy ships, probably worried that the Rainbow Warrior will appear over the horizon with a cargo of frogpersons planning to storm the beaches. (This is not entirely idle blather: Greenpeace has pulled such stunts many times, including at Brighton on the English Channel, to protest at a meeting of the International Whaling Commission. All in good fun, but humor is in short supply around here just now.)

A game of battleship.
Photo: Alyssa Johl, Earthjustice.

We got some fresh numbers yesterday. There are 4,700 delegates signed up for credentials, along with 1,800 journalists and 1,500 representatives of nongovernmental organizations. The reporter who asked for the numbers asked also how many security personnel were here. The answer was, "enough."

Today, the International Forum on Globalization holds its traditional day-long teach-in, with speakers from all over the world talking about what's wrong with the WTO and its theory and practice, along with some alternate visions of what might be put in place instead. This is the intellectual underpinning of the WTO critics -- those whom the Mexican establishment is calling globalofobes. Tomorrow, as the WTO meetings get rolling, there will be a major Fair Trade Fair sponsored by the admirable Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, about which more in a day or so.

Meanwhile, for people interested in what this is all about in practical terms, we suggest taking a look at a new book from Food First. It is called Shafted: Free Trade and America's Working Poor, a skillfully edited transcript of a hearing held in Congress in June, with a long string of farmers, fishers, and others relating their experiences with trade as practiced under the WTO and NAFTA.

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